Otherwise Known as Body Shaming

I have very fond memories of being read to as a child. I can remember listening to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Hobbit at home and My Side of the Mountain and Trumpet of the Swan at school. My love of reading was instilled in me at a young age, and it has gotten me through some challenging times by providing me with new ideas, perspectives, adventures, and sometimes just an escape. I am grateful to my parents and teachers who demonstrated to me the joy that can be found in books.

When I was in the first grade, my teacher read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to our classroom of 6 and 7-year-olds. It is the first book in Judy Blume’s Fudge Series. The story is about a fourth-grade boy named Peter Hatcher, his friend Jimmy, his frenemy Sheila, and his family, especially his younger brother, Fudge. We all enjoyed it so much that we pressured our teacher to continue the series with us. I now have a first grader of my own, and I am so excited to share books from my childhood with her. So far, we have covered the entire Ramona series and the first three Harry Potter books. She received Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing for Christmas, and we flew right through it. She LOVED it. So much so that we immediately ordered the next installment and dove right in. The second book in the series is entitled, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. It takes place during the summer between fourth and fifth grade and is told from the perspective of Sheila Tubman. My daughter was thrilled that this one featured a female main character. At first, I shared her enthusiasm. By the end, I was horrified by how Blume chose to characterize the thoughts and interactions of young girls.

Throughout the book, Sheila is critical of other people’s bodies, particularly those of her friends and her older sister. To an extent, it is understandable for a child to merely be observant. There are many kinds of bodies in the world. It is perfectly natural to notice them. It is not acceptable, however, for judging bodies to be presented as a sleepover game. Why a children’s book author would ever think that was okay is beyond me. Sheila hosts a sleepover with a few local girls she has befriended during her summer vacation. One of the girls suggests making a slam book, which she explains is a fun way to find out what people think of you. Each of the four girls evaluates the other three in seven categories. The girls read their assessments privately, the idea being that will minimize any embarrassment. Sheila goes into the activity confidant and sure of herself. After reading her page, though, she feels angry and hurt. The other girls experience similar reactions. The more cringe-worthy adjectives used included: fat, dirty, weird, and abnormal.

Now, at this point in the book I was already frustrated by the amount of fat shaming going on in Sheila’s head. When we got to this part, I had to make a quick decision: skip over the section or discuss the implications of it with my daughter. I chose to put the book down for a moment and explain to her that the next part of the story may be upsetting, and that we would talk more about it after we read it. Afterwards, we went over how the “game” made everyone feel and how destructive the premise of it was. I was hopeful that after the hurt feelings were exposed, Blume would take the opportunity to incorporate a lesson, like “don’t be an asshole”, or something. Unfortunately, she did no such thing. They got into a screaming and throwing match, eventually dissolving into giggles. This not only ignores the repercussions of the game, it portrays the emotions of young girls as fickle.

Even though I think my daughter understood that the slam book was harmful, and its inclusion in the story facilitated a conversation with her about how pervasive girl on girl crime is, it left me feeling very uncomfortable. The next day, out of curiosity, I did some google research to see if anyone else was bothered by this part of the book. It turns out that I’m not alone in thinking that Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great was a terrible representation of adolescent girls and their friendship dynamics, but for every assenting opinion there was a review applauding Judy Blume for taking on the issue of girls learning to stick together rather than putting each other down. Cool, but that’s not what happened. There was no resolution. There were no apologies. And there were obviously no lessons learned, because a few pages later, the girls were policing how much pizza the others ate. In the next book in the series, Sheila criticizes the appearance of Peter’s ears. To his face.

I am very encouraged by the current movement aimed at women supporting other women. The best way to teach girls how to treat each other is to model positive interactions between women. I don’t feel like Judy Blume offered a good example of healthy female friendship to her readers. I realize the it was written in the seventies, but Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great is still on children’s bookshelves all over. So, parent to parent, feminist to feminist, this is a friendly warning that Sheila isn’t really that great.

 

 

 

 

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Where is the Solidarity for Tyson and Watson?

