Ladies and the urban landscape

Why the summertime misogyny, NY Times?

Last week, our friends in white people's big media ran a real gem inappropriately titled, "Pants May be Touted as the Coming Thing, but Women Seem to Prefer Dresses." What women? We wear skirts to stay cool in the summery breeze, but the unwanted attention we get often makes us chafe. But not according to this man's "fashion diary" (and of all the things to keep a diary about, can't we think of at least a few more deserving than fashion?).
That is because... I am not eager for women to become “a little more hard-core, a little more androgynous, a little more butch.” Yes, gender play is fun, and trousers are a useful wardrobe default for the woman in business. But unless you are Thomas McGuane and find nothing sexier than a woman with crow’s feet, tight Wranglers and suede chaps, you will have to concede that, for flattering a woman’s body, nothing is quite like a dress.
Gee, really? We were thinking confidence was the most flattering feature women could possess. Silly us. But wait, it gets worse.

Irwin Shaw covered all this is in his classic story “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” the tale that secured him a permanent place in anthologies if not exactly a perch on literary Olympus. And for all the creakiness of this warhorse about the fragile dynamics of love and desire, there remains in Shaw’s descriptions of the women on the streets of Manhattan, in their ripe young multitudes, something unexpectedly fresh and also recognizable.

Shaw wrote the story decades ago, in the era that directly preceded the feminist one that first killed off the dress, a time when women wore them all the time and not with irony. When, as Shaw wrote, “the warm weather comes” and the streets of the city were filled with women in shifts and shirtwaists and tunics and baby-dolls and sheaths, arms and legs bared, the effect they had on the urban landscape was a glorious thing.

We can't decide which is worse: that this passes for actual news, or that it doesn't seem to occur to the male writer how blatantly offensive his assumptions are to a wide variety of people, far beyond women alone. Who the fuck cares about anthologized Irwin Shaw? That old white people high-brow lit shit doesn't apply to us. Feminism had an era?? That killed fashion?? And really, women in shifts had a glorious effect on the urban landscape? We were pretty sure graffiti and architecture were first in line for those honors. Holy hell.

Interviewed for the story, some shopping lady in NYC was quoted as saying that a dress is her "anti-mommy-blob outfit.” Now a mama is a blob by default? Dear lord, ours sure ain't.

This whole depressing piece ends with some man reminiscing about a woman he saw weeks ago in a white dress (the archetypal virginal uniform). Funny - we can't get the creeps who leer at us out of our minds either!

I guess next time you consider wearing pants, maybe you should first consider, "Shit, the urban landscape needs my legs!" Or you'll remember Guy Trebay reminding us what clothing we apparently belong in.

For a more enlightened take on summertime in public space, go read Adventures in Street Harassment from this week's Shameless Magazine blog.

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Rubbed the Wrong Way

“This campaign is groundbreaking. The MBTA is taking bold steps to address this problem,” said Gina Scaramella, Executive Director, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, who joined MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas and Acting Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan in launching a public service campaign designed to increase awareness of sexual harassment on trains and buses, and encourage victims to report such incidents.
[link to full story]

What's groundbreaking? Authorities - as opposed to pissed off, fed up women who take to blogs - doing something after much too long and validating the existence of these gross public actions we know so well? Because it's surely not groundbreaking that it takes multi-faceted approaches to increase awareness of harassment in public space.

Let's back up. We're trying not to hate. But the truth is we were a bit taken aback by the latest efforts of the T, and more importantly, BARCC for that matter.

Infighting and competition amongst allied groups (or at least those working in the same general interest) is divisive and we agree, generally rather annoying. But it's also fracturing to not give credit or promote inclusiveness where they are due. If we seek to provide coalitional approaches to widespread systemic problems, then shouldn't we be acting as a unified coalition? And perhaps even more complex to understand, do we fail each other if we point out schismatic power plays within activist and progressive circles? Or have we all already failed by reaching a point where these conversations are necessary?

Maybe we're caught in - or in this case, ignored and left out of - a disease we call "femelebrity." It includes women who work as a sort of "professional feminist." They often are: white (much like we are), hold a collegiate degree or two (like we do), and get paid to speak and write about their representation of a feminist agenda. Don't misunderstand. We too have done these things - showing up at conferences or writing articles in response to our sought out "expertise" - but it isn't our sole means of income, and we don't aim to make bank from fighting social injustice.

Everyone has to pay the bills, and we know and respect this as much as anyone. Yet what we fear is a feminist critique that lacks a capitalist critique. