Category Archives: Stereotypes

#LikeAGirl

Rhetoric is one of the most effective ways in which the disempowerment of women is perpetuated. In particular, phrases linked to femininity that are intended to be insulting are damaging. This video by the Always campaign captures this phenomenon perfectly.

 

Redefining Hero: Cheree

Cheree O’Shields is a registered nurse who works at Kateri Residence, a program of St. Stephen’s Human Services that serves Native American women and children. She has worked as a nurse and advocate for homeless youth in the Twin Cities since 2005. She is currently working on her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in Public Health Nursing and Adolescent Health at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing.

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My Incompetence as a Farmer and Why I Blame Patriarchy

Okay, so some of you may think this is a stretch, but lemme give it a shot.

Here’s where I’ve thus proven myself incompetent on the farm (I’m interning on an 150-member organic Community Supported Agriculture farm; I’ve been here a month):

I lack hand and arm and core muscle.

I’m not drill savvy – I needed to get a screw into purling (for a hoop house we’re putting together) and I couldn’t tell forwards from backwards in terms of which way the screw was moving. I just struggled for a while and then assumed I didn’t have the arm strength to do it.

I didn’t know that for tractors and stick shift cars, you have to park them in a gear or they roll backwards. I failed at parking the tractor in the proper spot, after multiple tries, and I later almost caused the car to roll into a pond (I was able to save it with 2 meters to spare; it did take out the horse fence).

I didn’t and don’t know what to listen to in terms of an engine (i.e. how to tell when you’ve given it enough throttle).

I didn’t know how to hitch a trailer or a tractor accessory.

I can’t back up a trailer.

I am not very good at starting a fire.

I don’t know to look for plastic on or near a wood burning stove before lighting a fire. I just end up with a pool of melted plastic and a house full of fumes.

Here’s why I think some of these incompetencies wouldn’t exist if patriarchy weren’t shedding it’s lovely shadow over our existence: 

I didn’t have a dad around for much of my life to show me how to use tools. When he was around, tools weren’t something he could afford to buy, and there wasn’t the time or money to do things like camp or hunt. My mom, while quite skillful in a lot of areas, doesn’t usually fix things herself. It might be a lack of time, as she works a lot (blame other structures for that, such as academia and capitalism and the nonprofit industrial complex), but it could also be that her dad passed his fix it skills onto the boys in the family – all my mom’s brothers are pretty savvy – and not the girls. Similarly, my mom’s brother and other men in our lives who were handy didn’t pass their skills onto me. Sure, they tickled and teased me (and there was the time that our tree trimmer friend put me in the harness and let me go up into the elm, and he gave my barbie the name Tree Trimmer Barbie) but even when I got to go fishing, they didn’t put a hook on my line! And I’m convinced it was not because I was 3, but because I was a girl raised by a single mother and an immigrant dad.

Maybe this is a stretch.

The point is, I feel incompetent out here on the farm. I guess that’s what you get with a city girl goes to western Wisconsin. It is quite possible that programs such as Boy Scouts prepare guys for country living a little more than what’s available for girls. And men are told to train their bodies, be tough – women aren’t. Men are supposed to be the handy ones, so I’m guessing they’re more likely to seek out or, through social pressure, be exposed to tools and machines and mechanical skills. Leaving me in the dust.

The farmer I work for is a single woman and she is often defending her know how and her ability to do things herself – whether it’s carrying a heavy load, trouble shooting the new sand point well, or getting the water feature working on her antique transplanter. She tells stories of always being the minority, and perceiving certain attitudes when at a meeting or buying supplies. I am interested in interviewing her about her experience as a single woman farmer in rural Wisconsin. If anyone has interview question suggestions, please post them in the comments. 

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I can, at least, bottle feed the calves.

Ideally, I would have done some research for this post to back up some of my claims about male handiness being socially constructed, but life on the farm means I need to be rushing outside right now. Wish us luck transplanting today!

Written by Magdalena Kaluza

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What’s in a Hero? Wendy. Davis.

