What is Beauty?

“Women and girls need to be beautiful to be accepted.”

The problem with this statement should be obvious: the person making it is narrow-minded. This person comes to the table with a limited understanding of what beauty is, because beauty can be a lot of things.

This person thinks of beauty as being a body size, but the truth is that beauty is every body size. Beauty comes in sizes small, medium, and large. Beauty comes in the form of stretch marks and cellulite and body hair. Beauty is a woman who has recently given birth, and is regularly told that she needs to ‘get her body back’ (as though her body somehow left her when she used it to create a human being). Beauty is a woman who lifts weights, or does yoga, or is too busy to bother with any of it.

This person thinks of beauty as a race, or a religion, but beauty is too versatile for all that. Beauty comes in all colours. Beauty is monolid eyes, and dark skin, and natural hair. Beauty is a woman who proudly chooses to wear a hijab.

Beauty comes in all genders. Beauty is a cis-woman, sure, but beauty is so much more than that. Beauty is a cis-man, who has never been made to feel beautiful before, and who so desperately wants to. Beauty is a trans-person who ‘passes’ well as a cis-person, and beauty is a trans-person who doesn’t, and who might never, and that’s so much more than okay. Beauty is a non-binary person. Beauty is a gender queer person who only wants to feel beautiful some of the time.

Beauty is ageless. Beauty does not fade with time, and it does not lessen with wrinkles.

This person thinks of beauty as an edited cover girl, but beauty is often unedited. Beauty is that person with the confidence it takes to act crazy – loudly and in public. Beauty is your girlfriend, late at night, with her make-up smeared and her voice slow and tired, dressed in what makes her comfortable. Beauty is your friend, who is just so incredibly happy with where they are in life that you can see it in their eyes, in their smile, in the way that they present themselves.

“Women and girls need to be told that they don’t need to be beautiful.”

The problem with this statement is smaller: quite simply, people cannot escape from being beautiful. We are all beautiful.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it” – Confucius

Women and girls need to be told that they can be more than society’s narrow definition of beauty. Everyone needs to be told that they can be more than society’s narrow definition of beauty. Because beauty is natural, and beauty is everywhere, but society has decided to own beauty, to redefine it for itself, and society has done this poorly. Society has done this in a way that does not serve us. And, worse, we have let society do this to us. We have made it so easy for ourselves to miss the natural beauty in our own bodies, and in the bodies of others. We have told ourselves and others that they are ugly, when the truth is, they are simply left out of society’s definition.

And many of us know this. We know this. But believing it is another matter. Bringing ourselves to a place where we no longer punish ourselves for the way we look is complicated. Even if beauty comes in all sizes, we still call ourselves fat when we look in the mirror.

But look for the beauty. If not in ourselves, at least in others. In the world around us. In places you might not expect. Because that beauty is so exquisite, and we deserve to experience it. We miss out on so much when we’re so singularly attached to what society tells us to appreciate.

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The Problem With “I Don’t Want to Get Political”

“I don’t want to get political.”

I hear this statement every now and again, and under varying types of contexts. Sometimes it’s an attempt to distance oneself from what they’re about to say: “I don’t like to get political, but this really bothers me.” In other words, they’re saying: I’m not a political person. I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m not some angry, man-hating SJW or anything like that – it’s just this one particular subject that bothers me enough to make me say something.

Sometimes it’s an attempt to silence people: “I’m tired of hearing about politics all the time”, as though we aren’t all tired of talking about politics all the time. Trust me, if we could stop, if we could feel sufficiently like we’d been heard and the battle was over and things were fine, then you would stop hearing about it. But until then, the conversation continues.

And I get where the “I don’t want to get political” opinion comes from, I do: it’s a desire to not want to get involved, because getting involved is heavy and difficult and undesirable. It’s undesirable for everyone, trust me, I know. I am involved, so I know firsthand how tiring the whole thing can be. And you’d think that my knowing that would make me more forgiving toward people who “don’t want to get political”, and yet every time that I see this statement, it irritates me. It makes me want to say something.

There are two reasons for this.

Reason 1 – saying “I don’t want to get political” comes from a huge place of privilege.

