Tag Archives: sexism

The Weekly Personal

Some of my family members live in Australia and a few days ago we met up with my cousin. It was great, I hadn’t seen her in forever and I don’t know, there’s something interesting about being related. You’re something of the other person, you’re their someone, so you have this bond. Anyway, Robin and I intend to go to India later this year and she had travelled there by herself so we were interested in her experiences. She loved it there, loved the food, had a great time.

I was a bit apprehensive about how I would be treated there as a somewhat young travelling woman, but she managed to reassure me. “Yeah you get remarks from men. One time a guy followed me around on a boat, asking sexual questions. A taxi driver scolded me for not dressing modestly enough”. We both shrugged, and said at almost the same time “you get that everywhere you go”.

And Robin did “whaaaaaaat?!”.

A few days later we were at a touristy thingy when I tried to read an information sign. An older man started mansplaining stuff to me, asking me if I understood English (’cause he’d heard Robin and I speak Dutch) and remarked “you know, this architect’s wife was really smart. She went to school!”. I smiled politely, not much you can do when an older ‘gentleman’ goes all creepy grandpa on you so I just ignored him. “I can’t believe how condescending he was!” Robin remarked later. “Sweety, I get that everywhere I go”.

And Robin did “whaaaaaat?!”.

I mean, Robin is not blind. He’s not a stupid guy either. But when you’re not living in it, it’s easy to be blind to sexism. You just don’t see it. As a white, cis-gendered, hetero-partnered person I’m used to being one of the ‘us’. I’m used to seeing ‘myself’ on television, of feeling represented by the main characters in tv shows, of the news being viewed from my perspective.

And then there’s a ‘Dutch person’ on Gilmore Girls and you get a glimpse of what it’s like to be othered. When I saw that episode I went all “whaaaaat?!”.

Fangirl: Miley Cyrus

I was having coffee with a sex worker when a Taylor Swift song came on. “Oh, I just love her” she said. “So classy, not like some other young artists who use their sexuality to make money”. I’m afraid the irony was lost on her, but it shows how deep our cultural aversion to sex really goes. Even sex workers don’t like women who sell sex.

I first noticed Miley Cyrus when she got a short haircut and the internet exploded. We’d seen Britney Spears shave her hair when she went through a rough time, and my heart went out to her then. Just imagine being Britney, the pressure to be this perfect, girly, virgin, sexy little girl-woman, the world’s madonna-whore complex dumped on your shoulders, I think I’d crack in a day. But it was different with Miley. It felt like a statement, it felt like navigating, it felt like she was shedding the image and trying to become herself.

Miley gets hated on because she shows what we fear most: female sexuality. Active, explicit, in-your-face sexuality. Women are expected to be passive and receptive. Sexy, not sexual. A woman’s worth is still decided based on her modesty, even the quality of our culture is measured by how well-behaved ‘our women’ are. Sexual women are seen as a sign of decline.

And lately Miley Cyrus has identified as gender-neutral, as fluid-sexual, using her fame to actually help people who are in a less privileged than herself, and I’m a fangirl. I mean no, using black women as props is not acceptable. But among all the long-haired, pink-cheeked, virginity-saving, boner-arousing ‘girl next door’ types she’s… I don’t know. I’m loving seeing a young woman publicly figuring out who she is, coming into herself, navigating the bullshit thrown at her.

And she can sing!

Politically Correct

In Dutch there is an old-fashioned habit of adding the letter ‘e’ to words when they refer to women. More than once I’ve had to ask people to stop calling me “psychologe” and instead just use the gender-neutral term “psycholoog”. And I don’t appreciate it when my colleagues refer to me as ‘collegaatje’ either, which means little colleague. This habit of adding ‘tje’ to everything is typically used by women, and It makes everything in their life sound cute and tiny. They’ll have a ‘wijntje’ (little wine) with their ‘vriendinnetje’ (little female friend) and leave their ‘autootje’ (little car) at home. It’s as if their world is a dollhouse.

I believe the way we use language influences how we think about people, and I try my best to be politically correct because I know my words can cause harm. Precise wording matters, we need to use proper terms and stop ourselves from using stereotype-affirming wording. It’s a problem when sex workers are continuously called ‘girls’ or in Dutch even ‘little girls’ (meisjes), because it feeds this widespread feeling that sex workers are fragile kittens in need of our help and rescue. It’s a problem when policy makers call victims of forced prostitution ‘ex-prostitutes’, because ex-prostitutes are not always victims and victims are certainly not always ex-prostitutes. Many victims want to do sex work, and most ex-sex workers simply changed careers. We need to use accurate terms because this carelessness is causing confusion, it feeds stereotypes and creates more discrimination.

