Why Do We Bother Fighting?

Quite often, I write and I talk about issues surrounding social justice. And, as you might have guessed, that’s because I care about these issues. I care to see women receive the same rights that men take for granted. I care to see people of colour enjoy the privileges that many white people aren’t even aware that they have. I care that anyone at all, be they gay or bisexual, transgender, disabled, neurodivergent, or whatever the case may be, is able to exist within this society feeling safe and loved and accepted. All of this matters to me.

But because I talk about these issues often enough, I’ve come across a person or two who offers me this question: Why? Do I really think that I’m going to make a difference? Is pointing out that a specific train of thought is sexist really going to stop people from thinking that way? All of these issues that I fight to bring light to – racism, sexism, homophobia, heteronormativity, ableism, etc. – are all so deeply ingrained in our culture that I can’t even really expect it to change. So why bother, right?

Shouldn’t we just give up? Shouldn’t we just accept that the world is flawed and move on with our lives? Wouldn’t that make things easier for everybody?

Well, speaking from personal experience, I have to say – no, it wouldn’t make things any easier. In fact, it only makes things worse.

My problem is that I can’t not be aware of these things. I can’t help but notice that they are not only present but prevalent, in everything that we think, do, watch, say. It exists in the politicians that we choose to elect, in the celebrities that we choose to look up to, in the fictional characters that we choose to relate to. It exists in our personal relationships, in the ways that we talk to different people, in the things that we expect from them. I have seen sexism destroy families, and I have seen homophobia kill children. Some people can go their whole lives without noticing any of this, but I can’t – partly because I live it, as a bisexual woman, but also because I’ve gone out of my way to try and educate myself on these matters.

As I said, these issues are important to me. I need to talk about them. And I know I’m not the only person who feels this way.

But even ignoring all of that for a moment – let’s say we as a society could stop talking about these issues. Let’s say that we just dropped every social justice movement tomorrow, because from the logic of those who ask the question to begin with, you’d think that what would happen would be – nothing. The world just wouldn’t change – it would remain the way that it is right now, forever.

And maybe it would.

Maybe women would continue to be told that it was their fault, that they should have dressed or acted differently to avoid being raped.

Maybe black people in America would continue to get shot in the streets by white cops who get off punishment-free.

Maybe gay, bisexual, or transgender children would continue to kill themselves before they even reach adulthood, because they don’t see any possibility that they will ever get to be themselves.

Or maybe all of this would get worse over time, because no one is talking about these issues. No one is making sure that these people know that they aren’t alone, that someone cares and is truly trying to make a difference for them.

And if that’s all you do by talking about these issues – just let someone know that they aren’t alone, and that if they just keep fighting, things might just get better – then isn’t that a worthwhile fight in its own right? Isn’t hope, at least, worthwhile?

Maybe things won’t get any better, I don’t know. Maybe this truly is as good as it’s going to get. But maybe it’s not. Maybe things will get better. They already have, after all. We reach new and exciting milestones all the time – in 2015, the United States legalized same-sex marriage because people cared enough to talk about it. In 2014, Laverne Cox became the first transgender woman to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, accompanying the claim that we as a society were at “the tipping point” for discussing transgender issues. And, no, things aren’t perfect; we still have a long way to go, but little by little, we are winning battles. And we are doing this because we refuse to give up. Because we know that these issues are worth talking about, and so we talk about them.

We fight, not because there is any guarantee that we’ll win, but because we know that it’s a worthy fight nonetheless.

So if you can say that you feel that same way – maybe not specifically about a social justice movement, but about anything at all – if you feel that it is worth defending, and worth believing in, and worth fighting for if you have to, then by all means, fight. Maybe you won’t win, but at least there will be someone fighting. At least people will see that this is something that people care about, something that matters. And maybe not everyone will agree with you. Maybe not enough people will, anyway. But that isn’t the important part. What’s important is that, end of day, you can rest easy with yourself knowing that you did everything you could in your attempts to make the world a better place.

And that, after all, is what we all want to accomplish in our time here on earth, isn’t it?

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The Consequences of Over-Sexualizing Women’s Bodies

I was ten years old when I started growing breasts, and from minute one, I was ashamed.

I hear stories of girls who wanted to grow breasts, who thought that it made them look grown-up and womanly and all that, but that wasn’t my experience. When I started to grow breasts, I saw them as very sexual things that had suddenly attached themselves to my body, and at ten years old, I didn’t want people to look at me as sexual.

