This is what a white feminist looks like

“What’s the difference between feminism and white feminism?” My friend asked me in a text message. She had been looking at the Women’s March website, and she didn’t fully understand the distinction. I sat there for a while, staring at my phone, trying to figure out whether it was possible to hazard an explanation the length of a text message. I decided it was too complicated, something we needed to discuss in person.

Several days later, I found myself in a sea of pink hats, in the middle of our nation’s capital, trying to find my way to Independence Ave. When I arrived at the Women’s March on Washington, I had no idea where to go. Every street in every direction was flooded with demonstrators, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. I had to stand on my tip-toes to see the mega screen projecting live videos of the rally’s speakers—at times barely audible over the noise of chatting marchers. As I stood there, I was struck by the celebratory atmosphere of the event. All around me were women laughing and hugging and screaming like they were in the audience of a live broadcast of Rachael Ray. We deserve to celebrate ourselves, I coached myself, trying not to be cynical.

I tried to focus on the dizzying display of badass intersectional feminists leading the rally. Black, brown, Latina, native, disabled, formerly incarcerated, undocumented, queer, and trans women took to the stage to proclaim their truths, representing social justice organizations and movements that have been doing the good work for a long time, and will continue to do so in the years to come. When they announced that Angela Davis was about to take the stage, I nearly lost my shit.

“At a challenging moment in our history,” Angela began, “let us remind ourselves that we the hundreds of thousands, the millions of women, trans-people, men and youth who are here at the Women’s March, we represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism and hetero-patriarchy from rising again.”

March, march, march, the white demonstrators around me began chanting, drowning out the rest of Angela Davis’s speech.

March, march, march, march, they screamed, waving their pink “Pussy Grabs Back” signs and performing various renditions of the white woman two-step.

If these women had quieted down for a moment, they might have heard Angela when she explained that “This is a country anchored in slavery and colonialism, which means for better or for worse the very history of the United States is a history of immigration and enslavement.”

They might have stopped to wonder what progress has and has not been made for women of color since that day in 1970 when Angela Davis was arrested by the FBI for crimes she did not commit.

They might have considered, for a moment, who and what deserved celebrating. Was it really their pink pussies? Their privileged white daughters decked out in North Face jackets? Their collective, and questionably phrased, “girl power”? Or was it the fact that up on that stage, women of all colors, genders, sexual orientations, and creeds were bravely sharing their stories and fighting for a world where justice and equality were not only ideals, but realities for all women?

I am a cis, white woman, a lesbian, and an intersectional feminist. As a liberal-progressive woman, I am not automatically entitled to the feminist label. It is something I fight for, challenge, question, and talk about on a daily basis. And the more I consider the weight of that label, the more I believe that feminism without a radical basis of anti-racist, anti-oppression work is not actually feminism at all.

Feminism is not just “the radical idea that women are people,” it is the radical idea that all people—especially women—deserve justice.

Or, to put it another way, white feminism is not truly feminism.

I am proud of what we accomplished this Saturday. I am proud that people showed up in the smallest towns and the biggest cities, in the snow and rain, wearing their rainbow flag capes and their purple lipstick, bringing their partners, their children, their parents, and their radical politics. I am proud that the organizers of the Women’s March espoused a truly intersectional platform. I am proud that people chanted Black Lives Matter and wore American Flag hijabs.

But for all feminists, new and old, this is only the beginning of a long fight. As a white feminist, I am humbled by all the work I haven’t been doing, and energized to begin showing up—in the streets, in meetings, in my community—to make justice a reality. I hope that all those two-stepping, pussy-hat-wearing white feminists who showed up at the Women’s March will do the same.

*Cover photo courtesy of Flyah Angelou

 

 

Some thoughts on the election, in no particular order 

1. I woke up this morning in the arms of my girlfriend, and I thought “how could anyone hate this thing we have, this sweet early morning thing we have, this warmth against my spine flowing to my heart, this love which has opened up wells inside me, so I always have more love to give?” How could they hate us?

2. My mom told me that she couldn’t remember being this distraught since JFK was shot. She’s not a very political person, but she wept when Hillary lost. I hope she sees a woman president in her lifetime.

3. I want to be empathetic to those who feel disenfranchised by American politics but I’m angry that their vote came at the expense of so many lives.

4. I want to be able to utilize my anger, but my heart is broken and I am tired.

5. I can’t stop thinking about my wrists, and how close my veins are to the surface. We are, all of us, so fragile.

6. “Misfortune had made Lily supple instead of hardening her, and a pliable substance is less easy to break than a stiff one.” -Edith Wharton

7. Sometimes guardian angels are the people organizing protests and writing petitions and organizing resources and offering money and to walk people home. They are everywhere if you are looking for them.

8. We did not start “making things political.” Sodomy laws made death a punishment for being gay in America. Until 2003 you could be arrested for being gay in 14 states. When white people came to the United States they brought black slaves and committed endless atrocities against them. They committed genocide against Native Americans for land.  Disability was treated with institutionalization which was often violent. Marital rape wasn’t criminalized until the 1970s, around the same time women received the legal ability to apply for credit separately from their husbands. All of this was legal. They made our bodies political, and our ancestors had to fight for our freedom. We are still fighting. We will not stop being political until we are all liberated. (My liberation can not ever come at the expense of anyone else’s).

9. For all the disagreements I had with her, I feel for Hillary Clinton. The sexism she experienced (has experienced, is experiencing) on a national stage has been an unsettling reminder of how we value ambitious women. I hope I channel her steely perserverence. I hope somebody has hugged her and told her she matters.

