jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that


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Bi-onic Vision

I don’t date much. Never have. In the seven months since I came out as bisexual, I haven’t dated anyone of any gender. But I’ve discovered some interesting things about myself and society when it comes to dating. Things that went without thinking when I only pictured myself dating men are turned upside down when I consider dating women.

This became apparent during a recent discussion about my married name. I don’t like my last name, but when my marriage ended I kept it because of the kids. I thought, erroneously, that it would be important to the kids for us to have the same surname, and that it would help avoid rude speculation about their parentage. (If you’ve never been a single mother, just know that people suck, and they think they’re owed the details of your sex life. Oh hey, kind of like when you’re queer.) I also thought I would remarry. Why go to the trouble of changing it, only to change it again when I found my man?

That was twenty-one years ago. I never remarried. One of my children has changed his last name. I’m still stuck with mine. As I pondered this I realized that, if I ever do remarry, it will probably be to a woman. And if I married a woman, why would I take her last name?

No, really. Why? Why do we do this?

diceI could Google, but I suspect I’d find that the answer is ‘patriarchy.’ I suspect I’d find that the bride taking the groom’s surname is equivalent to a “Property of” label. And when the gender difference is removed from the relationship, so is the implicit ownership of one person by the other. Similarly, concerns about which of you is taller, which of you is older, which earns more money, etc.–these things no longer matter. They’re are all signifiers of power, and when the relationship is between two men or two women, there is no automatic expectation that the one is more powerful than the other.

I’m beginning to understand the discomfort straight white men feel about same-sex relationships. Heaven forbid people should see all those loving, equal partnerships and get the wrong idea.

But it’s not all rainbows and roses. The thought of dating women has revealed deep insecurities in myself that I did not know I had, or thought I had overcome. I’ve been surprised to find that the comfort and confidence I’ve worked so hard to develop in my own body is shattered in the face of my attraction to women with societally acceptable bodies.

I’ve had enough experience with men to know that the majority of them find me attractive. They may do so in secret, because they’re victims of this society as well, but I know that the average man would sleep with me if I offered. My theory is probably flawed, but I’ve always chalked this up to boobs. I have them. Men want them. But women…women have their own. They don’t need mine. And I know that it’s equally illogical, since I find a variety of women attractive, to think that other queer women are only interested in a narrow selection of body types, but that is still how I feel. Perhaps because I’ve been a woman for several decades, privy to women’s magazines and the constant striving of nearly every woman in existence for the perfect body? I don’t know. But whatever the cause, my insecurities abound, and I have yet to find a cure. *sigh*

♥Hey, did you know that today is International Transgender Day of Visibility? If you’re a cisgender person, I encourage you to pause and reflect on the simultaneous need for visibility and fear of being visible that trans* people experience. Spend some time reading and listening to their stories. Think about how you might create compassion within yourself and safety for the trans* people in your life. Thank you.

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On Marching, and Marching On

(This post is an edited version of something I posted on Facebook-first as a comment on someone else’s post, and then as my own-a year ago, as people were fussing about the Women’s March. I know my position is a controversial one, and I know that people on both sides of the issue feel that I cannot be both pro-life and feminist.  Ah, well, I never have fit into boxes.)

You would be hard-pressed to find someone more pro-life than I am. I was an unplanned, unwanted child myself, and I was also unmarried, pregnant, and barely 17 years old once upon a time, so I’m not speaking from a lack of understanding of what many women go through. But I do think it is different from almost every other issue folks disagree on, because I firmly believe that the fetus is a person, and so a woman’s choice to have an abortion is a choice to end a human life. However, I also recognize that this is not an issue that can be solved by outlawing abortion, and doing so only endangers additional lives.

