Horror Story in Creative Writing

February 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

This semester I’m taking a creative writing class that has been pretty enjoyable so far. Earlier this week, we received an assignment to write the first two pages of a story focusing on setting. There were two prompts we could choose from: a love story on the subway or a horror story in a mall. I wasn’t surprised that as we went around the room reading excerpts from our stories almost every love story was between a man and a woman with the woman being approached by the man in a patronizing and sometimes outright creepy way. However, I was surprised when one of my classmates read his “horror story.” The story was about a cross-dressing football player and the excerpt he read came from the end of the story. It was about a paragraph, describing the main character’s desire to wear women’s clothing and feeling trapped by his gender. The story was supposed to be humorous, he read it out loud while choking back laughs. I was extremely uncomfortable considering the prompt was to write a horror story. To be fair, he only read an excerpt so I don’t know if there was something in the story that actually merited the horror genre. I squirmed in my seat thinking that there could be a student in the room who was struggling with his or her gender identity, and that writing a “funny horror story” about it could not be very encouraging.

What more could I expect considering that the topics of gender identity and GLBTQ issues are so rarely discussed, and when they are it is in a similar vein to my classmate’s story? After he was done reading, all I did was say “really?” I couldn’t think of anything else. Should I have said more? What would you have done?

Humorless Feminist?

February 18, 2009 § 1 Comment

After recent posts about Courtney Martin on the O’Reilly factor and Amy Sedaris’ racist comments I’ve been wondering about where we draw the line with sexist and any kind of -ist humor. It seems to me that the excuse that O’Reilly used for his sexist and ageist comments about Helen Thomas were that they were “humorous.” I didn’t find any of his comments funny, and I think I have a pretty good sense of humor. I didn’t find Amy Sedaris’ racist comments funny either. I thought Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin was pretty hilarious, but I also think that the way Palin was portrayed by the media was often sexist, as is the portrayal of female politicians in general. So where do we draw the line between funny and wrong?

Sometimes it is easy to tell when something is done in bad taste. But often, people seem to disagree on whether or not something is offensive. I think it is extremely important to be conscientious when it comes to what we see and hear on t.v., online, etc. I think we should all have the ability to discern for ourselves what we consider funny or offensive, but at the same time, we can’t let jokes that we feel are based on stereotypes and even malice go by unnoticed.

After watching Courtney Martin on the O’Reilly Factor, I was really impressed by her poise and eloquence in defending Helen Thomas and calling out O’Reilly on his sexist and ageist comments. O’Reilly’s responses to Courtney Martin’s points were all relying on his assertion that his comments were “humorous.” This relates to the notion of the humorless feminist–one of the biggest stereotypes and a damaging one. Portraying feminists, or anyone who dares to call someone out on the use of offensive “humor”, as humorless is a way of silencing them. Similar to portraying feminists as uncool and angry, portraying feminists as humorless makes us seem less relatable and unnecessary to listen to. Calling people out on jokes or comments that are offensive does not make you humorless. In fact, my feminist friends are some of the funniest people I know.

Courtney Martin on The O’Reilly Factor

February 12, 2009 § 6 Comments

Feministing’s Courtney Martin represented the Women’s Media Center on The O’Reilly Factor yesterday, defending Helen Thomas after O’Reilly called her a witch:

I am appalled and genuinely upset by the way O’Reilly refused to listen, interrupted, and insulted any viewpoint that was not his own or that rightfully tried to educate his sexist ageist speech. However, I am more awed by Martin’s patience, intelligence, and bad-ass passion than appalled by O’Reilly’s fallacies. 

I am rarely left speechless, but Courtney Martin’s powerful words leave me simply trying to echo her strength.

You are such an f-word!

February 11, 2009 § 7 Comments

I consider myself a feminist because I believe that women should be given equal opportunities, not because of how active of a feminist I am, or how much I do or don’t do for the feminist cause.  Although I do promote this, and think well of people who devote themselves to this, I don’t believe it is the only thing that grants someone the worthy title of a feminist. If I have never been to a pro-choice rally or written for a feminist magazine, can I still be a feminist?  OF COURSE YOU CAN.  The notion that you have to earn this title only creates conflict within the feminist movement.  Not only do people fear the f-word, they also fear that they are not doing enough to receive the (fantastic) label of a feminist.

I think that some people do use this as an excuse for not calling themselves what they are.  A feminist is someone who believes, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who constantly acts on their beliefs.  If all the people who believe in feminism stood up and called themselves what they are, half the problems women face today would be solved instantly.  It is another excuse not to align themselves with the feminist cause, mostly out of fear.  But sometimes I fear that I do not deserve the title of feminist that so many great women before me have been given.  But then I realize that by simply being a strong person who is not willing to take any shit from anyone, I am already helping the cause.

 

I also think that there are a variety of ways to be involved in fighting the feminist cause.  Everyday women who fight stereotypes by pursuing science or engineering are being active feminists.  Busy parents who teach their sons and daughters to be respectful of women are feminists; teenagers who are willing to fight stereotypical depictions of women are feminists.  Anyone who believes in equality for women is a feminist, and there is no hierarchy to deciding who is granted this name.  This is an f-word that anyone and everyone can say, and I encourage everyone to use it.

