A Genre of One’s Own: Why Women’s Fiction?

In “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf was tasked with speaking on women and fiction. She grappled what that meant in 1928, and invoked the names of literary goddesses Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the Brontë sisters (among others) as exemplars of their time. Ultimately concluding the relationship of the two as “unsolved problems,” Woolf questioned the intersection of these concepts:

“The title women and fiction might mean, and you may have meant it to mean, women and what they are like, or it might mean women and the fiction that they write; or it might mean women and the fiction that is written about them, or it might mean that somehow all three are inextricably mixed together.”

Perhaps the convergence of the three culminates in what we call “women’s fiction” today.

Deconstructing Women’s Fiction

What’s women’s fiction?

“Women’s fiction” is a genre (or more of a category/reading interest) that’s as broad as it is disputed, so there’s not one definition.

Rebecca Vnuk, author of reference books on women’s fiction, delineates its thematic elements (and also offers examples here):

  • “The main character (or characters) is a female, and the story is character-driven.
  • The author is female—there are rarely exceptions to this rule.
  • A woman’s relationships are of highest plot importance.
  • The setting is usually contemporary. That isn’t to say that some historical fiction has women’s-fiction appeal, but if you are looking to slot a book into one category or another, historical fiction usually gets higher billing.
  • Love and romance may be present but are not the heart of the story.”

Basically, “A woman is the star of the story, and her emotional development drives the plot.” These themes hold primarily for mainstream or commercial women’s fiction rather than literary fiction (like your Toni Morrisons), where plots don’t just revolve around women’s relationships and the “reader spends more time admiring the author’s use of language than they do enjoying the story…If the book can be assigned in a college-level English class for a term paper, it’s probably not really women’s fiction.”

…Except when you’re taking a class on contemporary American women’s fiction at a university (like I did, and our curriculum began with Ella Price’s Journal and included Toni Morrison’s Love.

So I’m confused. Could women’s fiction be literary? Could romance (historical, contemporary) or erotica be women’s fiction? What about chick lit (for women in their twenties and thirties, originating with Bridget Jones’s Diary)?

Romance makes just that the central story arc and generally ends in a happily ever after, whereas general women’s fiction doesn’t.

romance
Romance books galore at Barnes & Noble.

But containing such overlapping components across these labels of fiction “means that there will always be arguments for calling one book women’s fiction, while a similar title is considered a romance or literary fiction, and so on.”

If anything is certain with women’s fiction, it’s that the phrase is used to refer to a particular market within the publishing industry, like on Goodreads and Amazon, enabling readers and publishers to more easily find what they’re looking for.

Dismantling Women’s Fiction

Women write and read fiction—and plenty of it. Women read more fiction than men and works by male writers comprise only 20% of the fiction market.

But the literary landscape is still rife with sexism on many counts. Even the way we refer to these novels inherently separates them from the rest of fiction. Notice that while there’s women’s fiction, there’s no equivalently named category of men’s fiction…like “literature is male by default.”

Author (of different types of fiction) Meg Wolitzer questions this gender identifier, stating that “Amazon is clearly trying to help readers find titles they want. But any lumping together of disparate writers by gender or perceived female subject matter separates the women from the men. And it subtly keeps female writers from finding a coed audience, not to mention from entering the larger, more influential playing field. It’s done all the time, and not just by strangers at parties or by various booksellers that have no trouble calling interesting, complex novels by women ‘Women’s Fiction,’ as if men should have nothing to do with them.”

Randy Susan Myers (another author of many fictions) shares her stance: “If you want to publish on Amazon, you must pick a category from a list of wide ranging possibilities that include ten sub-genres of women’s fiction and, zero that are labeled men’s fiction. The message is clear. Men are the norm. Women are a sub-category.” Or, as Woolf put it, “it is the masculine values that prevail.”

This bias toward patriarchal literature echoes what feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir argued about gender relationships in The Second Sex—that woman “is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other.” This Otherness is the designation of something as different based on dichotomous modes of thought (like the biblical alterity of Eve to Adam, etc). Books by women, about women, and/or for women need to be referred to as women’s fiction because they’re Other, because The Man thinks they’re inferior. Is it women’s fiction just because it gives female characters agency, a voice, power?

Consequently, women’s fiction as a genre is stigmatized. Women’s fiction as Other means covers featuring pink or pastel colors, cursive script, makeup, jewelry, women doing women things, the word “girl” in the title, etc., when fiction by men doesn’t suffer from the same gendered designs. The bias against women’s fiction (whether or not the book is considered “literary”) stems in part from this visual branding, since “packaging literary fiction by women in frivolous-looking covers diminishes its perceived seriousness…Even when their artistic merits are equal, women writers often still lack the cultural authority of their male counterparts, and this rampant trashy branding contributes to that disparity.” The literary canon has long been dominated by white men, and they still reap the benefits in this systemically sexist society, even when women write and read more fiction.

TL; DR: Women’s fiction is belittled as a reading interest, while novels by/about dudes are somehow “superior.”

#notwomensfiction

Just as Woolf was excluded from academic spheres dominated by and only open to men—“This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me.”—so too are women relegated to the periphery as Other with this labeling of genres. Perhaps it’s a marketing ploy, but the women writers I met at AWP share a dislike for the label since their fiction is about women’s interior lives.

“Fiction by women is still being read differently, with the usual prejudices and preconceptions,” and it’s about time we engage with and counter this moniker and what it stands for.

In an era when antiquated occupational identifiers like “authoress” are obsolete—and even sound ridiculous—“We don’t need to call them writer-men and writer-women. We can call them writers. And we can call the novels they write just that. Novels.”

Like author Maureen Johnson called for an end to gendered covers with her “Coverflip,” I say we deconstruct and dismantle women’s fiction.

Since summer is nearly upon us—and that being the most popular time for beach reads (generally considered women’s fiction)—I’m going to read anything I can get my hands on this season that could/would fall under this category (by women, about women, but not necessarily for women), including multicultural, LGBTQIA, and disability narratives.