10.  You matter. You are valid. You are good. You are not monstrous or disgusting. You are not dangerous, except to the heterosexist white supremecist ableist transmisogynist system. You are a brilliant offering to the world around you. Your resilience is inspiring. Your vulnerability in the face of hate is breathtaking. You are cared for and loved. It is not alright now but I will fight to make it alright to you, wherever you are.

All my love,

Marnie

Queer Exhaustion

Recently I have started to believe I am suffering from a severe case of queer exhaustion.

It comes from being the only queer person in a room. Or being outed at work to some co-workers I don’t know that well. Or having a well-meaning straight person tell me repeatedly that her kid “definitely isn’t gay” but he really cares about “those issues.” Or reading news about anti-LGBT legislation, that seems to be growing everyday.

At a recent party I was joking with my one other queer coworker about Mean Girls, and how we were both “too gay to function.” A straight coworker who was standing there immediately replied to our laughter with “You know I never said gay as an insult, even when I was a kid.”

Okay? I thought. Congratulations, you’ve reached the most basic level of human decency by not using someone else’s identity as a slur. Then I realized, maybe he thought we were saying gay as a joke, to make fun of ourselves. Maybe our long hair had tricked him into thinking we were straight women, laughing at “the gays.” I’m still not sure what he meant.

All of these incidents are tiny and from people with good intentions, but they add up and take a toll on my spirit. I’m tired of being used by straight people to make them feel like they’re good people because they are nice to a queer person. I’m tired of being erased by people who don’t think a woman who dates women looks like me. I’m tired of feeling like I then have to explain to these people why what they said was hurtful in my work place, and in my personal life, and to strangers I just met.

I am incredibly grateful that I came out at my liberal, historically women’s college, where the queer population is large and varied. Being queer has first and foremost been a joyful identity for me. I love being queer. If I could go back in time and choose my sexual orientation, I would pick being queer every time. It is the lens in which I see the world, and the vehicle that has pushed me into being a more compassionate person, and the means through which I have found my amazing partner. It’s like finding out there is a fourth primary color that everyone knows about, but pretends doesn’t exist. I didn’t come out to people outside of my college, because I wanted to protect that feeling of joy. But then I decided I wouldn’t downplay the person I was in order to make other people comfortable.

One of the tenets of my femme identity has always been practicing compassion and empathy for others. Even before I knew what femme identity was, I liked to be someone who others knew they could go to with their feelings and not be judged. For me, the basis of all relationships is the ability to be vulnerable with another person and trust that you will be received with love. When I started to think about being femme, not just as a way of presenting my gender, but as a way of being, I started to think about how I can practice empathy, not just with folks I’m close to, but also with people who hurt me and disagree with me.

And it’s hard. I am trying to learn how to be compassionate with those who offend and also give myself the room to feel angry when I am erased or tokenized or when I give my trust to someone and feel let down. Sometimes it involves explaining to people why their good intentions can still cause pain. Often it involves retreating to my queer community, to be reassured that I’m not being “too sensitive.”

Right now I am trying to learn the boundaries between caring for myself and allowing other people room to make mistakes. It can be exhausting when those mistakes are made with something I hold dear, like my queer identity, but I believe it is ultimately worthwhile.

How to Write a Manifesto

Two years ago this March, my best friend and I wrote a manifesto.

It was a brisk spring day in Paris, and we were sitting on the banks of the Seine, equipped with a bottle of cheap rosé, a box of Prince cookies, and a Moleskine notebook.

It was sunset.  Of course it was sunset.  Who writes a manifesto at any other time of day but sunset?

Yes, it was just as picturesque as you might imagine.  The light was orange and pink over the water.  The street lamps of Paris were beginning to light up, one by one, across the city.  

It was perfect, okay?  No need to wax poetic (for once).

We were half a bottle in when the writing began.  I wrote the first sentence, she the second, I the third… and we went on like this for what seemed like hours, passing the notebook silently back and forth, taking sips of wine and watching boats pass on the quiet water.

To understand why, on that particular evening, we had decided to write a manifesto, it is important for you to know a few things:

  1. I had just turned 21: a ripe, rebellious age.
  2. My best friend had been living alone in a small chambre de bonne in Paris for almost two months: plenty of time to ponder existence.
  3. I had just fallen in love with a girl for the first time: love makes you do crazy things.
  4. Wine is cheap in Paris: cheap wine makes you want to write.

So there we are, about to pen the last sentence of our manifesto (switching off every other word now, just to make it extra special), and we see a boat coming towards us on the water.  A man screams at us, waving his hands, but we have no idea what he’s saying.

WHOOSH.

In the boat’s wake, a wall of water surges towards us.  Remember, we are drunk: slow reaction time.  The wave climbs up the concrete wall, splashes over our feet and legs, soaks the notebook, and carries the empty bottle away—not the first or last to be lost in that river.

But the manifesto, that we managed to save.  We could hardly complain.  A manifesto baptized in the waters of the Seine?  The stuff of legend.

In the months to follow, I would repeat this story to my friends, adding certain details, and taking others away.  “Ah, to be young in Paris,” I would conclude, eyes looking dramatically off into the distance.

But the truth is, it wasn’t just the wine, or the sunset, or even Paris that inspired us to write the manifesto.  We wrote it because we truly believed that together, we could make the world a better place.

We weren’t the first to think so, and we certainly aren’t the last.

Feminism, in particular, has a rich history of manifestos.  Dismantling the patriarchy is no piece of cake.  It takes guts, hard work, and a lot of angry (drunken) writing.

Last year, Eileen Myles and Jill Soloway also happened to find themselves in Paris, and also happened to write a pretty badass manifesto.  Their solution to a world of male privilege and domination? For starters, film, television, books, poetry, song-writing and architecture created by men will be outlawed for the next fifty years.  Oh yeah, and “male constructed governing must cease for one hundred years (one century).”

