Sunday, 29 October 2017

We must stop making these mistakes about health & body positivity


In a recent article for Odyssey, Vianka Cotton re-made tons of common mistakes that happen when people try to talk about body positivity and health. It’s no surprise that the article got plenty of traction since fatphobia and healthism are practically national pastimes. There is certainly no shortage of articles like this. But the prevalence of oppression doesn’t make it right, so let’s talk about this.

  • “The body positivity movement founded in 1996, has been one of the best movements to help women. The movement encourages women to accept their bodies while improving health and well-being. The movement, growing in popularity, has become an anthem to the plus-sized community.”

The author’s grasp of the history of the body positive movement is embarrassingly poor. The movement has been going on since well before 1996. It is a co-option of the much more militant Fat Rights movement that started in earnest in the 1960s with groups like The Fat Underground. (For some history lessons, check out Charlotte Cooper’s amazing work.) This piece is offensive in its ignorance of the past and its assertions about body positivity necessarily being about “improving health,” but I definitely appreciate the acknowledgment that fat women (and, indeed, people of all sizes) are sexy and can wear whatever the hell they want. Let’s move on:

  • “People have killed to be thin. Bigger women are embracing their bodies, wearing whatever they want. These attitudes are challenging the traditional standard of beauty. What had started out as radical love for one’s body has been diluted and reduced to shallowness adopting negative attitudes towards exercise. As a fitness advocate, the body positivity movement isn’t fighting for health or equality, it is fighting for the crown of attractiveness.”

People have killed to be thin? How does that work? No, wait, don’t tell me lest others die needlessly. Also, while people are certainly allowed to love their bodies and have negative attitudes towards exercise, I have often been called a leader in this movement and I’ve never heard that considered one of the tenets.

Maybe what she meant to say was that people have died to be thin, and fat people have been killed by the diet industry and a medical system that confuses thinness with health. It’s a whole system that is far too often willing to risk the lives (and quality of life) of fat people in the hopes that they can make us look different.

That happens every day and it is precisely why body positivity must be removed from the idea of the obligation to “health” or “healthy behaviors” that she is suggesting.

  • “What is the end message? Shouldn’t self-love correlate to health? Where is the line between body confidence and obesity? “

I’m glad she asked. Self-love should be completely separate from health — health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstances.

Health is a complicated and multi-faceted concept, and it can change at any time. That’s why it’s important that we have the chance to love and appreciate our bodies regardless of health status. (Understand too that the concept of body positivity can be made vastly more complicated by things like chronic illness because of healthism, as well other marginalized identities because of racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and more.) People of all sizes and health statuses have every right to love and appreciate our bodies, and photograph them in any, or few, or no clothes, and post them to Instagram for whatever our reasons might be.

There is no line between body confidence and obesity because they aren’t related — except that living in a fatphobic culture like the one this article attempts to perpetuate makes it more difficult for fat people to have body confidence. Body confidence is how we feel about our bodies. “Obesity” is the end result of a math equation, wherein weight in pounds times 703 divided by height in inches squared is greater than or equal to 30. I’m “class three Super Obese” or, as I like to call it, fat AF, and I have tremendous body confidence. There is no line, nor should there be.

Since she asked, the end message is that other people’s health is not your business. If people care about your opinions regarding their health or habits, I’m sure they’ll let you know. Suggesting that there is some weight at which we are no longer allowed to love our bodies is fat-shaming and oppressive. Suggesting that you should have to achieve some level of “health” to love yourself is healthist and oppressive.

  • “Normalizing obesity is a problem! Are advocates of this movement in denial? Are they too focused on people’s opinions? The messages we are sending to young women and girls are radical. The pressure to be thin has been replaced with it is okay to be obese. Neither one is correct. When can healthy be sexy? When will we normalize health?”

Size-based oppression is a problem, healthism is a problem (including the idea of making “healthy” by any definition “sexy” or suggesting that people who don’t meet her definition of health are not “normal”), not understanding the difference between correlation and causation is a problem, a world where her piece gets published is a problem.

Normalizing obesity is not a problem.