And, I know, I know: a good chunk of my readership just tuned out at the word “privilege”, but please, hear me out.

For many of us, getting political isn’t really something that we can choose. It’s something that follows us around, whether we want it to or not.

A woman is forced to “get political” every time that she speaks out against her sexual assault or harassment.

A person of colour is forced to “get political” every time they get profiled at the mall, or some random person on the bus starts throwing racial slurs at them.

A queer person is forced to “get political” every time they get dressed in the morning, or check out someone cute.

If you don’t quite understand what I mean by this, I think a good example would be the reality TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, which stars a cast of drag queens and has discussed many political issues, including homophobia, H.I.V., and hate crime violence. When asked if the show was intentionally given overt political messaging, show host RuPaul Charles responded by saying, “It’s inherent in our experience. We don’t have to do much to infuse a consciousness into the show. It is such a part of our story, and we walk with it.”

For many of us, we don’t even have to try to become political. We just… walk with it.

If someone gets to choose whether or not to “get political”, then the only reason they have that choice is because the experience that they live with is so normalized and accepted by society that it isn’t even considered political anymore. It just… is. They aren’t considered a sexual orientation – they’re just the norm. They aren’t considered a race – they’re just the norm. They don’t have to fight for their rights or equality – they’re just accepted and free as they are. They don’t have to worry about “getting political”, because nothing “political” affects them.

Except, everything is political, which brings me to reason 2 for why this statement bothers me.

When a person says, “I don’t want to get political”, they are still making a political statement. They have not excused themselves from the conversation altogether. But rather than taking the opportunity to side with either the bully or the victim, they have decided to take the safer route – they have become the bystander.

“Political” issues continue to happen. They just happen without any involvement from those who “don’t want to get political”. And if the bystanders are doing nothing, just standing back and watching, then the bullies continue to feel validated in what they are doing. I mean, why wouldn’t they? Nobody’s trying to stop them.

And when nobody tries to stop them, then that sends a political message, even if the message was unintentional.

And I’m pretty sure that, the majority of the time, the message is unintentional. I don’t think that the majority of people who “don’t want to get political” are trying to be dismissive of other experiences, I think they just don’t understand. They don’t realize that they are speaking from a place of privilege, that even if something doesn’t directly affect them, it still affects other people in a huge way. But I think that this is a conversation that we need to have. Just because someone “doesn’t want to get political”, that doesn’t mean that they are exempt from the conversation.

Why Toxic Masculinity Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

I’ve used the term ‘toxic masculinity’ now and again when discussing feminism, and I’m always slightly surprised by the reaction that I get.

It doesn’t seem to matter the context in which I use the term. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I explain what the term means. Every single time I bring it up, there is always at least one person who hears what I’m saying and they think that I mean that men are toxic. They assume that I am saying that men are all evil, and they are to blame for all the negative things that exist in this world.

Which isn’t what I mean. At all. Honestly, some of my best friends are men.

No? Not buying that blatant excuse? Okay, I guess I’ll have to explain a little further then.

So, in order to understand what I mean when I say ‘toxic masculinity’, you’re going to need to understand the feminist theory that gender is performative. First put forth by feminist scholar Judith Butler, this theory essentially states that gender is not what’s between your legs or what comes naturally to you as a human being – gender is a performance, and we are all given the script from infancy. And by the time that we’re adults, we are so accustomed to performing our parts that we don’t even realize we’re performing them anymore.

So a lot of the ways that we perform our gender – the way we dress, the things we say, the thoughts that cross our minds – they are all learned behaviour. Women aren’t more emotional by nature; women are perceived as more emotional because women are encouraged to discuss their feelings whereas men are discouraged from doing the same.

You may agree with this. You may not. But this is the theory that toxic masculinity rests on.

Because what the theory of toxic masculinity argues is that some of the behaviours that men are taught to engage in to prove their masculinity are, in fact, toxic.

And I don’t only mean toxic to other people – although it is certainly that. From a very young age, men are told that violence and domination are two surefire ways to prove that they are men. In our media, you are much more likely to see men solve their problems by punching them than by discussing them, and you are much more likely to see men respond to rejection with harassment than with genuine understanding. And this has contributed to a society where 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. Men are also responsible for 98 percent of mass shootings and 90 percent of murders.

