Posts By Guest Blogger

Homonormativity, Homonationalism, and the other ‘Other’: the dangers of a liberal discourse in the fight for (gay marriage) ‘equality’

by Christiaan Rapcewicz. Christiaan is a MA candidate in Gender, Feminist & Women’s Studies at York University. He is interested in exploring the various ways Grindr operates as a mechanism of sexual regulation. This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

There has been an incredible increase in the amount of media coverage of gay rights, specifically the pursuit of gay marriage equality in the United States, covered by both queer and non-queer media. Although a movement for equality in relation to ‘gay rights’ is worthy of mobilization, media coverage, and policy changes, it is the ways in which particular queer media outlets address the topics of gay marriage, gay rights, and the ‘fight for equality’ that must be called to attention.

In my observations of following multiple queer media outlets, the discourse of ‘gay marriage,’ and, thus, ‘gay rights,’ has been shaped by an extreme liberal discourse of (human) rights – in which there is a constant push and demand that lesbians and gays have the right to marry, as it is a right any human should have. This is dangerous. This insidious heteronormativity that is seeping into the gay and lesbian ‘community’ is what Lisa Duggan addresses in “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism” as “homonormativity: a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions – such as marriage, and its call for monogamy and reproduction – but upholds and sustains them while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption” (179). In the lesbian and gay ‘fight for equality’ for a right to marry, there is a reproduction of heteronormativity through the institution of marriage. The important questions that must be raised in the production of homonormativity include: What kind of gays and lesbians are to be included in this ‘fight for equality’ through marriage? By who are these ideal, respectable, homonationalist gay and lesbian subjects being sought by and for what purposes? These questions outline the significance of how, through the processes of inclusion, there are still gay and lesbian (or queer) subjects pushed to the margins for their differences. These others continue to be rendered invisible even within the gay and lesbian ‘fight for equality.’ These ‘other Others’ are often racialized, or non-normative: those who refuse or reject homonormativity, or those who are refused by it (for example, because of race). This ‘fight for equality’ outlines who, exactly, is allowed to participate in a (white) respectable, homonationalist project of ‘good gay’ subject-making and becoming.

It is clear how those who identify as gay or lesbian are considered ‘outsiders’ even within their own communities, so, how might we keep feminisms open to ‘other Others’ in its very commitment to collect forms of struggle? First, queer spaces, including online space(s), need to be continually interrogated and challenged – especially if these spaces reproduce homonormative ideals. Second, alliance building must occur within our own communities. However, in order for this to occur, we must determine who are allies are.

If we seek allies in our own community who refuse to include others (sometimes ourselves) in their politics, how are we to stand in solidarity with one another and resolve the very real issue of exclusion? Third, in order for change to occur it must be tangible, graspable; not (highly) abstract and theoretical: people need to hear it, see it, feel it. If you are as privileged as I am to study and learn such concepts as “homonationalism” and “homonormativity,” you will also realize theoretical concepts can lead you straight into a brick wall: their ability to create concrete change is lacking. If feminism(s) is(/are) to create any real change, it must start with the interrogation of and already-existing oppressive reality: the oppressive system of discourse of a liberal fight for gay marriage and equality. By no means am I arguing against equality and/or gay marriage, but ‘equality’ should not stop at gay marriage: there are many more inequalities to be addressed and (further) dealt with. Lastly, as Michael Warner states in The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, “‘pursuing marriage means abandoning the historical principles of the queer movement as an antiquated ‘liberationism’” (Warner 91). Although the (queer) media landscape in the United States is operating on the continual struggle for gay marriage and ‘equality,’ it is important to realize that by simply refusing the structure and institution of marriage, one refuses the hetero-and homonormative. Refuse the system. Refuse what others cannot have, and will never have, because they will never be considered citizens; they will never be included in a homonationalist and homonormative project. By participating in ‘gay’ marriage, by participating in the regulatory structure and institution of marriage hetero (and, thus) homonormative desire is reproduced. Again, this is dangerous. An interrogation of and a resistance to a particular Western (U.S.-centric) liberal human rights discourse of gay marriage and equality must occur in an attempt to cease the reproduction of normative, heterosexual desire. As Sara Ahmed (2002) clams, (and I agree), “there is a violence of seeking to assimilate difference back into the category of the same.”

