choice

Last month, I had an abortion.

I’ve been a strident advocate for a woman’s right to choose since I was a pre-teen, and it’s still difficult for me to say those words. So many assumptions about my life can be made on the basis of that admission, and the shame is real. For White women in American society, the shame of having an abortion is mainly centered on their individual behavior. For Black women, our behavior reflects on Black folks as a whole, specifically other Black women—so the scope of the shame is much wider. An unintended pregnancy can call your responsibility into question, and regardless of your age, the specter of the stereotypical Black teenage mother casts a long shadow.

Read more at EBONY.com.

The time has come for me to wrap up my gig blogging about representations of fat in pop culture at Bitch Magazine, and I find myself reflecting on what I personally am taking away from the series. I went into the job with high hopes, thinking I was going to be able to really analyze some complicated issues surrounding portrayals of fatness. Instead I was met with hostility almost immediately, and I realized I was going to have to run a fat acceptance 101 course concurrent with analyzing fat in pop culture. Since I was there do to the latter, I made it clear I was not going to accept any discussion of whether fat was healthy or unhealthy. I did this because opening up the health issue for debate just enables those who would seek to shame fat people, blame rising health care costs on them, and openly “concern troll” under the guise of actual interest in fat people’s well-being. Naturally, this upset some people and there were cries of “intellectual oppression” and other such nonsense.

To digress a minute, commenting on an article online is not a right and I don’t feel the need to coddle commenters who feel like the writer OWES them something, such as a thorough education on a topic that was already discussed, when Google is quite easily available. As so many have said, oppressed people are not a learning opportunity and you need to take it upon yourself to become educated on a topic.

Although fat acceptance has been around for quite some time (and I personally have been writing about it since 1998), people still don’t seem to understand that it is a feminist issue. FEMINISTS don’t seem to understand. Traditional feminism breaks down at the intersections and clearly, this is one of them. Blogging at Bitch brought that realization front and center for me. It was somewhat disheartening to experience the pushback against fat being even simply a value-neutral word, much less a positive term. But I did take solace in the comments I got that were supportive, and the people who said they had learned something from the series.

I also learned that among many feminists there is still a gag reflex when it comes to fat. I was surprised at the amount of people who, to their credit, admitted that they had an immediate reaction of disgust at the story of Donna Simpson, a 604 lb. woman who expressed a desire to weigh 1000 lbs. so she could hold a Guinness World Record. I’m not making any extra value judgments on that story here, so don’t ask. I wrote that post to get people to think critically about their commitment to practicing fat acceptance, not to ask people to condone Donna’s choice. That particular post sparked many critical (to put it nicely) comments that were eventually moderated out, which angered the villagers and spawned more cries of intellectual policing. People, ostensibly feminists since it is a feminist site, were upset that they couldn’t speak to the health issues of Donna’s situation–but they ended up doing it anyway. All the same red herrings that are thrown about in discussions about the “obesity epidemic” on any number of non-feminist sites appeared in this discussion.

So, what did I learn? I learned that we have a long way to go in reconciling mainstream feminism with intersectionality, in this case fatness. I learned that many supposedly enlightened feminists will turn on you when you push their perceptions of what is covered under bodily autonomy. Actually, I already knew these things, they were just reinforced by the experience and I suppose I had kind of a rosy view of how fun this whole gig was going to be. I appreciate the support I did receive, and the editors of the site were extremely supportive as well. But it is pretty much always a thankless task to speak truth to power and to force people to think about things that are important yet uncomfortable to think about.

I’ll brush my shoulders off and prepare for the next challenge.

At the Crunk Feminist Collective last week, writers Moya B. and Summer M. started a dialogue of sorts on colorism — specifically light skin privilege. That post got thrown a bit of shade by some commenters, so they responded to the ruckus with a follow up post fleshing out the topic a bit more. As a light-skinned black woman myself, I felt a bit uncomfortable and defensive reading the initial post at first, typically a sign for me that I’m reading an article that is challenging some assumption I have or something I take for granted, which is a good thing. After I got into reading, though, I found myself for the most part agreeing with the points Moya and Summer were making, and I began to examine my own relationship with light skin privilege.

