Gender Bender

16 Mar

Before I dive into what I want to talk about, I gotta share some good news: I’ve been accepted to the 2011 Callaloo Workshop. It’s an opportunity to talk poetry with some of the premiere writers in the nation. Plus I get to go to Texas. I guess…people…from Texas…like Texas… 😛

I gotta apologize beforehand for the awkwardness of the following paragraph. I’m doing my best to be objective and to protect folks’ anonymity, which fucks with the flow of the tale a little. Greater good n shit, blah blah blah. I also apologize for the overall quality of my prose in this post, because I’m not trying very hard.

Okay, okay. A poet who was competing at the Women of the World Poetry Slam this past weekend posted about feeling disrespected by another member of the community. The former was wearing a low-cut dress – not her usual attire – and already feeling uncomfortable about the kind of attention she was receiving. She was talking to some friends about this, and another (woman) poet, a colleague and an acquaintance, approached and commented that the poet with noticeable cleavage had no right to feel offended because, wearing that dress, she was “asking for it”. She who was theoretically “asking for it” felt pretty terrible, and that’s why she publicly wrote about what happened.

Okay, okay. I know both the poets in question at least a bit, and before I make my oh-so-important point, I just want to say that the woman who overstepped has a trangressive sense of humor and a very dry delivery. I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure this is a case of an attempt at a joke gone really wrong.

What most interests me about this situation is folks’ reaction to the post. There’s this undercurrent of shock in the responses I’ve read, as though it’s inconceivable that a woman could speak to another woman in such a way, especially at a women’s event.

What, exactly, is so shocking about this?

Fucking up is not a male province. Telling a bad joke is not something that only a man can do. More importantly, if you read the situation this way: being aggressive, chauvanistic, or disrespectful has less to do with maleness than it has to do with capitalism, or Americanism. Whatever it is we are as a culture, we still carry a big stick, we swagger, and we know a lot about fucking with other people’s boundaries, and sometimes acting ignorant as hell. I’ve been an asshole to many a person in my day, and I don’t want surprise or absolution just because of my body parts, clothes, and sexual preferences. This ain’t the 50s, my loves.

Just to say. Talk whatever shit you like about testosterone or estrogen, but as long as we perpetuate the notion that women are somehow sanctified, that we’re all on some Virgin Mary shit, incapable of fucking up, we’re perpetuating sexism. Equality means: if we’re just as strong and capable as men, we get to be as stupid and offensive and abusive as men can be. Amen and hallelujah, every gender fucks up.


8 Responses to “Gender Bender”

  1. Marita Isabel March 16, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    a) congrats on Callaloo!! b) word. i would like “don’t act like you’re all on some Virgin Mary shit.” on a bumper sticker. every gender does, indeed, fuck up. and every person can hold each other accountable when fuck ups happen. i didn’t read all of the comments on the thread, but it’s not altogether shocking to me that people were “surprised” that this could happen within women-specific community. i’ve seen lots of oppressive moments happen within communities that people expect to be “safe” in. we are all fallible and learning and growing all the time. ❤

    • Laura Yes Yes March 16, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

      Really solid response, Marita. Thanks for reading, thinking, and commenting. It means a lot.

  2. Tatyana Brown March 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    I got a link to this article from a backchannel message.

    All due respect, as the facilitator of the conversation you’re referencing: I think it should be noted that you’ve over-simplified here to the point of misrepresenting a whole bunch of people–not just myself, but my commentors.

    The conversation on that thread ( is way more nuanced than you’ve made it sound. I’m pretty sure I haven’t encountered that many people expressing surprise over woman-on-woman misogyny. Sharing experiences of it, yes. But not so much surprise. And it is a discussion, with many sides exploring several complicated ideas. There are people thinking hard and being vulnerable over there. I feel compelled to speak up when it looks like that’s getting turned into a soundbite.

    You are more than welcome to read and participate in the conversation, though. I imagine, if you are worried about people assuming all women are saints, that you will find lots of content of merit over there.

    • Laura Yes Yes March 17, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

      Tatyana, of course the conversation is more nuanced than that. I’m just using the situation to talk about an aspect of our perception that I think warrants more attention.

    • Laura Yes Yes March 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

      I honestly appreciate your critique, but I also think it’s a little disingenuous to suggest that the dialogue you reference would exist as it is were the offending party male.

      • Tatyana Brown March 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

        I agree. It would be disingenuous to suggest that. I made no such suggestion. Can you help me see what about my comment made you read it that way? I’ve read it over twice now and honestly can’t see it.

        And just for the record:Misrepresenting people and their opinions in order to prove your own point is inappropriate, no matter how valid or interesting you think your point might be. I believe the people that are being misrepresented in this case (and, in fact, our community in general) deserve better than that.

      • Laura Yes Yes March 17, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

        I’ve spent a few hours considering what you’ve said, Tatyana.

        I stand by the point I made. I never pretended to be representing the conversation in its entirety, I said this is what most interests ME about the undercurrent of the dialogue. This is my blog, and my avenue for expressing what inspires and interests me, whether that be sexism, video games, or anything else. If I read something in a public forum – and Facebook is incredibly public – I take the subject to be fair game for general discussion. Yes, I’m allowed to focus on one aspect of the situation. No, I’m not responsible for recreating the dialogue as a whole.

        By implying that I’m misrepresenting the community, you attempt to negate any validity in the point I made. In my opinion, that’s disingenuous. And I still sincerely believe that this conversation would have had an entirely different tone, or not existed at all, had the offending party been male. Whether or not folks say so directly, there’s definitely an element of complication and fascination in folks’ heads when a woman behaves in a sexist or misogynist manner. To me, undoing sexism partly deals with deconstructing that mythos.

        Thank you for posting the link to the discussion in question, I appreciate that. I should have done so to begin with. I’m not trying to blindly lead people to think what I do, so thank you for giving folks a means to examine the root and come to their own conclusions.

  3. Tatyana Brown March 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Totally forgot to check back in over here.

    First of all, I appreciate the idea that a link to the thread on facebook might’ve been better placed in the actual meat of your post. But I don’t think that makes up for the misrepresentation I’m calling out. By the time anyone clicked on a link with the description you provided, I doubt they would have read the ensuing conversation without a certain amount of bias.

    Of course you have a right to write about whatever you want on your blog. I would never disagree with that. Nor would I (or, for the record, did I) attempt to undermine the validity of your point. I happen to agree with you that women are not sacred, infallible and irreproachable superhumans. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to blatantly misrepresent folks having a difficult conversation publicly in another public forum–especially when both have readership in the same community, and the conversation in question is current and gaining momentum. I think that gets in the way of progress to a degree where it seemed reasonable to speak up.

    I will admit that I feel a sense of stewardship (most specifically relating to discussion on the threads I can facilitate) for a larger dialogue that’s shaping up to be subtle, nuanced, and productive. So many important conversations end up stymied by drama in the slam community, and I don’t want to see that happen again–basically ever, if possible. So I can cop to being a mama bear at times about the shit that matters to me and that I feel deserves protection. And from my perspective, the description you provided didn’t just not “represent the conversation in its entirety.” It actively warped a good dialogue into a stereotype so it could be used to prove a much simpler (albeit valuable) point.

    I am not attacking you or saying that your point about female culpability isn’t useful. I can see that it’s a necessary stance to take. I also fully believe you’re capable of making your point without misrepresenting other people.

    By all means, write whatever you want. But there are ethical implications to using another person’s words or ideas–especially when that use amounts to misquoting them. I spoke out here because to my mind, a line had been crossed. We might disagree about that, but I hope that gives you a clearer sense of where I’m coming from with this.

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