If I Were A Boy

Today, Gender Across Borders is having a guest blog series about masculinity. Since I had forgotten to submit my own story, I figured I could talk about it here. Which is really perfect since last night I saw How to Train Your Dragon for the first time.  I had heard about the hype, so when it came on close to midnight, I decided that it wouldn’t be so bad to give it a look.

And.. it was pretty amazing. Which isn’t atypical since I have a track record of preferring media aimed at young boys. Or just boys in general.

But why do I like (most) stuff for males?

Because the range for males is significantly larger. This isn’t to suggest that it is without (white or straight) privilege, but the emotional and personality range of boys tends to be different than it is for girls. Hiccup, in How to Train Your Dragon, is a non-violent, curious, and social outcast who doesn’t fit into the hyper masculine Viking culture. Then you have Astrid, who seems to be the embodiment of female masculinity. She’s physically violent, short tempered and egoistical.

This is rather similar to the scenario created in the film Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. We have Percy, who while hesitant at first, comes into his own in order to save his mother and Annabeth who brags about being the daughter of Athena (Goddess of wisdom and warfare). Despite all her talk, I never once found her helpful when it came to actually fighting, assessing a situation or coming up with useful strategies.

The stuff that is made for boys tends to focus on characterization – growing as a person, achieving previously unconquerable tasks, coming into one’s own. Even movies like The Hangover and Due Date (as horrific as they both are) focused on male bonding and overall themes regarding friendship. This isn’t to suggest that all movies targeted toward males is good or high quality, or that they’re all about brotherly love – but in comparison to movies for women, it definitely seems that way.

Cinema for females seems to be the exact opposite. In fact, 90% of the movies made for women is centered around romantic struggles. Even Waiting to Exhale, an excellent film about sisterhood/friendship is about romantic shortcomings. Women are typically defined within the context of their relationship to men; it’s this idea that without a man, women have no identity while men can and do flourish and come together without the presence of a woman.

And I wonder why female media focuses so heavily on sex and love. It’s not even an issue of heterosexual love being glamorized or the never ending fixated of white women (or any other privilege for that matter).

It’s an issue because women never seem to love one another, whether or not the outlet in question is created by a woman. Why do women only seem to exist in contrast to men? This mentality can be seen in the futile attempts to create “strong, female” characters. The females in question (ie: Astrid and Annabeth) have blatant, stereotypical male characteristics in an effort to make them seem more independent and capable. Women, it would seem, try to apply male gendered attributes to girls in order to capture a piece of the elusive male privilege.

But what women need to focus on is that, in some ways, masculinity is about the brotherhood. Maybe we should shift our focus to creating a sisterhood.

 

What about you? Do your experiences or preferences differ or are they similar?

Aside from male privilege, why is it that men like each other more in movies and on TV?

* Of course I do want to offer a disclaimer: the movies in question focus on white, heterosexual males of a specific age. Privilege ignores the stories of people who don’t embody certain characteristics. So, my case sample is really small in terms of who it includes. But I wanted to talk about it since it seems to be a recurring issue whenever I watch movies or television.

 

How About Some Link Love?

Recently, I noticed that some white bloggers tend to really highlight other white bloggers. It bothers me because it makes me feel like that maybe there aren’t as many black popular bloggers or that white people just don’t really pay attention to them. So I figured that I could link you guys to some black female blogs I’ve discovered and really enjoy reading. They’re all a little bit different.

1. The Writerbabe Series by Raven Moore. She’s switching her blog up a bit, writing about the things she loves the most; video games, her upcoming wedding, anime, arts & crafts to name a few. Her latest post is about adult swim! Is Adult Swim the Internet of Television? Her twitter: Writerbabe.

2. A Black Girl’s Guide to Weightloss by Erika Nicole Kendall. She writes about weight loss, exercise, healthy eating, being black, body image – everything! Her latest post is Body Image, Self-Worth & Sexuality: Dark Skin, a new Documentary. Her twitter: inetespionage.

