Catcalling or name calling: Take your pick!

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Here’s a quick story about something that really pissed me off last night:

I was walking home from the bar, so it was around 2 a.m., and I was alone since I had not gone out with my roommates. I usually never feel unsafe walking alone at night in Athens (coincidentally, I quicken my pace at the thought of the Blair Witch and E.T. than the thought of assault), especially since Court Street is usually pretty packed with people. No matter how drunk Court Street is at 2 a.m., I feel pretty secure.

I usually don’t make eye contact with people when I’m on my mission to get home–which might seem like paranoia, but it’s usually just because I don’t want to be tempted by GoodFella’s or Big Mama’s or the rest of the delicious drunk food establishments on Court. Although I’ve become pretty jaded to the street harassment on Court, from being called “baby” by guys I don’t know to having “Hey girl, slow down!” shouted at me and “Where you headed tonight?” It’s not comfortable, but that shouldn’t stop me from walking home.

Well, my last post, coincidentally, was about how inconsiderate it is to tell a woman you don’t know to “smile.” I’m almost home, weaving through the throngs of people being pushed out of the bars by the tired bartenders, when I see a group of guys, maybe three or four, walking towards me. I notice they’re looking at me, probably because I’m alone, but I ignore them. I’m just trying to get home.

As they pass, one of them turns his head toward me to let me know what he thinks of me. A succinct and informative statement of, “Bitch!”

I’m drunk. I’m tired. I want to go home. It’s almost finals week which means I have a week left before I have to leave my favorite place in the world for the summer. Despite all this, I’m in a great mood. I had a great night up to this point (besides the fact that a total stranger kept feeling my hair after I told her to stop). I have given no reason for anyone to believe that I’m a bitch beside the fact that I wouldn’t make eye contact or smile at them.

Although this is only a very “innocent” (if that’s what we want to call it) instance of street harassment, it made me pretty pissed off. I turned my head and almost yelled something back, but decided not to. Nobody around me seemed to notice or care. Some organizations touch on this and support women who encounter even more dangerous situations, such as Hollaback!, which has a branch here in Appalachia.

The terrifying thing about this is that other groups are in even more danger when catcalling or name calling happens. I wasn’t fearful of being beaten up or the situation escalating–I felt safe, just really pissed off. I walked into my apartment and vented about it to my roommate, who happens to be a gay man. “Yeah, honey, I know all about that,” was his response.

For gay and bisexual men, the fear usually isn’t about getting hit on. It’s fear of getting beat up once the instigating group realizes they’re gay, or “traitors” to the privileged group. Living in a relatively liberal town, being called a faggot or worse isn’t something he experiences every night, but it happens. And even just one time is too many to be slurred at.

Taking it a step even further, trans women, especially trans women of color, are victims of both sides of the coin. The situation starts by getting hit on, then escalates dramatically once the harassers realize the person is trans.

Laverne Cox, an actress in “Orange is the New Black,” who is a trans woman, touches on this subject. In the video, she tells a story about how one man hits on her and the other man says that she’s a man. The two get in an argument about whether she’s a “bitch” or an “n-word.”

The street harassment started first because these men found me attractive because I’m a woman. Then they realized that I was trans and it became something else, it turned into something else, and so many trans women have to experience this.

In short, street harassment is messed up. Really messed up. It’s informing a person of a marginalized group that they’re not welcome in a certain situation. If I’m not going to smile and flirt with guys while walking home, I’m going to be called names. If a gay man doesn’t mask his sexuality in certain situations, he’s going to be beat up. If a trans woman doesn’t hide herself, she’s going to experience something much worse.

So, call out street harassment if you see it going on. Let people know that there’s no place for that shit, because the victim is usually too scared to do anything to protect themselves out of fear of escalating the situation. Street harassment is a product of sexism, homophobia, racism and misogyny. So let’s cut that out.

Allow me to explain: Stop telling women to smile

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Every woman, whether she’s having a bad day, whether she smelled something rank or just because she suffers from Bitchy Resting Face (which is my entire life summed up in three words), has been told some variation of “Smile a little bit!” or “Cheer up!” by a complete stranger.

I have two choice words for those strangers. You can probably guess which ones.

Of course, I’ve talked to many people who don’t think there’s anything wrong with telling a girl to smile. The intention might be pure–you’re trying to brighten her day. People frowning makes you sad. Well, first of all, she has every right to have a bad day. Second of all, that’s just too damn bad.

