Archive for homophobia

Why Saying “I’m Not a Feminist” is NEVER an Okay Thing To Do

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2014 by KarenElizabeth

There are a lot of misconceptions about feminism in the world.

There are many different reasons for this, of course.  Feminism is a complicated topic.  It’s hard to look at approximately 50% of the world’s population — women of all races, all nationalities, all ages, all sexual orientations, all income brackets, all political affiliations, all education levels, etc — and define a simple, clear message that everyone can agree upon.  Especially since the advent of 3rd wave feminism, there are countless splinter and “niche” groups working under the greater feminist umbrella, and often working directly at cross-purposes to one another, or talking about completely different topics.  In an age where information is readily accessed with the click of a mouse, we’re faced with an overwhelming glut of information regarding feminism, and very little of it is concise or clear or speaks with a single voice representing all of us.

But when it’s stripped back to the bare essentials, feminism *does* have one simple, easily expressed goal:  gender equality, and the elimination of sexism.  We disagree (sometimes vehemently) on how best to *achieve* that goal, of course, but the goal remains the same for all.  And when you strip it back to that — when you say, “gender equality” instead of “feminism” — there are very few people who’ll argue against it.

And this is why the way we express ourselves about feminism, and the way we self-identify, needs to see some serious change.

If you believe that sexism is a bad thing, and that a person’s gender does not determine their worth, then you’re a feminist.  You may not agree with *every* feminist group (no one does — there are simply too many of them out there) — but you’re a feminist, of some description.  That’s all there is to it.  Saying “I’m not a feminist”, then, is a lie — and worse, it’s hurting feminists (and people) everywhere.

When most people say “I’m not a feminist”, it’s because they’re misguided about what feminism means.  They’ve bought in to a harmful stereotype — the man-hating, (often) lesbian, radical feminist who burns bras, thinks men should be slaves, and considers all penetrative sex to be rape.  This is a stereotype that was created by (and has been largely perpetuated by) the oppressing class, as a way of discrediting the perfectly logical claim that women are people and should be treated as such.  It’s a caricature, designed to make feminists look laughable and ridiculous and unfeminine, and unsexy, and unlovable, and criminal.  So when you characterize all feminists this way, it’s no different than characterizing all Scots as “cheap”, or all Irishmen as “drunks”.  You’re buying in to a bigoted stereotype, rather than learning about the individual people.

And when you buy in to that bigoted stereotype, and say “I’m not a feminist”, you’re also lumping yourself in with the people who actually ARE bigots.  You’re aligning yourself with the people who believe that women’s rights should be taken away so we can go back to the “good old days”.  You’re aligning yourself with sexual predators and rapists who don’t want their victims to have rights or be treated as people.  You’re aligning yourself with the Taliban who shot Malala Yousafzai in the head for wanting an education.

Do you really want to be on the same side as those people?

I’m not saying that you should blindly help any cause that identifies itself as “feminist”.  There’s no “supreme guiding council of feminist elders”, and no peer-review process, to determine the validity of any particular group’s claim to feminism.  There are plenty of self-identified “feminist” groups out there who have views that may not, in fact, be particularly helpful ones.  There are radfem groups who call themselves feminist but believe in the subjugation of men (I happen to strongly dispute their use of the term “feminist”, since by definition any group that advocates sexism is not, in fact, feminist — but that’s an issue that’s still considered up for debate in the broader feminist community).  There are feminist groups who are anti-choice, or who align themselves with religious organizations, or who are sex-worker exclusionary, or trans-exclusionary, or classist/racist/etc in their aims, and I disagree vehemently with all of those things.  And there are many feminist groups advocating for very specific, niche causes that may or may not be relevant to a particular person’s life — for example, a group dedicated to eliminating sexism in the medical profession might have a very good point, but not be relevant to me personally, as I’m an arts worker, not a doctor (dammit, Jim!).  So just calling yourself “feminist” doesn’t make you right, and it’s still important to research the motivations and background of any group you’re looking to join up with or support.