Women’s fiction is a slippery slope. (Innuendo? Maybe.) Let’s destroy it. Come read #notwomensfiction with me! Tweet @things_he_says_ or mention @things_he_says on Instagram, and use the hashtag #notwomensfiction!

Senioritis Is a First World Problem

Senior to Senioritis in 60 Seconds (or 60 Semesters)

Last weekend, on Mother’s Day, I graduated from a master’s program. I walked across another stage in another cap and gown to shake another president’s hand and receive another piece of paper emblazoned with my and the university’s names.

I’ve spent practically my whole life in school, studious existence structured by spring and fall semesters and pleasantly interrupted with winter, spring, and summer breaks. Preschool at three/four and five. Elementary school at six through ten. Middle school at eleven through thirteen. High school at fourteen through seventeen. College at eighteen through twenty-one. More voluntary college at twenty-two through twenty-three. I love learning, but sometimes this institution can feel like imprisonment impeding me from real life. At every stage of my life, from childhood to adulthood, there’s been school. And at every pre-graduation, there’s always been senioritis, or the nonmedical condition of being tired of homework and classes. Symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, and general IDGAF about anything anymore. It’s highly contagious, but treatable by prescribed vacations.

This graduation was no exception. I mentally checked out months before the school year ended. With educational enrollment as the most constant certainty in my life, the amount of times I’ve experienced senioritis outnumbers my romantic relationships.

And so we study (studying = student + dying) and suffer through the malady until school’s over, when we then joke about continuing higher education to acquire another advanced degree when job prospects are zero.

I’ve always been fortunate to have the ability to attend school with a backpack full of supplies and a lunchbox full of food—and the financial and emotional support of my parents enabling me to pursue my dreams without accruing debt out of college. To not go to school, to not be able to learn in a classroom setting, is unfathomable to me.

But what about those who don’t even have access to education, who don’t have the luxury of experiencing senioritis? What’s all this pomp and circumstance about when over 72 million children (in 2007) in developing countries and of primary/elementary school age aren’t enrolled? Just in the US, “40% of children living in poverty aren’t prepared for primary schooling” and they have higher absenteeism or leave school because they’re “more likely to have to work or care for family members.” And the statistics pile up.

The Importance of Being Educated

(Punning The Importance of Being Earnest, and referring to “educated” as the verb of going through the matriculation process, rather than the adjective of being a pretentious snob who thinks they’re better than everyone.)

Poverty and a general lack of resources (classrooms, teachers, etc.) are major barriers to education. Surprisingly, so is gender. Despite the paradoxical gender gap in K–12 and higher education in the US, where women earn more bachelor’s degrees than men, more than half of the estimated 101 million children not in school worldwide (taken from a different source) are girls. In Pakistan, for example, “58.7 percent of women and girls over 15 are illiterate,” as educating women is taboo. See the Global Education Monitoring Report for the bottom ten countries for educating females.

Instead of learning their alphabet and mathematical formulas, these girls are (or can be):

  • Relegated to the periphery in favor of male relatives. Due to “strong cultural norms favouring boys’ education when a family has limited resources,” girls often don’t have the same academic opportunities as boys.
  • Subject to gender-based violence. Over 200 million girls and women in 30 countries are victims of female genital mutilation (FGM, or cutting). Cutting can cause severe complications with urination, sexual intercourse, and pregnancy. Aside from this horrendous practice, even at school there may be “negative classroom environments” in which girls face “exploitation or corporal punishment” just because they’re the “wrong” gender.
  • Menstruating. Ridiculous, right? Due to social stigma and a dearth of safe and sanitary bathrooms and feminine products, “more than a fifth of girls [in Sierra Leone] miss school because of their periods. In Afghanistan and Nepal, three out of 10 girls miss school for the same reason…The issue is widespread–particularly in rural, remote areas, where it can lead to girls dropping out of school entirely.”
  • Performing marital and maternal duties. “Recent estimates show that one-third of girls in the developing world are married before age 18, and one-third of women in the developing world give birth before age 20.” This inevitably prioritizes childrearing and household duties over learning and school attendance.

If these girls had access to primary and secondary education, “child marriage would fall by 64 per cent, from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.”

In the inspirational words of education activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner (and straight up g who survived a gunshot wound from the Taliban on her way to school) Malala Yousafzai,

“I didn’t want my future to be imprisoned in my four walls and just cooking and giving birth.”

We need girls in school: “Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.”

We senioritis sufferers take for granted our fancy degrees and highfalutin credentials when millions are deprived of this basic human right from a young age. It’s difficult not to want to be finished with school when that’s all I’ve known, but our #FirstWorld senioritis only mocks this. Let’s quit this mentality and do something useful with our education by helping others. When every girl and boy in the world knows senioritis, then the world will be a better, more educated place.

Organizations fighting for girls’ education in the US and abroad:
Stand #withMalala
Let Girls Learn
Global Citizen Girls & Women
World Bank Group
Because I Am a Girl
Girl Effect Accelerator
World Vision Gender
United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative
Free the Children

Photograph: banner at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

 

AWP 2016 Recap: Searching for a Feminist Utopia

Last week, from March 31 through April 2, I attended the annual conference presented by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs in Los Angeles.

Though I was most excited about escaping New England’s frigid winter-spring for warmer climes, I was also eager to attend panels and events integral to the current literary landscape and publishing industry. My first and previous AWP conference was three years ago in Boston (where I took an inverse journey from my last, leaving the humid heat of Florida for snowy scenery during sprang brake). I don’t remember so many panels on women in literature then, so I’m glad to see the conversation has progressed in a relatively short amount of time.