3. Aconerlycoleman and The Sojourner Project by Arianna Marie. Her blog(s) talk about human sex trafficking, being black, African, human rights, social change and other sorts of awesomeness. Her latest post on the former blog is: Am I Free? and on the latter, it’s Are Diaspora Remittances A Solution to Africa’s Underdevelopment? Her twitter: A. Marie.

4. Arielle Loren! She blogs about sexuality, gender race, traveling to name a few. She even has her own documentary about bisexual men and a Q&A series on youtube where she answers questions on sexuality. Her twitter: Arielle Loren.

5. Tami at What Tami Said. She blogs about things I find insanely interesting: black culture, media, feminism to name a few. Her latest post: Putting the White into Multiculturalism. Her twitter: Whattamisaid.

 

So please check all these people out! They’re totally awesome and their stuff is magnificent.

 

 

Defining Your Own Gender

A few days ago, I had somehow stumbled across Janet Mock, an Associate Editor for PEOPLE.com, who is also a transsexual. She tells the story of her gender and sexual confusion in an interview with Marie Claire  and I found it rather inspirational. But I didn’t think much of it until I see a post about it on Clutch, earlier this evening. The post’s comments had more to do with religious persons being upset with Ms. Mock for switching her sex.

Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by transsexuality because so much of my relationship with my sex (female) is cultural. You’re raised as a girl, and in the most stereotypical fashion, your parents probably gave you dolls, dresses and stuffed animals. Actually, growing up I had black barbies and an extensive collection of stuffed animals who I pretended to play school with. I went through puberty as a girl, and experienced a lot of the same frustrations other not-so budding teen girls experience. My female-ness was reinforced in every facet of my life; there was no way I could mistake myself for a boy.

Perhaps part of the trans-phobia is our own lack of understanding of what creates gender; who or what defines it? Is it a personal choice or is it something innate to our sex? I believe it calls into question our own shortcomings in regard to how we express ourselves. If a transwoman chooses to embody all the stereotypical mannerisms of a female-bodied woman, does this somehow mean that make-up is part of my sexual design? That I’m denying my true sexual nature by not acting distinctly feminine?

At least – this is what I think about.

As I take a small glimpse into how some transmen and women choose to express themselves, I wonder about my own relationship to my gender. I have never felt particularly feminine, nor entirely masculine either. Over 90% of my friends are female, and even most of my family members are women.I relate to and have a deeper relationship overall with girls than boys.

But unlike the characters in Judy Blume’s Are you there God? It’s me Margaret, elation was the last thing I felt when my monthly tormenter first popped up. I do remember measuring myself excessively in early high school, hoping that puberty would kick-start me into my version of womanhood, so I could blossom into Salem Hayek and put everyone who ever teased me to shame.

Totally didn’t happen. 

And I think of MTF transsexuals, and how they KNOW that they’re the wrong sex, and will feel complete once they take the hormones and get the surgery. In a way, I envy that quest; I envy them. I envy the knowing because I feel so disconnected to both my sex and gender. In the privacy of my own mind I often lament the misfortunate of being born a girl, and I wonder how other girls can stand it. But I never wanted to be a boy. I don’t feel like the Universe misplaced me, but I speculate at great length why I don’t feel like a girl. Why I don’t understand what it means to be a girl.

*cue Madonna*

So I enjoyed reading Ms. Mock’s story of success, happiness and personal quest to achieving her sense of self because I also envy her for it.

Let’s Stop Ignoring Race!

I recently discovered this great post about how we’ll never be in colorblind society. And I loved it because it connected to my own feelings of frustration and disbelief when people try to promote a “melting pot” of sorts for the American future. This idea that we’ll be beyond race because no one will be identified with one. This doesn’t exactly resonate with me, because your ethnicity is vital to your history, your people. Having multiple or single ethnicities routinely creates a distinct identity crisis as people struggle to figure out where they belong. Personally, I am always curious about where people come from, and learning about their experiences as people of color.