And women are not the only ones who are victimized by male violence (although that fact shouldn’t make you care any more or less about the fact that this is happening). Although one in four women will face domestic violence at some point in her life, 68 percent of homicide victims are men.

So, yeah, violence and domination is a real-life problem that affects all of us for the worst. And yet, that doesn’t seem to stop our media and our society from telling boys that violence and domination is one way to prove that you are a man.

But this is just one form of toxic behaviour that men might engage in to prove their masculinity. There are so many more.

For example, men are told from a young age that “real men don’t cry”. They’re told that nobody cares about their emotions, so “toughen up” and “be a man”. So, of course, to prove their masculinity, men will suppress their emotions and avoid talking about them. And perhaps because of this, depression in men goes woefully under diagnosed, despite the fact that men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.

Men are also told from a young age that “real men” are “players” and “lady-killers”. They get all the women, all the time, and women love them. This contributes to this idea of women as conquests and trophies, yes, but it also contributes to this idea that a “real man” is heterosexual, and intensely interested in sex.

Men are told that “real men” have big penises, despite the fact that trans-men are not born with penises.

Men are told that “real men” are muscular, which contributes to poor body image for men who do not feel that they fit that image.

Men are told that “real men” are white – in fact, Asian-American men are frequently emasculated in our media.

This is what I am referring to when I say ‘toxic masculinity’. I am not saying that men are evil. I am not saying that men are toxic. I am saying that society has put in place certain methods by which men are expected to prove their masculinity, and many of these methods are toxic – to the men who do not live up to these expectations, to the men who do, and to everyone else around them.

And this is part of why I believe that it is important for us to talk about toxic masculinity, even despite the negative connotation that many have ascribed to the discussion. Because in recent news, we have had multiple movements that discuss some of the unfortunate side-effects of toxic masculinity, such as the #metoo movement and Bell Let’s Talk Day, but we haven’t been discussing the matter directly.

And if we are going to make some actual, lasting changes, we need to talk about it. We need to stop telling boys to bottle up their emotions, or to fix problems through violence. We as a society – men and women alike – need to change the definition of what a “real man” is, and we start by changing the way that we talk to men and boys about their masculinity.

Because there are so many ways to be a “real man”. Real men identify as men – that’s literally the end of it. And that means that real men do whatever the hell they want, so long as what they do doesn’t hurt others or themselves.

Why Men Need to Discuss Gendered Violence

Women’s issues have been discussed much more prominently in our society lately.

We recently saw the #metoo movement take place, followed by the #timesup movement. Celebrities have been showing their support for these issues, while many other celebrities have been discussing their own issues surrounding sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape culture, and the wage gap.

And that’s all great; we should be talking about this. But there is another side to all this that we should be talking about as well.

For the most part, this discussion has been focusing on the women’s side of the matter (or, at the very least, the victims of sexual abuse and harassment). And though we’ve outed a few of the perpetrators and punished them (minimally), we haven’t really been discussing the perpetrators all that much.

And, on the one hand, I get it; women need to know that they aren’t alone. We as a society need to understand that these issues are prevalent, that they still exist, that there are battles that need to be fought. We need to know that we aren’t alone.

And at the same time, we need to stop this from happening ever again. And giving women a voice and the confidence to speak up when it does happen is a beautiful thing that should not be underestimated, but that won’t stop it from happening in the first place. And if we are ever going to reach a place of equality, we need to stop this from happening in the first place.

And how are we going to do that?

Well, to begin, we are going to have to talk about who the perpetrators in these issues are.

Sexual assault and harassment is typically discussed as a gendered issue, although there are some who have taken offence to that. After all, despite this pervasive myth in our society that men cannot be raped, it does happen, and it happens more frequently than you might think. Approximately 3% of American men will be the victim of either an attempted or a completed rape at some point in their life, and when men are raped, they face very different problems from female rape survivors.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this remains a gendered issue.