For much of my young adult life, I felt that some darker skinned black women were “discriminating” against me because I’m light skinned. Not that they had wielded any particular societal power over me other than to treat me with disdain or question my blackness. Pretty much all of my friends have been darker than I am, so it’s not like every black person darker than me has rejected me or mistreated me. While when I was in Christian elementary and middle school I was one of few black children attending and therefore experienced hefty doses of racism, when I got out and into public school, I was just one of many other black kids so it wasn’t a big deal. Whereas at my private school I was naturally close with the few other black kids there, in public school all the black kids didn’t necessarily have to hang out. I found myself on the outside, not only as a new student but also as a light skinned black girl among peers that were on the whole darker than I was and had preconceived notions regarding light skinned girls in general.

I don’t need to go into the various hurdles I jumped to get accepted by my black peers, especially the girls. The narrative is familiar. At the time, I recognized that they thought I may be haughty about being light skinned, like I thought I was better than them. I didn’t really know exactly why they might think that because at the time I was no scholar of African American history. I was bitter that they had these ideas about me and bitter that they were the gatekeepers of acceptance into the black kids’ group. Now that I have the benefit of hindsight and education, I understand why they felt that way.

I know now the privilege I had and do have due to my lightness. I see the way people treat me versus how they treat my dark skinned friends. I’m considered safe and non-threatening. White people feel like they can ask me ignorant questions about black people and assume I won’t get offended, even though they know I’m black. It’s like they think the lighter skin makes me more docile and sympathetic to their ignorance. Friends who know both me and my sister will often come to me when they have problems with her, because I’m seen as the “good” one. Black guys treat me differently, I’m considered exotic and in many cases preferable to a dark skinned woman. Basically that whole “Light Skin Privilege” list, I live it. And for the longest time, I had no idea. I thought I was the one being treated unfairly. I couldn’t understand why they were distrustful of me. Years of being treated as “less than”, less than white and even less than other black folk, will make people be distrustful. However much it hurt me that they were, they had every right to be, just like we as black people have every right to not immediately trust that white people aren’t going to be racist or prejudiced against us.

For me it’s important to say out loud that I am privileged because of my light skin. I need to be mindful of my privilege when I talk about my experiences navigating life as a light skinned black person. I need to understand that dark skinned black people experience a great deal more discrimination and racism than I do. They’re on the front lines. I’m bringing up the rear. So it’s essential to center their voices in conversations about racism and colorism. Being defensive about it serves no good purpose. Yes, we all experience racism. Yes, there is intra-racial tension between dark skinned and light skinned black folks and we can both mistreat the other group. I’m not saying it’s ideal for dark skinned black folk to resent lighter black folk. There’s a deep history behind that resentment, though, and it’s not going to go away by me bemoaning that it exists.

I write this as a recognition of my privilege and also to bring attention to the topic. Since the original post by Moya and Summer, Sister Toldja of The Beautiful Struggler has also opened a dialogue with her readers. I want to continue to foster the dialogue. Recognizing your light skin privilege does not make you less black. It simply places you in solidarity with those hardest hit by racism.

It rings true: either we’re all free or none of us are.

The ongoing quest of the French government to preserve their country’s “secular traditions” came to the fore once again Tuesday when the lower house of France’s parliament voted to ban women from wearing any face-covering veil, such as the infamous burqa or the less “extreme” niqab — a move obviously targeting French Muslim women, of which perhaps 1,900 wear a face-covering veil. France has the highest population of Muslims in Europe, comprising about 5 million of France’s population of 64 million people.

I’m sure you remember the “no hijabs in public schools” ban France passed in 2004 after almost a decade debating it, barring students from wearing a headscarf or any other piece of clothing that would indicate the religion of the student wearing it. To be fair, that does include Jewish yarmulkes and cross necklaces, however, the surrounding debate was particularly focused on the Muslim hijab. It just seems that since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Western countries have been not-so-subtly putting their Islamophobia on display.