We are not in denial, we are in empowerment. We are done being lectured at by any “fitness enthusiast” who can type out an article. As I’ve written before, the only outcome of such a culture is that fat people aren’t allowed to do anything with our lives except try to lose weight, and that’s unacceptable. Not just because almost nobody loses weight long term, but because people shouldn’t be required to look a certain way or have a certain level of health as a prerequisite to live our lives and pursue our dreams.
If you see a fat person being happy, achieving something, being talented in public or on television and that makes you uncomfortable/angry/disgusted etc., then you know that you are dealing with size bigotry. If you believe that your feelings of discomfort/anger/disgust are due to this person’s health status, then you know that you are dealing with size bigotry as well as healthism. Regardless, this is your problem.
Her final paragraph comes so close to getting it, but then falls off a cliff.
  • “What I would like to see is the body positive movement be accessible to everyone having a struggle. Diversify the movent to include women of color, men, burned victims, trans women. After all, the goal is intersectionality. I want to see full-figured women wearing bikinis in commercials playing sports. I want to see big women on BuzzFeed being active and eating healthy. I want to see clothing stores have clothes for those who are awkward and in between small and plus-sized. Can we normalize health please! I want to see positive body positive images. Our bodies are strong and healthy. The message is you can achieve confidence while striving for your health.”
I am absolutely behind the fact that we need to do better when it comes to intersectionality. Body Positivity inherited the issues that the Fat Rights movement always had including a lack of inclusion and representation of People of Color, Trans folks, disabled people/people with disabilities, and other intersectional identities. I want to see clothing stores that carry clothes for everyone, including those above a size 26.
The solution to that is to make the movement more inclusive, for each of us to understand our privilege, and relative privilege, and use it to dismantle systems of oppression and demean inclusion.
The solution is not to engage in rampant healthism. The solution is not to suggest that if fat people want to be seen in public, we must be performing health to someone else’s satisfaction. Many people’s bodies are not “strong and healthy” for lots of reasons, and that’s absolutely normal. Using body positivity to marginalize people as this article attempts to do — whether it’s fat people, “unhealthy” people, or anyone else, is a load of bullshit that I will not abide.
It is absolutely OK to be whatever size you are, including hella fat. It is absolutely fine to not be “healthy” or “strong” by whatever definition.
Body positivity/body confidence/loving our bodies is not a requirement, but it is always an option and nobody — “fitness enthusiasts” or otherwise — can take it from us.

This article originally appeared on Ravishly.com and can be accessed at https://ravishly.com/we-must-stop-making-these-mistakes-about-health-body-positivity

Posted by:
Ragen Chastain
Speaker, Writer, Activist
IRONMAN:  www.IronFat.com
Co-founder:  www.fitfatties.com

Monday, 21 August 2017

#MenAreTrash: What is this movement really about?


To be a woman in this country is to constantly live in fear. Women can’t stay out too late or take moonlight meanders because their gender makes them prey. There are ravenous beasts out there who lurk in various spaces, threatening a woman’s very existence. In the club, in homes, on the streets, on campuses, in taxis, EVERYWHERE – women are not safe” – Blaque Life Quarterly (BLQ)


The #MenAreTrash movement in South Africa began last year when a number of women took to social media to call out the problematic behaviour of men with regard to the emotional and physical abuse they had been experiencing in their relationships. During this time, the hashtag did not gain the public’s attention as it recently did following the brutal murder of Karabo Mokoena, the rape and murder of 3-year old Courtney Pieters as well as many other women and children. After the above incidences, many women began sharing their stories recounting details of their lived experiences on various social media platforms. A thread of tweets shared by a woman about how she was kidnapped by a man who threatened to rape and kill her if she “did anything stupid”, followed by how she jumped out of his car, injured herself badly and had to get up and run was also widely shared. Others shared posts of missing women followed by #MenAreTrash while at other times, the hashtag was used as a response to a tweet or any post that was inappropriate towards women. The movement however has been met with contrasting views from different individuals in society.

Below, I discuss the #MenAreTrash movement in an attempt to make clear what the aim of the movement is. A common response to #MenAreTrash is that not all men are trash. That is, not all men burn, rape, or murder women and children. Let’s put this on hold for now.

#MenAreTrash is not about singling out individual men nor is it about specific men. The movement does not aim to avenge harmful relationships and it isn’t even about the bitterness of women even though it started as a response to numerous crimes against women and children and with women telling stories about abuse by intimate partners and strangers. If a person understands the movement in this way, they do not understand the anger, fear, and pain South African women and women globally experience on a daily basis. This movement is not one to be interpreted at surface level. #MenAreTrash does not only apply to men who abuse and kill women and children but also applies to those men who cat-call women and are complicit when it comes to the injustices women experience in the workplace, men who listen to stories of woe about the female lived experience but still do nothing about it because “It’s not my problem, it wasn’t me so, I did nothing”. The hashtag is about how men as a group or collective have created a world that is unsafe for women to live in. It aims to highlight the fact that being a man comes with privileges that women don’t have. It takes the debate about masculinity including what it means to be a man beyond the ideal constructed masculine identity as it urges men to take a hard look at themselves and evaluate their behaviour towards women. It gives credence to the fact that as women, we understand that the world is not built for us, that unlike men, in order to create our realities we constantly have to push and break barriers and boundaries because we are not recognised. #MenAreTrash creates awareness about the issues society takes for granted which perpetuate patriarchy.

