Liz Whatsherface

Musings of a feminist English graduate from Louisiana

Resisting Trump: A Collection of Resources

Posted on January 28, 2017

resist

If you’re looking for ways to become more politically active but aren’t sure where to start, this is for you. Here, I’ve gathered some of the resources that I have personally found most helpful. This post is a work-in-progress, which I will continue to update. Suggestions are always welcome. 

Resources for effectively talking to your conservative friends about the dangers of a Trump presidency:

  1. Keith Olbermann’s noncombative, nonjudgmental video message (intended for those who still support Trump) is a good place to start.
  2. How to Talk to Your Loved Ones About a Donald Trump Presidency
    • A comprehensive, essential guide on strategies for having productive conversations with loved ones (without becoming emotionally drained). Ever since encountering it, I’ve used this guide to inform my approach to all political conversations, and have found it to be highly effective in getting through to others with different views.
  3. Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry (via Southern Poverty Law Center):
    • Concrete suggestions on how to handle bigotry in the workplace, dealing with joking in-laws, addressing your own biases, and so much more.
  4. The Ferguson Masterpost: How to Argue Eloquently and Back Yourself Up With Facts
    • A fantastic resource for tips on how to have productive conversations about race issues, protests, social justice movements, and systems of oppression that is as relevant today as ever: “We feel it’s critical to have conversations about social justice loudly, noticeably, personally as well as systemically, and eloquently […] To do this, we need tools, scripts, data—means of having and supporting these conversations, as well as our communities.”
  5. Captain Awkward’s Post-Election Guide to Changing Hearts and Minds

Resources for learning about social justice issues/ so you want to be an ally:

Resources for finding and calling your representatives:

  • The Sixty Five: Calling scripts for over a dozen issues (and contact information for your representatives), as well as weekly calls to action.
  • 5Calls gives you contact information and scripts, so calling is easy.
  • How to Call Your Reps When You Have Social Anxiety
  • Countable“Get clear, concise summaries of bills going through Congress, see what others think, then take action. Telling your reps how you feel is easier than ever with email and now video messages”

Other ways to take action:

Resources for identifying fake news websites:

Header image via ThinkProgress.Org.

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Why I Decided To Marry Outside the Church

Posted on April 27, 2016

The process of planning a wedding has made me realize the truth of the statement “the personal is political.” My decision to marry outside of the Catholic Church (or any other church) was not meant as a slight to my religious friends and family, though it will undoubtedly cause unintended distress to many. It was motivated by many factors, and while explaining my reasoning could very well cause further anger or sadness to those who are upset, it will hopefully shed some light on my choice and allow me to dispel speculation.

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It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it (Ecclesiastes 5:5). For me to read the Catholic marriage vows would be disingenuous on many levels. First of all, I’m not a practicing Catholic, and to pretend to be (even as a way to make my parents happy) would be incredibly disrespectful. Is it a good idea to start a lifelong commitment with a lie? I recognize that going to mass each week isn’t required in order for a couple to wed in the Church, but I firmly believe it is easier and better for me to be honest with my friends and family now than to pretend (or allow others to assume) that I’m still a practicing Catholic.

* * *

 

Many of my close friends and family members are gay, and it would go against my personal values to be married in an institution that condemns homosexual relationships. Many of my Catholic friends have found ways to reconcile themselves to the Church’s teachings (saying “hate the sin, love the sinner” etc.) but I do not believe that homosexuality is sinful – and it’s certainly not unnatural. And now that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, I have hope that marriage is finally evolving toward something resembling an egalitarian institution.

 

As an educated and privileged person living in 2016, I can afford to 1.) marry whoever I want or 2) marry no one at all – and these are rights that women have not always had that I don’t take for granted. Although marriage has roots in oppressive structures, the recent Supreme Court decision is heartening, and suggests that we are rebuilding the institution into a human right rather than an obligation (financial, societal, religious or otherwise).  The Catholic Church does not share my view that this evolution is progress.