I can be a pain in the ass. You really don’t make friends when you’re always nit-picking about these ‘details’, if you’re constantly correcting people (“no, not little girls. Adult sex workers are men and women”) and often, people don’t see why it matters so much. And it doesn’t in every individual case, one person calling a sex worker a little girl harms no one, it’s the structural habit that’s a problem. But I think we can change that one person at a time. So I have these conversations a lot:

Them: Ha ha, HOMO!
Me: I don’t appreciate it when you use homo as an insult.
Them: Oh I didn’t mean it that way it’s just a joke.
Me: It’s not nice for us gay people when that word is used like that, it’s kind of hurtful you know? I know you didn’t mean it that way but I’d appreciate it if you stopped using homo as an insult.
Them: Yeah okay, don’t make a big deal out of it.
Me: Thanks.

But I think we can go too far. Or rather, that we can get confused over what the actual problem is. In some circles, politically correct language has become a goal in itself rather than a tool to reach equality and equal rights. People who are unaware of how language influences everything and use, for example, sexist language are suddenly seen as the problem, the enemy, instead of just a part of a structural problem in how society views (for example) women. Even for someone like me, with a good education and plenty of exposure to gender theories, sex work rights activism, sex positive activism and other subcultures with a lot of emphasis on correct language, it can sometimes feel like you’re walking on eggshells. Or rather, stepping through a mine-field and you never know when the next PC-bomb goes off.

Remember when Dan Savage got hated on because he talked about the problems with the word ‘tranny’ and he shouldn’t have said tranny even when he’s talking about why you shouldn’t say tranny because tranny is hurtful and he should have said t-slur instead? Holy hell, I just wanted to have a big fat wijntje with one of my vriendinnetjes when I read that…

I’ve seen the PC-policing go bad more than once and really agreed with Fredrik deBoer in his essay “I don’t know what to do, you guys“. I’ve backed out of plenty of debates on trans activism and other sensitive topics because it just all got so hostile so very quick, and the hostility was aimed at well-meaning potential allies who had no idea what kind of shit they stirred up when they unknowingly used a slur. It’s different when someone continues to use slurs after they’ve been informed why it’s a problem, then it becomes hate speech. But often, it’s ignorance rather than bad intentions.

Maybe it’s not your responsibility to educate others. But maybe it is your responsibility to not scare every potential ally away, because like careless language, it harms our final goals, which is a world where we are all treated as equals, where we all have the same rights. You don’t have to educate anyone, but don’t stop us from educating others by scaring our allies away. Because that is hurting us.

You’re Not Beautiful

As women we are told that our beauty is central to our worth. You’ll notice this when women speak up on tv or in politics, their looks constantly being evaluated or criticised. An interview with a female politician will have a picture of her shoes or a text-box on her sense of fashion. Women who dare to voice their opinion are told they are too ugly to be heard. And then there’s the other side telling us we’re all beautiful, Dove with their ‘real beauty’ campaign and our friends assuring us that we are gorgeous. “Everybody is beautiful” they’ll tell us, “you just need to take the time to see it!”.

But we’re not. We are not all beautiful and it’s offensive to think we would believe such an obvious lie. Some women are definitely below average looking. How about we open our minds to the idea that.. maybe that’s okay?

We all possess some beauty, of course. We all possess some intelligence, and some height. But when we say somebody is tall we mean to say that person is of above average height. When we say somebody is smart we mean they are extraordinarily intelligent and when we say a person is beautiful we mean to say the are remarkably beautiful. And by definition, we can’t all be above average.

And we shouldn’t have to be.

The crazy mental gymnastics required to believe the lie that we are all beautiful is only necessary when we hold on to the belief that a woman’s worth is defined by her beauty.

It’s alright to not like something about your body, but it’s sad how it spirals out of control because we feel beauty is what really matters. Being below avarage when it comes to beauty does not equal being of below avarage worth as a human being. But for women, it’s almost as if we’re told it is. I say we take back the right to be unattractive, just like we have the right to be dumb or weak. Maybe an asymmetrical face, blotchy skin or lack or waist is not pretty. Maybe stretch marks are not beautiful and maybe that doesn’t matter! I can’t even lift my own body weight, but I don’t have a world pestering me that I can, that I have to be able to, lying to me that I’m strong because if I’m not I’m worthless.

It’s nice to be beautiful of course, just like it’s great to be smart. A flawless skin is nice and an hourglass figure is awesome. They are good things to have. But beautiful is just one of the things we can be. We can be beautiful or ugly, strong, weak, a great or terrible singer, friendly or bitchy, tall or short.

