msagara: (rco-2)
[personal profile] msagara
The title refers to this post, by author Nora Jemisin. It is worth reading. It is not going to make your night any happier.

But then again, I'm not going to make your night any happier. I don't know if people will find this post triggery--but it will descend, in all probability, into rant and a genuine, visceral anger. So this might be the time to scroll past.

Because I'm me, I'm going to come at my point slowly, and it may seem to you that I am not addressing the point at all. I want to ask, as I have done once or twice before, that if people choose to comment here, they don't offer me sympathy, or its ugly step-cousin, pity. What I'm writing is entirely contextual.

I'm pretty much fifty years old. My mother was the youngest of nine children, which means many of her outlooks are a generation older than she is.

I was raised to be a Good Girl. This is independent of being a good child. Good Girl has connotations and struggling to be a Good Girl is about as comfortable as your average iron maiden, and you don't get to enter it voluntarily. In pre-pubescence, we are all assumed to be Good Girls. Why?

Because we're pre-pubescent. We are outside of the age in which sexuality is inextricably linked to gender in the the general polity at large. We are children. When I was growing up, we belonged to our mothers. But as young women, we belonged to the houses of our fathers. Why?

Because we needed to belong to someone male.

This sounds like hyperbole. I don't think it was ever a conscious attitude; neither my mother nor my father ever said this to me, and I honestly don't think either of them thought it; it was, however, an observable attitude in people external to our nuclear family.

I was raised to be honest, to work hard, to worry about how I was seen by others, and to fit in (this will probably strike people who actually know me in real life as funny). But when I hit the age of thirteen, and developed breasts, there were other lessons waiting in the wings.

Until then, I had never heard the word 'slut'. I had never heard the word 'whore'. I had been told, repeatedly, that two people fall in love and get married. I was not told that those two people had to be one (1) woman and one (1) man. This was not because my household was particularly progressive, mind you; it was because any other pairing had never, ever occurred to my mother. I had never heard the word homosexual. I had heard the word faggot. I understood it was meant as a pejorative. I don't think the boys that used it understood the pejorative themselves, since they used it in an entirely gender neutral way. At ten years of age, I was often called a faggot, as an example. I believe it was a word picked up at home when parents used it in a derogatory way; it was understood to mean: bad person or loser. In high school, of course, that shifted. But it was part of the early vocabulary.

I heard the word chink a lot, growing up. We lived in a predominantly Italian/Greek/Portugese neighborhood. Until I was nine years of age, the only other asians I had ever met were all related to me; there were no others at my school. There were two black girls, and one black boy. Everyone else was white.

I did not understand the way 'white' is divided. I don't know if it was, when I was young; Hispanic does not seem to be considered white, in the US. Arabic is not considered white.

I was, however, visible. A visible minority. What other words did I hear a lot? I didn't hear a lot of nigger, but I knew what it meant. I heard a bunch of jew-beggar. I understood all of these words as words that were derogatory. When I was five, chink upset me more because at five, we see the things that hurt or bewilder us first. At age twelve, I started to hear a lot of the word paki, as new people moved into the neighborhood.

I particularly liked the word wop, because it was a word that you could use on your white, male tormenters that was just as derogatory. I tell you this to make clear that, as a child, my hands were not clean. I considered it fair, at the time. You make my life hell, I will make your life hell.

Retard was also a very commonly used word.

These words were the harshness we navigated around. They were frequently accompanied by other acts of harshness.

When we developed breasts, new words joined them. Slut. Whore. The concept of 'slut-shaming' didn't exist, in the sense that slut-shaming is considered a terrible thing and something women should not do to each other, and society should not do, period.

When I was thirteen, there was no such thought. Slut-and-whore were a value judgement that was handed down if you failed the Good Girl test--the one that accompanies breasts and menstruation. It was a label.

It was worse than a label.