Of course, this is not to say that all Muslim women disagree with the banning of the burqa or niqab. Some Muslim feminists have spoken out in favor of the ban. I fully support the right of Muslim women to not be forced to wear face-covering veils. However, I think banning religious clothing at the governmental level is taking the issue in a scary direction. I believe in choices, and banning burqas and niqabs eliminates the ability of women who actually wear the veils of their own volition to continue to make the choice to wear them, however few the women may be that make that choice. The author of the Huffington Post article, Caryl Rivers, makes a lot of good points, but I really do believe that in order to truly gain equal rights for Muslim women in their culture it’s going to have to come from changing Muslim men’s “hearts and minds” and not changing Muslim women’s clothing.

In the Salon article linked above, Eqyptian feminist Mona Eltahawy states:

I support banning the burqa because I believe it equates piety with the disappearance of women. The closer you are to God, the less I see of you — and I find that idea extremely dangerous. It comes from an ideology that basically wants to hide women away. What really strikes me is that a lot of people say that they support a woman’s right to choose to wear a burqa because it’s her natural right. But I often tell them that what they’re doing is supporting an ideology that does not believe in a woman’s right to do anything. We’re talking about women who cannot travel alone, cannot drive, cannot even go into a hospital without a man with them. And yet there is basically one right that we are fighting for these women to have, and that is the right to cover their faces. To tell you the truth, I’m really outraged that people get into these huge fights and say that as a feminist you must support a women’s right to do this, because it’s basically the only kind of “right” that this ideology wants to give women. Otherwise they get nothing.

I agree with her on basically every point she makes, yet I can’t reconcile my feelings about government-enforced bans on religious clothing. I just don’t think that simply legally preventing women from wearing burqas, niqabs, or hijabs is going to cause transformative change in Islamic culture. This is a crude analogy, but it seems like banning black women from relaxing their hair. Yes, black women would be unable to cowtow to the oppressive beauty standards forced on us by Western culture, but would their minds be freed as well? Would black men suddenly stop desiring women with long, straight hair? With the banning of burqas and niqabs, are sexist, oppressive Muslim men and the governments they run suddenly going to stop treating women like second-class citizens? I don’t see that happening. Western governments using women’s rights as an excuse to ban Muslim religious garments just smells like Islamophobia couched in “progressive” rhetoric. Some leaders in the U.K. have actually voiced their concern over the “growing threat of Islamism“.

So what can we expect this ban on face-covering veils to do for Muslim women’s rights in France? Eltahawy had this to say:

What I hope it will do is that it will create a situation where a woman can say to a man, look, you know that I have to go out and work so that we can continue to live here, and I can’t go out with my face covered, even though you want me to, because that’s what the law says. I hope the law gives women this kind of out. I have no idea if that’s actually going to happen or not.

I can’t get behind legislation like this when the only benefit for women would be that you get to tell your husband that you’re required by law to not wear the veil, and the many benefits for the government and Islamophobic French people include not having to be visually reminded there’s Muslims in their communities and also stopping the spread of “Islamism”. I don’t trust the women’s rights angle at all from Western governments when it comes to Islam. We continue to ally with countries that do much more than just expect women to cover themselves head to toe when in public — we’re in bed with countries that beat and jail women who have been gang raped and impregnated because the rape constituted the woman committing adultery. I personally don’t think her lack of burqa helped at all in that situation.

So I’m not exactly joining the cheerleading squad because France decided its Islamophobia was good for women’s rights. Of course I don’t want Muslim women to be forced to cover themselves head to toe. But I firmly believe true change in the Islamic world will never come via simply outlawing certain types of clothing, and I question the veracity of France’s reasons for doing so. The fact that they’re mentioning things like “defining and protecting French values” sounds eerily familiar and to me, is more of a nationalist concern than a concern for women’s rights.

There needs to be substantive change in Muslim men’s attitudes towards Muslim women rather than superficial change mandated by a government that seeks to erase those parts of immigrant populations they find distasteful.