Wendy Hero ReThink History: Hero Project

If you don’t know Wendy Davis, here’s the scoop. In my opinion she’s about as BA as it gets. She’s a democratic politician running for governor in the most notoriously red state in the country – Texas. Not to mention, she’s a woman. That alone takes an enormous amount of moxie (new fav word) and determination, and still it doesn’t even scratch the surface.

To her supporters and fans she may be a lot of things: a rags to riches success story, a ray of hope for Texas democrats, an abortion clinic guardian, a Harvard alumni lawyer and, of course, mom. The list could go on, however, what tends to be missing is the title Hero. So, what’s in a Hero?

☑ People who become heroes tend to be concerned with the well-being of others.

☑ Heroes are good at seeing things from the perspective of others.

☑ Heroes are competent and confident.

☑ Heroes have a strong moral compass.

☑ Having the right skills and training can make a difference.

☑ Heroes persist, even in the face of fear.

 MALE

She more than fulfills every requirement on typical qualities of a hero (spare you the details) except for the tacit and most basic of them all. Everyone knows a hero is a man. And not just any man, a strong, self-sacrificing man with a furrowed brow and a disciplined mind, ready to rescue the helpless, the unfortunate and the women.

Our image of who should be powerful and heroic extends beyond conceptual ideas and has very real consequences for Wendy and her campaign. For example, the majority of the oppositions attacks are not on her political stance, but her personal life and backstory. She’s not traditional enough, she didn’t even struggle that much, she abandoned her family, she didn’t dedicate every waking moment to her children while she was at Harvard law school… and so on.

A man going pursuing a degree in another state while the wife stays back with the kids is seen as a necessary sacrifice. A woman doing the same is seen as a unjustifiable atrocity. A male politician’s home life is barely acknowledged in most cases, while a female politician must be prepared to reveal and defend even the most irrelevant, personal details of her life.

Anyway, the election will be this November and I have no idea what to expect. I do know that the republican candidate Greg Abbott is outrageous and of course wants to cut pre-K education for only minorities, plans to vote against the equal pay act, continue the abortion clinic destruction and the usual. I 100% support Wendy in doing just the opposite.

#TeamWendy 4life

Check out the website: http://www.wendydavistexas.com/

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and tell your friends!

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ReThink History Project

Introducing the ReThink History Project:

From the moment that individuals are introduced to structures and individuals in ‘power’, there is an underlying systemic bias towards white individuals. The history of our country cannot be discussed without first addressing the historical trauma that colonialism has imposed on individuals of color within the boundaries of the United States, and beyond. Iris Young discusses the five faces of oppression as: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence.  The main oppressive event that everyone’s mind jumps to is slavery. While slavery was not just taking place in the U.S., it has greatly shaped how our country developed policies and laws that may still be in place today. Not only have our political institutions been formed under this social construction of ‘whiteness’, but so has popular media, the entire academic system, and the cycle of socialization in our world.

In Winston Churchill’s 1946 Iron Curtain speech he addresses the all-too-often-phenomena of history being written by the victors. Our stories and our history should never be forgotten, yet so often there are individuals whom have made powerful changes in the United States, whose stories and names remain out of our history curricula and classrooms. In her TedTalks speech, Chimamanda Adichie speaks to “the danger of a single story” representing an entire group of people. The true American dream of a ‘Land of Opportunity’ has been lost.

Through the ReThink History project we aim to bring light to those individuals not recognized in our history textbooks, or discussed in the standard classroom setting – yet should never be forgotten.  We believe taking an honest look at the past and questioning the normal history narrative can help everyone understand, and improve, our world.  We would like to acknowledge the many different lenses and approaches that could be taken for this history project, yet we choose to specially focus on female identified individuals. Through this project we will post on Thursdays, around topics relating to this subject matter, in order to help us all become more educated on our past and present.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask either in the comments section below or through personal email: rethinkhistoryproject@gmail.com

Please take a look at the first project we will be leading:

