The Answer to Hate Speech Isn’t Legislation: Lessons from Watching Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot recently released a couple new videos, one a direct warning about Trump, the other an anthem to vaginas (which is awesome as fuck!).

It inspired me to watch the documentary about them that’s available on Netflix right now, and I want to encourage everyone to watch it.

Protest is such an important form of free speech, and this documentary gives a stark example of what happens when totalitarian religion and government try to outlaw “offensive” and “hateful” speech.

We’ve been experiencing an erosion of the rights to protest and free speech…driven as much by the militarized response to human rights  and environmental protests (far too many examples to link to) as by the liberal anger towards “hate speech.”

It’s a dangerous trend. And neither conservatives nor liberals seem to realize that if you make it punishable for the other to have protests and free speech, as offensive as it may be, you set yourself up for the same.

In the documentary, you can see how the former intolerance for religious freedom has changed to intolerance for “blasphemy.” But nothing’s really changed. The foundation–that the government has the power to punish one for their beliefs and expression–is the same.

With the recent videos, Pussy Riot does a brilliant job of showing how Trump represents an overt threat to freedom, but the documentary carries a dire warning of another kind.

Free speech is only as secure as the right for the most offensive person to speak without legal retaliation.

As a bi feminist, I may not like it when someone speaks misogynistic or homophobic things, but I realize that their right to that opinion is my right to mine (and you’d better believe I want to be able to respond).

As we head into the future, with whoever becomes President, we as a nation really must consider what kind of nation we want to live in.

Will we support the rights of those we disagree with to have their voice so that we can protect our own?

Or will we support the comfort that comes when a police force can shut down those who make us uncomfortable and thus begin crafting our own gags?

 

Expanding Feminism with Archetypes: Hestia vs. Hera

Recently I’ve been reading a book called Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen. It’s an older book with a fair bit of binary language and a slight over-emphasis on literal application of archetypes to women’s lives, but it has clarified something for me that I’ve struggled with for quite some time.

I like to clean. I like to cook. I like to do a lot of things that might be associated with “typical women’s chores.”

At least, in the right circumstances I do. Sometimes I loathe it and feel boxed into the housewife category. Sometimes when I enjoy dusting or doing laundry, my feminist mind observes with cool disapproval.

I could sort of recognize that the times I enjoyed cleaning were different from when I felt trapped into cleaning, but it still felt like maybe I was caving to gender conditioning or expectations.

That all changed when I read Bolen’s descriptions of the goddess of the hearth vs. the goddess of marriage.

Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, is not a very prominent goddess. According to Bolen, she was honored in every house and temple by the central fire, but she was also pretty unassuming, preferring to sit back and take pleasure in the quiet maintenance of the hearth rather than running off on wild adventures like Artemis or seeking out trysts like Aphrodite.

Hera, the goddess of marriage, is a little more well-known as Zeus’ wife. She’s often portrayed as wildly jealous of Zeus’ affairs with other women but is also fiercely devoted to her role as wife. The convoluted issues of jealousy aside, Bolen describes her as being primarily driven by her union—the stereotypical fifties wife who promotes her husband’s career and doesn’t exactly have a lot of interests of her own.

Hestia and Hera both can be seen doing somewhat similar things sometimes, but for different reasons.

Hera is the type of goddess that would dust and clean because a clean home is a comfortable home for her man, the type of goddess that would probably throw a dinner party to help her husband get a promotion.

Hestia is the type of goddess that would dust and clean because it brings her joy and peace to be in a space that feels good. She would cook because she enjoys the act of preparing food.

I can identify very strongly with Hestia. I like beauty, cleanliness, and harmony around me. I enjoy doing the things that bring that to my surroundings. I know that even if I were single I would still do much of what I currently do in my marriage.

But I loathe being a housewife!

If I’m doing my own laundry, I’m happy as can be. If I’m doing someone else’s laundry, suddenly the task seems like an enormous burden, demeaning as well as time-consuming. If I am cooking dinner because I want to have yummy food that carries the magic of having been prepared by hand, I feel content and absorbed in the process. If I’m cooking a meal because I feel obligated to have dinner on the table when my partner comes home from work, I find the process overwhelming and depressing.

I was conditioned to be Hera, so I’m not entirely without that influence. I do find myself periodically running around trying to be the perfect housewife, and that’s when I really hate household chores.