Now that’s what I call a manifesto.

“Wait, wait,” some people might say, “is that really necessary?  Not all men are evil, you know, and they make a lot of good art.”

You better believe Eileen Myles has an answer to this question.  A manifesto, she recently explained, is not meant to be taken literally (although that would be ideal).  A manifesto is meant to be “a piece of abstract art that prods… a movement has to begin with the hyperbolic.” 

It’s been two years since my best friend and I wrote our manifesto on the Seine.  Reading it now, I feel distant from the hopeful energy of that day.  So much has changed since then, so many things have happened that I never could have imagined in that moment.

But it is for that very reason that I am glad the manifesto exists.

We will not shrink, we wrote that day, We will not minimize.  We will not apologize.  We will live as we mean to live, so brightly that our light explodes the sunlight on the river.  And we will move, covered with flowers.

Rereading those words, I am reminded that the hard work  of making the world a better place can never be accomplished alone.  That may seem like a cliché—and it is—but it also happens to be true.

The hard work begins here.  It begins with the people you know.  The people you already love.  It begins with the lives you dream up together, at sunset, in a foreign city.  It begins with the words you share with your best friend on a crinkly, water-soaked page.  It begins with the fantastical, the dramatic, the hyperbolic.

We may not be able to ban men from literature for the next fifty years, or walk around the world covered in flowers.  But we can harness the energy of these beautiful dreams, and stand our ground, even when waves of doubt come rushing towards us.  We can laugh as they splash our feet, and soak our clothes.

We can live as we mean to live: bold, and unafraid.

Fuck is a four letter word

“Say it!”

“No.”

“Say it!”

“I can’t.”

“Just say it!”

“F…..”

“C’mon Hannah, it’s not that hard. Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

This, in a nutshell, was my childhood.  

It’s funny, right?  I, the consummate lipstick lesbian.  I, co-author of Femme as in Fuck You.  I, with my lace up combat boots and sassy undercut and distressed denim jacket.  

I, Hannah Leffingwell, was unable for the better part of twenty years to say the word “fuck.”    

I was that girl, front of the class, hand in the air, long straight hair parted precisely down the middle of my head, wearing an ugly chunky sweater and ill-fitting bell-bottom jeans.  I was that girl who felt nauseous if I realized I had forgotten my homework (which never really happened).  That girl who shhhhshed you in the library.  That girl who fast-forwarded through sex scenes even when she was all by herself at home.  That girl with her nose in a book and her head in the clouds.  That girl. 

If you had asked me, at the age of fifteen, what I wanted from life, I would have given you two solid answers: To go to Mount Holyoke College, and to marry a man.

If you’re laughing right now, I understand.  

Would you laugh more if I told you I also planned on “saving myself for marriage?”

Probably.

Needless to say, “fuck” was not in my vocabulary.

I remember the first time I ever said it, by accident, alone in my car.  I was driving home from ballet class, blasting “Little Lion Man,” dreaming about a boy I had only met once and knew I would probably never talk to, and it just… slipped out.  I really fucked it up this time, I sang.  And then I blushed, my whole body filling with a tangible wave of shame.

This word was never just a word for me.  “Fuck” was an expectation, an as-yet-unexperienced but inevitable submission, a visceral fear.  “Fuck” was all the things I didn’t want to do with that boy I was singing about.  “Fuck” was the reason I never called him, or tried to set up a time to meet.  “Fuck” was the way boys laughed at me when I started talking in class.  “Fuck” was the way I hid my breasts beneath too big sweaters to avoid their attention.  “Fuck” was wait, you’ve never dated anyone?  “Fuck” was you’ll like it when it happens.  “Fuck” was you’re going to a college with no boys?  

“Fuck” was everything I wasn’t able to say about a part of myself I didn’t understand.

Fast forward to my junior year of college.  I’m sitting in the common room of Safford.  It’s Thanksgiving break, and there’s no one around.  It’s just me and two friends, eating dinner.  Well, when I say two friends, I guess I should specify.  One of them, yes, a good friend.  The other?  Someone I had known ever since my first day of college, but rarely talked to.  Someone who made me blush every time she walked into the room.  The same someone I would fall head-over-heels in love with the next summer.  The same someone who would guide me, definitively, out of the closet.  And then break my heart.

But I didn’t know any of this at the time.  All I knew was that I could barely look at her without turning bright red.  When I learned she would be joining us for dinner, I felt this unfamiliar sense of dread and excitement.  I wish I could say I was confused by these feelings, but in reality I was so deeply buried in my repressive tendencies that I couldn’t even allow myself to enter a stage of confusion.

“So,” this someone said, her eyes like two laser beams shooting into my deepest self, “P. tells me you aren’t having sex until you’re married.”

It was just as abrupt as it sounds.  No segue, no easing in.  My friend P. would later describe it as an “intervention” – something they had both, apparently, been planning for months.

We can talk about the ethics of this situation another time, but the point is, I was taken off guard.  

“I just want to wait for the right guy, you know?” I said, stumbling over my words.

“But how will you know he’s the right guy if you don’t have sex with him?”

The answer to this question seemed simple to me: sex with a man was bound to be disgusting, I reasoned, and therefore, would only be enjoyable if coupled with the sentiments of true love.  If I found a guy I truly, truly loved, then maybe one day, somehow that love would magically make it okay to touch his dick.

This someone, the one who had been asking all the questions, looked at me in disbelief.  She looked at me like she and everyone else in the world knew something I didn’t know.  And then she said:

“What would you rather have in your mouth?”