 

My problems with the Church’s definition of marriage don’t end there. I’m not sure if I want to have children yet, I don’t believe that the husband should be the spiritual head of the household, I don’t view birth control as a sin (far from it), and I don’t think sex should be undertaken solely for the purpose of procreation.  I’m not saying all of this because I want my Catholic friends to view me as a heathen. I’m saying it because I want to make it clear that marrying in the Church would go against many many things that I believe, and would make no one happy – unless I were to intentionally mislead everyone, in which case they would admire me for being someone who I’m not.

 

Hopefully if you’ve read this far, you understand my decision was not intended as a slight against anyone or a sign of disrespect. If anything, this is my attempt at respecting people of faith by not making a mockery of their sacrament by participating in it falsely.  Nonetheless, I know that many people will be disappointed, but I can’t let that deter me from doing the difficult, honest thing.

 

It is much harder to be viewed as a good person when you’re “out” as non-religious. It is my goal to live my life and show that it is very possible to be moral, spiritual, and good as a non-religious person. Religion is not always freely chosen, but in a perfect world, it would be – as of now, I see too many people pressured into practicing the faith they were raised in, not because it’s what they believe, but because they fear the consequences of living otherwise. And even in America, the land of religious “freedom,” many people are terrified of practicing their religion because of the judgment of other religious groups. There are real stakes when it comes to disagreeing with the mainstream, but I fiercely believe it’s time to stop stigmatizing and demonizing non-Christian Americans – and I will do everything in my power to lead by example here.

 

I’m not an atheist and I don’t hate the Church. But it is my belief that religion and spirituality are highly personal and individual matters, and I truly believe that a person’s relationship with God is between that person and God alone. I won’t discuss my views on God here, and I will be respectful of your beliefs without ever trying to change your mind – and I sincerely hope you will respect my beliefs as well, even if you disagree.

 

Just as I bristle at characterizations of religious people as fanatics, I also hate the generalizations made about non-religious people (usually, stuff along the lines of “combative/argumentative,” “cynical,” “self-satisfied,” “evil,” “without morals,” and “dangerous”).  Ironically, many of the people who will view me as a “heathen” for saying all of this will never realize that we ultimately share the same core values. I hope at the end of the day, the people around me will judge my character by my words and actions and not by my religious affiliation (or lack thereof), because that’s probably our best hope of building a better world.

Why Selfies are Problematic (or, Fear and Selfie-Loathing in LA)

Posted on August 11, 2013

Recently, I went on a shopping trip with my mother to our local, relatively small-town mall. It had been a long time since I had been to any mall-type establishment, but the place was just what you would expect from any mall, filled with the usual mall-goers: scary-looking teenagers, older women walking with their arm weights, and mothers pushing baby strollers looking hurried.

Hans Memling's Vanity  (c. 1485), reimagined for 2013.

Hans Memling’s Vanity (c. 1485), reimagined for 2013.

It was the middle of the day, so Mom and I decided to stop for lunch in the food court. Since options were limited to the pizza place that sells giant slices of droopy pizza and other unappetizing food court staples, I ended up settling on a California roll from a sushi place where 70% of the menu was fried.

As I was sitting at our table, spreading wasabi with the end of my chopstick, I noticed a group of construction workers nearby looking in our direction. A tilt of my head confirmed my suspicions — they were staring at me. Now, without sounding like Samantha Brick, I’ll just say that this is something that I’ve gotten used to over the years; despite my aura of awkwardness, I’m plenty used to being ogled by strangers. But this time it was different. Instead of looking me over until settling on another, more nubile target, the men wouldn’t look away.

The staring got so bad that my mom noticed, and told me to hurry up and finish eating so we could leave. As I got up to throw my styrofoam cup into the trash, I consciously avoided looking over at the men, feeling an all-too familiar anger at not being able to go straight to their table and curse them out. I knew the safest and best course of action was to dump my plastic tray and walk off — and that’s what I did.

This story is probably so familiar to women everywhere that it hardly seems worth telling. But I was angry — so angry that I did tell some friends about the incident. And you know what most of them told me? “Take it as a compliment. It means you’re hot!!”