This conference, I attended three panels speaking to social issues in this context (though there were many more!):

  • An Office of One’s Own: Literary Agents on Equality, Gender, and the Business of Creating Books. Four literary agents (Duvall Osteen, Sarah Smith, Monika Woods, Melissa Flashman, and Lisa Lucas, paying homage to Virginia Woolf) shared their perspectives on the current publishing industry as women, critically looking at successful books by women; the literary marketplace; and women’s roles as writers, agents, editors and how they must collaborate with and support each other. What I found interesting and a little misguided was that the panelists’ (all white) conversations were primarily guided by their own experiences, devoid of the issues that women of color face, until the moderator (Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation) addressed this.
  • Guerrilla Girl Marketing. The creators (Katherine Towler, Ann Wertz Garvin, Brandi Granett, Erin Celello, Diane Haeger) of Tall Poppy Writers, a venerable online forum for women writers, spoke about marketing novels and connecting to readers with this marketing collective. From accruing resources to establishing their branded social media presence, the panelists emphasized the importance of working together with women writers to expand the reach of their writing.
  • Visions of a Feminist Utopia: The Feminist Press and the Future. Contributors and editors (Jennifer Baumgardner, Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, Yumi Sakugawa) of the 2015 anthology The Feminist Utopia Project questioned beyond the publishing climate to women’s lived lives: “What is this future we say we believe in? What does it look like and what are we like within it?” Readings from Nalebuff and Sakugawa opened the floor to issues surrounding feminist theory, like sex work and activism.

Basically, these panels taught me that:

  1. Women need to work together to succeed in a man’s world. The “classic” literary canon has long been dominated by old white males (read: Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, etc.). Women have made strides to be recognized in literature, yet we’re still relegated to the periphery. Even though women read more than men (except in history and biography categories), books written by men receive more reviews and awards than those written by women. As the VIDA count revealed in 2014, men get more ink across the globe: That year the London Review of Books featured 527 male authors but only 151 women, the New York Review of Books had a ratio of 677 men to 242 women, The New York Times book review featured 909 male but 792 women contributors, and The Nation had a ratio of 469 men to 193 women. The words of one panelist stuck with me: as readers, “we have the power here. We should buy books by and about women.” Not to mention, women are also sorely underrepresented in executive positions, though 80% of literary agents are white women and there are more women in editorial positions according to Publishers Weekly. Both on the page and behind the page, women are continuously sidelined.

  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Books written by women are often unjustly branded as “women’s fiction.” With this sexist label comes a stigma about the writer and the work itself. Women’s fiction is chick lit. It’s Nicholas Sparks. It’s beach reads and pink covers. It’s fluffy romances and frilly emotional characters. But books written by (and/or for women) are much more than that. Two of the panels highlighted the negative effects of this umbrella classification, citing “women’s fiction” as an obstacle in being taken seriously in academia or other careers. “Serious novels can have pink jackets and be about women,” said one literary agent. Women authors are writing compelling stories not just for a female market, yet their work is absorbed by that gendered classification. All panelists unanimously called for getting rid of “women’s fiction” or calling books written by men as “men’s fiction.” Now that’s not a genre you see at a bookstore.

Other panels I wanted to attend but couldn’t fit into my schedule included: The Active Politics of Queer/Feminist of Color and Indigenous Feminist Publishing Movements, From the Margins: Literary Magazines Supporting Writers of Color, Women Who Edit: Literary Journals, Diversity Integrated: The Literary Art of Inclusion, Rewriting the Hollywood Gender Gap, Unsung Epics: Women Veterans’ Voices, Two Sides of the Mirror: Writing About Body Image Across Gender, Women Writing Fiction in a Postfeminist Era, When I Was Latina: Navigating Privilege in the Publishing and Writing World, Women’s Caucus, and Women Publishing Women: The (Under)representation of Women in Print and in Publishing.

Overall, these panels were generally focused on women, but I would’ve liked more discussion about how trans*, nonbinary genders/gender nonconforming/genderqueer individuals, as well as people of color, are represented in literature and publishing.

As editor Ron Charles says on VIDA’s website, “we have a long way to go.” The Tall Poppy Writers panel put it well: “The need to support writers cuts across gender lines.” Gender parity is vital if we wish to change the conversation and acknowledge women’s and other’s lives and voices. After all, how are we ever going to progress if we hear the same stories over and over again?

What conferences or talks on social issues have you been to? What books by women writers have you read recently?

Share your thoughts about these topics below!

“Twinkle twinkle little slut, name one guy you haven’t fucked.”: Slut Shaming Is More Than Just Sticks and Stones

I apologize if the title is too brash or crude. I don’t like it either. Thanks for the “joke,” Kickass Humor!

With the recent controversy surrounding Kim Kardashian’s latest nude selfie, conversation about slut shaming has once again bubbled to the surface on social media.

Things He Says:

I don’t go around sending nude pics and having lots of sex like you.

Thing She Says:

For being a city, my Florida home is a somewhat small place—“someplace special.” It’s hot, cramped, and overpopulated, yet most people know each other or their relatives as we all trickled through the same public school system.

There was a girl in middle school who everyone talked about as being notoriously loose. At my best friend’s twelfth birthday party, I heard that she lost her virginity when she was eleven with a high schooler or college aged dude. As an eleven-year-old myself, I didn’t know anything about sex except that it was an adult thing, a dirty little secret. That experience shaped my perception of this girl from then on, although I did community service with her as a freshman and my opinion of her didn’t change. I thought she was a slut—because that’s what others thought of her—in high school. She wore short skirts to class (probably as short as the too-small, cheeky swim shorts I still wear around the house) and navigated the popular social circles as easily as she opened her legs. How could a bimbo who slept with everyone get into a good college? I’d wonder. I didn’t like her because she was annoying and gross.

This was all speculation, all rumor. I didn’t actually know who she was as a person or if any of this was happening.

But does it even matter? I didn’t like her because I was naïve and alien to the mysterious world of teenage sexuality. We’re conditioned to believe that a female (no matter her age) who has and enjoys sex is somehow flawed—she’s a whore, a slut, a harlot. Like the word “bitch,” these terms are all gendered. While a woman with several sexual partners is condemned, a man under the same circumstances is hailed as a stud or a pimp. The closest equivalent I can think of to an outrageously sexually active/constant Tinder user is “manwhore.” But even then, semantics adds the male to what’s become an inherently female characterization. When females are the ones criticized for their behavior while males are praised, shaming a woman for her sexual activity is sexist and creates a double standard.

