Since the all the brouhaha erupted over a certain presidential candidate and his boasting about sexual assault, I have been following the feminist response very closely. Between @feministfightclub, #pussygrabsback, and Kelly Oxford’s #notokay, there’s a lot happening where women are coming forward to say, yes, I was sexually assaulted. And frighteningly, they were often young girls when it happened.
If you are one of my three regular readers, you know that I had a couple of close calls this year of being precariously close to be assaulted or worse but manage to escape unscathed and untouched. Since then, I have become flinchy about certain things — mostly, walking around at night alone and wearing short skirts at night. It’s shitty that I have to think about this stuff. It’s shitty that I’ve lost a feeling of safety I had, and moreso bravado — something along the lines of “I dare anyone to fuck with me.” I’ve thought that if this is how I feel, as a middle-aged women, from just a few close calls, I can’t imagine how it feels to actually be sexually assaulted. I keep thinking, thank god it never happened to me.
Then I started thinking, if a million women wrote Kelly Oxford to say that they are sexually assaulted, how did I magically escape this happening to me? How was so lucky?
Then I remembered. I wasn’t so lucky. There was no magic. I’d been assaulted.
At first I remembered one time. Then I remembered another. Then I called my best friend E. And while telling her about this, I remember yet another.
All three times I was in public. Once I was walking up Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco when a man stuck his hand up my crotch and ran away. Another time a man masturbated against me on a crowded train. The third time, I was asleep on a bus and the man seated next to me threw his coat over my lap. He was creeping his hand up my thigh when I awoke.
All three times, I told no one. Until now.
I believe now that are no women who have not been sexually assaulted — just women who don’t remember.
I’ve been noticing for a while that the vast majority of people I know who gravitate towards New Age thinking (also known derisively as “Woo”, “Woo-Woo”, “Crunchy”, “Granola”) in the U.S., besides being mostly white, tend to be women. I hardly ever come across a guy who wants to know my sign, although apparently this was a popular pick-up line several decades ago, as in “Hey baby, what’s your sign?” Many women I know feel that astrology is a legitimate science and it is of great interest to them in quickly understanding the people around them.
There’s this idea that women are more intuitive and touchy-feely then men, and believing in things like astrology, affirmations, visualizations are seen as proof of this idea. Like most ideas about gender, the behavior is an taken as an indicator of what’s innate rather than what is taught or what behaviors develop as an adaptation. Women, who continue to be second-class citizens in our society, need to use more tools than men to navigate a world that seeks to disempower them. Astrology is a tool that women use to decipher potential relationships. Can I date them? Can I be friends with them? Can I work with them? If you don’t have a good natural radar for these things, using a tool like astrology may help a woman feel more confident going forward with potential relationships. In reality astrology may be shoring up any feelings someone is having about a new person, such as “I really like this person, but I’m not sure about them. Maybe their sign will give me more information.”
In my experience, astrology is highly mutable. I have never felt that anything that I have heard or read about me reflected who I was in any way (other than one book a friend insisted on showing me saying that I had a strong affinity for animals). Yet when I tell women this, they say “Oh, that’s because you have to know your rising sign/ moon sign / have your chart done.” And even of those details of my chart have long ago been given to me (I was more open to this when I was in my teens and twenties), and I still say it doesn’t reflect me, I am told that the problem is me, not the “data”.
I no longer get annoyed about this type of thing. Well, not much. I know these women are just trying to survive in a world that limits them. To me it’s not science but pseudo-science; to me, it’s grossly inaccurate. To other people, it makes life comprehensible
I have similar experiences with affirmations/visualizations. The U.S. corporate-focused system is not conducive to any creative people. In my experience (yes, this is all anecdotal) creative men are more likely to throw everything they’ve got into succeeding at their art early on. If they don’t succeed to the point of being able to make a livelihood, they put it aside. There’s more pressure on men to be the breadwinner and make a living, which is tied to their identity as a man. If pursuing their art isn’t going to work financially, they can take solace in their identity as the good provider. In reality, many women are the breadwinner and often the sole provider, but I don’t see them taking this on as an identity of strength as men do.