The Male Gaze 

The male gaze is everywhere, and it is so omnipresent as to be considered a reality of modern life to be dealt with, tolerated, and ultimately, accepted. So much so that women themselves perpetuate it by encouraging other women to welcome and enjoy (or even to invite) the stares of strangers. Which brings me to the subject of this post: selfies.

male gaze

In Meghan Murphy’s essay entitled “Putting selfies under a feminist lens,” the author notes that selfies abound on the Internet, and that girls and women in particular are drawn to post these camera-phone self-portraits on social media sites.

Murphy writes:

If you Google selfies, you will find hundreds upon hundreds of shots of young women, often in various states of undress or attempting to capture the perfect face-to-cleavage ratio. There’s the odd shot of a teenage boy, looking confused or intentionally stoic, but there’s no doubt that the selfie is a gendered trend.

Vanity, Thy Name Is Woman

To put Murphy’s claim to the test, I did a quick stalk of profile pictures of men on my friends list. My boyfriend has never posted a selfie. My brother has never posted a selfie. None of my male cousins (with the exception of one photographer) have ever posted selfies. Instead, these men all choose profile photos from pictures taken at bars, at weddings, or on vacations. They’re depicted hanging out alongside their friends, girlfriends, or wives — who have either been left in the picture or cropped out of the frame, smiling somewhere just outside the photo’s scope.

In contrast, out of my 28 profile pictures, 12 are bona fide selfies — and I don’t consider myself the kind of person who takes pictures on a regular basis, let alone of my face.

That leads me to another observation: Is it a coincidence that we call narcissists “attention whores” and not “attention assholes?” The latter is certainly more alliterative, and just as fitting. But no, vanity is viewed in our society as a particularly feminine failing. During the Renaissance, this deadly sin — a manifestation of pride — was always represented as a naked woman, combing her long hair and gazing into a mirror. It appears that our conception of this vice has only changed slightly in the past 700 years — we’ve merely replaced the hand mirror with an iPhone.

A quick Google search of “how to take a selfie” yields 48,600,000 results, including links like “How to Take a Sexy Selfie: Tips From Sports Illustrated Models.” And, as Murphy points out, selfies are overwhelmingly taken and posted by women.

Murphy’s piece, while eye-opening, draws some conclusions that leave much to be desired — namely, that the biggest problem with selfies is the fear that they could become pornography, and that feminism has “capitulated.” I take issue with these conclusions for many reasons; namely, I don’t think it’s fair to place the blame on women for what men might do with their pictures, I definitely don’t think feminism is in any way irrelevant, and I think there’s more at play with the selfie trend than Murphy acknowledges.

Selfies: More Than Narcissism 

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I understand why people post selfies, and it’s not just about vanity. We live in a world where women and girls have to constantly deal with all sorts of conflicting expectations — and a great number of those expectations have to do with how we present our physical selves to the world. Obtaining the correct balance between hot, sexy, and cute is nothing short of an imperative — so much so that a fourteen year old girl wearing the “wrong” outfit can be seen as “asking” to be raped. So to me, it makes sense that women my age would feel the need to post pictures of themselves as a way of “performing” their gender and as an attempt to gain control over their own image.

Taking the right selfie can send a message. Think of all the different permutations of selfies that you’ve seen. There are the “Myspace”-style shots of yesteryear (or should I say, of freshman year?): in these, the camera is held over the head to optimize the ratio of face to cleavage and to assure that the girl pictured looks as doe-eyed as possible. There are the duckfaces, the “sorority squats” (not actually selfies, but the girls are still basically taking pictures of themselves), the “no filters;” the list goes on and on.

Performing Our Gender 

We use selfies to show that we are adept at presenting ourselves as today’s modern women. We know how to toe the line, how to present ourselves properly. It’s not enough to be educated, outspoken, successful — we also all have to be desirable in order to be taken seriously, whether we like it or not.

This isn’t just speculation; it’s scientifically proven. The sad, ugly truth is that we live in a society where a woman’s appearance is tied up in her worth. We live in a society where “conventionally attractive” women are more likely to be taken seriously, more likely to succeed in the workplace, and more likely to be considered competent, generous, and trustworthy.

