Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sex, Appeal and Self Acceptance

To find someone "sexy" is to find them appealing. This person leaves you wanting more -- one more glance, one more touch, one more thrust. You want conversations to last a little longer, your smiles to linger, your goodbyes to be postponed.

Popular culture tends to view "sexy" in very narrow terms. If you Google Image Search sexy woman or sexy man you'll see what I mean. A picture is worth a thousand words -- and these pictures show us that sexy women are skinny, white, sexually available, docile, "feminine" creatures. "Sexy men" on the other hand, are also white, but "masculine" -- big, muscled and sexually aggressive.

These qualities may be what mainstream media finds sexy -- but are they appealing to you? Perhaps they are (and that is totally okay). But I'd guess that most readers find a broader spectrum of attributes to be appealing. Even my male, heterosexual, non-feminist friends like women who voice opinions and showcase their personality. The alternative is just, well, boring. And it's my understanding that my friends who like men (myself included), like men who may or may not have muscles, but definitely have emotional intelligence.

The meaning of sexy has been depersonalized. It has been co-opted by corporations with something to sell. But what you find appealing is personal to you. Realizing and discussing this distinction can diminish the number of people who work tirelessly to attain impossible beauty standards. Virtually (if not all) personal attributes are appealing to someone. We need to encourage one another to just be yourself, and look for someone who finds you appealing. Confidence is appealing. Confidence is sexy. All aboard the just-get-busy-loving-yourself-and-appealing-things-will-come-your-way train! Choo! Choo!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gender and Sexual Violence

Before I get into the "meat" of this post, I want start with a quick Biology/Sociology lesson: "Sex" is a biological term that refers to the bits you were born with (penis, vagina or intersexed). "Gender" is a sociological term that refers to identity. Check this out for a useful (and pretty awesome) visual definition.

Okay so...when folks talk about sexual violence its common to use the pronoun "she" for the victim/survivor and "he" for the perpetrator(s). This is not without understandable reason. After all, the majority of survivors are women and the vast majority of perpetrators (98-99%) are men. (It is important to note that while most perpetrators are men, most men are not perpetrators). But despite the statistics, I think our use of gendered pronouns (in general and in terms of sexual violence) warrants some examination.

Previous posts have discussed barriers to "coming out" as a rape survivor. The fear of not being believed or of being blamed are two barriers that can impact survivors of all genders. But for survivors who aren't women, common myths and misconceptions make it even harder to come forward.

For example, some folks believe that a man will be "turned gay" if he is raped by another man, despite the fact that there is zero scientific evidence which supports that theory. And plenty of folks believe that it's not even possible for men to be raped (even though 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused or assaulted before their 18th birthdays and that 1 in 10-33 men will be sexually assaulted within their lifetime).

For transgendered people the barriers to coming out as a survivor can be even greater. (Transgender is a new term to lots of folks. In short, it describes folks whose biological sex is not "in line" with their gender, as it is traditionally understood. If you're unfamiliar or would like more information please check out these sites). In addition to dealing with myths about rape, transfolk have to deal with prejudices against their very identity. Medical staff, legal officials nor the general population are given sufficient training about the specific needs of trangendered people. As a result, trans survivors may be met with misunderstanding, or worse, blatant bigotry when they seek support.

Since it's arguably harder for people who aren't both biological females and sociological women to come out as survivors, I think our movement needs to go out of it's way to give men and trans survivors more of a voice.

We, as a movement, have tended toward using language that indicates 1) only women get raped and 2) only two genders exist. In doing so, we are effectively erasing the experiences of many survivors. So let's cut it out already!

I propose we change the way we talk about rape. First of all, don't assume all survivors are female (or that all perpetrators are male). And when you talk about gender (in terms of sexual assault, or in general), change your language slightly to say things like "all genders" instead of "both genders." Of course, this is just a start. There is much more work to be done before trans and male survivors will have ready access to the support they deserve. But I've learned to appreciate "baby steps." So let's have at it!

Thanks to the very fabulous Cat for your help with this post (you really are VERY fabulous)!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lady Love!

I've been lucky to be surrounded by supportive women throughout my life. Whether personally or professionally, the women in my life have been a major source of security and strength. So it always comes as a bit of a shock to me when I hear women say things like "I don't trust women," or generalizations like "women are catty." But maybe I shouldn't be surprised. After all, that is what we're taught to believe...

Through multiple sources, the media included, women are taught to mistrust and be "catty" toward one another. We are taught to keep secrets from one another -- to be nice to each others' faces then talk trash behind our backs. We're taught that we can build ourselves up by cutting each other down. And many of us believe what we're taught, at least some of the time. As hard as I try not to, I sometimes catch myself entertaining petty and useless notions about other women.

So I have to ask myself: who benefits when we cut each other down? I've got some theories (the billion + dollar cosmetics industry, for one) but rest assured we -- women as a group -- do not benefit from these catty antics.

So let's cut it out already! Let's choose to be happy for our sisters who are reaching their goals. Let's speak up when we hear women call each other nasty names. Let's defend our gender when we hear sweeping and negative generalizations about us.

I'd wager that our own insecurities are at the heart of catty behavior. So I can't help but wonder: if women spent as much time building each other up as we currently do cutting each other down: how many of our insecurities would be shifted to securities? I'd like to find out.

Let's not beat ourselves up for doing what we've been taught to do. Let's just stop doing it! Let's treat each other with love and claim sisterhood as the legacy of our generation.