[This piece originally appeared on Feministe.]

I have to admit, when I first heard the news that Al Gore had been accused of sexual assault by a Portland-area massage therapist, I had to question the source, which at that time was an online National Enquirer article. As fine a publication as the National Enquirer is, I tend to take its “news” stories with a container of Morton’s salt. Then, as I browsed the blogosphere, I came across this post on The Sexist, which caused me to seek out the actual police report on the incident, which includes a lengthy transcription of the 54-year old alleged victim’s account of the assault.

Having read the actual transcript, it boggles my mind that anyone would dismiss this woman’s allegations out of hand. I’m not going to recount the transcript here, but the alleged victim’s description of the event is very detailed, very lucid, and very believable, if you’re not addicted to the Al Gore Kool-Aid. Apparently some women who call themselves feminists were swimming in the punch bowl, because the immediate reaction from many was to discredit the accuser based on trivial things like why she’s kept a pair of pants she wore the night of the assault that had “suspicious stains” on the front of them. Hello? Here’s a little Sex Ed for you: When men are aroused, they can emit a bit of fluid from their “love rod”. That fluid contains – guess what? – DNA! So if you’re a woman accusing an adored, very public figure of sexual assault, why wouldn’t you keep a pair of pants with possible evidence on them to back up your story? Get a clue, people. Hanna Rosin, the woman who wrote the above-referenced “why did she save the pants” article on Double X, had NOT read the police report before she decided to comment on the situation. After she did, she backed down, stating “[…] this very long and detailed statement paints a picture of Al Gore that is so disturbing and so completely at odds with everything we know about him that it’s hard to know what to think.” Really, people, do the legwork. I know everyone wants to be the first to write about this juicy story, but having to update your post after reviewing the evidence just makes you look silly.

Other media outlets haven’t been so gracious as to recant their skepticism and victim-blaming. Salon gives us “3 reasons to doubt the Al Gore sex assault story“. The author, Steve Kornacki, states as his third reason:

We have seen plenty of cases of baseless (if vivid) sexual allegations against celebrities before. Tucker Carlson was once accused of rape by a woman he’d never met, for instance. Something similar happened with magician David Copperfield last year, too. (Plenty of celebrities have been guilty of sex crimes, too, of course.)

So naturally since some baseless allegations have been made, we shouldn’t give the accuser the benefit of the doubt, especially since she has so much to gain from making these accusations, like having other women make fun of her for not washing the aforementioned pants for four years.

The alleged victim’s friend, Donna Burleigh, has spoken out about the truthfulness of her story, stating that her friend recounted the incident to her after it happened in 2006, without revealing the name of the “high profile” client until Gore made an appearance in Portland 2 years later. According to Burleigh, the incident left the alleged victim suffering from panic attacks, and her previous health problems were exacerbated. But, of course, she probably has a history of “hysteria”, reason 4 to doubt her story.

There are conflicting reports as to whether or not the alleged victim was compensated for her story. This article, published online on June 24th, reports:

The editor of the National Enquirer said Thursday the tabloid didn’t pay the Portland massage therapist for its story. The statement rebuts reports that the paper paid $1 million for the story that it broke a day earlier online.

“We did not pay the therapist or any representative of hers,” Editor-in-Chief Tony Frost said. “In fact, she was unaware the story was being published.”

Yet in Howard Kurtz’ column in The Washington Post, he states:

The executive editor of the National Enquirer says the Oregon masseuse who made a sexual allegation against Al Gore asked the tabloid for $1 million but that the Enquirer did not pay her or anyone else in reporting the story.

Barry Levine said in an interview Thursday that the woman offered to sell her account through her lawyer but that “no money exchanged hands” and the paper conducted only a brief interview with her.

