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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An Open Letter to Rose McGowan About Discussion in the #MeToo Movement

I have been a fan of Rose McGowan for a long time. Even before the #metoo movement began.

From Scream to Charmed, I considered her to be an actress who typically played strong characters who weren’t afraid to own their voice and their sexuality. Heck, to this day, I still have a poster of her in Planet Terror on my wall!

And when the #metoo movement began, and McGowan stepped forward to be a leading voice for it, I was proud of her. I was watching someone who I admired become the character that I had always perceived her to be – the strong, outspoken woman who demanded to be heard. I loved it. And I still firmly and unabashedly respect what she is trying to do, so I mean absolutely no offence to her or to her message when I write this.

But, lately, I’ve been noticing a few points worthy of criticism about the way that McGowan is presenting her message.

The first time I noticed this, it was in an interview McGowan did with Nightline, where she describes her sexual assault in great detail (and, yes, consider this a trigger warning: watch the interview at your own discretion). In the interview, the point was raised that some people have been asking why victims of sexual assault didn’t just fight their attacker off, and McGowan was asked what she thought about that. “A lot of people are also stupid. That would be my response,” McGowan said.

As a feminist who writes about feminism on the internet, I… cringed. I mean, I completely and fully understand why McGowan would say this – 100 percent. If you watch the video, you can tell that McGowan is extremely hurt by the sexual assault, and has been for years. And, not only that, she has had to deal with frustrating comments from hundreds of inconsiderate people who are incapable of understanding what happened to her, and as McGowan continues on to say, “it’s not [her] fault you can’t put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s been terrorized repeatedly”. I understand that, and I’m not saying that McGowan should feel any differently than she does.

But this is an emotional response, first and foremost. And she has presented this emotional response in a public forum, in connection to an issue that many people have strong feelings about. And from my personal experience, I know that you need to be downright strategic to do that properly.

You cannot start a discussion with, “yeah, well, you’re stupid”. That closes people with different opinions off from your argument. They won’t care what you say next, because they’ll be so lost in their own insult that they won’t understand the rest. And that’s a problem when your purpose is to try to change the world. People won’t hear what you have to say if they’re so busy being offended by it.

But, like I said, I understood McGowan’s feelings, and I understood why she said what she did. So I was willing to shrug it off.

Until I heard something else that bothered me so much more.

In a recent book event that McGowan did at a Barnes & Noble in New York City, McGowan entered into a screaming match with a transgender woman who didn’t approve of McGowan’s focus when it came to this issue. Specifically, she wanted to know how transgender women fit into McGowan’s take on the #metoo movement.

This is not the first time that McGowan has been criticized for her views on transgender women. In an episode of RuPaul’s podcast “What’s the Tee”, McGowan made a few comments that many perceived to be transphobic, and McGowan has also made several transphobic comments toward Caitlyn Jenner. And this, naturally, concerned the transgender woman at McGowan’s book event – because, as I stated before, McGowan is a leading figure in the #metoo movement right now.

“I have a suggestion. Talk about what you said on RuPaul. Trans women are dying and you said that we, as trans women, are not like regular women. We get raped more often. We go through domestic violence more often. There was a trans woman killed here a few blocks [away],” the woman said.

And this is true. Trans women do get raped at an alarming rate. One in two transgender women are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their life, compared to one in four women in the general population.

So, yes, transgender women do deserve a voice in this movement. McGowan, however, denied this woman her voice. The two women screamed at one another for some time until the transgender woman was forced out of the building by security. McGowan then continued to rage about what happened on stage for a long while, getting her final word in that, “I might have information you want. I might know shit that you don’t. So f*cking shut up. Please systemically. For once. In the world.”

But the problem, Rose McGowan, is that transgender women are forced to ‘shut up’ all the time in our society. That’s part of the problem.

And that’s part of what I’m beginning to take issue with when it comes to Rose McGowan’s approach to the #metoo movement: she isn’t willing to create a discussion. Not when the discussion is difficult and frustrating and seemingly endless, and not when the discussion makes sense either. She’s just too hurt and too defensive to do it.

And I get it – I do, I understand and respect her pain. But cutting off discussion could have massive negative implications for the #metoo movement as a whole.

If you aren’t willing to answer the tedious questions, then those who ask them will never receive the answer, and they’ll never be forced to consider the question. They’ll just stalk off, angry at being called ‘stupid’, and they’ll cut themselves off from the movement altogether. They won’t help. They won’t contribute. That’s a whole demographic that has simply been lost, because a discussion wasn’t allowed.

And if you aren’t willing to consider the possibility that there might be more sides to this issue than the one you have experienced, then you cut out even more people from the movement – people who would be guaranteed allies if you’d just let them. But if you won’t talk to them, or see things from their perspective, then you alienate them. You cast them out. You make this movement smaller than it needs to be, while simultaneously allowing trans women to continue to be abused.

And, Rose McGowan, please hear me when I say: just because transgender women are, statistically, sexually abused more often than cis gendered women are, that doesn’t invalidate what happened to you. What happened to you remains atrocious and unacceptable, and I applaud you for fighting against it. But you can’t just fight for yourself, not when you’ve taken on the mantle of leading the #metoo movement. You need to fight for all women – regardless of the genitalia they were born with. You need to help us create a world where all women are safe from this.

