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Gender Myth-Busting to End Gender Oppression!

BY REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH

It appears to me that much of the cultural devaluation of the “feminine” comes from the long-held myth that there is an intrinsic difference between the genders.

Growing up, an easy label to attach to myself was “tomboy” because I was “like a boy” in that I did not like dresses or pink. But now I do like dresses and pink and I’m still me but no longer considered a “tomboy.” How odd! “Tomboy” itself is an unfair idea. I’m not ‘like a boy’ if I dislike pink. I’m like a biological female who sometimes does. It’s a color. A color is not characteristic of a gender.

As spirit-lifting author and transgender activist Kate Bornstein says “Gender attribution is phallocentric. One is male until perceived otherwise.” I think this universal acceptance of man and “maleness” as being normal (hence, a tomboy is ‘like a boy’ since boys and males are the standards against which we measure things) unfairly marks non-males and non-“masculine” behavior (such as enjoying the color pink) as abnormal. Women, not being men, are Other, Alien, Anonymous; the helper, the obstacle, the enemy, the prize.

So, voila! My humble plea: Let us not think in polar opposites. Let us bust some myths.

The myth that men are and should be stolid and unfeeling cuts off menfolk from actual human feelings. The myth that men are weak to their sexual desires (which are generally defined as heterosexual, dominant, impulsive and darned sloppy) is a myth that limits the full scope of men’s sexuality and reduces men to the state of a childlike predator.  (See: Hugo Schwyzer http://www.hugoschwyzer.net/2011/05/24/3877/)

The myth that women are pure, pretty princesses is weird, dehumanizing and unrealistic. And much worse is the myth that women are depraved and must be controlled and censored in order to prevent great, scary, mysteriously feminine things (like what–equality?). This myth cuts off women’s sexual development and tells a great, socially-accepted lie about what women are (non-sexual) and what they can be (slaves).

Both of these myths—men as helpless beasts and women as evil ninnies—hurt EVERYONE. In this polar-opposite construction of gender differences, men are hapless attackers; women perpetual victims and no one goes home happy. If we can break out of the system that tells us what we are, if we can stop being manipulated by false ideas that sell stereotypes about our sexual potentials, then we can freely express ourselves sexually and ethically without fear of sexual assault.

In essence: We are not dissimilar males and non-males, but friends! There are no absolute, essential qualities inherent in any gender. I advocate a smashing of the old lies and myths so we can more realistically see ourselves as diverse, sexual people of many stripes. Onward!

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Article

Looking-at-people-you-find-attractive etiquette

BY REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH

Know that jaunty feeling when you’re walking down the street and see a fine-looking individual? Don’t punch them in the face. Because that’s what it feels like to be piercingly stared to the ground, whistled at, lip-smacked, pinched and bullied.

I’ve been doing some thinking about that common street harassment excuse that these things are “just compliments.”

This defense brings up a tricky double bind.

The male privilege (taught, not innate) to stare, mock and hurt (a privilege that many men don’t even consider, never having being raised as women to be constantly alert to attack) exists on an unpleasant continuum of dehumanizing actions that stretches from lewd gestures to physical assault. In other words, the philosophy that Women are Prizes, not people—pretty ornaments, immaterial support systems or peripheral cast members to the Everyman—can encompass everything from mockery to rape.

“Sexuality” as presented in this traditional predator-prey mold is adversarial. Man attacks woman. End of story. And in this impossibly limited characterization, the ONLY way a woman is allowed to receive any power without recourse is to enjoy the male attention, to be a happy recipient of condoned male attention or aggression.

But EVERYONE wants to be admired. This is not a FEMALE trait. Everyone wants to admire. This is not a MALE trait. We all want the same things. The issue is context, duration, awareness of situations. Men are taught to pursue. Women are taught to take it or internally fight it, but certainly not do anything to protest the system that created it.

Everyone wants to look and be looked at in comfortable, erotic, safe situations. But it’s not a compliment if the recipient’s response is anger or hurt. So how do we get to more equilateral gender relations? I suggest 1) valuing and teaching clear communication skills and 2) encouraging people to express desires and boundaries with awareness of the other person’s desires and boundaries.

In other words: The next time you see a hot chick/cad/fellow person on the street, smile. Say hello. Do a little dance if you can’t keep it inside. But don’t be mean. No one wants to bang the mean person. After all, no kind expression of interest will ever warrant the desperate defense that it was “just a compliment.”

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demonstration

Virginia’s story: “Just waiting for the bus, please leave me alone!”

On a daily basis I encounter this. Guys slow down in their cars expecting to pick me up. Or they stare. Are they even watching the road? I know its not groping, or stalking, verbal, or assault(though I definitely felt the threat of that before). But it bothers me to no end… I mean, it really gets me down. On days like this when I get home I cry. Because it happens OFTEN. Every time I wait for the bus now, its like its increasing. On a normal week where I do nothing but school that would be maybe 12 times, often more, in a week that I have to face this. The other day I was only standing at my front door to check the weather and this happened…

One of the things that sickens me the most is that I am 19 years old, but I look young, and I think I am being target for that. I seriously look like a freshmen in high school, in other words, a minor. And they still target me! Sick!