Regardless of whether or not the alleged victim asked for money, the immediate knee-jerk reactions of some reporters to circle the wagons and spread doubt about the allegations reflect the deeply ingrained sexism that comes to the fore whenever a beloved liberal icon like Gore is accused of misconduct. Even feminists jump on the victim-blaming bandwagon, sometimes in quite vicious ways, and in this case, without even reading the alleged victim’s account of the incident. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize and single-handedly bringing global warming to the attention of the world (yeah, right) doesn’t make you immune to the typical trappings of those in power — they want what they want, and will pursue it with impunity. Left-leaning media outlets and bloggers would do well to not be blinded by their idol-worshipping.

Yesterday I experienced some of the worst sexual harassment I’ve had happen to me in a long time. I was standing on a corner, waiting to cross the street, and a man walks up to me and asks me if I’m married. I said yes, hoping the conversation would end there, which of course was wishful thinking. He asks for my phone number, I say “I’m married” again. Then, for about 5 minutes he proceeds to barrage me with questions asking if I will perform various sex acts on him, or him on me (i.e., “can I eat your pussy”, “can I fuck you in the ass”, on and on), while I’m waiting to cross. At one point he asked me if he turned me on, which earned him another “no”, but I hesitated because I didn’t want to piss him off and have him go off on me. He described sex acts I didn’t even know existed, and that’s pretty hard. He made comments about my body, my boobs, my ass, my pussy, etc. The light finally changed and I walked extremely quickly back to work, which was luckily not too far away. He followed me for a bit but thankfully went off in another direction.

This guy is homeless and hangs out around my work all the time. So now I have to be careful where I go, and make sure when I go for my walks, I use a main street. I actually filed a police report, which I didn’t even know you could do for street harassment. The police were really nice to me and the cop gave me his personal number and told me to put it in my phone so if he harassed me again I could call him right there. Although I feel kind of silly saying this (which says a lot about how women are socialized to accept this shit), it was actually a traumatic experience. I found myself depressed and anxious for the rest of the day. It was just really disgusting and demeaning. Which of course, is the essence of street harassment.

I called the police because I didn’t want to do nothing and have him continue to harass other women. Although I doubt just being talked to by the cops would make him stop, I just had to do SOMETHING, and I felt better knowing the law was on my side. I called to report that I knew where he was (because they were looking for him since he left the area where it occurred) and two police officers responded. My SO, who works with me, was extremely angry and decided he was going to take a picture of the guy next time he saw him so we could show the police what he looked like. His first impulse was to find him and beat the crap out of him (a nice thought, but I didn’t particularly want him to go to jail), so I redirected his passion to getting a picture of him. And he did, so I’m going to e-mail it to the cop.

I’m telling this story because it helps me to get it out, and because I wanted to share that I had a positive experience with the police in this situation. So if you are the victim of street harassment, calling the cops isn’t always a bad idea if you know the person stays in the same general area. I was surprised at how quickly they responded. But I suppose the police treatment you’ll get depends on your locale, so keep that in mind.

As my sis Snarky said, summer started early for me this year.

Since Republicans managed to get two whole women in high profile races in California, and across the country a few more women were put in contention for some other high profile races, the media is playing the “here’s something flashy to distract you from the fact nothing’s actually changing” game. Women “sweep”? Really? Hundreds of races took place on Tuesday and women won a tiny fraction of them. Hardly a sweep. The media’s reaction is not really surprising, however, because that’s how tokenism works. The headlines help to reinforce the message that women are making big strides in politics, regardless of actual facts. It’s just another form of control.

Of course, when you’re the Republican Party, the political party with the worst record on inclusiveness, diversity and tolerance, you’re going to toot your own truck horn when something like this happens. Especially when the establishment Republicans didn’t even support the women when they were running the primaries, therefore taking no risks and now reaping a huge reward. Now they can trot out their panoply of female candidates as evidence of their newfound diversity. Republicans see more tokens than Chuck E. Cheese. Michael Steele, anyone? I’m sorry, but he’s only the head of the RNC because Obama is president. It was only too obvious when he got recruited out of nowhere to do the gig right after Obama won the election. Oh, Repubs. So deliciously transparent.

