the bitch diaries: what about age differences?

I try my best to stay away from celebrity culture. It’s often vapid, fabricated, and, to be perfectly honest, bad for my brain cell count. Despite my best efforts, I stumbled upon the recent feud between Amber Rose, and what seems to be the entire Kardashian-Jenner clan, including of course Rose’s ex, the always classy Kanye West, over the youngest Jenner, 17-year-old Kylie, and her relationship with Tyga, a man who is seven years older than her at the age of 25.

I try to stay away from celebrity culture, but this isn’t a celebrity issue for me. Age differences are a feminist issue- one especially personal to me.

I am nineteen years old, only two years older than Kylie. I’ve had my fair share of older guys pop into my life, men who had much more life experience than me, and the sentence “You’re 18, right?” (as if the only thing in the way of them and a minor was a pesky law, not being in totally different developmental stages) is so familiar, it makes me want to hurl.

See, at 17, I didn’t know how to say no to a man 6 years my senior asking me when I was going to be legal, so I kissed my friend to make him leave me alone.

At 18, I didn’t know how to tell a man 9 years my senior that his sexual messages and attention made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know why him telling me how young and foolish I was made me feel like I owed him something. I was legal, right?

Laws aside, girls don’t stop being teenage girls by reaching a milestone in the number of years they’ve been alive. Minors and barely-legal girls are often hypersexualized and viewed as fresh meat- even Kanye, who should be protecting his sister-in-law, applauded Tyga for being smart, and “going in early,” as if Kylie would be useless once another man has been done with her.

Rose, commenting that Tyga should be “ashamed of himself” for dating a 17-year-old, has been attacked the past few days for noting what is right: no 25-year-old man should be dating a high schooler. Her past, from working at a strip club at the age of 15 to feed her family, to West feeling as though he had to take “30 showers” to cleanse himself from Rose to be clean enough for Kim, has been brought up as ways to humiliate her. The entire clan and its fans have turned to criticize Rose and her reaction to the alleged relationship, while praising the relationship as the perfect example of a love story. Rose not once blamed Jenner for her participation in the clearly unhealthy relationship, placing the blame completely on Tyga for going after a child, and on Jenner’s family for not protecting her.

Fuck anything that has to do with the law. Jenner is a child, and a relationship with a child has more than just legal repercussions. It is a relationship with an innate power imbalance, in which any sexual act isn’t just questionable, but is immoral. How much control over her body does she really have with someone who is seven years older than her? How little pressure do we expect to be placed on a child in the public eye? How can we allow the teenage girls who are viewing this conflict learn to think of themselves as fresh meat for men’s consumption?

Age differences aren’t innocent. Can two people with a large age difference fall in love? I’m sure it’s possible, but it is irresponsible to refuse to acknowledge that relationships in which there are big age differences have a higher chance of power imbalances, abuse, and psychological damage, beyond the objectification and hypersexualization of teenage girls as fresh meat for men to use.

the bitch diaries: on voluntourism

I found myself walking through a hall in my new school. How lost could I be on my first week?

As I wandered what seemed to be a hallway of professor’s offices, I let my eyes take in the messages tacked onto their doors, and found one that caught my eye. Voluntourism? That was a term I had never heard of. The only time I had really read into volunteer trips was a Princess Diaries book in the fourth grade where Princess Mia went on some Habitat for Humanities trip, a trip I thought then that I would have loved to take myself, even though at 5″1 (and a half) I am less than impressive as a construction worker.

The article was very clear: voluntourism trips are not helpful to the communities they impact. In fact, they harm the very communities they are supposed to be supporting.

I was appalled. How could anyone think that? These trips are full of wonderful, caring, selfless people who go to countries that must desperately need our help.

Well, so I thought then.

This past winter break I had the most amazing opportunity to go to Nepal on a school Eastern Religions trip. On the trip, we visited Next Generation Nepal, an organization that brings home children who have been trafficked into for-profit orphanages that are used as inspiration porn and scams for westerners to throw their money at.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. Though sex trafficking is a commonly known issue in all parts of the world, I had never heard of this type of child trafficking before. A trafficker travels outside of Kathmandu, the capital and biggest city in Nepal, and finds villages in which there are very difficult living conditions. The trafficker then tells a family that they can send their child with the trafficker to Kathmandu to get an education in a boarding school, ensuring that the child will have a better life, for a cost. The parents then pay the trafficker, believing that their child is going to a boarding school, and the child goes off with the trafficker. These children then end up in run-down children’s homes, labeled orphans, often having their legal papers destroyed.

