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 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.

We All Lead Our Own Stories

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about people en masse is the fact that we are all our own separate story.

Our world is filled to the brim with stories, and we are all the protagonists of our own. The genre changes by the week or by the month or by the minute even. Sometimes, we are caught in horror stories or tragedies, and our lives are characterized by fear or loss or sadness. Sometimes, we are swept up in romantic comedies for a time, or maybe inspirational dramas, where we’re the underdog just struggling for recognition, striving to reach that happy ending so we can move on to the next chapter in our lives.

And just like with any well-written story, we are all three-dimensional characters. Every last one of us have a motivation for our actions, a reason to do it. Some of our motivations are better than others. Sometimes we are motivated by fear or anger or bitterness or a plain-and-simple bad mood. But, end of day, we all have a motivation, and we all believe that our motivations are good enough.

We are all the protagonists of our own stories, and so we are all just trying to be heroes. We want to overcome our obstacles, to come out stronger in the end and make a difference in the world. Sometimes we’ll settle for the role of anti-hero to get what we want, but nobody ever sets out to be a one-dimensional, cut-and-dry villain.

Nobody acts without motivation. Nobody intends to be cruel for the sake of cruelty, not unless they are really and truly hurt as human beings. Nobody is any less than a detailed and well-told story of varying genres.

And one thing that really bugs me, something that is growing as a pet peeve of mine, is when people forget all that.

And sometimes it’s not only easy but necessary to forget all that, but I’m talking about some pretty intense situations here. I’m talking about times when you have been hurt deeply by someone, and when forgiveness just isn’t possible quite yet. When the only way that you can fully rationalize what they did to you is by telling yourself that they’re simply evil, and that’s all there is to it. In situations such as these, I cannot bring myself to look down upon a hurt person who is still dealing with a fresh trauma, but these are not the situations that I am talking about.

I am talking about the people that we do not know, the stories that we have not yet been told, and yet we dismiss them so quickly, without even a thought.

I’m talking about seeing a girl in a public space wearing a bikini, and immediately dismissing her as a “dumb slut” without even considering any other alternatives – maybe she was just at the beach? Maybe she is really self-conscious about her body and trying to come to terms with how it looks? Maybe she’s really, really hot? Who knows, and more importantly, who are you to judge?

I’m talking about seeing someone standing too close to something dangerous, and rather than trying to help them, dismissing them as “stupid” and “deserving to be hurt”, but maybe they don’t even know that this is dangerous?

I’m talking about hating someone because of the way that their face looks. I’m talking about telling others that you want to punch someone because of something small and trivial that they keep doing, like smiling or looking your way. I’m talking about deciding that someone else is “no good” or “up to something” because they dress a certain way.

I’m talking about judging someone else as worthless without even knowing anything about them.

And one of the greatest reasons why this has become a pet peeve of mine is because it creates such an intense air of negativity. It creates enemies out of people who are just leading their own lives. It makes the one doing the judging think so much worse of people, because they are so much quicker to hate them. And I don’t want any part of that.

I’m not saying that all people are good or trustworthy, but all people are people. They have reasons for the things that they do, and you won’t always know their reasons. You might never find out that the girl annoying you with her public crying cannot control her panic attack and is at her wit’s end with the story she is leading, but that doesn’t make it any less real. That doesn’t make her story any less valuable or important. And it doesn’t make us any better to look down on her for it.

The Hatred of Femininity

Misogyny: (noun) the hatred of women.

In our society, misogyny can take many forms. It can come in the form of gender-based violence, like rape or domestic abuse. It can come in the form of social exclusion or hostility in certain spaces, such as cat-calling – especially if that cat-calling turns into threats, insults, or anything else that makes them feel unsafe in a public place. Or it can come in the form of constantly assuming the worst of women – thinking that they’re to blame for rape, thinking that they’re too delicate and too vulnerable to hear certain truths, thinking that they’re too emotional to do anything right.

