I Am Not Just A Pussy

I’m a writer. You might have guessed that by the fact that you are currently in the process of reading my writing.

And as a writer, I really like words. I think that words have power. I think that the specific words that you choose to use have influence over the ways in which the idea that you are trying to convey is interpreted. Different words have different meanings to different people, even if, end of day, these words essentially mean the same thing. That is why I think that words are very important.

For example, let’s say that someone walks into a room and says, “look at all these women in here!” Hearing this sentence, my assumption would be that there are a lot of adult females occupying space within this room, and for one reason or another, I am supposed to gaze upon them. Maybe they’re attractive. Maybe they’re breaking a world record. Maybe they’re in the middle of a gruesome murder. I don’t know, but I’m supposed to look at them.

Now, let’s change this sentence, only slightly: “look at all these girls in here!” Hearing this sentence, my assumption changes mostly in the way that I view the people occupying this space. No longer are they adult females, but juvenile females, or at least youthful, and so my reasoning for looking at them changes slightly as well. Chances are, they aren’t breaking a world record or committing a gruesome murder. They’re probably playing, or chattering, or maybe they’re just being cute. I don’t know, these people don’t actually exist, I’m just painting a picture with words here.

Now, let’s change this sentence once more, so that it essentially means the same thing, but it’s slightly more slangy, a little bit less polite: “look at all this pussy in here!” Once again, my assumption on what I’m supposed to be imagining changes. No longer do I see people occupying this space, adult or juvenile; I see vaginas. I see a great, big group of vaginas with legs, sitting on couches, talking with other vaginas, sharing the most recent vagina-gossip. Just, you know, doing their vagina thing, whatever that might be.

Now, why am I talking about this? What does any of this matter? Well, the reason why I’m saying this is because I have actually heard people use the word ‘pussy’ as a synonym for ‘woman’, and this pisses me off. I hate it. It makes me picture great, big, walking vaginas instead of people, and maybe this wouldn’t bug me so much if the objectification of women wasn’t quite so common as it is.

There is a brand of objectification that is used frequently in advertising called dismemberment, which is pretty similar to what it sounds like: focusing solely upon a single body part of a woman, especially with the intention of making that specific body part look alluring. For example, we might be able to see a close-up of a woman’s ass, but we don’t see her face or any identifying features, essentially reducing her to nothing more than an ass. A great ass, maybe, but definitely nothing more than that, and definitely not a person. And the obvious problem with that is that it forces the brain to not even really think of that as a person. It’s just an ass. It doesn’t have a family. It doesn’t think or dream or want anything. It’s an ass. It looks nice, and if you’re into female asses, then it’s alluring, and that’s about it.

The same thing happens when you refer to women as ‘pussy’: you reduce them to nothing more than genitals, albeit you do it through a different medium. The picture dehumanizes women because it doesn’t visually show you any more of the woman in question, whereas the phrase dehumanizes women because it doesn’t make any mention of the woman in question.

And just to be clear here, I am not referring to times when a person is referring explicitly to a vagina, and I am not referring to times when a person is intentionally insulting someone by calling them a pussy. I am referring to sentences like “there’s plenty of pussy in the world” (technically accurate, but I believe those vaginas are attached to cis-women) and “man, you got to get you some pussy” (I’m not sure that either relationships or one-night-stands, whichever you’re going for here, are quite as simple going to the store and buying a box of pussy).

Language holds a lot of power. The words that we use toward women influences the way that we think about women. And if our language reduces them to nothing more than vaginas, then we begin to think of women as nothing more than vaginas. Which is, very obviously, not okay, because women are, very obviously, people. They do things. They want things. They aspire and dream and work and feel and cry and laugh and so on.

And if you want evidence that some people have begun to think of women as nothing more than vaginas, then look no further than the fact that one of the responses to the creation of female sex robots (yes, this is becoming a thing) is that these robots will “replace women” – despite the fact that they don’t reason or think or have emotions or do anything more than have sex with you. But, really, what else do women do, am I right?