My solution was to start dressing in baggy shirts; lots and lots of baggy shirts, in the hope that my family, my friends, adult strangers who passed me in the street, would not sexualize a ten-year-old body.

As tends to happen to people, I eventually got older, and by the time I was sixteen, I didn’t like the way that baggy shirts looked on me. And so, I switched to tighter-fitting shirts with shorter sleeves and lower necks. There was only one potential problem with this: I had large breasts. And so, naturally, my breasts had this annoying tendency to reveal themselves in the form of cleavage quite often. Not even voluntarily; I could be wearing the most unsuspecting of shirts and – bam, cleavage. It didn’t matter what I did, it didn’t matter how I wore it; so long as I wasn’t wearing a frumpy sweater that was a size too big with a picture of a cat playing with a ball of string across the front, people were gonna see some cleavage.

And for a while, this embarrassed me. Granted, I don’t really remember being called out for what I wore (excluding on one occasion, where a teacher paraded me in front of the class and asked me to prove that my outfit was appropriate for school). But I often found myself noticing when other people’s eyes went to my breasts instead of my face, and I felt guilty for it. I wondered what they thought about me, if I was willing to dress like this. They must think I’m a slut, that I’m looking for attention, that I’m trying too hard to impress them.

Nobody ever called me a slut (so far as I know, anyway). Nobody ever accused me of looking for attention (unless I forgot it over time, because I realized that it wouldn’t matter if I did). And yet, I still felt that my body, including the ways in which it naturally developed and the ways that I decorated it, made me a lesser person.

And why?

Because that is the world that we live in. It is downright common to see and hear women’s bodies sexualized and objectified, and this doesn’t come without consequences. And I’m not just talking about the age-old some-men-see-women-only-as-objects consequences; I’m talking consequences regarding the ways that women and (especially) young girls see themselves.

From the time that I was young, I have heard men go on about how a woman’s breasts are sexually appealing, how her eyes are sexual, how her ass is sexual, how the curve of her hip or her neck are sexual, and all of this amounts to girls who grow up feeling like they can’t really have any of these body parts without it being inherently sexual. And, worse, if they reveal to the world that they have these body parts and someone ogles her or touches her inappropriately, then it is her fault, she shouldn’t have worn what she was wearing.

This latter belief is enforced from a very young age with such things like school dress codes.

If a boy in her class cannot focus on his work because the girl in question has shoulders, then that is deemed to be her problem, she is the one who needs to change. I mean, it’s not as though the boy needs to be told to stop being immature and focus on his work, right?

If a male teacher is uncomfortable with the fact that a student in his class isn’t wearing a bra, then clearly, she needs to start wearing a bra for him. It isn’t like he needs to be told that he should act like a professional and stop sexualizing a child’s body when he’s a grown-ass man, right?

And, really, boy’s bodies are not quite sexualized to the same degree. You never hear about girls getting distracted from their work because the boy sitting next to them was wearing a V-neck. You do not hear people going on and on about how pecks are dirty and sexual, and they need to be covered up as much as possible. You never hear about a boy who was assaulted, and the first question he was asked when he tried to come forward was, “well, what were you wearing?”

Simply by having a female body, society sort of sets you up to be distrusted and ashamed.

But you know what? I’m very glad that I had large breasts as a teenager, and that I couldn’t help but to show a little cleavage. And I know that when I say that, the majority of you are probably thinking that I’m saying that because it got me some good attention – but no. That’s not it at all.

Because, you see, when I first started wearing more tight-fitting shirts, when I first saw my peers’ eyes dart to my chest rather than my face during conversations, I felt ashamed and like I was doing something wrong. But, eventually, I came up with an answer to those wonderings I presented before:

They must think I’m a slut, that I’m looking for attention, that I’m trying too hard to impress them.

And who fucking cares?

If they think I’m a slut, then that’s their problem, not mine. And besides, if they really are the sort of person to look down on someone for how many sexual partners they’ve had or appear to have had, then I’m not sure they’re the sort of influence I want in my life.

If they think I’m looking for attention, then oh-fucking-well. I am looking for attention. We’re all looking for attention; isn’t that the point of life? To be noticed? To stand out? To make a difference in this world, to leave it changed from the way that you entered it? I don’t want to blend into the crowd; I want to lead the crowd, and no, my cleavage won’t necessarily get me that leader position that I’m craving, but it’s not going to stop me either, and while we’re on the subject of looking for attention, why would I deny what we all already know?