Just like the year Obama got elected did not mean it was the year of the African-American, a few women running for Senate or governor does not mean it’s the year of the woman, or even the Republican woman. And just as these women are tokenized by being presented as proof of women’s gains in the political arena, Obama is held up as proof of our country finally transcending race, which only serves to tokenize him. That is how our media represents disproportionate inequity.

But it’s Ladies’ Night!

Since Sarah Palin redefined the word “feminist” to include women who actively work against women’s rights, female Republican candidates in the upcoming primaries have been rallying behind the cause and riding the wave of faux-feminist populism to hopeful victories. In California in particular, two conservative women who have reached that apex of self-determination afforded by wealth are proving that white women can be rich, anti-woman Republicans too.

Carly Fiorina is running for the Republican nomination for one of California’s two Senate seats, currently held by Democrat Barbara Boxer. A self-made multimillionaire and former CEO of HP, she’s earned the right to play the big money game with the men running against her. Endorsed by Sarah Palin in her oddly admirable but entirely misguided quest to elevate conservative women candidates, Fiorina is now the favorite in the Republican primary. If she wins, she will run against Boxer, who has nowhere near the amount of money Fiorina has.

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman is the former CEO of eBay, and also came into her wealth through business. Her main opponent in the primary is state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who also gained his wealth through high tech business. Both Poizner and Whitman have spent masses of their personal fortunes battling it out — $80 million for Whitman, $23 million for Poizner.

These women are part of a new wave of conservative feminism, which apparently views women’s advancement in the workplace and politics to be the most important tenet of actual feminism. Basically, these conservative feminist leaders have decided that the advancement of women to the upper echelons of business — something they have already achieved — is what feminism should really be about. Behind the complicated, self-invalidating beliefs pairing the “right to life” with an exhortation to protect women and children and their token glorification of the homemaker is just the basic white feminist desire to finally reach that level of equality with men in regards to power and most importantly, privilege. Once the smoke clears, wealthy conservative feminist candidates will likely discontinue the rhetoric exalting homemaking as one of the most important things a woman can do. By opposing ideas like subsidized child care, access to birth control, and legal abortion, these women will actually make things worse for any homemaker not privileged by race and wealth.

Sarah Palin has cited Margaret Thatcher as a conservative feminist hero, even though Thatcher made it clear she did not desire to be called such, stating “I owe nothing to feminism”. This illustrates an important point: feminist does not mean “strong woman”. Conservative feminists conflate the two entirely, which is why they feel they can get away with calling themselves feminists while holding beliefs and supporting causes antithetical to feminism. By labeling every female Republican primary candidate “feminist” when they mean “strong woman” they seek to redefine the word so that they can appropriate it for their own benefit.

Being that the apparent leaders of the burgeoning conservative feminist “movement” are extremely privileged, it’s hard to believe they will advocate for anyone but those at their own level of privilege. If you take a look at those calling themselves conservative feminists, the vast majority of them are white. Their complete lack of focus on issues concerning women of color combined with the lack of representation of women of color in their movement belies their populist claims of “sisterhood”. As with families, in this movement your sister tends to look a lot like you. In that sense, conservative feminism hearkens back to the days when more liberal feminists sought to marginalize women of color, lesbian women, and poor women. This is not surprising, as conservatism tends to look backward rather than forward.

The conservative feminist movement desires to reap the rewards of the strides made by actual feminists without actually having to agree or support the whole of feminist ideology. By taking feminism and removing the tenets that are disagreeable to them, which happen to be the most important tenets, their message basically amounts to a sophisticated exhortation of “girl power”. But this girl power is solely available to those it benefits the most — wealthy, white, cisgendered women. Poor women, working class women, women of color, trans women, and other traditionally marginalized groups cannot see themselves in this movement because it is not designed for them. Real inclusive feminism sees the struggles of all women to be important, internal or external, as evidenced by the oft-quoted feminist refrain that “the personal is political”. This conservative feminism wants nothing to do with the personal unless it’s used as bait to reel in less privileged conservative women who will ultimately not be served by the movement at all.