So let’s stop using the word ‘pussy’ as a synonym for ‘woman’, because it isn’t. Pussy is a synonym for vagina, a biological organ that cis-women and some trans-men have. Real women are much more than that, and it is objectifying and belittling to refer to them as any less. I mean, really, think about it: wouldn’t it be really odd to enter into a room full of men and say, “look at all these testicles in here!”

Is It Okay To Like A Narrative That Is Problematic?

Let’s talk about something that I know everyone enjoys: the media and politics.

More specifically, let’s talk about narratives – whether that be movies, television, or written stories – and their connection to social justice, representation, and politics.

It’s become more and more common lately for people to point it out if something in a narrative is racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or whatever. And whenever something like this because common, we’re always going to see a counter-reaction. For example, you might see an exchange similar to this one somewhere on the internet:

Person One: I found this recently released movie to be very sexist/racist/homophobic.

Person Two: Oh my god, how dare you, I can’t like anything anymore!

Now, the reason that I bring this up is not because I want to make fun of either side of the argument. Rather, I’m sort of interested in this idea that a piece of media is inherently unlikeable because it includes questionable politics. I mean, if this was true, then what media could we consume? Is there any media? Would we have no other choice than to reject media altogether – stop buying books, stop going out to movies, all to avoid media that is racist, sexist, homophobic, or whatever the case may be?

Because, after all, all narratives are written by human beings, and they are not written in a vacuum. We exist in a society where ideas that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, etc., are sometimes considered the norm. Sometimes writers internalize these ideas. Sometimes, by the time that a writer sits down to write a particular story, they haven’t yet thought critically about every last social justice movement that exists out there. And, not only that, but there are many common, historical tropes in writing that rely upon certain sexist ideals – like the trope of the persecuted heroine, or the hero (who is usually characterized not only as male, but as hyper-masculine as well). So chances are, nearly every narrative, even the ones that go out of their way to be inclusive, fail to live up to one standard or another of being inclusive. Maybe they’re very feminist, but they’re also kind of racist. Maybe they’re very pro-gay, but they’re simultaneously kind of classist.

So what does this mean? Can we not enjoy any story because of this?

Well, while different people might have different opinions on this, I’m personally a huge fan of stories. And I don’t think that someone pointing out that a narrative isn’t inclusive enough means that you can’t enjoy it.

For example, I kind of like the 2006 action movie 300. It isn’t my favourite movie or anything, but I like it. I’ll watch it whenever someone says, “hey, let’s go watch us some 300.” And I am also very aware that it isn’t inclusive toward… anybody. At all. 300 is a very sexist movie that doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test (which, for those of you who aren’t aware, is the absolute lowest standard to prove that a movie includes women as active agents in the text). 300 is also a very racist movie, portraying all of the villains as dark skinned while all of the heroes are light skinned, playing on America’s post-9/11 Islamophobia. And, as the cherry on top of this sundae, 300 is also very, very, very homophobic. “Boy-lover” is used repeatedly throughout the film as an insult toward men (something which is not at all historically accurate for the Spartans, I might add). The villains are all designed to look rather feminine while the heroes are designed to look very, very masculine. And, perhaps worst of all, director Zack Snyder also admitted to playing with homophobia as a tool to make the lead villain seem more foreign and more intimidating to the presumed audience, claiming that he intentionally coded the villain as gay because “what’s more scary to a 20-year-old boy than a giant god-king who wants to have his way with you?”

So, yeah, this movie is a political nightmare, but I still kind of like it. And why? Because I also think of it as sort of the definitive action movie. It won’t make you think (and if you do, you won’t like what you think), but it does have some good fight scenes, some super macho tough dudes, and visually speaking, the movie is stunning. There’s enough in the movie that, as much as I’m aware of its political faults and I’m not going to forget them, I still manage to leave the movie feeling like I got what I wanted out of it.

And, end of day, I think that’s what we should mostly be striving for when we say that a narrative is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.: awareness. You can still like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs even if you know it’s sexist. You can look fondly on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, even knowing that it’s kind of racist. But end of day, it’s important that you are aware that it is, because if you aren’t, then the entire context of the narrative changes. Instead of accepting that this is wrong, that this is just for the purposes of a narrative and the narrative is entirely fantasy, you run the risk of taking that into the real world, of believing that this is actually how people are. If I didn’t know that 300 was sexist, then I might just assume that women were all passive agents who didn’t really contribute all that much to anything… unless they happened to be Lena Headey. If I didn’t know that 300 was homophobic, I might assume that all gay men were inherently threats to straight men. These are the lessons that the narrative is teaching me, so if I’m not questioning them, then I run the risk of accepting them instead.