Redefining Hero

Words—an interlocking web of significance. Life is breathed into an idea through them. With the power that a single utterance can provide, we began to think, “What does “hero” mean?  This word has worn many faces. A great uncle who beat cancer, a next-door-neighbor who volunteered abroad, a famous deep-sea diver—the list is endless. With this in mind, we wondered, “What is the commonly assumed embodiment of a hero?” “What is the stereotype?” “What is the definition of a hero.” According to Oxford Dictionary:

he·ro

ˈhi(ə)rō/

noun: hero; plural noun: heroes;


”A person, typically male, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”

We are curious if this one-dimensional depiction of what a “hero” is limits the exposure of other important heroes. Throughout history, white males have been featured in many positions of power, and thus have been seen as heroes. Undeniably, there are countless white men who have done great things in this world. However, the way our media, textbooks, and cultural perpetuation shape our understanding of what it has meant and what it means now to be a “hero” often confines our perspectives to one narrative.

So, we are interested.

  • How do you define “a hero?”
  • Who inspires you?
  • Who is your hero?

We are hopeful that this project will bring awareness and exposure to many different types of heroes.

By submitting your story, you can add to a collection that will be un-uniformed and undefined. We are very excited to see the submissions! They can be submitted in the form of:

  • Written response: The length is subjective, however, the more concise you can be, the better!

  • Video response: A short clip can be submitted to the e-mail address provided.

  • In person video recording with our team: We will be conducting short video recordings at the U of M campus.

E-Mail Address: Rethinkhistoryproject@gmail.com

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Our Blindspot on Dating Abuse

Vegetable gunWhen we hear stories or statistics about dating abuse, we start to form an image in our mind about what it typically looks like, the typical abuser or the typical victim. We might even get better at recognizing a common case and maybe even doing something about it. However, the downside is that any dating abuse that does not fit this description is even less likely to be recognized or addressed.

In an earlier post, I pointed out that domestic abuse does not have to be physical and that emotional and psychological abuse are just as valid and just as damaging. Here, I want to introduce what I think is another overlooked and delicate topic.

Women can be abusers too, they are not always the victim. It sounds obvious. Even though, statistically, the vast majority (92%) of domestic abusers are male and the victims are female, occasionally it does happen the other way around (this differs in same-sex relationships). Still, I would argue because it is far less common, often looks different, and goes against most of our gender stereotypes we are less able to see it for what it is.

Stereotypes associated with women such as weak, passive and nurturing are nearly the complete opposite of those that we associate with somebody who is abusive (e.g. controlling, aggressive, angry). Acknowledging and/or rejecting stereotypes about women does not, unfortunately, mean we are not affected by them. So my point is that abusive behavior by a woman is in direct conflict how they are viewed by other people, and even how they view themselves.

Gender stereotypes in relation to domestic abuse are harmful for both men and women. When women are viewed as weak and passive, it appears more “natural” for them to be the victim and easier for all parties to justify the abuse. Yet, women who abuse will never have to be justified because it sounds like too much of an oxymoron to be taken seriously. For that reason, men who are being abused by women are just as likely to be disregarded.

For men there is so much shame around reporting abuse that a large number of cases likely go unreported. “We tell boys to “man up” and be strong, and this means that they should not have emotions, never feel weak, etc. and continues a vicious cycle of men feeling unable to express themselves about hurtful experiences,” which clashes strongly with the image of a victim.

I was surprised to see how much the statistics evened out in younger groups. One study found that in dating abuse with teen couples girls were more likely to report both being a victim (41%) and a perpetrator (35%), which was surprisingly close to boys reporting victimization (37%) and perpetration (29%). This “leveling-off” was thought to due to recognizing more female abusers, rather than an actual rise.

Emotional abuse, by either gender, is now listed as a common form of abuse, but was under the radar for a long time. Belittling a partner or criticizing them in front of others can be written off as a joke. Having to “get permission” to do something might be seen as acceptable. The silent treatment or emotional isolation might just be their way of handling things. And it’s expected that your significant other should be a priority over all others or else it means that you “don’t love them,” right?!