It’s the twenty-first century! We’re not in the Victorian era, when women were valued for their chastity and virtue. Yet still men slut shame women. Women slut shame other women (read last week’s post about Kim Kardashian shutting her haters down). But why?

Slut shaming is a form of body policing, or controlling what a person should do with their body and harassing them if they disobey. Jessica Valenti’s book He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut discusses how policing manifests in slut shaming:

“But it makes sense when you think about what the purpose of the word ‘slut’ is: controlling women through shame and humiliation. Women’s bodies are always the ones that are being vied over for control—whether it’s rape, reproductive rights, or violence against women, it’s our bodies that are the battleground, not men’s.”

Her book was published in 2008. Slut shaming existed long before this, and it still exists today. Criticizing another for what they choose to do with their body has more harmful repercussions than just sticks and stones.

Why We Need to Stop Slut Shaming

No, slut shaming isn’t a “feminist-coined term used as an excuse to screw anything that moves.” Slut shaming is bullying that can and often does:

  • Ruin someone’s reputation. Victims of slut shaming are stigmatized for their perceived sexual behavior, whether or not it’s true.
  • Result in physical and psychological harm. Even being called a slut inflicts emotional damage on the victim, not to mention that her peers may even physically bully her.
  • Trivialize rape or sexual assault. “Slut shaming gives the false impression that the person was asking for any sexual encounter that came along her way.”

Just in the US, so many bright, young girls have taken their lives because they were relentlessly slut shamed: Alyssa Funke, nineteen years old and a straight-A student, was bullied after making an amateur porn film; fifteen-year-old Felicia Garcia was shamed for having sex with the football team; Jesse Logan was eighteen when her ex-boyfriend shared their sexts to girls who harassed her; and there are so many others.

In response to this kind of bullying, a group of women dressed in “slutty” clothes, marched to their local police station, and the SlutWalk was formed. What started as a protest of slut shaming and victim blaming (blaming the victim for being sexually assaulted based on how they’re dressed) in Toronto in 2001, the SlutWalk has become an international movement to end misogyny and rape culture, where the word “slut” is reclaimed and transformed into empowerment.

***

I was slut shamed recently by a not-so-nice guy (the same guy I talk about here). I refused to meet up with him after he stood me up and wasted my time—because that’s just not how anyone should treat another human being. He didn’t outright call me a slut, but he pretty said as much.

manuel

I’m all for doing what you want with your body, whether that’s covering up or sending nudes. I love my body! I’m stuck with it, so I might as well build a healthy relationship with it. I don’t really like wearing clothes (as I mentioned in my last post, that’s definitely true for shoes), and I’d like to join or visit a nudist colony at some point in my life. That being said, I’m not ashamed of being naked around people, and that extends to pictures. Like it or not, it’s the twenty-first century (like I said), and people share nudes of themselves. I’m guilty of that. Who isn’t? But only what’s comfortable to me and if I’m not being pressured by the other person. (People are also really dumb and think that a picture of the crease your folded arm makes is cleavage, or the curve of your knees is your bosom.)

I sent this guy Manuel a very unsexy picture of me reading a book before he turned out to be jerk. When I told him I wasn’t interested any more, he insulted me. Although he wasn’t getting laid, he was hypocritically condemning me for what he believed I did with others. He’s shaming me for something he knows nothing about. The picture wasn’t anything that could’ve been used against me, but I guess it could’ve been worse—he didn’t relentlessly bully me. I stopped talking to him before he initiated the above conversation, but I definitely didn’t talk to him afterward. I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but he made me feel awful about myself. I quickly got over it, but so many women experience this kind of harassment all the time.

***

As this title says, “If You Want A World That Respects Women, Stop Slut-Shaming Them.” It should be a thought crime to think about calling someone a thot (or “That Ho Over There”). To the girl I judged for her perceived promiscuity in middle and high school—I’m sorry. I didn’t give her the chance to see her as a human being, and instead wrote her off as a slut.

It’s your body and you do what you want, as long as you’re not chastising others. There isn’t anything wrong with not having sex or having sex. Consensual sex is awesome! Why can’t we just enjoy it and stop harassing others for and about it?

Further food for thought:
Slut-shamed to death for saying yes to sex, murdered for saying no
Slut-Shaming Is Bad But the Overreaction Against It Also Hurts Women
Gender: Is slut shaming necessarily bad?
When did slut shaming become a bad thing?
Stop slut-shaming Kim Kardashian: It’s a false sisterhood that insists success has to come at the cost of our sexual freedom
‘Slut shaming’ has more to do with social standing than sex, study says
Slut-Shaming Hurts Every Woman—Including Mean Girls

Some writers who lament how difficult it is to get their dicks wet/who think slut shaming is justified:
Skill Vs. Serendipity: Why Men Are Studs And Women Are Sluts
On studs and sluts
Why do people think slut-shaming is a bad thing?
Is slut-shaming a good thing?

Have you had any experiences with shut shaming? How do you feel about slut shaming?

“You be you and let me be me.”: Kim K and Slut Shaming

 

In light of recent events on the web, I wanted to talk about slut shaming.

What is it?

Slut shaming is harassment. It’s judgment. It’s condemning a woman for her perceived promiscuity, for having multiple partners (whether or not she actually does), for dressing in revealing clothing, for flirting, for choosing to have an abortion, for taking/sending nude pictures, for for for…

I’m going to talk about my experiences next week, but first let’s look at what’s in the news.

A (Kar)Dash(ian) of Antagonism

Last week Kim Kardashian shared a nude selfie (once again) on Instagram, eliciting both positive and negative comments. The image, captioned with “When you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL,” caused the Internet (once again) to break and erupt in both disapproval and praise. Singer Bette Midler and actor Chloë Grace Moretz were the first on the offense, with Chloë sending a well-meaning yet critical Tweet: “I truly hope you realize how important setting goals are for young women, teaching them we have so much more to offer than — our bodies” (it looks like this Tweet was deleted). Kim immediately made a rather immature jab at Chloë in response, making it all into a popularity game.

I don’t like Kim K as much as the next person likes her—she’s annoying af and so self-absorbed, not to mention that I’d rather eat my toenails than listen to her voice, and idgaf about her life—but the response to her pictures is necessary to examine.