And if they think that I’m trying too hard to impress them – I’m not. I’m not trying to impress them. I don’t care about them. I don’t do my make-up for them. I don’t stand in front of my wardrobe and pick out clothes specifically with the intent of making heterosexual men en masse like me. I wear and I do what makes me feel pretty, what makes me comfortable. And sometimes that does mean frumpy, too-big sweaters with cats on the front, but usually that means tight-fitting shirts that show a little bit of skin, because it makes me feel less constrained and more beautiful. And when I feel free and beautiful, I feel more confident, more capable of leading that crowd I mentioned earlier.

And maybe I am risking people sexualizing my body when I don’t want them to, or blaming me for their own wrong-doings and sexist thinking, but end of day, I just don’t care anymore. I’m too old to worry about what people think now, and I’m too comfortable in my skin to change anything for their sake. And if someone ever accuses a woman of being the reason why they acted inappropriately (or, in some cases, even criminally), because she was dressed in a revealing manner, then that person is dangerously, horrendously wrong. They are sexualizing said woman’s body to a gross extent, ignoring her personhood completely and reducing her to little more than an irresistible object.

And that is not okay.

A woman’s body is not responsible for the actions of another. A woman’s body is not inherently sexual, simply by existing. Breasts are just breasts, like a man’s pecks are just pecks. And no ten-year-old girl should ever feel dirty, gross, or sexualized simply because of the way that her body is naturally developing.

Sticks And Stones May Break Our Bones, But Words Will Hurt Us Worse

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

We said this as children, when we didn’t have anything clever enough to retort back to our playground bullies, those big, mean, ugly kids who called us names but, end of day, didn’t matter because they were stupid.

We said this to ourselves to nurse the wound that words caused us, to tell ourselves that it didn’t hurt, that we were fine. That it didn’t matter because they were stupid and we were awesome and they just didn’t understand. That words bounced right off our skin, tough as armour, and we never thought about them again. And if we did feel any pain, then that was stupid; they were just words after all.

Then we got a little bit older, and we stopped saying this, because, slowly but surely, we learned that words did hurt. And yet, we still had a little bit of that old mentality – “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words should never hurt me”. They’re just words, they don’t mean anything. If that person telling me that I’m fat and ugly hurts me, then that’s my problem, I’m too sensitive. I mean, yeah, end of day, maybe that person is a little bit of a jerk for saying that, but that’s just the nature of the world. There are jerks everywhere, and I’m going to have to get used to dealing with them. I have to suck it up, learn how to accept it, move on and stop dwelling.

And yet, we got ever older, and we dwelled. We remembered that person that called us fat, that told us we wouldn’t ever be able to do anything, that we were stupid and lazy and useless and wrong. They may have stopped saying those things, we may even have stopped knowing them, but we heard their voice nonetheless every day. We heard their voice when we looked in the mirror. We heard their voice when we considered applying for our dream job. We heard their voice when we were faced with any disappointment or struggle, and their voices began to mingle with our thoughts. They began to define how we saw ourselves – they told us enough times who we were, and in our own minds, that’s who we became. We were stupid and lazy and ugly, not because of who we were as people, but because that was what they made us see in ourselves. And we didn’t really stop to question who it was that they had defined us as.

But, even saying that, these are not the only voices that we can hear. It is human nature to look in the mirror and hear the voice of that one man who told you that you were “too fat to be attractive”, but you can also look in the mirror and hear the voice of the woman at that party who gushed on and on about how pretty your hair is. When applying for your dream job, chances are, you will hear the voice of the teacher who told you that you won’t be able to do it, but it is the voice of the friend who told you that you were really talented and you really had a shot at doing it that will make you truly go through with it.

You just need to be able to shift your focus from the negative comments to the positive ones, and more than that, you need to seek out and surround yourself with people who will give you these positive comments in the first place.

And maybe one of the first steps in doing this is being one of those people who gives positive comments, who compliments and lifts up and tries to focus on the positive (even when the positive may be really hard to find; in fact, especially then). And we can do this both toward other people, lifting them up and helping them see the beauty in themselves, as well as toward ourselves.

Because when we were kids, we got it completely wrong; sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will hurt us worse. Words will change who we are as human beings, or at least change the way that we see ourselves. Words will attempt to define us, to trap us in boxes and low self-esteem. And, similarly, words have the power to break us out of our traps, whether these be the words that we speak to ourselves – the words that we use to challenge the way that we see ourselves and how we have been defined – or the kind words that others speak to us.

Words are immensely powerful – more so than we seem to want to realize. So let’s utilize that power. Let’s use them for good instead of harm, and let’s do this for ourselves as well as for those around us.