Contrary to what you might think, selfies aren’t just about vanity, insecurity, or narcissism. I really believe that the trend of compulsive online self-portraiture is a response to society’s expectation of today’s modern women, who know that in order to succeed, they must present their best face to the world — literally. Looks are everything but arbitrary.  If social media is all about “branding” yourself as an individual, expressing who you are by creating a profile centered around your carefully-curated likes and interests, it makes sense that your face would be the logo for your personal brand. And unlike in the real world, where we’re seen in three-dimensions, with all of our flaws and our bad angles, Facebook and Instagram give us the opportunity to show only our best angles, to retouch our imperfections, and to decide which “filters” through which we will be seen.

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Selfies are a way to access the unique power that comes from being a beautiful, desirable woman. I understand why people would want to tap into this power and take advantage of it, but it still makes me uneasy, for all of the reasons I’ve listed above. So I posted this “anti-selfie” on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, because I felt the need to assert that images of my face and body do not define me or constitute my identity, and to remind my friends that they are more than just pretty faces. It’s my hope that other women will similarly find ways to empower themselves that don’t involve posting pictures of themselves — through things like writing, creating, or doing whatever it is that makes them feel strong and good.

But as a feminist, I believe that it’s a woman’s right to do whatever the hell it is she wants to with her body, and I’m sure not everyone views this issue the way I do. So hey girl, go ahead and post those selfies. But you might want to think twice about calling them “empowerment.” ▄

Why I Have Mixed Feelings About My College 4.0

Posted on May 20, 2013

Just a few days ago, I graduated from LSU with a B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing, a minor in Latin, a thesis under my belt, and a 4.0 cumulative GPA. While I am super stoked about finally being finished with my college career and being awarded a shiny medal for my academic achievements, I’ve been thinking a lot about the implications of my accomplishments and the cost of my success.

I Have a Life, I Swear

First of all, when people find out about my GPA, they often assume certain things about me — namely, that I have no social life and am a super boring and uptight person who “missed out” on the best parts of college. That is just not true. Listen: I LOVE partying. I can party with the best of them. I went to frickin LSU, guys. Please invite me to your party. I am a normal human who enjoys social events, and I will not be a buzzkill. [Disclaimer: Now that I’m 22 I have significantly slowed my roll. Shots are a thing of the past, and most nights, I forego the bar scene altogether in favor of pajamas and Netflix.]

My University Medal. Not sure if I went after this distinction because I'm a perfectionist, or because I am just super attracted to shiny objects.

My University Medal. Not sure if I went after this distinction because I’m a perfectionist, or because I am just super attracted to shiny objects.

Now for the more serious aspect of my argument. It’s scary to me when I realize just how many people think that I’ve never experienced failure. It’s scary how many people have told me things like, “Your life looks so perfect.” It’s scary because it’s so far from the truth.

* * * 

Here’s the thing: I am a perfectionist, and like many young women my age, I hide my failures well. I was raised with all of the conflicting expectations that girls in our society know so well: be sexy, but not slutty, smart but not too smart, modest but not too prudish, outgoing but not obnoxious, funny but never vulgar, competitive but never aggressive — lest you be cast off as masculine or (God forbid), “bitchy.”

Looking at my CV, it’s clear to me that my life on paper — while certainly impressive — is a shimmering lie of omission. I don’t say this to trivialize or undermine my accomplishments, but to acknowledge that there are certain things you just can’t put on a resume. In all my years as an overachiever, I have also racked up such impressive credentials as Extreme Self-Loathing: 2004-2012, Obsessive Striving to the Point of Mental and Physical Exhaustion, 1995-present, and a Lingering Sense of Inadequacy/ Crippling Self-Doubt.

Mental illness manifests itself in many ways, and it’s easy to forget that it can bring about great profits as well as great peril. Some of the most successful people I know are also the unhappiest. Everyone wants to be successful, but few people understand that the people who push themselves the hardest are often those individuals who are driven by their own insecurities, and that their accomplishments are (at least in part) the fruits of their anxieties and compulsions. Ask any successful person to divulge their secret, and they will invariably say something like, “I never stopped trying.” What they probably won’t admit is, “I couldn’t stop. Ever.”

