Misogyny, or Not Misogyny? That Is the Question

rn  - possible stock photo for shannon deep

By Shannon Deep

“I just don’t see it like that,” my boyfriend shrugs. He’s not upset. He’s not even really arguing. To him, our disagreement is simply a divergence of two equally valid opinions. To me, one of us is acknowledging a goddamn fact and the other is not.

We’ve just seen a 4-person production of Hamlet in downtown Manhattan. Generally, we’re both underwhelmed. Specifically, I’m offended by the scene where Prince Hamlet, feigning insanity, greets two old school chums, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who have been sent to spy on him. Hamlet figures this out and, for lack of a better phrase, fucks with them.

This is a scene with 3 male characters traditionally played by 3 male actors. In this micro-cast production, however, Rosencrantz is played by the lone female in the cast. Throughout the show, when the actress is playing a male character, she’s addressed as male and referred to with male pronouns. The script has not been altered. This lady-Rosencrantz is male.

Which is why, as the scene unfolded and Hamlet began to tease and bully Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I became increasingly confused and then disturbed by Hamlet’s very gender-specific harassment of Rosencrantz. While he is physical with both characters– yanking on their costume pieces, aggressively leading them around the stage– he is only sexual with Rosencrantz, who is, for all intents and purposes, a man. Except that he’s clearly not.

Hamlet grabs Rosencrantz’s ass forcefully and holds on, thrusting his pelvis and miming sex. He attempts to kiss and touch Rosencrantz “romantically.” And as Rosencrantz squirms and tries to get away, Hamlet grabs Rosencrantz’s breasts. Except Rosencrantz doesn’t have breasts. The actress does.

Suddenly, I am not watching Hamlet harass Rosencrantz. I am watching a male actor harass a female actor in a highly gendered manner. And I’m uncomfortable. But when I express my distaste for that misogynistic scene, my boyfriend– who would call himself a feminist– doesn’t see the problem with it.

“He– the actor– was trying to make his fellow actor uncomfortable,” my boyfriend, also an actor, explains. “That’s a valid acting technique.”

“But she’s not playing a woman!” I argue. “And besides, if his goal is to make his fellow actor as uncomfortable as possible, wouldn’t making sexual advances on the other male actor be more effective?”

“Maybe. But it’s still a valid choice.”

“If she were a woman onstage!” I insist. “He feels like he has the permission to touch her in a way he would never touch a male actor. He feels entitled to make that acting choice.”

“I’m not convinced she wasn’t a woman in that scene,” he comes back.

And here’s where the argument gets fishy. The production, at times, was self-aware and self-referential in that, with a nudge and a wink, the cast would sometimes acknowledge the fact that the actors were playing different characters, drawing attention to the gimmick. Therefore, my boyfriend argues, we’re not pretending that these people are the characters. The actors are saying, essentially, “We know we’re actors and we know you know we’re actors.”

If I had seen any other instances of gender-blind characters being treated as the gender of actor and not the character, maybe I would have bought it. Essentially, he tells me that what I’ve seen is a matter of interpretation, and he doesn’t interpret it that way.

And now, I’m upset. I’m angry with my boyfriend for not seeing what seems perfectly obvious to me: A male actor treated a female actor in a manner that expressed, inherently, his belief in his license to do that onstage, to make that acting choice, because his scene partner was female. And maybe a lot of people would excuse the actor and accuse the director, but in this case, the actor playing Hamlet was the director! It was all so perfectly, perfectly plain.

And I don’t think the guy playing Hamlet is a terrible person. I think it’s all much more sublimated and unconscious than malicious misogyny– which is what makes it so insidious. Similarly, it’s not that my boyfriend is a raging misogynist; it’s just so much not a part of his world that he is blind to the more malignant undertones. This subjectivity is a disease we all suffer from.

A prime example: my good friend’s former roommate, a 6-foot, thin, blond, Scandinavian goddess. Basically a supermodel with a sweet disposition and the naïveté to match. Her world was full of free drinks and instant admission to nightclubs and men falling over her to make her life easier. “People are so nice here!” she would exclaim about New York City, a place that has never been nice to anyone.