Sex could destroy your life. Having sex outside of marriage instantly turned you into an evil, immoral person. Anyone decent could look down their nose at you, could shun you, if they knew. It rendered you unfit for company--or decent company. It made you fit for only one thing: indiscriminate sex with anyone who wanted it or demanded it. Because if you'd done it once, you were ruined; there was no reason that you then shouldn't be doing it all the time.

That -- that was the subtext of my puberty.

What I learned as a fourteen and fifteen year old were that men--many middle-aged and balding and older than my father, from all kinds of different racial and cultural backgrounds--wanted that sex. I was told, frequently, by well meaning much older woman, that that is all men wanted; that they would trick or manipulate you into sex by lying. Sex was the act of a predator.

If a woman and man walked into a bedroom together, there was always one winner and one loser - and it wasn't the woman who won. If you played the game at all, you lost. You were a slut.

You cannot imagine how mind-numbingly wrong this seemed to me. None of these words were ever used in my household when I was growing up. Not one. Only when I developed the aforementioned breasts did they suddenly become used. They shocked me, in their context; they were ugly, harsh, judgemental.

My logical mind did not understand how making love - which is what married couples did - and having sex, which is what sluts did (because, no marriage) were actually different.

The difference, I was told, was this: if men respected you, they would not touch you before marriage. If they didn't, their touch would destroy you somehow; it would transform your very soul and turn you into something unwanted, anathema.

So: sex was transformative, and not in a good way.

I don't know how many of you were raised with this subtext. It was mostly subtext. But during fights about, say, phoning boys (OMG!), it became text. It was ugly. And it still made no sense to me. An acquaintance, male of course, explained it this way: "Would you want an ice cream cone that someone else had licked first?"

And I thought, then: oh, I get it. We're goods. We're like any other desireable object: we have to be new and shiny.

And then I thought: f*ck that (that was when I was sixteen. I actually said to my mother: "So let me get this straight. You are telling me that I should want to spend my life with a person whose only concern about me is an intact hymen?" She was furious, because that was not what she was saying. Except it was. Because nothing else about me would make any difference if I wasn't a virgin.

"Well, thanks for that. I am not spending my life with someone who doesn't actually care about me. Whoever that mythical person who will not marry me if I am not a virigin actually is. What do I need a husband for? I am going to work. I am going to put a roof over my own head. I do not need a man for that. I will not starve without one. And I will not live in a cage in utter terror of having zero value if I have sex."

But I was full of fury and bravado. Because I understood that the words 'slut' and 'whore' have power. No adolescent wants to be hated or despised. I argued with people about those words. I considered the use of them to be so bloody hypocritical on the part of men (who responded, when called on it, with "But we weren't talking about you", which entirely missed the point.)

Because I understood that if you had the Good Girl label, at least some of the lecherous, disgusting behaviour would be kept in check. There was some of it that you wouldn't have to endure.

Good Girls are virgins. If you haven't had sex, you aren't obligated to do so with every disgusting entitled male who attempts to crawl all over you.


And now, we are getting to the point. To my reaction to the Twitter comment, and every other stupid comment on the Oscars.

When I was fifteen years old, I landed my first part-time job. It was in a shoe store where a friend also worked. The manager of that store was an odious man. He was balding, my height, three times my girth, and he spent every day we worked together regaling me with detailed accounts of all his sexual exploits. He was in his mid to late thirties at the time. Married, although clearly that was not one of his personal issues.

He did not ever attempt to molest me physically, but - I really found him loathsome beyond all possible belief, and absolutely revolting. I found his comments about customers after they'd left the store - always women -- obscene and just as revolting. Did I mention he was the manager?

I would hope in this day and age that my fifteen year old self could report him for sexual harassment, because listening to his talk about his sex and the size of his penis and the number of times he did it this past weekend would absolutely qualify.

One day, while cataloguing his reactions to someone's 'tits' and 'ass', he slid into a comparison of every racial category of women and the sex he had had with them. (I think, btw, that he entirely made all this up. I cannot actually imagine anyone, ever, anywhere, finding him attractive enough to stay within twenty yards of him. I did not, however, think that then).