And more than that, we seem to be at a big of a turning point for a lot of media. The most recent movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture was about a gay black man (Moonlight). One of 2017’s highest grossing movies was about a female superhero (Wonder Woman), but it wasn’t very long ago that movie studios were refusing to put female superheroes in their own solo movies because they tended to flop when compared to their male counterparts. People are getting more and more interested in seeing diversity in our media, and this is awesome. This gives so many more people the opportunity to see themselves represented, rather than just the same straight, middle-to-upper-class, young-to-middle-age white dude that keeps getting catered to over and over again. And as people get more and more interested in diversity, it becomes more important for us to talk about what kind of diversity. We might see a movie about women and say, “that’s great, but the writing was kind of sexist. Can you give us more of this instead?” and if there are enough people demanding, the media will eventually supply.

We point out that there wasn’t enough racial diversity in something because we want to see more racial diversity in something else; not necessarily because we think that you shouldn’t like the original narrative. You can like the original narrative all you want; just be aware that it can be improved in the future. And hopefully, if enough people can keep talking about it, it will be improved in the future.

Is Representation Important?

Representation is a popular issue right now – something that people have begun talking about more and more frequently. And it is a multi-faceted issue, one that can be discussed from several different angles: what kind of representation is good representation? How much representation is enough? When it comes to fiction, can we represent minorities through villains, secondary characters, or stereotypes?

But there’s another question that I see come up again and again when it comes to representation: quite simply, is it important? I mean, I don’t think that there are very many people out there who would argue that people don’t deserve to feel empowered, or to look up to someone. But when I see this question discussed, I often see the same response come up: that things like gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. shouldn’t matter. That a young Chinese lesbian should have the ability to look at a straight white man and still see herself in him, because at the end of the day, we are all people and we all share a basic human experience.

Now, I won’t deny that there is some truth to this statement. Some. To use my personal experience as an example, I am blessed enough to say that my career goals are such that I have been able to see my gender represented in it – not perfectly, mind you. When I was a little girl, I still grew up with the story of J.K. Rowling being forced to abbreviate her name by her publisher because they were concerned that boys wouldn’t read a book written by a woman, but nonetheless, there were plenty of women writers that I could look up to. I saw myself represented in that industry, and so I never had a doubt that I could exist in this industry. And therefore, I had no problem looking up to female and male writers alike. Because end of day, a good writer is a good writer, and there are plenty of male writers who explore themes and issues that I understand and relate to.

But in this specific instance, I saw myself represented. I knew that women could be writers. There are plenty of industries wherein this isn’t the case. Although women in the United States hold approximately half of all jobs, they represent less than 25% of jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or math. In 2015-2016, women made up only 16.3% of CEO positions and 28.5% of key management personnel positions. In the United States, there has literally never been a female president (and only one non-white president). So when we’re talking about young girls aspiring to enter into these roles, representation suddenly becomes much more important – not just so that you can know that it’s possible for you to enter into that field, but so you can know that you will be accepted and taken seriously in it as well.

Representation matters more and more in areas where people aren’t generally represented. And how do I know this? Well, because, while I’m a writer, I also happen to fall under another label, one that I very rarely see represented in the media, or represented well for that matter: I am a bisexual woman.

And growing up, I rarely saw myself in the media. I saw gay and lesbian people, sure, but their experiences didn’t always match up with my own. I saw straight people all the time, but their experiences didn’t align with mine either. And because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me, I began to wonder what was wrong with me. Was I the weird one? Did I even truly exist, or was the way I felt some sort of elaborate lie I was telling myself so that I could feel unique and different?