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In our fast paced, 24-hour news cycle environment, it is difficult to stay focused on any given story. Between the ever-increasing number of names in the 2020 election hat, Trump’s various spectacles of dumbassery, and the growing list of ways we’re destroying the planet, it is easy to forget that the state government of Virginia is currently an absolute shit show. Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring have been discovered to have some troubling displays of racism in their pasts. Their actions were not criminal, but obviously offensive. There is legitimate concern that the two elected officials may have lost the confidence of their constituents, which could influence their ability to lead. Perhaps more disconcerting, however, are the sexual assault allegations against Lieutenant Governor Fairfax.

Dr. Vanessa Tyson first came forward with her allegations that Justin Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him at the 2004 Democratic Convention to the Washington Post in 2017, after Fairfax had been elected Lieutenant Governor. At the time, the Washington Post declined to publish her story. Considering the controversy around Governor Northam’s black face scandal, Tyson felt compelled to speak up again about her assault by Fairfax on February 6, 2019, before he potentially replaced Northam as Governor of Virginia. Two days later, on February 8, a second woman came forward. Meredith Watson alleged that Fairfax raped her in 2000 when they were in college together. Justin Fairfax vehemently denies both accusations, and refuses to step down from his position, instead joining other political leaders in welcoming an investigation into the matter.

The Fairfax scandal is reminiscent of the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh after he was nominated by Trump to the United States Supreme Court in 2018. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford publicly accused Kavanaugh of restraining and attempting to rape her at a party while they were both in high school. She testified at a public hearing, recounting the story and enduring hours of questioning, much of which was conspicuously designed to discredit her. Kavanaugh also testified, but he mostly engaged in one long, whiny mantrum of epic proportions (egged on by committee republicans) served with a side of ridiculous conspiracy suspicions.

The hearing resulted in a what could have been a promising response, with the Senate Judiciary Committee urging Trump to call on the FBI to investigate the matter before holding a confirmation vote for Kavanaugh. Unfortunately, the investigation was extremely narrow in scope and the deadline was absurd, providing less than a week for completion. It was clear that the investigation was simply meant to appease Democrats and other supporters of Dr. Ford, not to discover the truth. On October 5th, despite compelling testimony that he was an attempted rapist, as well as his hysterical and blatantly partisan ramblings during the hearing, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a narrow 50-48 majority.

The fact that Vanessa Tyson would come forward after the system so spectacularly failed Dr. Ford demonstrates that even though we failed her, Christine Blasey-Ford did not fail us. She showed a courage and grace that served as an example to women everywhere. Dr. Ford and her family are still in hiding because she was rewarded with death threats and ridicule in exchange for going public with her story. If that is not proof that women come forward in the spirit of truth and justice, rather than for attention, or glory, or whatever other foolish reason people try to attribute their bravery to, I don’t know what is.

Dr. Ford got a raw deal, but at least some action was taken to address her accusations. Less than two weeks after her story was published by the Washington Post, the hearing took place. She received tremendous support from Democrats and the media. Where is that solidarity for Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson?

It has been fifteen days. There has been no hearing. There has been no official investigation. There has been little media coverage. There has been no large-scale out pour of support for Tyson and Watson. Fairfax has been accused of rape by two different women (I want to be very clear, forced oral sex is rape). How can the people who emphatically expressed support for Dr. Ford be so quiet now? How can Democrats be the zero-tolerance party except at the detriment of one of their own? Admittedly, the circumstances of this case are not identical to the Kavanaugh situation. It was conceptually simpler to conceive of preventing the confirmation of a sexual predator than to remove one from his currently occupied position.

The consequences are potentially more critical as well. If Kavanaugh’s confirmation had failed, a new candidate would have been proposed, and everyone would have moved on. For several reasons, it is less certain what could happen if Fairfax resigns or is removed from office. If only he is forced out, it is unclear who would take over as Lieutenant Governor. State laws do not expressly describe a process to address that absence. Disputes and turmoil would likely ensue, at least until a special election could be held. And that is the best-case scenario. If all three subjects of controversy (Governor Northam, Lt. Governor Fairfax, and Atty. Gen. Herring) were to be removed, Republican Kirk Cox would become the Governor of Virginia.