And when he reached blacks - and yes, in case you're counting, he certainly went down the asians list - he said, and I want to bold this:

There are no black virgins. Black girls are all sluts; all they want is sex. They start f*cking everyone in sight when they're ten or eleven.

He was not black. He wasn't white, either, but he wasn't black. His interaction with the black community was zero, zilch, nil.

And that comment is the one that stays with me. I've heard it three other times in my life. Never ever from any of those 'girls' themselves, of course.

You know what?

I got to be a child. Until I actually developed breasts and physically matured, I got to be a child. People like this incredible ass did not look at me at that age and assume that he needed to start having sex with me Right Bloody Now if he wanted a virgin, because if he waited until I was ELEVEN it would be too late.

I was not instantly objectified, instantly turned into a sex object, until I had at least developed external adult physical attributes. I didn't like it when it did happen.

And what I thought, when I saw the Twitter reaction? It was of that man. Of men like him. And of the attitude toward little black girls that is embedded in the already ugly sexism and misogyny.

I am glad that black feminist twitter is up in arms. But I understand that the misogyny and the creepiest and ugly remnants of patriarchal sex hierarchies are at their worst and most destructive when dealing with black women.

Do I think that the comments were made because Quvenzhané Wallis is a black girl?

Yes. Yes I do. I don't even think it was a conscious decision; I don't think they looked at her and thought: black girls are all sluts. But I think it's the subtext. I've seen it. It wasn't aimed at me because I was yellow, not black - but I've seen it, and it is so incredibly ugly. I am angry on their behalf. I am angry on behalf of their children.

It's been fifteen years since I've last heard that opinion. Fifteen years in which so much has opened up and changed.

But I guess thirty-five years isn't enough, on its own, to eradicate the attitude.

Edited because it's != its, and in theory I know this

Date: 2013-02-26 11:46 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
As always, so very well said and so important to BE said.

Date: 2013-02-26 01:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks, Michelle, for saying what needed to be said.

I was going to ping you to ask how you were doing --you hadn't posted in a while-- but I see I didn't need to.

I certainly hope that times will change, but given how things have been since Election Night, 2008, I wonder whether we haven't gone backward. Perhaps things are more visible because certain aspects of society have become emboldened to crawl out from under that rock, but I fear that we have become less tolerant and respectful of others over the intervening time.

I was not amused by what passed for jokes at the Oscars the other night. You can poke fun at people without being offensive, but it's as if McFarlane didn't get the memo on that. And really, what the hell did the little girl do that pissed off all those people? Act well in a movie? Act like a kid? She behaved herself much better than Jack Nicholson did, but then again we all knew that one. Oh, I knew the swipe that McFarlane took about her wasn't about her at all, but rather a snide comment about George Clooney's tastes in women, but it was demeaning to both Clooney and the girl, both of whom displayed more class than McFarlane did.

And yes, I decided I wasn't going to watch any uncomfortable squirming or nervous laughter when the "We Saw Your Boobs" song and dance number came on screen. For all of the "lighten up!" comments out there, I'd argue that all we'd have to do is change the lyrics to "We Saw Your Dick" and see how those same people would react.

Date: 2013-02-26 03:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Probably not nearly as offended as they are reacting now. Of course, a lot of that has to do with male privilege and a lack of sexualization for men (except for Channing Tatum).

Date: 2013-02-26 04:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm not sure what "except for Channing Tatum" means here. He doesn't get talked about any more than other male movie stars.

Date: 2013-02-26 11:59 pm (UTC)
ext_77335: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Channing Tatum used to be a stripper; he wrote Magic Mike based on that period in his life.

Date: 2013-02-26 07:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I was going to ping you to ask how you were doing --you hadn't posted in a while-- but I see I didn't need to.