As more and more women continued to tell terrifying stories and sharing their experiences and as more and more women and children went missing, a new hashtag – #NotAllMenAreTrash in response to #MenAreTrash started doing the rounds. #NotAllMenAreTrash was endorsed by both men and women. In response to Karabo’s murder, some shared in the victim-blaming arguing that in their personal lives they do not attract trash because their boyfriends, brothers, and husbands were not trash further arguing that women who believe that men are trash need to “reprogram their minds”. Some went as far as saying that Karabo’s murder occurred because she did not want to leave her abusive boyfriend because of his money (Khoza, 2017). Some men felt that #MenAreTrash was unfair to those men who have not done anything to hurt or harm women and was therefore a bad generalisation, thus necessitating #NotAllMenAreTrash.
Here’s what #NotAllMenAreTrash really means.  When this hashtag is brought up, what it does is silence women. It allows its supporters (both men and women) but specifically men to tell women that they do not know what they are talking about and should keep quiet because the way they behave and act is a performance of their privilege. By saying that not all men are trash, men are defending themselves, they are not held accountable nor taking responsibility for their actions. As a result, it will take some time for men to take their place in the fight against gender-based violence. If it is said that #NotAllMenAreTrash, why is it that not all men have the courage to speak up when their male friends are mistreating a girl/woman, when they see another man slip something into a woman's drink and just accept it as being “one of the boys”, or when a girl/woman who is drunk and ends up being taken advantage of is told just to keep quiet because “she was asking for it”? When #NotAllMenAreTrash is brought up, it allows men to continue performing socially acceptable toxic masculinity without consequence. Further, when a person argues that they do not attract trash because they have a great boyfriend, brother, or husband (whether this may or may not be true), the very real patterns of abuse, rape, femicide, and toxic masculinity that the #MenAreTrash movement aims to expose are obscured. It undermines the aim of the movement further diverting attention away from the oppressors to the oppressed.
The discussion about the #MenAreTrash movement is still to continue. In summing up this discussion, I want to say the following: In the society we live in, being a woman has become a very terrifying experience. Every day I am more paranoid than I was the previous day. I leave home hoping that what happened to many other women and children out there will not happen to me or anyone else. Many men do not know what it is like to feel powerless because of one’s gender especially in a society that allows men to exercise their power over women with little or no real consequence. Men do not have to be rapists or abusers to be called trash because most of the time men ignore their friends when they call a girl a wh*** and ignore their other friends who spike a girl’s drink. This is where trash starts – when men do not show each other the way. #NotAllMenAreTrash makes things worse as it perpetuates existing ignorance with regard to the issues women are vulnerable to. My response to this hashtag is that it does not matter if not all men are trash because there is no way of telling. The #MenAreTrash movement is not an attack on men. What the movement aims to do is address the patriarchal privilege that men have enjoyed since the beginning of time. It is a call for action and a cry from women who are asking for their freedom. We are not asking men to protect us but to respect us enough to treat us like human beings, not as objects for their amusement or pleasure. As the movement continues to gain momentum there will be people who support the movement and people who will get touched and become defensive. This is okay because the immediate shock and discomfort that comes with this movement is exactly what is necessary if we are going to have honest conversations about how to address gender-based violence in society. In the meantime, I, like many other women out there will continue to live in fear.

This article was written for and originally posted on the Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction (CSSR) blog. The link to it can be found here https://www.ru.ac.za/criticalstudies/latestnews/menaretrashwhatisthismovementreallyabout.html

Posted by
Sibongile Matebese
*Artwork by Ellen Heydenrych

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Moonlight, black boy, and teachable moments




The boys walk through the school quad playing the dozens, verbally slamming another boy in absentia for being a weak “f—g” who can’t be trusted.  It’s part of the “accepted” ritual of masculine schoolyard talk, a violent dance of bonding and ostracism that every queer and cisgender boy must navigate; one that is powerfully dissected in Barry Jenkins’ Academy Award-winning film Moonlight.  For conscious educators who mentor and teach black boys, Moonlight’s searing evocation of the tender, ambivalent arc of black male attraction from elementary to adulthood was a welcome antidote to caricatures of hip hop hypermasculinity.  As educators attempt to safeguard students from the latest criminalizing wave of Trumpist homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism, Moonlight offers teachable moments for a humanist, culturally responsive education that centers black queer lives.

At a recent teacher training I conducted on creating safe spaces for LGBTQI high school students, a teacher asked why it was necessary to “call attention” to issues of sexuality and difference when LGBTQI students were already marginalized?  Shouldn’t educators just treat everyone with the same dignity and respect “regardless” of sexual orientation? Educational justice activists have long argued that the colorblind ethos of classroom instruction disingenuously ignores how the values and mores of the dominant culture indoctrinate us into binary norms.  In her book Other People’s Children, educational justice writer Lisa Delpit  argues that mainstream classrooms are structured around an implicit “culture of power” which disenfranchises students of color.  Consequently, a “treat everyone with dignity and respect” approach that isn’t based on a critical consciousness about how the dominant culture works undermines intersectional identities.  In the classroom, everyday assumptions about interpersonal and romantic relationships “invisibilize” queer students.   Classroom discussions about traditional straight families headed by heterosexual parents and caregivers perpetuate the idea that good, normal family units are straight family units.  Assumptions that everyone has been brought up in a conventional family structure based on a universal nuclear family norm that is uncritically faith-based, brand queer, foster, homeless and secular youth as other.