These homes are then used as scams for westerner tourists, who will come volunteer for a certain period of time, form bonds with the children, and keep supplying the orphanage with funds once they go back to their country, thinking that they are saving poor brown orphans.

The emotional and psychological toll this takes on the children is heartbreaking. In the words of Karjit, a child who was trafficked and sent to a series of orphanages despite having a family,

“There were so many volunteers… Sometimes they organize program and I don’t want to go. Children sometimes feel angry because they want to do what they want. There is a nice movie and children they want to watch, but volunteers organize a football program and house managers say you have to go. And all children were angry … Why foreigners come to Nepal? Why do they go in orphanage? That time they come for short time and they give love to us, but then they leave, and when I write they don’t reply. I say to a volunteer, ‘Sister, I am very lonely’, and they say, ‘No problem I am here’, but then they go their country and I write but they don’t reply. When I was little everyone can love me, now I am big and I need love.”

These children, who are stripped from their families for traffickers to make money, are in a constant cycle of meeting new volunteers, bonding, and then never being able to see them again. While we go back to our heated homes, patting ourselves on the back, and uploading pictures of ourselves with a small brown child in tattered clothes, they wonder why they weren’t good enough for us to keep loving them.

Next Generation Nepal saves these children from these children’s homes, tracks down any relatives they have, and reunites and monitors the families until they’ve properly integrated. After all, these children don’t need our hand-me-down clothing, or a short stay with a stranger who barely speaks their language. They need their families, voluntourism only encourages the continuation of this industry. It encourages traffickers making money off of these children’s pain.

Before booking a trip to a developing country to volunteer, evaluate the end goal of the trip. Who are you going to help? What is the purpose of you being there? Could a paid worker in that country do the job better? Are you harming the stimulation of their economy by trying to help them? Are you harming any locals- financially, psychologically- by being there?

Are you doing this to make yourself feel good, or do you want to make a difference?

For more on Next Generation Nepal: http://www.nextgenerationnepal.org/index.php

For more on the effects of voluntourism in Nepal: http://www.nextgenerationnepal.org/File/The-Paradox-of-Orphanage-Volunteering.pdf

For more on Habitat for Humanity-type trips: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pippa-biddle/little-white-girls-voluntourism_b_4834574.html

feminism and other words no one knows the definitions of

Dictionaries were invented for a reason, right? Definitions should be an easy way to understand social terms- or so I’ve been told. Recently, TIME magazine added “feminism” to its poll of words that should be banned in 2014. Also included on the list of words that are usually cringe-inducing are “bae,” “turnt,” and “basic.”

Important journalism, I agree!

This raises the question: is the term “feminism” outdated? Even when speaking about gender equality, should we be retiring “feminism” in exchange for “humanism?”

Let’s consult our friend, The Dictionary for a moment.

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

fem·i·nism

noun \ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm\

  •  the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
  •  organized activity in support of women’s rights and interest

hu·man·ism

noun \ˈhyü-mə-ˌni-zəm, ˈyü-\

  • a system of values and beliefs that is based on the idea that people are basically good and that problems can be solved using reason instead of religion

Well, well.

Here’s the thing about humanism; not only does it have absolutely nothing to do with equality, it does not cover the myriad of ideologies that feminism covers. Feminism has evolved to be so much more than white, middle-class women fighting for the right to vote. Feminists are not a monolith. Some of us fight to abolish gender altogether, and some of us fight to find freedom in our gender expression. Some of us protest for racial equality, and some of us protest class warfare. Some of us want more rights for people who are disabled. Some of us want greater LGBT representation, some of us want more safety for sex workers. These groups often intersect in a million different ways, creating individual people with individual dreams, feminists who stand together to fight for safety and equity.

