There is no default for people

“11 insanely hot men you will not believe are trans.” The online LGBT publication GayStarNews (GSN) published this article three days ago, unknowingly providing the perfect example from which a discussion about gender ideas in this society can stem. You can see the article by clicking on the following link:

Why would we not believe they are trans? Because they don’t look trans? What is a trans man supposed to look like? For that matter, what is a cis-gender man supposed to look like? And why is the ability of a transgender man to fit into the societal definition of the default man something we need to laud with an article dripping in praise?

“No matter where you start from, you can be who you want to be.” Yeah, sure, so long as who you end up being looks like a Calvin Klein underwear model…otherwise you’ll be stared at, ridiculed, and definitely not be called “sexy” in a magazine.

“Beautiful both inside and out.” Just remember that only the outside beauty actually matters enough to go into a publication’s article as “sexy” because, no matter what your personality says about you, if you aren’t conventionally beautiful post-transition we don’t care.

Write whatever positive, inspirational words you want, but when they lie under the title “11 insanely hot men you will not believe are trans” they are simply groups of letters with zero meaning behind them.

This article is overflowing with hypocrisy and negative underlying messages, but the worst of it might very well be the sentence saying that these 11 transgender men “prove you don’t have to conform to a certain body type to be sexy.” Really? Because all eleven are tall and muscular, most of them have facial hair, and all except one are white. Almost all of them are also either shirtless or wearing shirts that can easily reveal their muscles, hence, the default man of our society.

GSN might think their article is promoting body confidence and trans acceptance, but in reality it is only reinforcing rigid gender expectations and encouraging trans men and women to strive to look like what men and women are supposed to look like.

This article is just one of thousands spanning decades of media conveying the message that, if someone wants to be called “sexy” or “beautiful” or “hot” they have to look a certain way. This effectively equates self-confidence with outward appearance…yet again.

But what’s even worse about this article than those in any copy of Vogue or GQ is that now we’re pushing this on transgender people. This article sends the message of conditional acceptance; it’s okay if you’re transgender, so long as when we look at you we can’t tell.

Make no mistake, this article brings this mindset into the spotlight, but it has prevailed since the advent of the transgender community. The truth is, in this society we are unnervingly comfortable with the status quo; we can demonize the idea of gender roles all we want but we still fall back into them the second we experience something which calls them into question.

It’s comfortable in our society (in addition to it being comfortable to assume the gender binary) to expect men and women to look a certain way. Seeing someone who looks somewhere in between, a place a lot of transgender people find themselves at some point during their transition if not for their entire lives, brings to cis-gender people a sense of confusion and subsequently fear, so they retract into the safe haven of social constructs.

By writing an article praising these 11 trans men for being “hot” by the definition of what our society calls a hot man, GSN is sending a message to the whole of the trans community not only that they have to fit into certain gender expectations to be deemed attractive, but even more so that they need to fit into gender expectations to be accepted enough to be published.

We need to stop this. We need to stop putting so much importance on how someone looks. We need to stop equating one’s outward appearance with their worth as a person. And we definitely need to stop promoting conditional acceptance toward the trans community.

What I find interesting about this article particularly is that it’s published by an LGBT publication, which just goes to show socially constructed gender expectations are just as pervasive in self-proclaimed progressive groups.

Be careful what you write. Double-check your words before you post them. Don’t let problematic social ideologies permeate your good intentions. Doing so will only reinforce an infrastructure that many would benefit from bringing down.

Categories: Nico Tavella | Tags: , , , , ,

Breaking News: Women Care about Health

As of 2011, 14.8% of adults in Queensland, the northeastern state of the nation of Australia, reported smoking on a daily basis, and another 4.1% reported smoking between weekly and monthly[i]. This is slightly higher than the US smoking prevalence, which, as of 2012, was 18.1% of American adults[ii]. In the US, smoking and the tobacco industry have been under an increasing amount of attack since the Surgeon General reported in 1964 the health effects smoking has on the smoker; among the latest measures taken is the series of advertisements by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention entitled “Tips from Former Smokers” (See participants of these ads and their stories at In contrast, the latest campaign by the Queensland government to decrease the percentage of the population that smokes is the “If you smoke, your future’s not pretty” campaign. Launched by Aussie model Rachael Finch and the Queensland Minister for Health, Lawrence Springborg, in May of this year, the goal of the campaign is, according to its website at, to “encourage young women in Queensland to quit smoking by showing how the habit can age them faster and damage their looks”[iii].