I am so far behind in writing deadlines that I mostly save the words. I am so desperately trying to catch up to "really really late" and avoid "catastrophically, disastrously late" - but I couldn't write fiction for two nights because these words cut right through anything else. Because someone on twitter said, to one of the black feminists posting, "This happens to white women too. Idiot." (I believe the poster was a white woman, but on twitter, it's impossible to be certain.)

And I was enraged. Well, I was shocked, and then I was enraged. And it just stayed with me, and built.

Date: 2013-02-26 10:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Did your husband need to prod you to write it down, or did he merely stay out of the way until you were ready? I figured that as a fellow IT person he's just lay low until you were ready.

Date: 2013-02-27 12:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Did your husband need to prod you to write it down, or did he merely stay out of the way until you were ready? I figured that as a fellow IT person he's just lay low until you were ready.

He lays low, if you can call getting an enraged earful laying low.

But I run things past him before I post, because he often points out where I've failed to be clear, or where I've assumed certain knowledge about things that I shouldn't. Also, he'll sometimes point out that I've lost the point of a post to the density of steam I'm exhaling.

Date: 2013-02-26 02:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well said.

I didn't watch most of the Oscars and so I managed to miss all the stupid comments and bad jokes, but when someone linked that twitter comment from the Onion about Quvenzhané Wallis, I didn't have the context to put it in.

And you know what? I didn't need any context, because even in supposed satire, calling a little girl - any little girl - a cunt is not funny. It's not satire, and it's not a commentary on how other people act badly. It was something no child should have to see or know about, especially not at freaking 9 years old.

And I don't even like kids all the much, but I sure let the other person, who posted the twitter and said it was funny, know that I thought it was pretty disgusting all around.

Date: 2013-02-27 01:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
For pretty much any value of "girl" that includes all human females, I think.

Date: 2013-02-26 02:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well said. I gave up on the Oscars years ago and haven't missed it; in any case hearing that Seth McFarlane was the host made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. Crude, lewd and fratboy world. Haven't we gotten past that--well, no.

But still--yeesh. It's time for this crap to end. She's a little girl, for God's sake, and....well, makes me wonder what the same folks were saying (without tweeting) about Malia and Sasha Obama. Gawd.

And the scary thing is that I am working with middle school kids, and there's a passel of boys who fit right into this whole mentality. Sexist, racist--the number of times I've shut down unacceptable comments has gone beyond the fingers of both hands. It's appalling, and this isn't even a school for the privileged--it's a poor rural school.

Date: 2013-02-26 04:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Since it's the Onion, I give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was making a point about how toxic most of these comments are but when people say the same things about Kristen Stewart, Sarah Palin, Charlize Theron, etc. there is no reaction. I hate Sarah Palin as much as the next liberal (well not as much now that she has absolutely no power) but calling her a cunt is bullshit gendered language.

Directing that at a kid that's adorable is supposed to be shocking, but sadly there was really no point to that but to shock.

Now with 4chan, ED or your average youtube comment, there's no irony. Just nastiness.

Date: 2013-02-26 06:56 pm (UTC)
ext_73032: Me in Canada (Default)
From: [identity profile]
It's not remotely surprising it's a poor rural school; the privileged and their kids are usually better at hiding such attitudes.

Date: 2013-02-27 01:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The Obama girls have gotten similar treatment. :-\ I've seen articles about people making racist, sexist, sexual comments about them on Twitter... never mind in the election run-up, newspaper editors making similar comments about them. It's fucking disgusting.

Date: 2013-02-26 02:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Very, very well said. As someone who kind of ignores the Oscars because A) I don't really care who wins; the odds of me having seen any of the films nominated are slight (that changed this year with "Lincoln," which was a terrific film) and B) dislikes award shows other than, say, the Hugos, I hadn't heard about this until it was long past. And even then, my first reaction was a large helping of "Wha...? Did they REALLY say that?"

Thank you for this.

Date: 2013-02-26 02:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, and do you mind if I link to this in my own LJ?

