Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Life, love, strength, and other abstractions

The Senate broke my heart on Tuesday by falling four votes short of the 60 needed to overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It's really depressing to realize just how far we have yet to go on the road to achieving equality. Even more infuriating is the fact that most of what upsets me politically can be filed in my brain under "violation of common sense."

Personally, though, things have been going well. I got 100% on my first quizzes of the semester in both English and women's studies, which made me happy. And even though I miss my friends in Saginaw, I don't doubt that transferring colleges was the right thing to do. And I've been able to maintain a balance between the life I had there and the life I have here.

Last winter, while I was still at SVSU, I started talking to/spending time outside of class with literature majors. I had been a creative writing major, so hadn't interacted with them much previously. And I'll confess that after I made the decision to transfer, I was wary of making new friends in Saginaw, for fear of losing touch with them as soon as I moved back to the Detroit area.

But not only have we maintained contact, we've also had some incredibly honest, intense conversations since I left.

There are a lot of things I'm still ashamed of in regard to what happened while I was a student at SVSU. I wish I had handled certain things better (or handled them at all, for that matter). And because I can't go back in time and change things, I've just been trying to live my life as honestly and unapologetically as possible.

So, while we're on the topic of living honestly/unapologetically:


1) I always leave women's studies class full of rage and usually spend the next little while wishing I had been born male. This is particularly scary to me because I've always been so proud of/embraced who I am and what I do as a woman.

2) I also occasionally wish I wasn't gay. Like being female, it's something I love about who I am. But part of me still wishes I could rid myself of it for entirely cowardly reasons. My gay friends are the strongest people I know. And I've taken until just recently to even begin the process of coming out because I've been scared and confused and still doubt whether I'm strong enough to live as honestly and openly as they do.

But these little internal battles I'm having with myself wouldn't even be taking place if part of me wasn't trying to embrace these challenges, and be strong and explore.

What I've discovered has been (and continues to be) eye-opening. The honest/intense conversations I've had with my friends recently have all caused me to question things I had never thought to question before. It really hurts, but ultimately, processing/accepting those things makes me feel really good about everything. And lately, more and more, I just feel like life will be life, I will be me, you will be you, and everything will be okay.

And somehow it'll all be worth it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Your silence will not protect you."

I saw this story on the news last night. It really pissed me off.

Here's the gist of it: Recently, Jennifer Tesch, a woman in Madison Heights whose six-year-old daughter was on a local cheerleading squad, objected to one of the cheers: "Our backs ache, our skirts are too tight. We shake our booties from left to right."

She brought it to the attention of the public (I saw the original story on the news a few weeks ago). And now the parents of the other cheerleaders have unanimously voted her daughter off the team for "casting a bad light on the league." Oh, and get this: The cheer stays.

Okay. I'll concede that maybe Tesch should have talked to the other parents or coaches before alerting the media, but that does not excuse the other parents' behavior; it's appalling. One of them is quoted saying, "This is like a family. And to me, if you attack your family, what are you gonna do? You know, people are gonna be upset."

Talk about hypocritical. Instead of discussing the issue of the cheer in question, the parents of the other cheerleaders voted unanimously to kick Tesch's daughter off the team because by bringing it to the attention of the media, Tesch "cast a bad light on the league."

Please. By booting her out, the rest of the cheerleaders' parents are the ones "casting a bad light on the league," and ought to be ashamed of themselves.

When we're kids, we're encouraged to stand up for what we believe in. Our parents, teachers, and other mentors tend to emphasize that our actions--despite any adversity we may face--will ultimately end in glory and honor. But it really doesn't happen like that (which is something I've learned the hard way, especially in the past year or so). And I have to applaud Jennifer Tesch for voicing her opinion; I admire her for doing so.

Lately, I've been trying really hard to live by the words of Audre Lorde: "Your silence will not protect you." This whole cheerleading fiasco is an incredibly unfortunate example of why so many people think their silence will protect them, and so keep their mouths shut.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Welcome to the 21st century?

A month or so ago, I landed an after school babysitting job that'll last for the duration of the school year. I've been watching two girls, ages four and seven.

I've mentioned this to several people, and a handful of them have responded with something like, "You? Kids? Really? But. But. You're a feminist."

Wow. Welcome to the 21st century.

Or wait. Maybe I shouldn't be too angry with them for sounding so surprised. After all, I've said many times that I can't picture myself ever having children. I just don't think I'm capable of being as selfless as my mom was (and still is, even to this day).

But that doesn't mean I don't like kids. About five years ago, I started working in a vocational preschool that was housed inside my high school. I taught there in the morning, and then attended regular classes every afternoon.

I did it because I realized that for some reason or another, I was (and still am) a kid magnet. And so I like kids. It's impossible not to like them back. Kids (especially younger ones) tend to think I'm a pretty cool person. Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, I was walking past a local elementary school. A kid (who looked about three) saw me and asked me to come push him on the swings. So I did. And then he wanted me to teach him how to use my iPod. So I did. He didn't like my taste in music.

