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Armed and… Ambivalent?

18 Oct

Let’s begin with a confession: I was born and raised in the great state of Texas and prior to two weeks ago, I had never fired a gun.  That will certainly be surprising to some folks as Texas often invokes images of shotguns, six shooters and gun-toting cowboys.  For me, however, Texas is about home, family, the State Fair and where my own brand of quirky country makes perfect sense.  While, like the rest of the country, I grew up in a pervasive gun culture, there was not one in my immediate family.  I didn’t grow up around hunting trips, shotguns, rifles and pistols.  My experience with guns was not linked to family or individual recreation, as it is for some, but to fear, intimidation and violence.  I remember having to run, duck and hide more than my fair share because somebody at a football game or an after party decided to flex and start shooting in a crowd.  I know the sting of losing friends and classmates to shootings and self-inflicted gun shot wounds.  I remember how I felt being pushed inside a vault as three men armed with guns robbed my partner and me.  So, while I had never shot a gun before, I knew all too well its power and effects.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself at a gun range on the outskirts of Atlanta.  It was supposed to be an outing with friends (somebody found a groupon, so you know how that goes). I thought it might be a chance to address some of my fear of guns so I agreed.  Slowly but surely, everybody got a little too busy to go and I was the last woman standing.  Far be it from me to waist money or a good coupon, so I went.  I didn’t fully realize how frightened I would be until I walked in the door of the range.  For a while I was the only woman and one of two people of color in the building.  It was strange to be standing in a room full of firearms and white men in camouflage hunting caps and biker boots.  That could have been a very different scene at a different time of day, in a different location. I was fully aware that I was out of place and that being out place as a woman and as a person of color is always potentially dangerous.  I remained out of place in the range that day as I jumped every time I heard a gun fire, including my own.   I shot fifty rounds and even though it turns out that I’m pretty good shot, I never felt fully comfortable loading the bullets, holding the gun or pulling the trigger. Yet, a mix of exhilaration, pride and fear left me shaking for at least thirty minutes after I left the range.   Though I wasn’t fully sure how to process it, and I’m still not, I was sure I would be back.

And back I was, this time at an outdoor range in Texas and anything but alone as I went with my mother, her partner and a good family friend who owns the guns we used, and who happens to be white. This trip felt decidedly different from my first experience.  I am sure it was the combination of sunlight, fresh air and not being by myself.  It wasn’t lost on me, however, that though I was not alone this time I was still very much out of place. Two Black women, a Black man and a White man are still an “odd” grouping to many.  It was certainly “odd” to most of the folks at the gun range that day as we got plenty of stares and double takes, some lasting longer than others.  It wasn’t long before I noticed two white men who had taken a particular interest in us.  Staring each time I stepped up to operate the manual launcher as we shot at clay targets and loudly commenting on my shooting and on our family friend’s efforts to assist me, they made their disgust and discomfort at our presence known.  It was a stark reminder of the history/reality of guns, race and place in the South or anywhere for that matter.

For me, both of these experiences at gun ranges in two different major Southern cities brought up issues of race, place and belonging.  There was certainly something powerful in my ability to walk into these ranges, spaces dominated by white masculinity, and be defiantly “out of place.”  Yet, I also felt “out of place” in my own skin as I tried to reconcile my enjoyment of recreational shooting with my own history and politics.  How can I understand my experiences with gun violence on a number of different levels with wielding a gun in the controlled environment of a gun range?  Can I be interested in guns, even recreationally, and still be vehemently anti-violence?  Where do guns figure in my Black feminist politic?  Is there room to think about women, safety and guns in a kind of feminist politics of self-defense?  While going to the gun range was not about self-defense for me, as I write this a local news story is airing about a young Black woman who shot one of two men attempting to break into her home at 11am in broad daylight.  Her father says he is proud of her for defending herself.  He said that he taught her to use the gun for just that purpose and now he will teach her to forgive herself for doing what she had to do.  I’m relieved that she was able to defend herself but I am afraid because she will still have to wait for the final word from a grand jury to decide whether there will be charges. And Black women don’t always have an easy time making claims of self-defense especially not when guns are involved, just ask Marissa Alexander

Clearly, I’m left with more questions than answers.  On some level, I wish I could say that going to these two ranges has given me a clear position either completely for or against guns but it hasn’t.  What I am sure of is that these two experiences refuse to let me take any position for granted.  They are, however, undoubtedly forcing me to think deeply about my politics, my fears and my history in order to move more fully into an understanding that refuses neat or logical conclusion but bravely tangles with the messiness and nuance that lies at the heart of the personal and the political.

Hail to the…Naw!