Abortions took place before Roe vs Wade, and they would continue to take place even if it were made illegal again. The only reasonable way to approach this issue is to remove those things which lead a woman to believe that her best (or only) choice is to abort her child. This would include negative attitudes towards ‘illegitimate’ children, the acceptance of rape and rape culture in our society, refusal to provide reasonable medical care (birth control!), negative attitudes towards women who use food stamps or other public assistance, the assumption that people on welfare are drug addicts, the push to work for minimum wage rather than use public assistance while in training for a decent career (not to mention the push for minimum wage to remain below livable), the blaming of single parents for society’s downfall and every little bad thing their kid does, the blaming of poor people for being poor, etc., etc., etc. And the truth is that these are not things most conservative folks are willing to do. I think this is why we saw, during the Obama administration, abortion falling to its lowest rate in decades. There was hope and help for those who were in tough times, and hope and help can make the difference between an abortion and having the baby.

The Farm, which is a commune that is known primarily for its amazing midwifery practices and maternal/infant outcomes, had a policy of allowing women to come live there, give birth, and leave their baby with the community for as long as they felt was necessary (perhaps forever). They instituted this policy so that women would not feel that they had no choice (and I believe that’s how most women who have an abortion feel, and I have certainly known many women who did not feel they had any other option). They saved many lives doing this. But these days it seems people just want to tell the women that they have no choice, and then walk away from the situation, congratulating themselves for being righteous, and firmly believing that the pregnant woman has made her bed and now has to lie in it.

Abortion is no better for women than it is for the babies whose lives are taken, and more than half of those babies are girls. Although many feminists would disagree with my claim to be both feminist and pro-life, I can only think that making life better for women will translate into making life better-and possible-for their children, too. And that is why I will stand-and march!-with my pro-choice sisters, for we have far, far more in common than not, and I want the best for them and their children, and the society that we share.

Since writing the above, of course, the situation has become even more dire. The Trump administration seems to be fighting to create those circumstances most likely to force women into having no options. It grows more critical every day that we who have the means to fight, fight for the disadvantaged among us.

wonder women


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I Believe Every One

It’s begun. The protests from people I know that so many accusations of sexual harassment can’t be true, that women are too sensitive, that it’s all witch hunt, that good men will suffer.

But me? I believe every woman who has come forward.

I believe every one, because I’ve seen it happen.
I believe every one, because as a child when I ran, scared, to the nearest neighbor to report creepy behavior I was scolded for saying bad things about someone she knew, and I learned that no matter what the movies they showed me in school said, no one will believe you.
I believe every one, because I’ve heard my friends talk about their experiences.
I believe every one, because once I didn’t and I was wrong.
I believe every one, because the least sexist man I know is blind to the rampant sexism and harassment around him simply because he’s lived his 59 years in this aggressively patriarchal society.
I believe every one, because every woman who speaks up is trashed left and right.
I believe every one, because when a co-worker wouldn’t take no for an answer, I felt I couldn’t take action because I’d said yes to the first date.
I believe every one, because women are still asked what they were wearing.
I believe every one, because my brilliant friend worried her career might be harmed for speaking up.
I believe every one, because too many people are still more worried about a man’s reputation than a woman’s safety.

I believe every one.

 


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Benevolent Sexism

Yesterday I had two experiences that I posted about on my Facebook wall, as I often do when something is amusing or angering or enlightening, etc.  (I also posted a picture of the nachos I made for dinner, and you can hate me for that if you wish).

Interaction One involved a guy playing almost two games of Words with Friends with me and then resigning just before I won the second game because I wouldn’t use the app to share “pics” (*cough*).  Interaction Two was a man at the gas station expressing dismay that I was outside in a dress (and boots and a sweater, but he didn’t mention those) in 45 degree, breezy weather.  And the reactions were interesting.  Without exception, people were angry at or disgusted with Interaction One’s Creepy Guy, and most seemed to recognize that sexism was in play.  But most folks, at least initially, responded with some manner of “he was just being nice/give him the benefit of the doubt” to Interaction Two’s Concerned Guy.  As if it isn’t sexism if he means well.