Feminism has been key in helping me buck that obligatory mindset, but I didn’t quite realize initially that rejecting the notion that I need to clean and cook to “make a home” for my partner didn’t necessarily mean that I would want to stop doing home making things entirely.

To some extent, I think certain facets of feminism contribute to that. There’s a certain amount of judgment or shame that sometimes gets directed towards women who might actually want to be a housewife or carry the greater burden of chores in the home.

It’s not everywhere. There are also feminist circles that uphold the value that a woman should get to decide what she wants to do, even if that is doing things traditionally relegated to women. But it’s present enough that when the Hestia archetype would take hold and I found myself enjoying the process of organizing a closet, I would feel guilty, wondering if I was falling back into old conditioning.

I can see now that Hestia and Hera are vastly different motivating forces. The one chooses to “keep the hearth” because it is valuable in and of itself to her. She probably wouldn’t do it if it weren’t personally fulfilling because she isn’t driven by duty or public opinion.

The other chooses to “keep the hearth” because it contributes to what she thinks a wife should be.

Hestia does her thing for herself whereas Hera does her thing for her husband.

It’s such a subtle but important distinction.

Hestia is a natural part of my personality. Hera is not (though she might be for others). When I find myself driven by the conditioning of “should’s,” I embody the patriarchy’s mandate that I should want to be the housewife that I’ve been told I should be.

This is one area where I think feminism can grow–in helping women see the difference between doing what they choose to do for themselves vs. doing what they are expected to do by patriarchy.

Rejecting the imposition of Hera on me doesn’t mean that Hestia disappears. I can still feel called to keep my hearth for reasons that are authentic to me.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: A Metaphor of Patriarchy

I recently read The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.

Two things: It’s a ridiculously long book. I confess I skipped a few pages…er chapters with unnecessarily detailed descriptions of buildings and scenery. (Like he literally had whole chapters of nothing but description!)

And it’s fucking dark and depressing.

It’s nothing like the Disney movie. I found none of the characters to be decent human beings, except Esmerelda.

Spoiler alert: she dies.

In the afterword of my edition, it talks about how Victor Hugo was trying to show the process of fate and how inescapable it is.

I didn’t see that.

I did see some interesting feminist themes though.

I was struck by how sensual yet virginal Esmerelda is. She belongs to no man. She chooses to marry a somewhat important character to save him from being “executed” by the court of fools, but she basically tells him to fuck off when he wants to consummate the marriage.

But her virginity isn’t one of chastity in the Christian sense.

She’s a dancer and seems very in touch with her body. She acknowledges having desires. She isn’t afraid to own her sexiness. In a way, her virginity seems more about her being in charge of her sexuality. She is in search of her mother (perhaps a symbol for the sacred feminine or crone) and doesn’t want to have sex until she has found her.

Therefore, I dubbed her the “wild feminine spirit.”

And in a patriarchal world, of course the wild feminine would be besieged from all sides.

There are two characters who want Esmerelda sexually. Phoebus, a playboy soldier, is one. Esmerelda develops a crush on him after he rescues her. Phoebus is named after a sun god, and in a way, I believe that Esmerelda is in love with what he should be rather than who he actually is. She is obsessed with his name but never really knows him.

Phoebus, the non-god, is a pretty douchey guy. He has a fiancée, but is bored with her. He finds sport in seducing women. When he sees Esmerelda, he decides he wants to have sex with her and sets about trying to seduce her with promises of love that he doesn’t mean.

He is a perfect example of objectification within patriarchy. He has no concern for her as an actual person and merely wants to possess her sexually. He tries to guilt her for not wanting to have sex. He promises her things that he never intends on following through on. Sound familiar?

Frollo, the priest mentioned above, is the other. He hates Esmerelda’s sexuality and craves her at the same time. He has spent his life in celibacy. When he becomes aroused by Esmerelda’s independent spirit, he blames her for his own arousal.

In other words, he’s purity culture incarnate.

Interestingly, he’s probably far worse than Phoebus. Phoebus doesn’t care about Esmerelda, but he also doesn’t see her as responsible for his own desires. Frollo, on the other hand, thinks she is the devil for the way he thinks about her.

He blames her and abdicates his own responsibility for his sexual desires. In doing so, he justifies stalking her, trying to kidnap her, trying to rape her, and ultimately murdering her.

Phoebus embodies the “boys will be boys” mentality of patriarchy.