There are ‘non-normative’ (and the reality is there is a normative) individuals that continue to be pushed to the margins of an already-marginalizing reality in which particular queer media continue to disseminate messaging (or an agenda) of an ideal ‘good gay.’ Gay and lesbian media (continue to) contribute to the production of a homonormative and homonationalist subject, allowing for the reproduction and exclusion of ‘the other Other’, of the invisible, and, often, of the non-white: the bad queer subject that is not respected, nor is represented as a legitimate subject of the nation. In order for change to occur in the real world, a greater activism must occur: we need collective activism. We must also recognize the state of ambivalence that we will experience: How might we be able to continually challenge interlocking systems of oppression while simultaneously advocating for gay marriage, gay rights, equality, and, now, trans* rights and equality? We must also hold queer media accountable of reproducing a normative gayness: queer media need to take responsibility for pushing a dangerous liberal agenda that creates the ‘good gay’ homonationalist citizen, and, as a result, continues to exclude others: those who refuse and reject (homo)normativity, or are refused and rejected by it: those who are not, and will never be, the ‘good gay’ citizen. We must recognize that these are the limits of liberalism: pushing for an agenda of gay marriage, gay rights, and gay equality at the expense of those ‘other Others’ who are themselves excluded from this particular discourse. The solution is simply to refuse: f*ck normativity.

Please use the comment section to add anything you would like clarified or expanded upon – or to stress anything you would like to see happen in terms of action projects around this particular issue. How might we be able to f*ck normativity?

 

Image Credits: jadaliyya.comsomeecards.comtotheexclusionofallothers.tumblr.com

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Washroom Wars: Yay for Gender Neutral Bathrooms; Nay for Ignorant Buffoons

by Ruwani Dadallage. Ruwani is a volunteer at Women Against Violence Against Women and an all-around kickass feminist. 

I never thought I would write about washrooms on a feminist blog. But an incident that happened at work made me realize how important feminist advocacy is no matter where we are.

My colleague, a smart, politically correct woman we shall call A, brought up the need for at least one gender neutral bathroom in the building we occupy. Since anyone outside the hetero-normative archetype has an increased risk of rejection, judgement, mistrust, bullying and assault, the idea was proposed in an effort to create a safe and comfortable environment in the building for anyone transgendered, gender non-conforming, gender queer, and anyone of all gender identities and expressions.

Seeing how we occupy a historic Vancouver building, and how we would probably need permission from the gods and a sacrifice to get approval to renovate, the easiest solution was to assign the existing men’s single stall restroom as our new gender neutral washroom. Open and shut case. So we only needed approval of our boss to take down the old sign and replace it with a cool gender neutral sign. We were so pleased with our resolution and pat ourselves on the back for being such great allies. However, in my feminist bliss I sometimes forget that not everyone thinks of inclusive solutions.

Enter colleague B. First he guffawed. Then added that this was one way we were attempting to increase the number of washrooms for women (okay, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, women always have to wait in line), and no way was he going to share a restroom with everyone. He didn’t want to go into a washroom after a girl has taken a stinky dump!

I wished he stopped rambling there. He also believed that transgendered persons would have to learn to face the harsh realities of the world, and get used to there not being spaces like this for them. He went so far as to say that even in the more progressive public spaces the gender binary is still clear, with respective washroom stalls for men and women. Then concluded by saying picking which washroom to go to would be the least of worries for a transgendered person.