If it’s harder to see women as abusers and to recognize emotional abuse, in combination it would probably be very easy to overlook. What makes this even more complicated to address is that oftentimes the person does not realize that what they are doing is considered emotional abuse. A whole range exists from mild to severe, and probably fluctuates over time.

What I do feel is a very important distinction between being assertive and being abusive. I’m a huge advocate of people (especially women) being able to communicate their needs and expectations in a relationship and not backing down just to avoid a conflict. Given that, there is a difference between expecting honesty and invading the other persons privacy. In the same way that wanting to be the center of their world and isolating them to make that happen.

As an advocate for awareness of domestic abuse (and dating abuse in younger groups) especially in diverse populations, I still have a hard time getting past the stereotypical case. The man as the abuser, the woman as the victim, physically violent, and blatantly obvious. We need to push ourselves to recognize all forms of abuse and that everyone, ourselves included have the potential to fall into either role.

Missing pieceWhether it’s mild or severe, your best friend or an acquaintance you should consider doing something about it. Don’t give up on a who seems to have isolated themselves. Talk to a friends if you suspect they could be abusive. Monitor how you treat you own partner. Still, remember that not usually straightforward or clean cut so use discretion 😉

Disclaimer:  I am aware that this post is heterosexist in that it uses a heterosexual relationship as the standard and does not address these issues in the context of same-sex relationships. I wanted to specifically address the assumption that women do not abuse men and the consequences of that.

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Reflections on Violence Against Women in Guatemala

I have a lot more reading and writing to do on the subject of violence against women in Guatemala, but for starters, I can say: 1) that the state of fear women here face is historically rooted (thank you, colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism, for the destruction of a people and continued institutional corruption and violence) and 2) that the collective embracing of individual sexual liberation – of women, especially – can help dismantle the culture of fear (alongside policy change, of course, such as better sexual education and more transparent spending on public services and infrastructure).

A kiss on a cheek is a typical greeting here in Guatemala. A kiss on the edge of the mouth is not, yet I’ve gotten several of those. I’ve received lingering handshakes with a squeeze at the end, vivid stares, and pushy requests for my phone number. These experiences are not Guatemala-exclusive, though they have been happening to me more often and more audibly here. And while it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between cultural norms and abuse, there have been moments of obvious harassment. Whose business is it if I have a boyfriend? What do you care if I’m traveling alone? Why am I expected to respond to a ts ts ts from across the street? As a friend of mine and fellow Latin@ poet said, “words and actions can both be sexual violence.”

I typically move on from these uncomfortable experiences without much thought. However, a friend here described a recent and nasty verbal attack. She mentioned her resulting fears about where the line between words and actions is drawn. I reassessed my own emotions after certain experiences on the street, and decided that I, too, have been pushed to places of fear, tension, and distrust. Some of my experiences may be unique, being a foreigner, but I can confidently say that living in a constant state of fear is a very real oppression faced by all women here.

Many Guatemalans I’ve met have described Guatemala as having a culture of fear or a culture of silence. Anthropologists have used the phrases “death as a way of life” and “fear as a way of life” to describe Guatemalan existence. In her book Fear As a Way of Life: Mayan Widows in Rural Guatemala, Linda Green quotes Cynthia Enloe: “Wars don’t simply end / And wars don’t end simply.” While Guatemala’s Civil War ended over two decades ago, death and violence persist. According to the World Health Organization, 10 or more murders a day per 100,000 people is classified as an epidemic. Guatemala qualifies, along with 10 other Latin American countries. Violence has been normalized, as a legacy of ingrained intimidation, residue of the war, stubbornly persists.

What is the connection between a history of violence, current violence, and mindsets of fear? To be always afraid is to be truly oppressed. Seeing the fear that my dad manifests often evokes anger for me – I find his distrust unreasonable. But I must remind myself that he lived through a war. For him, distrust meant survival.