There is no other word that can represent our history and our struggles. To ask us to claim another term and another movement isn’t only insulting, it’s preposterous. We have fought for this term with our sweat and blood. Our feminist sisters who have come before us have done so much to ensure our freedom.

Our future, social change, and solidarity starts with us- and we are not giving up anything.

 

 

them vs us: lena dunham and dichotomous feminist activism

Lena Dunham is not new to scandal. Whether it be accidental racism (because an all-white cast for her hit show Girls just had to be an accident, right?) or actual blatant racism (letting Rolling Stone publish that you have more sympathy for India’s stray dogs than for its people is lovely), Dunham has been met with quite a few critics since 2012. Try as they may, her critics haven’t really stunted her fame or her fanbase.

Until now, that is.

Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl has recently come under fire for her casual portrayal of her relationship with her younger sister Grace; a relationship she has often written about without her sister’s approval. Surprise, surprise, it isn’t a feminist criticism of Dunham that started the scandal, but conservatives, including Kevin D. Williamson of National Review and Ben Shapiro of Truth Revolt, who have brought the issue to light.

In Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham describes giving her sister “three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips,” and experimenting with masturbation while her sister, seven years her junior, slept next to her. “Basically,” she writes, “anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.” She also wrote of peeking into her infant sister’s vagina, citing it as a common “weird 7 year old” experience.

As conservatives call Dunham’s anecdotes child molestation, many white feminists are coming to Dunham’s defence, because apparently no feminist has ever done anything that go against feminist values. These women defend Dunham as if her success as a woman overshadows and overpowers the issues she’s written about in her memoir.

Dunham’s actions are self-described as sexually predatory. There is no extra analysis in most of the conservative articles and blog posts. They are simple re-publishings of her own words. While some of the behavior can be written off as strange but innocent childhood exploration, some of it- namely, masturbating next to your sister at the age of 17 when you should definitely know better- cannot be joked about or excused. To defend Dunham’s casual attitude towards, at best, problematic behavior is not only socially irresponsible, it’s wrong. It normalizes unhealthy relationships and excuses and encourages molesters. Dunham is a feminist icon and role model. She has, as of yet, only defended herself with her fingers firmly jammed in her ears as she screams “La la la, I can’t hear you” at her critics. Her behavior is beyond unacceptable.

Activism is not black and white. It is not Us vs Them. Dunham is not right by virtue of being a feminist, just as the conservative writers are not wrong by virtue of them being conservative. Crime, pain, and human experience are not unique to one set of people, and we cannot write off wrongs because we can’t fathom one of us going against our set of values. Female solidarity takes a backseat when one of us is hurting others. If we are protecting racists and child molesters amongst us- not Dunham necessarily, but in the feminist community at large- what kind of social activists are we? Who are we really fighting for?

 

 

the bitch diaries: i was a manic pixie dream girl

I was supposed to be that girl. You know, quirky, kind of really weird, friends with boys, playful and childish, a little bit crazy.

He never quite fit in. He spent his days see-sawing between brooding and life-of-the-party loud, trying too hard to reach people’s attention, but never knowing if he had reached his goal.

We were best friends. He talked, and for once I would listen. Though a year older, he seemed to be so much wiser, like a big brother to protect me- all I had ever wanted.

Time passed, and it became more and more obvious that our relationship meant different things to us. I wanted a friend to depend on. He wanted an object in the shape of a girl, the prize at the end of the nerd’s story.

I was never going to be that girl.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is more than just a TV and movie trope. It’s an idea that has seeped into our culture and our high schools, creating an unsafe environment for our girls- especially the nerdy ones. Here’s an image that pops up on my Facebook newsfeed at least once a month:

photo (2)

 

At first glance, that boy sounds amazing. How caring, how forgiving and loving this boy must be, right? And what an ungrateful, frigid bitch the girl is for refusing his repeated advances. She only likes douchebags and assholes, so she gets what she deserves. She had a Good Guy all along, and she put him in the Friendzone.

If only I could describe how hard I’m rolling my eyes.

The idea of the Friendzone, the ungrateful bitch who had the most amazing guy just waiting for her if she would just give him the chance is based on one very simple premise: women are not independent human beings with opinions, tastes, and attractions. Women are machines in which you put in nice coins and sex falls out.