Women are thinking, feeling, emoting humans. Telling a woman that she needs to smile more implies that you want something pretty to look at. You’re uncomfortable with someone displaying her sadness. You’re not cool with objectifying someone when they seem like they’re actually human rather than an emotionless, expressionless blowup doll. Blowup dolls don’t have a bad day, but women do.

Another reason it pisses me off to no end when I’m told to “Smile,” is that it suggests that a woman’s judgment can’t be trusted. She can’t possibly be frowning for a good reason. If a man is frowning or visibly sad, something must be wrong. Let’s leave him alone. If a woman is frowning, she’s probably just on her period or being a bitch. It’s just another method of controlling and undermining women.

The subject of telling random women on the street to smile has sparked a lot of discussion from women and men alike. It inspired an art series titled “Stop Telling Women to Smile.”

Of course, not only men are telling women to smile. In high school, a teacher I didn’t even know would constantly stop me in the halls, asking me what was wrong. Nothing was ever wrong, and I was never upset. But her stopping me, unwarranted, without knowing me certainly did make me upset.

Of course, if a good friend of mine asks me if something is wrong and offers to talk to me about it, we have a different situation. But friends and strangers are two different relationships; a stranger has no interest in who I am or why I’m sad. They want me to smile because it’s making their day worse. “You’re pretty, I want to find pleasure in your appearance, I’m having trouble doing that when you’re frowning.” A friend, on the other hand, knows me and knows whether it’s just my BRF condition or if I’m actually sad… but then again, when is the last time someone close to you yelled out, “SMILE!” instead of approaching you with understanding and sympathy?

So don’t tell me to smile. I don’t know you. My feelings are legitimate and my face isn’t here for your viewing pleasure.

OU Women’s Center holds feminist art event

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On Friday, April 18 the Women’s Center at Ohio University held A Celebration of Women and Feminists in the Arts. The event featured a variety of art, including a documentary on the hip-hop scene in Athens, original poetry and paintings and even a Persian song and dance.

The event was suggested by student Alice Ragland to the Women’s Center program coordinator, Sarah Tucker Jenkins. The two planned the event all year, ultimately coming down to the relaxed yet empowering atmosphere of Friday’s event.

Alice Ragland and Sarah Tucker Jenkins

Alice Ragland and Sarah Tucker Jenkins at the Celebration of Women and Feminists in the Arts event, held at the Women’s Center.

“Alice was interested in doing an art event and we thought it was a really great idea,” said Jenkins. “I think people seemed to really enjoy it, we’ll definitely plan on doing it again next year.”

Jenkins appreciated the “interesting range of artistic mediums, talents and styles” included in the event.

The event, held in the Women’s Center room in Baker Center, was very intimate and eclectic. Participants with hair of all colors and styles sat in a circle on comfy chairs, listening intently to each artist explain their piece, asking questions and making inquiries after each performance.

This colorful board at the Women's Center shows many events, affiliated groups and informational fliers.

This colorful board at the Women’s Center shows many events, affiliated groups and informational fliers.

Senior English and Spanish major Juannie Williams performed an original song called “Through With You,” mixing her experience with a guy and the experiences many women have with significant others. The song, which took an estimated 45 minutes to an hour to write, was written to a friend’s instrumental but performed a cappella at the event.

“When women come together, we empower each other,” Williams said. ” Feminist art is very important because we’re promoting equality; we want to feel as important, as recognized, as appreciated, respected, as men and don’t ever want to feel inferior to them because we don’t feel like we deserve that–or at least I don’t as a feminist.”

As Williams sang, participants snapped on rhythm, applauding and exclaiming words of praise and encouragement after the performance.

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“THIS IS WHAT AN OU FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” — Two posters hanging in the Women’s Center show a multitude of feminists, people of many genders and backgrounds.

Graduate student Zahra Khosravi dazzled the circle with two unique pieces. She sang one song in English, another in her native Persian language and performed a Persian dance. A smile on her face throughout the dance, her hips and arms moved hypnotically.

“After my husband and I moved to Athens for our education, I was a little homesick,” said Khosravi, whose mother had suggested the Persian song to remind her of home. “I hope people enjoyed it.”

Painting by senior Jesper Beckholt. Beckholt, who identifies as pangender, said the painting represents their struggle with femininity.

Painting by senior Jesper Beckholt. Beckholt, who identifies as pangender, said the painting represents their struggle with femininity.

Art events like this one have been an empowering place for female artists and feminist artists alike, as the art world has reflected gender equalities.