I hope that, through education, we can little by little dismantle the fear in which we live, replacing it with strong community ties and respect for women. Projects such as Colectiva Siluetas’ show AFUERA, about being a lesbian in Guatemala, and Rebecca Lane’s music (like this song about liberation and self love) are great first steps. Also check out this documentary about sex workers in Guatemala who started a soccer team and joined a league in order to call attention to the violence and abuse they faced. My friend also told me about a radio show on which Guatemalan women described their experiences masturbating. Revolutionary! Maybe we can even get a good burlesque class going here so women can go straight to positive pride in sexuality and self-confidence.

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Start Seeing Straight Privilege

HeteronormativeLately, I have been more aware than ever of the countless benefits and privileges unfairly given those of us who identify as heterosexual. When I read or hear about privilege, it usually concerns race or sex/gender and because I am neither white nor male,  it can be easy to overlook the fact that I am still privileged AF.
I would bet that all the progress with gay marriage and public endorsement of same-sex couples creates an illusion that things are better than they really are. In the same way that people like to believe that sexism and racism don’t exist today, we are on a fast track to doing the same with sexual orientation.
I want to acknowledge that privilege is far more difficult to see when it’s working with you rather than against you. Still, that’s not an excuse to avoid putting in the effort it takes to own up to your privilege and to do something about it. I feel responsible for learning about the challenges of living as a LGBTQ individual in a heteronormative society and doing by best to mitigate those challenges.
Here are some of the ways I recognized my heterosexual privilege (I am aware that these are still from my perspective and are probably biased):
1. My sexual preferences are not seen by others as a core part of my identity – unless I want them too.
2. I don’t have to worry that the people closest to me will become distant after learning of my sexual preferences.
3. When looking for a partner, I can assume most of my target gender will have the same sexual orientation as me – also making the pool of potentials much larger.
4. I do not have to question how “gay-friendly” a space is to feel comfortable being there with my significant other.
5. I haven’t grown up in a culture that sees my preferences as sinful, immoral, unnatural or just a phase.
6. Clothing made for my body also signifies the gender I wish I express.
7. I don’t have to question if my same-sex friends think I have a crush on them.
8. Basically every movie I watch, song I hear, or ad I see validates my sexual preference as the unquestioned norm.
9. I am not lumped together with the entirety of the “gay community” whose members often have no more in common than non-members.
10. I am not subjected to the “be just like us” ideal American family model whilst being unable to fully participate.
Of course, this is not even scratching the surface. I chose these 10 points because they are less publicized, and in my opinion, more abstract. Discrimination in the media concerning LGBTQ folk typically consists of legal matters and acts of violence s – aka two of the most concrete topics. Subtle or normalized topics, on the other hand, often go overlooked.
I would argue that straight privilege is taking us longer to recognize because overall sexuality is more abstract to us than either race or sex/gender. For one, it’s invisible (well technically.) Two, even heterosexual sexuality is a taboo subject. Regardless, privilege and discrimination around sexuality can only be understood in the context of all other forms of identity – I still have a lot to learn about this!
If anyone has comments or criticism I would be happy to hear it. I don’t claim to understand how it feels to live as an LGBTQ member of society or to be an expert on privilege. I purposely didn’t research before writing because I wanted use my own ideas and my current, honest knowledge of this topic. I hope to be able to identify with others who are in this stage and hopefully get people thinking about how this applies to their daily lives and to start seeing straight privilege!
Heteronormativity Day
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Feeling Invalidated as Women in The Work Place

This is a collaborative piece.

Having recently graduated from college and entering the working (“real”) world, we have begun to notice the gross reality of gender dynamics that exist in the work place. We’ve talked to other women about our experiences and feelings and found that many could relate.

Many argue that we have come a long way as a society in terms of educating and employing women. But if we get into professions just to be made to feel invalidated by particular male colleagues, then how far have we come culturally?

The purpose of this post is to share experiences that women face in the work place  that often go unnoticed, unspoken, and in many cases have become normalized. Four stories are shared below and the women who have opted to contribute have also chosen to remain anonymous for the sake of their employment. Fear is something that comes along with speaking out and the risk involved in saying something is a very real chance we take. We would, of course, prefer to feel safe sharing these stories openly, but that is not a place that we have yet reached, as individuals and as a society.