 

We Need to Listen

While I find my voice quite frequently in the form of writing, if you were to meet me face-to-face, you’d discover that I tend to be a very quiet person. And all my life, people have told me that this is a problem.

In school, my teachers would tell me again and again that I had very good things to say when they read my essays or my homework, but that I never contributed to the conversation in class. This more than anything brought my grade down.

At jobs, while I have absolutely no problem speaking the words that need to be spoken, and even engaging in conversations when I come across people who are particularly chatty, I have been told by employers that I need to be more talkative, more socially engaging, and if I can’t do that, then I shouldn’t be here.

In social settings, I have always felt bad about the fact that I am quiet. People will tell me things like “don’t be shy” or “you don’t need to be nervous”, but that has never been the case for me. I’m not shy, and people don’t make me nervous. I’m just quiet. That’s just the nature of me. When I am very talkative, that usually means one of two things: that a topic of conversation has been brought up that I am particularly passionate about, or that I am trying to push myself into a place where I am not being myself and I am not comfortable.

And I think that these two comments really sum up the misconception that tends to be made about me, or quiet people in general: that we’re shy. That we don’t like people. That people make us nervous, and as a result, we are weak, or there is something wrong with us. But, at least in my experience, none of this is true. I love people. I love to be around people, and I love to hear what they have to say, and I love to receive attention from them. And yet, I’m quiet.

And as much as I’ve heard people say, over and over again, that this is a character flaw of mine that needs to be overcome, as much as I’ve had people praise me for making myself uncomfortable and speaking when I wouldn’t normally have spoken, I disagree with all this. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d understand forcing myself to be uncomfortable for something that I actually believed would make me a better person, but I don’t believe this will.

Because, while everyone else seems to believe that, when I’m not talking, I’m not doing anything, this isn’t the case. When I’m not talking, I’m listening, and I’m thinking. And these are two actions that I sincerely do not want to do less of.

Let’s go back to the classroom setting, for an easy example of what I mean here. When I was sitting in class, I was so busy listening to what my teachers and peers had to say that I wasn’t really thinking about what I could contribute myself, and this was what made me a decent student. Because I already knew my own thoughts on the matter, but I was obsessed with hearing other thoughts, because frequently enough, they differed from mine. And once I stocked up on all of these differing perspectives, when I left the classroom, I would sort through them, decide which perspectives made sense to me and which didn’t, and then I would take this thought and put it in my homework and essays. I felt that it was incredibly important for me to listen and think through everything I had heard because I didn’t think that my own opinion on the matter was wrong, but I firmly upheld the belief that my opinion wasn’t the only one that mattered. In fact, I sort of believed that all these opinions mattered, and that the truth lay somewhere in between them all.

And if I tried to tell this to my teachers, they would tell me that the other students could benefit from hearing my opinion as well, but when I tried to force myself to speak in class, then I found that I was so preoccupied with trying to come up with something to say that I forgot to even listen. And listening was just too important for me to give up.

And the classroom is not the only place where my penchant for listening has helped me. When a friend is going through a difficult time, before I judge or suggest any action for them to take, I make sure that I listen to them and try to understand what they are going through. I try to see things from all perspectives, and while this takes more time, it has also helped me gain a deeper kinship with certain people.

Listening has also helped me to become a much more empathetic person than I might otherwise be. For example, as a white woman, I have no idea what it is like to live life as a person of colour – I’ve never done it myself. But I have listened to people, and I have tried to understand them and think about their perspective. So while I am aware that my voice, when it comes to these matters, is not the most important voice, it is essential that I lend these matters my ear and my eye, because that is the only way that I will learn about them.

There is a time and a place to speak, and there is a time and a place to listen, and personally, I believe that one of our society’s problems is that we think that the time to speak is constant. We forget the value of listening, because everyone is so obsessed with talking, with having their voices heard above anyone else’s, that they’re completely forgetting that other perspectives even exist, or that they might also be important.

And we all, every single one of us, have something to say. But what good will that do if there is no one to hear it?

The Purpose of Breasts

Earlier today, I was reading an article about a teenage girl who was told that, because she has large breasts, she needs to be very careful about what clothes she wears to school, lest she become a distraction to the boys in her class.

Now, of course, there’s a lot to unpack in this sentence. I could focus on how harmful high school dress codes are, as they hold teenage girls accountable for their male peers being unable to do their work despite being in close proximity with female bodies. I could focus on the fact that girls with large breasts are sexualized to a ridiculous extent, as it doesn’t matter what shirt they wear – any shirt is considered a ‘distraction’ – merely because the girl has large breasts.’