Moonlight breaks down these assumptions in often conflicting ways.  Though the film’s protagonist Chiron lives with his drug-addicted mother he’s mentored and “fathered” by an older black man, played by Mahershala Ali, who accepts him as gay.  His loving surrogate family supports him in ways that his brittle, largely absent mother cannot.  Ali’s delicately shaded character becomes Chiron’s first crush and compass, while the women in his life are reduced to caregivers or scolds.  Although its depictions of black women play into stereotypical binaries of black womanhood, Moonlight succeeds in foregrounding how black queer youth are often criminalized when they attempt to express themselves and/or defend against bullying and harassment.  The film’s evocative rendering of black male relationships encourages discussions about the ways in which black boys are socialized to fit into the so-called “Man Box”.  These limitations require them to act hard, emotion-less and aggressive in order to avoid being singled out as different.

During a recent Women’s Leadership Project student workshop on rape culture and sexual violence featuring activist, filmmaker and TFW editor Aishah Shahidah Simmons, young men of color at King-Drew Magnet High School in South L.A. talked about how they’re forced to conform to these roles or risk ostracism, ridicule or violence.  In Moonlight, Chiron is goaded into fighting his campus tormentor because of a menacing environment in which he’s constantly taunted and harassed about being gay/effeminate.  This is a familiar scenario in K-12 schools where a climate of fear and intimidation among boys (across race/ethnicity and class) is virtually institutionalized, embodied in sports culture and the often perilous ecosystem of the campus quad.  Yet, traditional anti-bullying training which fixates on “dignity and respect” ignores the way strict messaging about gender non-conformity shapes the behavior and identities of youth.  Writing about a scene in Richard Wright’s Black Boy, in which Wright kills a kitten in order to best his emotionally unavailable father, students from my South Los Angeles-based Young Male Scholars’ program commented that the dominant




culture’s failure to show loving representations of black fatherhood plays a strong role in the sometimes aggressive relationships they have with each other.  In Black Boy, Wright learns violent masculinity navigating Jim Crow society, black patriarchy and his family’s “spare the rod, spoil the child” religiosity.  His relationships with other boys are largely adversarial, based on boasts, one-upping and his peers’ intimidation by his intellectual curiosity.  Early on, Wright’s father becomes the negative role model he inadvertently ends up emulating in his struggle for daily survival. Though Wright was straight, his childhood trajectory as a poor, skeptical outcast forced to fend for himself and “become a man” within the context of unrelenting violence, is similar to the young Chiron’s.  Faced with constant slights and attacks, Wright closes himself off emotionally from the world. Similarly, Chiron withdraws from all but a few of his peers, and his muteness becomes a metaphor for society’s failure to see or hear him.  Yet, Moonlight’s concluding scene between Chiron and his nemesis/soulmate gestures toward healing and reconciliation.  Overall, the film’s timely exploration of trauma, tenderness and caring between men is an antidote to the heterosexist swagger of the Trump administration.  Re-visioning relationships between boys and men and countering the violence of homophobic, transphobic and heterosexist trauma is central to fighting sexism and misogyny.  K-12 educators have a signal role to play in shaping classroom practice, school culture and curricula that takes up this charge, and supports the intersectional lives our youth live.


Cross-posted with permission from The Feminist Wire where this post originally appeared.

Posted by Sikivu Hutchinson
Contributor for The Feminist Wire
Feminist Author/Novelist
Twitter: @sikivuhutch

Protesting against "peak" masculinity



Wanda Sykes, casually sipping the straw of a fountain soda, saunters up to a group of young boys seated in a fast food restaurant and confronts them about the language they’re using to criticize what they have deemed an unbecoming little statue.

“That’s so gay.”
“That’s really gay!”
“Dude, look at those pants.”
(laughter)
–“Please don’t say that.”
“What?”
–“Don’t say that something is gay, when you mean that something is dumb or stupid. It’s insulting.”

The trio of teens are taken aback by Sykes and stunned into silence by the time she concludes: “When you say that’s so gay, do you realize what you say? Knock it off.” I first saw this ad last week while indulging in a mindless reality TV show and folding laundry. The message caught me off guard.

Like a whole lot of folks – hundreds of thousands of amazing folks – in the U.S. and around the world, I’ve spent the past few weeks being outspoken while occupying various public spaces. It’s incredible to gather alongside thousands of others who share in my discontent and my desires, to see how many people are also fed up with the sexism and racism, the marginalization and criminalization that have proliferated over the past few months, not to mention been overlooked and allowed to fester for many years.

These ongoing protests, marches and rallies create spaces where people can feel confident and supported by the surrounding crowd; they validate and give voice to the daily, individual experiences of women, people of color, immigrants, queer and trans people, and other marginalized folks. And yet, despite being fired up and feeling a sense of solidarity through so many of the unified chants and colorfully creative signs spelling out what we want or what we’re opposing, I’ve found myself stuck on certain insinuations embedded within some of the words and imagery I’ve spotted.

Amid these protests and present-day debates about free speech, coupled with an immense rise in reports of hate speech and physical assaults, it feels like no coincidence that this public service announcement, originally shot several years ago, would suddenly surface in online streaming ad breaks. As resistance to the current administration’s policies continues, and many of us who are privileged and able continue to show up, we need to consider what values are embedded in our criticisms, and what ideas about each other’s bodies and behaviors we may be explicitly or implicitly reinforcing.