One of the biggest groups who commonly say “I’m not a feminist” are, unfortunately, men.  They’ll say, “I believe in women’s rights and equality, but I can’t be a feminist ’cause I’m a guy”.  And that’s just ridiculously misguided.  Not only is it perfectly possible for a guy to believe in gender equality (thus making him a feminist), it’s supremely important for people who are NOT women, who are NOT a part of the oppressed class, to take up the banner of feminism and make a conscious choice to support feminist aims.  Because it’s the oppressing class (in this case, males) who has the majority of the power — and thus, it’s males who have the most power to change things.  It’s been proven time and again that it’s easier for men (and especially white men) to get top positions at most jobs — they’re the bosses, the ones in charge of salaries, the ones in charge of hiring, and the ones in charge of policy.  They’re the majority of the politicians.  They’re the educators at universities.  They’re the police and the lawyers and the judges who enforce and influence the laws.  So if they’re working with feminist aims in mind (ie, a CEO who implements fair hiring policies, or a politician who fights for women’s reproductive rights), they’re in a position to do much more to help the cause than almost anyone else would be capable of.  They’re the ones who, by and large, have the ability to tip the scales and start the workings of a fair society.

Another group that commonly denies feminism is people of colour.  This is a more problematic issue — people of colour are already a part of an oppressed class, whether they are female or male or anything in-between.  They’re already fighting for fair wages, fair representation, and fair application of the law.  And many feminist groups are, unfortunately, very whitewashed.  Because it’s white people who have traditionally had more education & wealth, it’s white women who largely spearheaded the early feminist movements, and it’s white women who have remained at the forefront.  Many feminist groups are blatantly racist (or at least racially insensitive), and when you bring religion into the equation (people of colour are traditionally more attached to their faith, for a variety of reasons not worth going into here), it gets even more difficult — many feminist groups actively attack religious organizations, without regard to the people who worship that particular god, and this can be a massive turn-off for otherwise pro-gender-equality types.  And because feminism has historically been white, it’s difficult for people of colour to break that barrier — too many, already exhausted from spending a lifetime being oppressed for the colour of their skin, walk into a feminist meeting only to see a sea of white faces and no one who looks remotely like themselves, and they feel automatically excluded.  It’s hard to blame people for feeling that way.  In the end, though, we’ll never be able to make feminism more POC-friendly without having some people of colour standing in those rooms.  Some are going to have to break down those barriers, and walk into those rooms full of white faces, and decide they’re going to stay.  And those of us who *are* white need to recognize this difficulty, and welcome such people with open arms, so that more of them will feel comfortable saying “I’m a feminist”.

What I find, personally, the most painful, are those women who believe that identifying as feminist will make them seem unattractive.  They’re victims of fear — fear of being hated, fear of being spurned, fear of being alone.  These are the people who media depictions of feminists are directly attacking, and directly oppressing.  I just want to take those women and say, “It’s okay! What they said on TV was a lie — you can be a feminist and still be beautiful, and feminine, and a stay-at-home-mom, and people will still love you”.  And they tell me that they’re “not as strong” as I am, or that they “don’t belong”.  And that’s so wrong, because you don’t have to be an exception — or an exceptional person — to be a feminist.  You just have to believe in equality.

In most media depictions, it’s the loudest and most strident voices who get the most airtime.  These are the people who are easy to pick out of a crowd, and they give entertainment and good sound bites.  They’re also the people who are easiest to ridicule and discredit.  So we need more of the “normal” people, the ones with perfectly rational and moderate views (the ones that the majority of us espouse) to stand up and say clearly, “I’m a feminist”.  We need to drown out those radical voices, and get voices of reason to be standing at the forefront.  Because until we can “normalize” feminism, it’s never going to be fully successful.

And it really should be perfectly “normal” to believe that all people should have equal rights, right?

