Wednesday, February 4, 2015

If You Accuse People of Having "Daddy Issues" You've Got Issues

I’ve been trying to process the term “daddy issues” for a while now. The term came to my attention again when I saw the headline of a piece criticizing a feminist writer on my Twitter feed, and then, suddenly it showed up everywhere – in comments on feminist pieces, in movies and television shows – in Netflix comedy specials. It’s a way to close down the conversation and put the focus on something entirely unrelated to the issue you’re actually discussing. Instead of talking about reducing sexual assault and possible solutions, we end up focusing on what may or may not have been someone’s childhood experience with their father.

See also: Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you have kids? Are you pretty? Are you young? Are you skinny? The answer to all of these questions if the answer is no: Then whatever you have to say is invalid.

And a lot of the time, our mistake is to defend women accused of being spinsters, or ugly or old, by saying “No, she is married with children,” or “Yes, but she looks great for 52! I doubt you’d pull it off.” But obviously, that’s not the point. Tina Fey’s being married, Ellen Degeneres’ having a spouse, Janet Mock’s being beautiful and [insert any young feminist writer out there] being 20-something will not somehow inoculate these women from criticism. If a prominent feminist writer embodied near physical, emotional and mental perfection in terms of what straight men find acceptable, she would still be roundly mocked as an ugly man-hating harridan.

But the term hits harder for me because until now I didn’t realize I had either ignored it or unintentionally supported it myself instead of confronting the term altogether. I’ve seen that term hurled at women, and thought, “Ha! No one could accuse me of that.” My dad wasn’t only there for all of my childhood, which is a very low bar for fatherhood but nonetheless one men are taught is acceptable, but he taught me to embrace both traditionally feminine and masculine interests. Not only did we fish together, but I scaled and gutted the fish with him. He helped my mom cook and clean, and not simply by doing chores occasionally to congratulate himself on an egalitarian marriage. He was the only example of an equal partner I had growing up in a rural town where most of my friend’s dads expected their wives to be more traditional.

So, of course, I’m proud of this. And I’d love to write a piece just to thank my dad for being himself. But I have so many friends and relatives who grew up without fathers, or with fathers were present sometimes but not always. I imagine that going on about how my father helped me develop into a well-rounded, opinionated woman may somehow suggest that if you didn’t have a father growing up, you ended up missing something you can never get back or that you were irreparably harmed in some way. We love to talk about the role fathers have in their children’s lives, whether a son or daughter, but we always focus on the gender part. Fathers will improve their sons lives by teaching them “correct,” (respectable, benevolent sexism) manhood and improve their daughters by giving them enough confidence to avoid emotionally attaching themselves to other men “too soon” or god forbid, sexually attaching themselves to too many men in order to win the approval they never had. So goes the tale.

Fathers should be valued, not as men, who presumably have more social capital than mothers or instill fear in the men their daughters date, but as another human being who can give their child love and attention (as well as some dough for that child to live on). When we talk about motherhood, we talk about everything humans do to nurture and support other humans, but with fathers we focus on this very narrow part of someone’s growing up, a part that never necessarily had value to begin with, and is toxic at worst.

So then it’s no wonder misogynists would throw that particular insult. The only role they see for fathers is in teaching their children gender roles. And if a feminist writer is making her rejection of traditional gender roles known, she obviously didn’t have a father, since that is all they consider fathers good for. They don’t think fathers do the things mothers do, such as take them to school in the morning, make sure they get to a doctor’s appointment or tell them they’re proud of them. They tie a woman’s sexuality to her father, going back to a time when daughters’ sexuality was owned by fathers. It’s a an archaic mindset, and yet, with a little help from Freud, it’s so commonplace.

