Preferences and Prejudice: Which Is It?

Is it classist to reject someone because they don’t have a job? 

Most of us know that it’s fairly racist to reject a potential partner based on race or on the color of their skin. Many self-identified feminists mourn the perceived standards being projected onto the female gender, and there is more than enough discussion about how people feel in regards to women having short hair or natural hair. (Unfortunately, I am not as well versed about the criterium projected onto same sex/alternative couples, so if you know any – feel free to list them in the comments for added discussion!).

A great deal of people spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prove to others (and themselves) that we’re each unique individuals and aren’t required to abide by arbitrary beauty prerequisites.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the concept of beauty and whose opinion matters the most. When I was a Senior in high school, there was this guy, CJ, that I liked. He was a white boy; tall and rail-thin, and I remember chatting with him online. In my usual style, I told him I liked him and he responded with: I only date white girls.

Most people would respond with complete disgust over this – How dare he!? That’s so racist!  I lived in a racially diverse area where a myriad of people attended my high school, so you would think that most people would have a more “open” view of who they’d like to date. But -

My whole life, I’ve never really been attractive enough for anybody:

1. my skin wasn’t clear enough

2. my breasts were too small

3. I wasn’t perky enough, hood enough, outgoing enough… the list continues

Of course, our choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Do many white people reject black partners out of some racist agenda? If we had a more egalitarian media (since television and cinema influences many people’s understanding of relationships and who they’re attracted to) – would more people be interested in dating outside of their race, economic class, sex, (etc)?

Many women (and perhaps men too) spend a lot of time looking at how they’re not represented in the media, and how this somehow suggests they’re not attractive by conventional standards. I’m not exempt from this; I spent a few minutes on Twitter yesterday lamenting how small breasts are rarely touted as being signifiers of attractiveness. Essentially, large breasts are considered more “womanly” and “feminine” than having a “boyish figure”.

This is a complex problem: on one hand, the world is giant mirror, reflecting back to us what we believe about ourselves and the world at large. On the other hand, I see this as a type of Second-Hander rhetoric – where I long for other people to give me validation about myself in some capacity. It’s almost like I don’t exist until someone else decides I exist. All of this pertains to self-esteem, and the value being placed in one’s own ideas and opinions.

I don’t want to be a Second-Hander, and have other people’s prejudices and preferences dictate Who I Am.

 

What About You? What are some of your preferences or prejudcies? 

As anyone said you weren’t enough because of the way you look?

#YesGayYA – LGBT Novels

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loathed YA. At least since high school, which tends to be the demographic for Young Adult. I loathed the lack of black characters, and how all the characters seemed to be clones of each other in some way, shape or form. There just didn’t seem to be a lot of diversity – in any respect – and generally, YA had become the bane of my literary existence. With one exception (the Uglies trilogy) – I avoided YA with fervor.

In addition to my YA ban, I’d also renounced a lot of reading in general because of the lack of POC and LGBT characters specifically, since these are things I look for. So for several months, I read only non-fiction, but it’s not as satisfactory as a good science fiction or fantasy novel! While I go back and forth with my dislike for YA with the fact that in general, many mainstream novels lack any kind of decent representation.

Recently, someone linked me to Malinda Lo, a lesbian YA writer, who has two books out with lesbian lead characters. Ms. Lo wrote a post detailing the amount of LGBT books being published each year, and thanks to some links on twitter, I came across an extensive list of LGBT YA books available. Some of the books have LGBT leads, while others have LGBT supporting characters. Additionally, much like my previous post on POC authors, there’s a list of books with POC characters too.

Thanks to the wide world of blogging, there are sites dedicated to exploring diversity in books and being aware that we need to bring more attention to books written by POC.

There’s no telling how difficult or easy trying to get your book published might be. Often times, it seems, a book’s success demands on a mixture of marketing and pure luck. Who would’ve guessed that Harry Potter would’ve become as popular as it did – though it took awhile before it finally took off. I remember being in the minority when HP originally came out, and it wasn’t for several years until I met other HP fans. So I would hate for anyone who is interested in publishing a book with LGBT/POC characters to feel dissuaded.

Often times, representation is difficult to come by. Our experiences regarding our race, gender, sexuality, class (etc) colors our perceptions of the world, and often times in many niche environments (ie: blogging) certain types of people are going to be drawn to that place. It can be hard to create diversity when your experience is both knowingly and unknowingly excluding other types of people and their experiences. Books are definitely no exception to this – and more work definitely needs to be more inclusive.

