Modesty: The Insidious Objectification

I am posting again a bit early, but I’m too riled to wait until next week. I haven’t thought about the topic of modesty in a pretty long time. Since leaving fundamentalism, it hasn’t intruded into my decision making process when I look through my closet in the morning, and I no longer run in the circles where it comes up as a casual or formal topic of discussion. And it’s been nice!

But I think it’s time to visit the topic, even though it doesn’t play a major role in my life right now, because some asshat made the mistake of commenting in a conversation with me that it’s “easier to see a woman as a whole person when she dresses modestly.” That man should be thanking his lucky stars that knees can’t reach groins through the Internet.

Hang on tight, because I’m pissed and I’m going to blow this shit out of the water.

Modesty is just another form of objectification.

It’s just another form of the patriarchy attempting to reduce women to their body parts.

It is not about respecting women. It is not about protecting women. It is not about teaching them to value themselves. It is ENTIRELY based in preserving male privilege and propagating the pathetic myth that men can’t control themselves and women, therefore, are responsible for men’s thoughts.

From memegenerator.net

I’m going to go even further than that and say that the principle of modesty is the foundation of rape culture and objectification. The assumption that women need to cover their bodies in order to get respect from others or to have self-respect for themselves is what makes people think it’s okay to say that a woman’s dress contributed to her rape or sexual assault. It’s the assumption that women’s bodies are always sexual when exposed that makes people think that exposing _____ amount of skin means she’s there to be looked at or used for sex or that she wants to have sex. And further, it’s that assumption that an exposed body is a sexualized body that makes people think it’s okay to degrade and objectify women who have exposed their body, without regard to the reason for the exposure.

Modesty isn’t just another way of reducing a girl to her body parts. It is the way of reducing a girl to her body parts. The obsession of covering or uncovering a woman’s body is the same obsession. And it comes from the same mindset—that women are there for men, either as temptresses or toys. Either way, her body isn’t there for her. It’s all about how it looks to someone else—specifically some other man. Her body loses its function as the vehicle through which she lives and instead becomes the measure of how others determine her virtue.

And there is no winning!

Modesty teachings range all over the place. I used to get emails on modesty when I attended Bob Jones University. Everything was a “stumbling block.” Pants drew attention to the butt. Skirts drew attention to the butt. nude hose made legs look sexy. Colored stockings made legs noticeable, thus indecent. Bare legs made guys think of sex. The only “safe” option was to not have legs!

Oh, it is such an effective way of keeping women confined. It’s such an effective way of keeping them feeling guilty for their bodies, ashamed and hyper-aware of every aspect of it. It is the perfect method of reminding them that their primary function in life is sex-appeal.

How convenient to put the responsibility on women to be viewed as human beings.

How convenient for men to be told they can’t control themselves when it comes to sex. It’s so much easier to believe it’s uncontrollable and to blame someone else for the prejudice, superiority, and privilege than to admit that one is prejudiced, views women as inferior, and is too fucking lazy to fight against the culture that reduces women to body parts.

But newsflash! My humanity isn’t determined by my dress! Walking out the door butt naked shouldn’t in any way diminish my personhood to anyone.

I don’t have a problem seeing a guy as a lesser person because he’s shirtless. And before we get into the “but men are visual and wired to view women that way,” let me just remind everyone that I’m attracted to women too. I’m attracted to the exact same body parts as men. And I’m very much a visual person in my attraction. But I don’t have a hard time remembering that a beautiful girl is a person, EVEN IF SHE’S DRESSED IN NEXT TO NOTHING! I don’t stop seeing her because I see her cleavage!

It’s time to stop focusing on what women are wearing and take a good hard look at the cultural mindset that allows men to think of women as “less than.”  In the end, if, like this guy, you have a hard time seeing me as a whole person, it’s not my clothing that makes it difficult for you to view me as a whole person; it’s your prejudice that makes it difficult for you to view me as a whole person. And that isn’t my responsibility to change. It’s yours.

My world doesn’t revolve around men. When I get dressed in the morning, I’m not thinking of men. I wear what makes me happy or what serves my needs, regardless of whether someone else likes it or not. If I wear shorts, it’s not to get a guy’s attention. If I wear an ankle-length skirt, it’s not to “protect” a guy’s mind or prevent him from thinking about me. I dress for me and no one else.