She literally has tons of clothes to wear. And the world has already seen her shiny, naked cheeks. (Remember her ridiculous photoshoot with Paper magazine? I can’t ever pop a bottle of champagne without thinking of her trying to balance the glass on her bountiful behind.) I’m not sure what the intention of this picture is, considering it barely passes Instagram’s nudity policies, but the bigger picture—and not just her ass(ets)—is more important.

Chloë is an admirable young woman in her own right, playing badass female characters (Hit Girl in the Kick-Ass films, for example) and fighting for feminism from a young age. As she inspires girls to do what boys do, it’s understandable where she’s coming from. No, women aren’t just their bodies, and we’re not sex objects.

But to say that Kim is only her body because she displays it so often discounts her other merits. However unintentional, Chloë condemned more than Kim’s body; she condemned what she does with her body, implicitly rehashing Kim’s past exploits with a sex tape. The tape helped launch her name and career, and netted millions! The tape was made in 2003 (she was my age!) when Kim was dating Ray J, who was going to leak it after their breakup. Instead, Kim turned this threat of exploitation into an opportunity.

In this context, Chloë’s statement is tinged with slut shaming, as she’s bashing her for showing her body in the public eye—whether that’s on Instagram or in pornography. To defend her statement, Chloë tweets: “There’s a huge difference in respecting the platform that you’re given as a celebrity and “slut shaming” something I never have done and — would never do.” Other celebrities similarly criticize Kim. Most notably, the singer Pink, whose response can be read here, called out Kim and women for “using your body, your sex, your tits and asses” for attention and money. Now if that’s not slut shaming then I don’t know what is.

I don’t believe that Chloë would ever intentionally slut shame another, but positioning herself against a woman’s choice to publicly display her nude body makes it seem like doing so is wrong. If you don’t think she’s a good role model, then be a better one. Don’t drag her down for doing something that you don’t see as being positive and inspiring. There’s nothing wrong with showing off your body if you want to—whether or not you’re a man or a woman. Some women (like Kim) find empowerment in nudity, whereas others find empowerment in the opposite. Just because someone prefers wearing clothes doesn’t make them better than the person who doesn’t like wearing them on camera, or vice versa.

It’s like shaming someone for wearing shoes or exposing their toes. Some are offended by feet, others not so much. I was talking to a guy friend who doesn’t like his feet. In 90 degree weather he said he wears socks and shoes. Me—I hate wearing shoes. Shoes and socks are like shackles. I’d much prefer flip flops 24/7 (I’m from Florida) to boots. Feet are part of our bodies. Cover them up or leave them bare, whatever you like! But it’s not your place to say whether this is right or wrong.

#Liberated Ladies

Model and actress Amber Rose pointed out Pink’s hypocrisy and urged her to “let another grown woman live as she wishes.” She also noted a double standard in the way women are slut shamed while men are praised: “If any sexy guy posted a nude picture with a little black strip over his private areas, everybody would be like, ‘Damn, he’s hot, he’s sexy… Look at that body!’” (to be discussed next post). Numerous women have come out in support of Kim, sparking a nude selfie movement in solidarity. Sharon Osbourne and Emily Ratajkowski are among the #liberated celebrities, and a group of moms also stripped to reveal what their post-pregnancy bodies look like.

Kim has responded to the controversy herself:

“I never understand why people get so bothered by what other people choose to do with their lives.

It always seems to come back around to my sex tape. Yes, a sex tape that was made 13 years ago. 13 YEARS AGO. Literally that lonnng ago. And people still want to talk about it?!?!

Let’s move on, already. I have.

I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin. I am empowered by showing the world my flaws and not being afraid of what anyone is going to say about me. And I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world.

It’s 2016. The body-shaming and slut-shaming — it’s like, enough is enough. I will not live my life dictated by the issues you have with my sexuality. You be you and let me be me.

I am a mother. I am a wife, a sister, a daughter, an entrepreneur and I am allowed to be sexy.

#happyinternationalwomensday”

You go, Mrs. West, making money and establishing yourself as a businesswoman in the face of public humiliation and all. The photo wasn’t a sext, and there isn’t anything pornographic in the image. It’s just her naked body with censored bars.

But it’s not about you, Kim. With another tweet saying “Sorry I’m late to the party guys I was busy cashing my 80 million video game check & transferring 53 million into our joint account,” you retain my dislike. However, there’s something we can learn from her confidence and resilience: She doesn’t allow judgment to affect her. She can’t be exploited because we’ve seen it all (because she wants to show it off), and she doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She shuts down slut shaming because she’s not ashamed of herself, her body, her sexuality. Let’s support these women for their choices instead of tearing them down. That’s what feminism is all about.

Here I continue a tirade against slut shaming, but let me know what you think in the comments! Are you for or against Kim’s shameless selfies?

Stay #liberated, my friends.

For further reading:

Why feminists should argue over Kim Kardashian’s selfie

THIS Is Why Amber Rose Defended Kim Kardashian’s Naked Selfie!

Kim Kardashian Shares Totally Nude Photo Because Why Not

Nice Guys Shouldn’t Finish: Part II

Part 2

Thing He Says:

But I’m a nice guy.

Thing She Says:

If you said you’re a nice guy who’s constantly friend zoned, you should continue reading.

This week we look at another problematic belief of the not-so-nice guy: nice guys finish last.

“Nice Guys Finish Last”

A guy I met on a bus once said to me: “Girls don’t like me because I’m nice. They just like jerks.”

I’m not sure why he felt this way, but he actually wasn’t a nice person after all. Maybe it’s because he was from another country and American women were a foreign concept. Maybe it’s because he was an engineering major and felt unmarketable to the ladies (see nerdy guys). We had a good rapport so we decided to meet up, but he would leave me waiting late in the night in the cold only to get angry at me for calling him out on his BS and not sleeping with him.