Although men are raped, women are eleven times more likely to be the victims of sexual offences than men are. Women make up 92% of victims of police-reported sexual offences, and when they are assaulted, they are more like to sustain injuries than men are (25% of women compared to 15% of men).

And, more important to what we’re discussing, 99% of the perpetrators are men.

And, I know, I know, half of my readership just tuned out. Nobody likes to feel accused of something that they feel that they are innocent of. I am not trying to say that all men are rapists. But I don’t think that we can ignore the fact that the vast majority of rapists are men. I think that this is something that we should discuss if we are going to get to the root of why this issue exists in our society.

And I’m not the only one who has suggested this before.

Scholar Jackson Katz, for example, has gone forward and said that gender-related violence should not be treated as a women’s issue, but rather, as an issue that involves us all, in one way or another. “Calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem,” argues Katz. “It gives a lot of men an excuse not to pay attention.”

In other words, if we discuss sexual harassment, sexual assault, or any type of gender-related violence as a women’s issue, then it gives men an excuse for ignore their part in all of it. And men have a part in this.

But why are the majority of rapists men? Why are there not more female rapists? What can this possibly mean?

Are men just naturally more predatory than women? Is a man’s natural state to be a rapist?

Well, no. I don’t believe this, and neither does Jackson Katz.

Katz argues that the reason why men become violent toward women – the reason why men objectify women, overly sexualize women, catcall women, and so on and so forth – is because we live in a society that normalizes all of this.

We live in a society that encourages men toward violence to prove their masculinity. We live in a society where many of our most iconic male fictional characters solve their problems by punching people and forcing things to go their way through brute strength. We live in a society where romantic comedies argue that when a woman says “no”, what she really means is, “keep harassing me until I change my mind”. We live in a society where men are not allowed to be emotional, or talk about their feelings, or come forward when they’re dealing with aggression or mental health issues, meaning that there are many men who do not know how to deal with their emotions or the emotions of others in a healthy manner.

And when all of this is normalized to us and we are not encouraged to think critically about it, then we just accept it. And not only do we accept it; we enforce it.

And if we are going to end this issues – truly end them, not just talk about them and raise awareness about them – then men are going to need to get involved. Men are going to have to look at their own role in this issue, and ask themselves whether or not they have ever harassed or assaulted a woman (or a man). Men are going to have to challenge their ideas of violence and assertiveness being connected to masculinity, as well as this idea that having emotions is natural weakness. Men are going to have to be an active agent in this discussion, and work alongside of feminists, preferably as feminists themselves, in order to end this problem.

And there are men who have discussed this already. I mention Jackson Katz in this article for many reasons, one of them being that he is considered the founder of the ‘bystander approach’ to ending gendered violence – which essentially means that, if you see it happening or suspect that it might be happening, then it is your responsibility to speak up. If you do not, then you are communicating the message that this is normal, and you allow the problem to continue.

Right now, we have many women who are speaking out – many survivors, but too few bystanders. That needs to change.

But if you want to help that change, then one resource that I can point you toward is called the White Ribbon Campaign – a group of men and boys who, according to their website, “pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.” They seek to spread awareness, create discussion, and create a more compassionate vision of masculinity.

It is wonderful that we are talking about these issues in our society, but I want to take this opportunity to invite more discussion. More specifically, I invite men to become part of this discussion, because we need men to be on board with this. We need men to commit to becoming part of the solution, to thinking critically about these matters. We need men to help us in this issue – because as much as women are amazing and fully capable, we cannot change the world single-handedly when we make up only 50% of it.

I Am Not An Insult

What’s the worst word that you can think to call a woman?

(Warning: foul language below)

When I asked you that question, you probably thought up a few examples. Words like bitch, whore, slut, or cunt. There are a few more specific examples, words like prude or ugly or fat, but those four examples are the more general terms that you might use to refer to any random, unpleasant woman.

So, in other words, the worst thing that you can call a woman is a woman.