It seriously depresses me that this is the kind of world I have to live in for the rest of my life. I feel more afraid of threats then I ever have in my life… or I mean, aware.

I sometimes wish I could pull out a sign that says “Just waiting for the bus, please leave me alone!”

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Article

The world needs better role models. We pick Chaz.

BY SARA SUGAR

Most of us have heard that Chere’s son, Chaz Bono, is transgender and recently underwent surgery. You might have also seen or heard that Bono is now a contestant on Dancing with the Stars! Well I say, good for him; but not everyone feels that way.

Tranphobic psychiatrist Keith Ablow recently went on The O’Reilly Factor (Fox) and stated that, “Mr. Bono is doing more than dancing, he’s on a campaign to mainstream transgenderism.” Ablow claims that if your children watch a transgender person, such as Chaz Bono, on television, that your kids will be influenced to become transgender.

If you ask me children should watch Chaz Bono on TV. Here’s why: Bono is  showing all children that he’s completely comfortable with himself and that he possesses no shame in who he is. How could that possibly be a bad thing? It’s not.

Ablow went on to say on The O’Reilly Factor that Bono being a contestant on Dancing with the Stars is akin to anorexics going on television and saying how wonderful they feel. That would be true if being transgender was a deadly or a disease, but it’s neither.  The reality is that if all children were exposed to positive role models from the LGBT community, the rate of bullying would most likely go down, as well as the rate of LGBT teen suicide. Growing up knowing that you’re not different and that you should be accepted for who you are and what you feel, is the best thing for any child, whether they are transgender or not.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first that we’ve heard from Ablow, and it probably won’t be the last we hear of him and his illogical rants. This past spring Ablow jumped all over a J. Crew advertisement that showed a mother painting her son’s toenails neon pink. And what do you think Ablow had to say about it? No, not that a pastel pink would have gone better with the little boy’s shirt, but yup, you guessed it: painting this boy’s toenails was inevitably going to cause gender confusion!

Despite those like Ablow, there are positive representations of transgender issues in the media. Checkout Transgender kids: Painful quest to be who they are reported on CNN.com; it’s an encouraging counterpoint to the outlandishness of so-called “experts” like Ablow.

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Article

A new guide! Making Our Communities Safer: How You Can Help Prevent Public Sexual Assault

Making Our Communities Safer: How You Can Help Prevent Public Sexual Assault & Harassment

As you know may already know, in recent months, there have been more than a dozen instances of sexual assault and harrassment in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Park Slope, Greenwood Heights, Windsor Terrace, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge.  In response to the growing concern for public safety, we worked with Public Advocate Bill deBlasio‘s office in conjunction with Center for Anti-Violence Education, Safe Slope, Girls for Gender Equity, and RightRides, to produce a new guide with tips and resources to help prevent and intervene in sexual assault and harassment.Volunteers from the Public Advocate’s office are teaming up to distribute 3,000 copies of the guide in the area. If you’d like to volunteer, email organize@nyc.publicadvocate.nyc.gov.

We are grateful to the Public Advocate’s office for their leadership on this project, and even if you’re not located in the NYC area, we hope you’ll take a look and considering adopting it for use in your own community.

UPDATE! The guide is now in Spanish, too:
Haciendo Nuestros Vecindarios Más Seguros: Cómo Puede Ayudar a Prevenir el Asalto y Acoso Sexual Público
 

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Article

You asked for the NYPD’s sensitivity surrounding sexual assault cases in South Brooklyn, and they listened.

BY EMILY MAY

Last week 6,300 of you rallied and signed a petition on Change.org for the NYPD to have increased sensitivity surrounding the South Brooklyn sexual assault cases, and today we are proud to announce the NYPD listened.

On Thursday, October 8th – only a week after the petition began –  the commanding officers of the NYPD’s 72nd and 78th Precincts held a meeting with members of Hollaback! and Safe Slope, convened by New York City Councilmember Brad Lander, to directly address Safe Slope’s open letter to the NYPD and the 6,300 people (that’s you!) who signed the petition demanding increased sensitivity.  As a result of that meeting, we are proud to announce the NYPD has agreed to following improvements:

  • Effective immediately, police officers will provide a “trigger warning” to community residents before showing them a graphic assault video . By giving the individuals the ability to opt out, the NYPD acknowledges the sensitive nature of viewing attack footage, especially for victims of sexual assault.
  • Effective immediately, police officers will make women aware that they are being escorted home by the police before starting to follow them. This will help avoid confusion and fear that the individual following them home may be a potential attacker.
  • Concerned community groups, including Safe Slope, Hollaback!, and others, will draft an updated safety pamphlet for NYPD’s consideration, which will include community resources and helpful tips on what community members can do to help keep themselves and others safe from sexual assault. If approved by NYPD leadership, this will be the first time the pamphlet has been updated since 1992.
  • Lastly, the NYPD will review a proposal from Safe Slope to do sensitivity training at the police orientation, as well as to show an educational video to existing officers prior to their shifts. The purpose of the video is to provide officers with simple strategies to make their interactions with the community more sensitive and educational regarding sexual assault.