Not only would a genuine nice guy NOT leave someone alone at any time of day in any type of weather, but a genuine nice guy wouldn’t condemn them for refusing sex. To respond to the notion that girls only like jerks while nice guys are unloved, Everyday Feminism states, “The belief that women like jerks contains hints of misogyny because it stems from the stereotype that women want to be dominated and controlled.” Violence against women (and rape culture) is rooted in this mentality and these actions of masculine aggressors—or jerks. If girls like jerks so much, then maybe you, Mr. Not-So-Nice Guy, might have a chance.

Extra Beef

Not-so-nice guys are as widespread as manspreaders’ legs—on planes, trains, automobiles around the world—to such an extent that they are commonly referred to as Nice Guys™ (trademark included). In addition to the two beliefs of not-so-nice guys explored above, Nice Guys™ are seen as sexist for many other reasons:

  • “Some Nice Guys™ consider themselves heroes for not raping women or hitting them.” With this mentality, any man who goes out of his way not to act out in violence against a woman is being nice. Well I’m sorry that you feel this way, but not raping doesn’t equal nice in my books, and barely being a decent human being doesn’t entitle you to someone’s body.
  • “Some Nice Guys™ do not see themselves as guilty of sexual assault because they were very gentle with their non-consensual groping, and they equate sexual assault as only being violent and forceful.” A friend of mine always comments on my cleavage or lack thereof and asks if he can touch. Sometimes I say no, sometimes yes just to get him off my back. Boobs are just squishy pockets of fat after all. But when he doesn’t bring it up, he commends himself and says, “See, I was being nice today.” Writing about not-so-nice guys has made me realize that this behavior seems innocent on the surface, but is actually sexual assault, and that I’m encouraging his actions by saying yes.
  • “That they are using a failed seduction strategy and need to learn or be taught to be alphas or seducers, like pick-up artists. Let’s not forget about this guy who went on a killing rampage in 2014 because he “lived a life of pain and suffering” and rejection by the women he wanted sex and affection from.
  • Nice guys are nice for even noticing you.” This manipulative belief makes a woman seem like she’s inferior or insufficient, while the Nice Guy™ is superior.

Why is this important?

As Josh Greenberg found out this season on my favorite TV show, Man Seeking Woman, being a Nice Guy™ isn’t that nice. When Josh is spurned by his coworker crush, he sets out to enact a Nice Law in which gals will be legally required to date the guy who’s nicest to her. Josh is hailed as a hero by the friend zoned Nice Guys™ who finally get the girl of their dreams. But quickly he gets a taste of his own medicine when his law backfires and a homeless man named Chainsaw holds the door open for him. Legally bound to enter into a courtship and have sex with Chainsaw, Josh is confused and disgruntled, but has a necessary epiphany:

“I get it now. Just because I was nice to Rosa doesn’t mean she has to sleep with me. She has the right to sleep with or not sleep with whomever she wants. It’s up to her and I just have to live with it.”

If only all Nice Guys™ realized this.

When a Nice Guy™ feels like his “nice” behavior should be rewarded with a piece of ass, I’ll give him a piece of my mind instead. I was raised to be polite and kind to others, to respect and treat others as I would want to be treated. A genuine nice guy—and nice person—is kind without feeling entitled to anyone’s affections, and “is interested in women as people and not just bodies.” He is kind without expecting any sexual ROI or graduation from the mythical friend zone. Too bad there isn’t a creepy, unwanted man like Chainsaw lined up for each of these Nice Guys™.

Get educated:
How to Escape the Friend Zone
But I’m A Nice Guy
Friends
13 Reasons Why Nice Guys Are the Worst

Share your experiences with these Nice Guys™ below!

Nice Guys Shouldn’t Finish: Part I

Part 1

Thing He Says:

But I’m a nice guy.

Thing She Says:

Are you a nice guy?

Are you friends with a girl who dates guys that don’t deserve her?

Are you her shoulder to cry on when these relationships end?

Do you go out of your way to do anything you can to help and make her happy?

If you said yes to these questions, then kudos! You just might be a nice guy!

Now ask yourself these questions:

Are you constantly friend zoned?

Do you hope against hope that one day she’ll realize you’re meant to be together?

That you’re her downtrodden knight in shining armor who will vanquish all the jerks?

If you said yes to these last questions, then you’re probably not a nice guy after all.

But I’m nice to her and she tells me that she values our relationship, so shouldn’t she want to be more than friends? you ask. I know you say you care about her, but this mentality is poisonous.

Some men expect sex when they buy women alcohol. When a guy expects a return on his investment—that the time or money he spends on the girl should correlate with admission to the party in her pants—then that makes a nice guy a not-so-nice guy.

So what’s a not-so-nice guy?

In my experience,

  • A not-so-nice guy thinks he’s in the friend zone.
  • Not-so-nice guys think nice guys finish last.

This week we’ll look at the not-so-nice guy’s place of residence: the friend zone.

Steppin’ into the Friend Zone

The friend zone. That painful purgatory. An exile of eros.

Coined by Friends character Joey Tribbiani to describe Ross Geller’s missed opportunity at becoming Rachel Green’s bae, the friend zone is the awkward situation wherein someone is infatuated/in love with someone who thinks of them as only a friend. From the brotherly Ryan Reynolds in Just Friends to Jorah Mormont and the Mother of Dragons, the friend zone is as pervasive as it is inescapable (Friends and Just Friends are bad examples, but generally those relegated to the friend zone often remain there). Though anyone can be friend zoned, not-so-nice guys often use the friend zone to rationalize why a woman isn’t interested in them. When someone is friend zoned, they tend to see themselves as the victims. But the truth is that no one should expect someone to be romantically interested in them because they’re treating the object of their unrequited love nicely.

To quote Salon, the friend zone “needs to die.” Why?

  • “The friend zone perpetuates the myth that being “nice” doesn’t get you laid.” If a nice guy feels entitled to the girl who friend zones him, the girl is seen as a reward for simply being nice. Just because a guy is nice, that doesn’t mean the girl owes him anything. She doesn’t owe him sex or a legitimized relationship.
  • “The friend zone perpetuates the idea that men and women can’t be friends without sex being a factor.” Why can’t men and women just be friends? I beg to differ with the old adage that we can’t ever platonically coexist.
  • “The friend zone posits that sex is the ultimate end of any relationship.” Let’s just listen to the sages here.