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Obama’s Support for Gay Marriage, My Political Cynicism, and the Global Context

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2012 by KarenElizabeth

The Interwebs and news outlets are aflame:  the U.S. president has publicly expressed his personal support for gay marriage rights.  In an election year.  It’s undeniably a historic move, and certainly a very positive thing for human rights in the U.S. and around the world.

 

“For me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married”.  It seems like such a simple little sentence, doesn’t it?  He speaks only for himself, personally, not for his administration as a whole — and it’s taken years for this sentence to be expressed, despite increasing public sentiment in favour of same-sex marriage and various moves by his administration that have indicated a pro-gay-rights stance.

The timing of this announcement is, undeniably, a carefully planned political move.  With his country gearing up for what is sure to be a hard-fought election, in the wake of 4 years of a seriously struggling economy, there are a lot of issues to be hotly debated in the coming months.  By finally, after years of avoiding the issue and claims that his views are “evolving” when pressed, coming down firmly on one side of this debate?  He’s choosing his battleground, and simultaneously locking down a large portion of the queer vote (a vote he was likely to get anyways, because honestly, even without voicing his opinion like this?  He was clearly the more queer-friendly candidate).

In fact, the real reasons behind this announcement likely have little to do with gay rights at all.  A common criticism of Obama, throughout his term as president, has been that he is too indecisive, too willing to compromise and seek a mythical centrist “common ground”, rather than sticking to his guns and defending issues with passion (something that, for all I cannot stand Republican politics?  They’ve got that whole “passion” thing locked down).  This announcement takes some of the wind out of Republican sails — no longer can they accuse him of dithering and avoiding the issue — while not really giving them anything new to complain about.  Obama’s administration has been taking queer-positive steps all along, from the striking down of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, to Hilary Clinton’s historic “gay rights are human rights” speech.  Those who oppose those rights?  Have plenty to complain about already, and have been doing so all along.  Obama’s announcement gives them very little in the way of new material — especially as it was phrased as a personal statement, and not one of policy.  In addition, this move draws greater attention to the important but ultimately sideline issue of gay rights, pulling criticism away from more difficult topics such as the economy and the Iraq war.

It remains to be seen whether the Democrats’ platform, when it is released, will contain any references to gay rights or gay marriage, although I’m honestly pretty hopeful that it will.

Cynicism about politics aside, the amount of attention that this announcement is drawing?  Is such a good thing.  In many parts of the world, we’re approaching a sort of “tipping point” when it comes to gay rights.  Because for all the hard fighting that’s been done, for all the fights won and rights achieved, we’re still at a place where it’s socially acceptable, in many circles, to be against gay rights — or even against the very concept of being gay.  People will speak openly, publicly, about their hatred and bigotry, and not be ostracized by society for doing so.  So while killing someone for their gender orientation or beating a person half to death for their sexual orientation is now considered a hate crime and rightly deplored, expressing hatred through words or less brutally violent actions is still (somehow) okay.

Obviously this is a situation that isn’t going to last.  A generation from now, we’ll look back on the hateful things that were said and done, and wonder how we ever tolerated such awfulness.  But we haven’t quite tipped that balance, yet.  The more virulently angry the bigots become, though?  The more people are going to lose their taste for such dialogue, and the more people are going to start saying “shut up, that’s not acceptable”.  By giving more prominence to gay marriage rights as an election issue, Obama is — intentionally or not — going to inflame the hate-spewers to a point that just might be far enough to tip things over and lead us into a future where saying “I’m against being gay” is no longer an acceptable statement to make.

I do fear the backlash from this, however.  In stirring the pot, Obama is making life more dangerous and difficult for queer people everywhere, for a little while at least.  It’s inevitable — it’s a step we must go through to get to where we need to go — but it’s still scary.  I know I’ll be walking a little more carefully while the ensuing shitstorm blows up, and encouraging my queer friends to do the same:  we haven’t seen the last of the hatred, and as the homophobes see their comfortable world disappearing, violence is likely to ensue.