And, in some cases, these insults refer to very specific types of women as well. Bitch, for example, when defined as offensive, is “a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman” (emphasis my own). The ‘bitch’ is a pro-active woman, a take-no-shit sort of woman. The ‘bitch’ will not accept being ignored, being taken advantage of, or being belittled. This is the reason why many feminists have moved to reclaim the word ‘bitch’, because, while many people may use the word ‘bitch’ as an insult, there should be nothing wrong with a strong, competent woman.

Words like ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ also refer to a particular type of woman; a promiscuous woman, or perhaps a woman who merely takes charge of her own sexuality. The use of these words as insults is meant to shame women for being sexually active; while the use of the word ‘prude’ is meant to shame women for not being sexually available.

The type of insults that we use reveal something about the way that we as a society view these specific people. If you call someone a ‘slut’ in a negative way, then clearly you don’t feel all too keen about women who are sexually active. If you want to make someone feel bad by calling them ‘fat’, then you don’t think highly of people who are overweight.

But let’s turn our attention around for a moment. Let’s ask this instead: what’s the worst word that you can think to call a man? Well, according to the logic of the last time I presented this question, you’d think that the worst thing that you can call a man is a specific type of man.

Well, yes and no.

Once again, you probably thought of a few examples of insults when I asked you that question. Men get called fag, queer, sissy, or girl. Hell, earlier today, I listened to a man trying to insult and belittle another man by referring to him as ‘half-woman’.

In other words, the worst thing that you can call a man is a woman, or a gay man.

And why does this matter? Why am I bringing this up? Well, it matters because, as I said before, the type of insult that we choose reflects how we view a specific type of people. If we as a society use ‘woman’ or ‘homosexual’ as an insult, then what does that say about the way we feel about women or LGBT+ people? But, more than that even, these insults enforce the way that we behave.

If a woman wants to avoid being called a slut, then she will act in a particular way that, she hopes, will mean that she won’t be called a slut. She will dress differently, relate to men differently, walk differently, dance differently, flirt differently, date differently, and so on and so forth. She won’t be fully free to explore her own sexuality, because her sexuality will constantly be judged and viewed by others who are too quick to label her with an insult.

And if a man wants to avoid being called a woman or a gay man, then he will have to shave off any hint of femininity about him. This fear of being insulted this way will affect the way that he dresses, the hobbies he enjoys, the food that he eats, the stores that he feels comfortable going into, the way that he relates to his male friends, the way that he relates to his female friends, the way that he relates to emotional trauma and tragedy, the way that he relates to any emotions at all, and so on and so forth.

Men will not talk about their own feelings because they don’t want to be perceived as ‘too girly’. And yet, despite this, men still have feelings; they just aren’t fully explored or understood.

Men are encouraged toward violence and dominance and aggression – all of which can be very harmful, both to themselves and to others.

But this doesn’t matter, right? Just as long as they aren’t a woman, or gay. Wouldn’t that just be the real tragedy? (Please read a heavy dose of sarcasm here)

And, end of day, changing our behaviour so that we aren’t perceived in this way is just ridiculous and nonsensical. Because there is nothing wrong with being a woman. There is nothing wrong with being a gay man. There is nothing wrong with being a virgin, and there is nothing wrong with having slept with many, many partners (just make sure you stay safe).

And, more than that, there is nothing wrong with identifying with one gender, and still not perfectly aligning with that gender’s roles. Women should be allowed to be aggressive and assertive without the fear that they’ll be undermined as a ‘bitch’; I mean, if men are encouraged toward that behaviour, then why can’t a woman do it?

Men should be allowed to enjoy baking, or talking about their feelings, or dressing up in any which way they want, without having their identity thrown into question.

We are all of us people, and people are built from balances: the balance of good and evil, the balance of reason and emotion, the balance of masculinity and femininity. Not one of us are one thing and one thing only. We should not have to deny whole parts of ourselves in order to fit into a narrow definition of what we should be.

Because you know what really sucks? Policing the way that other people can and cannot express themselves and their identities through the use of insults that undermine whole groups of people. And even if you wanted to ignore the fact that the threat of these insults forces people to shave off parts of themselves and deny themselves certain experiences – it just isn’t okay to use an entire group of people as a way to undermine and belittle someone. People are not insults, and the simple act of being who you are should not turn you into one.