Show a little modesty, guys, and stop thinking that everything to do with my body has something to do with you.

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Transformative Magic: Embracing my Dark Side

In a previous post, I gave a sneak peak into some of the things I would talk about, including one on how “negative emotions are good.” I’ve had requests from several people for more on that, so I thought now, with the approach of Samhain, would be a good time to approach this topic.

We live in a culture where certain emotions are viewed anywhere from simply “negative” to downright “wrong” or “sinful.” No matter where you go, the general consensus is that these emotions need to be resisted, “released” (one of my favorites of the coercive terms because it sounds so innocent. Right up there with “forgive” or “just get over it”), or not even felt if you’re a “good person.” The taboo on emotions is especially strong surrounding sadness for men and anger for women, but it’s pretty safe to say that, in general, “negative emotions” just aren’t considered good or healthy to experience.

But what if we have it all wrong?

A little fairy once told me, “Changing your perspective gives you the power to change your world.” And as many pagans and witches know, the highest magic comes not with transforming the world around you but with transforming your thoughts.

So let’s try some transformative magic.

It’s easy to recognize how a world of continuous darkness would be bad. Life would die because life cannot function without light. It’s easy to see how a world of continuous rainfall would be bad. I’ve seen the floods and destruction that come with a few too many days of rain. But I rarely question the destruction that would surely follow a world that was always sunny. There are times where there is too much sun; it’s called a drought. But I never think about droughts when thinking about excesses of something!

Growing up, I remember hearing preachers disdain the philosophy that “life’s purpose is happiness.” In their minds, such a wasted life was a life spent pursuing happiness. And as much as I would disagree with the reasons for that statement, I find that I actually agree with the statement itself.

Pursuing happiness is a pursuit doomed to failure.

Does that mean I don’t have the right to be happy? Should I be miserable, as those preachers seemed to want?

No, I think I have every right, even a destiny, to be happy! But I am coming to see life’s purpose as wholeness, not happiness. And there’s a big difference. While wholeness certainly involves happiness, it also involves the ability to feel sadness. While wholeness involves peace, it also involves the ability to feel anger or fear.

They’ve been labeled “negative emotions.” They’re portrayed as something I shouldn’t have, something to avoid, something I must drive out when I feel them. But imagine if you could not feel sadness or anger or fear? I’ve thought of these emotions as out of place, but that’s only because I didn’t recognize their purpose. Something would be terribly wrong with me if I could not feel anger when I saw a child abused. Something would be terribly wrong with me if I could not feel fear when I got too close to danger. Something would be terribly wrong with me if I could not feel sadness when I lost a loved one, or guilt when I hurt someone.

Without them, I would die just as surely as I would die without hope or joy or courage.

A tree requires both sunlight and darkness. Its branches reach for the sky while its roots tunnel into the ground. If the roots are not cared for or fed, if they’re cut off, the top of the tree will quickly die as well. In the same way, I have a shadow side, a side that is buried away from view, that isn’t fun to look at, that doesn’t feel good, that has the potential to make others and myself uncomfortable. But if I don’t embrace that side of myself and accept it as part of myself, I doom it to rot and fester until it destroys that bright side of me too.

Wholeness isn’t about cutting myself off from the shadow side of life. It’s about recognizing the purpose for that shadow side—the purpose for those emotions and experiences—and melding it together with the light side into a single whole. I have so much duality in me. I have light and darkness, reason and intuition, “femininity” and “masculinity”. Heck, my life card is the Sun and my Spirit card is Death. You can’t get much more dual than that. And the amazing thing is, each side, each facet, has a freaking purpose! They all work together to create me! And just as I’ve given up so many other things with fundamentalism, I’ve also given up the idea that there is anything inherently in me that is wrong.

Which means my emotions, by themselves, can’t be wrong.

None of them.