The Cost of Success

I’m not trying to say that I’m not proud of what I’ve achieved. I just think that it’s easy to forget that great success comes at a high cost. Perfectionists are never satisfied with what they’ve accomplished; their dissatisfaction is what fuels them to keep going above and beyond. Impossibly high standards, distorted self-image, and unrealistic expectations bring about untold anguish — all masked by an increasingly perfect facade that seems too good to be true, because it is.

I have failed in many ways that others overlook, because my failures often serve to make me the ideal student, employee, and friend. I am a fantastic people-pleaser, and I am willing to put your needs before my own. And while I have gotten better at accepting my own flaws and allowing myself to slow down once in a while, I am constantly surrounded and saddened by the reflections of myself I see in my high-achieving, increasingly unhappy peers.

I doubt that I’ve said anything here that hasn’t already been said, and I don’t think you’d have to look far to find examples of the phenomenon that I’m describing (think Natalie Portman in Black Swan, Beyonce, etc.). And I could write an entire blog post arguing that while my age group is often described as the “most narcissistic generation,” we’re actually just the most practiced at cultivating self-representations; we’ve learned to showcase only the carefully-constructed versions of ourselves that we want others to see and admire.

I think it’s safe to say that our society worships success, and that our fixation with perfection sets us up for a lifetime of disappointment and unhappiness. As I finally enter into the so-called real world, I’m realizing that I have to change; I have to do the hard work of unlearning what I have learned up until now, or risk being trapped in a life driven by the pursuit of gold stars and praise rather than by the pursuit of my dreams.

So while my friends and family are congratulating me on my shiny impressive medal, I’ll be congratulating myself on deciding to take some time to myself after college, rather than rushing headlong toward the next series of accolades. I think it might be my greatest accomplishment so far.  █

The Cosby Shitshow

Posted on November 21, 2014

     Why were Bill Cosby’s accusers silent so long? There’s no shortage of think-pieces addressing this question, but I’m here to offer my own take.

 
The cost of telling these kinds of stories is higher than you could possibly imagine. If you come forward as a victim of sexual assault, prepare to be bombarded with questions like: Why did you put yourself in that position? Why were you stupid enough to wear that dress/take those pills? Why didn’t you fight him off? Etc. etc. victim-blaming etc.

 
God forbid you’re a nobody, because then you’re only doing this for your fifteen minutes of fame, or for the money, or for attention. God forbid you’re a public figure, because then your own accomplishments will be overshadowed by the worst thing that has ever happened to you; a Google search of your name will turn up RAPE RAPE RAPE, which is exactly the sort of thing you want to be associated with, forever.

 
From that moment on, you will cease being a person and become a “victim” in the minds of the public (whether you accept the label or not), your sanity and mental health are forever in question, you are considered irrevocably damaged. You now have “problems.” Problems that make other people deeply uncomfortable, problems they don’t want to have to think about.

 
Not to mention that the rapist in question in this particular case —Bill Cosby— is a powerful man who has so much money and influence that it’s impossible to imagine anyone more influential; for kids who grew up watching the Cosby show (as millions did), Cosby was LITERALLY viewed as a father figure, and the man is so rich that he tried to BUY NBC in the ’90s. Please, take a moment to let that sink in.

 
These are stories women are discouraged from telling. We are not supposed to have “let this happen.” We are not supposed to have gone out late at night. We should not have trusted our own judgment, we should not have trusted the men who hurt us, we should have known this would happen. Chances are, you have been taught to believe these things your whole life, and part of you probably still believes them.

 
And if you have read this far and your takeaway is still that Cosby is “innocent until proven guilty,” consider that you are contributing to the problem. Consider that Cosby will likely never see the inside of a courtroom, that in 2006 he settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money, which was probably received by a woman who was intimidated and threatened by Cosby’s lawyers, who would not have been able to afford the kind of legal counsel available to Cosby, who wanted justice as much as you and I do (hell, more), but who realized that our society is deeply fucked up and stacked against women, who wanted her life to return to normalcy as soon as possible, who did not want to have to face Cosby again in a courtroom. To go to court would be to risk losing even more, and she had already lost enough.

 

(Originally published as an angry comment on Gawker.com).

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