Before John Green, his general category of realistic (non-fantasy) YA was rife with teen angst and “issues” fiction that you might have associated with the legendary Judy Blume, or with newer writers like Sarah Dessen or Laurie Halse Anderson. Anderson’s classic 1999 novel Speak, about a high schooler struggling to deal with the aftermath of sexual assault, was so influential that three years later Penguin launched an entire imprint named after it. One of the books launched under the behest of Speak was Green’s Looking for Alaska. But it’s Green whose name you’re more likely to know today, not Anderson’s, although Anderson has won more awards and written more books.
On Twitter, Green has 2 million followers. Compared to the rest of the leaders in Young Adult fiction, that number is staggering. To approach even half the Twitter influence of John Green all by himself, you need an entire army of YA women. Anderson, Blume, Dessen, Veronica Roth, Cassandra Clare, Richelle Mead, Margaret Stohl, Kami Garcia, Rainbow Rowell, Maureen Johnson, Malinda Lo, Holly Black, LJ Smith, Ellen Hopkins, Shannon Hale, Lauren Myracle, Libba Bray, Melissa Marr, and Leigh Bardugo: As a group these women only have about 1.2 million followers on Twitter. That’s the voice of one man outweighing several decades of women who have had major successes, critical acclaim, and cultural influence.
It was 2 a.m., just a few days before Christmas, in a remote part of Afghanistan. Eight hours into a 16-hour shift, Ryan, a 23-year-old American naval sailor, was standing tense and alert, watching the footage of soldiers undertaking a nearby mission on a screen in front of him.
Suddenly, a hand clapped onto his back. Wheeling around to look at the face of his senior officer, Ryan knew the moment he had feared had come: His superiors had found out that his enlisted paperwork described him as female. Within three hours, he was on a plane.
I don’t know if some of you have been to these live reads at LACMA, where a classic film is read live on stage by actors who just sit and read the script. We did one recently of American Pie, but we reversed the gender roles. All the women played men; all the men played women. And it was so fascinating to be a part of this because, as the women took on these central roles — they had all the good lines, they had all the good laughs, all the great moments — the men who joined us to sit on stage started squirming rather uncomfortably and got really bored because they weren’t used to being the supporting cast.
It was fascinating to feel their discomfort [and] to discuss it with them afterward, when they said, “It’s boring to play the girl role!” And I said, “Yeah. Yeah. You think? Welcome to our world!
So some dudes were complaining lately, “Women are telling guys to stop telling them how to dress, but not all guys are total misogynists! Women do it to each other too!”
So. People. Let me tell you a thing.
This is a picture of a panopticon. It’s a kind of prison. See, it’s a giant circle, with all the cells around the rim. The tower in the middle is where the guards are. The guards can see into all the prisoners’ cells, but the prisoners cannot see each other, and they have difficulty seeing the guards. Each prisoner knows that at any time, they are being watched, and if the guards see them behaving incorrectly, they will come with truncheons and beat the prisoner up. They learn to feel that gaze on them, all the time; every movement makes them think, “What if this breaks the rules, and they see, and they come and punish me?” Soon, prisoners don’t need guards standing over them all the time to follow the rules; they do it themselves, because that gaze is omnipresent. Even when the guard house is empty, they still think, “What if someone is watching me?” (This is all from Michel Foucault. You want more on this, go read Discipline and Punish, enjoy the descriptions of medieval torture.)
The panopticon is a metaphor. In our society, we are constantly watched, tracked, disciplined, and punished, from childhood. The school says you skipped class today. The babysitter says you wouldn’t follow the rules. The police saw you at the park with your friends. We are held to valid rules, and to bullshit rules; some of them are necessary to make our society safe, and some of them just make us easier to exploit.
You are held to rules. I am held to rules. They vary. As a woman, I am held to rules that say be small be pretty defer to someone else and I’m punished in different ways if I don’t obey. My brother is held to different rules, that say be strong don’t feel dominate the situation. We end up policing each other; we meet and he says, “Looking good,” and I remember: people are watching how I dress and how I look. If I disobey, they will notice, and I could be punished. I meet him after his job and ask, “Do you think you’ll be promoted soon?” and he remembers: people pay attention to whether or not I’m in charge, and if I’m not dominant, I could be punished.
Sometimes the guardhouse is empty. Sometimes nobody is paying close attention to what I’m wearing. Sometimes the guards don’t come to punish me, so whether or not I am pretty or attractive does not affect whether I get to own property. (It used to: whether or not my ancestresses were married affected their legal and economic statuses hugely)
Feminism is about the work of dismantling the prison when it comes to bullshit rules. It’s about saying that we shouldn’t be held to stupid rules based on gender. So it’s about the work of getting rid of the cells and the watchtower, and getting rid of the guards with truncheons. We can stop telling each other these stories about all the rules we’re held to, and we can stop punishing each other for breaking them. My brother stops telling me, “You’ll never get a date if you dress like that.” I stop telling him, “You need to be strong and work hard so you come out on top.”
So no, feminists don’t believe that all men everywhere are 100% misogynistic. It’s just that a lot of women are conditioned to think that 100% of the time, there is a risk that someone is watching us, and we will be punished if the break the rules. It is really hard work to break the social structures and the internal attitudes that imprison us.
And yes, women can enforce the panopticon. Hell, I’ll even tell you a womanly secret: I cannot count the number of times I’ve received cruelty at the hands of fellow girls for the way I looked or dressed. My entire middle school experience was basically that and algebra. We’re working on fixing that! Please, do not doubt that we’ve been working on that among ourselves as a gender. Women have spent a lot of blood, sweat, and tears trying to change how we treat each other. Now we’re asking you to pitch in.