Frollo embodies the “I can’t help it; she was asking for it” mentality of rape culture.

He even tries to convince Esmerelda, as she is languishing in a dungeon without food, warmth, or basic necessities of any kind, that he is suffering more than she.

He gets off on images of her being tortured until she confesses to being a witch.

Ultimately, when he cannot force her to love him, he abandons her to the gallows, allowing her to be executed as a witch.

In the end, Frollo acts the way his own god acts, demanding the submission and love of someone while threatening to punish them if they will not comply.

And the namesake of the book? Well, he’s definitely not as nice as Disney portrays him. Probably for good reason, he hates everyone in Paris except the man who raised him. Quasimodo attempts to help Frollo the first time he tries to capture Esmerelda. He gets caught and punished for the attempted kidnapping. When Frollo turns his back on him while he is in the stocks, Esmerelda shows him kindness by bringing him some water.

At that moment, he falls in love with her, in a different way from the others. He doesn’t want to own her or force her sexually. He longs to be loved by her but sees her as a person. Even then, he is pretty despicable. He protects her from rape one night, but when he realizes he’s fighting off his master, he cowers down, basically saying, “Go ahead and rape her, but please kill me first so I don’t have to feel bad about it (my paraphrase).”

So Quasimodo has glimmers of being able to be a good character, but ultimately cannot stand up to patriarchy and power enough to be good.

I went back and forth as to whether I saw Quasimodo as a symbol for the deformity of healthy masculinity, which cannot fully develop in a patriarchal, misogynist culture or whether I saw him as the alienated and tortured “good” potential of Frollo, twisted by the church, suppression of his own sexuality, and his lust for power.

Probably Quasimodo is both.

Eventually he redeems himself slightly by killing Frollo, but only after he has been rudely awakened to Frollo’s evil when he sees Esmerelda hanging and Frollo laughing in delight.

Frollo certainly spouted off plenty about fate, so I can see where readers might think he is speaking for the author, but I was struck by how fate was often the name he gave his own inability to take responsibility for his desires, needs, and vices. Externalizing his desire and viewing his sexuality as evil set the stage for his dehumanizing Esmerelda and blaming her for the abuse he carried out.

Throughout the story, for all of the men who bemoaned “fate,” the only person who was literally powerless, imprisoned, and at the mercy of other people’s choices was Esmerelda. (Well, the only main character). The others who felt “powerless” to fate were only powerless insofar as they refused to own their choices and actions in the events.

And Frollo, in feeling the most powerless, was the one with his hand on all the strings.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is probably one of the most depressing books I have ever read, but I can’t say that it was a terrible book. There was so much there symbolically to analyze, and I was mesmerized by the way that it seemed to map out how patriarchy crushes a woman’s attempt to own her own body and sexuality. While I might have been happier with a different ending, I can see how no other ending would have carried the impact. In the end, it’s a story of the feminine being betrayed and murdered for refusing to submit.

 

 

A Story of Love and Marriage

If you compared my partner and me today to who we were as a couple when we first married, you would hardly recognize our marriage as the same marriage.

In fact, today we don’t even call it a marriage. Neither of us wears a ring, and I only refer to my partner as my “husband” when I don’t see another way around a system that still often places men as the head of the home.

We got married because we felt we had to in order to live together and escape the cult. Looking back, it wasn’t my wisest decision. I was conditioned to not just tolerate abuse but to actually consider it an expression of love. The odds of my choosing someone from within the cult who would reject that kind of power when I thought it my literal duty to grovel at his feet were probably against me.

The odds of us staying together after we left and throughout our deconversion process were also probably against us.

Every cycle of growth that one of us went through often required a redefinition of what our relationship was, but somehow we managed to stay connected and in love in spite of an unviable relationship model and significant individual changes to our worldviews.

Despite being a choice that I would never recommend to anyone else, it’s been a choice that I have never regretted.

I’ve often thought about what I would do if I were still partnered with my partner but unmarried. If I could take my current feminist consciousness and give it to my 21 year old self, would I still choose to marry?

The answer has differed over the years. At one point, it was, “Yes, because it worked out.” Then it was, “No, we wouldn’t need marriage to validate our love.” Then it was, “Yes, because of the benefits.” Then it was, “No, we weren’t mature enough. It could have been a terrible thing.”

Right now, it’s a pretty solid yes, but not because of pragmatics or some ridiculously fucked up version of ownership masquerading as romance.