EXCUSE ME, Shut Up 

I’m not a fan of having to get dressed up for work. By all means, I like to look nice but if I could do my job in leggings and a loose tee every day, you bet I would. But I know that in my position, I gain respect from my clients by looking professional and put together. My clients need all the help and respect they can get in their lives so I take the dress code seriously balancing pencil skirts, blazers, heels, the ordinary combination of a professional female business wardrobe.

I’ll admit, I do feel more the part when I’m dressed-up, a bit more powerful and confident about my ability, a bit more assured that my clients trust me to do my job and help them instead of write them off like everyone else in their lives. Most of my clients and colleagues are men.  I can keep up with the office banter, grant it it’s a good thing I play fantasy football and can talk the normal Sports Center and beer lingo, being from Wisconsin. I sometimes wonder how they would react if I randomly decided to go on a tangent about what color I’m planning on dying my hair, but that’s besides the point.

I’ve come to love my job, even the dressing-up; it feels good to look good I can’t lie. But I absolutely, full-heartedly detest, no, loathe the extra shall we say “attention” I receive for the way my body looks in my clothing. I’m curvaceous, I have quite the rack (brought to you by both sides of the family), but never do I try to intentionally flaunt this at work. One day I borrowed a roommates dress that was a little tight; not doing that again. The first guy I see in the office says to me “well that is quite the pretty necklace you have, which boyfriend of yours got that for you?” If you know me, you know I was contemplating smacking him. EXCUSE ME. Thoughts in my head:

1 – Yeah, you’re looking at my necklace, my ass. He was staring directly at  my rack and the dress I was wearing even went up to my neck. Subtle.

2 – I can buy my own fricken jewelry thank you very much, hell no do I need a man for that.

And 3 – To even imply that I would date multiple guys at once like some kinda gold digger is beyond insulting.

Sadly I’ve gotten use to the reactions I get any day I come to work looking a little too, let’s say appealing and my coworkers and clients alike, can’t help but issue a slew of “well ain’t you looking fancy today” or my personal favorite, “I see you white girl.” Shut-up.

My co-worker put it really well the other day. He said to me, “someone was talking to me about you the other day and the first thing that came out of the guy’s mouth was ‘she’s beautiful.’” My co-worker goes on to say how frustrating that is, that I’m chalked up to be a pretty girl, completely omitting the work that I do and the passion that I have for my job.

Compliments about appearance are nice; as someone who’s dealt with major body and confidence issues for a long while, sometimes it’s the morale boost I need. But if looking nice and professional comes at the price of being just another pretty girl in the office, peace out, I’m done.

I’ll continue to dress the part for the sake of my clients, but the next person that says “dang you look fine,” watch out. And for the love of women, can we design some professional clothing that aren’t created to make my butt look tight, my waste look small, and my legs look built!

Submitted anonymously

I Can Build My Own Damn Bike

Ooh, I bet you got a lot of whistles this morning.” This is what I heard when I walked into work one day. I was dressed in a black pencil skirt, flowy top, tights and some pretty sleek boots. I looked good. Felt confident. But of course I knew I’d be receiving a comment about it. Maybe it’s the feminist in me, raging more and more every day. But when I dress for work, for anything, I do it for myself. Not to get stared at by every man on the bus, the street, at work. And certainly not to get whistled at like a dog.

Now, this comment was a compliment. But it bothered me. Especially because it came from a woman. We’ve become subliminally trained to dress to impress. Because that’s how we draw attention. That’s how we hold power. By how we put ourselves together in the morning. True, I feel more confident when I look good. But I do it for myself. Anyways, maybe I’m ranting too much and not getting into the real thick of it. The things that really get beneath my skin because I am a woman in my workplace.