What kind of representation would you like to see more of? Not just in books but in movies, comics – any kind of media you consume on a daily basis (including blogs!).

As a side note, I’ve entered into a giveaway with a chance to win an ipad 2! I’ll link to it here, in case you’re interested in winning one as well. The contest ends September 30th and by October 2nd, you’ll find out who won! LAMFinances – giveaway

Stopping Street Harassment

I was probably 16, I remember because I was living in Long Island at the time.

Whenever I would go out, the Mexicans in their vans full of grass clippings would honk and holler at me. I remember not really understanding why. I told a friend about it – she said it happened to her too and I was shocked because she didn’t seem the type guys would cat-call over. Though, of course, neither was I.

For years, I ignored it because I had no idea what was going on or why. I assumed mindless things – like the fact that I’m black or walking down the street – induced the honking.

Flickr credit to: womenspeakproject

Though it continued to happen and perplex me, I had no words to really describe what I was experiencing. Until I was perusing on twitter and discovered it: street harassment. Where women are sexually harassed on a near daily basis but as I started hearing about other women’s stories, I realized that it was much worse than just honking.

Women on twitter talked endlessly about their dangerous situations. Many women commented on being followed by men, cornered (even in public spaces), or being touched. Some of these men – if not most of them – continued to make lewd comments at the women as they walked down the street. It’s difficult for me to really paint a picture of what these women experienced because I have never had those types of encounters. Perhaps it’s pure luck that no one ever threatened me with violence for rejecting them. Threatened to kill, rape or maim me because I said no.

There are some posts I have found through reading other’s blogs: “The Time I felt I couldn’t Hollaback” by Abigail Ekue at Random Musings and “Long Walk: Street Harassment” by The Feminist Griote.

Unfortunately, I can’t really expand much on the discussion – I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable about street harassment as other women, nor have I experienced it outside of leering and rude comments made to me as men walked by. It’s a product of patriarchy, where even in public spaces women have no rights. Where we’re objectified and told that we need to do specific things to curtail this behavior, that it’s our responsibility to control men. It’s part of sexism that says that men are wild beasts who lack impulse control, and it’s other women who reinforce this mentality.

But there’s a great blog managed by Holly Kearl. You can read even more stories from women, who experience this world wide phenomenon.

If you’re a woman, have you ever experienced street (sexual) harassment? If you’re a guy, have you ever told someone to leave that woman alone? Why or why not?

Stopping street harassment requires the participation of both men and women. Find out what you can do. 

Ayn Rand and the Fight Against Beauty Ideals

Stop blaming society and the media for your low self-esteem dammit.

I love Ayn Rand because she speaks at length about self-esteem. The characters in her books are under constant assault; having their choices second guessed and being belittled because of their differences. Any other person may have crumbled under the scrutiny that Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart faced, but Rand’s characters have something that few people in real life do: a self sufficient ego.

Her characters are self-assuared in their decisions, and how they go through life. In The Fountainhead, many of the female characters didn’t find Howard attractive. Something about his overall demeanor repulsed women. Yet he doesn’t cry himself to sleep over it. In fact, he seems to pay very little attention to other’s opinions about him.

This is the approach I take in regards to women, media and self-esteem.

Who is to blame for your low self-esteem and self-hating beliefs?

You.

By resting all of the blame on an abstract entity like “society”, you become prey to the Victim archetype. It’s societiy’s fault that I am miserable and society will pay for this infraction! 

But -that’s a half truth. The full truth is that you allow these messages into your subconscious. You accept these illusions and fantasies as reality, instead of acknowledging them for what they are. Falsehoods.

But instead of re-directing the attention inward, and re-shifting the focus, the obsession is directed even more powerfully to destroying the illusion. The things we see daily are merely projections- our own thoughts, feelings and ideas for others to consume. The magazines and billboard ads are projections of the world their creators live in.

We live in a world where oppression, violence and privilege run rampant. Many of the individuals who enforce these illusions are products of this: white males who hold sexist ideas. Women who buy into patriarchy while becoming female chauvinist pigs.

Magazine covers, billboard ads, commercials – all of these are a reflection of deeply held beliefs in our culture. By attempting to destroy these images, you’re attempting to force these illusions to change their opinions about you instead of simply re-adjusting your opinion about the illusion.