Rather, I’ve come to realize that while I might disagree with the history of what marriage has been (a means of transferring property and controlling/disempowering women), I actually don’t disagree with the concept of marriage itself.

One of the things that I have always deeply felt in my own marriage is a sense of belonging.

During the height of my attempts to combat my own internalization of patriarchal relationship maps, I felt that that sense of belonging was a betrayal. I didn’t want to belong to my partner. He certainly didn’t belong to me.

But I’ve come to realize that belonging doesn’t have to signify ownership. I can belong with someone without belonging to them.

Certainly I don’t need a “marriage” for that sense of belonging to be true. However, marriage is suddenly beautiful to me because it’s one of the only ways of getting official recognition for one’s chosen family.

In general, society acts as though those who are biologically related to you somehow hold more weight than those to whom you are emotionally close. People say that “blood is thicker than water.”

That is, people say that when they have the privilege of family.

When your family rejects you or disowns you…or isn’t safe for you, then the concept that blood is thicker becomes almost laughable.

The queer community has learned through experience that the people you choose to surround yourself with can be far more like “family” than the people who contributed their DNA to yours.

Marriage is one way that someone can stand up and say, “I choose to be connected to this person. I choose them as my family.”

I never want to be viewed as the ward, property, or “ball and chain” of my partner, but that is only one story of marriage.

I do want the world to know that we are a family. I’m proud of being family with him.

That is the story of marriage that I choose.

 

My Selfie-Confidence Trumps Your Narcissism

There are times when I feel like I’ve stepped into an alternate universe, a world where Donald Trump is celebrated for his lack of empathy and overt arrogance while women are slut-shamed on social media and called “narcissistic” for taking a selfie.

But then I remember that it’s just another day in patriarchy.

In patriarchy, no one is really all that concerned about a cis, white, straight male strutting around, stroking his ego, and ruthlessly attempting to crush anyone who makes him feel like less than the absolute most superior being in the universe.

Trump could be a stand-in for Narcissus himself, but cis, white, straight men are used to being able to indulge in self-grandiosity at other’s expense. No one finds it shocking when they do so because patriarchy has established that as a man’s prerogative.

However, women daring to self-validate—that indeed is a threat to society.

If women began to learn that they could appreciate themselves outside of the male gaze, they might decide that they don’t need to cater to the male gaze.

If women discovered that they could recognize and declare their own value—that their value came from within rather than from without—they might discover that respect and humanity is something they deserve simply because they are, not because it is “generously” bestowed upon them from the menfolk.

If women were able to love themselves and continue to love others, they might figure out that they don’t need to sacrifice their own well-being in order to be in relationship with others.

Selfies give women control over how they reveal themselves to the world and power to self-determine their own sense of who they are.

In the face of such a threat to the control of the other half of the population, patriarchy could only respond in a handful of ways—convince women that selfies are still about the male gaze and gaining approval from men or, when that fails, shame women for being self-absorbed.

If patriarchy is so threatened by women who self-validate by snapping a little picture, imagine what would happen if women became conscious of the power they have at the tip of their fingers….

Power is Taking Up Your Own Space

“Wow!” the exclamation slips out almost before the doctor realizes she’s said it. She side-eyes me then looks back down at the paperwork. “You’ve gained a lot of weight this year.”

I feel a squirming in my stomach. Even though I’m not unaware of the fact that the scale has climbed a good 25 pounds (and I’ve complained about it to the doctors who have been working with me on my iron levels), this is the first time that a doctor has actually commented on it.

Perhaps in response to something on my face, she hastens on, “You’re not overweight yet. You’re at the top range of your BMI. But it’s a significant change, and if you gain anymore you will be overweight.”

Shame. Internally, I realize I couldn’t have prevented the weight gain and that gaining weight doesn’t necessarily make me unhealthy, nevertheless I feel the burning of her judgment. She accepts my explanation of my health challenges and drops the topic, but I leave the office with a new burden. Time to lose weight, I guess.

************

Rewind back six months ago. I’m sitting in a guest lecture on a topic about which I’m passionate. The lecturer asks a question, and I eagerly raise my hand. She calls on me, and I chatter away happily as I’ve grown accustomed to doing in my other classes.

A few minutes later, I raise my hand again for a question, but the lecturer looks over me. When she poses another question, I hesitate but offer my hand when no one else does.

