The Tragedy at UCSB

UCSB Victims

The six victims of the UCSB shooting

 

On Friday, May 23, six people died and thirteen were injured.

To me it seems as if the story is hardly as much about the victims, or how University of Santa Barbara or we as a society move on from here. The story seems mostly to be interested in the culprit.

Society seems very familiar with the culprit, as tends to be the case in these sorts of situations. For me, I will not be using the culprit’s name and I will be using the gender-neutral singular ‘they’ pronoun.

What is known about the culprit? They had been seeing a therapist, but let us not think that people with a mental illness have a propensity for violence. I for one, who have been diagnosed with dysthymia, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and later on severe depression (not to mention the 1 in 4 adults in America who have mental ‘disorders’ and the 20.9 million adults with mood ‘disorders’) am frankly tired of murderous behavior being blamed on or excused by mental illness.

According to Psychiatry.org 20% of college students are diagnosed or treated for mental health conditions yearly.

CollegeParent.Org states that students between the ages of 18 and 24 report 526,000 violent crimes each year and that of those 128,000 involve a weapon or serious injury to the victim.

This suggests to us not only that what occurred at USCB was not unique, but that whatever measures have been taken against violence on college campuses are vulnerable to being questioned.

It did not take long for guns rights activist to get ahead of this story, defending their second amendment right to bear arms.

Joe the Plumber is quoted as having said, “But: As harsh as this sounds – your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”

Mr. the Plumber might be interested to know that, despite his grab for media attention, restrictions on gaining gun permits has been loosened in a majority of states. And while 16 states have tightened up their mental health requirements, it is said that the culprit of the UCSB shooting had an, “arsenal of handguns and ammunition,” according to The Atlantic. That, despite the fact that the majority of states have opted for stricter background checks in the past year.

A discussion about guns rights and clips sizes is for someone else to have. It appears that the deeper problem, as extremely apparent in the culprit’s final video, is one of misogynistic entitlement.

The culprit talks about revenge in their video, speaking as if some victim in a great feminist ploy, lamenting the fact that they are still a virgin. In fact, it seems interesting to me how that’s a point at all. I suppose that there exists a certain amount of cultural shame around being male-identified and being a virgin any age beginning with the high school years, which is toxic in and of itself, but then it seems that the problem festers when boys are raised to believe that they are entitled to have themselves freed of their virgin status by a woman. The whole problem could go away if the cultural concept of ‘virginity’ were to disappear. If having sex for the first time was not some big to-do, it is only because of religious sects that society has any idea to wait until marriage to have sex, and while one should always practice safe and consensual sex, they may not feel so pressured to do it in middle or high school, if they aren’t trying to shirk off that pesky virginity thing. More over, if we do away with the concept, as a society, college students won’t feel a need to murder on behalf of their aging virginity. The bottom line is that society shouldn’t teach boys that they deserve women’s bodies as the key to unlock the unnecessarily weighty shackles of ‘virginity’.

The culprit goes on to talk about punishing women for having never been interested in them or being with them. Showing seemingly no interest in developing themselves as a person, or finding ways to enjoy their life whether they are in a relationship or engaging in sexual intercourse, the culprit seems not even actually to want to ‘be attractive’ to women, as much as they feel owed women’s bodies. They seem to ignore completely the fact that women do not owe them attraction, much less sex or their bodies.

The culprit, in talk of their ‘retribution’ refers to their future victims not as actual living people, but as animals. This act of dehumanizing is important to note, not only does the culprit seem interested in objectifying women’s bodies, but they want to dehumanize other people’s bodies, referring to them as animals and then subsequently murdering or otherwise injuring them.

The culprit says at one point, “You have shown me no mercy, so I shall show you none.” Which is interesting to consider. Is the culprit suggesting that the mercy they are due is the mercy of being dated or otherwise fornicated with?

What is due now are discussions on misogyny and against misogyny. As a society we can no longer sit back and idly believe that men do not feel entitled to women and, more importantly, women’s bodies. It must be understood that the UCSB culprit was not an anomaly, but a part of a cultural blemish.