It just bothers me to think that I should even have to explain to people that being a feminist doesn't mean an automatic rejection of things that are "traditionally" associated with being female.

I mean, come on.

Sorry for the anticlimactic finish. But really. Let's get real.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sincerely, "that feisty feminist bitch"

I found out the other day that some random douchebag I pissed off in Texas referred to me as "that feisty feminist bitch" after I left.

I was flattered, and posted what he said to my Facebook page. Four people "liked" my post. One friend left a comment that made me feel like my awful experience in Texas had been worth it: "For this, you have my love and respect."

What did I do to be called a "feisty feminist bitch," you ask? Well, he called his girlfriend a cunt about five times in as many minutes, and--upon noticing that she wasn't going to defend herself--I gave him a dirty look and told him to shove it. Then I hopped on a plane and flew home, because I didn't want to deal with his bullshit anymore.

He was clearly being a huge dick. I don't think you could argue against that. But at the end of the day, I'm the one who looked like an asshole. Because I had the audacity to tell him that he didn't deserve a girlfriend if he was going to treat her like shit.

I talked to someone recently who was referred to as an "extremist" (by someone who was obviously very close to her) for pointing out that the percentage of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 does not accurately represent the female population of 52%.

I'm flattered by the Texas douchebag's comment because I don't care about what he thinks of me. But I too have really struggled with comments made to me by people I care about.

At a recent family gathering, my aunt asked me why I had decided to transfer colleges. I listed a few reasons. And when I was done, my mom said, "The bottom line is that Amelia left because she needed to find a place where it would be easier for her to be a feminist."

At that word, many of my extended family members winced. I was grateful to my mom for saying it.

At times I've found myself frustrated with my family to the point of avoiding them. (Instead of spending Christmas with them, I spent it with my friend Victoria.) It makes me sad that I have to avoid them just to feel comfortable in my own skin. I don't want to have to cut anyone out of my life. But I've had to figure out what really matters more to me: Making Grandma proud, or identifying as a feminist. If I really can't do both, she shouldn't be part of my life. Even if she is my grandmother.

How's that for a tough truth to swallow?

It hurts to know that people will call me "a feisty feminist bitch" and mean it as an insult, or that someone else will use the word "extremist," knowing it carries a negative connotation.

Because all we're asking for is respect and equality. And I don't understand why that offends people so much.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"What I am is what I am. Are you what you are or what?"

My first assignment for my women's studies class is to write about how I express myself in terms of gender (with focus on the ways in which I both adhere to and break gender norms). And I also need to include others' reactions to how I present myself, especially when I deviate from what's expected of me.

I thought it'd be an interesting topic for a blog post, so here goes:

The bottom line is that I do whatever the hell I want. I'm a woman. Some days I look the part, and some days I don't.

I seldom wear makeup. My eyebrows only ever look decent when my friend (who works at a hair salon) gets tired of looking at them and ties me down to wax the hair away. I don't care whether my outfits match. I will mix colors that aren't "supposed" to go together, just because they happen to both be on top of the clean pile.

I love to wear dresses/skirts/sarongs, because I find them more comfortable than pants. I'd wear 'em year-round if I didn't live in a state with such brutal winters. I paint my toenails. I own well over forty pairs of shoes.

So while I'm not by any means a "girly girl," I'm not a tomboy, either.

In August of 2009, I was on my way out the door and happened to be wearing a little bit of makeup. I ran into my roommate's mother in the parking lot of my apartment complex. She stopped me, looked closely at my face and asked, "Is that lipstick? Oh, honey, you've come so far since freshman year."

Others' reactions are similar. What really bugs me is that people seem to think that because I don't wear makeup, I must have low self esteem. That's not the case. It's just that I'd rather spend more time in the morning drinking coffee and tooling around on Facebook than looking at myself in the mirror.

Most tend to react similarly in regard to how I dress, even though many of them have known me for a long time and should be used to my seasonal change of wardrobe. But when it gets warm and I bust out the peasant skirts, someone--used to having seen me in jeans, Converse high tops, and t-shirts all winter--tells me I "clean up nice."

I ignore people for the most part. But what bugs me is that they see my lack of femininity (in certain aspects of my appearance, at least) as a sign that I don't value myself or have any respect for my body.

But I do. Not that it's any of their business, but aside from a huge chocolate vice, I'm a very healthy eater (my favorite food is salmon). And my preferred mode of transportation is my bicycle.

I happen to be small-boned and thin: both features associated with femininity. And so I guess it bothers people that I have all this "potential" to be the cutest little thing on the planet. And yet, I won't "try just a little harder," as they put it.

I put my energy elsewhere. Maybe they should, too.