Whenever I need to move something or take on a task that’s not so ladylike, I  most certainly, without a doubt, will hear “Oh, you need a man to help you with that!”. Sometimes, I do need a hand, but I’ll be damned if I hand over a box or a task to a guy that thinks I can’t handle it. I recently got a new bike through work and planned to assemble it on my own. I can’t tell you how many pushy offers I received to have one of our male residents put it together. I’m a pretty avid bike rider, know how to fix a flat, and most importantly, know how to read instructions. So I felt like I was qualified enough to put a bike together. But at least 5 people didn’t think so.

Maybe it’s because I’m so headstrong, but I assembled that bike all by my damn self. I got stares of amazement. Many from fellow females who thought I should have handed the task to a man. This is what irked me the most. Where along the line were these women told they needed a man to help them? That they were less than capable. Perhaps I’m a raging, headstrong feminist, but I prefer to be thought of as a capable woman. Especially at work.

Submitted anonymously

The Skanky Shorts

I have begun a new job at a progressive, young, nonprofit organization. The man who hands me my check each month is friendly, flirty even. It honestly makes me feel uncomfortable but I have never said anything about it. I mean, I am new here, I am young, and he is in a position of power. So, I think, flirting is harmless and avoid him.

A few weeks into the job I make it out to a happy hour with a few co-workers. It feels good to finally get out of the work cloths and hang out with the people I am around all day. I show up in jean shorts and a tee shirt, my typical summer apparel. My uncomfortably flirty friend shows up and offers to buy me drinks. I’m broke so hey, why not? We all sit together and are enjoying each other’s company.

The flirting coworker’s next move changed my mood for the remainder of the night. The man who hands me my pay checks looks at me, to poke fun, and in front of our entire group says “She can’t be trusted, just look at her skanky shorts.” My face just went blank, I was confused, shocked. The first thought that popped into my head was, first of all, how dumb his joke was. It made no sense (so if you are scratching your head wondering what the point of the joke was, there was none). It felt like it was just a random opportunity for him to say something about my clothing choice.  That in itself confused and infuriated me.

Because he pointed out my clothing in front of a large group, I naturally felt everyone’s gaze. I just sat there, feeling exposed. I tugged at my shorts as if I could disprove his statement, maybe avoid the potential judgement of my colleagues who’s attention was now on my lower half. I didn’t want to stand up for the rest of the evening out of fear that everyone would look at my ass and judge the clothing I had chosen to wear. He, in that one statement, caused me to feel embarrassment, anger, fear, shame. I questioned how long he had been looking at my shorts, thinking they were skanky. Was it when he bought me a drink? I felt angry. He embarrassed me. I felt violated by his analysis of my outfit.

I sat in my own silence turning the comment over and over in my head. Why the fuck was he even looking at my shorts? Who gave him the right to draw his own conclusions on the style of clothes I choose to wear out? Weather it was in or out of the work place, he has no right to call my clothing skanky. What was he saying about me in that comment about my shorts? I don’t wear those shorts out anymore. He continues to flirt at work. I wonder if he thinks about what his simple words and actions have the power to make me feel.

Submitted anonymously

The Questions Behind My Silence

I feel two simultaneous jabs on either side of my torso, just below my ribs. You know, the type that you might get teasingly from a significant other, or pesteringly from a little sibling. The kind meant to get a rise out of you, meant to make you jump, giggle, and turn around to teasingly slap the person who did the jabbing. This is not one of those times. I’m at work.

I’m caught off guard by the pokes. My body tenses involuntarily. My head whips around and my mind races. What was that? Who touched me? Why?

In the few split seconds that it took for me to turn around, my mind had not decided how I felt, let alone come up with how to react. I was surprised but not quite offended, confused but not quite angry. Mostly, I was just shocked and weirded out.

My eyes caught a glimpse of one of my male co-workers walking behind me. His head turned back to meet my bewildered glance and he smiled. I immediately knew then that he had poked me on my sides.

A hundred questions flooded my mind.