Slowly shuffling up the Ben Franklin Parkway on the morning of the Women’s March, I was overwhelmed. The sheer number of people crowding the street was unbelievable; a vast array of physical forms clad in bright hues, energetic children and elder adults, people of all sorts holding hands, chatting, cheering and greeting one another. This wide breadth of bodies afforded me and many others a context within which to amplify our voices, to say: this is not your body to touch, to take or to talk about, or to treat however you want. This public, physical presence of a collective body speaking peaceful (albeit loud) demands is what makes protest powerful and persuasive, both for those witnessing from afar and for those within the moment, experiencing this sense of community.

There were endless signs declaring love, showcasing drawings of Lady Liberty, and featuring witty quips that involved ovaries or cats. One particularly poignant piece of cardboard merely read, “You shouldn’t have to look like me to have rights guaranteed.” (Perhaps you can guess what this individual looked like.) There were also many, many signs criticizing the new president’s physical features and physique, and a handful of others here and there using homosexual imagery to criticize certain political relationships. Though far outnumbered by exclamations of empowerment and clearly the exception, these errant signs are important to pay heed to because they simultaneously reveal and reinforce unexamined assumptions about how “appropriate” bodies look and act.


In bold blue and red lettering, the above sign states, “TRUMP + PUTIN SAY NO TO FASCISM,” and features an image of both men riding topless on a horse. At face value, this representation is an informal mockery of two political figures who have shown little concern for the harmful effects of their chosen rhetoric, behaviors, and policies. Weaving through the masses that day, this sign elicited chuckles from onlookers, shouts of support and groans of disgust. But when we stop to consider why this reads as funny or even gross in the first place, we can start to uncover the implicit messaging beneath the bare male torsos.

In the very same way that a teenager calling something “so gay” signals to peers and bystanders that being anything but ardently heterosexual is at best abnormal and at worst unsafe, signs that serve up homoerotic imagery to provoke at best a cheap laugh or at worst revulsion are also signaling something to those in the vicinity. Amongst a crowd of so many strangers, all from different backgrounds and living varied lifestyles, these signs render the behavior of men in suggestive embrace a source of ridicule and shame. Not only that; such statements reify norms of what it means to be a supposedly masculine man, and conversely a suitably feminine woman, and the need for a clear distinction between the only two “acceptable” ways of existing. Masculine heterosexuality emerges as the norm (the only space not subject to jeers), and anything veering from it – such as two men appearing effeminate in their intimacy with one another, regardless of who they are – becomes a synonymous stand-in for the preposterously humorous, incorrect and ultimately immoral.

Imagery that relies upon these dualistic arrangements of masculine/man and feminine/woman inevitably reinforces stigmas attached to supposed “right” and “wrong” ways of being. I started discussing the problems intrinsic to such binaries in my analysis of Peter Berg’s Patriot’s Day. This formula of “if not one, then the other” always diminishes “the other” as something unsavory and undesirable, and erases any gray area. The reality, however, is that most – if not all – of us live in the ambiguous in-between. Notions of masculinity and femininity are ideals that folks of all genders try on here and there, at various moments in our days, but there is no way to embody all the traits of a flawlessly “masculine man” or “feminine woman” all the time.

And what are these traits anyway? If you take a few minutes to list out all the components of these categories, and then try to fit yourself into one of them, odds are good that you’ll find yourself reflecting on the many moments when you simultaneously enact elements of both. What’s more, your list will inevitably vary from that of your friend, your partner or spouse, or your siblings. Clear-cut prototypes simply do not exist in the flesh; and yet we consistently allude to and draw from this illusion in order to define ourselves and those around us. The broad similarities between our lists are what we’ve come to understand as “normal,” and these assumptions help inform what are considered the seemingly acceptable ways to act if you appear as a man or woman (and, in the latter, let’s not forget acceptable ways to dress). They also allow the denunciation – and justify the mockery, harassment and mistreatment – of performances that fall outside of this flimsy framework. The inability to ever fully envision, let alone achieve, “peak” masculinity or femininity is what makes these standards so compelling and resilient in dictating social standards and behaviors.

In the final image (not posted here), a photograph of Trump is coupled with a small cartoon cat, and the words “SHOW US YOUR TAX RETURNS! DON’T BE A P*SSY!” I definitely don’t disagree with the call for transparency but let’s take a second look at the implicit way in which this usage of “pussy” functions. Here, masculinity is questioned by slinging a slang term for vagina at a man. Not only is this sign attempting to discredit someone’s character and decision-making prowess by referencing a female body part, but it swaps pussies in for the presumptive weak or pathetic. It functions the way so many insults directed at men (usually by other men) do: it associates the male target with femaleness or femininity, thereby reinforcing the notion that femaleness is itself deeply shameful. Channeling the wise words of Wanda Sykes, why say pussy when what you actually mean is that someone is utterly ridiculous?