That’s why I shudder to think of the times when I was way too proud to have a father, rather than to have a great person in my life who helped me through difficult times and was there to congratulate me during the good ones. Not to mention the fact that women without fathers are considered doomed, when plenty of children would do well not to have some fathers, or mothers for that matter, in their lives, and instead have supportive, stable and kind family, biological or not, mentors and friends. I grew up among family and friends without fathers, or with fathers who could not seem them regularly. As a child, it never occurred to me that they were in a bad situation or that I should feel mine was better. They usually seemed happy, and for those who weren’t, I didn’t assume their fathers were the reason.

It wasn’t until I became older that I learned people were shamed for not having fathers in the household or in their states for that matter, or that families were considered incomplete or broken without them. It wasn’t until my early junior high school years that I learned girls faced a particular, sexualized shame for not having a father married to their mother, much less one who wasn’t around at all. There’s a suggestion there, part of which reminds me of a man at a bar backing down at the mention of a boyfriend but not a woman’s refusal: “Oh, so a man doesn’t own you and therefore protect you? You must be up for grabs. You must not be worthwhile to one man, so I’ll treat you as if you are subhuman.”

The phrase also serves as a way to bring a conversation back to men, and more importantly, women’s dependence on men for social acceptance. And in one sentence they use this rhetorical device to shame women who didn’t have their fathers in their lives growing up, as if it were something they deserved or a fact they should be ashamed of. For this reason, I’ll never see the casual use of “daddy issues” the same way again or enjoy seeing some feminists talk about their awesome dads as a response to those barbs, because that’s not the point.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mike Huckabees’s New Book Spreads Myths About Bisexuality

Mike Huckabee’s new book, “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” has been getting a lot of attention lately, especially for his slam on Beyonce and Jay-Z, which demonstrates just how out of touch he is: You pick an example of a successful married couple to demonstrate your conservative bona fides?

But I was particularly interested in Huckabee’s misunderstanding of LGBTQ people, namely bisexual people.

"Shouldn't a bisexual be able to have both a male and female spouse? Wouldn't restricting that person access to both genders be denying the bisexual his or her marriage 'equality?’”

There’s a lot to break down here. First of all, Huckabee uses the phrase “a bisexual” not “a bisexual person,” which is generally a red flag. Anytime I see someone refer to a group of people using the adjectives to describe that group as a plural noun I prepare myself to hear some nonsense. Take “females” as an example.

Second, equality is in scare quotes, so we know Huckabee thinks this is a perversion of the meaning of the word.

But what I’m most interested in is the main theme of what he is saying, which is a profound misunderstanding of what bisexuality is. And if you don’t know what it is, then you probably shouldn’t be talking about it. People might wonder why anyone should even respond to a claim by someone who clearly falls on the far right, when such a statement is completely in line with someone of his ideology. However, in this case, Huckabee’s misunderstanding is really not that different from so many others, even people who consider their politics moderate to liberal. A lot of people have misconceptions on what it means to be bisexual. That’s why I think this is a valuable time to remind everyone of common myths about bisexuals.

The idea that all bisexual men and women need to be with both men and women at all times in order to “truly” be bisexual is patently false. I’ve had people relate to me instances where bisexual women cheated on them, as if it were reflective of all bisexual people. Do straight people cheat on one another? Yes? Well, then, I doubt it’s an issue confined to bisexuality. And just as straight people have open relationships and marriages, so do bisexual people. Though it bears repeating that everyone assumes bisexual people (women especially) have open relationships regardless of what their actual boundaries are. That leads us to:

Bisexual people don’t have any control over their sexuality and will sleep with anyone.
I know that it’s difficult for some people to understand that being bisexual doesn’t mean you’re up for anything. It may be true for men as well, but it seems particularly true for bisexual women, who perhaps encounter an even uglier side of male entitlement toward them (and at times women’s entitlement). It’s true for men in particular because there is already a feeling that women exist for their entertainment, and so if a woman is bisexual, she is really begging to entertain them, because why else would her sexuality exist? Many men (Not All Men!!) want bisexual women to cater to their gaze, whether they’re on a first date, contacting women through OKCupid or in a relationship. Couples can also feel very entitled to bisexual people, as if they exist to excite their relationship, regardless of what their targets are feeling.