When my friend was turned away at a club or a guy didn’t call her back, Goddess was quick to excuse the lapse and provide the benefit of the doubt. “The club was probably too full!” she would say. Or, “He probably lost your number!” Because those were the rules of her world. People were kind. Clubs opened their doors. Guys called you back.

Or: “He’s using a valid acting technique!”

Reality is subjective.

And that’s what, now months after Hamlet, in the wake of anti-slut-shaming campaigns, of Elliot Rodger, of #YesAllWomen, of the maze of conversations my boyfriend and I have had about misogyny since then, I have come to realize: We really are living in different realities.

So I explained why I felt slut-shamed by his condemnation of the casual sex I’d had before we started dating. I explained why what Elliot Rodger did was a hate crime and not just a product of mental illness. And I explained that he has a privilege that I do not enjoy: The privilege of being unaware of misogyny.

Having a feminist boyfriend doesn’t mean that he sees the same production of Hamlet you do; it means that when you call out misogyny, he knows enough to say, as mine now does, “I believe you.”

rn - shannon deep bio photoShannon Deep is an essayist, dramaturg, and playwright originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She currently lives in New York City with her boyfriend, too many roommates, and three cats whose mission in life it is to pee on everything she ever loved. She will definitely tweet back to you if you say hi to her on Twitter at @sldeep. If you like essays that are long (but still good!) you can read more on her blog, This Millennial Life.

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How Feminism Released Me From “Biblical Womanhood”

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By Sky

When I was ten, I started blogging. My first blog was hosted on a small homeschool blogging platform, and because I was so young, I was only allowed to visit blogs on the same site as mine. This arrangement was amazing and allowed me to make a ton of friends, but it also exposed me to a different niche of Christian homeschoolers than the ones I’d previously experienced.

This niche is hard for me to describe, though if you’ve been in it, you’ll understand what I mean. It’s often referred to as fundamentalist Christianity, or patriocentrism. This culture can be extremely oppressive to women, and is most often twisted in order to be that way. Strict modesty is encouraged. The idea of wearing skirts only is popular, as well as head coverings. Instead of dating, the young people are required to “court,” which is where the parents have a strong say in who the children marry. In addition, and perhaps the most awful, daughters belong to their fathers until they get married, are under their father’s “headship”, and often have little to no agency of their own. Getting married young was highly recommended, and starting as young as fourteen, women were preparing for their ultimate roles as wives and homemakers. (This can also fall under the term “Biblical womanhood.”) It was almost like going back in time, and as you can imagine, the ways that this belief set can go wrong are numerous.

Several of my old friends were among those who believed this way, and I wanted to fit in. So I became one of them for a while. Even though my parents were not encouraging me in this way at all, and often questioned what I was doing, I subscribed to this belief set in a lot of ways. I awaited the day when I’d get married and have an unrealistically perfect romance. (I still do, but to a much lesser extent.) I wore skirts only, and I tried to bake and crochet. These things were hard for me to accomplish, and it honestly was not what I was interested in. I look back on those times with mild embarrassment, and I wonder how I could have fallen for it. But I was young, and I wanted to be included. Call it the Christian homeschooling version of “peer pressure.”

But even during my time trying to fit in, I had a hard time with this sect of homeschooling. I still felt so out of place there. Instead of Jane Austen, I loved C.S. Lewis and fantasy. Instead of baking, I enjoyed blogging and writing stories. I had a secret longing for adventure. I didn’t like period dramas, I liked action and adventure movies! This was pretty hard for me to reconcile with my outer world. To be honest, I felt like less of a woman, which wasn’t helpful to my already-fragile self esteem. I remember having several impassioned conversations with my parents and possibly others where I expressed how frustrating it was. Even while trying to follow the rules, I was angry with them.