But these are all issues that people has discussed before, and discussed frequently. So frequently, in fact, that these were many of the comments that were left on the article in question, as well as another comment, which is actually the one that I want to focus on right now:

“People need to stop sexualizing boobs; a woman’s breasts are for feeding children, not sex.”

Now, this statement was made frequently, and it comes a well-intentioned place, I know. All that this statement is supposed to mean is that breasts should be more commonly accepted. Girls and women alike should be allowed to have breasts, to show their cleavage, to be shirtless in public, and it shouldn’t be a big deal because breasts are not inherently sexual organs. And I agree with all of this.

What I don’t agree with is the idea that the entire purpose behind a woman’s breasts is to feed children.

I mean, sure, breasts can be used to feed children. That is certainly a thing that they are capable of, and it is a thing that no woman should be ashamed of or have to do alone, tucked away in the shame corner (also known as the bathroom). It is a thing that we should be allowed to talk about comfortably. I mean, even if you haven’t pushed a human being out of your vagina, chances are you’ve heard people talk about the benefits of breastfeeding, so it’s understandable why people would suggest that that is the purpose for breasts in the first place.

But what about mothers who decide not to breastfeed, whether for economic reasons or health issues or personal preference? I mean, these sort of mothers are becoming a bit of a minority as breastfeeding is pushed more and more in our society, but they most certainly do exist, and are they not valid? Are they not using their breasts properly? Do they have breasts for no reason at all?

What about women who are infertile, and cannot conceive a child, let alone give birth to and nurse them? In the United States, it is estimated that 10 percent of women aged fifteen to forty-four have difficulty getting or staying pregnant – and this is not a small amount of women. But these women may never use their breasts to feed a baby, so are their breasts wasted? Do they fail to serve their purpose, because their bodies are not capable of creating life?

What about women like me, women who do not want to conceive a child of their own? In the past, this might not have even been considered an option for women, but more and more are coming forth nowadays and saying “I don’t want kids!” and that’s fine. There are many reasons to decide that you don’t want kids – whether it be because you are dealing with a mental illness that you don’t want to pass down, you don’t want to deal with the absolute living hell that is pregnancy, or you simply don’t see it as a priority and there are other things you want to focus on – this is a valid choice nowadays. But if you don’t get pregnant, then your breasts won’t fill with milk, and you won’t be able to feed any children. So does that mean that, again, you fail in your service as a person with breasts?

What about transgender women who choose to receive breasts surgically? What purpose do these breasts serve? I mean, they can’t feed children (not unless modern day plastic surgery has advanced much more than I realized). And yet, despite the fact that they don’t serve their apparent purpose, transgender women continue to want them and get them, and is this without a point? Are they spending all this money and going under the knife for no reason at all? Are their breasts, again, wasted?

The way that I see it, breasts are the only body part that people will argue about their purpose. You don’t see people demanding that hands be covered up because they can and do get used during sex, while another group argues that hands are perfectly fine and should be accepted because they can be used to tickle children as well. The truth is, breasts are just breasts. They are a body part, and their purpose is to be bags of fat that hang off your chest. I know that that sounds much less romantic than the alternative, but it’s true.

And as I might have hinted at before, their use changes depending on the woman and depending on the circumstance. Sometimes, breasts are a symbol of femininity that make women feel more comfortable in their gender identity. Sometimes, breasts are an annoyance that flop around awkwardly while you run. Sometimes, breasts are used in sexual acts. Sometimes, breasts are used to feed children. Breasts have uses, but they don’t really have a sole, defining purpose.

And the way I see it, it is dismissive and unfair to say that the purpose of breasts is to feed children, just because, for years, we as a society considered the purpose of women to be bearing children, when that just isn’t reality anymore. Women have options. We can choose to conceive our own children, we can choose to adopt our own children, or we can choose to forego the whole business and raise dogs or cats. We cannot consider the sole purpose of our bodies to be creating and sustaining children, because when we do that, we imply that, by not creating and sustaining children, we are failing at something. But that isn’t the case. Your body is not one, big reproductive organ; you are a person, filled with thoughts and feelings and emotions and passions, and the purpose of your body is to carry all of that. I think that society sometimes makes it too easy for us to forget that, with the sort of language that it uses toward women.

So the next time that you want to say, “it’s ridiculous that we tell girls that they need to cover up their breasts when they aren’t even sexual organs”, say that instead. Because there are too many experiences out there that we ignore and belittle by assigning breasts with a singular purpose.