Now I want to make this abundantly clear: it is fantastic that the Queensland government is initiating a conversation about putting an end to smoking. This is something that needs to happen everywhere, because the fact that almost 20% of people smoke in the US, Queensland, and so many more places where the risks of smoking have been clear and understood for decades is ridiculous.

That being said, this campaign put on by the Queensland government is a great example of how far we as an English-speaking society still have to go in terms of dismantling problematic societal infrastructures. In the spirit of deconstruction, I’ll go through the issues with this campaign the same way one might take apart a watch or car, systematically and unapologetically.

Let’s start with the title: “If You Smoke, You’re Future’s Not Pretty.” That’s true, smoking does negatively impact your future. The title implies, however, that if something isn’t “pretty” it’s bad. Think about it, the word “ugly” has this horrible connotation behind it…but what really defines what is and isn’t pretty? Society does. The title of this campaign decided to play on this social construct, which provides them with a clever title but simultaneously reinforces the idea that pretty is good and anything that isn’t pretty is inherently wrong.

The campaign’s website is broken up into sections, the first of which is called “How smoking affects you.” The first sentence below the title is “quitting smoking boosts your looks,” and it goes on to say that “studies show that smoking ages you faster and damages your skin, so getting rid of cigarettes really is a beautiful thing. Smoking also costs you a lot of money, makes you unfit, and, of course, seriously damages your health.” This is unbelievable…that the Queensland government assumes being outwardly acceptable by society’s standards is the prime concern of women, so much so that they list it as the first issue with smoking, just goes to show the still-standing perception of women in society as shallow, thoughtless people incapable of caring about their health without first knowing how it affects their outward appearance.

The second section is called “How to quit smoking,” and I’ll admit I got my hopes up that this section would be better. Then I clicked on the tab “reasons to quit,” and the first item on the list was “you’ll look better: quitting smoking will make you look younger and prettier.” Needless to say, I was again disappointed.

The website did have some high points: there is a “get support” section that provides contact with confidential, trained counselors to help smokers quit via a phone call, and there is also a “QuitTracker” app offered that lets the user monitor their daily smoking in a diary format, which puts the amount one smokes in perspective and can help the person plan to quit. From a public health standpoint, this is a fantastic example of increasing people’s self-efficacy by providing resources and making it more possible to quit smoking.

But here’s an idea: let’s support people in the journey to quit smoking without interweaving misogynistic undertones into our campaign. Let’s not automatically assume that women, who are the target of this campaign according to the website, care about how they look more than anything else. Building off of stereotypes, off of rigid gender roles, serves to enforce everything that has proved to hold women beneath men for centuries. By capitalizing off of the image of a shallow, materialistic woman simply to have a catchy slogan for their campaign, the Queensland Government is making a gross assumption of what the Australian woman cares about. Furthermore, this assumption reveals that the government does not consider women to be intelligent enough or well enough informed to be able to hold their health status as a priority over their complexion.

Here’s the bottom line: the Queensland government’s campaign against smoking builds off of the physical insecurities of women, put in place by the same societal infrastructure, because of its effectiveness to get women to care. But this is the wrong way to go about this. Instead of using women’s insecurities as a means to an end to smoking (I’m hard-pressed to believe campaigns like this one will make that change anyway), the Queensland government should make a campaign designed with the idea that women care about their health as much as anyone else. I know this is difficult; assuming women care about real issues more than how they look is pretty bizarre. But I think doing so would have a much more beneficial outcome in terms of reducing smoking rates and at the same time avoid suppressing women as equal people with equal concerns.

[i] Queensland Health. 2011 Self reported health status survey. Population Epidemiology Unit, Preventative Health Directorate: Brisbane; 2011

[ii] Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention. Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults—United States, 2005-2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2014; 63(02): 29-34 [accessed 2014 November 10].

[iii] If you smoke your future’s not pretty. (2014, May 1). Retrieved November 10, 2014, from

Categories: Nico Tavella | Tags: , , ,

Is diet misogyny really healthier?

Disclaimer: the words below are inspired by a similar idea and subsequent video published by CollegeHumor. To see where this idea began, watch the video “Kinda Racist? Try Diet Racism!” on YouTube or go to for more details.

The video begins with two white men watching the Black Entertainment channel, and one of them says to the other “If there’s a black entertainment channel, shouldn’t there be a white entertainment channel?”[i], and I personally couldn’t think of a better way to introduce this topic.

In the spirit of still-persistent racist attitudes in this culture taking on the new form of diet racism, which CollegeHumor describes as perpetuating “the same ignorance of regular racism with none of the guilt or self-awareness,” it’s vital we recognize that racism is not the only problematic mindset undergoing this renovation.

