BY REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH
Libra, a New Zealand feminine hygiene company, recently pulled a tampon commercial off the airwaves (and Internet waves) when it received a spate of negative attention for its cis-sexist advertisement depicting “real women” and… the apparent alternative: trans women.
It’s clear that the commercial is trafficking in stereotypes (“real” girl is dewy white woman, “fake” one is smug, attitudinal drag queen; both attempt to show “realness” through that superficial, timeworn indicator of femaleness: physical attractiveness), this advertisement promotes the so-called “real” girl at the expense and on the back of the “fake” one.
This poses the question of what constitutes realness and what legitimizes gender? Gender is not a binary or one-way street. It is not biologically determined and it is not an essential, unchanging variable. Gender is fluid. A woman is not a woman because she menstruates. A woman is not a woman based on her genitalia, hobbies, friends, favorite foods, colors, personal history, etc., ad infintum. If a woman identifies as a woman she is a woman
Transwomen in particular are singled out for abuse for many of the same reasons other women are, multiplied many times over. Women, being women, are bad enough (we are told). But that someone biologically born male would ‘choose’ to become female? What a pussy! Women are repulsive! Or so we are told. We live in a misogynistic society that fears weakness and so quite cowardly casts off this fear onto another group: women. We have all learned to associate weakness with women, hence justifying a hatred of women and all things considered “feminine.” And so we have the stereotypes of strong men and weak women, smart men and stupid women, stupid men and omniscient, earthy Wonderwomen. However you slice it, these are contentious stereotypes. We have all been taught to belittle the mythical “feminine” whether it’s signified by the color pink, the qualities of nurture, vulnerability orbeing a dancer instead of a football player, right down to the most unpleasantly minuscule. We have “gendered” all activities and qualities, devaluing some and idolizing others.
And so we have this ad, an ad that quite childishly derives its power from the enforced powerlessness of others. A good measure I fall back on in terms of locating prejudice is generally: Does this conception of X marginalize Y? Does the “authenticity” of one thing rely on the enforced “fakeness” of something else? Is this making someone feel bad? If all these are so, it’s generally a safe idea to consider whatever is being promoted as prejudiced. Nothing real needs to depend upon the denigration of something or someone else.
Feel free to contact Libra here about the cis-sexism of their product’s advertising.
The Daily Mail cites an apology issued by Libra officials before they pulled the clip stating that “it was never intended to upset or offend anyone,” the statement continues:
“Independent research was undertaken and the advertisement was viewed positively during that testing. Libra takes all feedback very seriously, and in response to this, we will immediately review our future position with this campaign based on the feedback received.”
Narrowed eyes? Check.
Furrowed brow? Check.
Tightly closed mouth? Purposeful, measured steps? Check, check.
Head up, shoulders square, and back straight? Check check check.
I am now ready to walk down the street, ride my bike, or catch the bus… and
This is no accident. After years of living in my female body, I have mastered the art of looking mean. But why would I, a friendly, outgoing, smiley 25 year old young woman, want to appear mean? It’s easy, really. I’m trying to ward off street harassment.
Through my very unscientific, personal experiments, I’ve found that I am less likely to be the target of street harassment if I look like I will bite your head off if you say a word to me. While this is not a foolproof tactic (there have been times when I’ve gotten the old “smile, honey” from a stranger even when my face appears to be literally incapable of turning that frown upside down), it is becoming my default demeanor when I am out and about in the public sphere. I make sure to take up space, walk in a straight line, say hello to no one, and set my face in stone.
And that’s not all…
My aversion to street harassment has also caused me to snap at folks who I mistakenly think to be catcalling me. (More of me being a meanie mcmeanerson) On more than one occasion, a man has made an inaudible or incomprehensible comment to me, and I’ve immediately taken it to be street harassment and responded accordingly. Loudly, angrily, and accordingly. Until I realize that the man was just asking for directions, or talking to someone else, or whistling to a song. Oops. I’d like to think that when this happens, the man at least understands what I’m up against. With street harassment being so prevalent, it only makes sense that I’d be quick to assume the worst.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not a complete jerk. I hold doors for strangers, say hello to friendly looking folks, and I can’t hide my smile all the time. I guess it’s about staying safe but also staying true to yourself as well.