“Anyone else other than her?” the lecturer quips.

I quickly put my hand down, fighting off the shame by telling myself she probably just wants more involvement from others.

A few minutes later, she poses another question. I don’t raise my hand. Nevertheless, she makes the same joking comment about anyone other than me answering.

Shame. I feel myself entirely shut down.

************

Fast forward back to the present. Many of my classes are smaller this semester, and I’m without a doubt the most vocal person there. Similarly at my internship, my co-intern is a very quiet person.

I feel huge, as a personality and as a person. It conflicts with my sense of self, which I perceive as a curious, exploratory, opinionated, passionate, and creative, but never overpowering or domineering.

But as my therapist pointed out, those are strong yet inaccurate word choices. I’m not walking around shoving people into lockers or telling them what they should believe or do. I’m not trying to control anyone or take away their ability to contribute to a discussion.

So what is it I’m feeling?

Visible.

And I hate it.

I relish vocalizing my opinion in a setting where that is met by interested discussion from others—when the center of attention is on the ideas.

But when the attention is drawn to me, either because someone calls it to me as the lecturer did or because no one else is matching my energy, then I feel inappropriately…big.

Some of the traditional criticism of the unhealthy body ideals pushed at women touches on the idea that women are pressured to take up as little space as possible, and I feel that pressure on an intellectual as well as a physical level.

After struggling with the pressure to lose weight for my doctor’s approval for about a week, I chose to release the obligation. I chose to allow myself to be larger than others determined I “should” be during this year of my graduate school. I don’t want to be obsessed with a number on a scale or a BMI range that is arbitrary anyway. I want to be focused on being healthy, but I already am doing that. I don’t need to lose weight to do that.

It felt like a rebellious move to some extent. It’s one thing to feel like I am gaining weight and can’t control it, but would if I could.

It’s an entirely different thing to decide that I don’t care, that others don’t get to determine what my body should look like, and that I’m okay just the way I am.

It’s powerful.

I’ve been on an exploration of the meaning of power, and I realize that I’ve been holding myself back–withholding permission to take up space, trying to maintain the ability to be invisible when others don’t want to have to see me.

I am a strong personality. There are other words that come to mind to describe that, words that carry the connotation that being a strong personality–being visible–is bad. I refuse to use those words anymore though.

Silly Girls, Orgasmic Sex is for Divas

Should it be news when a woman expects to enjoy sex?

Probably not in a world that isn’t completely fucked up…but actually, yeah, I think it should be news in today’s world.

It’s certainly turning heads that Nicki Minaj stated in her Cosmopolitan interview, “I demand to climax.”

Some are cheering her on. Some, however, think that she’s a “diva.” Because…apparently expecting sex to be pleasurable is such an unreasonable standard.

Sex. Orgasms. Celebrities. Who cares, right?

Well, I care. It’s a big deal.

The very fact that Nicki can create such a fuss over that statement and that she can get such backlash for holding that opinion reveals pretty strongly that even in our “advanced” society, female sexuality is still considered “for others.”

No man—absolutely none—needs to declare that he expects to climax every time he has sex. It’s a given. It’s expected that men will enjoy sex and that sex will lead to orgasm for men.

But women who expect the same…that’s shocking, unheard of, bitchy, demanding, diva-ish.

We live in a society where the female orgasm is extra. Movies and porn center themselves on male pleasure and ejaculation but hold no expectation of showing a woman climaxing. Women’s sexuality is used to sell everything from beer to cars to deodorant, yet women enjoying sex and climaxing during sex is no one’s first concern.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if we hope to change the way our culture views women, we need to change the way our culture views women’s sexuality, not by fighting for fewer displays of sexuality but rather by fighting for displays of sexuality that demonstrate clearly that a woman’s sexuality is for herself.

We need more women declaring that they enjoy sex…and that they only have sex that they can enjoy.

The traditional ways of fighting objectification too easily play into the mindset that a woman’s only reason for being sexual is for the male gaze, male pleasure, etc. It reinforces the myth that women don’t have desires of their own.

Women, and girls especially, need role models who demonstrate…not modesty, but agency in sexuality. We need media that shows sex being rooted in respect, consent, and mutual pleasure. Expecting orgasmic sex shouldn’t have to be a newsworthy story. It’s time for women to take back their right to their own sexuality and demand that sex is as pleasurable for them as it is for their partners.