Bisexual men don’t exist.
Both straight men and gay men like to further this myth, though I’m sure people outside of these groups also contribute from time to time. Straight men can’t believe that someone who is “one of their own” could possibly find men attractive. It also forces them to question their own sexuality in a way that being around gay men may not. Gay men often insist that bisexual men just haven’t embraced being gay yet and are hiding behind bisexuality for more societal approval. I’d argue that bisexuality can be more isolating than “picking a side” and doesn’t really shield you from judgment, but that’s another piece altogether.

If you haven’t been in love with the opposite sex, you aren’t really bisexual.
Someone asked me if I’d ever been in love with a woman, because if I hadn’t, how could I claim to be bisexual? That’s a truly ridiculous idea. Plenty of straight people have never been in love, and no one has thought to ask, “Have you ever considered that maybe you’re not straight?” The same also goes for other double standards, such as virginity. If you’re attracted to a group of people, you likely know that, even if you are going through denial. No one would question your sexuality as a straight virgin, but try claiming that as a bisexual person (or other sexual preferences) and you’re told you’re trying to get attention/going through a phase.

If you’re married to or in a committed relationship with the opposite sex, you’re not bisexual anymore.
Nope, it’s still true. As much as we like to commit to the myth that married or otherwise committed people are incapable of finding others attractive, we know that’s not true, no matter what your sexuality. Bisexual people are still capable of being attracted to the same sex, regardless of whether they act on said attraction.

Things are a lot more complicated than what I’ve described above. There are so many more possibilities to discuss than what I could get to here, but these are some general myths to be aware of.  Please think before you say something like the comments above to a bisexual friend, date or significant other, because it can hurt to hear the same insinuations and judgments over and over again.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

6 Types of Misogynists You'll Meet in Your Lifetime

1    1. Stanley Kowalski misogynist – or the classic misogynist. He wears a stained undershirt literally named after domestic abuse. He scratches his chest. He drinks - a lot. He burps aloud and not long after he (unironically) asks you to make him a sandwich. Chances are he won’t look Marlon Brando doing it, either. He may not seem very bright, but at least you know where this misogynist stands.

             2. Party school misogynist - or frat bro. You barely want to raise feminist issues at all with this lovable scamp! He’s so gregarious and funny that you find it difficult to hate on him, even when he says stupid things, like, “Hillary Clinton has balls – I’m sure of it!” before tossing a ping pong ball into a Solo cup. Besides, it's likely he'll forget the entire conversation by the next morning.

3.  Ivy League-educated misogynist. You won't "believe" where he went to school - and to your disappointment, it's not Hogwarts. It's Harvard, or Princeton or Yale. If this misogynist were a fine wine, he’d have notes of class-based condescension and well-cited evolutionary psychology study references. "Dear, if you just read a book, you would know your gender is naturally inferior. Now let me introduce you to some fine Port wines."


4. International misogynist. It’s not that he doesn’t respect women. It’s just that in his home country, sexual assault is seduction and workplace harassment is “being friendly.” It’s a cultural difference, you tell yourself. His lovely accent may persuade you that it’s all in your head (American prudery has run amok!), but in reality he’s no less misogynist than your Stanley Kowalskis, and not any better liked by women back home.

      5. Intellectual misogynist. He likes smart women – or so he says. He loves that you know all of the books he’s read, keep up on current events and have a “serious” job. But the truth is that your intellect only serves one purpose – to appreciate his intellect. He wants you to tell him how smart he is – not intellectually challenge him.

      6. The Liberal Misogynist. He listens to NPR, buys cage-free eggs and does yoga. He’s sensitive. He’s evolved. He acknowledges sexism existed once – but it’s over now. Hanna Rosin said so. He just thinks feminism is going too far, with all of this "Yes Means Yes" talk and what, can he not tell Sarah The Intern that her curls are adorable? He wants credit for being an advocate of women without any of the hard work or critical thinking.