Feminist and Latina? No Way.

February 9, 2009 § 11 Comments

There have been so many times when I have told someone that I am a Latina and I have received the response, “Wow, but you don’t look it at all,” or even, “You don’t act it.” I have often been confused as to what these responses could mean. At first, I believed that it is based on ignorance. Many people do not realize that Latin America is an extremely diverse place in terms of culture, religion, and race. When I tell someone that I am a Latina, I often get confused looks because of my fair skin, sometimes I even get responses that doubt my Latin American heritage. I really don’t think that these comments are coming from a place of malice. I think that these responses are a result of the pre-conceived notions that many people have of what Latin Americans look and act like, which does not take into account the extreme diversity of a large region in the world.

This may seem a little off-topic, being that this is a blog that is primarily about feminism. There’s a connection, I swear. The confusion, surprise and doubt that I often receive when I inform someone of the fact that I am the daughter of Cuban immigrants, that Spanish is my first language and that I am the first person in my family to be born in the U.S., is very similar to the confusion, surprise and doubt that I often receive when I inform someone that I am a feminist. When many people hear the word “feminist,” their minds immediately jump to the pre-conceived notions of what a feminist looks and acts like. For example, I recently had a conversation with a peer who checked my legs for stubble immediately after I told him that I am a feminist. Hmm…This got me thinking about where these confused, surprised and doubtful reactions come from. Is it really just ignorance?

Perhaps we should examine the way that the media portray both Latinas and feminists. When a classmate tells me I don’t look or act like a Latina, what exactly does he or she have in mind? This is the second image that comes up on Google image search when you type in “Latina.” This is the third.

Clearly, it is not just Latinas and feminists that are portrayed in stereotypical and unfair ways. These are just the stereotypes that I have experienced personally. The media play a significant role in creating the preconceived notions that lead to the responses of confusion, surprise and doubt that I often receive. We should be fighting these stereotypical and unfair representations in the media, as well as meeting misled preconceived notions on an individual basis with information and challenges to those notions. Not to mention the fact that the way women are portrayed, especially women of color, is a hot button feminist issue.

Language and Sexism

February 8, 2009 § 2 Comments

Recently in my Spanish class we were given a new list of vocabulary words to learn. On this list was the word mujeriego, which translates to womanizer. Now usually with Spanish nouns and adjectives there’s a masculine version (with an “o” at the end) and a feminine version (with an “a” at the end), however there was no feminine version on the list.

A friend of mine raised his hand and asked, “What’s the girl version of mujeriego?”

My teacher pondered for a while before shrugging her shoulders and saying, “I don’t think there is one… The only one I can think of is a word that I really shouldn’t say in class.”

Puta – Prostitute or slut.

Maybe there is a female version of the word that I’m just not aware of. Anyone know of one?

Just something to think about.

“Hey guys!”

January 31, 2009 § 36 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the importance of gender-neutral language. I, like most people I know, am guilty of using the word “guys” as a substitute for “people” – not realizing that, oh wait, more than half the “people” population actually isn’t a guy. It may seem like a nit-picky thing to harp on, but the reality is that language plays a big role in maintaining patriarchy. Those little “hey guys!” really add up, and they translate to much bigger linguistic problems.

For example, the US House only switched to gender neutral language earlier this month, opting for “chair” instead of “chairman” and other words of that sort. And while this is a significant step, we’re fooling ourselves if we think our government is now 100% neutral when it comes to sex and gender. After all, this is the land where all men are created equal.

The problem with this kind of language is that it implicitly makes maleness the norm. I saw ripples of this effect in my English class earlier this year. We’d been reading texts by some phenomenal writers – Audre Lorde, Jamaica Kincaid, Maxine Hong Kingston, Sherman Alexie, Peggy McIntosh, Toni Morrison. During a class discussion a male student raised his hand and told our teacher that he’d enjoyed Alexie’s short story, really, he did, but when were we going to read some other male authors? “It just seems like all these other stories are from a really female perspective.”

Whoa. Here I thought that a female perspective, just like a male perspective or a genderqueer perspective or an Asian perspective or a thin perspective, was actually a human perspective. Forgive me. I didn’t realize that a man was the regular, a woman was the other.

But I should cut my classmate a little slack, since he’s only verbalizing what we’ve all been shown by society since childhood. When we use words that make women something different than the norm, when elected officials commend the work of policemen instead of police officers, when we say “hey guys” to a group that consists of men and women, we’re telling girls that their experience is something outside of the ordinary – that what they have to say isn’t from their perspective as an individual, but their perspective as a female. A little wack, no?

Like I said, I’m no saint when it comes to male-instead-of-human language. And it’s hard work repairing speech that’s become second nature to us – but that doesn’t mean we can let ourselves off the hook. Personally, I’m partial to “folks” as a replacement for the infamous “guys.” But choose whatever works for you, and stick to it.

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