The only way I can describe my embarrassment at being asked such a question is to say that my body felt like it was being invaded by a million tiny bugs, all of whom wished to make their way through my skin and eat away at everything beneath.  Every single muscle in my body was tensed, my cheeks were the brightest shade of red, my teeth were clenched behind the conciliatory smile I kept forcing to my lips.

It went on like this for what felt like hours.  Pointed questions, flustered answers, all interspersed with this someone’s own tales of sexual discovery.

At one point, she looked at me, with that “fuck if I care” look in her eyes, and said:

“You know, there’s a big difference between fucking and making love.”

But wasn’t that what I had been saying all along?

That night, I tossed and turned in my creaky twin bed.  It was Thanksgiving Break, and the campus was empty.  No voices shouting across Skinner Green, no raucous bands of students stumbling back from Chapin.  Just the arrhythmic clanking of the radiator, the occasional flush of the toilet, and the distant sound of traffic on 116.

I remembered back to all those nights, growing up, when I had lain in my childhood bed – no bigger than the one I lay in now – and wondered what it would be like to kiss a girl.  Wondered is probably too strong a word.  I didn’t really let myself wonder.  It was more like I found myself thinking back to certain encounters with girls during the day, encounters where I felt this burning need for an undefinable closeness, and thought to myself: What if I were to kiss her?  Is that what my body is telling me to do? Usually, I wouldn’t go any further than that.  My thoughts would jam, my body would close up like an oyster, and I would force myself into a tumultuous night’s sleep.  But from time to time, surrounded by the inky fears of night, I would think to myself, What if I was a lesbian? A word filthier, scarier, more taboo than any other.  More forbidden, even, than “fuck.”

On that cold November night, as I lay in my dorm room, all of this came back to me like a deathbed epiphany.  All the girls I had ever felt indescribably, but unquestionably drawn to.  All the times I had hugged them for a just few seconds too long.

What would you rather have in your mouth? What would you rather have in your mouth?  What would you rather have in your mouth?  What would you rather…

Her words played over and over again in my head, her face floating in my half-dreams, her supple lips taunting me to choose, to choose, to choose… that feeling, my body drawn into itself as it fought the desire to hold her, to kiss her, to do all those things I had never even let myself imagine… remembering the way her small body had fit so perfectly in mine as we hugged goodnight… 

I fell asleep, and the next day I pushed every thought, every question, every desire from my mind, and continued on as I had for the past twenty-one years… I’m straight, I’m straight, I’m straight, I’m….

In love.  Or so it seems.  Three months have passed.  I’m standing in at the bottom of a spiral staircase, looking into the eyes of someone I care for deeply, someone I’ve only just met.  A different someone from the question asker, but who shares one very important characteristic: this someone is a woman.  We are holding each other, and I can’t seem to let her go.  We stand there like that, inextricable, for the longest string of minutes I have ever lived.  

It was around that time that I learned to say it. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.  Everything was changing.  I was learning the taste of wine, the smell of sweat in a crowded club, the feeling of 2:00 am on a deserted street, the meaning of the words “queer” and “femme,” the way to properly apply rose water to your wrists in a cramped French bathroom, the feeling of a woman’s body when she wraps her arms around you and lets you rest your head on her breast.

As the months passed, and I returned home to the States, I would learn other things too.  How to kiss, how to hold hands with a woman in public, how to wear my shirts buttoned all the way up, how to casually tell people I had a girlfriend, how to not-so-casually tell my parents the same thing, how to comfortably share a twin bed night after night after night with that someone and still get some sleep, how to say “I love you.”

I would learn in my body what I had never understood in words.  How to be gentle, and how to be strong.  How to ask, and how to answer.  How to give, and how to receive.

I would learn, in sum, how to fuck.  How to be a part of someone else, and let her be a part of me.  How to become, together.  How to be inextricable.

But I would also learn darker lessons. How to lie about who I was, how to disappoint the people I loved by telling the truth, how to let go of my girlfriend’s hand when we got off the bus in a new town, how to call her “my friend” without wincing, how to touch her leg secretly beneath the kitchen table when I met her family for the first time, how to lose myself when she left me, how to lose everything we had inextricably become, together…

I would learn that fuck wasn’t just a word I said in wonderment, in desire, in love.  I would learn that fuck was dirty in a way I never expected – dirty like life is dirty, in the way that dirt forms the basis of everything we love.

But in order to learn this, I would have to take a word that, for so many years, had alienated me from my own body, and make it my own again.  I would have to say it over and over and over again, in public, in private, in the least and most intimate of moments. I would have to study its vibrations in my throat, its shape in my mouth, its frequencies in each room I entered.  I would have to teach my fingers to type it, my pen to form it, my body to enact it.  I would have to estrange this word from its burden of past meanings, estrange myself from the burden of past selves, and meet it anew.  

Reappropriate, verb: to take possession of, to steal, to take for oneself.  

For twenty-one years, “fuck” was a word that did not wish to recognize me.  A word that challenged the very essence of my being.  A word that told me I was wrong.  

So I stole it.  I snuck in late at night, in the inky blackness of all my childhood fears, and I took it for myself.  

“Fuck” is a four letter word, and it is mine.

An Open Letter to Moms Who Don’t Like Their Bodies

Dear Mothers,

I want to apologize to you.

I’m sorry that you grew up internalizing  messages that told you your body wasn’t good enough. I’m sorry that in your lifetime our culture’s definition of beauty became about being skinny. I’m sorry that as you grew, so did the proliferation of diet culture, telling you that you can lose 10 pounds in a week if you just TRY. I’m sorry you were told a lot of scary things about obesity and health risks if you have a few extra pounds. I’m super sorry about the weird fixation on “losing the baby weight” even though your body just did the amazing thing of growing and pushing out a child, and it maybe just needs to rest a little.