Feminists who believe in actual social justice for all women, who work towards advancing related causes, must be vocal about the appropriation of the term “feminist”. As Kate Harding pointed out, “words mean things”. Working for, not against, women’s basic rights, including the right to choose, is a central tenet of feminism. Conservative “feminists” seek a redefinition that excludes that which is most important about the movement they are co-opting. We need to force them to come up with their own word.

As Tertullian stated long ago, and Summer’s Eve reinforces today: “Woman is a temple built over a sewer”. Thank god there’s a dizzying array of “feminine hygiene” products marketed toward female-identified folk to help conceal that awful raw sewage smell naturally emanating from our crotchal region. We’ve got several kinds of special wipes, from Monistat COOLWIPES for those days when your sewer is both diseased and stinky, to Massengill wipes that are gentle to your delicate sewer region, to, for those of us who menstruate, Always Fresh wipes for when you’re gushing blood and the smell rather than stemming the flow is your main concern. And if you want to stay odor-free while you bleed, there’s scented Tampax and Kotex pads as well.

Oh, and don’t forget pantiliners to catch that oh-so-bothersome inter-period discharge. Because sometimes underwear just doesn’t do the job. And remember to wash with those special cleansers from Summer’s Eve and Massengill. Your nether regions deserve their own kind of cleansing. Then you can finish off both the harmful and helpful bacteria with a nice douche from one of the leading douche brands. Ah, I love using the word “douche”. If that douche left you a little itchy, reach for the Vagisil and hope you don’t actually need the Monistat.

If I were to buy all the “feminine hygiene” products I apparently need, I’d go broke. Interestingly enough, unless you count Axe body spray (which I don’t), there’s no equivalent market for male-identified folk. People, if you’ve come close to a male-identified person’s junk at any point in time, you know that they are not devoid of “intimate smells”. In fact they can be quite rife with them. Which is fine, apparently, because I don’t see a lot of say, “Autumn’s Night Men’s Personal Wash” on the market. Something tells me society doesn’t care if a male-identified person’s junk stinks. Or at least, no one shames them into worrying about their junk stink.

Apparently the extreme concern over unhygienic female-identified people’s genitals goes as far back as 22 C.E. And I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories about those who menstruate being isolated in their own abode until Aunt Flo had left back in the Middle Ages (and still today in some cultures). In the ’30s, Lysol started advising through advertising that vagina-possessing individuals should douche with their product to avoid losing their (presumably) man’s interest. I’m not sure what Lysol was made out of in the ’30s, but if it’s anything like what it’s made of today that sounds like a Bad Idea. And yet the concern over “feminine odor” overshadowed any dubious feelings people may have had about shooting an industrial disinfectant up their cooters. Lysol also claimed that douching with their product would act as a contraceptive. Significantly, douching with Lysol went out of favor once the birth control pill was introduced to the market. Something tells me it was more pleasurable to simply swallow a pill than douche with a hospital-grade disinfectant.

What with all the new extraneous grooming products available to the male-identified today, I have trouble understanding why no one has entered the untapped market of “masculine hygiene”. Maybe a pre-oral wipe to make it easier on the one performing the act. Or a special wash that can be used when a wipe just isn’t cutting it. And why not add some special powders to keep the genital area dry and smelling like Old Spice. If no one gets into this business soon I think I might throw my hat in the ring. In the day and age of Axe, Tag, and Swagger, male-identified folk seem ripe for believing they need special products just for their nethers.

But enough with the wry humor and sarcasm. The fact that the female-identified alone are thought to be the bearers of such bad scents while those who are not get a pass just underscores the deeply rooted sexism and body-negativity in our society. That we wouldn’t even think twice while passing an aisle in the store SOLELY dedicated to the eradication of “feminine” odor shows how ingrained in our culture it is that when you are female-identified, you have a responsibility to God and country to keep that sewer under wraps. We get it in jokes involving a fish smell and some female-identified person needing to close her legs. Honestly, I’ve smelled fish odor emanating from all manner of junk. Basically, ALL JUNK STINKS. Period. So we really need to get over the idea that only female-identified people need to worry about it.