In my experience, I and women I know tend to pussyfoot around (no pun intended) in a less black & white way, but end up feeling dissatisfied anyway. This is what I’ve done and seen other women do. It’s less likely we will only do our art and risk starvation; it’s just too damn risky as a women to leave ourselves with no income. Yet if we give up our art there isn’t another identity such as breadwinner to encourage us to conform. We waffle around, working part-time, working on our art, never really getting to succeed greatly at either. We end up feeling frustrated. We feel we have a message to convey but no way to convey it.
Affirmations and other types of positive thought exercises are a way for a women to try to feel she has more control over her fate. And they certainly don’t hurt anything, right? Sort of. I’ve seen women go from posting them everywhere (on post-its) to complete nihilism. I think there is a backlash in believing too strongly in false systems or ideas, for when they fail, one can be plunged into despair. This happened to me in my youth, when I went to being a religious fanatic to atheist in short order. That is not such a bad thing, but I did have a spell of terrible depression before I got my footing again.
The Universe & the Goddess
Another aspect of women who subscribe to New Age thinking is that they want to distance themselves from the patriarchy but still have a desire to believe in a supreme being or some sort of consciousness ordering their lives. It’s too difficult and painful to believe that everything is random and chaos, for any of us. Well. Except Carl Sagan, perhaps. However, if you don’t want to believe in God, you can just change the gender and Voila! Now you have a deity who is not part of the patriarchy, the Goddess. We can point to historical and pre-historical goddess religions and symbols that indicate that Goddess beliefs preceded God by eons. But how does that make is more legit? People used to believe that the Sun revolved around Earth too. I’m not trying to oversimplify or ridicule people’s beliefs. I’m trying to say that it is fine to believe in deities in whatever form you wish. It’s when that very deity is held up as The Truth, and “facts” are used to show that it is “true”, that I begin to have a problem.
Life is hard, scary, chaotic, bewildering. I sincerely believe whatever gets you through the life, whatever beliefs or ideas ease the journey, are fine. I also believe in trying to face up to the doubts and fear behind creating these beliefs are very important.
*apologies to Carl Sagan for the title
Author: Stephanie Nolan
I know women’s history fairly well, so I was stunned to find out there was a huge chunk of history that I was completely ignorant about — and concerning female astronauts. As readers of this blog know, I have a huge fantasy about being an astronaut. Many thanks to Stephanie Nolan for writing this book.
According to this well-researched story, there was a time when the U.S. government thought about sending women into space instead of men, since they were smaller and required less resources. The initial rockets weren’t very powerful, so it was important to keep the payload light. Also, they knew that the U.S.S.R. was planning to put a woman in space, and the wanted to beat them to the punch.
This was all before NASA even existed, but a certain Dr. Randolph Lovelace II of ARDC took it upon himself to further research the possibilities. Many women were recruited, but in the end sheer machismo and sexism (including internalized sexism by one women) snuffed out any plans to have women astronauts for decades to come.
As Nolan writes:
“The story I first heard wasn’t quite true, but the real events are every bit as dramactic: a bitter clash of personalities between powerful women; masterful public performances by American heroes with an agenda of their own; a hush-hush experiment by a pioneering scientiest who trammeled social conventions to satisfy a curious mind; and a vicious emotional outburst at the highest level of government.”
The book covers the history of women in space — well, mostly in the troposphere. It seems that almost every single female aviator of the early part of the 20th century gets at least a passing reference. There’s an amazing personality benchmark that all these women seem to share. That is, the first time they took a ride in a plane — usually as a child — they had a determination to be pilots that could not be shaken. We all know a bit about Amelia Earhart, but what many of us don’t know is how many other women were like here in spirit and adventurousness.
From these women, two biographies emerge in this book. One is of Jackie Cochran, who was the most well-known female aviators of her time, and managed to garner many friends in high places, and therefore felt if any women were to go into space it should be her. Another is Jerrie Cobb, who sincerely felt in her heart that she was the women best suited for this position. Promised the Moon does an excellent job of describing these women’s lives in detail and their personalities.