So what is it that makes these shadow emotions seem “bad”? Outside of a general inability to tolerate discomfort and do messy soul work, I think we’ve mistaken the emotions themselves for specific scripts surrounding them. It’s a kind of confirmation bias. When we think of anger, we think of when someone became violent in their anger. We don’t remember the times that anger was constructive or creative or protective. Once you get to the point where you associate the emotion itself with the negative behavior, then you get so busy fighting the emotion that there’s no chance to fight the script that you’ve adopted about it.

As part of my spiritual practice, I’m learning to become comfortable with my dark side. I’m throwing away the scripts I’ve been taught and searching for a new, transformative perspective about the shadow emotions. I’ve come to appreciate this time of year, when the Goddess traditionally takes a journey down into the underworld for a few months until spring, because it reminds me that I also need underworld journeys, as tough as they are. It’s not easy to sit with an emotion. It’s much easier to go back to my scripts. But sitting in discomfort is essential to my emotional transformation as much as it is to my spiritual transformation. The ability to sit with uncertainty and discomfort is, I think, one of the key aspects to true freedom.

And as I take this journey, I smile to myself because I recognize what I never could have from within Christiantiy—that Jesus, too, got angry, felt grief and despair, and considered bailing out from fear.

Tales from the Lesloom: The Birth of the Lesbian Futon

I recently became the guardian of a sacred piece of furniture–the lesbian futon. This is a futon that is about as old as I am, and in it’s lifetime, it has only been in the keeping of lesbian or bisexual women. As part of the responsibility as its new guardian, I am entrusted with its safekeeping and of ensuring that it gets passed on to a lesbian or bisexual woman when I can no longer care for it.

Right now, it sits in my living room in a place of honor. I feel that this futon has many stories to tell, and I’ve decided I should record the adventures it whispers to me. Since my friends are as dorky as I am (I love you all!) and have been waiting eagerly for the thrilling tales of this honorable heirloom, or “lesloom” as it was christened, I’ve decided to add a subcategory to my blog that will allow them and anyone else interested in the life an inanimate object might have to follow along. This is the tale of the futon’s birth, as whispered to me in a dream 😉

Once upon a time, there was an old man who worked at a furniture factory. He had a single child—a daughter, and she was his pride and joy. He and his wife raised their little girl with as much love as a child could desire.

She grew up into a beautiful woman and went off to college, the first in her family. The old factory worker was so proud. He would brag about her every chance he got, even telling of his pride to the furniture for which he assembled parts if there was no one else to listen. He liked to think that expressing his deep love for her to the wooden parts that came through left a lifelong impression of love on them as they went out into the world.

A year passed, and it was time for the treasured daughter to come home for the summer.

And how her family prepared! Her mother bought all her favorite foods. Her father bought her flowers and took off a few days from work to be with her. Nothing was spared for her homecoming.

But when the daughter came, she wasn’t alone.

After her hand-me-down car had come to a stop outside the modest house of this happy family, a young woman got out of the passenger seat.

The parents didn’t have time to speculate before their daughter jumped out as well, running towards them. “Mom! Dad!”

They embraced in tearful ecstasy.

“I’ve missed you so much!” she cried.

“You’ve no idea how much we’ve missed you!” her father replied, feeling as if his heart might explode in sheer happiness.

After a long while of hugging, during which the new girl stood off to the side, forgotten but watching, the daughter finally pulled away.

“I’ve got someone to introduce you to,” she said, motioning her companion forward. “This is Nicole, my girlfriend.”

Had she left it at that, her parents probably would have missed her true meaning and welcomed Nicole as a dear friend.

But the daughter was so sure in her parents’ love for her, it never occurred to her to hold anything back. With absolute confidence that her joy would be shared, she took Nicole’s hand and said, “I love her—so much.”

Nicole, a bit wiser than her dear love, smiled hesitantly and offered her hand to the old man and woman.

The smile on the father’s face faltered and fell as his wife recoiled into his chest. He wanted to ask his beloved daughter to repeat what she’d said. Surely he’d misheard!

But he knew he had not.

Suddenly a deep bitterness took over his heart. “No,” he growled.

“I don’t understand.” His daughter’s glowing eyes now filled with pain and disbelief.

“No!” This time it was a roll of thunder. “You are not that. This will not happen to my daughter.”