The first time I used a computer was at 6 years old. It was 1986 and I was introduced to my dad’s Apple IIe. It had some games on it, the most addictive for me being Lode Runner, which I played for hours. It also had Print Shop Pro on it, and my dad had a dot matrix printer, so there was much cheesy fold-up greeting card and banner printing going on.

Then, after about 2 years of playing with the old Apple IIe, in 1988 my mom bought a computer for our house. It was an AMSTRAD, it was from JC Penney, and it died almost immediately upon start up. So then we got a Packard Bell 386, unremarkable except it came with a 2400 baud internal modem — and a subscription to the Prodigy online service. Of course, equipped with a modem I didn’t have to limit myself to paid online services; I made friends on Prodigy and those friends ran BBSes. I spent hours on both, and this was back when online services charged by the minute. The only operating system I used was DOS, graphical user interfaces hadn’t even appeared on my radar. In fact, when I was first introduced to Windows 3.1, I refused to use it. I was a hardcore command line diva, and in some ways I still am, which explains my affinity for Linux.

Eventually I gave in to Windows, got CompuServe and America Online, and upgraded to a 14.4 modem. I started using the Web as soon as it became available, in 1991 or so. I remember the days when web pages were plain text, when flashing rainbow line separators were cool, and animated Under Construction logos were pervasive. I learned basic HTML at an early age and established my homestead on this wild wild web, which I’ve been defending — in some form — ever since.

Now I know CSS, JavaScript, Java, XML and bits of various other computer languages, enough so that I used to work for several dot coms as a web developer. I know about networking, I know how to build a computer, I know how to maintain computers, enough so that I used to make money doing it. I’m not an amateur. But men always think I am. I’m sure they think they’re being helpful when I’m standing in the networking section of Fry’s Electronics deciding what router I should buy and they proceed to give me unsolicited, patronizing advice. Such as explaining what a router is and how networking works. Do I really look like I’m confused? Or is it because I’m a woman in a tech store and you assume I have no idea what I’m doing? I’m going to go with the latter, because I know damn well I didn’t look like I needed help.

When I worked for my first dot-com, I had to work twice as hard, be twice as good (actually, just for kicks, I was three times as good), and be twice as accurate to get taken seriously. And my skills were not appreciated. There was one other woman in my department, and sadly she was nowhere near as skilled, devoted, accurate, or talented as I was. But when the time came to lay people off, I got axed instead of her, because she was going out with one of the founders of the company. Because for women in the tech fields, apparently banging skills are more desirable than coding skills. I’m not trying to hate on her, I’m just pointing out that women’s job skills are not valued. Despite being the most accurate, fastest, and most skilled coder in the department, I got axed instead of the newest hire — a man. Last hired, first fired? Not if there’s a woman to take the fall.

Then at the second dot-com I worked at, I had the pleasure of being sexually harassed by my boss. Human resources told me I had to speak with my boss directly about it. In case you were wondering, uh, confronting the boss who’s sexually harassing you? REALLY awkward. A little while after that, I got laid off. In order to get my severance, I had to sign an agreement that I wouldn’t sue. Since I didn’t have the resources to get a lawyer anyway, and I needed to pay rent, I signed it.

I then decided that if I was going to do tech work, I was doing it on my own. But I still had to deal with patronizing vendors who assumed I didn’t know what components would be best in the computer I was building, or the tech support dudes that assumed I didn’t know about this Windows feature or that Java function. But I dealt with it, kept my head up and soldiered on. For the next 5 years, I did freelance computer work. Of course, I had to charge significantly less than the men in my field to get business. And when I had to collaborate with men, I always got talked down to. It’s like they just can’t help themselves. Don’t even mention the fact I was a black woman doing techie stuff. Their heads were spinning.

The tech world has a lot more women involved now, however it’s still a boys’ club. But, one of my favorite geek toy sites, Think Geek, sells womens’ babydoll shirts now. We’re making strides.