More than anything I just want to say, if you feel badly about your body, I understand and I’m sorry. You’ve been the victim of some internalized misogyny and body shaming, and that sucks. Trust me, I know how it feels.

If you have a daughter, I want to say I know you love her more than anything in the world. I know how important her health and happiness is to you.

And I feel like I need to tell you: her health and happiness is not intrinsically tied with her weight.

There has been a lot of research that has come out in the last several years explaining why having fat is not as bad for you as once thought and why the Body Mass Index (BMI) is bogus, so I’ll let the experts do the talking on why you probably don’t have to worry about the health effects of you or your daughter carrying a few extra pounds. In fact one study suggests it might even be good for you. There are a lot of factors that go into a healthy life. Some are genetic and some are steps you have more control over. It is important to eat a balanced diet, and be active, but it is also important to take time to take care of your mental health.

And I understand: having spent so many years hearing that you are unlovable or unattractive because of your body, you don’t want your daughter to experience that. You don’t want her to have an unfulfilling personal life because of something as arbitrary as her appearance.

And she won’t. Honestly. Yes there are some people who might be rude to your kid because of how she looks, because we in the U.S. have an unrealistic beauty standard based mostly on airbrushed models. There will also be many people who will love her because of her strength of character, her knowledge of young adult fiction books, the way she cries when watching movies where the pets die. You know, all the reasons you love her. Some people will love the things you find most frustrating about her, like when she gets into fights about feminism during Thanksgiving (sorry mom) or her desire to dye her beautiful hair that you love.

What will affect her happiness is frequent negative comments about her appearance from someone she loves and trusts: you.

For a lot of young women, body shaming starts at home, and often it’s well-intentioned. “That style isn’t flattering on your body type,” “your friend looks good, did she lose weight?” or overly enthusiastic reactions to a person’s choice to exercise or diet are all responses that seem positive, but actually reinforce the idea that being skinny is an achievement that all young women should be working towards. When I was a teenager I often felt like my other accomplishments didn’t matter if I couldn’t look good while achieving them. Good grades, meaningful friendships, and an after school job didn’t mean much if I was fat while having them. As a young person experimenting with style and self-expression, hearing that I shouldn’t wear certain styles made me feel like I needed to hide my body if it wasn’t slim. I was afraid of changing in front of other girls in locker rooms, or wearing pants that exposed the shape of my stomach, because it meant others would see how “wrong” my body was.

Often I think others think they’re allowed to comment on another person’s weight, because they care about the health of that person. Parents do this frequently. But health and weight are not intrinsically connected! Fat people are not necessarily unhealthier than thin people. Something that does affect mental health is hearing frequent, repeated criticism about your appearance from your parents, especially when your appearance is linked to your value as a person. Encouraging thinness instead of general health can mean encouraging damaging ways of losing weight.

It can be equally harmful as a young person to hear a parent make negative comments about their own body. Living in a household where dieting is a constant and hearing that a body isn’t good enough, it’s difficult to not internalize that, and apply it to your own body.

Body-image is something that can affect anyone, regardless of gender, but I’m talking to you, moms, about your daughters because body shame is an epidemic amongst young girls and women. According to the NYC Girl’s Project, over 80% of 10- year old girls reported being afraid of being fat. Girls are hearing that being fat is wrong on television, in music, and in schools, and there is no reason for them to be hearing it at home.

I also think that when it comes to body image there are different standards for boys and girls. When teen boys eat a lot they are “growing boys,” whereas girls are constantly policed with phrases like “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” I’ve been told that needing to nap after getting only 6 hours of sleep is a symptom of my poor diet, but when my brother takes a midday nap he “needed his rest.” This kind of double standard needs to stop.

I believe that parents want to protect their children from the challenges they have faced. When I think about the mothers who have been told their bodies are too large, I am heartbroken. That doesn’t make me any less angry when I hear a mother tell her daughter she’d be so pretty “if only she lost a little weight.”

Let’s not pass along generations of internalized body shame to young women. Let’s end the cycle of self-deprecation, and instead tell our daughters that their actions are more valuable than their looks, teach them to have good mental health as well as physical health, and that there is more than one definition of beauty. Let’s start by learning how to treat ourselves well, and not critiquing other women based on how they look. Let’s train ourselves to believe that all bodies are valid.

Lots of love and gratitude,

A Millenial Daughter

Femme Fashion: Warmth is Key

Not to state the obvious, but winter is really fucking cold. Honestly there are days when I think “could global warming just speed up a bit so I don’t need to wear 5 layers to insulate my body?” Unfortunately nature never listens to me, and for 4 long months I am forced to retire my cute femme skirts and crop tops in favor of never letting my skin touch open air again.

I believe there are people out there in the world who are somehow resistant to the cold, either through magicks or amazing personal stamina. Just the other day I was on the bus, (wearing fleece-lined tights under my pants, a sweater, a flannel, a jacket, a hat and a scarf) when a woman boarded and sat down directly across from me, wearing tights, a pea coat, and flats. We got off at the same stop, and I saw her walk straight through a pile of snowy slush without wincing. Who was she? What powers does she have?

That being said, my approach to winter style is similar to my approach to interpersonal relationships: warmth is key. Here is a femme’s guide to winter style (and warmth):

Blanket Scarves: 

True story: my mom got me a blanket scarf last Christmas and I thought it was too big to actually wear and ignored it until this year, when my roommate explained this style to me. YOU GUYS. The blanket scarf is everything you never knew you always needed.

Cover the maximum amount of skin possible while still looking cute and seasonal.