Dr. Lovelace spent considerable time and energy running various physical and psychological tests on all women who could potential be astronauts. They were all aviators with some serious flying time under their belt. Jerrie Cobb managed to get much further in the testing process. The tests described sound horribly brutal; she and all the women admit it was only through sheer force of will that they could even bear the torment. But of course, that is the point of the tests — to weed out who can’t take it. For in space, if something went wrong, the astronaut had to be calm and level-headed no matter what the circumstances. Jackie Cochran never went through the tests, as she was too old (over 40) to qualify to be an astronaut. This irked her considerably, and she was determined that if she couldn’t go into space, no woman could.
Already picked for the first space missions were the Mercury 7, a group of male pilots who also had experience specifically flying jet fighters. At the time, women were specifically forbidden to fly them. These men had also gone through all the grueling tests, and consistently the women did better.
In the end, the women’s performance, fearlessness and dedication meant nothing to NASA. Space was to be a man’s world; it was to be demonstrated that only the truest and bravest could be astronauts, and in a sexist society that clearly precludes women.
If you think that if the women acted tougher it would help, you’d be dead wrong. In the chapter “Normal Women”, Nolan explains how there was such raging homophobia in the early to mid 20th century, that female pilots had to go extra lengths to appear as femme as possible. Women often flew races in dresses and pearls; if they didn’t, they made sure to change into them before they landed. And if anyone thought you were a lesbian, your career was over. So here’s one catch-22; the women had to appear like gentile hostesses, and then it was held against them that they didn’t appear tough even though they were tough. Nolan also comments in the book about the off-handed racism that existed, in a brief note of Jackie Cochran rejecting a women from her team of pilots simply because she was black.
In the chapter “Our Rightful Place” we learn of a more damaging conundrum. Jerrie Cobb was so determined to fly, they she called a congressional hearing to examine of the sexism of not allowing women to be astronauts. Kennedy had started putting some legal rulings in place to help women have equal opportunity in the workplace, which is why such a hearing could even happen.
Kennedy also was a game-changer in the goals of the Space Race. He decided that they only thing that mattered was the U.S. getting to the moon first. Unfortunately, this was another blow to Cobb’s trying to get into space — the U.S. no longer cared if the U.S.S.R. put a women in space first.
Of course, the hearing — run by men — found no sexism or bias. They simply said that no women had experience flying jet fighters, so they weren’t qualified. John Glenn, a childhood hero of mine, particularly comes of as a raving, condescening sexist. And there’s the other catch-22 : women weren’t allowed to fly jets, so they couldn’t get the experience required, so they didn’t qualify. Jackie Cochran herself testified against women becoming astronauts; she absolutely detested Cobb, whom she knew was the best candidate to go. Cochran’s testimony was pretty much the end of any hope for Cobb and all American women for years to come.
In the last week, I read two articles by tech women talking about the overwhelming sexism they experience in the workplace, to the point that one women had considered switching careers. The remarks they experienced were hella denigrating, but also the guys who said these remarks were clueless as to how horrible it is to experience these kind of things day after day. The men acted like the woman was silly and over-reacting. Of course. These guys don’t know, nor do they care to know, what it’s like to hear this shit all the time.
Women, I just want to point out that when men said stupid things to you, sexist or sexual, you are not defenseless. You are smart, and all you need to do is channel your anger and develop your rapier-sharp wit.
First, there’s just basic assertiveness. At my first programming job, I was on a team at a software company where we all got along very well, and took all our breaks and lunches together as a group. One day we went to the break area and there weren’t enough chairs. One of my coworkers — a guy I liked in general — said, “That’s okay, I’ll sit on the floor so I can look up her skirt.” (meaning me)
I didn’t say anything at the time. I waited until later in the day, went over to his cube, and told him privately what I thought. I told him his remarks were extremely disrespectful to me, that is was very insulting, and he was NEVER to say anything like that to me again. He just kept saying, “Okay. Okay, ” and looked a little afraid. This is when I had my great realization: I don’t have to take shit. If you speak with authority and a little bit of rage, dudes will back the hell off. Women, remember: YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE ANY SHIT.