When [an abusive man] tells me that he became abusive because he lost control of himself, I ask him why he didn’t do something even worse. For example, I might say, “You called her a fucking whore, you grabbed the phone out of her hand and whipped it across the room, and then you gave her a shove and she fell down. There she was at your feet where it would have been easy to kick her in the head. Now, you have just finished telling me that you were ‘totally out of control’ at that time, but you didn’t kick her. What stopped you?” And the client can always give me a reason. Here are some common explanations:
"I wouldn’t want to cause her a serious injury."
“I realized one of the children was watching.”
“I was afraid someone would call the police.”
“I could kill her if I did that.”
“The fight was getting loud, and I was afraid the neighbors would hear.”
And the most frequent response of all:
"Jesus, I wouldn’t do that. I would never do something like that to her.”
The response that I almost never heard — I remember hearing it twice in the fifteen years — was: “I don’t know.”
These ready answers strip the cover off of my clients’ loss of control excuse. While a man is on an abusive rampage, verbally or physically, his mind maintains awareness of a number of questions: “Am I doing something that other people could find out about, so it could make me look bad? Am I doing anything that could get me in legal trouble? Could I get hurt myself? Am I doing anything that I myself consider too cruel, gross, or violent?”
A critical insight seeped into me from working with my first few dozen clients: An abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable. He may hide what he does because he thinks other people would disagree with it, but he feels justified inside. I can’t remember a client ever having said to me: “There’s no way I can defend what I did. It was just totally wrong.” He invariably has a reason that he considers good enough. In short, an abuser’s core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong.
I sometimes ask my clients the following question: “How many of you have ever felt angry enough at your mother to get the urge to call her a bitch?” Typically half or more of the group members raise their hands. Then I ask, “How many of you have ever acted on that urge?” All the hands fly down, and the men cast appalled gazes on me, as if I had just asked whether they sell drugs outside elementary schools. So then I ask, “Well, why haven’t you?” The same answer shoots out from the men each time I do this exercise: “But you can’t treat your mother like that, no matter how angry you are! You just don’t do that!”
The unspoken remainder of this statement, which we can fill in for my clients, is: “But you can treat your wife or girlfriend like that, as long as you have a good enough reason. That’s different.” In other words, the abuser’s problem lies above all in his belief that controlling or abusing his female partner is justifiable….
People be calling cars and ships and America “she” but when a trans women asks for female pronouns people be like no
Don’t be slutty, don’t have sex. But be sexy. If you’re too sexy though and you get raped, then that’s you’re own fault because you’re not actually supposed to listen to us about being sexy, even though we tell you your value is derived from how sexy you are. If you get into a position of power, we will assume that you used your sex appeal to get there and not your brains and we will mock you even though we told you the only thing that mattered was your sex appeal. Make yourself accessible to me, but holy shit stop being so desperate and needy. Don’t be a tease. If we want to have sex with you, don’t friendzone us, even though we just fucking told you not to have sex.
In sixteenth-century England, as in our own culture, women’s clothing was clearly distinguished from men’s. Until the late Middle Ages, however, men and women had worn similar long, loose robes. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, clothing had been increasingly differentiated to emphasize and produce embodied sexual difference. Men’s robes were shortened to reveal their legs, and the codpiece was invented. Women acquired tight bodices that altered the shape of their breasts and low-cut gowns to display them, and their skirts, which remained long, were widened. In addition to producing visible signs of sexual difference, changes in clothing also produced differences in daily behavior. It was during this same period, for instance, that European women began using sidesaddles, a fashion that was brought to England near the end of the fourteenth century by Anne of Bohemia when she married the English king Richard II. However, gender was not the only or even the most important distinction that early modern English clothing enforced. In fact, although sumptuary laws contained elaborate regulations of male attire to ensure that men’s clothing would express their exact place in the social hierarchy, there was no legislation against cross-dressing. In late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century England, some women adopted the fashion of masculine attire, and although moralists strenuously condemned the practice, it was never made illegal. Moreover, male and female children were dressed in the same attire—in skirts—until they reached the age of seven. Apparently, the physical difference that separated boys from girls was not considered sufficiently significant to be marked by clothing, but the difference in social rank that separated one man from another was so important that clothing which obscured it was forbidden by law. Another indication that both age and status were at least as important as gender in determining an individual’s identity is the fact that medical casebooks referred to children of both sexes as ‘it’ until they reached puberty. In our own culture, by contrast, clothing is gendered from birth, but it is less reliable as an indicator of status and rank.
First, there is no naturalized gendered body. All of our bodies are modified with regard to gender, whether we seek out surgery or take hormones or not. All of us engage in or have engaged in processes of gender body modification (diets, shaving, exercise regimes, clothing choices, vitamins, birth control. etc) that alter our bodies,
just as we’ve all been subjected to gender related processes that altered our bodies (being fed differently because of our gender, being given or denied proper medical care because of our gender, using dangerous products that are on the market only because of their relationship to gender norms, etc). The isolating of only some of these processes for critique, while ignoring others, is a classic exercise in domination. To see trans body alteration as participating and furthering binary gender, to put trans people’s gender practices under a microscope while maintaining blindness to more familiar and traditional, but no less active and important gender practices of non-trans people, is exactly what the transphobic medical establishment has always done.
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