Some of the guys I hung around with in high school had that mindset. Though they would never admit out loud that they believed they deserved women just by virtue of being alive, secretly they thought it. Girls who dared be friends with them were teases who led them on just by being around them. They thought that they deserved to have their quirky, cute girlfriend to end their story.

I was rejected more than a few times in high school, and the Friendzone never occurred to me. Every time I was rejected I blamed myself; I was not pretty enough. I was too loud, too weird. I was bad. There is no female equivalent for the Friendzone because we learn from a young age that we are to blame for having been rejected. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl and similar tropes teach the opposite: be there for her, be her friend, and you automatically deserve her.

The Friendzone isn’t some harmless idea that we can roll our eyes at and shrug that “boys will be boys,” then move on from. Male entitlement to women’s bodies doesn’t end at the Friendzone. More than 1 in 10 Canadian women have reported being stalked. More than half of Canada’s female murder victims were killed by a past or current intimate partner. 82% of sexual assault victims under the age of 18 are female.* We see time and time again- including just last month with Elliot Rodger’s** mass shooting when he felt rejected by women- that women are too often portrayed as objects of affection and that the message is internalized and believed.

These are not coincidences. The media we consume and the ideas they reinforce can be dangerous to the point of violence. I personally know too many women and girls who have been threatened and stalked after refusing the romantic advances of men and boys who could not take no for an answer.

I was never going to be that girl. I am a woman, opinions, personality, choices, flesh and bone. I am so lucky my situation was at worst a dehumanizing inconvenience. I lost a friendship, but I was in no way danger of losing my life. Many, many women were not as lucky as I was.

*http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence

** More on Elliot http://bellejar.ca/2014/05/24/elliot-rodger-and-men-who-hate-women/

Case study of school shootings:  http://www15.uta.fi/arkisto/aktk/projects/sta/Leary_Kowalski_Smith_Phillips_2003_Teasing-Rejection-and-Violence.pdf

the bitch diaries: i’ll eat what i want

“Euh, Rachie?” 

His French accent hangs off of his words, searching for the right way to say what he means in a language he barely knows. He raises one eyebrow and seems to cringe in my general direction. 

“Do not you think that you are maybe eating too much today?”

I look down at the burger and fries drenched in malt vinegar on my plate. I hadn’t been eating this unapologetically in months, but I feel my progress start to dwindle. My eyes narrow. I pick up my burger and take as large a bite as I can while staring him straight in the eyes. It feels like cement in my mouth, but I chew as normally as I can and swallow. 

“I like food.”

“Mais Rachie, I am just worry about you!”

I pause. I take another bite, and though I can barely chew, I swallow hard.

We’ve all seen the poster that we think defines eating disorders: a girl, young and gorgeous, usually light skinned, standing in her bra and underwear in front of a mirror, with a horribly fat girl, a form made of stretch marks and lard peering back. This, we’ve collectively decided, is what eating disorders look like. Someone who is young, white, and beautiful thinks that they are fat, but they’re not. They’re delusional. They just want to be skinny, and they are starving themselves to be pretty. Their ribs protruding from their chest, eyes sunken and limbs mere bones, the thousands of versions of this image have created a very clear poster girl for eating disorders: skinny enough to be sick, and pretty enough to save.

I look back at the pictures I took of myself in January, thirty pounds lighter than I had been four months before, and I don’t see myself. I don’t see my squishy cheeks or rounded shoulders. I see a girl with a fake smile, eyes too round and too big, cheekbones overly defined and protruding.

No one was worried about me. 

I can still feel the hunger of the first day I stopped eating, having brought no money or lunch to school, just a bag of vegetables and a diagnosis I would do anything to change.

No one was worried about me. 

Showers are a nightmare- raw and open, hair falling out in chunks, body crying out in hunger under the sting of warm water.

No one was worried about me.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t look sick. There was still fat on my thighs, my tummy was still a bit rounded, and my breasts hadn’t gone down very much. While my collarbones had started to protrude, and it wasn’t a feature I had ever shown before, it was taken as a normal sign of weight loss. I didn’t look sick. I wasn’t eating, but I wasn’t sick enough to save. 