I don’t want to look like a mean person. I don’t want to assume the worst when someone mumbles something to me. But, I also don’t want to be harassed in public. So I do what I have to do, and I work to change the culture we live in at the same time. While I may have a hardened look on my face from time to time, I won’t let street harassment turn me into a meanie. There is too much good in the world, too many nice people, and too many reasons not to smile.
On Tuesday at around 6pm I walked home on busy Butler St. after a productive day at my job. I like walking because I get to enjoy the sights at a slow pace, and it’s good for thinking. The only thing that sucks is that I seem to be more likely to experience shitty comments and cat-calls while I’m walking than when I drive or bike (thought it happens a bunch on a bike, too).
So I’m walking on Butler St. near 47th street in Lawrenceville with my back-pack on, feeling really accomplished and happy. I was thinking nice thoughts about a friend of mine and admiring the leaves on the sidewalk.
Then some jagoff in a truck (for those of you not from Pittsburgh, a “jagoff” is a rude jerky person) whizzes by me, sneers, and yells something about my ass. As he rounds the curve of the road, he keeps turning back to look at me. He’s too far away for me to say anything, so I just throw my hands up in a “WTF” kinda way because I don’t know what else to do. Not much of a “holla back.”
This isn’t the worst of the harassment I’ve gotten, but I feel it’s most common – dude in a vehicle. It sucked because it reminded me of times when sexual harassment has been worse. That dude made me feel like an object to be commented upon, and he totally took away the nice moment that I was having. It made me wish that guy would slam his truck into a brick wall, and I really don’t like feeling that way about people!
I know that anyone including men can experience interruptions while they are walking or whatever, but sexual cat-calls and comments seem to damage me and the friends I have talked to a lot more than just someone on the street trying to sell you something or ask you for change.
I got groped on a shuttle this past spring, towards the end of my sophomore year of college. I am a woman of small stature and I was wearing jeans and a NOT incredibly sexy shirt – not that a sexy shirt would have justified ANYTHING. I just wanted to be clear about the fact that this shit can happen no matter what you have on.
This situation really pissed me off and still bothers me now to some degree… but I’m really glad I said something.
So, I’m on the Pitt shuttle alone – it’s a Saturday night, around 10:30pm, and I’m going back to my dorm after hanging out with some friends. The shuttle is pretty busy. I stand up to get ready to leave the shuttle as it comes to a stop. As I’m trying to move to the front, a group of guys get on.
As I’m pushing my way up, one of the guys getting on the shuttle squeezes my waist, right above my hip bone, as he goes past me. It was so discreet and most likely no one else had any idea that he just touched me. Horrified, I look down at his hand and blurt out, very loudly, without even thinking really – “Do NOT touch me.”
The shuttle gets quieter, the driver is looking at me like “WTF?” and I can hear the dude’s friends laughing. I hear one of them say, “Yeah, don’t touch her,” in a mocking tone. UGH. Totally horrified and embarrassed, I fly towards the exit, get off the bus, and wish I could disappear.
I felt so shitty about that guy thinking he could just touch me because he could. I felt reduced, like it didn’t matter at all who I was – he would have touched me anyway just because he could. I didn’t even see his face, so if I see him on campus again I won’t even know it. Worse, right after I asserted myself and drew attention to us, I felt guilty, like I had been the one to do something wrong… like I shouldn’t have caused a fuss. I kept thinking that it could have been worse – he could have touched my boobs or grabbed my crotch – and ya know, it’s just my waist, so why was I so upset?
That guilty feeling went away pretty quickly, especially after I got back to my dorm room and ranted to my roommate and boyfriend. He is the one who is the asshole who did something wrong, not me, so fuck that!!! Thankfully, no one has groped me since then, but if they do I want to be sure I tell them “NO” again and make sure I can recognize their face in case I ever see them again.
Location: Outside the Cathedral of Learning, Bigelow Blvd.
Time of harassment: 10:30pm
This happened about a month ago, but this website was not up at the time. I had just left work and was on my way home when I decided I wanted to grab some food for dinner. I locked my bike up outside the pizza place, went in and ordered, and was just about to sit down on a stool to wait for my food when a guy walks in.
He comes up to me, says hello, and asks me if I want to go out on a date sometime with him. I have never seen this man before, have no clue who he is, and I sure as hell am not inclined to go on random dates with strangers. He was polite, so I quickly decided in my head that I would also respond politely. I told him no thanks, and against my strong desire to do otherwise, I followed that up by telling him I have a boyfriend.* This is how the rest of the conversation goes:
Him: “Well, I just saw you outside and you looked good. Can I call you sometime?”