Sites such as Return of Kings make attempts at perpetuating ‘male dominance’ with beliefs such as, “Men and women are genetically different, both physically and mentally. Sex roles evolved in all mammals. Humans are not exempt.”

(This speaks volumes about the lack of science education, no one tell the RoK moderators about this.)

This site has made posts first, that claimed they could have helped the culprit and that later attacked the culprit as a feminist.

And, along with the contention above, Return of Kings attempts to intellectualize their misogyny by saying things such as, “Women are sluts if they sleep around, but men are not. This fact is due to the biological differences between men and women.

Even still, it is not a stretch of the imagination to believe that parents the country over would be in open protest at the idea of teaching anti-misogyny, basic decency, and an idea of equality (even on the most basic level that men are not entitled to women), but in colleges and universities the world over it should be common place, from open house, to orientation, to seminars and lectures, that community rules and guidelines be taught, explained and enforced. Criminals will find a way to get a weapon if they want one, but misogyny is a learned ideal.

This tragedy is not about the culprit, it is about hopeful societal changes. It is about a hopeful respect of women and their bodies, and it is in memoriam to the victims. Six young people died because of the rage and sense of entitlement of one.

We can do better than this.

Sources:

http://www.psychiatry.org/college-students

http://www.collegeparents.org/members/resources/articles/violence-campus

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/joe-the-plumber-wurzelbacher-ucsb-shooting-dead-kids

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/12/10/us/state-gun-laws-enacted-in-the-year-since-newtown.html?_r=0

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/05/the-folly-of-conflating-mental-health-intervention-and-violence-prevention/371577/

http://www.returnofkings.com/about

http://www.news-medical.net/news/2006/10/23/20718.aspx

 

Categories: Jessica Fisher | Leave a comment

A word on Topfreedom

“Topfreedom is a cultural and political movement seeking to advance gender equality by the recognition of the right of women and girls to be topless in public on the same basis that men and boys are permitted to be barechested.” – Wikipedia

File:Topless Raelians-2.jpg

Source:

When I first read the phrase “Topfreedom,” I admit, I didn’t know what it was.

I first considered Tops in BDSM relationships. To my knowledge, police don’t recognize consensual BDSM relationships as legal and courts have no legal precedent either. When I went to the Wikipedia page for Topfreedom, I immediately started thinking about when I started at Being Feminist a year ago. I wrote a piece about a woman visiting Savannah, Georgia from her home state of New York. The significance being that the police arrested this woman for indecent exposure and then jailed her with men.

The police’s decision to arrest her for exposed breasts, combined with their decision to jail her based on her legal sex, says exactly what most of us already understand, that it doesn’t matter where you fall on the gender spectrum, it doesn’t even matter what sex you are, what matters is that the traditionally feminine breast is subject to patriarchal sexualization and subsequent repression.

Breast hypersexualization is a particular phenomenon in the West. Far removed is western society from simply being attracted to the breast for its potential contribution to the species via reproduction and general special continuation (not to say that is where western society needs to be). For the patriarchal gaze, Western society finds itself now injecting, inflating, and piercing the breast.

And while people with breasts are socialized to understand that breasts are for this sexually driven gaze, they are also socialized to understand that their breasts are always supposed to be covered up until such a time that someone wishes to sexualize them, when those without breasts have the right to run around without shirts or bras or pasties without the risk of being arrested or persecuted.

Topfreedom’s main tenet within the movement is actually fighting for the right to breastfeed in public. Not only are there legal concerns to contend with, but there is also the sexual gaze. A popular direct action against archaic breastfeeding laws are for those who are breastfeeding to have Nurse-ins. A nurse-in is when breastfeeding mothers and their babies gather at a specific location (such as a restaurant, a park, a public building, etc) to breastfeed and to call attention to criminalized breastfeeding.