Sometimes not-so-nice guys can’t handle rejection so they believe they’re being friend zoned. But sometimes people friend zone others in order to take advantage of them. Now if you’re the one, female or male, putting the person into the friend zone, then a word of advice: When friend zoners exploit the friend zonee to do anything for them, then that’s just as bad as the not-so-nice guy who thinks he’s being friend zoned. Don’t lead the person on. That’s not nice.

People (and friend zonees) aren’t stocks to be invested in, so don’t treat them as such.

Click here to read part 2: why the belief that “nice guys finish last” is harmful.

“When they take of their glasses and put down their hair”: Defogging the Glasses Girl Stereotypes

Part 2

Things He Says:

Are you the geeky type or the sexy librarian type?

Thing She Says:

This post further explores the other side of the glasses coin, about the geeky girl and sexy librarian tropes. To read Part 1 about being a babe behind glasses, click here.

Geeky Girl or Sexy Librarian

Also because I wear glasses 24/7 (except for when I’m sleeping), I’ve been referred to as both a geek and a sexy librarian. When asked if I’m basically a sexy glasses-wearer or a nerdy/geeky glasses-wearer, I want to say that I’m just a glasses-wearer—no skirts or gaming controllers included. These two roles are seen as contradictory rather than complementary. When guys ask me this, that makes me think that I must be one or the other.

What do these categories mean?

These opposing depictions of females wearing glasses have different connotations. Is one depiction more attractive than the other? In my experience, most men want sexy librarians and make a sour face when it comes to geeky girls. (Maybe I’m just thinking about my high school band days…who wants to be with that geeky band girl? Ew.)

(Freaks and) Geeks

What do they even mean by “geeky girl”? The people’s dictionary distinguishes nerd from geek:

  • Nerd: smart; lacks social skills; nice but reclusive
  • Geek: not necessarily smart; more social with fellow geeks; into video games, comic books, fandoms (like Doctor Who)

Here, geek has more of a positive meaning, yet the geeky girls who play video games are often assaulted online just because they’re women.

In 2014, a movement called #GamerGate revealed the widespread harassment women gamers face online. Angry misogynists took to the Internet and gaming platforms to vent their hostility toward these geeky girls, sending them rape and death threats. Feminist Frequency founder and media critic Anita Sarkeesian created a YouTube series on gaming to point out the sexist representations of women characters in video games. She calls GamerGate “a scary, violent, abusive, temper tantrum” that’s “an attack and an assault on women in the gaming industry. Its purpose is to silence women, and if they can’t, they attempt to discredit them.” Not all male gamers are intent on terrorizing women, but GamerGate brings to light the rampant sexism in video game culture.

Men are also victims of this geek/nerd distinction. On TV and in films, a nerdy man is unattractive and lives in his mother’s basement. A geeky man is psyched about Game of Thrones and Minecraft. It goes both ways with men and women (and eHarmony and Cosmopolitan want you to date a nerdy guy). So is being referred to as a geek or nerd a bad thing?

Sexy Librarian

The other glasses-wearing gender stereotype I’ve encountered is the sexy librarian.

Close your eyes. Imagine a sexy librarian. Did you picture a female with her hair in a bun, wearing glasses, an open blouse, a skirt, and/or knee-high socks? Don’t worry, so did I. The same holds for a secretary and school girl (like “Hit Me Baby One More Time”—with glasses).

Librarians have clearly become a sexual fetish in popular imagination. Is the librarian an extension of the nerdy bookworm, who is defined as being quiet, shy, and vulnerable (and goes back to the whole geeky/nerdy gender stereotype)? (Hey, even eHarmony wants you to also date a librarian…)

When I search “librarian with glasses,” articles about how to wear the sexy librarian look instantly emerge. Why does even Google automatically connect librarian with sexiness? And why is the librarian sexy in the first place? Is it because she’s stern, closed, and buttoned-up? Is it because she’s surrounded by a wealth of books? Maybe it’s because librarians are most often depicted as prudish and repressed on the surface with her persistent “Shhh”s and scowls, but really closet an untamed sexuality beneath her strict façade. Maybe it’s because librarians are seen as a source of knowledge that must be acquired through conquest. As a book is opened to reveal information, the librarian must also be opened to access the information between her legs—the male fantasy.

I have a fantasy, he says, of a librarian. Aimee Bender, “Quiet Please”

The sexy librarian is an almost an exclusively female stereotype, despite the Men of the Stacks taking on a steamy librarian version of the hot firemen calendar. The American Library Association reveals this gender discrepancy, illustrating that there are unsurprisingly more female librarians and library directors—both of whom earn a lower salary than their male counterparts. The closest male equivalent to the sexy librarian I can think of is the hot English professor—intellectual af, reads your favorite books, probably has tattoos, and often has some emotional baggage (think Ezra Fitz).

So back to the question. Are you the geeky type or the sexy librarian type?

When I search “babe with glasses,” Google gives me all porn sites. “Big breasted cute girl with glasses fucked and jizzed in,” for example. Women who wear glasses (whether considered attractive or not) are mostly thought of in sexual terms, as the beautiful swan and sexy librarian stereotypes suggest. Like it or not, we’ve become Halloween and frat party costumes (not to mention the CEOs and office hoes theme), while men wearing glasses have become the Clark Kents here to save the day.

Why are we put into these categories?

There isn’t anything wrong with a little bidirectional flirtation, but the danger lies in the loaded meanings these roles carry. Too many times I’ve been called a “sexy librarian,” just because my vision isn’t 2020 and I’m wearing something on my face. Just because I use glasses to see doesn’t mean I want to be told I look smarter, sexier, uglier, geekier. I don’t want my eyewear and gender to make me look like something I’m not. Mia Thermopolis wouldn’t put up with this sexist stereotyping, and neither do I.