So naturally, this article provided a nice segment into how I felt about Thor: an overwhelmingly white movie and the subsequent dialogue that it sparked on my Facebook page.  I complained about the lack of ethnic characters, although Thor, thus white and blond haired, and my friend questioned whether or not the film was loyal to the comic. To her, it seemed important that the film follow the plot outlined in the original comic. I told her that it doesn’t matter, because Hollywood is rarely loyal to ethnic story lines (remember the fiasco with The Last Airbender?) so why should Hollywood remain loyal to an all white ensemble? I told her that there’s no reason to create an all white movie, simply because the original cast is all white.

Then my friend says that she doesn’t notice race in movies or in real life. I’ve heard this before, from whites and non-whites and for a long time it used to piss me the fuck off because your race represents where you’re coming from, your culture, your history. To say that you don’t see race, is like saying you don’t see any of the oppression that comes with it. But I know people say it because they don’t want to be perceived as racist. Somehow “racist” has come to be associated with “observing” versus systemically oppressing and discriminating against a select group of individuals based on their skin color.

Racism has nothing to do with noticing the color of someone’s skin and everything to do with punishing that person because of the color of their skin. Racism is when you’re treated poorly at a restaurant because the servers think black patrons are the worst. Racism is blaming a person’s behavior on their skin color; “well, obviously he’s going to steal, he’s black.” Racism is looking at someone and thinking they’re less than because their skin color is not white. And racist white people are their most obvious when they try to deny the plight of black people (or any POC) as over exaggerating, whining or straight-up imagined.

Racism is not looking at the color of someone’s skin. It has everything to do with appreciating and acknowledging where people come from. If I ask you what race a person is, it’s probably more ignorant to say, “I don’t notice race, I’m not racist.”

Don’t turn a blind eye to race because it’ll will never stop being important. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. 



Beyonce and Feminism? I don’t think so.

I read a kickass article earlier today by Arielle Loren on Clutch Magazine  about whether Beyonce is the face of contemporary feminism. Obviously, there were a lot of people who disagreed with the idea that Beyonce is anything remotely related to feminism. However, Ms. Loren was steadfast in her commitment to this idea, and wrote an additional post further describing her position on her personal blog.

Ms. Loren’s premise seems to boil down to this sentiment:

“Does Beyonce represent every woman? Absolutely, not. She caters to a particular feminine side of our gender and those who aren’t afraid to wear sexual confidence on their sleeves.”

Which I can understand, to a certain extent, since Beyonce is pretty much a sex symbol. And not much else. But this seems to be examining Beyonce from a superficial standpoint: her videos and her dance moves. Beyonce is about sexual empowerment because she’s predominantly half-naked in her videos and has no issues showing off her body.

But the problem with Beyonce is the fact that empowerment is more than just imagery. It’s about the message, and Beyonce isn’t saying anything. In fact, most of her song lyrics (if not all of them) are about how she caters to men (ie: Cater 2 U) or her overall relationship with men (ie: Single Ladies or Irreplaceable). The thing about feminism is that it’s ideally supposed to represent all women, including those who don’t identify as straight.

Unlike Lady Gaga (ie: Born This Way) or Christina Aguliera (ie: Beautiful) who have openly supported the LGBT community in their music, Beyonce has not. And to me, it’s rather troublesome to consider someone a feminist when they’re really only representing a very specific minority of women.  Feminism is about everyone being equal; not just women, and especially not just sexually active, heterosexual women.

So what kind of feminism would exist for women who pledge celibacy or abstinence? What about asexual women? The problem with sexual empowerment is that by the very act of being a girl, you’re considered a sexual object. In what way does flaunting one’s sexuality make or break already existing cultural norms? I disagree with this idea that exalting one’s sexuality leads to anything more than having an excuse to wear skimpy clothing and not be judged for it.

There’s a very fine line between sexual empowerment and exploitation/objectification. I could make a case that Beyonce merely exploits herself because sex sells, and because it’s easier than writing good music when you have nice dance moves. Beyonce, as an artist, is without depth. She doesn’t challenge popular ideas with her music, instead, she panders to what already exists. For example, she talks about girls running the world, but feminism is about equal opportunity, not dominance. However, popular misconception about women is that we need to run the world in order to be accepted as humans and have a fair shot, which isn’t true.