“But, daddy—“

“No!” He waved his fists in anger, his love forgotten in his rage. “NO! This is an abomination! You are not welcome in this house in such a perverted state!”

The daughter looked to her mother, searching for a sign of compassion. But her mother wept with her eyes averted. She would not look at her daughter.

Nicole stepped gently forward and began pulling her love away as the girl’s father continued to rage. They got back in the car and drove away.

“We’ve lost her,” the mother whimpered. “We’ve lost our baby girl.”

“She’ll be back,” the old factory worker said as his anger cooled. “She’ll come to her senses, and she’ll come back.”

But she didn’t.

Late that night, the old man and his wife were awakened by a call. When they answered, they discovered that their daughter had been brought to the emergency room, but that she had died on the way.

The old man was overcome with grief. Such loss he could not bear—and such guilt! He felt certain that he had been responsible. He could not bring himself to go to the hospital to claim the body of his child. The shame was too great even for him to attend the funeral.

Whispers circulated that he hated her and disowned her even in death. He became known as a heart-hearted man.

He did not contradict. He was too buried in remorse to think of defending himself.

But at work, as he assembled the furniture parts, he sobbed and told the truth—of his love, of his hate, of his loss and the acceptance that came too late.

And as he wept, the wood indeed listened.

One piece of furniture in particular was touched—a futon. Now any other week, this futon would have been like all the others. But the grief of the old man shook the futon to its very nails, and it vowed to do everything it could to help women and girls like this poor man’s daughter.

Thus it became the lesbian futon.

Bilbo: the anti-hero hero

Saturday is Biblo’s birthday. It also happens to be the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit. This week, hobbit parties are happening all over the country, including one that I’m planning myself. I honestly couldn’t be more excited. It’s like throwing the birthday party that I always wanted.

I’ve been a fanatic for Tolkien’s work since my early teens. Clearly, I’m not the only one. Seeing the activities people are planning has gotten me thinking about Tolkien’s work and why it holds such attractive power to so many fans. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for me.

In a way, Bilbo kind of feels like the first major anti-hero protagonist. He’s totally ordinary, close to fifty, not even interested in adventures, and slightly dull (albeit adorable) when we first meet him in the beginning of The Hobbit. His life is comfortable and exactly how he likes it. He has no reason to change. He’s very much like the average person.  He’s exactly like me.

But he starts on this journey, more on a whim than common sense, and finds himself leading a bunch of bumbling dwarves, outsmarting all sorts of creatures, and facing some of his deepest fears. He’s brave, but it’s not his bravery I love. It’s the unexpectedness of his bravery.

I love it because I can relate to it.

I’m not the type of person that desires change and seeks out adventure. I like my life to be predictable. I like to feel safe and know where I’m going and what’s going to happen and what I’ll need to do and what others are going to do and . . . well, if my life were a book, I would have peaked ahead to the last chapter by now.

I like to think that my fears aren’t things I’ll meet on the street, that they’re more myth than anything. I don’t want to have to face a dragon or wonder how I’m going to get home. I don’t want to start on a journey that I don’t even know if I can complete.

But every once in a while, I find myself chasing after some crazy adventure, some unpredictable change, and I think I can understand why Bilbo did. Deep down, despite the aversion to change, there is something in everyone that is just a little bit hero-like. Even the most ordinary, unimaginative person has a brave soul buried inside them somewhere. And I, for one, am desperate to hear that. I desperately need that.

The “heroes” of our world can’t do it all. No matter how much I admire them or rely on them, there are some things I know they can’t tackle, some internal dragons they can’t slay. But if I decide to be my own hero, I start out on a quest that absolutely changes me. I find a courage I didn’t know I had. I find out my skills are greater than I thought, and I find the imagination to solve my own problems.

I doubt any of us ever truly feels like a hero. When faced with danger, I bet we all wish we were back in our cozy homes, drinking a cup of tea on a warm summer evening, eating a plentiful meal. I do. Sometimes the only thing I can think when facing a stressful situation is, “I want to go home!”

While I may have to make a change in my life . . .  While I may do courageous things . . .  While I may dare to face down the monsters in the hidden crevices of life . . .  I never never never want to.

I want to hide away in a hole!