Misogyny is something that is still very much alive today, and it is a very serious problem in our society that we cannot stop talking about. But the sort of misogyny that I want to focus on today is not simply the hatred of women, but rather the hatred of the feminine – because while these two issues most certainly connect and stem from the same issue (as I said, misogyny), the thing about the hatred of the feminine is that it affects all of us.

Because as much as femininity is something that gets assigned to straight women most frequently, that does not mean that only women are capable of femininity. They really aren’t.

Gay men, for example, are frequently represented as feminine in our media. They are represented as feminine so often, in fact, that some people have begun to shun this representation for being ‘stereotypical’, favouring the more invisible image of the masculine gay man (this can sometimes be referred to as effeminophobia, or discrimination against effeminate gay men). But feminine gay men most certainly exist as well, and they deserve a chance to see themselves not only represented, but represented well, and as much as feminine gay men have gotten a bit of the former, they haven’t always gotten the latter.

One example that we might all be aware of is the representation of feminine men in Disney movies. While not necessarily gay (or not openly so, anyway), many of the male villains of Disney cartoons are rather feminine – the Pocahontas villain Governor Ratcliffe styles his hair in two pink bows and carries around a small dog, the Peter Pan villain Captain Hook is highly emotional and dresses very flamboyant, the Aladdin villain Jafar has his eyeliner game on point. And why is this a reoccurring theme with male Disney villains? Well, in my opinion, it’s because, while Disney isn’t outright trying to say that femininity (and male femininity in particular) is wrong, they are trying to use these conventions to convey certain misogynist messages. We as the audience are supposed to read these men as being silly, vain and greedy because they are outwardly feminine. These villains are more easily detestable because they remind us of feminine aspects.

Disney will sometimes even use these aspects in their female villains as well. Honestly, think about it – when Ariel first meets Ursula in The Little Mermaid, she is applying her lipstick and fixing up her hair, and in One Hundred and One Dalmatians Cruella de Vil’s greatest downfall is her obsession with fashion.

Which brings me to another issue in all of this – it is not only women and men who receive scorn and hatred if they become classified as ‘too feminine’, but hobbies and interests as well. We as a society tend to regard the playing or watching of sports, a masculine pass-time, as worthwhile, something that builds character. And yet, watching fashion shows or reading magazines is regarded as silly and frivolous. Fixing a car is a useful skill to have, whereas sewing a dress is kind of cool if you can do it well, but not really useful unless you can make some good money at it. And don’t even get me started on the way that we as a society look down on chick-flicks for being stupid, unrealistic, and vapid, whereas action movies are awesome and full of fun car chases and explosions.

Especially if someone identifies themselves as a masculine person, it is a very common narrative for them to completely reject feminine pass-times. We have all heard about the very stereotypical set-up of the masculine boyfriend complaining loudly as his girlfriend drags him, kicking and screaming, into Sephora, while women are frequently expected to sit there quietly and watch sports with their boyfriends, even if they don’t like them.

Now, at this point you might be asking: so what? Why does it matter that people tend to look down on femininity? Well, it matters because, to some extent, we all have some aspect of us that is feminine. Not just straight women. Not just gay men. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. And this societal rejection of femininity as a valid option in our lives forces us to make one of two choices: we can continue to act feminine as accept that a side-effect of that will be that people will see us as vapid, silly, stupid, frivolous, etc., or we can reject the feminine parts of ourselves and act masculine, neither of them really works for me.

The latter option forces us to shave off parts of ourselves, to never be our complete self because society tells us that we can’t be. The latter option leaves holes in our identity, leaves parts of ourselves unexplored and unfulfilled. And when it comes to the former option, here’s the thing: I am very feminine. I like to do my hair and my make-up. My favourite movie is a love story. I dress very flamboyantly, I move very flamboyantly, and when I talk, my mannerisms are very feminine. And I am not stupid, silly, or frivolous. I do not appreciate being called stupid, silly, or frivolous. I refuse to live with that title placed on me by others, and I refuse to let others place that title on others like me.