22 Jul

Summer's Eve Hail to the V logoSo Summer’s Eve has a new marketing campaign for their line of “feminine” washes and deodorants called “Hail to the V!”  And, just to be clear, that “V” is for vagina!  If you visit their website you can take a quiz to “ID the V” and get your hands on a “Vagina’s Owner’s Manual.” In case you thought this was some kind of corporate altruism, you can also learn more about Summer’s Eve’s products which, after you take the quiz and read the manual, you will know you need to keep “Lady V” on the right track!

Wait! I think I’m hallucinating so I hit the refresh button… No, this is for real.  In a world of sub-par sexual health education I’m all for some public knowledge sharing about women’s reproductive health.  And in a world that denigrates women and routinely uses “pussy” and other vaginal references to indicate somebody’s lack of courage or general inferiority I am all for shouting out and offering a big up to the vagina.  But this campaign is neither educational nor complimentary; it’s sham.  A sham masquerading as education, homage, honor and respect.

Take their commercial “The V” for example, in which a properly ambiguously female and European voice-over tells us “It’s the cradle of life.  It’s the center of civilization.  Over the ages and throughout the world, men have fought for it, battled for it, even die for it.  One might say it’s the most powerful thing on earth!”  First, it sounds like the marketing team for Summer’s Eve just finished reading some of the vintage works of Brother Cleaver (All Hail  the Power of the Pussy!!!).  Second, the honor that Summer’s Eve asks us to bestow upon our All Mighty Vagina is that of cleanliness and not just any cleanliness but one that smells like a

Picture of Summer's Eve Feminine Wash in "Delicate Blossom" for Sensitve Skin

What exactly does a "Delicate Blossom" smell like anyway?

“Delicate Blossom” or “Morning Paradise.”  In other words, your “wonder down under” stinks and you need to fix it!  This, of course, panders to the same old ideas that the vagina is inherently unclean and its processes are also unreliable and suspicious.  Bringing to mind “dirty” words like discharge, yeast, bacteria and menstruation. Of course, they do offer a scent called Naturally Normal  but who the hell said all our “normals” smell the same.  Not to mention the very idea that you can somehow bottle and sell normality!

Finally, to call “it” the most powerful thing in the world and to talk so romantically about its supposed influence and power ignores the very real ways women find themselves marginalized and made vulnerable at the site of “it”.  How women access adequate health care, navigate sexual assault or the threat of sexual assault, the right to have an abortion, the right to have a baby all demonstrate the ways in which the mistreatment of vaginas has nothing to do with how clean they are but with where they are situated in the matrix of power, privilege and disadvantage. But this commercial, this campaign would have women believe that all we need to do is tap into the Power of the P, most quickly done through washing it with Summer’s Eve, and, like Beyonce says, we could run the world!  Pause…Side Eye!  So yes, let’s talk about what it means to recognize, honor and respect our vaginas! But let’s not allow that conversation to be tethered to the sale of products.  Let the conversation be about what feels good, what feels right, what feels necessary and what feels healthy.  Until then, as my homegirl Tiffy Rose said when she saw these commercials, “Hail to the Naw!” Summer’s Eve, you can keep your faux celebration of my vagina right along with your overly-perfumed washes, spray deodorants, cleaning towelettes!

 

Who the hell you calling fat? … I hope it was me!

22 Jul

What y’all know ‘bout big girls in sassy outfits, swinging hips from left to right and daring anybody to say a damn thing about it? If ya don’t know and you want to, this post is for you. Let me introduce to the world of fatshionistas.

Fatshionistas are reclaiming their right to enjoy their bodies and the clothes they put on them. They make up a growing movement of women who are instituting a new conversation about fat, size, women’s bodies and fashion, all through blogging. From posts on the summer or fall line of a particular designer to posts that call out racism in the fat acceptance movement, these bloggers and their blogs enter the weight debate from a variety of places. Some are dedicated almost exclusively to fashion, or as they call it fatshion, while others are more explicitly concerned with cultural criticism and the politics of bodies, diet culture and fat hating. In the end, regardless of focus, they all push for an expansion of the boundaries around women’s bodies, beauty and fat! For me they strike a chord because, simply put, they reminded me that my body is not my enemy and, as a matter of fact, that my relationship to it can be and is fun and celebratory.

Now, as a card-carrying feminist, I know that I am supposed to already know these things. But feminism doesn’t make us immune to the bullshit it just gives us some extra resources for fighting it. As a Black woman born, raised and living in the south my round body has always been a source of compliment as much as, if not more than, it’s been a source of ridicule or shame. Lately, however the jeans have been a little more snug and the stairs have started to become my enemy so I decided it might be time to get on that dreaded weight loss band wagon once again. But with the diet culture we’re all bombarded with and the fat hating, obesity-fearing messages we get on a daily basis, I sometimes find myself walking a fine line between a little slimming down and all out body hating madness! So, I have to find ways to counteract the latter and encourage the former.

Enter the wonderful world of fatshion!