The Sykes PSA is part of a campaign, ThinkB4YouSpeak, developed nearly eight years ago by GLSEN in partnership with the Ad Council. It’s as relevant today as ever. The campaign was created to quell speech in schools that creates an “atmosphere where [LGBT teens] feel disrespected, unwanted and unsafe” (from GLSEN’s website). By influencing acceptations – and encouraging students, teachers and parents alike to intentionally consider the impact of their words – the campaign aims to also change perceptions of bodies and behaviors. Just like youth casually yakking over cheeseburgers and large fries, we all make choices about the words we use, whether we’re seated in a classroom or crowding the streets. And make no mistake about it: communication – language, imagery, and the social and cultural context through which it arises – is integrally tied to how we treat one another.

Even when directed solely at someone causing harm and fostering hatred, words reverberate in ways that impact others well beyond the moment in which they’re uttered. When related to our genders, sexualities and behaviors, language can overtly and subtly hurt us by leading to feelings of shame and isolation, and by letting others know what’s tolerable, who’s valued, and how to act. That’s not to say that we need to do away with or stop using images or words referring to sexuality, gender, or body parts. Rather, we need to carefully consider context and company, and the way in which our statements in turn work to legitimize certain treatments of other people.

There is a never-ending and complicated cycle between what is spoken, what is silenced, and what is sustained. The ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign was created eight years ago and remains disturbingly relevant. What’s perhaps more unsettling is the four, or possibly eight, years stretching ahead. As we continue to speak up and out in resistance, we must continue to value one another by being vigilant about the language we choose to use.


Cross-posted with permission from Feminist Frequency where the original may be accessed.
Posted by Ashley Fellows
Giving Officer and Contributor for Feminist Frequency

Monday, 9 January 2017

Lesbian and gay affirmative Rorschach research, critical gender consciousness, and psychosocial needs fulfilled by dental dams: student presentations that received the F&P student prize in 2016

Currently, Feminism & Psychology offers three annual prizes for student presentations on topics concerned with gender and sexuality. The prize consists of a certificate and a year’s subscription to Feminism & Psychology. The aim in awarding the prize is to foster the development of feminist theory and practice in and beyond psychology. As such the recipients of the award are recognized for producing work which holds great promise in this regard.


As readers know, Feminism & Psychology has long given a yearly prize for student work in conjunction with the Psychology of Women Section of the British Psychological Association. The prize is awarded to the best paper at the POWS conference. The 2016 winner is Katherine Hubbard, University of Surrey.  The title of her presentation was Treading of delicate ground: Comparing the Lesbian and Gay Affirmative Rorschach Research of June Hopkins and Evelyn Hooker.  Katherine Hubbard’s work was supervised by Dr. Peter Hegarty.






For the first time this year, Feminism & Psychology awarded a prize for the best student presentation at the conference of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI). Mukadder Okuyan received the prize for her presentation, which was titled Critical Gender Consciousness among Pious Turkish Women. Mukadder Okuyan is a graduate student in psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her work was supervised by Dr. Nicola Curtin.





Also for the first time this year, Feminism & Psychology awarded a prize for the best presentation in the Sexuality and Gender Division of the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA). Avri Spilka received this year’s prize for her presentation titled Do dental dams fulfil motivational psychosocial needs amongst women who have sex with women (WSW) in Tshwane, South Africa? – A qualitative study.  Avri Spilka is a student at the South African College of Applied Psychology.  Her work was supervised by Dr Ian Opperman.


Congratulations, Katherine Hubbard, Mukadder Okuyan and Avri Spilka!

Monday, 31 October 2016

“If You’re A Good Guy, You Can’t Possibly Be A Rapist”



The University of Oregon dominated Florida State in the 2015 Rose Bowl. The Ducks’ converted four consecutive turnovers into 27 unanswered points, leading to a 59–20 rout. Afterward, several Oregon players were filmed singing “No means no!” to the tune of the FSU “War Chant.” An act that was presumably directed at star quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who’d recently been accused of raping a female student. Antirape activists heralded the mocking jibe as a victory: Finally, here was a group of normatively masculine men shaming other normatively masculine men for sexually assaulting women.

But two University of Oregon sociology professors, C.J. Pascoe and Jocelyn Hollander, saw it differently. What if the point of the chant wasn’t to make a statement about sexual assault, but rather to position their opponent as a failed man, thereby humiliating him both on and off the field? This question introduces a paper they published in October 2015 entitled “Good Guys Don’t Rape,” which documents how young men distance themselves from identities as rapists while simultaneously exhibiting dominance over women and other men with behavior that “mobilizes rape.”

It’s yet another form of “toxic masculinity,” they argue, which refers to attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional and sexually aggressive. Some refer to this as “classic masculinity” — a rite of passage of sorts. Others, like The Donald, chalk it up to “locker room talk.” Whatever you call it, Pascoe notes that many men who exemplify toxic masculinity actively seek to avoid the label. She points to Brock Turner, the Stanford student convicted of raping an unconscious woman in January 2015 as a perfect example.