While forty-five states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location, only twenty-eight exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. That leaves three states (Michigan, South Dakota, Virginia) that exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws but that don’t specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. That leaves two states (Idaho and West Virginia) with no laws regarding breastfeeding in public or exemptions for breastfeeding from public indecency laws.

People have a right to breastfeed their children – it is their right to do it wherever they please and whenever they please and they should not face being chastised, arrested, gawked or pointed at for it.

The right for the breasted individual to sunbathe topless is another big goal for the Topfreedom movement. Common, especially in the more mainstream discourse, is an argument that comes out something similar to *Insert image of bigger, barechested individual here* “If those boobs are okay,” *Insert image of breasts* “then why aren’t these?”

But the point remains the same, why does social convention continue to demand that the breasted chest be covered up? Why is it seen as shocking, indecent, and immoral when breasts are bared?

The truth? There is no logical reason. The patriarchy does not depend on logic, it depends on perpetuating age-old power structures.

Interestingly, the court, when ruling against Phoenix Feeley in 2008, released the following statement, “Restrictions on the exposure of the female breast are supported by the important governmental interest in safeguarding the public’s moral sensibilities.”

The court’s feeble attempt at hiding suppression, repression, and oppression of a person’s choice to do what they will with their own bodies, especially when it will cause no harm to anyone or anything else behind the veil of “governmental interest” and that they evoke “the public’s moral sensibilities” is laughable.

There are many sides to see the Topfreedom debate from the right of a person with breasts to go topless to the right to freedom of choice as well as breast desexualization. All are important as Topfreedom activists move toward body autonomy and equality in society.

To bring this conversation full circle, let us note that not all women have breasts and breasts do not a woman make. The breast sexualization, the breast concealment, and the hierarchy created by a breast and non-breast dichotomy works to suppress a large majority, to steal their right to make choices about their own bodies, to steal their right to comfortableness with their own bodies and to even steal the ability to freely use their bodies as they deem necessary.
– – –

Sources:

Breastfeeding State Laws – http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/breastfeeding-state-laws.aspx

Organizations of Interest:

Topfree Equal Rights Association

GoTopless

Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society

Bara Brost – Sweden

Topless Front – Denmark

Les TumulTueuses – France

Categories: Jessica Fisher | 1 Comment

Power in femininity & the importance of body autonomy – A look at Lipstick Feminism

Being the tenth part in a series on different feminisms. The ninth part was “Lesbian Feminism: Rejecting the Patriarchal Idea of Heterosexuality as the ‘Norm’

Author’s Note: Lipstick Feminism, while a newer school of thought within Third Wave Feminism, is often seen as controversial, partly due to the fact that it usually (especially the closer to mainstream discourse it gets) depends on ideas that there are “ugly” feminists to move away from. It is important to note that ugly vs. beautiful is a social construct and that the socio-political use of Lipstick Feminism by women shouldn’t be seen as an affront to Feminisms or feminists past, but as a natural growth and progression of feminism.

(Trigger Warning: Discussions of rape and rape culture)

Lipstick Feminism is a branch of feminism that came to prominence during the third wave of feminism. The main tenant of Lipstick feminism is an encouragement to embrace traditional concepts of femininity while also holding and espousing feminist ideals. Lipstick feminism stands in contrast to the second wave’s creation of radical and lesbian feminisms. Namely, Lipstick Feminists hope to work against the stereotypes of the “ugly feminist” and the “anti-sex feminist.”

To quote the Twitter @lipstckfeminist: “Lipstick Feminists focuses on current events, pop culture, queer and race issues, and sex. Mostly sex. We smash patriarchy and the gender binary here.”

Which isn’t far from the encyclopedic definition from WiseGeek:

“Lipstick feminism is a school of third wave feminism in which women support the belief that it is possible to be a feminist while also displaying femininity, being sex positive, or engaging in other displays of sexuality which earlier generations of feminists once condemned.”