I had steam coming out of my ears. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this rubbish. This is a professional, adult male, spewing forth blatantly myopic, male privilege beliefs. By not taking the time to understand these concerns it is easy to overlook how much violence and discrimination someone would face because of their transgender identity or gender non-conformity. A transgendered person could be in danger of experiencing transphobic/homophobic slurs, harassment, violence in relationships, physical abuse, sexual assault or murder.

These experiences are particularly grave for trans women due to transmisogyny. Many cisgendered women have the misconception that they would be in danger if allowing transgendered women in a shared restroom. They are expected to prove that they are “real” women. The number of cases that are reported of a trans woman driven out or assaulted just for wanting to use a washroom are far too many, and these assaults are carried out by other women as well as men.

Colleague B apologized the next day for his behaviour and the way he held onto his beliefs. Nonetheless, he still stood by what he had said earlier and did not apologize for thinking that way.

In the midst of supportive colleagues it only takes one person like this to bring me back to reality to remind me of the palpable tyranny that exists, of the oppressive patriarchal dogmas and why feminist advocacy is so important. We may have won the battle this time with the newly installed washroom, but there is a long war ahead of us.

- Ruwani Dadallage xx 

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Stealthy Freedoms and the Colonial Gaze

by Zishad Lak.

Zishad is a PhD student in Canadian Literature in University of Ottawa. Her thesis examines the relation between names and migration in contemporary Canadian novels.

A few months ago a Facebook page created by a London-based Iranian journalist caught a lot of attentions and was shared mainly by my non-Iranian friends on Facebook: Stealthy Freedoms. Stealthy Freedoms is a Facebook page where Iranian women post their pictures with headscarves removed in public to protest the compulsory head cover. Their hair is often romantically disheveled by the wind; smiles are in order for the camera: pictures worthy of Facebook profiles. In fact, if one did go through the Facebook profile pictures of Iranian residents I suspect they will find a large number of women among them are not wearing a scarf in these pictures and a number of these unveiled clichés are taken outdoors in public spaces. This is not in any way to justify the compulsion of certain attire on women, that is absolutely not defendable, but rather to maintain that the mere uncovering of hair in public is no longer shocking in Iran, if it ever were, nor does it break a taboo. It is in no way comparable to Amina Tyler’s denudation that risked her life. The difference between the method used by FEMEN and the pictures posted on Stealthy Freedoms Facebook page is worth pondering.

In the past decade or so we have been seeing an emergence of queer and feminist movements of colour criticising the white supremacy inscribed in what they call white feminism. This has been a place of contention and has often created a gap between feminists of colour that found themselves silent victims in the discourse of white feminism and white feminists who refuse to see and accept their privileges. The latest Twitter hashtag, #solidarityisforwhitewomen, attests to this divide; one that I believe invokes much needed debates and is an essential part of a dynamic feminism, or any decolonising movement for that matter. Those feminists who deny such divides choose to close their eyes on the omnipresence of white supremacist heteropatriarchy and reduce the movement to mere legal equalities in a justice system that is inherently sexist and racist.

Whoever claims to be a feminist is then a feminist, no question about it, far from me to police that. Feminism after all, is a political imperative, an affirmation that such a movement is required here and now. But this does not mean that every unthoughtful action in the name of resistance must be praised. Feminism comes with a commitment and a responsibility. It is costly; if it isn’t you are not doing it right. It is lonely; if you are praised by right and left you are not disturbing much. So sometimes lighthearted, non-radical actions don’t translate into small contributions or do not simply die in obscurity but impose set backs on the movement.

We saw that following her release from detention, Amina Tyler bared her body again, this time, inscribed on it were words that denounced FEMEN’s Islamophobia and in doing so she set an example of how a dynamic decolonisation must constantly interrogate itself and the repercussions of its actions. So it is not necessarily the group, FEMEN, whose leader in turn denounced Amina, that I evoke but rather the method of protest that is used by this group or similar manners of protest (such as this) The subject in these protests is not still, she interrupts a formed body and unsettles the naturalised norm before those most loyal to it.