For example: whenever I see a magazine cover I dislike, I simply ignore it. I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about it, or buy it to show to my friends so we can complain about it together. When conversations come up about body bashing, I don’t participate or give in to their self-destruction. I keep a reminder that the people in TV aren’t reflections of who I am or what I believe. And that I will only support media that aligns to my own personal belief system about myself and the world.

 

So instead of trying to fight an enemy that has no name, why not take it upon yourself to be more like Randian characters; self-sufficient ego bearers. Rejecting fantasies – not through dismantlement, but by shifting our own individual relationship to ourselves. For as long as women, men and children continue to have low self-esteem (an ideology that is passed down from generation to generation), nothing will abate the insatiable thirst for self-hatred.

You must take your battle within, first by looking in the mirror. And so the image in the mirror will change.

The battle for self-esteem can only be won within, not outside of ourselves.

It starts here – with you. 

 

What about you? What personal opinions and ideas would you need to change to make yourself less susceptible to external pressure to look a specific way?

Try to Learn – Despite Your Ignorance.

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the discussion of privilege and social justice. How do we aim for more awareness

Flickr credit to: Anton Khoff

in a country that chooses not to be? Admittedly, it can be and is rather frustrating to meet people who don’t know that racism still exists or feel that women have earned sexual assault. When you turn on the news, or read a new headline online – all the oppression is maddening. So the people who had dedicated a great deal of time – if not their lives – to combatting ignorance are justifiably angry. Or just plain frustrated.

To a certain extent you would think more people would be on board, that more people would just know so that we can move forward.

But not everyone knows.

There’s a lot in life that many people – myself included – will never experience. For much of my existence, I didn’t know about child abuse or its survivors until I made a friend who helped enlighten me. I have learned that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before she turns 18. How more than 60% of pregnant teens are sexually abused as children. That 90% of abuse toward children is committed by people the child knows (relatives, family friends, etc).

With over 39 millions survivors of sexual abuse living in America, this should be something that people should be enraged about, ready to fight against. And yet – nothing. I would say that victims and survivors of child abuse are one of the most silenced, and marginalized members of our society.

But I can’t forget that I became aware of child abuse through friends and memoirs I have read. I can’t forget that I became aware of how pervasive rape is by attending Take Back The Night at my all-women’s college. I realized how powerful fat shaming had become by reading stories of women who were severely neglected by hospital doctors.

We learn by asking questions, by trying to understand where each person comes from. 1 in 3 women in the United States is raped, but that number might not mean anything to you until you’ve met the survivors, until you realize the extent that women suffer at the hands of a callous judicial system –  15 of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail.

And while all the statistics I listed here are readily available to you on the web, how many people would go out of their way to research it? Many men and women dedicate their time and energy to education, fundraising and volunteering to help spread awareness and yet many people remain ignorant. Disinterested. Or worse – indifferent.

Ignorance is much like a sleeping virus – you don’t know you have it until something triggers it. Then, you are bombarded with all this new information and an eagerness to learn.

And at this juncture we have a problem. The crossroads of where knowledge and experience meet YOU. You don’t know that you don’t know, so you ask questions. Maybe you’ll face rejection or insult. People saying that privilege has made you ignorant, and that you need to educate yourself. And yet here you are – attempting to educate yourself.

In a world where people continue to suffer daily at the hands of oppression, disinterest and hate – lack of knowledge is unacceptable. And yet there is it. In a world where numbers mean nothing until it personally affects us, the urgency for compassion can’t be ignored.

The need for both compassion and patience for those who “know not what they do (or say)” is overwhelming. We literally can’t have discussions with just ourselves or the people who support us – that is not progress. Even though it can be (and at times is) painful to talk to people who have no idea the kind of suffering many endure, to completely shut down is detrimental.

Some people are angry and belligerent – putting their ignorance on full blast. Some people are unassuming and timid in their ignorance. But no matter what – we must come from a place of compassion. If not for them – then for ourselves. Anger will stall the debate, and impatience will turn away those honestly seeking to learn.

I think it’s time to stop holding people’s ignorance against them. 

 

“To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.”

Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881)

Maturity is a Cultural Mirage

Flickr credit to: Calvin Z.

Girls are not innately maturer than boys. In fact, maturity is a social construct based on the premises of sexism and gender expression.

Maturity is little more than gender expression. 

I have only met a small handful of people who don’t believe in the concept of maturity. Most people, especially women, live by the idea that boys simply don’t mature at the same rate that girls do. But, I’m here to tell you that that’s not the case. Girls are forced to mature faster than boys because of sexist behavioral expectations. Such as:

1. “Boys will be boys”

2. “[Boys] sowing their wild oats”

As children, boys are both expected and allowed to behave as children for longer periods of time. Boys aren’t necessarily encouraged to “grow up” as a monolith, and there isn’t much backlash over men who still act like boys. The mental picture of a boy is one that is free.