Despite two eyewitnesses watching him sexually assault his victim, Turner insisted “in no way was I trying to rape anyone.“ Judge Aaron Persky, a Stanford alum, sentenced the 20-year-old to a mere six months in a county jail. The decision was influenced by a probation report that included a letter from one of Turner’s friends, Leslie Rasmussen, who claimed Turner wasn’t a “real rapist,” since what happened was “completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car.” For Pascoe and Hollander, this is classic “good guy” syndrome. Only bad guys rape women while they’re walking to their car. Good guys, they suggest, aren’t sexist, aren’t racist, aren’t homophobic and definitely don’t condone sexual assault.

Pascoe and Hollander recently elaborated on this notion for us.

Brock Turner’s dad described his son’s crime as “20 minutes of action” and insisted that Turner had “never been violent to anyone including the night of the Jan 17th 2015.” He’s essentially saying Brock’s a good guy, right?
JH: That’s exactly what he’s saying.

What about Jay, one of the high school respondents in your study?
CJP: Jay angrily shared a story about how he had been found guilty of sexual assault. He emphatically insisted that he was innocent and that he was sentenced to wear an ankle bracelet under “house arrest” because the victim lied during the trial. While livid about being accused of rape, he later seemingly endorsed rape in conversations with his friends as they talked about a girl they agreed was “hella ugly” and “a bitch” but who “has titties.”

At the end of this conversation, Jay threatened to “take her out to the street races and leave her there. Leave her there so she can get raped.” His friends responded with laughter. While Jay was angry at being found guilty of a rape he claimed he didn’t commit, he endorsed setting up a situation where other men could inflict sexual violence on a young woman he found distasteful. He really exemplifies both sides of the issue: He’s a “good guy” so he would never rape, but women are also awful people, liars and manipulators who need to be put in their place via sexual violence.

Explain what you mean by “good guy” in both Turner’s and Jay’s case.
CJP: If you’re a good guy, you can’t possibly be a rapist. We see something similar happen with racism, sexism and homophobia. The “good guy” defense gets deployed in those instances to excuse all sorts of problematic behavior and attitudes. One can’t be a racist if one’s a “good guy.” This allows us to think of these qualities as individual traits rather than culturally systemic beliefs and practices in which we all participate.

For example, in our paper, we looked at how men are opposing sexual violence against women. What we found is that some of the ways in which men are speaking out against sexual assault are actually congruent with cultural expectations that men be dominant over others.

Why can’t men shake their need for dominance?
CJP: Dominance is the central component of Western masculinity. To be considered masculine, men have to engage in constant displays of dominance (over women, over other men and often over socioeconomic and racial boundaries as well). Sometimes these displays are totally serious (such as in physical assaults); other times they’re humorous (such as in the “know how I know you’re gay?” scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Either way, this dominance can never be fully secured, which means these actions and interactions have to be constantly performed and monitored.

JH: Even some anti-violence campaigns reaffirm masculine dominance. I’m thinking, for example, of the “My Strength is Not for Hurting” campaign. Campaigns like these oppose sexual assault (and other kinds of violence against women), but they do so while reaffirming conventional ideas about gender — particularly, the idea that men are strong and powerful and the idea that women are vulnerable and need to be protected.

CJP: The same goes for the “Real Men Don’t Rape” campaign. By saying “real men” don’t rape, that campaign automatically positions rapists as failed men or as unmasculine men, rendering the non-rapists more dominant. If rape itself is an act of dominance as opposed to sexual desire, these men are achieving the same level of dominance through different means, i.e., being sexually dominant over a woman or socially dominant over another man.

Is it possible to have a gender-equal anti-rape campaign?
JH: My research recently has been on women’s self-defense training, which reduces violence against women without reaffirming gender inequality. It does so by demonstrating that the stereotypes about gender aren’t true: Women are strong and can protect themselves without relying on others to do it for them, and men aren’t invincible or inevitably dangerous.

There also have been some interesting anti-harassment campaigns in the last few years. The organization Hollaback!, for example, encourages its constituents to document and share their experiences of harassment, urging them to “be someone who knows they have the right to define themselves instead of being defined by some creep’s point of view.” Similarly, Canada’s Project Respectfocuses on mutual respect, not chivalry and efforts that explicitly put gender and power center stage.

CJP: Campaigns in favor of sexual consent like consentissexy.net are better, too. Additionally, I’d say comprehensive sex ed that covers issues of desire and consent (rather than the usual fear-based curriculum) is a step in the right direction as well.

Where does the “No means no” chant after the Oregon-FSU game fall on the spectrum? Is it more like “Real Men Don’t Rape” or the self-defense training you’re talking about?

CJP: The effect was to seemingly take a feminist stance, but to do so by humiliating another player and render him less masculine. A real man — like, presumably, the chanters themselves — would be able to control his sexual and violent urges. They were doing dominance work through opposing sexual assault. This, like some of the other examples we talked about, is using rape to reinforce contemporary definitions of masculinity as dominance. What we’d really like to see is for people to be highly critical about their activism and to be sure they’re not supporting the same kind of inequality they’re trying to dismantle.