Now, another technique is the snappy comeback. If you need good examples for this, look no further than your gay male friends (you do have those friends, right?). In my experience, gay men are the master of the disparaging remarks and the withering look. These are you basic tools for countering sexist or sexual verbal attacks. The guys who say shit to you think they are “all that”, but you know they’re not. You know they kind of suck in some way — their bad cologne, their lame clothes, their obvious insecurities. If they comment on your body, comment on theirs — but in a far less flattering way. For instance, if they comments on your breasts, you could comment on theirs if they are chubby, or their chicken-chest if they are skinny, or suggest they are jealous of yours — or perhaps just miss their mommy. I’m sure you can come up with something better, these are just some basic examples. The key is to make it humorous, so that they’ll look the fool if they act insulted.
Lastly, is THE LOOK. You must be able to give guys a look so full of threat and anger that they will just give up. I developed THE LOOK back when I had a stalker. At first I was terrified of this guy. But after a few months I got tired of being scared, and I got mad. Really mad. One thing he kept trying to do was to get me to talk to him. Now I am a stubborn motherfucker, so I thought, no matter what I am not saying a word to him. I had to come up with a way to get rid of him using only my eyes to communicate. I practiced. I would look in the mirror and try to summon up all my rage and channel it through my eyes.
Then one day I was walking home and there was the fucker pretending he just happened to be passing by. He smiled and said, “Well, hi…” all smarmy-like. I locked eyes with him and gave him THE LOOK, like a death-laser boring into his skull. I did not look away and walked right passed him. He looked a bit shocked and mumbled, “Uh… okay…” as I walked away. He never bothered me again. After months of his leaving creepy messages on my voice mail and other harassing what-not, he was just gone.
Now, this example did not happen in the workplace, but I have found THE LOOK to be useful at work, on dates, or pretty much anywhere. In general, become comfortable with the idea of guys being a little afraid of you. This small bit of fear will nip in the bud all stupid comments.
In self-defense classes, they point out that many women cannot summon up the anger necessary to protect themselves. To these women, they advise that if you can’t do these things for yourself, do it for all girls and women. I’ll give you the same advice. Perhaps think of a 14-year-old girl that guys are giving shit to and has no self-esteem to defend herself. (Was that you? It happened to me.) When someone says sexist shit to you, summon up your rage, whatever it takes. Then take the guy down, with words or looks. Or both.
Sexism and sexual harassment are not going away. Neither should you. Hold your ground. You can do it. Do it for all of us.
And now, a word from the fabulous raging Hothead Paisan:
Last spring I started a job in a web development start-up. There was a high turnover of developers but I noticed pretty quickly that they were all guys around 30 years old, except for 2 guys who were older. I thought this company was *so* sexist (and they were, somewhat). But then I read a statistic that 91% of web developers are male (this site says 92.4%). And I thought: What the fuck? Where’d the women go? That’s some fucking backlash.
Many articles ask the question like this one, Why Aren’t There More Women in STEM?. (*)Some studies give weird answers like girls avoid STEM because it makes them feel less attractive. Really? If perceived attractiveness is a reason girls avoid STEM, sometimes it pays to be a social pariah. I was one of only two girls in AP Calculus as a senior, but I’m sure we didn’t consider this as an obstacle to dating. It was never going to happen in my case anyway, as I was completely off the attractiveness rader.
This one seems slightly more plausible, that girls are usually geared for more communally-oriented fields.
Here’s something else: sometimes it just takes a strong role model to change people’s minds. This insanely cool woman, the current dean of engineering at a small college, has tripled the amount of engineering majors. It does seem, from this article, that what we need is a critical mass of girls and women in STEM and someone to lead us. And the reality is that when you go to a web development job, you’re probably joining an all-male team. And here’s something I’ve experienced. When a work team is all women and there’s just one guy, the women will go out of their way to make sure he feels welcome and not excluded. And the opposite is true with all-men teams; they are not going to give you a break. They’ll act like you are not in the goddamn room. I was really surprised to experience this recently. Eventually they accepted me, but it took months, whereas I noticed they accepted each other almost instantaneously. But, to cut these guys a break (not that I should) I’ll say this: based on these statistics, I may have been the first women developer they worked with, or at least, the first older women developer. I may as well been from Mars. Yeah, but on the other hand, sexism (and ageism) are kind of disgusting.