Feminism is about opening people’s minds and having them realize that we can have a world that’s quite unlike the one we live in now.

So, yeah, some women might really want to be the next Beyonce  but she’s anything but a feminist, and shouldn’t be associated with such.

What’s your Hair-story?

Credit to Flickr : Indigofera.com

As I’m slowly uncovering more Black female bloggers on the web, I’m noticing that most of them have a post dedicated to their hair. So I’ve been interested in this myself, though my relationship with my hair isn’t quite as long-lasting as other people’s. Like most black girls, my mother starting perming my hair when I was very young. My hair was straight for much of my childhood, and the only thing I really knew about my hair was that I had a lot of it and it wasn’t ANY fun to comb.

The perm my mother used often burned my scalp and I was constantly instructed to not scratch beforehand – apparently this enhanced the potential for burning. Thinking back on it, I wonder why it didn’t seem unreasonable or torturous to put something that burns onto your scalp.

But this isn’t to necessarily to bash my mother; in a lot of ways, straight hair is much easier to maintain (easier to comb for sure) and the shiny, smoothness of it is difficult to deny. In under thirty minutes, I had long, silky soft hair for about two weeks. Unlike some other posts I’ve read, I didn’t develop a deep yearning to maintain straight hair.

In fact, my hair proved to be a never-ending party of frustration and misery as my mother forcibly sent me to the salon well into my high school years. Although I enjoyed the temporary state of my hair, any emotional high from the experience evaporated once my hair returned to its natural, puffy state.

By the time I got to college, I was happily not doing my hair. I felt self-conscious with my daily pony-tails, but I generally paid it little attention. In fact, for about two years, I wore a head scarf pretty much every day.

So where is this story going? Well, in short – I hate hair. Okay, hate is probably a strong word, but I find hair to be over exaggerated and not worth an iota of the effort that people put into it. Even after I got my locs, I went to the salon once my entire final year at college. I just didn’t get it, what the big deal was with hair. Unlike other black girls, I didn’t get a lot of attention for my straight hair – in fact, very few people noticed. But with my natural hair, I got significantly more compliments. Maybe having locs suits me better. I feel more comfortable, more me.

People don’t really understand my hair, how locs work or what I need to do to maintain them – but that’s okay. Because at the end of the day, it’s my head, my body and I’m the only one who needs to be pleased with its outcome. So I’m glad I have my locs, even though my mother keeps asking me if I still have them, or if I still plan to keep them.

The answer is HELL YEAH.

So? What’s your hair-story?

Why Passion Is Overrated

Passion is such a gigantic preoccupation with people, I think. It seems like most blogs have at least one post or two about passion, what it is and how to attain it. But I can’t say that I necessarily agree with living passionately, or doing anything with a great deal of passion.

Why? Because passion is similar to being an adrenaline junkie. There are times when I’m on a roll with accomplishing specific tasks, like applying to jobs, and I feel this insane surge of energy and purpose. There’s a certain amount of clarity when I’m getting things done; I rather like it. But then, within hours (and definitely by the next day) I’m out of juice. My energy levels have gone back down and I’m back to where I was. Before, I used to try and reclaim this passion, I used to wonder aloud, “How do I feel this way all the time?

My answer is that you don’t. I am naturally a very low energy person. Even though I enjoy running errands, and hanging out, I tire out very easily and enjoy being alone for huge chunks of my time. I can’t sustain passion, literally, it’s too much energy.

But people treat passion like it’s the cure-all for a “boring existence”. I’m almost weary of the term, “Finding your passion”. Passion suggests that you can’t live without it, something you need to keep you going. It seems to me that if you’re not SUPER PASSIONATE ABOUT SOMETHING then you’re missing out and your life is without meaning or purpose.

But that’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?

I will be honest: there isn’t a lot (if anything) that I am passionate about. I enjoy many things, like writing, playing with kittens, going to the movies but I can’t say that doing these things gives me a gigantic sense of passionate accomplishment or sense of purpose. On occasion, I feel the surge of energy from doing what I like, but as I said before: I can’t sustain the energy levels necessary to constantly be passionate. I need a break, I need to do something else for awhile.