Cross-posted with permission from Gender & Society. The post can be accessed at the following address: https://gendersociety.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/if-youre-a-good-guy-you-cant-possibly-be-a-rapist/ 

Posted by

C. Brian Smith
Contributing writer to MEL.  

Tokyo’s First Female Governor and Japan’s Glass Ceiling


Yuriko Koike, a former Japanese defense minister, became the first woman elected governor of Tokyo. The recent New York Times article “Breaking Japan’s Glass Ceiling, but Leaving Some Feminists Unconvinced”reported that voting for her, regardless of one’s political views, would be a revolutionary act because there are few women at the top in Japan. However, the article also noted that some Japanese feminists have expressed disagreement with Koike because of her conservatism.

In the election, some Japanese feminists opposed Koike for her conservatism and for being a right-wing militarist, and instead explicitly supported the male candidate, Shintaro Torigoe, who lacked an effective campaign and ironically struggled with an allegation of sexual assault by a female college student. Some also believe that Koike lacks enthusiasm about improving women’s social status. A subset of feminists in Japan also tend to be more concerned about issues confronting working-class women than those facing women in high positions.

Koike is known to be a core member of, or has had deep ties to, the nationalistic right-wing cult Nippon Kaigi (or Japan Conference), which has 38,000 members and is said to have, among its aims, the restoration of the status of the emperor; keeping women in the home; reducing Western notions of rights and equality; beefing up the military; removing the pacifist section from the Constitution; rewriting textbooks to follow a right-wing agenda; and rejecting Japan’s war crimes and sexual slavery comfort women. However, little is known about the group’s actual activities and degree of political influence.

If many Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politicians, including 80 percent of the current cabinet, are also members of the same group, how is Koike’s conservatism more alarming than that of others? Koike has said that she has distanced herself from the group, while agreeing with its basic ideas.

Koike might have been perceived by some female voters as a self-serving opportunist or performer rather than as a leader for their fellow women. She was a former defense minister who started her career as a TV anchorwoman. Koike has been seen by many as willing to change her party affiliation to take advantage of better opportunities, and she has had a reputation for being ambitious and having great diplomatic skills. The former prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, once called her “jiji goroshi,” or old-men killer, for her ability to tame powerful older men.

I would argue that Koike won the election because of her evocative performance of frustrated and subordinate femininity, which reflected the reality of Japan’s gender inequality. Tokyo voters were weary of the daily news about the former governor’s corruption and his denial of any misuse of tax money. After his resignation, LDP members, including the prime minister, were entirely preoccupied with their insider-based search for a nominee for governor with little interest in investigating the corruption or instituting reforms to make better use of taxpayers’ money. Koike turned the public negativity toward the LDP to her advantage, presenting herself as the opposite of the former governor, who had abused the public trust by spending taxpayer funds on everything from luxurious family vacations to his son’s haircuts. Koike promised to be trustworthy and honest, insisting that she would use tax revenues wisely and frugally. She emphasized her determination to make the 2020 Olympics successful and to reduce waiting lists for daycare in Tokyo. Many voters found her to be a dedicated and empathetic candidate. Her campaign evoked the postwar Japanese archetype of the housewife who manages the home wisely; this performance as a devoted “wife” was further intensified when LDP members rejected the party endorsement of Koike, and when both the prime minister, Abe, and the LDP secretary general explicitly ignored her in public (a moment that was caught by the media). They even threatened to remove Koike from the party for disobeying the senior men. This dismissive attitude toward Koike made the LDP look bad, while evoking the image of the alienated and lone Japanese woman (either a wife or a mother) who has been constrained by, and struggled with, the nation’s male-dominated institutions.

While Koike may have been good at impression management during critical moments in her own political career, some of her gendered self-presentation might be the result of her own struggles in a highly male-dominated workplace. Japan is known to be governed by the Iron Triangle, which is defined as the unique institutional ties among the LDP, bureaucrats, and large businesses. The Japanese workplace is centered on such values as conformity, age-based hierarchy, and consensus-based decision making, and also on the exclusion of women from the boy’s club. My recent book, Too Few Women at the Top: The Persistence of Inequality in Japan, argues that the absence of women leaders in Japan relates to the institutional barriers resulting from Japanese business management and the nation’s employment structure, which is characterized by little labor mobility in which one’s career ascension is still shaped more by one’s age and one’s loyalty to their employer than one’s skills. Women’s competence in many workplaces is often questioned and delegitimized because there are few females who have been able to break the glass ceiling.


Recently, Koike, now governor of Tokyo, expressed enthusiasm about pushing the idea of increasing the number of women leaders in Tokyo to boost the economy. Because of her own experiences as a female leader, Koike just might be effective in accelerating Japan’s slow move toward gender equality which might ultimately outweigh any harm caused by her conservatism.

Cross-posted with permission from Gender & Society. The original post can be accessed at the following address: https://gendersociety.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/tokyos-first-female-governor-and-japans-glass-ceiling/  


Posted by

Kumiko Nemoto 
Professor
Department of Global Affairs
Kyoto University of Foreign Studies