In any case, what happened to all those women I wrote code with 20 years ago? Where are they now? Why is there such a dearth of folks not only my gender but my age in web development? I don’t know if anyone has an answer to this, but I’d sure like to know.
*Science, Technology, Engineering, Math
Whenever I see statistics about people, and particularly about women, I always seem to fall in some weird tiny populace. No wonder, then, that in this article, the amount of women who are like me are only 4%.
I know that this statistic is true because all day long I hear women talking about how they feel bad about this, and feel bad about that, and think, “Oh god, are they still talking about their guilt? How could they feel that guilty so much about so little?” It seems so bizarre to me, yet somehow that is normal behavior. I think it’s also become cultural and habitual: if one women starts talking about their guilt, then others focus on that feeling as well. That’s according to my completely unscientific skewed observations.
Next we have women who choose not to breed. Surprisingly, this has jumped recently from a mere 6% in the U.S. to a whopping 20%! I hope I’ve influenced a few gals to think about the idea that there lives won’t be forever bereft and chock-full of remorse if they skip the baby thing. I think some folks are meant to be parents and some folks would be perfectly happy if they didn’t — and that all adults should spend some time in self-examination to figure out who they are. I know so many people who are parents because — and I’m quoting here — “Shit happens.” or “What are you going to do?” Anyway, it seems that my spending the last 15 years dreying on about this is not completely for naught, as more people are actually thinking about what it means to be a parent and making a personal choice. This benefits everyone, because less breeding = less overpopulation = less climate change, global starvation, etc.
Lastly, a recent study shows that 16% of people in the U.S. consider themselves unaffiliated with any religion (although the stat is <1% for congresspersons). Although I was raised with religion and even had a devout phase in my life, I no longer believe in any sort of god or associated religions or texts. Yup, that sounds unaffiliated. So what would a Venn diagram show if you put these stats together? I imagine that the amount of people who lives and experiences intersect with mine are pretty small. And while that may be true, it's important (as I wrote in this post, "What’s the meaning of life?“) to bear in mind that despite being a statistical anomaly, I actually have more things in common with others than things not in common. In fact, I probably have more in common with Tzipi the Jay than I do not. It’s important to keep in mind our commonality as sentient beings on this earth.
But it still shows that I am indeed some kind of a freak.
*btw, Tzipi still stops by on a regular basis
Last year, I wrote a review about Julia Serrano’s Whipping Girl in which I spoke about my decision to get over my internalized anti-feminine stance and try wearing some skirts more often. Here is my first report on this decision.
At first people were surprised to see me wearing a skirt. A lot of women my age apparently stop wearing them because they think they are uncomfortable, too much trouble, or just don’t look good on an aging body. Since I already like to dress up a bit for work, I’m already dressing more to enhance my appearance than for comfort. Despite my interest in (bargain, artsy) fashion, it was still a visual leap to many to see me in a skirt, and they said so.
Next, and continuing to this day, was the fact that my wearing skirts made people so happy. I don’t know if its because folks like my chicken legs (skinny legs are definitely way more “in” that they were 20 years ago), or if it’s because people think skirts in general look nicer, but I got a TON of compliments and comments. So much so, that I went from wearing skirts once a week to several times a week. I invested in a couple of pairs of shoes with heels surpassing my previous limit of 1″, and some colorful stockings. I enjoy putting together an outfit just like I like laying out a good visual design.