Even events that claim to be inclusive can be discriminatory toward women. The Whitney Biennial, held in New York City every two years, is one that has sparked controversy in history. It garnered negative attention in 1987 when the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist group dedicated to gender equality in the art world, protested the fact that only 24% of featured artists were female. Check out this chart showing the percentage of female artists in recent years, which has declined since year 2010.

Even today, female artists face discrimination, despite efforts made by groups like the Guerrilla Girls and organizations focused on women and minority artists.

Events like the one held at the Women’s Center focus on pieces that are often overlooked in the mainstream art world, but are no less important or powerful than any other piece. They are vital to spreading equality and connecting people on an emotional level.

“I hope art, as with all other fields of study, will continue to progress and become more open to feminist artists,” wrote Jenkins in an email, prior to the event.

“We’re all connected and never have to feel alone,” said Williams. “Every person has something to say, we all have similar feelings, we all have similar goals. It’s to express ourselves and to empower others.”

 

Treat me like an equal, not like a man.

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Equality comes in many forms and many waves. Had first world feminists stopped at suffrage rights, we’d be in a much different place (especially since many women in the suffragist movement only worried about upper middle class white women’s right to vote). Black women like Sojourner Truth were finding flaws in feminism during that time (see Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech).

Now, with a third world feminist, which can hopefully be synonymous with intersectional feminism, we’re exploring how gender inequalities relate to other inequalities such as race, sexuality and class. We’re no longer ignoring obvious and extremely significant differences between a straight, cisgender white woman and a trans woman of color. Or, at least, I hope we’re not.

This is where colorblindness comes in. If you’ve ever said, “I don’t see color, black people are the same as white people!” well, no, not really. This is just a classic example of a group with access to more privilege not seeing racism, because they don’t experience racism.

Let me put it this way. I see from my own perspective. I see from a level where I have access to a pretty good amount of privilege. I’m not disabled, I’m in college, I’m white, I’m cisgender (read as, I’m pretty freakin’ privileged in our society). I don’t see certain types of discrimination every single day because I’m not discriminated against every single day–I want to better understand it, but I’ll never understand it the way a person of colors understands it. Hopefully I’m making sense here.

Now, just because we shouldn’t ignore race, gender, sexuality, etc., doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treat anyone in a marginalized group as unequal. I’ve found that a common misconception is that marginalized groups want to be treated like the group of privilege. Which is totally untrue.

For me, I’m a woman. I’m not a man. I’m female, I have what our society considers are feminine traits. I also have a lot of masculine traits. Whatever. I want to be treated like an equal–but I don’t want to be treated like a man. Treating me like a man is ignoring a major part of who I am. This is similar to those who tell newly-out gay people that their sexuality doesn’t matter, because they’re no different from a straight person. It ignores their struggles. It ignores the pressures and the daily discrimination from society.

The ultimate goal is equality and acceptance, not colorblindness and ignorance.

Man, woman, hijra: India recognizes third gender for transgender people(!!!)

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Huge news today for non-binary and transgender individuals in India: Indian court ruled today that they would recognize a third gender, or hijras.

For the first time this year, India allowed a third choice on voter registration forms, labeled “other.” According to ABC News, about 28,000 people selected that box, rather than male or female.

The gravity of this is absolutely enormous, although India is not the first country to recognize a third gender. In fact, the name hijra and the concept of these people is not at all new. Hijras, as they pertain to the Hindu religion, are represented by the goddess Bahuchara Mata. There are other gender variant gods in Hinduism as well.

So, should we place bets on the number of “just a phase” arguments thrown around now?

Overall, unfortunately, India still isn’t the shining example of equality. India wavers on gay and lesbian topics, having recently reinstated a ban on gay sex that had been overturned four years ago.

Although Ohio University is a small sample size, I usually feel like students here are well-informed of LGBTQ advances. I’ve heard and seen very little about this milestone. I might not have known about it until my gender studies professor brought it up–which is terribly troubling. I think we’re seeing, once again, the successes of the LGB community outshine and drown out the successes of the T and Q communities. Had gay marriage been legalized in whatever country, I’m sure it’d be a story shared all over my Facebook and Twitter. It’s happened before.

Don’t get me wrong, the support of the gay community is wonderful. It’s empowering. It’s uplifting. But we should also be throwing our weight behind the trans and non-binary communities and helping to empower them as well. India has recognized a third gender. That’s exciting. I’m excited. You should be excited. So when do we get to see this in the United States? You know, the Land of the Free? Liberty and justice for all?