The more feminism enters the public spotlight, whether by music sensation Beyoncé or inspirational activist Laverne Cox, the less fashionable it is to be outright misogynistic. But what’s easier for perpetuators of misogyny to do: give up their discriminatory ideals and accept the rights of others, or maintain their current oppression of others in a more subtle way? This is a rhetorical question; the answer is of course the latter.

Aside from exclusively all-men environments and those where women feel too silenced to speak against it, it’s no longer silently accepted to be indisputably misogynistic: former Republican Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri was thoroughly castigated when concerning the issue of rape victims getting pregnant he made a statement in 2012 saying “if it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut the whole thing down”[ii], the six women murdered by Elliot Rodgers in 2014 in response to the fact that women wouldn’t pay sexual attention to him[iii] lit fires in feminists across the country, and things such as denying women the right to vote seem outrageous now. Good. These things are good. This is proof that we as feminists have made progress.

Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. While it is no longer socially acceptable to deny women the right to vote, it is still considered acceptable to deny female employees birth control insurance coverage under the guise of “religious beliefs.” It is no longer socially acceptable to stone a woman if she cheats on her spouse, but it is still considered acceptable to tell a rape victim she was asking for it. It is no longer socially acceptable to burn a woman at the stake for being a “witch,” but it is still considered acceptable to tell girls they should be ashamed of themselves wearing certain things in school. The list goes on and on.

There’s a trend developing in this nation’s society; blatant oppression towards women is out of style, and many have taken this as a sign that misogyny is no longer relevant or present. I wish they were correct.

The truth is, misogyny is as alive as ever, thriving in the shade of this blissful unawareness. Too often I hear questions, honest confusion, such as “women are legally allowed to vote, serve in juries, own gun licenses, and work in any profession they choose…how can you say America is still misogynistic as a society?” Allow me to break it down for you:

  • Just because women can vote and serve in juries and are viewed as equal to men in courts of law does not stop Congress, 82% of seats of which are currently held by men[iv], from making decisions on whether women are legally allowed the right to things which have a significantly greater impact on women such as abortion and birth control coverage.
  • Just because women can acquire a gun license and buy guns, thereby giving them equal tools to protect themselves, does not erase the fact that 15% of women are injured from intimate partner violence compared to 4% of men, 3 times as many women as men will at some point report being victims of assault from a partner, and 4 of every 5 victims of intimate partner violence were women as of 2010[v].
  • Even though women can work in any profession they choose, that does not change that, as of 2013, 14% of architects and engineers, 35% of surgeons, 33% of lawyers, 13% of police officers, 3.5% of firefighters, 2% of construction supervisors, and 26% of chief executive officers are women[vi].

You would be correct to point out that women are legally allowed to serve in any of these professions, so what then is causing these grave statistics? The answer, the problem that is suppressing women from success far more than any law ever could, is the misogynistic infrastructure that still holds up our society.

So, with all this in mind, you’re probably asking yourself if you have unknowingly added cement to this infrastructure and how you can stop building it up and instead bring it crashing down (why else would you still be reading by this point?). The solution is self-reflection: do you imply women should change their appearances (i.e. wear makeup, dress a certain way, stand a certain way, walk a certain way, etc.) especially to get the attention of a man? Do you ever make a woman feel ashamed for anything (what she wears, what she does, where she works, how she acts, etc.)? Do you ever imply that women are unequal to men in any way that goes beyond their genetic makeup?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are supporting this discriminatory infrastructure. But fret not, you can change how you approach this very easily by simply monitoring yourself. Think before you speak. Ask yourself if what you’re about to say might reinforce social inequality in some way, shape, or form. Furthermore, educate yourself. There are so many opportunities to learn about true gender equality on the Internet, in the library, from your peers, and so on. By taking a genuine effort in learning how to be more open-minded and progressive rather than simply claiming you are, you help bring this society towards a real state of gender equality.

[i] CollegeHumor [CollegeHumor]. (2014, August 28). Kinda Racist? Try Diet Racism! [Video file]. Retrieved from

[ii] Jaco, C. (2012, August 19). [Radio broadcast]. St. Louis: FOX2Now.

[iii] Valenti, J. (2014, May 24). Elliot Rodger’s California shooting spree: Further proof that misogyny kills. Retrieved November 1, 2014

[iv] Women in the U.S. House of Representatives 2914. (2014, January 1). Retrieved November 1, 2014.

[v] Domestic Violence Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2014 from

[vi] Top of FormBottom of Form Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. (2014, September 5). Retrieved November 1, 2014 from

Categories: Nico Tavella | Tags: , , , ,

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