I have no doubt that Concerned Guy thought he was being nice. I wasn’t angry or offended and we went on, after his rather odd opening comment, to have a very nice conversation wherein I told him Spring was only 31 days away (30 now-I’m counting down) and hadn’t it been nice and sunny that day, and when we were done pumping gas, we wished each other a good weekend.  It was all very cheery.

But benevolent sexism is still sexism.  And Concerned Guy’s benevolent sexism enables Creepy Guy’s more malevolent variety.

I experience a lot of sexism, benevolent and otherwise, at work.  I’m the only woman in an office that deals primarily with construction work.  (Before we go further, know that I adore my boss.  He just has the misfortune of being the man I spend the most time with.) Some examples:

I’m “not allowed” to replace the jug on the water cooler.  From Boss’s point of view, I’m confident he thinks he’s protecting me from…something.  I mean, yes, I spent years carrying children around, and yes, part of my job duties involves wrangling heavy pieces of concrete, among other things, but for some reason he feels that water jug might do me in. The effect of this rule is that, if I run out of water, I have to wait for a man to rescue me.  And I’m still, in his mind, being placed in a category of Less Able. (Don’t worry, I replace the jug when I need water. Sometimes he catches me and is dismayed.)

I picked up two samples (5 gallon buckets full) from a client.  The client felt it necessary to explain to me that I should be careful not to brake too hard, or the buckets in the bed of my pickup truck would fly forward.  I’m not sure if the assumption on his part was that it was the first time I’d ever driven a pickup with a load in back, or if my female hormones might make me slam on the brakes or forget basic physics, or what.  I checked, and none of the men I work with had ever received this lecture from any client.  I was perceived as Less Able by this client, who knew virtually nothing about me except my gender.

Someone needed to make an emergency trip to deliver equipment.  I had free time; Boss did not.  But Boss still made the trip because “the truck is really dirty.”  I’m sure he thought he was protecting me.  I’m not sure why he thought I needed protection from dirt.  I mean, I keep a change of clothes with my hardhat and steel toed boots for occasions such as this.  Also, I’m washable. It’s interesting to note here that the act of “protecting” me is what placed me in the category of Less Able—he knew I could perform the task, but I wasn’t allowed to for my own good (or what he saw as my own good).

cell-tower-selfie

Someone really needs to invent a more flattering safety vest.

I sometimes walk to a particular restaurant for lunch.  To get there, I walk through a seldom-used park, over a set of railroad tracks, and around a few office buildings. One day I returned and reported that a man in the park had behaved in a manner that set off all my alarm bells (following me slowly in his truck, etc.).  Boss’s reaction was to ask why I hadn’t phoned him, and what had my mother taught me.  I told him my mama taught me how to hurt people if necessary.  He again categorized me as Less Able.  And of course, if I had called him, his mere presence would have been a preventative because the potential perpetrator would also categorize me as Less Able, and him as More.  Boss was correct only because he and the perpetrator both share the same sexist view of women!

Benevolent sexism is more insidious than the overt kind.  Because it comes across as caring, we are made to feel guilty if we dislike it, or even just recognize it as sexism.  It programs women (and girls) to categorize themselves as Less Able, and that alone is a danger, because a woman who doesn’t believe herself to be capable will in fact not be capable.  And this in turn reinforces the very wrong societal view of us as Less Able Than Men, which in the minds of many equates to Less Than Men, which then becomes Here For Men, and then Creepy Guy is free to feel that any random woman he encounters should be ready to appease his desires.  (Benevolent sexism also hurts men.  Take for instance the amazement with which people react to a father capably handling the household while the mother is away.  What does that say about our understanding of fathers?)

I refuse to be shamed into accepting a lesser view of myself and the women around me.   I refuse to feel guilty for calling out sexism when I see it.  I refuse to accept the idea that my experience, on my side of a sexist incident, is less important than the experience and intentions of the man on the other side.

I reject the notion that calling out sexism means I’m angry or offended, as well, or that being angry or offended (when I am) is even a bad thing.  We have to talk about this.  If we don’t talk about it, nothing will change.  And we desperately need things to change.