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Pro tip: Cover your mouth and nose with this scarf, and no one on the street can tell you “you look prettier if you smile.” Available on Etsy for $16!! 

Fleece Lined Flannel: 

My gf and I decided this November that the two year anniversary is the fleece-lined flanniversary and honestly it has changed my life. I know flannel is a stereotype, but with the right attitude, anything can be femme.

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She knows I love purple ❤ ❤ 

L.L. Bean sells some amazing fleece-lined flannels that are listed at $64 on the website, but I encourage you to sign up for email updates, because they send out coupons ALL THE TIME. If you hate emails but still want coupons, consider downloading the chrome extension Honey, which tells you about active coupons on any website you visit!

 

Fleece-lined flannel jeans: 

It’s flannel-ception! Pants lined with flannel are warmer, softer, and overall cozier than regular pants. All the places that sell them have them styled with a cute rolled cuff and a splash of flannel color, but honestly, who is doing that in the cold?

These great pants come to you via Eddie Bauer, on sale now for $54.

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Or try Cabelas, which gives you a pop of pink for just $30

Dickies and L.L. Bean also sell fleece-lined jeans for varying prices.

Leggings and Fleece-lined Tights:

Fleece-lined tights are perfect for every occasion, such as lining your pants for warmth, or those winter days when it’s juuust sunny enough to convince you that a skirt might be worth while. Leggings can fill this role too, just make sure they are actually keep warmth in! I know from experience, pleather leggings will just leave you with broke dreams and icicles for legs.

Shout out to my friend Meghan who told me about UNIQLO Heat Tech Leggings. They come in black, grey, and navy, as well as the really cute blue and the winter sweater style shown above.

Fleece-lined tights are pretty much everywhere, including Old Navy and Target, but be careful! A lot of them do not provide the same stretch as regular tights, and are cruel for those of us with big bellies who just want to hibernate in a warm cave for winter (Can queer women be bears too?) On this I will defer to the tights wisdom of XO Jane.

Hats etc: 

Now that you have all the staples to keep you living in a soft flannel wonderland, you’ll need some sort of headgear to keep your ears from falling off. I lean into the beanie style, more for practical than aesthetic reasons (they don’t fall off my head) but there are so many options!

These creepy mannequins look SO WARM. The two above are from Etsy, and will run you between $30 and $35 but you can find cheaper at literally any store in the winter, although probably in lesser variety.

Earmuffs are also apparently making a comeback, and while I prefer something that covers my whole face, I am a strong admirer of those who rock this look. Find the first pair at Ann Taylor for $30  and the second at Last Call for $25.

Feminist Swag: 

One of the troubles with winter is the inability to flaunt your feminist crops and tees, due to your need to layer. Worry no more, with any of the feminist sweatshirts from Feminist Apparel, your politics will be obvious to all!

These sweatshirts run up to a size 2XL and will cost you about $45, but again keep an eye out for frequent sales. Fun fact: Feminist Apparel is a non-profit dedicated to starting conversation about feminist issues. Woo!

That’s all I’ve got for today! I encourage you to scour your local thrift shop and get warm reusing some cozy clothes from years gone by. Bring retro coziness to the table this winter!

Do you have any great femme winter fashion tips? Share them in the comments and help Marnie keep cozy during this long long winter. Stay warm!

 

 

Our Selfies, Ourselves

It may sound strange, but sometimes I forget I have a body.

Sure, I use it everyday. It’s part of everything I do. Without it I could not walk or type or even think. But often I forget about it.

(This is a privilege. You better believe I remember my body when it stops working the way I want it to, or when I’m suddenly faced with a world not designed for me. During the two weeks I spent on crutches after spraining my ankle in college, I was constantly aware of my body. And hills. And the insurmountable distance between my bed and the dining hall).

When I imagine myself, the details are blurred. Often I am a bit thinner and taller. When I look in the mirror, sometimes I feel jolted. I am surprised by the face that looks back at me. Who is that?

There are a lot of reasons I imagine. I’m a cerebral person, I tell myself. Having anxiety means that sometimes my brain can’t stop thinking, there is a whole universe of worst case scenarios and alternate endings in my head. I imagine it to be like a a highway of flying cars, like in The Jetsons. The thoughts swirl around in empty space, and sometimes collide without clear street signs. I can feel them in the space right beneath the spot where my forehead meets the bridge of my nose, a knot of twisted metal.

Thinking of myself in those terms rests the blame squarely on my own shoulders. It was inevitable. My brain is hardwired this way. Maybe if I just thought less.

But there is something else. As far back as I can remember my body has been under observation. Being called fat as a second grader. My older brother’s friend telling me he “liked a curvy girl” when I was in the fifth grade. Finishing my lunch in my seventh grade math class and a boy mocking me for “always eating.” My mom once asking me why I always wore my dad’s hoodies. They weren’t flattering. She didn’t understand that I had to cover my body up, hide it. It was too big. I was too big.

And this: I can only eat certain foods. It’s not an allergy or OCD, as has been suggested. Since I was a toddler I simply have not been able eat certain things without throwing them back up. There have been doctors and nutritionists, and half-baked theories picked up from Yahoo News and TLC’s “Freaky Eaters.” (Flattering title TLC, good going). The only thing that has stuck with me is something a school counselor told me in college. “Most eating issues that originate in early childhood are based in a lack of control over one’s own body.”

 

 

Sometimes I wonder what could make a toddler feel their lack of agency so acutely that they would take it out in such a drastic way. I don’t know if it started as a preference or if I always had a physical reaction to new foods. I am missing some of my own narrative. I don’t know how to tell this story without it’s beginning, but I don’t know if it matters that much.