While Lipstick Feminism may stand in opposition to branches of second wave feminism,  the success of the first two waves of feminism are what made it possible for Lipstick Feminism to reclaim aspects of femininity previously viewed as disempowering.  Lipstick Feminists make an effort to reclaim traditionally feminine aspects such as make-up and stilettos.

One of the more controversial efforts of Lipstick Feminism is trying to reclaim words like “slut” for usage by women. The idea is to make “slut” empowering, as opposed to an insult steeped in double-standards and patriarchal suppression of women’s free sexual expression. One of the ways in which Lipstick Feminists, as well as feminists in general, have gone about doing this through organizing and participating in what are often called SlutWalks.

SlutWalk Toronto, on their webpage, sum up the idea behind SlutWalks:

“Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. ‘Slut’ is being re-appropriated.”

The SlutWalk Toronto is often credited as being the first SlutWalk, inspired when a representative of the Toronto police said, “women not dress like “sluts” in order to avoid sexual assault.”

The first walk had 3,000 people and involved speeches and a march on Toronto police headquarters. The idea is that the way one dresses should not dictate whether or not they are more susceptible to, or guilty of their own, rape. These demonstrators were protesting the mainstream ideas of slut-shaming, wherein a person is blamed and shamed for the things they wear. They were also protesting the idea of victim-blaming, wherein rape apologists accuse rape victims of being at fault for their having been raped due to the way they dressed or acted.

Lipstick Feminism believes, philosophically, that it is empowering for a woman’s psychology, as well as her social and political position, to wear make-up and sexually suggestive clothes, and to practice a sexual allure that appeals to men and women. Similarly, Lipstick Feminists are proponents of the idea that the ability to choose sexual partners, as well as how much sex one has and when, empowers women.

As quoted by an individual on Tumblr (Content Warning for cissexist language):

“Personally I think it’s fear- red lipstick and sheer tights can strike fear into any person’s heart. It’s a new movement- women who are dangerously capable and attractive; scarily self assured and aware of their own beauty. And that’s what I’ve always connected with lipstick feminism; the creation of self awareness of a women’s own body and sexuality, and the celebration of women in all their female glory.”

Often seen as a modern, mainstream, pop culture version of earlier feminisms, Lipstick Feminism carries some of the same goals as any other feminisms. That is, Lipstick Feminism works against the stereotypes that woman are often socialized, or expected to fit, in to. Some of these stereotypes include “The Good Girl” and “The Decent Woman,” among countless others.

Also worth a mention is Stiletto Feminism, which extends the ideas of Lipstick Feminism from the acceptance of makeup to the validity of women taking up occupations that are specifically founded on female physical beauty. Examples include working as a striptease dancer or pole dancer as well as flashing or lesbian (woman-on-woman) exhibitionism.

On the site Sex Work Activists, Allies and You the site founder is quoted as saying:

“I love my job, but my web site is a business, not a dating ad. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t go a strip club if you have no money for tipping, don’t call an escort because you’re looking for a girlfriend, and don’t email porn performers that you’re not ‘some kind of creep’ who buys porn, but would be willing to take us out for dinner instead. The most annoying people I deal with are people who disrespect me by assuming that they are entitled to discounts and freebies because they think they’re ‘too good’ to pay for my services. Treat us like the professionals and small business owners that we are.”

Some critics don’t find Lipstick Feminism practical. Natasha Walters, author of “Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism” quotes a former lapdancer,  “Just look at the lap-dancing club… The men in there are respectable, they are in suits, they have bank accounts, the women are not respectable.” This of course doesn’t observe intersections of class and race, or consider the types of labor potentially exploited by these rich men. The quote also says something interesting about what qualifies as respectable and what does not.

And maybe, I speculate, that’s something that Lipstick Feminism is working towards, changing the way society views men and women, on a deeper level – asking them to look at the agency of people who sell sex (in whatever form).  Lipstick Feminists aim to change the societal ideas of what is respectable.