But, there is a downside. Well, there is a mixed-bag side. Okay, so we have three sides, it’s a pyramid of sorts. Anyway, the mixed thing is that men try to talk to me on the street. At my age, I find that surprising. It’s pretty much all older men. Occasionally it is a rich older man and that really makes my skin crawl. The other day some Slick Rich Guy said to me, “I like that brown suit you’re wearing” with a leering expression. I felt like saying, “Yeah, well I’d like to stab you in the neck.” But I didn’t. So mostly it’s a pain but sometime I think, “My god, I’m almost 50 and people still want to flirt with me.” And I feel like I must look pretty damn good.
The other irritant is that some men do have this formula floating in their head of feminine = girly and they want to infantalize me. Of course, this is a HUGE mistake, especially if they dare saying anything indicating this thought to me. H. made the mistake of calling my ensemble “girlish” one day and I almost tore his head off. Well, mostly I just glared at him and said, “Don’t call me girlish.” He tried to defend himself but then realized that it was insulting to me to imply that I am in any way like a little girl, since he would not want to be thought of or referred to as a boy. It was interesting to me that someone who is intelligent and perceptive can still have this sexist thoughts. But then I remember that I myself have internalized sexism. Which I am challenging with my wardrobe change. The experiment continues.
What makes one movie great and another one just okay? Partly it’s a matter of taste, and partly it’s a matter of the director having a clear vision. I recently saw both The Runaways and La Vie en Rose on DVD, both movies ostensibly made to let the viewer into the life and mind of the musical artist. Although La Vie en Rose received great critical acclaim, The Runaways is a far better film in almost every way.
La Vie en Rose follows the tragic fame of Edith Piaf. Despite growing up sickly, neglected, and dirt poor she has an innate magnificent talent for singing. From an early age, she makes her living by singing on the street, and eventually is “discovered” and becomes famous. The Runaways follows the formation of the first widely known “all-girl” rock band, focusing on the fall-from-grace of the initial front woman, Cherie Currie, and the musical development of Joan Jett.
Although there are two different musical genres from two different eras represented in these movies, they both show girls/women being exploited by men, destructive drug and alcohol use, and dysfunctional families. However, almost nothing positive is ever shown about Piaf. We are shown her being bullied to improve her singing style which helps her achieve fame. We never, however, are shown any attempts at artistic development after this. The movie makes a fleeting reference to her acting career, but we never learn anything about this subject. In addition, practically every scene of her once she is becoming famous shows her acting like a bitch on wheels yet somehow having friends, lovers, and husbands. Indeed, those close to her act like she is very lovable, but just as she is not shown to be a great artist (only a great natural talent) she is not shown as endearing in the film.
In Runaways, we are shown similar scenes of the girls being bullied by Kim Fowley. However, we also see Joan Jett working on her own development, coming up with riffs, and creating lyrics on her own outside of the band. Although the film initially seems more about Currie, it’s Jett’s creativity and drive that compels us. The film also shows the characters being both kind and cruel; they fairly three dimensional.
Both films have a sprinkling of surrealism, but Runaways uses this technique more consistently and to greater affect. In La Vie, there is one scene of some goddess figure speaking to the young Piaf, never to be seen again; there’s another of her going from the shock of hearing about her dead lover to emerging on stage. That’s it. In Runaways, there are many scenes that blur the line between actual and imagined events. A particulary effective one has Jett composing the lyrics aloud to “Love is Pain” in the bathtub, and then submerging — but after she submerges, there’s an underwater shot of her being in a large body of water. It’s unexpected and it works well visually and to move the plot along.
There’s no doubt that Marion Cotillard’s acting is amazing. She plays Piaf from age 15 to a women dying of liver cancer, and it’s really an amazing transformation. It goes beyond the innovative makeup techniques used to show her as a sickly women looking well beyond her age. It’s very impressive. Unfortunately it is the only impressive element of the film.
Certainly the sentimentality of the public and critics, and their desire for maudlin scenes of women’s emotional suffering is behind the greater fame of La Vie en Rose, which grossed $86 million to The Runaways $4 million. I finished watching La Vie feeling pretty empty and unattached to the character; I finished The Runaways wanting to see it again. Which I will. In the meantime, can you watch this video while sitting down? Then perhaps you are dead.