Somehow, I got out of the phase I was in. I got tired of the endless list of what a woman should be. I got tired of trying to aim for perfection. In addition, most of the friendships related to this culture ended, and I slowly drifted away from it. My old friends were replaced with new ones. I started wearing pants again. I wore skinny jeans and graphic teens instead. I’m okay now with being a geek. I don’t enjoy or want to actively pursue traditionally female pursuits like cooking and crafts, which I’m trying to be okay with. I’m not entirely comfortable in my skin, but it’s a lot easier now that I’m not trying to pretend to be something I’m not.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I know what feminism is. I don’t really know how I discovered it wasn’t a bad thing, but last year it crept up on me, and my beliefs have radically changed. Feminism has liberated the twelve-year-old in me, the one that would rather carry a sword than a handbag, and wear a cape instead of a skirt. Though I didn’t know it, that side of me is the feminist side, the one that wants to be free to follow whatever pursuits she wants, regardless of their “gender.” (I have to say, it’s my dream to go to a shooting range one day.)

I think back to when I was trying to fit the mold of “Biblical womanhood,” and it makes me sad. I don’t think forcing women to be submissive and homemakers only is the way to go. Please don’t misunderstand me: homemaking is a noble pursuit. The problem is that far too often women feel that it is their only option, and the patriocentric belief system can be so easily twisted. The mindset of “waiting for Prince Charming” is destructive as well, because it causes women to sit at home, “preparing for marriage.” Often this holds them back from experiencing everything that life has to offer.

I have feminism now, and I’m a strong believer in women finding themselves before they even consider finding a man. Homemaking isn’t your only fate, friends. Neither is “preparing for marriage.” Don’t subscribe to the notion that you are less of a woman because you are not with a man. (Don’t subscribe to the notion that you are less of a woman, period. There is not a checklist for things to make you a “perfect” or “Biblical” woman. This is not what God wants for us.) If you don’t want to get married, don’t. If you do want to get married, go for it–you are not less of a woman if you do get married, and a balanced marriage can have so much to offer. But until you do get married, you absolutely do not have to wait around.

In fact, I beg of you: please don’t wait. Don’t sit around waiting for a man in order for you to start living. Travel the world. Make a shit-ton of art. Write your first novel. Paint a picture. Cook and bake and read. Do things. Your life is not dependent on a man to come in and save you. Neither are you. You are whole and complete without a man or a list of “Biblical womanhood” requirements. You always have been whole and complete. And regardless of whether you get married down the line, or if you don’t, you have a life now. Go live it.

— Sky

“Every Young Woman’s Battle” Is Not Mine

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By Laura Sook Duncombe

When I think back about it, I’m so angry I can hardly handle it. Who writes a book like that? And who gives it to young girls?

“Every Young Woman’s Battle: Guarding Your Mind, Heart, and Body in a Sex-Saturated World” was given to me by a friend in high school. She was a youth-group veteran, this girl who had given me my first F.R.O.G. and P.U.S.H. bracelets, and I took her word on religious matters as Gospel. I loved Jesus with all my heart, but I wasn’t able to express it openly like she did. My relationship with Jesus was intense but private—I hoped this book would help make it public. Boys got turned on by what they saw, the book informed me, so it was my responsibility to protect my Christian brothers from sinful thoughts. Suggestions included wearing layers of clothing to insulate me from the boys’ gazes: no low cut tops or short shorts. I started wearing at least two shirts at a time, and jeans under my skirts and dresses. This was my job to save my classmates from sin. And I was happy to do it.

I was particularly susceptible to this, because I was a “good” girl. I thrived on pleasing adults and saw this as a way to be even more pleasing. I would cover myself up, make my body disappear, and thus become an even better girl. By hiding my sinful curves, I would become invisible: children are supposed to be seen and not heard, but girls are not even allowed to be seen.