Clearly, there is still work to be done. But we couldn’t have made it this far without your support.

In addition to your efforts, our heartfelt thanks go to Safe Slope, The Line Campaign, Permanent Wave, the organizers of SlutWalk NYC, and Women in the Media and News for organizing with us to make the petition happen, and Councilmember Lander for setting up the meeting with the NYPD.  Shelby Knox, Director of Community Organizing for Women’s Rights at Change.org said, “the coalition of activists that made this happen should be commended for using people power, online and offline, to improve police sensitivity surrounding sexual assault cases.  Their work will serve as a blueprint on how residents can respectfully petition the NYPD — and it is my belief that the impact of their efforts will live on long after the South Brooklyn rapist has been caught.”

Keep using your voice to change the world, and remember to always…

Hollaback!

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Anonymous’s story: He ruined my vacation

A year ago I went on vacation with my dad to Las Vegas, it was the first vacation I’ve had ever since I was a 6, (16 when this happened) and was even able to go with my dad whose job has him all over the world much of the time. So I was trying very hard to make this a good experience for me, one which I would look back fondly on for years. This guy ruined the whole post-harassment part of the vacation for me.

So my dad and I were at the Excalibur Hotel/Casino on the Vegas Strip, we were heading out of the building after a show to go back to our hotel to get dinner and sleep. My dad had to use the bathroom, so I just sat down on the steps by the bathroom, and waited. I was next to the slot machines, and I noticed a man staring at me from there. He was likely in his 40s or 50s, and was balding with gray hair. A bit nervous, I pulled out my phone and tried to look busy. I heard “Hey.” and looked up to see him right above me. It was hard to understand him through his thick accent, but I’ll never forget my heart dropping into my stomach when he said: “You have… very beautiful legs. They’d sure look nice wrapped around me.” (I was wearing jeans and boots, not a skirt or anything revealing.) Luckily, I didn’t need to think about what to do, because my dad came out of the bathroom right after. My dad said “What’s going on? Who’re you?” to him. The man was obviously shaken by the sudden appearance of my 6″1′ tall, 225 lb dad. He said “I wasn’t doin’ nothin’.” and backed off. As we left my dad shot him the most threatening look he could. I remember just getting to our room in the MGM Grand hotel and crying my eyes out, my dad was furious that this was able to happen. I had never experienced anything like this in my hometown, I mean I’ve had catcalls coming from men in cars when I was on the sidewalk here, but I never felt truly threatened. I was genuinely afraid that somehow this man would get into our room and rape me. It was sort of a wake-up call that I’m not as safe in public as I thought. We made a point to never separate for the rest of the vacation, and I’ve been so much more cautious ever since.

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Katie’s Story: Not harmless

Every time this happens to me, I wish I did something different. I was walking home alone at 1am in a nice residential part of the city in a zipped hooded sweatshirt and corduroys, no skin showing by my face. I hear the slowing of a car coming up behind me and I feel this immediate sinking feeling, thinking oh god, here we go. A man in the car rolls his window down as he pulls up next to me, I continue to walk staring straight ahead, hoping he’s stopping for any other reason than to cat call me. “Hey, want a ride?” And immediately, I said “No”, continuing to walk and stare ahead of me. “Really?” I started to seethe. “YEAH, REALLY.” The man scoffs and says, “WOW” and drives away. I flipped him off as he drove away, wishing I had brought my can of pepper spray. It’s an abomination that this happens to women every day in the U.S., the constant degradation of women that is ignored as being harmless. And I wish I could say this were the first (or last time) this happened to me.

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Shannon Elizabeth’s Story: Justified anger

I had been sitting on a bench reading. I was in full sun and was getting rather hot, so I decided to head back to my dorm. As I got up and started walking along the path, I noticed a man coming towards me in the opposite direction. I didn’t take too much notice of him. Until the moment when I directly past him and noticed he had his penis and balls out of his pants, rubbing one out looking at me as he walked past. It all happened so quickly, I was already past him before I realized exactly what had happened. I suddenly became conscious of how short my shorts were and how a little bit of my mid-drift could be seen. But I told myself that shouldn’t matter. That guy was a pig-headed creep, getting off on girls in a public park. If I had been still sitting, and my experience more prolonged, I would like to think I would have called him out, brought attention to what he was doing in hopes that would shame him into stopping. But seeing as this is my first encounter with street harassment, maybe I wouldn’t have been that gutsy. But it is because of organizations like Hollaback! that I am gaining confidence. After I left the park, I found I was really angry and almost wanted him to come back and try again so I could scream in his face. And because of Hollaback! I know that that anger is justified. Thank you for empowering women to stand up to street harassment and for providing a forum for women to share their stories.

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Article

Chicks Don’t Dig Street Harassment

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