The heroes in fairy tales are often inaccessible because I am not like them.

But Bilbo—yeah, he’s totally believable and accessible. He’s everything I am and everything I long to be at the same time. He’s a living testament to the magic and richness I can find by daring to step out of my comfort zone and walk down the road that my heart tells me to follow while my brain is saying, “You’ve really put your foot in it this time, you fool.” He’s the hero that helps me realize I can be one too.

To Hell With Hell

I guess this could be considered my first official conversion story and interfaith ramble. I do need one to match the description I’ve given myself, after all.

Part of what prompted the start of this blog was a conversation I was having on a friend’s wall about abortion. It’s not hard to guess that I’m pro-choice. However that doesn’t mean I’m pro-abortion or anti-life. I value life a lot, which is why I think that such a heavy decision as to whether to bring life into the world shouldn’t be made lightly, especially when bringing new life into the world will have such a huge impact on an already existing life.

I’m really not here to talk about abortion, and for this blog post, at least, I won’t approve comments trying to delve into the topic. This is the backstory.

Now, back to the story.

As I said, the topic was abortion. I was having a relatively great discussion with people from multiple perspectives about whether abortion should be legal. It ranged from discussing the place of religious conviction in legal matters to scientific perspectives to philosophical questions about the beginning of life. It was an all-around good, respectful discussion.

Suddenly, this woman jumped on, throwing around the God card. I’m not opposed to God or someone holding a religiously backed belief. I’m just opposed to it being imposed on me. I responded by listing other religious traditions and religiously backed beliefs about abortion that differ from conservative Christianity (yes, there are actually others out there).

The woman then dropped the conversation completely and asked, “Do you know where you’re going to go when you die?”

In my experience, there are only two reasons why someone would ask that question. Actually one, but two approaches. The reason is to establish a sense of superiority. If I say I’m a Christian, she assumes a version of appeal to authority where she steps in as a parent with the “you should know better” attitude of correction. If I say I’m not a Christian, the actual topic at hand is conveniently forgotten in the new interest of trying to convince me to escape hell.

Well, I precluded both options.

I replied, “I don’t care.”

Actually it was longer than that and a little more derisive, but the gist of it was that I really don’t care. And here’s why: you can never know.

Seriously, you can never know whether your belief in the afterlife or in god/s is accurate or true.

“But what about the Bible?”

What about it? It’s a self-validating book of writings by men who claimed to have encountered God and recorded what they think God wanted. There are a lot of those types of self-validating books. There are even multiple versions of the Bible with different writings in them. Just because it claims to be true and you believe it doesn’t mean that your belief is assured. That’s basic common sense. It’s a secondary source at best, more likely tertiary or worse. Try using those kinds of sources in an academic paper and see if the teacher calls it good research.

I’m not an atheist. I have my rituals and beliefs too. I dance in the light of the full moon, chant, meditate, will work a binding spell on someone trying to harm me, pray sometimes, and even read the Bible. But the way I look at it, you either believe what you do out of fear or you believe it because you want to.

I spent a quarter of my life believing out of fear. I overlooked mistreatment of myself and others, shut my eyes to science, ignored history, drove myself crazy trying to create logic from illogic, bent over backwards to justify things that weren’t just hypocritical but felt downright wrong, and basically denied what I felt and experienced as truth in order to believe what I was taught because I was too afraid of the big, angry God in the sky who would send me to hell if I dared to question too much.

And I’m done with that!

I really don’t care where I go when I die because a god who violates his own principles of morality and acts like the quintessential abuser isn’t worth my time, and an afterlife that can only be gained by living a miserable, hateful, ignorant life on earth isn’t worth pursuing.

After you’ve all released gasps that surely came with my blasphemous declaration, now ask why I do what I do? Why do I meditate, burn incense, or attempt to commune with a Divine being?

Because it doesn’t hurt. In fact, it makes me happy. Those things help me appreciate life. I’m not using them to beat another into submission. I don’t need some religious book to determine my morality. And whether when I pray I actually tap into something bigger than myself or merely tap into myself, it helps me deal with life. I’ve discovered that there is a beautiful form of spirituality that comes when belief isn’t a means of distracting from reality but rather a means of enhancing it.