Date: 2013-02-26 07:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, and do you mind if I link to this in my own LJ?

Please do. In future, anything I've posted publicly anywhere can be linked - I link to interesting articles & posts all the time.

Date: 2013-02-26 07:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you for the incredibly powerful post--yours was the first I'd seen on this, though I'm getting other links to post in my Dreamwidth journal)--and thanks for clarifying your linking policy too!

Date: 2013-02-26 07:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
done (

Date: 2013-02-26 04:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well said, and so true.

Thank you.

Date: 2013-02-26 04:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is a truly excellent essay. Thank you for writing this.

Date: 2013-02-27 01:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is a truly excellent essay. Thank you for writing this.

And thanks for commenting - I was worried that this might be triggery because it speaks to the heart of some incredibly ugly social assumptions, and they were out in full force this weekend (I read your LJ post after the Oscars, and - yes. Sometimes it's hard to find the joy when you can hear and see the cesspool).

But I also think it's easy not to see what underlies some reactions, because they're almost never stated as bald assertions, the way the jerk of a manager asserted them. People can say "but all women suffer that crap". And - no.

Date: 2013-02-26 06:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The comments that have been made about Quvenzhane Wallis are beyond objectionable and completely unacceptable.

Date: 2013-02-26 06:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have never heard that idiocy before about black girls. Certainly I have the slut issues and experienced them too. That's truly appalling. Honestly, I couldn't begin to wrap my head around what the hell The Onion was saying with that tweet. It was so over the top disgusting and repulsive that I didn't know what to do with it in my head. I didn't see it as racist so much as pedophilic. But I can now see it in the light you've cast and that makes it even worse, if that is at all possible. I generally like the Onion, but I can't see where anyone could possible find humor in what they said. I can't conceive that there might be humor in it for anyone. It was sick. No, not sick, because that would imply they didn't know what they were saying. It was vicious and nasty and misogynistic and racist and worse that all that, it was put out there in a huge public way and this poor little girl is going to have to deal with it from now on. I'm absolutely outraged and disgusted.

As for the rest of the anti-woman, woman as object crap of the Oscars--I'm glad I didn't subject myself to it. But I hate that it went out to so many houses that didn't turn it off.

Date: 2013-02-26 07:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am hoping--probably a vain hope, alas--that her parents will be able to keep this kerfuffle out of her sight for some while. Unfortunately, it will come up again and again as long as she has an acting career. "Oh, yeah, Quvenzhane Wallis--she's the one the Onion called a cunt when she was just a kid." Instead of "Oh, yeah, Quvenzhane Wallis--she was nominated for an Oscar when she was just a kid!"

It's shit, all of it, top to bottom. The only blameless person in this mess is the one it will hurt the most: a nine-year-old girl.

Date: 2013-02-27 11:34 am (UTC)
gingicat: woman in a green dress and cloak holding a rose, looking up at snow falling down on her (Default)
From: [personal profile] gingicat
I have never before hoped that a wise and compassionate person be wrong. Thank you for this comment. (Whoops - confused you with the OP.)
Edited Date: 2013-02-27 11:38 am (UTC)

Date: 2013-02-26 08:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
thanks for this post.

Date: 2013-02-26 10:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

That's all I got for now. Any further and i'll just cry. Thank you for getting it. So fucking sick of trying to explain it to even the well-meaning.

Date: 2013-02-26 11:14 pm (UTC)
kaffyr: The TARDIS says hello (Breaking my heart)
From: [personal profile] kaffyr
Thank you for this post. You've lad it all out so logically and elegantly. Again; thank you.

Date: 2013-02-26 11:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Here via filkerdave. Thank you for a powerful post. Too many people hide behind the excuse of "We never SAID that* and ignore the subtext. Thank you for bringing it forward into the open.

Date: 2013-02-26 11:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Very well said.