On the upside, though, I can hope that this may be one of the final nails in the coffin of Canadian conservatives’ attempts to re-visit the gay marriage issue — Canadians have already fought this fight, and seeing it brought up again in this past year has been an emotional struggle for all of us.

Homophobia is not a “personal value”.

Posted in Rants with tags , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

As those of you in the GTA are no doubt aware, Toronto mayor Rob Ford announced last week that he had no plans to attend the city’s Pride celebrations.  And the shit hit the fan.

Now, I have my own issues with Pride celebrations (see last year’s post on the subject for more details).  I didn’t bother to take the day off work, and won’t be attending the parade, although I might meander my way down towards some of the partying later on in the day.  There are legitimate reasons for deciding that the Pride parade is not for you.

Trouble is, I’m pretty damn certain that those legitimate reasons have nothing whatsoever to do with Ford’s decision.

He keeps hiding behind his PR line, that he doesn’t want to give up a “family tradition” of going to the cottage for Canada Day weekend.  Funny, really, how so many of the arguments against gay rights come down to “tradition”, isn’t it?  Ford’s brother, a city councilman, has announced that he’ll be attending the parade.  So obviously it’s not the entire family who are so married to this “tradition” that they can’t cut the weekend a teensy bit short and come back on Sunday instead of Monday.

The media is trying desperately to show this as an issue that has two sides to it, but there’s just not much of anything for Rob Ford to stand upon.  The “opposing viewpoint” that keeps being repeated seems to be that “the man has the right to his traditions”, or “he shouldn’t feel pressured to attend if the parade conflicts with his personal values”.

Well, call me intolerant if you will, but I think that homophobia — especially in a duly elected public servant meant to represent and serve the community — is decidedly NOT a “personal value”, or a right.  It’s ignorance.  It’s hateful.  It’s intolerable.  Ford needs to accept that he is in charge of a city with a large and extremely vocal gay community, and he needs to see attending this parade as a duty.  If he were invited to attend an event for black history month, or in celebration of women’s rights, and declined the invitation in this manner?  He’d be drummed out of office.  Never mind that he’s a white, heterosexual male — as mayor, he represents ALL of his city’s people, including the ones who he may not personally like.

One of my friends has suggested that it would be fitting to bring Pride to Rob Ford, if possible.  Anyone who has a cottage near his should definitely consider holding their own pride weekend party — my friend’s suggestion was to actually have a parade down the street that the Ford family cottage sits on.

Of course, I’m 90% certain that Ford’s PR people will drag him, kicking and screaming if necessary, to make at least ONE public appearance during the weekend.  This has turned into too much of a fiasco for him to really be able to justify staying away.  But the damage is already done.  He’s proven once and for all that he’s a selfish, homophobic bastard, who can’t even summon up the cojones to do the politically correct thing (and damn it, if politicians can’t manage to be politically correct, what the hell is the point of having a polite society in the first place?)

I sincerely hope that this haunts the man for the rest of his (please let it be short) political career.

Pride, and why I’m not sure I have it.

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

Last weekend was Gay Pride Weekend, and of course the annual Toronto Gay Pride Celebration.  I skipped the parade, but did end up going down to Church St. for a few hours in the evening to meet up with some friends.  I’m glad that I decided against spending the whole day there, as even a few hours of it was somewhat depressing.

Don’t get me wrong; the weekend is always full of fun events.  When I’ve attended Pride celebrations in the past, I’ve always had a pretty good time.  But it just seems more and more that Pride has lost touch with its roots, becoming a mass-media fueled circus of stereotypes.  And in the places where glimpses of those authentic roots can be seen, they’ve stagnated, not keeping up with the times of a changing world and society.