And when I wasn’t feeling this way, I was feeling like I was something gross, something unlovable. Because when I did see myself represented, I saw myself in hugely unfavourable ways. Bisexuals in the media were manipulative, or they were serial-cheaters, or they were just used as one-night-stands and nothing more. One of my first exposures to the existence of bisexual people was through a talk show that I saw when I was really young – maybe four or five, where a man was trying to decide if he should leave his wife because he found out that, before they were married, she had dated a girl, and he didn’t think he could handle that. At the time, I thought this was stupid, because who she had dated before shouldn’t have any bearing on what their relationship was like now, but I was still young, still forming my identity, and I won’t deny that it sort of made me internalize this idea that I could never have a fulfilling and healthy relationship because of how I was born.

And none of this is to say that I couldn’t relate to straight or gay characters in the media. I could. There are plenty of characters on either side of the spectrum that I respected, looked up to, wanted to emulate, but in this specific issue, none of them were helpful. They couldn’t help me feel better about myself because they weren’t like me.

It took me a long time to undo the damage that a lack of representation had done to my self-esteem, and the way that I managed to start doing this was actually by seeking out what little good representation there was to be found out there. I found blogs and websites dedicated to real bisexual people discussing their experiences, which helped me to understand that I existed, that my feelings were valid. And, as stupid as it might sound, I found encouragement from looking up celebrities that identified proudly as bisexual – celebrities like David Bowie and Alan Cumming and Angelina Jolie, because they proved to me that I could be bisexual and successful and accepted and loved. The ideas were not mutually exclusive.

Especially when you’re young, when you don’t see yourself represented very often, you tend not to question the media that you’re seeing, but yourself. When you’re an overweight girl and all the beautiful women are represented as thin, you began to wonder if you’re ugly. When you are not white, but the majority of people in positions of power are, you began to feel very powerless. When you get a little bit older, you develop the ability to question these ideas, but by then the damage is often done already. By then, you’ve already internalized that you’re ugly, that you’re powerless, that you’re unlovable, that you don’t exist.

So, yes, a black boy can see a white character in a movie and relate to his internal, human struggle, but he cannot relate to his racial experience, and his existence is not validated by him. That is the difference between relating to a character based on their narrative or a figure based on their achievements, and relating to a character or a figure because they share a common experience with you.

That is why representation is important: because when you don’t see people like you doing what you want to do, you began to wonder if you even can do it, whether that be something as difficult as pursuing a certain career, or something as simple as being who you truly are. And regardless of who you are or how you were born, you deserve to be told that you are powerful, you are capable, and you are loveable.

What I Am Going to Be

I have a picture in my head of what I’m going to be.

I’m going to be big. Not too big – I’m not going to be talked about hundreds of years from now like Shakespeare or anything. I’m not going to last long enough for people to start arguing about whether or not I actually existed. But still, there will be people who will know my name, people who I haven’t met before. That would be enough for me.

I’m going to be stable, and I’m going to land my dream job, and I’m going to be satisfied with it. I’m not going to go home after a long day at work and feel like nothing I did mattered, or like it was all just a big waste of time. No, I’m going to change people’s lives. I’m going to make a difference in this world.

I’m going to be happy. I don’t entirely know how yet, but when I look into my future, I see it. I see me, fifty years old, smiling and serene and satisfied with my lot, proud of my past self for not giving up. I’m going to have a system of support around me – friends, colleagues, a partner maybe (if I get really crazy with the happiness).

In short, I’m going to be okay. I see it. I feel it there, just there, just beyond my reach, and if I just keep trying, just keep reaching for what I want, I know I can get there, I can, it’s just…

It’s hard.

It’s hard to remain convinced that what I see is real, it’s achievable. I can get everything I want if I just keep trying. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to spend all my life trying and trying and trying, and it’s never enough, no matter what I do, because regardless of persistence or resilience or talent, I just wasn’t born in the right place, to the right family, knowing the right people. That would never happen.

Right?

But at the end of the day, do my doubts even matter? Because, hell, maybe my doubts are correct. Maybe my vision of the future is a lie that I tell myself to make these meaningless work days go by a little bit faster, these constant rejections feel a little less final. But either way, I think I need to live as though this vision of the future is real. I need to pretend that I can be big and stable and happy, so long as I just keep trying. Because at the end of the day, I know that I can’t give up now. If I give up, then that vision of the future is guaranteed to be a lie. If I keep trying, then how can I know for sure?