And part of creating that world is through discussion. Tedious, difficult, and sometimes humbling discussion. I understand that you are hurting, and I’m sorry for that, but this can’t be a black-and-white, us-versus-them issue. You can’t just silence and disregard everyone who doesn’t agree with you. You need to hear them out, and if you still stand by what you believe, then you need to explain to them why you believe that.

Imagine how different the Barnes & Noble event would have gone if, instead of screaming at the woman in question, you listened to what she had to say, and then you spoke to her as an equal? You tried to understand her. You tried to be understood. No one right and no one wrong – just two women who had both been hurt by an unfair society that needs to be challenged.

That’s what needs to happen. That’s how the #metoo movement is going to begin doing some real, lasting good in the world. Because I still believe it can. But not if we don’t allow discussion.

Genitalia Does Not Determine Gender

On January 20, 2018, the second women’s march was held.

Strong, beautiful, capable women filled the streets, wearing their cute, pink pussyhats and wielding signs like, “Anything you can do, I can do bleeding” and “pussy power”. And I’m proud of these women. I am. But looking through these pictures online, there is one question that keeps coming to my mind:

Since when is my vagina (or the colour of it, or the fact that it occasionally bleeds) what makes me a woman?

Because there are a lot of women in this world. And amongst these women, a lot of variety. Some women don’t bleed from their vaginas, for one reason or another. Some vaginas aren’t pink. Some women don’t even have vaginas, because some women were born with penises, and some women chose to keep their penises. And yet, despite all of this variety, these are still women, and these women deserve recognition and validation and basic human rights, as much as any of us.

And, I know, I know; there are a lot of women in the world. It’s difficult and, in some cases, impossible to constantly be inclusive to every single one of them, especially when some issues that the women’s march are trying to gain attention to are specific to certain women (like, say, women’s rights to reproductive health). And the vagina is, to a certain extent, an image to be reclaimed by some.

But if we’re going to move forward with this whole equal rights thing that we’re all hoping for, we need to make sure that we’re being inclusive toward all women. And this idea of equating femininity with vaginas and masculinity with penises is a slippery slope.

I often hear it joked about amongst cis-gendered male company. This idea that having a big penis means that you’re somehow a bigger and better man. This idea that, without a penis, you aren’t a man, that even if a cis-gendered man lost his penis for one reason or another, then – poof! suddenly, he’s a woman, just like that.

Heck, another word for penis is literally ‘manhood’.

And part of striving for equal rights should involve spreading this message that, just because you were born with a penis, that doesn’t mean that you’re a man. And just because you don’t have a penis, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t a man. Some feminists are legitimately trying to do this. And some feminists seem to be taking a page from the same book that all of those men bragging about their big dicks are reading.

Which, you know, would be cool if it weren’t for the fact that transgender individuals really should not be ignored right now. Like, they really, really shouldn’t.

Trans people are four times more likely to live in poverty than the general population due to several workplace issues – including violence and discrimination (trans people also experience homelessness at twice the rate of the general population).

41 percent of trans or gender non-conforming individuals have attempted suicide (compared to 4.6 percent of the general population).

One in two transgender people are raped, and some have even speculated that the statistic might be as high as 66 percent.

In 2017, 28 transgender individuals were murdered in the U.S. – meaning that violence against trans people has actually been increasing (in 2016, 23 trans people were murdered). Nearly all of them were women of colour.

This is the reality of living as a transgender person in North America. This is something that feminists should be talking about – and talking about prominently. I understand that we have other concerns to deal with as well, but we need to make space for this at our marches. Because this matters. This is important. We can’t just ignore it, because it doesn’t fit into our pussy-centric narrative.

And I see your little pussyhats, and they’re very cute. I do not for a second believe that they were made with ill intent, or to exclude anybody from the march. But when we put them on and agree that what unites us as women is the vagina, then we aren’t really being fair or true. What unites us as women is that we all call ourselves women, and we all have to deal with the hardships that comes with that. And it’s a different hardship for everybody. Some women only have to deal with sexism. Some women have to deal with sexism as well as racism. Some women have to deal with sexism, racism, and transphobia, all at once. Some women have to deal with more. And I understand if you don’t relate to that experience because it isn’t your own – but that doesn’t mean that those women aren’t your sisters. That doesn’t mean that those women aren’t suffering, and that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn about their experience so that you can help them.

And, really, all you need to do is learn. Learn, and make sure that you are opening up our marches and our movement to every women out there.

If I lost my vagina tomorrow in some sort of awful vagina-losing accident, I’d still be a woman. Because, end of day, my vagina has absolutely nothing to do with my identity. I identify as a woman because I feel like a woman – end of story. Not because of what’s between my legs (or the fact that it bleeds, or the colour of it, etc., etc.). Genitalia does not define us as much as we have allowed society to make it define us. End of day, it is society that tries to make us think that you can’t be a man with a vagina, or a woman with a penis. And if feminism believes in anything, it is that society can be changed.