These women are fierce and absolutely revolutionary, at least in my book! Armed with laptops and digital cameras, they have parlayed flickr and WordPress into platforms for resistance and redefinition and they look damn good while doing it! Or, as one fatshionista put it, she’s “Not a photographer or style icon, but shit, she works it out.” And, work it out they do! They are complicating the relationship between feminism, fat and fashion. For some, fashion is always a part of a hierarchical and oppressive machine that dictates narrow standards of beauty. Fatshionistas are challenging that kind of hegemony by declaring their right to name their own standards. They are reclaiming language, refusing to let words like fat be used as weapons against them. They are providing new versions and new visions of what bodily acceptance and self-care can look like!  Now if that ain’t crunk, I’m not sure what is…

So if you haven’t been introduced to the fatshionista game yet, let me help you out with a mini blog roll:

Young Fat and Fabulous: http://www.youngfatandfabulous.com/

Musings of a Fatshionista: http://www.musingsofafatshionista.com/

Fatshionable: http://fatshionable.com/

Saks in the City: http://saksinthecity.blogspot.com/

Fatshionista: http://www.fatshionista.com/cms/

Corazones Rojos: http://corazonesrojos.tumblr.com/

Big Beauty: http://www.leblogdebigbeauty.com/

Corpulent: http://corpulent.wordpress.com/

Check them out, get inspired and, if you’re like me, reintroduce yourself to your body … but this time on friendly terms!

So, who’s a Fatshionista? I know I’m damn sure trying to be one!

Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places…

19 Apr

I have no choice but to blame my little brother. It’s his fault that this shenanigan publication finds its way into my mailbox once a month. Something about selling magazines for a band fundraiser. It was either this or a subscription to House Beautiful so I chose the lesser of two evils, or so I thought. Previously, I sort of boycotted Essence magazine, only picking it up if it was laying on some friend’s coffee table or in a doctor’s waiting room. But, alas, now I am confronted with its ridiculousness every month. The May issue brought Jill Scott’s bright-eyed and smiling face to greet me and I thought “maybe I’ll actually give this one a read instead of tossing it in the pile by the fireplace.” So I opened it up and went straight to page 92 to read an article entitled “Why Don’t We Get Married.” I should have known better, but instead I chose to be naïve, deluding myself into thinking this just might be an article about the myriad reasons why Black folks choose not to marry or why they are not allowed to marry. Including the fact that some of us aren’t even interested in marriage (either personally or politically) or—Gasp! Shock! Horror!—that there are actually Black gays and lesbians who might just be affected by this pesky federal ban on gay marriage! Of course, this was not the case.
Instead it was an article that quickly devolved into talking about what’s wrong with Black women and what we can do to “fix” ourselves to be better mates for Black men. The article was a reprint of a Q&A style discussion with about six Black women and men and was moderated by the Essence Relationship Editor Demetria Lucas and comedian Finesse Mitchell, whose qualifications simply listed him as “Dating Specialist.” As an aside, I’d like to know where to go to buy one of these certifications that makes you a specialist, expert or guru ‘cause somebody’s gotta be sellin ‘em – maybe I’ll check eBay! But I digress, much like the quality of the article, which trafficked in the same tired stereotypes of fat, lazy, loud emasculating Black women who can’t get or keep a man. Lucas kicked it off by asking where all the fellas have been hiding. According to the “brothers” present for this Q&A session, there are hoards of Black men at the gym where, apparently, they are safe from the clutches of Black women since NONE of us EVER work out! As a matter of fact, according to Finesse Mitchell, “the young chicks and the ones who just broke up with their man or who are trying to lose baby weight are in the gym. But women who have a man? They stop going to the gym.” There are tons more of these little nuggets in the article, check it out if you can stomach this kind of nonsense. However, the final straw for me was Essence’s willingness to traffic in one of the most dangerous yet powerful trends in popular culture’s current fascination with Black women’s love lives: the myth of scarcity.
The article ends with Lucas soliciting a little dating advice from the brothers for the single sisters looking for love. Who are told simply but poignantly “Don’t date like a man. Guys are constantly shuffling women, and women think they can do the same. But your deck runs out…” It’s this kind of “reasoning” that silences black women and ushers us back into an uneasy alliance with a “benevolent” patriarchy. Under the guise of brotherly advice, Black women are basically told that we just don’t have the option to be picky; there simply just aren’t enough brothers to go around. We need to find a brother, good, bad or indifferent, close our mouths, stick with him and hope he proves Kanye wrong by not leaving us for a white girl. But, what Essence and Finesse Mitchell left out is that the myth is only a threat if we can safely assume all Black women are only and always interested in dating Black men. The rub, however, is that we can’t assume that. Black women find love, sex, companionship and community in so many dynamic and amazing ways and we are selling ourselves short if we think there simply ain’t enough loving to go around!

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