Him: “Well then can I text you sometime?”
Him: “Well can I at least get a hug?”
Me: In my head, “Hell no.” But out loud I responded with “NOPE. I’m good.” And as he walks out of the store, staring at my body up and down the entire time, I am getting angrier so I loudly tell him that he can fucking leave now and to stop staring at me. He left.
I was thankful that I am an acquaintance with one of the owners there and talked about it with him afterward. He peripherally saw what was happening, but he was on the phone so he didn’t hear the conversation. After talking with him, it made me feel better to know that he also thought that guy was an asshole, and would have backed me up in telling him off.
But honestly… WTF. This man did not listen to me any of the many times I told him no, and this incident really bothered me for many reasons. Do men not hear me when I speak? Is my “no” of any value? If I had not been polite when I responded the first time, would that have made things better or worse? These are all questions I was left with.
* Also, I felt upset with myself for relying on my relationship status as a way to deflect unwanted attention. It shouldn’t fucking matter whether I am single, in a relationship, gay, asexual, or whatever! My NO should not need to be clarified in order for it to have validity. Unfortunately, in my experience, other men seem to back off more when they know that you are “taken”. Hmmm… could this be because women are viewed as property and if you’re already in a relationship you are “off the market”? Bingo.
Location: Pizza shop on Penn Avenue, Garfield
Time of harassment: 4:30 PM
Why do you HOLLA? I Holla because I’m a full human being, not a toy to be played with, or a punching bag for male insecurities.
What’s your craft? I’m a lawyer.
What’s your signature Hollaback? I give them a dirty look or I take their picture.
What was your first experience with street harassment? There were numerous experiences that helped prime me to know my place in public as a young girl, but the first most memorable experience was when I was 14 walking home from high school. It was about a mile walk, and about halfway home I walked down a long stretch of a semi-major street (as major as you really get in a small suburban area). A pickup truck full of men slowed down and drove at a walking pace next to me, shouting out to me “hey beautiful”, “hey talk to me”, and various similar comments trying to get me to respond. Some added kissing sounds to the humiliation. This went on for a few minutes until I turned into a residential neighborhood via sidewalk where they couldn’t follow me. It was embarrassing, stressful, and scary.
Say you’re Queen for the day. What would you do to end street harassment? I’m not sure that any sort of dictates can change a deeply rooted disrespect for women as public beings, so I would dedicate media and public service attention to the issue of street harassment, funds to implement studies and encourage research, with the end goal being to shift the culture of disrespect.
In the year 2020, street harassment… will finally be respected as a mainstream issue, but far from resolved.
What do you collect? Books! My apartment is overflowing with them.
My superheroine power is… that I’m unrelentingly fierce when i’m passionate about something.
If you could leave the world one piece of advice, what would it be? To find something that you’re willing to fight to the death for, and to then spend your life fighting for it, reminding yourself that your perseverance is what makes the world a place worth protecting. My personal mantra is from Eleanor Roosevelt (many of my mottos and comments to live by are from her) – “When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, have the courage to stand alone and be counted.” THAT is something to live by – because if you know in your gut that something is not right, but you aren’t willing to stand up and fight for it, you can’t expect anyone else to fight for it either. However scary it may be, have the courage to endure the judgment you will inevitably face for having the audacity to “stand alone and be counted” — it is infinitely more glorious than inaction when you give others the courage to join you in righting wrongs, eliminating injustice, and changing the world.
What inspires you? Fearless women inspire me. Feminist men inspire me. But mostly what inspires me to act is the horrific news that I read every day that reminds me why it’s so important to forego sleep and a social life to maintain my involvement in feminist activism.
Walking someone said, “smile you look too pretty to have serious face” when in fact I had my NORMAL & neutral face! I was so aggravated.
January is National Stalking Awareness Month. Stalking is a serious crime that affects 3.4 million adults in the U.S every year. This campaigns aims to raise awareness of stalking so that more can be done to stop it.
Launched in 2004 by the stalking Resource Center, National Center for Victims of Crime and the Office on Violence Against Women, each January communities across the country hold events and share resources to educate the masses and help raise the profile of stalking.
The Stalking Awareness Month website is jam-packed with resources to help you get involved and do your part in the fight against it. Visit the website to download posters, letterheads, fliers, a factsheet, get social networking updates and take a stalking quiz.