On the flip side, you have people who can maintain high energy levels for a long period of time, and for them, perhaps living an adrenaline-based life is better.

But not me.

So instead of trying to “find my passion”, I vote more on the side of clarity, peace of mind, a stronger sense of self and dedication to something because to run on passion is like trying to survive on energy drinks. Eventually you’ll crash and then you’ll probably think there’s something wrong with you because you’re not full of passion anymore.

Maybe I’ll focus more on finding something I enjoy doing consistently, that brings me joy but doesn’t rob me of my sense of self. Because not everyone can be a passionate person; I sure as hell am not.

Your Favorite Buzzword Is: ____________

Whenever I check out someone’s blog, and I’m scanning through their archives, there are always words that get my attention. Actually, some of the things I love to read about on other people’s blog, are categories here on my own blog.

So here’s a list of the words that always compel me to read a post:

1. Passion. That’s a pretty big one. I have mixed feelings about passion, if for no other reason than because it’s such a trendy, and loaded word. Oprah has talked a lot about pursuing your passion, and bloggers love to discuss it too. I’m fascinated by people’s take on passion, how to cultivate it. But passion is also interesting, because I just left a comment on a friend’s blog today, talking about how people are really out of touch with their emotions. Passion is an emotion, so to tell someone to follow their passions, it’s akin to saying, “Follow your feelings”. Which is hella interesting.

2. Destiny/Life Purpose. I do and don’t see this word a lot. Maybe it’s because some bloggers interchange it for passion. Plus, destiny tends to have strong religious overtones and this implication of Determinism. Life purpose implies a lack of control and that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives searching for something. I don’t necessarily believe that there’s a destiny we must search for; you create it for yourself (normally by following your passion).

3. Happiness. Rebecca Thorman wrote this guest post about the pursuit of happiness. I have unresolved feelings toward happiness. At times I definitely believe that the pursuit of happiness is unwarranted, that it suggests that happiness is out there somewhere, instead of within. But going within is not something our culture (American) is known for. Or if it is, I definitely didn’t get the memo. But at times, I have unconscious pursued what I thought would make me happy; transferring colleges, moving to the Northwest. None of those things brought me any sort of happiness, but when my external world isn’t functioning in the way I want it to be, I find happiness difficult to attain or even believe in.

4. Anything to do with race and gender. Part of my hope with this blog is go talk more about the intersection of race and media because I’m fascinated by overt racism and how it perpetuates itself. Sometimes I find myself wondering why racism exists. Why would someone want to be racist? I remember watching American History X, and how Ed Norton’s character essentially became racist because his father was. His father’s beliefs morphed into his own. And I wonder what’s the best way to stop racism from existing.

5. Anything to do with risk-taking or living unconventionally. I don’t really like esoteric, fluffy language when it comes to living unconventionally. I would love more practical tips on how to avoid the 9-5, and how to make better career decisions. In fact, Penelope Trunk‘s blog is what prompted me to move from Seattle so that I can do some career oriented soul searching.

So what’s your favorite buzzword? What prompts you to read specific things on people’s blogs? 

Black Cinema: Jumping the Broom

Yesterday I saw Jumping the Broom, an all black movie directed by Salim Akil, featuring Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, and Mike Epps to name a few. Basically, it’s a story about an upper-middle class girl getting involved with an (implied) middle/lower class man. The movie, cinematically, didn’t offer a lot. I wasn’t dazzled by the cinematography, the soundtrack – even the acting wasn’t anything to brag about.

But what is interesting: the first all black movie NOT written, directed and produced for the screen by Tyler Perry. In fact, when I asked an employee what the film was about, he prefaced it by saying, “It looks like a movie that Tyler Perry would make…”

Is it terrible that contemporary black cinema has become synonymous with Tyler Perry and his Madea franchise? I won’t delve too much into the debate of whether Perry is worthy of all the attention he’s been getting for his films. All I have to say is that I saw this film on Mother’s Day and over 90% of the audience was African-American.