Imagine that! I can enjoy the discoveries of science without finding my spiritual path threatened, and I can follow a spiritual path without needing to block out the discoveries made in the world around me!

I’ve stopped believing out of fear and started believing because it enriches my life and helps order my universe in a way that I can understand. And others are free to do the same for themselves because the beauty of my faith isn’t determined by a need to prove myself right on a subject that is impossible to prove. Later, I’ll delve a bit into the process of becoming comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, but for now, I just want to leave you with this.

I don’t care where I go when I die because my life is so beautiful and worthwhile now that I wouldn’t do anything different even if I knew what would happen when I die. This life, right here, right now, is enough. If there’s more to come later, it shouldn’t detract from the one I’m currently living. The things that make it a “good life” shouldn’t change. I may not live only once, but I only live this life once. And I’m much more concerned with actually living it than enduring it until I reach the next.

The Importance of Partner

I’m married, but I insist on referring to my spouse as my partner. I hate the connotations that come with using “husband” or “wife.” My partner is not the “head of the home.” I’m not his trophy. We both work to pay the bills, so he’s not the “breadwinner.” And we both take care of the home, so I’m not the “homemaker.” He doesn’t control me; I don’t henpeck him. And the rings we exchanged have about as much power of keeping us faithfully together as crossing my fingers has to help me win the lottery.

I’ve also come to seriously hate the connotations of marriage. I don’t necessarily regret getting married, but I do regret getting married before I had the chance to explore what marriage means. I regret getting married at a time when I thought that I was supposed to be the submissive, homemaking, child-bearing wife. I regret getting married at a time when I thought marriage was the only legitimate way to be in a relationship with the person that I love. I miss having the opportunity of exploring what love means to us outside of the confines of the ownership that marriage entails, if not to us, at least to everyone else.

Inevitably when people find out we’re married, they seem to think that they know how to define our relationship, and if we don’t fit into their preconceived definition, they take it upon themselves to try to correct us. Our cell phone company refuses to speak to me about the account even though I’m listed on there and am the one who signs the checks. They assume my partner is the decision-maker. People speak to my partner about me using metaphors and analogies that liken me to a house pet that needs to be “loved” but “trained” or “controlled” nonetheless.

Strangers advise us on how to control or manipulate each other. Just the other day, I had a couple come in to where I work and give me an annoying (though slightly endearing) lecture about how my husband will care and provide for me now as I “bear the babies,” but that I would take over as the leader and protector of him when he got old. What’s wrong with just loving and caring for each other, without the dynamics of who owns or controls whom or what roles we play?

Then there are the exclamations—“but you’re so young!”—that come almost every time someone finds out I’m married, as if my age means I can’t possibly be in a meaningful romantic relationship.

And I’m pretty sure that unmarried couples don’t get asked when they’re going to have kids every time they meet a new acquaintance or have a reunion with old friends or family, even if they’ve been living together for thirty years. On the off-chance that a few people are rude enough to ask a question like that,  they probably don’t give dirty looks if the couple replies that they don’t plan on having kids. They don’t chide the couple for not passing on their “gorgeous genes.” They don’t chastise them for being selfish or promise that the baby clock will start ticking in a few years. From what I’ve seen, unmarried couples just simply aren’t harassed about the baby thing. I’m not saying that’s good (though I don’t think it’s bad). I’m not saying they’re free of harassment, because goodness knows they get asked often enough, “When are you getting married?” I’m just saying that, for me, that would be an exchange worth making.

I honestly don’t know if I would have gotten married given different circumstances. I don’t think my partner knows if he would have either. We stay married because we’re happy together, and admittedly, being married is easier as far as a number of legal things go. But I feel like more often than not, I try to hide the fact that I’m married (though not hide the fact that I’m in a relationship) because there is still so much left over from the days when marriage was an exchange of property between a father and a suitor. Marriage doesn’t describe our relationship well because we’re so far from that model.

Marriage rant aside, there’s another reason why I insist on using “partner.”

It makes me feel less invisible.