Helpful resources:
Book Riot
Nerd Girls
XO Jane
The Geeky Girls
Girls With Glasses

“When they take of their glasses and put down their hair”: Defogging the Glasses Girl Stereotypes

Part 1

Things He Says:

Are you the geeky type or the sexy librarian type?

Thing She Says:

I wear glasses. Not for fashion. Not to attract suitors.

I’ve worn glasses my whole life because I have strabismus and poor vision, but often this necessary accessory elicits unwanted comments. In elementary school, kids who wear glasses are called “four eyes.” In middle school, they’re called “nerds.” But when they become adults, an unusual shift occurs, and they’re transformed. For those of us who remain bespectacled in our adulthood, former insults turn into pickup lines and wearing glasses often becomes a seductive aesthetic.

When men flirt with me, they comment on my eyewear. It’s something I don’t ask for but something I’ve come to expect. For the sole fact that I wear glasses, I will be asked one of two things (or even both):

  1. Can I see you without your glasses? or
  2. Are you the geeky type or the sexy librarian type?

While the first question kindly asks for my consent (and my answer is always “no”) and the second seems like harmless teasing, both illustrate in different ways what men think about women—as beautiful swans hiding under glasses, sexy scholars, or geeky girls.

These perceptions pose problems, and we’ll unwrap their meanings here.

Ugly Duckling to Beautiful Swan

Mia Thermopolis plucked her brows, straightened her untamed locks, and swapped her glasses for a tiara in order to become the Princess of Genovia. Laney Boggs lost her artsy frames for Freddie Prinze’s prom queen antics. For teenagers in unforgiving high schools, wearing glasses royally sucked. But put on some makeup, wear less clothing, and Ms. Unpopular becomes the “It Girl” on campus. Everyone realizes she was beautiful all along.

But this isn’t just fiction. I think about these strong heroines when men are curious what I look like without glasses. Without knowing it, they’re reaffirming the narrative of ugly duckling to beautiful swan—that behind every frumpy girl in glasses is a bombshell of a babe. From a woman’s perspective, this makes me feel that I’m ugly or insufficient as I am and need to change (remember that reality series about women who underwent plastic surgery to become beautiful?). I don’t hide behind glasses because I secretly want a man to make me beautiful. I wear glasses so I can see!

Women aren’t the only victims of this ugly duckling narrative, as the 2005 reality show Beauty and the Geek, produced by Ashton Kutcher, capitalized off of the transformation of glasses-wearing men. This sex swap illustrates that women aren’t the only ones subject to others’ superficial perceptions based on what they wear on their face. However, it’s more frequent that movies and shows—like Ugly Betty, The Princess Diaries, and She’s All That—in pop culture ingrain this harmful idea into our minds that a woman who wears glasses is more beautiful without her lenses.

A guy once told me he liked my faded blue-silver frames. But when we were fogging up the windows of his car he told me to take off my “stupid fucking glasses.” I don’t ask a man on a first date what he looks like without glasses. Because I wear glasses, I expect the same respect.

 

Read about the other gender stereotypes revolving around glasses here.

Things He Says: A Womanifesto for Thing She Says

What are things he says?

Things He Says are universal, inescapable, all at once here and everywhere—before a young girl becomes a woman and throughout her lifetime. They aren’t only the hey babys or oye mamis shouted across sidewalks. They’re the thoughtless remarks that might sound innocent on the surface, but veil a deeper hostility toward women (a.k.a. misogyny). When a woman decides what to with her body—shave or not shave, take birth control or not, have sex with whomever she wants—she doesn’t ask for a man’s commentary. She doesn’t ask for a man to tell her she’s pretty/ugly, smart/dumb, fat/thin, or anything in between. These things he says make her feel unsafe, dirty, ashamed: “After days, weeks, months, and years of being objectified, shamed, policed, and stereotyped, women grow to feel inferior…”

Would a woman tell a man to shave his legs? No. Would she call him a slut for sleeping around? No. Then why do men say these things to women? It’s these remarks that reflect and perpetuate a patriarchal system in which men hold power and dominate while women are objectified and powerless. Thing She Says aims to make men aware of the things they say and their loaded meanings.

You’re not the things he says. You’re not alone. A collection of images and words said to women, Things He Says aims to create a safe space for women looking for a supportive community with whom to share their things he says.

Why do we question things he says? (Or, Why do we need feminism?)

Violence against women isn’t only physical; it’s the unchecked jabs, joking jeers, and off-hand comments that sear and scar. Unapologetic and uncensored, this blog interrogates the threatening compliments and criticisms that illustrate misogyny:

  • Street harassment: By the age of 14, 67% of girls have already been a victim of street harassment, with that number rising to 85% in the span of three years of her life (by the age of 17).
  • Slut-shaming: In 2010, two teen girls, Hope Witsell and Phoebe Prince, committed suicide after being relentlessly called “sluts” in their high schools. In 2012 and 2013, Rehtaeh Parsons (age 17), Audrie Pott (15), and Felicia Garcia (15) were shamed by peers and committed suicide. Their stories are mirrored in the countless girls and women victimized by the mentality that “Boys will be boys, and girls will be sluts,” regardless of their sexual activity.
  • Policing: Telling women what to do, say, wear, and think are all forms of policing, of asserting dominance over a powerless individual. When women resist this policing, we are regarded as bitchy, aggressive, unfeminine.
  • Gender stereotypes: The belief that women are supposed to be docile, passive, feminine, submissive, prude. If we’re not, we’re considered bitches, sluts, butch. Cultural archetypes (like Batman’s Harley Quinn, who embodies the seductive, murderous femme fatale archetype) enforce these stereotypes.
  • Body image: Women are surrounded by media that dictate what’s beautiful and attractive; young, thin, airbrushed models without body hair are plastered on billboards and magazines left and right. These ideals teach women how they should look—often to the detriment of their mental and physical health—and train men to desire certain physical attributes in a woman.

No matter if she’s wearing pants, wearing shorts, wearing nothing, he says the thing. On a plane and on a train, over here and over there, he says the thing. No, we do not want these things he says—here or there or anywhere.

Disclaimer: While the same issues also affect men, this blog specifically targets the things men say to women as expressions of systemic sexism.