It is obviously unpalatable to the Democratic Party to relinquish control, but it is also problematic for Virginia voters. They elected three Democrats into these powerful positions. Replacing them with Republicans would be contrary to their wishes and would endanger the progressive policies and endeavors of the leadership that they voted for. These risks greatly complicate the issue of removal.

What is not complicated is the fact that there should be no place in our government for sexual predators. Not at any level. Essentially, this all comes down to two brave women sharing their stories, and they deserve our support. I believe Vanessa Tyson. I believe Meredith Watson. I believe women. I believe survivors.

Everybody Has Nipples

During the halftime show of the 2019 Super Bowl game, Adam Levine of Maroon 5 treated us all to a topless performance that generated a lot of discussion. Reactions were mixed. Some fans loved it, some people hated it, and others wondered why it was okay for him to take his shirt off on the televised stage, but we’re still talking about Janet Jackson’s nip slip 15 years after it transpired. The ‘wardrobe malfunction” of 2004 occurred when Justin Timberlake pulled part of Jackson’s shirt off at the end of his song, resulting in her right breast being exposed for 9/16ths of a second on live TV (her nipple was covered by a decorative shield).

Whether this event was premeditated is still up for debate, but the fallout disproportionately effected the female half of the duo. Both performers apologized, but Jackson received most of the blame and criticism. Weeks after the incident, CBS revoked her invitation to present at that year’s Grammy Awards, but let Timberlake’s invitation stand. Viacom removed Jackson’s music videos from their rotations on MTV and VH1, but not Timberlake’s. Litigation between the FCC and Viacom went on for years.

Not everyone appreciated the bare-chested look that Levine flaunted this year, but the backlash was mostly limited to Twitter outcry and cyber mocking. The lack of substantial blowback in the form of fines, FCC complaints, and blacklists demonstrates the prevalence of a significant double standard. This is just one example of how female nipples are sexualized in our culture, while male nipples are not. Why is that? Who decided?

It was men. Lets just get that out of the way now. Also, side note: when I googled the phrase, “why are female breasts sexualized?”, the first results were explorations as to why men like breasts. I don’t care why men like breasts. I want to know why a body part I have that’s intended use is to nourish babies is considered erotic and private.

The main argument I see for why female breasts should be censored is that they are considered sex organs. Okay, fine. But why are mine sex organs, and my husband’s are not? His literally don’t serve a purpose. Mine have a biological function that, I assure you, is not sexy. So what makes them sexual? The fact that men are attracted to them? There was a point in history where women wouldn’t expose their ankles because someone determined that they were indecent. ANKLES! So I’m sorry, but I don’t think we should base anything off of what men might find erotic. The other part of this argument is that many women find nipple stimulation during sexual activity to be arousing. This is supported by a 2006 study, which found that 82% of the female participants between 17 and 29 years old reported that nipple and/or breast stimulation heightened sexual experience. However, if this is the standard being applied, then male nipples should also be considered sexual, because 52% of participating men claimed to be aroused by having their nipples manipulated. And why stop there? Might as well cover all of the human erogenous zones if the objective is not to expose erotic body parts. From now on, we’re all covering our knees, wrists, ears, necks, and scalps.

Thankfully, all 50 states have passed legislation protecting women’s rights to nurse their babies any and everywhere that they see fit. This is necessary and appropriate; however, it sends an odd message. Essentially, these laws allow that lactating breasts are not sexual. So…breasts are sexual from the time they develop, except when they’re being used for their intended purpose? Okay. Some states, my home state of Ohio included, have passed laws affording women the right to go topless as desired. Unfortunately, many cities, towns, parks, etc. within those states have declared ordinances forbidding toplessness. Personally, I am not bothered by this, provided the ban applies to both sexes. Female breasts are no more sexual than male breasts, and nudity policies should reflect that.