Maybe we don’t have to be everything. Maybe we can stop saying we’re all beautiful, because we’re not. Maybe we don’t have to be beautiful, maybe we can reject the idea that we have to be and stop listening to the lies that we are. Maybe we can just be what we are.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is always horrible, and I’m so glad we’re startng to create more awareness and understanding, and providing more resources for victims. But thanks to deeply sexist views on the differences between men and women, male victims of abuse don’t always get the support they need.

The Weekly Personal

My sister and I are both planning a long trip abroad.

“I’m just not sure what I’ll do” she said. “What if I’m there and I don’t meet any interesting people and I’m alone? How are you going to find friends when you’re over there?”

“Well, I’m going to go on Fetlife and meet local kinksters of course!” I replied.

“Of course” she smiled. “I need something like that. Something to identify with, a community I can connect to.”

“Maybe you can meet up with local feminist groups?”

She laughed. “Yeah, I’m looking for something a little bit more ‘gezellig‘!”.

She was joking of course, but it was funny because it’s true. I’ve been in conflict with myself over my self-identification as a feminist for a long time. Why should I be a part of a movement that’s currently the biggest threat to women’s rights, together with fundamentalist Christians? Why should I fight to reclaim the word when it’s so strongly associated with oppression of sexual liberty? Why should I try to be included in a movement that so obviously doesn’t want me? Feminism isn’t a homogeneous group of course, and just as I’m sure there are pro-choice pro-sex pro-sexwork pro-women fundamentalist Christians out there, I can be one of the sane feminists. But it’s starting to feel like an uphill battle over a word I’m not even all that fond of.

See, I don’t think I’m feminist. I’m just not sexist. I don’t have a special word to express that I’m not racist either, it’s just assumed I’m not and called racism if I am. Same should go for sexism – it should be the norm that you’re not and if you are, we have a word for that. And I don’t like the fem in feminism either – although I’m totally pro fighting for women’s rights, I’m against all forms of sexism. Still, I like using a word to express that I am actively opposing sexism, that it’s something that I do. So feminism it is, for now. But I don’t find it very gezellig.

I felt like an angry feminist when I saw this ad though. Even putting your bike away properly is now supposed to be sexy huh? Jesus.

“Jij bent lekker” means “you’re hot/delicious”. “Jij bent lekker bezig” means “nice job/doing well”. I mean seriously, we can use sex to sell anything? But selling sex is a problem?

Come on.



not-all-men-rossAfter Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree in Isla Vista because he was angry women wouldn’t have sex with him, a group of men on Twitter were quick to explain to the world that “not all men are like that”. In response to #NotAllMen a flood of women began sharing their experiences of violence, misogyny and harassment under the hashtag #YesAllWomen. Men might not all be like that, but yes, all women experience the consequences of sexism. We live in a world where “I have a boyfriend” is the best way to get rid of men who bother you, where sex workers say “I have a pimp” to get rid of pushy clients, because some men have more respect for other men’s ‘property’ than they do for women’s agency. It’s true not all men are like that, but when we’re talking about violence against women maybe this is not the time to be so defensive. When we’re talking about a racist murderer it’s not the appropriate time to go “not all white people are like that!”. We know you’re not like that, but this isn’t about you. And honestly, derailing discussions about violence against women by constantly changing the subject back to the feelings of men, you’re part of the problem.

However, after the #YesAllWomen hype it seems it’s become taboo to talk about the fact that #NotAllMen are sexually violent. It’s wasn’t the time and place to talk about it then, but we do need to talk about it. Not all men are sexually violent, and we’re creating a huge problem by approaching all men as if they are.yes-all-women-main

“We shouldn’t teach women not to get raped, we should teach men not to rape” has gotten, in a strange sense, out of hand. Men are taught that their sexual desires are disrespectful, that any sexual initiative is inherently potentially violent. I know men whose mothers gave them a stern warning not to treat women as sexual objects, not to go straight for the boobs, be careful you don’t pressure her, so much that they’ve become afraid of being sexual with women. Men are
taught they are so dangerous, they should never be alone with a woman, they shouldn’t be left alone with kids. Men are told “boys will be boys” when other men do things they find morally objectionable, as if those evils are part of what it means to be a man. Men are mistrusted when they invite someone over for coffee, are mistrusted when traveling alone with a child, are perceived as violent when they even so much as look at a woman. Men are there when women are told not to leave them alone with their drinks, men are there when women are told not to be alone with a man, men are there when women are told it’s dangerous to be drunk in the presence of men. Men are bombarded with stories of how men victimise women, how men are predators, how men have oppressed women. The trafficking myth is based on the offensive perception that men are so vile there is actually a huge market for abused crying sex slaves in dark little prisons. After all this slander, we should have the respect to listen when men tell us “I’m not like that”.

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people, but perhaps we should give the radical notion that men are people a try.