In the opening picture of this article, for example, FEMEN protesters appear topless before the eyes of anti-abortion protesters and their children. The parents cover the eyes of their children to protect them from being exposed to desexualised breasts, breasts that unlike those of their mothers, are not maternal and do not serve any purpose in reproduction. What is more, the rage of heterosexual men in online forums and comment boards against these demonstrators illustrates the unsettling effect and affect of these bodies. I have read men use the most abominable terms to describe these women’s bodies, expressing their utter disgust over the exposed cellulites, criticising the women for being too thin, too fat, but most importantly and most often as sexually undesirable. These de-monstrating bodies are monstrous in that they deny these men the object of their desire. They move, are moving; for these women often march into an event to disrupt it. When captured in picture, the text inscribed on these bodies compels the eyes of the spectator to move, these bodies are not still, not even in the picture. I cannot however help but see in the picture of a woman, with wind in her hair and smile on her face the reproduction of the immobilised object before the gaze of the other. It is then not surprising that reaction to these pictures were often times positive. Many on social media hailed these women for exposing ‘the beauty of a woman’s hair’, the reason for which, expressed these users, it should not be covered. If breasts of topless FEMEN protesters are desexualised, hair in the case of these Facebook freedoms becomes the object of fetish, much like it originally was for those who imposed the compulsion in the first place.

 My second point, going back to my introduction about the feminist divide, is the gaze. Feminism has traditionally bemoaned, and continues to do so, rightfully might I add, the male gaze and its dictating dominance. Yes, that is still there. But – and this is why the uphill battle for racialised women is steep – what is often neglected in mainstream feminist discourse is the colonial gaze, including that of ‘white’ feminists. This gaze, much like the male gaze, objectifies the subject. The body becomes the picture, the picture represents the ‘affectable other’ aspiring to be human. As Andrea Smith justly points out, in her article, “Queer Theory and Native Studies”, ‘the very request for full subjecthood, implicit in the ethnographic project to tell our ‘truth’ is already premised on a logic that requires us to be objects to be discovered.’

There is of course a danger to criticisms like the one I presented in this post and it is a valid one at that: local resistance risks being thrust into obscurity to be protected from colonial interpretations. What we should be wary of is the audience or the interlocutor that is implicit in the message around which the actor organises her actions. I find it hard to believe that the Stealthy Freedoms’ page was set up merely as a local resistance, the fact that the organiser herself does not reside in Iran confirms to a great extent my suspicion. Iranian feminists inside of Iran, much like other feminists all around the world, are faced with and fight against the heteropatriarchal powers in micro and macro levels. As Western feminists we have a responsibility too: to be critical about the kind of struggle that is brought to our attention and reflect upon the reasons behind the publicity they receive. As coloured feminists, we should be alert about the colonial relations that appropriate our movements and not hesitate to denounce them, as Amina Taylor did so bravely and in doing so exposed the racism engraved in certain Occidental feminist movements. I strongly believe that despite all the good intentions behind it, Stealthy Freedom is deeply invested in a naïve heteropatriarchy that makes of immobilised women objects to be saved by the humanity of the universal subject. The struggle faced by women of colour cannot be assimilated into a universal and international feminism. For as long as the universal is defined by the Western subject, women of colour are, to use Andrea Smith’s words, a particular aspiring to humanity, to the universal humanity of the ‘self-determined’ Western subject.

(Image from a Toronto Sun report of the event (Tony Caldwell/QMI Agency))

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We Weren’t Born This Way

Pragya Sharma is a contributing member of the F Word Media Collective. 

Kim Kardashian isn’t a woman who’s known for her politics.  Instead, she’s known for a well-timed sex tape that catapulted her into fame; a reality television show with her family; extravagant weddings followed by failed marriages; and a relationship with Kanye West.  So, it surprised me when I heard that she posted an essay on her website yesterday, detailing how having a half black child has changed her perception on racial politics in America.  What also surprised me was that instead of accepting that people’s political positions change, prominent websites and commentators have been ridiculing and shaming Kim for not “seeing” race earlier than she did.  Even feminist websites like Jezebel which admittedly aren’t known for their kindness, are mocking Kim for finally realizing that, in her words, “racism and discrimination are still alive.”  