“You have the power to help know, name and stop stalking in your community”
BY VICTORIA TRAVERS
Angry School staffers and elected officials will hold a demonstration this afternoon outside Bronxdale High School in the Bronx to call for the Principal’s immediate removal following his outrageously sexually explicit comments to a female staff member in July.
Principal John Chase Jr. was reported to have made several inappropriate statements to female co-workers concerning a new photocopier. According to members of staff concerned he said:
“Have you seen the new copy machine? It does everything. It even has a hole in it where you can stick your d— in it and get a b— job.”
Following an investigation by the Education Department’s Office of Equal Opportunity, Chase, who earns $132,633 a year, was issued with a disciplinary letter in his personal file and was urged to undertake sensitivity training.
But for some co-workers this was not sufficient. One staff worker told the New York Daily News:
“The fact that he’s not being fired is insane. People are very uncomfortable around this guy. He needs to go.”
In a letter from State Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) to city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Klein urges Walcott to remove Chase. He wrote:
“The mere fact that he was found guilty of sexual harassment undermines his authority as head of the school.”
But Walcott is set on leaving Chase in charge, saying:
“I’m not going to remove him, but he knows he cannot have any similar type of comments. He is on a very strict line as far as his behavior.”
Chase declined comment.
The rally is set to start at 3.30 today at 925 Astor Avenue, in the Bronx. The Daily News estimates 250 supporters to show, along with politicians Jeff Klein, Naomi Rivera and Jimmy Vacca.
BY ELIZABETH GYORI
Alcohol abuse and underage drinking are certainly problems faced by many teenagers and young adults across the U.S. We’ve all learned about the effects of excessive alcohol consumption in health class. With excessive drinking comes a decrease in motor skills, negative health effects on the liver, judgment impairment and the possibility of alcohol poisoning. We’ve also been taught that we should always watch our drinks at parties and to never leave our drinks unattended so that no one slips unwanted drugs or substances into our drinks. A new ad by the Pennsylvania state liquor board tries to warn young adults against alcohol abuse by linking excessive drinking with date rape. The ad was eventually pulled after an influx of criticism though.
Yes, that is a real ad that was OK’ed by a government agency to be run as part of the “Control Tonight” online campaign against alcohol abuse.
Not only is this ad very, very racy, but it also does nothing more than blame rape victims (who may have been drinking) for the trauma they suffered. Yes, drinking excessively can severely impair judgment and lead to regrettable mistakes. Yes, alcohol abuse can lead to a decrease in awareness of surroundings, making it easier for someone to slip date rape into your drink. And these are issues that must be addressed. But if someone is sick enough to slip date rape into a person’s drink and then rape him or her, it’s far from the victim’s fault that she or he couldn’t say no.
If Rape is an intentional choice on the part of the rapist, especially if the choice to use date rape drugs is involved. The PA state liquor board should be running ads that tell people to abstain from rape (or they could end up in jail), not telling women that it’ll be their fault they are raped while trying to have a fun and enjoyable night out. The fact that this ad even ran just goes to show how we really do live in a society that teaches, “Don’t get raped,” rather than, “Don’t rape.”
Beyond the victim blaming, this ad doesn’t account for the legality of having sex with someone who is intoxicated. The law states that you cannot consent to sex if you’ve been drinking. That’s the bottom line, no ifs, and’s or buts. If you have sex with someone who has been drinking, that’s rape and you could go to jail for it. Maybe we should be running ads with a picture of someone being put in the back of a police car and big, white, capital letters saying, “Sober consent: the only real and legal way to say ‘yes’ to sex.”
Finally, this ad makes it seem like only women are date raped and only women could possibly make irresponsible sexual choices while drinking. Date rape is not gender neutral. I’ve personally known men who’ve been slipped date rape while out drinking and I’ve known men who’ve been raped while drunk. Furthermore, rape is not only a problem in heterosexual relationships, but it is also an issue in gay and transgender relationships. Perhaps ads need to be more all-inclusive in order to make a real impact.
Date rape drugs, lack of consent during sex, rape and alcohol abuse are all pervasive problems that need to be tackled via a massive public education campaign and other initiatives. But we have to target the source of the problem when it comes to each of these issues. That is, people should be taught: Respect people enough to not slip drugs into others’ drinks; Consenting to sex while intoxicated is not consent at all; And rape is—to put it as simply as possible—bad.