With the help of the amazing online feminist community and this blog (many thanks to my wonderful supporters), I’ve been able to gain back ten pounds since January and work back to loving myself, but there are so many people- not just young and beautiful teen girls- who suffer in silence because they feel they do not fit the criteria for being “sick enough” to get help. Not only are we denying these people the love and support they deserve, we are risking their health and their lives. By perpetuating this idea of the teenage girl who does not see that her insecurity is rooted in her vanity, madness and stupidity we not only dehumanize them and their inability to cope with the conflicting messages about food that are constantly being thrown at them, we erase the experiences of the sufferers of eating disorders that don’t fit the mold.

No more encouraging bad eating habits and starvation in exchange for thinness. It’s time to prioritize the person instead of the image they see in the mirror.

I’ll eat whatever the fuck I want, and no one can stop me.

i’m sorry, are you finding my ankles too distracting?

When I was in high school, I thought I was a rebel. I wore my uniform blouse wide open, non-uniform colored tank top showing, tie (that no one else in the school wore- some questioned if it was even allowed at all) undone and strung around my neck, skirt hiked up with knee socks and whatever awful patterned converse I thought, usually very wrongly, looked cute. As the years went by, my skirt covered less and less, material disappearing in folds under my polos and blouses, or whatever shirt I decided I was breaking the code with that morning. In all honesty, my teenage rebellion pretty much ended there- save for maybe the tests and assignments I failed on a regular basis, but that was more out of laziness, if anything.

In the eleventh grade, senior year here in Montreal, we came back from winter break to find our administration armed with rulers, waving them in our faces as we entered the front doors. As the boys, in proper uniform or not, got to skip along to class, we got weeded out with the threat that if our skirts didn’t measure up to the no-shorter-than-three-inches-above-the-knee rule, we’d be sent home. While there was the odd visit from whoever was vice principal that year, an ever-changing position, disrupting class to make each girl stand next to their desk so the skirts we were desperately trying to pull down could meet whatever standard the school had decided was modest in past years, we had never experienced this much shame for our uniform.

Girls started getting sent down to the principal’s office, and having the hem of their skirt destroyed to that the skirt could gain an inch or two more of fabric. There were certain teachers you knew you’d have to unroll your skirt before walking by. They even started policing our socks- knee length or tights. Nothing covering less.  Cover up those ankles!

Dress codes seem pretty innocent. In my high school, as many others in Montreal, our uniform was supposedly to protect us from being jealous of each other and being hypersexualized. While those intentions are cute, at best, in practice, dress codes are nothing more than a way to police our girls.

Here’s what we need to understand about the way underage girls dress:

  • Girls’ bodies in leggings are not sexual
  • Girls’ bodies in shorts are not sexual
  • Girls’ bodies in spaghetti-strap tank tops are not sexual
  • Girls’ bodies in any type of clothing are not sexual because the female form is not inherently sexual and if you think it is you’re projecting your sexuality on underage children.

Girls’ bodies are not a playground or a piece of art to study, so why do we tell them that if they don’t cover up, they’re becoming a distraction? Why do we cite our boys as a reason to show less skin, not only putting the blame on girls when their peers objectify them, but assuming that boys have no respect for women, and encouraging that behavior? Are we so lazy that raising our boys to understand that women and girls are not alive for male consumption is too hard a task, too unwilling to make grown-ass men who prey on our girls take responsibility for their own disgusting gaze, that we just tell our girls to cover up?

Wearing my uniform didn’t stop hands from creeping up my skirt in the back of math class, or from having my bra undone without consequence in bible study. It didn’t stop the sexual harassment I endured when my body developed, and it didn’t make me feel safe. As my body grew and changed, it made me feel dirty. It made me feel ashamed.

My body is mine, and mine alone. It is not a source of honor to be desecrated by a look or touch from some boy, or an object to be appreciated. Our girls are so much more than the bodies they’ve been given, and the attention they get from them. We can no longer allow our girls to be sexualized. We must recognize that their bodies are natural and perfect and not perverse. Our ankles are not, and have never been, too distracting.