Could someone please ask Facebook to catch up? And Instagram? In both of their nudity policies, they specify that female nipples are allowed only in breastfeeding images or photos of art. You know what there is no mention of? You got it-male nipples. I even tested the policy for kicks. I know from personal experience that female nipples will, in fact, be flagged on Facebook (even if no other user reports them), and the poster will be suspended from interaction. A few weeks ago, I posted a photo of myself, in a private group that I belong to, that showed my breasts (because they’re MINE, and I CAN, and there may have been whiskey involved, but that’s none of your business). Within seconds the image was removed, and I received a 24-hour suspension. Just to see what would happen, I reported a photo of my husband at the beach for nudity that revealed his nipples. The answer is nothing. Not a damn thing. No communication with him or me from Facebook. This is asinine. And unfair.

On behalf of Janet Jackson, and women everywhere, can we drop the pretense that female nipples are more sexual than male nipples? Please?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kreps, D., & Kreps, D. (2018, June 25). Nipple Ripples: Revisiting Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/nipple-ripples-10-years-of-fallout-from-janet-jacksons-halftime-show-122792/

Levin, R., & Meston, C. (2006, May). Nipple/Breast stimulation and sexual arousal in young men and women. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16681470

Krischer, H. (n.d.). 7 Unexpected Erogenous Zones. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/7-awesome-erogenous-zones#2

 

Sexualizing Murder

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Recently I have read a lot of criticism over Zac Efron’s portrayal of the infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy, in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile. The film, which will be released on Netflix later this year, is being accused of sexualizing a depraved man convicted of numerous brutal rapes and murders. Naturally, there is no shortage of people clambering to dissect just how damaging that kind of depiction could be, especially during this period of true crime obsession in pop culture (not to mention the traumatic effect it could have on the real people close to the situation).

I have not seen the movie and I can by no means claim to be an expert on Ted Bundy, but it seems to me that an inaccurate representation of him would be a disservice to everyone he victimized. If he was charming and charismatic, and those qualities helped enable him to prey on people, then that is how he should be portrayed. I don’t recall anyone claiming that Charlize Theron sexualized Aileen Wuornos by portraying her as a hooker in the 2003 film, Monster. Why? Because prostitution is inherently sexual, and her profession as a sex worker was included because it was relevant to her story as the men that she killed were her clients. Bundy’s story also has sexual undertones, and a refusal to shy away from them is not a glorification of him. Frankly, to ignore them would be a simplification of him.

It does not make sense to get upset over the supposed sexualization of a man who did actually use sex appeal to aid him in committing violent crimes. It may be more comfortable to imagine villains in a more Disney-fied way, but it isn’t realistic. Ted Bundy was a sadistic killer. He was also a man that many women assessed to be alluring and innocuous. That is part of what made him so terrifying. To sexualize something means to make it sexual. It is, by definition, impossible to sexualize something that is already sexual. Unless they made the creative decision to dress Efron in porn worthy bondage gear (which is possible, but again, I haven’t seen it), I do not believe that the project is guilty of sexualizing a murderer.

I Am Not a Single Mom

I am not a single mom. I am a mother of two young children, and I am happily married to their father. Our situation is somewhat unique, because my husband is gone approximately 70% of the time for his job. Most weekdays I get the kids ready, fed, and get them out the door with all their stuff on my own. I drop them off and pick them up at different schools at different times. I deal with the extremely painful process of getting homework done, alone. Dinner and bed time are all me. If someone gets sick or has an activity or an appointment to get to, I take care of that, too. One especially challenging time last year comes to mind. My son and I both got the flu and felt absolutely miserable for a week. It happened to be the week of my daughter’s birthday, as well as picture day at school. Because OF COURSE. Parenting while sick is version of hell I wouldn’t wish on anybody, and not feeling up to celebrating your child’s birthday is heartbreaking.

Merriam-Webster defines a single parent as: a parent who lives with a child or children and no husband, wife, or partner. According to this definition, I could be considered a part-time single parent, and in fact I have been referred to that way by well-meaning acquaintances. But claiming that for myself wouldn’t be fair to the millions of single parents out there who meet more than just an arbitrary dictionary criterion. I asked people what they thought constituted a single parent and got a variety of interpretations, some with stricter standards than others (for example, whether or not the parent receives financial support from the other parent), but the bottom line is this: single parenting means shouldering the responsibilities associated with raising a child alone. I do a lot of the day to day stuff by myself, but I am not raising my kids alone. I don’t make big decisions alone, I don’t pay for their expensive shit alone, and I don’t worry incessantly about them alone. My mother-in-law raised three boys on her own. That is a level of badassery that I have not had to reach inside myself and find. To call myself a single mom would be an insult to people like her who don’t have what I have.