I don't think the boys that used [faggot] understood the pejorative themselves, since they used it in an entirely gender neutral way.

Datapoint: I'm a little older than you, and in my junior high school, "queer" was the all-purpose pejorative. And it wasn't until some years later that I, at least, understood what it was actually supposed to mean.

FWIW, The Onion has issued an apology, a real one, none of this "we're sorry if anyone was offended" shit. The statement made it clear that they understood why people were upset, they regretted what had happened, and were taking steps to make sure that something like this wouldn't happen again. The phrase "disciplinary action" was used.

I don't expect to see anything similar from McFarland, because he's an asshole.

Date: 2013-02-27 02:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Glad I tuned out after the red carpet show.


They paid S*** M********* for this? That's like hiring someone to pee on your rosebushes!

Date: 2013-02-27 11:37 am (UTC)
gingicat: woman in a green dress and cloak holding a rose, looking up at snow falling down on her (Default)
From: [personal profile] gingicat
This is an extraordinary post and I am so glad I read it.

I'm 43 and Jewish and I observed my friends and classmates of all colors struggling with EXACTLY what you describe here. Thankfully my parents did not extol the Good Girl thing so much as the Be Nice To Others thing. Until I was much older, I assumed we were the norm. Stupid, dangerous bigots.
Edited Date: 2013-02-27 11:41 am (UTC)

For the sake of my grandchildren

Date: 2013-02-27 06:01 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I am caucasian married to an asian with a granddaughter who brings african into our melting pot family. After watching the Oscars and seeing the awful "we saw your boobies" skit, I tuned out knowing it was probably going to go downhill from there. But even then, I was shocked to see the headline Monday morning about the Onion's tweet!

For the sake of my grandchildren, I had really hoped we had gotten beyond this racist/sexist mentality by now. Clearly, we have not and I am really worried for my little one.

Date: 2013-02-28 04:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well said, and you've made me think.

Sad indeed...

Date: 2013-02-28 07:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tabetha bounsall berry (from
I watched part of the Oscars (the last hour I think) because we had the times wrong, but only because I was rooting for Daniel Day-Lewis and his role of "Lincoln". As a rule I don't watch much television anymore, or news, or read headlines, or, or, or...just because of this sort of ugliness. However, my husband's another story and he was flipping channels the other even and came across a cable show called "The New Adventures of Old Christine" staring Julia Louis-Dreyfus (from 'Seinfeld'). He stopped surfing because the man in the scene called 'Christine' a racist because she wanted her son to go to a high-end private school. She said that was absurd, because she drove a Prius. I think that right there pointed out how few people realize just WHAT racism is. We finished out the episode that I felt cleverly explained this. She said she wanted her son to be in a well educated school, to learn about diversity and different cultures, but then was alarmed there were no black families attending or even Asian. So she sponsored a black family who wanted to have their daughter attend the third grade the same as her son. 'Christine' was thrilled, until she heard the same black family use the word "fag" and express prejudice against homosexuals. But dead set on her quest to stand up against profiling and discrimination, she then sponsored a gay male couple. To her dismay, it appeared the only reason they wanted to go there was to avoid all the Jews in their previous school.

The world has become an ugly place and racism, bigotry, discrimination and all kinds of hatred runs abound. I truly believe the CHILDREN are our last resource on this planet. If we allow our young to become targets of this mayhem, either by words or bullets under rapid fire, we have FAILED.

I am grateful you have spoken up about this, as I believe knowledge is power. I do not believe it will always be this way, but someone has to do something - at some point - to start the change.

Date: 2013-02-28 03:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I found this on FB, but it speaks to the same issue.

I am a little older than you, but I remember seeing most of the attitudes you described when I was growing up, too. I wasn't the one they were directed toward, but they still made me twitch even back then.

Date: 2013-02-28 07:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Lovely, thoughtful essay. Thank you.

Date: 2013-03-01 02:21 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
well said


msagara: (Default)
Michelle Sagara

April 2015


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