You go, India. This is a huge step in gender equality and a huge step for the world. Hopefully more countries will follow in the path of the Indian Supreme Court and give our non-binary and transgender siblings the love and equality that they deserve. 

The conditions American psychiatrists place on transgender individuals–who really needs help here?

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Only a few years ago did the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) remove “gender identity disorder” and relabel it as “gender dysphoria,” stripping it of its former status of a disorder. But how effective, and how much of a step forward, was this really for trans and non-binary individuals? Especially considering that homosexuality used to be listed in the document as well, as recently as 1973?

Dysphoria, the opposite of euphoria, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a state of feeling unwell or unhappy.” But this doesn’t quite explain the real feeling that a trans* individual might feel prior to coming out, or even prior to accepting that they themselves are trans*.

The simple fact that transgender is still listed under this database as a problem in a person’s life is debilitating. It implies that, in order to be a trans* person, one must be diagnosed with something. Oftentimes, this translates into something even more problematic: health care won’t cover procedures or medication to allow a trans* person to present themselves how they wish until that person is diagnosed.

Think about it: what if you had to be diagnosed with a medical condition in order to be the person you want to be? You’re not trusted enough to know that you’re not what you were assigned at birth. You have to have a trained professional to tell you that there’s something fundamentally abnormal about you. Only until then will you receive the help you desire or need to live out your life. Until then, you’re written off as not knowing yourself well enough.

Obviously, many trans and non-binary people elect not to have a reassignment surgery. Reasons include that they don’t have the resources for it or even that they simply don’t want it. Contrary to what is sometimes thought, trans* individuals are still men, or women, or whatever gender or non-gender they identify as, whether their bodies match the typical image of what they should look like or not.

The DSM, however, is still placing restrictions on people’s lives that are outdated and unnecessary. These restrictions were removed for gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals–why aren’t they removed for the trans* community yet?

Fuck Rape Culture, the in-your-face organization at Ohio University

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Because of the reckless nature of college campuses, especially at night and on weekends, they can be a dangerous place in terms of rape and sexual assault. One in-your-face anti-rape culture organization, Fuck Rape Culture, aims to put brakes on the rape culture here at Ohio University.

OU seniors Allie Erwin and Claire Chadwick began the group in response to a crime alert email sent by OUPD at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year.

“We viewed the language used as victim blaming and extremely problematic,” said Chadwick. “It was then that we realized we not only had an opportunity but a responsibility to change the rape culture than runs rampant on Ohio University’s campus.”

Rape culture is the term used for the normalization and tolerance of sexual assault within our society. In this patriarchal society, the “best” way to be a man is to be dominant, to take what you want and to not let anyone get in your way. If we extrapolate that idea and use a little bit of extended disbelief, it’s obvious that, in this society, rape can be seen as the ultimate form of displaying one’s masculinity.

Hopefully that realization shocks as many of you as it did me after learning about it for the first time.

In response to those who believe that rape culture does not exist, Chadwick cited a large sign that hung from a house during one of the street fests this year. It read “Yes = yes, no = anal.”

“Being on a campus also leads to unique issues that you wouldn’t typically find in a suburban area,” Chadwick said.

Among rallies and spreading information about the rape culture at Ohio University, the group supports victims of sexual assault, aiming to empower them.

“It is so empowering to have survivors tell us that this group has helped them heal and given them a voice to stand up for themselves,” said Chadwick.

In addition to Fuck Rape Culture, organizations like EmBODY Consent, the Survivor Advocacy Center and the Women’s Center at Ohio University aim to empower women and help those who have been victims of sexual assault.

However, Fuck Rape Culture believed they needed a more forward approach than some of the other groups.

“We knew we had to have an ‘in your face’ name to show people that this is a serious problem that affects everyone and it is in our power to change it,” said Chadwick.

In October, group members and participants joined for a walk up Mill Street and to Court Street, shouting and being boisterous to attract attention and spread information. Some female walkers were shirtless, wearing either bras or tape over their breasts. Signs read “Consent is sexy,” “BLAME THE SYSTEM NOT THE VICTIM” and girls painted phrases like “Still not asking for it,” across their chests and stomachs.

The rally garnered a lot of attention from students across campus, proof that the walk was a definite success.

For now, Fuck Rape Culture continues to empower victims of sexual assault at Ohio University. The group is currently working on a body positivity week, and will continue to bring community and a safe place for victims of sexual assault.

 

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