For everyone that’s shaming Kim for making a public post on racism: when did you learn that racism exists?  Were you born with an intricate understanding of white supremacy?  I know I wasn’t.  Despite being raised in an Indian family in the Canadian prairies, I was taught that racism does not exist.  I, like most people in the Global North, had been fed the myth of meritocracy from the moment I was born.  I held on to this myth so strongly that even when my mom was sure she didn’t get a job because of her accent, I rolled my eyes and told her that she probably just messed up the interview.  I couldn’t believe my own mother’s experience because I needed to believe that I could be successful in this world if only I tried hard enough.  And that’s me, a brown woman, who doesn’t really benefit from ignoring the impact of white supremacy in my life.

The anomaly, then, is when we have a major celebrity acknowledging racism.  Combine that with our culture’s obsession with perfectionism and complete utter lack of accountability, I can’t help but wonder if Kim’s post is kind of amazing.  I mean, she not only talks about racism, but she admits that she was wrong when she didn’t see it as a problem in the world and admits she was wrong in not recognizing it as something she’s responsible for combating.  Let’s put it this way: A celebrity who’s constantly criticized for what she wears, what she says, what she doesn’t say, who she marries, how she marries them, how she lives and how she breathes, not only acknowledges that she made a mistake, but publicly declares that racism is a big deal and that she’s responsible for doing something about it.  And what do we do?  Mercilessly mock her.

Seriously?  How can we possibly expect those that benefit from white supremacy to ever change anything when all we do is mercilessly shame them when they start to shift their consciousness?

(And don’t even get me started on the misogyny in all the commentators who brush her off as incapable of thinking of anything other than fashion.  Someone who’s built a multi-million dollar empire around a sex tape ain’t no fool.)

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Let Us Play Dumb

by Freddie Storm.

Freddie Storm is a Filmmaker currently based in the Vancouver Area. Born and raised in India, she has kept herself aware with the feminist issues in the South Asian part of the continent while understanding the challenges that women in the western society face.

I was out for a coffee with a female friend of mine. We were discussing regular topics such as latest Red Dragon Camera and how it shoots 6 K footage, converting a file into AAF, benefits of Seido Karate on physical and mental health, you know all that stuff women talk about. She went up to get the coffee when a very handsome man in his late 20’s walked into the coffee shop. He sat down close to us, my eyes met with his and we both exchanged a friendly smile.

Soon my friend was back with two Lattes, complaining how she had to pay 60 cents extra for Soy Milk which she thinks is discrimination towards Vegans in a blatant manner. I nodded. She sat down and of course had to notice this stupendously well-dressed man sitting so close to us, soon her demeanor changed, our conversations turned rather uninformative, she started asking me about the clothes I have bought recently and how she hated her curls although everybody who met with her loved it. Soon enough, I knew whatever my friend talked about was intended for this young man to overhear, in some weird way she was actually flirting with him. I later brought up the whole incident to her while we were walking down the Granville Street; I asked her why our conversation turned so shallow when she knew there was male scrutiny on us. She first denied it, and slowly admitted to acting dumb to gain the male attention. It was shocking to me, knowing how she was one of the very intelligent people I knew resorting to being dumb because that got her attention, it was almost an irony.

I being the feminist I am, would not let this pass, I asked her how she thinks men find dumb women attractive, she said to me more so confidentially, ‘I am sure men have told you how they love a smart woman, but honey that is a myth, they like it dumb, unintellectual,” and that is when I got assertive and asked her why she would even enjoy the company of men who do not see women for their minds but merely for their bodies. She chose not to reply.