When I gave birth to both of my children, my husband was there with me. When my son broke his arm at one year old, my husband was there with us. When my daughter had surgery last year, my husband was there with us. Sure, there are things that he misses. Some of them are big things, like our daughter’s first steps and the great influenza battle of 2017. But the fact is that I have a supportive partner and our children have two parents that they know they can count on.

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I am emphatically pro-choice, but I have struggled with whether my voice is needed on this issue at this time. There are many people with relevant medical or emotional experience that makes them more qualified to speak and more interesting to listen to on this topic. For that reason, I will keep this brief, but I am choosing not to stay silent in honor of those who cannot speak out for fear of retaliation or judgement from employers, family, neighbors, etc. I am currently in a position where my livelihood and support are not at risk if people don’t appreciate my pro-choice stance. I am using that freedom to say:

Your abortion is none of my business, but if you choose to make it my business, I will support you in any way that I can.

You are entitled to make a choice that works for you.

You are entitled to privacy while you make that choice, and after, should you desire it. You are not evil.

You are strong, and you are valuable, and I am here for you.

You’re Not a “Grammar Nazi”, You’re an Asshole

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The word “Nazi” is instantly recognized as a reference to the genocidal ideological party whose violence and atrocities are infamous throughout history, particularly in the years surrounding World War II, but also in current events. It is not a term that most of us would readily choose to be associated with, for good reason, and yet many of us enthusiastically embrace the label of “Grammar Nazi”. Is it out of some misplaced sense of superiority linked to a strong grasp of the structural rules of the English language? Or do we just think its clever? Whatever the reason, it is way past time to acknowledge that it is offensive (or at least, insensitive). It is minimizing the horrific experiences of millions of people.

In addition to the fact that it’s a wildly distasteful term, the behavior that it describes is obnoxious. Who do we think we are? Literally no one died and made us the grammar police. The internet, especially social media, has given us greater opportunity to judge each other than ever before. We judge each other’s photos, senses of humor, political beliefs, and anything else we are given access to. In all fairness, it is the internet. When we sign up for social media, we sign up for the ugliness that lives there. The more active you are, the more you expose yourself for scrutiny. But at the end of the day, does it really matter if someone uses the wrong form of their/there/they’re in a Facebook post?

I used to be a self-professed Grammar Nazi. I took great pleasure in correcting people’s grammar online, especially during an argument. The level of satisfaction that I felt when I replied with, “*you’re” to an ignorant political comment is shameful. I reveled in the glory that I was clearly the more intelligent participant. I mean, come on, this other idiot can’t even spell. In my mind, I was dropping those corrections like a mic, and it was delightful. Obviously, I, and my superior intellect, won the debate with that crushing blow.

Now, I view this behavior differently. For one thing, if I’m as smart as I think am, then surely I can understand someone’s point even if they utilize the wrong form of a word. Calling attention to it doesn’t make me look smart, it makes me look like an asshole. Also, everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes typing too passionately, or too quickly, results in an error. But even if a person genuinely doesn’t know how to differentiate between common word forms, it does not necessarily mean they are stupid or uneducated. It is possible to graduate from high school, and even college, without mastering this concept. If the person goes on to find a cure for cancer, who fucking cares if they can spell? I have a friend that can do things with computers that I cant even begin wrap my mind around, but who also constantly misuses and misspells words. So what? He is laughing his genius ass all the way to the bank. I still give him a hard time about it, though. Sorry, Todd.

Now, I am not saying that the internet isn’t full of morons. It is. I am simply suggesting that a typo, or a weak grasp of spelling and grammar, does not make someone a moron. Imagine the interesting people and ideas that you could be missing out on because of a misplaced sense of superiority. It is time to turn in the badges. There is no Grammar Police force.