Is this normal? Should I be mad? Am I offended? Is this harassment? Should I tell someone? Why would he even do that? He’s married. Is he trying to bug me? I would never do that to anyone. Ever. Especially at work. He is a man and he is much older than me. I know he would never go up behind another male co-worker and do that. Is this a gender thing? An age thing? Do people even take me seriously? Or am I just some kid they can pick on? Is it a cultural thing? Is this teasing okay in some places? What am I supposed to do? How do I react? They never tell you what to do in these situations. Am I being silly? Should this not be something that bothers me? Does it bother me?

They, you know, the teachers, youth leaders, parents, and counselors, they always tell you to report sexual abuse. They tell you to let someone know if anyone verbally or physically harasses you. But what about all that grey area. What about when a male co-worker sneaks up and teasingly pokes you in your sides? What about when you don’t know whether it’s something inappropriate or if you’re just being too sensitive? What about when that person who makes you uncomfortable is one of your bosses?

I still don’t know exactly what I should have done in that situation. I told a few of my female co-workers that I trust about the incident and I was surprised to hear that they have had similar, and some worse, situations and stories involving that same male co-worker. One co-worker even reported one of the incidents, but apparently nothing really changed.

So what is my solution? For now, I avoid being alone with him. I respect him less. Sometimes I’m rude to him. Sometimes I rehearse in my mind how I will react or what I will say if he tries something else or says something inappropriate. Is that the right answer? I don’t really know, and I think the not knowing how to asses these situations bothers me just as much as the fact that these things happen in the first place.

 Submitted anonymously

So the days come to an end. The weeks pass by. The comments are made and then they fade. We get stares and whistles, snide comments, uncomfortable feelings. We hope for an end. Some of us will speak up. Some of us won’t. Some of us will get angry and take action. Some of us will be scared. We will stand up for ourselves and for women as a whole, for equality and for liberty.

We will speak and act for the future and for hope. For now, we hope that you join us in this effort and raise the awareness and share your own stories. Listen to other’s stories and listen to yourself.

We hope that the accounts you read and the real women behind them stirred your hearts. We hope that you will bring this challenge and this awareness into your own communities, families, and workplaces, and give someone else hope.

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The power in butch: possessive language in queer relationships

At work about a month ago, I made a sound, “uh-hhh,” kind of guttural, almost a hiss. Those of you who know me know the sound I’m describing. A coworker teased me about the sound. Lots of folks tease me when I make that sound. I’m used to it. But what bothered me was what she said next, “It’s alright. All femmes make that sound.”

This ticked me off. She is someone I like and it’s not the only thing she has said that has bothered me, so I figure it’s time to think about what she’s been saying/determine why it bothers me.

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After some reflection, I’ve decided I didn’t like the femme comment because I’ve never categorized myself as a femme and I don’t agree with sweeping generalizations. I don’t like to think I fit into the stereotypes associated with the term. The word femme is usually used to describe a feminine lesbian or a feminine gay man, and its converse is manliness, or a butch or dyke. While I do I wear jewelry and skinny jeans – those are feminine things, I guess – I don’t strive to fit into gender or sexuality stereotypes, and I am not always submissive or a bottom – connotations that the word femme brings up for me. I  also struggle with the idea that an entire population of people all make one sound. I’m sure my coworker was exaggerating, but what does it mean to clump a group of people together like that, even if it’s just in terms of a sound? What other generalizations can then be made?

My coworker also called her partners, “My bitches and hoes…” and used dominating language to talk about them. She spoke of keeping partners in check and having partners make her happy. My coworker has made it clear that she is a top. I understand that people like a wide range of power dynamics in their sex lives and relationships. However, I don’t know the boundaries of my coworker’s relationships and I don’t know the extent to which her partners have consented to the use of such dominating language. Being on the outside of the relationship, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to hear such language used to describe a lover.

Aside from my coworker, I’ve been told that the terms “bitch” and “hoe” are used widely in some queer relationships, especially by the more masculine-presenting partner. This language reminds me of colonization and oppression – two things I hope to erase from the relationships in which I partake. Are queer folks perpetuating patriarchal power dynamics when using possessive language (and perhaps possessive behavior)?

Written by Magdalena Kaluza. Thank you to Megan Leys and others for talking with me about this.

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