I went back home, and got reminded of Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication to the Rights to the women’, somewhere she had said that men like their wives to be innocent, almost as innocent as a child, and later in life when their beauty and youth starts to diminish, they lose interest in them complaining they have nothing to talk about given the difference in the level of intellect.

The term “blonde” does not describe a person or a type, “blonde” is now an idea in itself. It is synonymous to a woman who is stupid. When you type in “blonde” on Google, after the first three description links, you will be surprised (or not) most of the other links are sexual jokes on women with blonde hair and how stupid they are.

Society has been fed in with this idea for generations now. One of the jokes I read a couple of months back was that:

Don’t mistake me, I do find this joke hilarious, but, think about this way, not talking to other countries would be way logical and smarter than war, and the joke actually lies in the irony of it.

Also, let us not forget about the representation of women in Media. I truly believe society and media are mirror reflections of each other, almost catch 22 it is, society represents media and vice versa.

Let us talk about Mean Girls, the 2001 movie directed by Mark Waters. The movie starts with a popular group of girls in an American High School, the most popular girl in class in school is Regina George, who is blonde (hair wise), not so bright, sexually extroverted and cunning. All these qualities in her give her the title of the most popular girl. And then there is a new girl in class whose name is Cady, she is smart, culturally aware and very good in Math. Aaron Samuels is the popular guy in school, and both the girls in one way and the other want to win him, the instantaneous solution that Cady comes up with is to fail in her Math test, pretend to be stupid so Aaron would shift his attention to her, and, viola, it works! She asks him to tutor her and he does.

To compete with Regina George, she had to come down to the same level of stupidity, some people may call Cady smart because she understood being stupid was the clever thing to do, but hello, really? 

This movie was made for 17 million dollars and grossed more than 200 million on the box office; this confirms that the idea of female stupidity sells.

 

 

I am going to explore more on the history of western literature in propagating this idea. Starting with Jeffery Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale, critics have often debated whether it is feminist or plain misogynist. The story deals with a woman during Middle Ages. She is very clever and flamboyant, her name is Alisoun. She has been married 7 times, and has managed to win the wealth and fortune of all her previous husbands. This story is a success story; the only problem is that she has used treachery to be able to convince her husbands into letting her have her way. She has pretended being stupid or weak in order to be attractive to the men. Alisoun is well aware that this kind of behavior is requisite in her marriages, and although very clever, she trains herself to behave vulnerably in front of the men, who enjoy this attribute of her.

Women have always been represented by men in western literature. We have learnt about women’s experiences and behavior for over hundreds of years mostly by reading books written by men. Great poets who wrote about their love interests such as Edmund Spenser or John Donne either sexualized them or criticized them. Women in literature have been mute until recently. The image created by the male writers becomes a margin for what women should behave and act like. The female characters in the books were mostly handsome, chaste and naïve. When women started writing, they had to unlearn everything about women they had read in the books to be able to pen down the genuine nature and experiences of women.

The women writers who started talking about their experiences, these smart women were/are often endorsed with a pinch of madness. For example Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf or Emily Dickenson are always seen as these “crazy” distressed women who did not enjoy life. Who perpetuates these ideas about them? It is those who cannot come to terms with the fact that smart and beautiful women are not a myth.

A lot of young girls are being trained by society (media, literature, social ideologies, etc.) to accept the idea that being stupid is equivalent to being more attractive. It is not true, period. We do not have to either be stupid or pretend to be stupid in order to be popular, in fact it is men who need to be trained that to accept that intelligence is not something they can have monopoly over. Women need to have opinions, ideas and confidence against the popular demand. Women need to think for their own good, whether it is about the way we conduct or the way we are. Patriarchy is internalized not only by men but also by women, and it is a responsibility to fight any kind of suppression, although initially it is as hard as giving up cocaine or the thought of an ex-partner. I would like to conclude this article with a funny picture I found online with hopes that we will all fight the demons of internalized patriarchy in us.

 

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