So I’ll keep trying. And I’ll keep telling myself that that picture in my head is what I am going to be. Because that’s what I want. More than anything in this world, that is what I want.

Real Women Have Curves (As Opposed to Fake Women?)

Model and actress Karrueche Tran recently posted a picture of herself wearing a bikini to social media. As you might have already guessed, the response to this was…varied, as it usually is whenever a woman reveals to the world that she has a body. Because, let’s face it, whenever a woman does this, everyone and their dog feels entitled to giving their opinion on how she looks.

Probably most notably, rapper Ralo told Tran that she “looked better” with her clothes on, and while this is problematic, as he had absolutely no right to objectify and police Tran’s body like this, the comments that I want to focus on are the comments that were not made by celebrities, comments like “she look like a 10 yr old girl” and, even more interesting, “she look like a boy in his early stages of transitioning into a woman”.

There are a few reasons why I find these comments interesting. One of them is the obvious transphobia, especially in the latter comment, as this person is likening a cis-gendered woman to a transgendered woman, presumably as a method of undermining and insulting her, as though there is something wrong with being transgender (and, yes, I am acutely aware of the fact that this commenter used a male pronoun to refer to a transgender woman). But another reason why I find this response interesting is this idea of failing to live up to the image of “woman” through the simple act of having a body – even a genetically female body. Tran is described as looking like a child, or as though she was not born in a female body – she is described as being distinctly un-womanly, simply because she has smaller breasts.

And maybe I’d be able to forgive this as an isolated incidence if it isn’t something that I’ve seen before. There’s this idea that gets passed around, frequently on social media, that “real women have curves”. Sometimes this is used as a way to defend plus-sized women, because let’s not deny it: plus-sized women have a very difficult time having a body in our society. They are deemed less beautiful than thinner women, they are frequently and publicly shamed, by both the media and the people around them, sometimes even by complete strangers. So in an attempt to take some power back, some of them will make comments about how a woman should look in order to be “real”. But sometimes comments like these don’t have reasons so deep: sometimes they’re just meant to uphold the status quo, to say that women with breasts and hips and ass are hot.

But what about women who don’t have curves? Aren’t they real women? After all, they identify as women. They live as women. They get treated like women do in our society, they get objectified and picked apart just the same. So why do we keep using this language?

The strange thing about referring to specific people as ‘real women’ is that it implies that the opposite exists – that there are fake women. But there aren’t. You cannot fail to live up to the image of a woman, because there is no one specific way that a woman should look. Society may have made up a few phony ways for you to fail, but they aren’t real.

Because here’s how a real woman looks: any which way she wants. A real woman has curves, and a real woman doesn’t. A real woman can have large breasts or small breasts or none at all. Hell, there are some real women out there who have beards or penises, and that doesn’t make them any less real. The only qualification to count as a ‘real woman’ is to identify as a woman. As long as that is so, then congratulations – you’re a real woman.

And, people: let’s stop policing the way that women look. Let’s stop shaming every last woman, celebrity or not celebrity, for having a body and letting people see it. Because at the end of the day, we’re never satisfied as a society. There has never been a woman who posted a picture of herself wearing a bikini on social media, and the general consensus was simply “yeah, great picture”. Karrueche Tran might have been deemed not curvy enough to be beautiful, but singer Rihanna was recently deemed too curvy to be beautiful, one blogger even going so far as to make the comment that her “high key thiccness” would lead to “a world of ladies shaped like the Hindenburg.” We as a society are never satisfied with a woman as just having a body – we are constantly finding ways to pick it apart, to make it not live up to our expectations, even if they do align with our society’s definition of beauty.

And, yes, making these comments are policing – they tell women that, if they would just get breast implants, or eat more, or eat less, or do this, or do that, or go get that surgery, or whatever, then they would suddenly become more beautiful. When the truth is that they won’t. Society en masse is never satisfied with the way that women look, because society en masse is never satisfied with the presence of women to begin with. No matter what you change, there will always be someone out there who will pick you apart, so please, don’t change for them. If you want to change, change for yourself, because you are the only person who has to be satisfied with how you look at the end of the day.