In our heterosexist society, gay people are pretty invisible. The very fact that they have to “come out” speaks to that. Non-heterosexuality is so invisible that a non-heterosexual individual has to make a big deal about declaring their non-heterosexuality in order to even be noticed. Even then, once they’re noticed, it’s not guaranteed they’ll be acknowledged.

But bisexuality is even less visible. I can never be “out” for good as bisexual. If I’m with a guy, people assume that I’m straight. If I’m with a girl, they assume that I’m lesbian. No one ever thinks to ask if I’m attracted to all gender expressions. If I tell someone I’m bi, when they don’t simply deny it, they assume that means I’m promiscuous. They certainly never consider that I might be faithful to one or *gasp* two partners. And allowing me the space to define my own relationships—forget it!

We’re so stuck in this dichotomous view of gender, relationships, and life that anyone or anything that doesn’t fall clearly on either side gets overlooked or explained away. Saying “partner” at least makes people second-guess whatever assumptions they’ve made about me. To some extent, it forces them to listen to what I say, thus giving me just a little bit more visibility as an “anomaly” (though I really doubt that bisexuality is as much of an anomaly as people think it is).

Bitch? Why yes, I am one. Thank you for noticing.

“Bitch.” It’s a toxic word, an insult of the highest order to many women. I used to to be so afraid of being called a bitch or thought a bitch that I would go out of my way to prove myself non-bitchy to people. I was particularly eager to prove that around openly sexist men, as if their sexism was somehow my fault and within my power to change.

It was exhausting . . . and ineffective. I discovered that no matter what I did, someone, somewhere, would perceive it badly. It got to the point that there were certain people I just didn’t want to be around because it was too much to try to prove myself non-bitchy when I knew that their assessment of me as a bitch wouldn’t change. I had even gotten to the point of recognizing that it wasn’t anything that I did; it was just the fact that I was a woman.

My fears started many an argument with my partner. Or I should say that I started the arguments because I was driven by fear, and to some extent, I think I argued more with myself than with him. I would argue back and forth about how I didn’t want to go somewhere because I would be perceived as a bitch, then I’d turn around and argue that if I didn’t go, I’d be perceived as a bitch. I would argue that people’s opinions didn’t matter because they were wrong. I would argue that people’s opinions did matter because obviously I must be doing something to warrant that opinion. I don’t know what he was doing while I argued. Keeping his head down probably because there really wasn’t anything safe to say when I was in my “how do I prevent people from thinking I’m a bitch” mode. I only remember one thing he said.

“What does ‘bitch’ mean?”

I remember it because I didn’t have an answer. What does the average person mean by calling a woman a bitch?

I started to make a list of the various things that landed me in the “bitch” category.

  • Having an opinion
  • Stating my opinion
  • Disagreeing with someone else’s opinion
  • Participating in a conversation with a man
  • Being a wife
  • Being a girlfriend
  • Being a woman
  • Having emotions
  • Saying “no”
  • Making my own decisions
  • Not submitting
  • Speaking honestly about things that affect me
  • Expressing dislike for a movie, book, or song that expresses hatred towards women
  • Getting angry when someone says something inappropriate or does something inappropriate to me

That last one was the clincher. I suddenly realized that if someone were sexually harassing me and I got upset, I would be labeled the bitch in the scenario . . . because . . . women aren’t supposed to experience anger?

BULLSHIT!

None of those actions is considered inappropriate for a man! None of them renders a man an asshole! Why? Because they’re not the actions of an asshole. They’re the actions of a human being who leads an authentic, autonomous life.

In the end, I realized that being called a bitch didn’t say anything negative about me.

It said that I dared to think for myself. It said that I was willing to stand up for myself. It said that I honored my emotions, beliefs, and experiences. It said I was independent.

What it said about me, underneath the derogatory language and negative connotation, were all things that I desired to be.

It also revealed a whole hell of a lot about the people calling me a bitch—like the fact that they were uncomfortable around women who didn’t kowtow to their expectations and so afraid of those independent women that they felt the need to demonize them with a loaded term that they themselves probably couldn’t even define better than, “you’re doing something I don’t like.”

So the next time someone calls me a bitch because I have a strong political opinion that disagrees with their equally strong political opinion, I’m going to smile and say, “Bitch? Why yes, I am one. Thank you for noticing.”