The mental picture of a girl is one that is responsible. Girls are granted sexual power at an early age, while being held responsible for the actions of others. The act of becoming a woman is fraught with confinement: women aren’t encouraged to go out at night (especially alone – and God forbid to a club), a woman who travels alone is seen as being in perpetual danger, a woman who chooses to be single is seen as incomplete, a woman who doesn’t want children is seen as selfish and in denial, a woman who drinks too much is “asking for it”. Women bear the burden of the world – and this problem is exacerbated when confronted with racial privileges as well.

Because of systemic oppression and sexism, girls are forced to deal with the reality of their femaleness at an earlier age, and have to learn to steel themselves against things like street harassment, work sexual harassment and the constant accusations that being girl should be punishable by law.

When I was younger, my mother told me that I’d have to work harder than others because of my being a girl and black. The internalized inferiority complex some women have compels them to mature faster, to make up what they’re told they are lacking.

Meanwhile, men don’t have the same incentive to mature. Sexism and gender expression has allowed boys the freedom to do what they want for a longer period of time (if not their whole lives). While girls experience a confinement that starts so early, it would appear that girls mature faster.

People often look to psychology and neuroscience to create and establish psychological differences between boys and girls. People are hungry for research that debunks cultural influence, and instead points out that maybe humans are born a certain way. That girls, as part of the human race, DO mature faster. But this is ignoring the cultural context in which this “maturity” is taking place. This research is ignoring in what ways boys are treated differently from girls, and how people have subliminal and overt expectations for girls.

There’s no such thing as maturity – it’s just an expression that has embraced sexist mentalities and biased gender expressions. 

 

Married to Yourself

Flickr credit to: Ghost Kid

Do you like being single?

What if you were single forever?

Having graduated from an all woman’s college, I have met many women who were hungry for a boyfriend. One day when walking back to the dorm after dinner, a girl asked me how you get a boyfriend. I offered online dating, but honestly I had no idea.

During my studies in Paris, most of the girls in my program wanted to find a hot French boyfriend. It came up frequently in conversation. How/where do I find a French guy?

As someone who doesn’t know much about dating, flirting or how to otherwise find oneself in a relationship  – I have to say that the prospect of me being “single” forever (or a really long time) is highly probable.

But my non-existent dating history has proven to be advantageous in its own way - I can’t miss what I’ve never had. I’m not used to compromising what I want. I’m not used to having someone to rely on. I’m not used to experiencing happiness and acceptance from another person. 

For a lot of women (who probably have self-esteem issues), dating is the ultimate gateway to adoration and approval. It shows that you are worthy of being loved. And on the rare occasions that someone has had a crush on me, it has definitely put a skip into my step, knowing that someone thinks I’m cute. But people liking me isn’t necessarily a confidence booster.

I’m not very many people’s “type”. Which is fine. And my focus tends to be on ME, ME, ME! As it should be. Through personal and spiritual development, my hope is to cultivate a more sustainable relationship with myself. Even if that means being single for extended periods of time.

So my goal is to get rid of the concept : “singleness”. Why? Because I don’t want to identify as a woman who is in transition, waiting to be in a relationship – especially in a culture where being married/with someone is seen as the key to happiness. Admittedly, I have my own thought processes to check. Whenever I check out a blog, one of the first things I want to know is if the blogger in question is seeing anyone. Why this information is relevant I don’t know, but I feel compelled to know. In fact, not knowing tends to drive me crazy.

Part of it might be that I love learning about the intimate details of people’s lives. Or it might be that I’m obsessed with dating and relationships.

But I don’t want to be. Which is why my hope is to have a great relationship with myself. I’m a firm believer that everything you do, have and experience is meant to enhance your life, not to make you dependent. I don’t want single to mean “waiting for a romantic interest”, I want it to mean “empowerment and self-sufficiency”. My hope is to be happy with my life, even if I don’t have another person to experience it with because it is MY life and no one else can live it.

So I wish instead of single, people could just say, “In a loving, empowering relationship with myself.” And if anyone asks if you’re seeing someone, you say, “Yeah. Myself! And it’s been going great! Been together 23 years!”

 

What about you? What are some of your feelings when people ask you about your relationship status?