And as I sat there, munching away at my Sour Patch Kids, I realized that black people want to see black films. This is a niche that MUST be filled.

I thought about all the crap-tastic films featuring the broken, ruined, needy black persons: The Blind Side and Precious are two horrific examples of black people suffering (the latter) and how white people must come in and rescue us (the former). For the record – neither of those movies deserved an Oscar. But they got them because the public eats that kind of nonsense up; not just the suffering, the pain and the injustice but the complete blackness of it all. Had The Blind Side dealt with say, a Jewish kid, perhaps it wouldn’t have been so “moving”.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of ways to discuss contemporary issues of racism (particularly in the South where people are still opposed to interracial marriage) that doesn’t involve the rich white family to save the poor black kid – who, by the way, seems to embody all the stereotypes non-blacks seem to have about the community. Degenerate mother, not very educated, really dark skin, massive beyond all human comprehension (especially compared to the whites). The only difference between “Big Mike” and other black male stereotypes is that he’s not a gang-banger. But the people in his neighborhood seem to fit a similar, just as sketchy, description.

Jumping the Broom is a nice break from the monopoly that Perry has created over black cinema as well as a an excellent view into how some black people live. Not everyone is from the hood, or being abused on a daily basis, or needs to be rescued by the wealthy whites. Some black people are normal (and rich) and that’s always great to see.

The Norm is Not Normal

Have you ever heard of the term heterosexism? It’s most obvious form is asked in the form of a question: “Do you have a boyfriend?” I don’t get this question a lot in the sense that people ask me every single day if I’m dating someone, but it’s assumed that I like boys. Why? Because heterosexual media is everywhere, and it’s intensely taken for granted that many people don’t consider themselves straight.

I haven’t really discussed sexuality here. Mainly because my blog is new, and I’m still figuring out what I want. Most also because sexuality has never been a huge part of my physical existence; it’s something that mainly exists within the confines of my mind. I speculate, ruminate, and try to piece together fragments of memories, feelings and ideas to understand my sexuality. What am I? Who am I? How do I piece all these things together?

So how do I begin the conversation on a subject I can barely wrap my own mind around? Actually, that’s not completely true. I understand enough about sexuality to grasp that it’s not an issue of fluidity, but of self-knowledge. I reckon there are few people who know themselves, as most people spend their days thinking about everything else but. In fact, earlier on Facebook my friends posted: why are people so scared of being honest with themselves? And I responded that some people just don’t know how.

Sexuality is very much like that. When you spend the entirety of your life identifying as a heterosexual, sometimes life throws you something you weren’t quite expecting, and you begin to doubt yourself. You begin to doubt this thing that you unknowingly took for granted, and are forced to really examine it. Some people lose their minds. Other people decide that they don’t care what other people think. Others simply transition. Identifying as gay is something similar, but instead, you become hyper aware of yourself in every situation. Did he just make a homophobic joke? Should I out myself so that it’ll stop? Should I tell the taxi driver that no I don’t have a boyfriend because I like women? 

The nuances become maddening. Heterosexism worsens the problem, as people constantly ask if you have a boyfriend, or what kind of boys you like, or “Did you think that boy over there was cute?” No, none and NO, I did not.

Sometimes it feels like an issue of grace. Didn’t Jesus say that they know not what they do? Sometimes questions are innocent, automatic, pre-determined by our culture’s norms. You go up to a girl and think that she’s straight, so you ask if she has a boyfriend. Or you approach a boy, thinking that he likes girls.

Stop it. Re-think it. Privilege means never have to know what it’s like on the other side of the fence, to never be another person. It’s not a question of empathy, it’s an issue of knowledge, of self-education, of awareness. It’s difficult to keep these things in mind as we go about our lives, but we’re not all the same.

Some of us prefer members of the same genders. Others are trying to become members of a different gender. Some of us don’t even like the gender we have but are just sort of stuck with it.

So if you really feel so compelled to know who I’m dating, at least ask me an open ended question.