My biggest problem with Pride, as it exists today, is that I’m no longer sure whether it’s helping with the cause of acceptance and integration.  Pride arose out of the oppression of the 1950s and 60s, when there were no laws protecting against sexual discrimination, and being openly gay (and especially cross-dressing) could get you arrested as a “sexual deviant”.  One of the driving forces behind the formation of Pride Weekend, in particular, was the Stonewall Riots, when violence erupted following a particularly brutal police raid on a well-known gay establishment.  And so in the beginning, Pride was about being confrontational and in-your-face.  It had to be.  Gay people were facing violence, and were tired of just lying down and taking it — they wanted and needed to fight back, in a very real and physical sense.

It’s that sort of confrontational behaviour, though, that I worry is no longer helping.  Laws have changed, and while homophobia is still a definite problem in the world, it’s no longer overtly enforced by the system (in this country, at least — I know there are still places where being openly gay can get you arrested or killed, but I’m talking about Canada at the moment).  In the 60s and 70s (even into the 80s), marching nearly naked and screaming “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” involved taking a huge personal risk.  You could get arrested.  You could lose friends, family — even your job, since anti-discrimination legislation was still being developed, and it was still considered socially acceptable for a parent to disown their gay child.  Now the Pride parade is full of those sorts of displays — it’s considered quite acceptable behaviour during the celebrations — and it just comes off as people who’ll take any excuse to get naked and yell things.  It’s not a statement, it’s not risky; it’s not even risqué.  It’s just public indecency for its own sake.  And public indecency for its own sake probably isn’t helping.

One of the greatest challenges facing non-hetereosexual individuals today is the conception that being gay is inextricably linked to promiscuity, STIs (especially HIV/AIDS), and extreme sexual behaviours.  Gay people are “abnormal”; they lack values which are common to heterosexual society.  This is the gay that is most often seen in the media: party animals who can’t settle down with just one partner, who are obsessed with the superficial (how many fictional gay characters are hairdressers, makeup artists, or designers?), and who are ineffectual, especially when it comes to tasks usually assigned to their biological gender (gay men who can’t play sports; gay women who lack emotion and interpersonal skills).  Above all, gay people are different from straight people in very noticeable ways.  Pride plays into this stereotype, especially when the participants are waving their junk around, wildly partying, and labeling themselves (often literally, with stickers or buttons or the like that loudly and proudly proclaim “GAY”, “TRANS”, etc; more often in symbolic ways, such as by wearing rainbows or behaving/speaking in stereotypical manners).

I can’t help but feel that in the face of such stereotypical images, non-heterosexuality hasn’t been accepted by the general public … it’s just been shoved into a convenient and comfortable category.  Gay people are harmless.  Just let them have their parties and their hair gel and they’ll be happy.  And so people tolerate gayness … but they don’t accept it.  It’s kept separate from them, hermetically sealed off away from their “family values”.

But then we come up against questions like gay marriage, and the right for non-heterosexual couples to adopt children, and whether gay people should be able to become elementary school teachers.  These things don’t fit into that comfortable stereotype.  These things scare people, because now they have to re-define their definition of what a gay person is — and people hate uprooting their preconceived notions.  They’d rather continue to assume that we’re all fun, ineffectual, and sexually depraved:  not ideal people for beloved socio-religious institutions like marriage, and definitely not the sort of people who should be raising or teaching children.

In the face of these new challenges, these new steps along the road to normalcy, Pride should be changing as well.  Couples should march together, holding hands, dressed professionally.  Those gay individuals who have children (adopted or biological) should bring them along.  Displays of public indecency should be viewed as indecent, not as an expression of one’s sexuality.  Amid the celebrating of who we are, there should also be mention of what we want — petitions circulating in the crowds, and speeches being given on street corners about necessary social change.  People shouldn’t label themselves with pins or stickers that say “GAY”; they should blend into the crowd, so that gay and straight people cannot be told apart and mingle freely.

Sometimes, I think, the most radical thing you can do is to defy people’s expectations.