Mary McMahon puts Lipstick Feminism into an interesting perspective:

“Some women (within the Lipstick Feminist ideology), for example, find sexuality empowering and they believe that being positive about sexuality, pornography, and sexual deviance is an important part of the feminist movement. Others would not go that far, but they would say that they do not see a conflict between wearing makeup or dressing up and holding feminist values which include a desire for equality between the sexes.”

Sexual deviance, in a sociological way, means deviating from the norm. To the layperson, however, deviance carries a negative connotation, and that the source of this quote, WiseGeek, is accessible to the layperson as much as it is to the academic or the intellectual. Therein lies a problem, the problem of language, as “promiscuous”, “deviance” and earlier, “slut” all carry negative connotations to the layperson living within a patriarchal society.

What critics of Lipstick Feminism ultimately try to do is ignore the necessity to make and acknowledge a distinction between a woman who chooses to sexualize her body, and the patriarchal, systematic, sexualization of all women’s bodies. Or, these critics claim that any women who choose to sexualize their bodies does so because of patriarchal socialization or hierarchical role fulfillment.

As Lindsey Horvath, VP of Communication at Nationbuilder, said in her piece This Is Not My Feminism:

“While we strive for equality, we recognize that focusing on sexuality as a means to empowerment misses the mark entirely, reducing women to our body parts instead of embracing our personhood. We realize that it is a patriarchal culture that encourages women to seek empowerment and independence through sexual appeal in service to men.”

Still, some argue that women have claimed agency, even in the face of oppression, further back than is commonly societally imagined. Author Teresa Riordan, who spent an extensive amount of time studying patents, claims that it is far too simplistic to suggest that products such as eye-lash curlers and hoop skirts were thought up specifically to oppress women. Of course, intent and result are two completely different things, and recognizing the thin line between active intent and passive consequence is important. Within the context (the time and the culture) of the items Riordan was looking at (ie. Hoop skirts and eye-lash curlers) it is known that the patriarchal hierarchy was absolute, and still it was around this same time that the Western (or the United States?) feminist movement was coming onto a new wave by the pen of Betty Friedan. What we now know of as high heels originated as far back as Ancient Egypt and were used for various purposes both practical, and for the purpose of showing power, so there is evidence to suggest that the idea that certain items were created simply to oppress women’s body is questionable.

Riordan continued, in an interview she gave to TheAge.com, “It is pejorative to say [women are] just the victims and not the agents to some degree in our own destiny.” While Riordan is not blind or ignorant to the patriarchy’s suppressional affect on women, she thinks there is a necessity to re-examine the way history is looked at, believing that women, within the boundaries of the constraints of the patriarchy, did “carve out their own realms of power.”

It is necessary, as critics of Lipstick Feminists point out, to have a discourse around class privilege. It is necessary to look first world feminists’ ability to discuss Lipstick Feminism, to critique their (our) ability to have a discourse around fashion while our economy perpetuates third-world sweatshop slave labor. Still, this critique assumes that Lipstick Feminism is more about fashion than about creating a discourse around body autonomy and body ownership. When having the discourse on how first world feminism affects or ignores third-world women and children, it is important to have a conversation about intent and results. For example, one must consider whether the intent of protesting sweatshop and slave labor is more likely to affect workers negatively than it is to affect managers/CEOs/corporations.

It is empowering, within the realms of the first world privilege of Lipstick Feminism to claim, own, and have fashion. It is important to have fashion, to act as a creative outlet in which to reject the ideas that fashion is for the patriarchal or the sexual gaze. I think that is part of the larger goal of Lipstick Feminism.

Sources:

wiseGEEK: “What is Lipstick Feminism?” by Mary McHahon – http://m.wisegeek.com/what-is-lipstick-feminism.htm
Lipstick helped feminism – http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/10/15/1097784041812.html

https://twitter.com/lipstckfeminist

SlutWalk Toronto. “Why” http://www.slutwalktoronto.com/about/why

“Why Did Men Stop Wearing High Heels”. William Kremer. BBC. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21151350

Categories: feminism, Jessica Fisher | 1 Comment

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