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.

Why My Feminism Includes Trans Women

I am a feminist. I say this proudly and unapologetically, because I don’t think that this is something that anyone should be ashamed or afraid to be.

But that being said, that does not mean that I agree with everything that every feminist has ever said.

There are some feminists, for example, who present the argument that transgender women have no place in mainstream feminism. They say that transgender women are not actually women, that their experiences are very different from a cisgender woman’s and therefore, they are outside of the movement. Some feminists have even made the comment that including transgender women into the discussion is essentially inviting men into women’s spaces, and that doing this will result in higher statistics of rape (because transgender women clearly want to use the women’s bathroom just so that they can rape women), and/or it might force lesbians to accept penis.

This type of feminism is sometimes referred to as Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism, or TERF. And, personally, I have a big problem with it. Personally, I think that it is important that we include trans women in our feminism, because trans women are women. They are women with lived experiences that are slightly different from cisgender women, but that’s the case with many women. A black woman will experience being a woman differently from a white woman. A lesbian will experience being a woman differently from a straight woman. A wealthy woman will experience being a woman differently from woman living in poverty. But none of these experiences are wrong, and none of these experiences should go ignored when we are talking about the issues that women, en masse, experience.

In my opinion, feminism should include everyone. This type of feminism is sometimes referred to as Intersectional Feminism (and for the record, there are more types of feminism out there than I can list off in this article, so I’m keeping it down to these two for now).

And more than that, the issues that transgender women face (and transgender people in general) are very relevant to our discussion as feminists.

Transgender women face violence at an alarming rate. 2016 saw the highest rate of death for transgender people as a result of violence, and some have speculated that violence against transgender people has only increased with the higher media representation of transgender celebrities, like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner. Thus far, in 2017, eighteen transgender people have been murdered – seventeen of them women and many of them people of colour.

In a 2009 report, 50 percent of people have died as a result of hate violence toward the LGBTQ community were transgender. Seventeen percent of all victims of hate crime violence toward LGBTQ people are transgender, and eleven percent are transgender women.

And fatal violence is not the only sort of violence that transgender people face either. One in two transgender people report being raped at some point in their life, and some reports have even estimated that 66 percent of transgender individuals will face sexual assault at some point in their lives. This suggests that the majority of transgender individuals are rape survivors – and rape, as you may recall, is an important matter of discussion for feminism.

According to one survey, 50 percent of transgender people have been hit by a primary partner after coming out to them.

I recall seeing a post on Facebook that I will not go into lengthy detail quoting, but within this post, the comment was made that “a man’s biggest fear IS that his date turns out to be transgender” and that “I would beat the shit out of my date if that happened”. I wish that I could say that this was an idle threat, but considering the amount of violence that is reported toward the transgender community, I’m afraid it isn’t. And it doesn’t help matters that, especially in the very recent past, transgender women are frequently represented by the media as “tricking” their heterosexual, cisgendered male dates. In the Family Guy episode “Quagmire’s Dad”, Brian is shown as unknowingly sleeping with a transgender woman, and upon finding out about her gender identity, he is horrified to the point of screaming and proceeds to vomit profusely – because that’s the sort of reaction every woman wants to get from her date. And, yes, I know that Family Guy is based around shock humour, but this humour does not come out of nowhere. It plays on something within our society, and in this scenario, it seems to be the straight, cisgendered male’s fear of getting involved with a “disgusting” transgender woman – a fear that is seen again in the dramatic movie The Crying Game, where the trans woman’s gender identity is played as a horrifying plot twist which, again, causes our straight, cisgendered male protagonist to vomit (though, to be fair, The Crying Game is much more sympathetic to Dill than Family Guy ever was to Ida).

Rates of suicide within the transgender community are also staggering to look at as well. In the U.S., 41 percent of transgender or gender non-conforming people have reported making a suicide attempt, compared to 4.6 percent of the overall population. These reports are most prevalent among transgender people aged 18-44. There are many possible reasons for this, and while reasons may differ between individuals, some of the most common include bullying, feelings of being unable to express who they truly are, and feelings of not being accepted among their family and/or community.

And, like cisgender women, transgender women are also subjected to sometimes unrealistic beauty standards. When Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover came out, the majority of comments focused on how beautiful she looked because she “passed” as a convincing cisgender woman, but not every transgender woman can pass quite so easily. They might not have access to hormones early enough, or they might not have access to surgery, and if that’s the case, then they run the risk of being dismissed as “not feminine enough” to be considered beautiful.

So when feminists talk about body positivity and making sure that every woman feels beautiful, no matter how she looks, we need to make sure we’re including transgender women in this as well.

Many of these issues, in fact, are issues that feminism frequently discusses. Feminism is a massive movement that covers a broad range of topics, and there should be enough room in it for transgender women as well. There should be room enough for all women.

When you exclude trans women from the conversation, then you overlook the issues that they face, and trans women should not have to fight these battles alone. We should be there for them, helping them, trying to create a safer world for them. Because the way that trans women are treated right now is not okay, and we have the means to change that – or at least start to. All we have to do is include them in the conversation.