The truth is that no matter how unique my reaction might feel, I’m not the only little girl who ever felt like she didn’t have control over her body. I’m not the only person to feel disassociated from their own body. I’m not the only person who has taken drastic measures to get that control back.

Which brings me to the selfie. Omnipresent on social media, derided by many think pieces mocking millenials, the selfie is one of those things that “teen girls like.” Other things include boy bands and fanfiction (both of which I think are invaluable to young people trying to safely explore their sexuality and identity, but more on that another time).

Given the ubiquitous presence of technology in the U.S, I think it’s easy to forget that smartphones/webcams/ipads are relatively new, and have given most people an unprecedented access to cameras. Before the millennial generation getting your picture taken was a process that either involved expensive digital cameras, or developing film (not being able to see a picture before it printed!), and if you wanted a picture of yourself, someone else usually had to take it. It’s only in past decade or so that the subject of a picture could really be the photographer. No more “say cheese,” the selfie is not beholden to the gaze of someone else. A person can look at themselves and decide how they want to be seen.

I have been known to spend 10 minutes setting up the perfect selfie, then filtering it appropriately for social media. (Not photoshopping you’ll notice. The subject here is my own face, not an imaginary face). It may seem silly, but it allows me to have some control over this body of mine, and reminds me that it exists. It takes the time I need to be deliberate with my body. I test the shapes my face can make. I see how I look in motion through the mirror-like front-facing lens of my phone’s camera.

(To me selfie taking is an art form. A good selfie is one that takes time. There is staging and lighting to choose. This may seem artificial, but I think a bad picture is like pausing Netflix while a character is in the middle of moving. They don’t actually look like that you guys).

Through the art of taking a selfie I make something beautiful where once I only saw something ugly. The image in my head becomes that picture I took.

I’d like to be able to say I love my body all the time, but the fact is, I need help a lot of the time. I don’t always remember that my body is a part of myself. We’re more like awkward roommates. When I can use a selfie to show how I feel it feels like we’ve successfully merged, even for a moment.

I think selfies have the opportunity to be helpful in this kind of personal healing. They encourage us to be a little sillier, to find the beauty in ourselves, and to share this moment in a world constantly telling women, queer people, people of color, people with disabilities, and every intersection therein to take up less space. It can be brave to put yourself into the world and say “I am beautiful and I deserve to be here.”

There is a downside to selfies of course. They are fighting against the pressure to appear “perfect” on social media, showcasing only our best attributes. So much of our social life takes place online, another place we are disembodied, shrunk down to a profile picture or an avatar, where we can curate our own lives. It’s easy to start defining our value in terms of number of likes.

I don’t have any easy solution to that. I do think it’s easy to forget that the people we interact with online are real people. I think there is value in placing parts of our vulnerable selves online, and recognizing that as being a strong and hard thing to do. On more than one occasion I have been moved to tears by the kind notes I have received from friends on my Facebook wall or in my Instagram comments. I know firsthand the power that social media has for meaningful connection. I think there is also space for intentionally positive online communities that encourage us to support one another as well as ourselves, like #BlackoutDay and College Compliments Pages.

I do think the pros out-weigh the cons. Speaking for myself, as a queer femme woman I often feel like the expectations of how my body should be are completely unrealistic, or catering to someone else’s gaze. I spent years being afraid of being feminine because I didn’t want to be sexualized and then because I didn’t think I could be feminine and queer. Taking selfies gives me my agency back over this body which sometimes rebels against me, and which I often neglect. It reminds me to look at myself through my own eyes. I am not the subject of anyone else’s gaze but my own. My selfie, myself.

What Billy Crystal Taught Me About Emotional Maintenance

My favorite New Year’s Eve movie of all time is “When Harry Met Sally,” or, as I like to call it “Billy Crystal Comes Up With Bad Theories About Gender, Meg Ryan Destroys Them.”

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Did you guys remember that Carrie Fisher is in this movie because I sure didn’t!

I have a lot of love for this film. The incredible 80s style! The scene where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in a restaurant to prove Billy Crystal can’t tell when women are faking it! When Sally says to Harry: “Its amazing. You look like a normal person but actually you are the angel of death.” Shoutout to Wellesley Alum Nora Ephron for bringing us the dialogue to slay a thousand fuckboys.

Despite all this greatness, “When Harry Met Sally” is also one of the first movies that I can remember that described women based on the amount of maintenance they require. In one scene Harry tells Sally “There are two types of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.” (Ah dichotomies,  how you seek to explain the world and prove only your own ignorance).

Of course the idea of the high maintenance woman did not begin or end with “When Harry Met Sally.” I’ve heard of her a million times. She is Cher Horowitz of “Clueless” fame. She’s brunette Taylor Swift from the “You Belong With Me” video. She cares more about her hair than humanity, she has a closet the size of a bedroom, she is always getting mad at her partner and crying and making a scene. In “When Harry Met Sally,” Harry tells Sally she is high maintenance because she likes her food a certain way and likes to snuggle after sex. Oh vain temptress, why dost thou make us women look so bad?

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“Feed me and tell me I’m pretty!”

This trope is ridiculous and sexist, not just because it pits women against each other based on gender presentation, but because it asks women to act like they don’t have needs in order to appear cool.

The fact is that all people and relationships require maintenance. By gendering maintenance we are saying that what women ask for is “too much,” whereas the emotional support women provide for men is seen as doing the bare minimum, and doesn’t require gratitude or reciprocation. In “When Harry Met Sally,” Sally supports Harry through his depression after his divorce, at one point trying not to mention her dates to him so he won’t feel sad, but Harry has no problem criticizing Sally in casual conversation.