But it was not enough to protect my Christian brothers from sin—I had to protect myself, too. Popular music and TV might give me ideas about sex, make me feel certain feelings. And I had to be ever vigilant against these feelings and crush them if they showed up. Even if they felt good, they were not good for me, the book promised. “You have to decide whether you are going to trust your own judgment in your pursuit of sexual purity or whether you are going to look to a trusted advisor for guidance.” This book’s message: do not trust yourself. And for years, I listened. I viewed my body as a ticking time bomb, just waiting to betray me. If I felt desire, it was a sin to be conquered. If I enjoyed the feeling of sun on my bare shoulders, I was hedonistic and should put on a sweater to protect my brothers in Christ. I was afraid to wash myself in the shower, lest I accidentally linger too long on my body and enjoy the touch. I avoided being naked as much as possible. Sometimes I awoke from a steamy dream, body sweaty and throbbing, and I prayed for God to forgive me for those poisonous thoughts. I had a dim concept that someday long in the future I would get married and I’d have to have sex, but that was years away and God would lead me once I got there.

But once I got there, there was no instruction manual or divine intervention to guide me. I thought my body would know what to do, but I had been denying my instincts for years, and I no longer knew what felt good and what didn’t. Pleasure had been avoided for so long that I wasn’t sure I would recognize it if it happened to me. Slowly, carefully, my husband and I have been exploring touch—I am learning to be an inhabitant of my own body for the first time. I’ve taken to wearing cashmere and silk, trying to get used to feeling something sensual without shame. It’s strange and surreal—like taking off blinders and realizing the world is full of color and light. It’s beautiful but awfully overwhelming. I could have used some time to get used to it.

The irony of the whole thing is that God never meant this for me. Despite everything, I still love Jesus with all my heart, and I believe that He did not want me to spend years ashamed of my body and its natural urges. I don’t think God wants us to go around rutting like animals as soon as we hit puberty, but I think that the man who hung out with prostitutes and said “let ye among you without sin cast the first stone” understood that it’s complicated. And I am certain that He never meant for my purity to be a bargaining tool or something that passed from my father to my husband. But some members the religious right have imposed these ideas onto Jesus and are putting them into the hands of young, impressionable girls. And it’s a terrible, awful thing.

Desire does not have an on and off switch. It cannot be fully ignored and rejected until a wedding day then flipped on at a wedding night. I was lucky; my husband is patient and committed to helping me undo the damage. But other women—friends—have still not escaped this trauma. When I see copies of this book in stores, I turn the covers backwards so it’s harder for people to find them. I want to protect girls from it. Even bright girls can fall for this shit—I’m living proof. Girls already grow up afraid of men, who will harass, oppress, rape, and murder us—we do not need to grow up afraid of ourselves, too.

rnotion - laura sooke duncombe

 

Laura Sook Duncombe is a part-time lawyer, part-time YA novelist, and full-time Christian feminist nerd. Greek epic poetry, Sherlock Holmes, and musical theater are a few of her favorite things. Visit her blog at laurasookduncombe.wordpress.com, as well as her Twitter, @LauraDuncombe1.

Welcome to Radical Notion

Our first post wasn’t so much of an introduction as it was a post put up to have something on the blog. Now is when the actual introduction begins.

We’re Sky and Ariela, two friends who have known each other for many years. A couple of months ago, we discovered we were both feminists, and we’ve both been wanting to start a project for a very long time. Earlier this week, everything came to the point where we just decided to get it together and do something. And here you have this blog.

About Sky

I’m Sky, an aspiring writer and almost-high-school graduate who is currently living in the beautiful state of Colorado, which I adore. I grew up in a Christian home and now consider myself a Christian feminist, Jesus follower, and, if you want to combine the two, a Jesus Feminist. I’m 50% sarcastic, 45% sweet, and 5% evil. (…Jokingly evil, of course … I think.) I love life and daydreaming, but the frustration and anger I feel about social justice issues is often quietly brewing in the background. I used to think Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetI was an optimist, but my family could tell you otherwise. I’ve learned to embrace my grumpy, sarcastic side, but I also am a dreamer at heart.