Femininity is not a weakness; femininity is just a different way of being, and a perfectly valid way of being. The only reason why we tell our daughters that they’re frivolous for liking the Notebook, our sons that they can’t wear a dress or make-up, is because femininity is frequently assigned to women, and societally speaking, we do not like women. We think women are vapid and silly and overly-emotional, and so we think that anyone like them are the same. And it should probably go without saying that this way of thinking is misogynist and wrong.

You can like romantic movies, and get shit done. You can know all the latest fashions and be a total boss. The two things are not mutually exclusive, and we need to stop treating them like they are.

There Is Nothing Wrong With How You Feel

Very frequently, we will feel the need to hide the way that we truly feel.

This can be in a very small way, like pretending that something that someone else said didn’t hurt you just to avoid unnecessary confrontation, or it can happen in a much larger way, like spending years of your life pretending that you’re straight, or that you aren’t severely depressed and considering taking your own life.

And, similarly, this can happen for several different reasons. Maybe we’ve been told in the past that other people aren’t interested in hearing how we feel. Maybe we feel like the way that we feel is inappropriate, that we’re simply exaggerating to ourselves or seeking attention, even if we haven’t even told anyone yet – we’ve just internalized this idea that the way we’re feeling is always associated with attention seeking. Or maybe we don’t want to burden someone else with our honesty, we don’t want to make them worry about us or angry with us or look down upon us. We want to maintain a certain image before them – a strong, healthy, normal image, even if we don’t feel like we match it.

And so we keep silent.

We say nothing, but we keep on suffering. We keep on feeling.

And we keep on feeling alone.

So let me take this opportunity to say this: you need to say how you feel.

Now, maybe you need to be selective about who you say this to. For example, if are currently closeted, I am not advocating coming out to people who you know are not going to accept you, but rather will try to hurt you, either physically or mentally. If sharing the way that you feel is guaranteed to cause you harm of some sort, then I am very sorry for you, because you do not deserve that. You deserve the opportunity to be open and honest about how you feel without fear, and if you can’t be, then that is not your fault. That is the fault of the other who is causing you harm, whether they are doing it intentionally or not.

But regardless, in every single situation, it is important for people to not shoulder their burdens alone. We as the human species need people; we need to open up, to communicate. And once you do that, whether you’re talking about a mental illness, your identity, or a mere fear or anxiety that has been plaguing you, a miraculous thing happens – the burden becomes easier to bare. All of a sudden, you are not alone in this world. There is someone else out there who knows how you feel, who understands you and shares in your experience.

And furthermore – when you talk to someone else about how you feel, it can either validate it, or help you to work through it. Too often, our own minds become toxic places to hold thoughts, especially if they hold them for a long time. The longer they’re in there, the more that they sour, becoming something that doesn’t even reflect reality, and sometimes, the only way to recognize what they have become is by getting them out there in the real world to be discussed. Maybe you’ll realize that the way that you’ve been feeling is ridiculous, and maybe you’ll realize that the only ridiculous thing about all this was holding onto it for so long, or thinking that you were wrong to think it in the first place.

Too often, I hear from people who have been holding onto thoughts and feelings for years and haven’t opened up, haven’t even explored them. We as a society tend to encourage others to bottle up their emotions, to buck up and be strong and go through it alone. But going through life alone is incredibly lonely, and sometimes we need to talk to others.

So let’s talk.

Let’s offer people in need our ears.

Let’s refuse to bottle up our emotions and leave them to fester.

Let’s stop promoting this idea that reaching out is weak, or that naturally occurring emotions can be wrong.

We all need to talk, and we should all have the opportunity to talk. Because there is nothing wrong with you or how you feel; there is something wrong with a society that keeps us all silent.