Women are frequently fighting double standards where the effort they put in is seen as the bare minimum. Putting on just enough makeup to look “natural,” without wearing enough to make people think they are “lying” about their looks. Wearing skirts that are long enough that they won’t be considered promiscuous but short enough that they won’t be considered a prude. The dynamic of being passionate without being needy or overly emotional is just another way of making women palatable to men.

I think this dynamic often replicates itself in queer relationships. While anyone can take on the role of emotional caretaker, I know too many femmes who have felt that they need to prioritize the needs of their masculine of center partner over their own. Asking for more support or attention is seen as “needy” and makes someone undesirable. It sets up a situation in which it’s impossible to stand up for oneself. I can remember explicitly telling an ex that I felt like they didn’t respect me, and being told that I was just being “too anxious.” I ended up apologizing after that conversation for expressing my feelings. My feelings were diagnosed, and blamed on my history of mental illness rather than acknowledged.

When we tell people that they are high maintenance, we are asking them to do the work themselves so that we don’t have to. Withholding affection and support can quickly devolve into emotional manipulation and gaslighting, like in the situation I mention above.  I spent months feeling guilty for bringing up my feelings, when they were perfectly valid. I was ashamed, and I couldn’t trust my own responses to uncomfortable situations.

Of course we should all work to be aware of our needs and be able to practice self-care.  Being aware of some of the ways we ask for energy from folks in our lives can help us set up healthier, more reciprocal relationships, and can also help us learn how to take care of ourselves. However we should also be able to ask for help without being afraid of being too much. Maintenance can be as simple as complaining about our day and having someone say “that sucks.” It can also mean spending time processing a complex emotional experience. It means validating and supporting the people in our lives, and being open to the fact that we might need to change our behavior to be more responsive friends and partners. It means taking the time to look at where our relationships could use some help, and putting the effort into improving them.

In the end of “When Harry Met Sally,” after much friendship and fighting Harry and Sally do finally get together. In one of the most memorable rom-com conclusions of all time, Harry lists the qualities he loves about Sally, including several of the ones that make her high maintenance. For me that moment is about Harry learning that he has to let go of the many theories he has about men and women and instead try to be with the woman he loves in an authentic way. He doesn’t always understand her, but he accepts and supports her and helps her grow. In the end all the maintenance that goes into their friendship makes their romantic relationship more meaningful. If Harry and Sally can do it, so can the rest of us!

I Don’t Know How to Talk to Men

When you announce you’re going to attend a women’s college people take that as an opportunity to say some sexist things to you.

“Oh my God, women are SO catty, I could never do what you’re doing.”

“You know everyone there is going to be a lesbian!”

“How will you meet boys?”

And my personal favorite:

“You won’t know how to talk to men after you graduate!”

Sometimes I wonder if people think a women’s college is actually a lesbian separatist community on an island thousands of miles from male contact. Spoiler alert: It isn’t (although many of us women’s college alums have discussed that concept AT LENGTH).


I think most of these generalizations are based on the assumption that women’s existence is centered around pleasing men.

Despite that, some of them are kind of accurate.

For example, after four years of living and learning in a community of pre-dominantly women, I don’t always know how to talk to men.

I complain about my period in front of men. I accuse my male friends of man-spreading when they lie across the whole couch. When men fish for compliments I shut them down. I’ve gotten into the weird habit of comparing men I meet to cartoon characters (if they laugh I usually assume they’re cool).

I don’t know how to talk to men. Which is to say, the way I communicate is not dictated by the need to make men feel comfortable.

Living in a community shaped by women with a very visible LGBTQ population has changed the way I think and speak. Feminism is at the forefront of my mind all the time. I am very aware that a large part of my social circle are survivors of sexual assault and/or are in recovery from a wide variety of mental health issues. My community is used to being emotional caretakers. We have a variety of different gender identities and sexual orientations. We know what is like to be silenced because of who we are or how we live our lives.

Because of our experience at a predominantly women’s college, we also learned to value our own experiences. We have worked hard to find our voices, and to feel confident using them. Most of us have also learned to value other voices that are being silenced. We listen and do our best to elevate voices that know better than we do.

After leaving the community I found at Mount Holyoke, I’ve become skeptical of those who have never had to question where they fit in the world, who chose to speak louder than everyone else, even though they’ve never had to fight to be heard. I can’t handle men who ask me to tell them how great they are when we’ve known each other for a few hours. I’m not interested in laughing to the bad jokes men tell at parties, when I’m just trying to chat with my women friends. More than anything in the world, I am not here for men who say that women are “too emotional” or that they “can’t handle crying women,” especially when they expect those women to be sympathetic to their feelings.

As you may imagine, I don’t have a lot of friends who are men. The ones I do have, however, are amazing. I have been asked to explain to one of my guy friends what happens when a person has a period, because no one had ever told him before and he wanted to be able to support his friends better. I have a friend who watched the Muppet Movie with me and then let me crash on his couch because I started crying while he was giving me a ride home. A boyfriend of my friend has gone out of his way to look out for women in social situations, even when it meant having to remove his male friends from the environment. These are some great dudes. I wish more men acted this way, so these guys didn’t stand out to me so much.

I’m grateful to my women’s college education for a lot of reasons. It challenged me to continue to grow and learn for my entire life.  The community I found has changed my life. It also ruined my ability to talk to men. I’m not mad about it though. My language and my actions are for the comfort and safety of women and nonbinary people. It is not perfect, and I am still learning, but it is the voice I want to nurture for the rest of my life.

EDIT: While I was writing this, Rebecca Solnit of “Men Explain Things To Me” fame was writing this hilarious piece about men explaining Lolita to her: http://lithub.com/men-explain-lolita-to-me/