I was an accidental feminist for most of my life before I even knew what it was. In my brief stint with patriocentric Christianity, feminism was considered a dirty word. Without the brief brush I had with legalism, where I wore skirts only for a period of time, I wouldn’t have seen the flaws in how women are treated today in culture, especially evangelicalism. Now, much like I embraced my grumpy side, I’ve learned to embrace the word feminist. I believe so much in women, and I don’t want us to feel inferior or pushed down anymore.

One of my greatest passions is fiction. I love to consume it, especially TV shows. I’m a Marvel fanatic, and I identify with Tony Stark and cry over Bucky Barnes daily. In addition, I also write fiction, and have quite a few novels in progress. I’m working on establishing myself in the writing world and would love to work in it full-time someday. The dream is to eventually get published.

When I’m not writing or working on blog stuff, I love to chat my friends and play the board game “Smart Ass.” Currently I’m also blazing through the TV show Lost on Netflix (season 4, my friends. It’s gettin’ real). I’m also a coffee addict and Nick Miller from the show New Girl is my spirit animal and pretty much soulmate. (Well, in addition to my one true love Bucky Barnes.)

About Ariela

I’m Ariela, which is Hebrew for “Lioness of God”. Absolutely fitting, if I do say so myself. I’m a 20-something writer, poet, and rebel. I’m also, obviously, a feminist. I prefer the specific term of Jesus Feminist. I grew up in a conservative Christian home under the constant pressure that radical notion possible headerbecause I was a girl, the best and really only place where I could belong was under my father’s authority as a stay at home daughter, and then eventually under my husbands authority as a stay at home wife and mother. I am refusing to believe that and in the process of removing myself from that damaging mindset. The fact that I am a woman does not make me a lesser being, and the sooner the world can come to grips with that fact, the better.

I write fiction, and poetry; both of which tend to have feminist themes that may or may not be obvious. I enjoy reading books that stretch my mind and force me to think, and so it is my goal to write books like that, while at the same time being enjoyable fiction or poems.

When not writing or fighting the urge to swear at conservatives, the patriarch, and fundamentalists, I drink copious amounts of tea and coffee, take walks and attempt yoga (the move where you lie on the floor and wish you were good at yoga is my favorite), read lots of books, bake cookies, travel, cry over Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Marvel movies, chat with my friends, and basically just be awesome.

Our Vision

The purpose of this blog is for women to share their stories and for their voices to be heard. We will address sexism in society and culture, as well as personal stories regarding sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny. We want women to have a space where they can be recognized and validated, and we also hope that this can serve as an educational space to others, one blog post at a time.

We will be posting on Tuesdays and Fridays. We are also accepting submissions, so check out our guidelines. Please feel free to contact us with an idea for an article or a personal story you’d like to share. Join the discussion, as well, because we want to not just make a blog, but a community. This is our space, but it is also your space, and we want to stand here as women. Together.

Join the discussion on Facebook here and Twitter here. Our first guest post will go up on Friday. We can’t wait to meet you.

An Introduction

The dam has finally burst.

After sitting through endless Facebook debates, articles, direct sexism, and infuriating current events, I can’t stay silent anymore.

We have a problem, and if you’re a feminist and you’re reading this, you probably already realize this. “All men are created equal”? Yeah, that’s the problem.

Women are seen as an accessory. It also seems to be a commonly-held belief that we owe men something. Our bodies. Our attention. Our smiles. We’re told to be sexy, but not too sexy. “Don’t tempt your brothers in Christ,” is a great phrase I heard a lot growing up. (No, it’s really not that great.) We’re told not to be straightforward, otherwise it’s seen as bossy. We can’t be assertive. We can’t be loud. We can’t have opinions.

We can’t be people. 

And I’m sick of tired of not feeling like I’m a person, like I matter.

So this blog is hopefully the first step of many. I’m gearing up to step forward, and this is where it begins.

I don’t know if I can change the entire world, but with me and my fellow women, I believe we’re going to try.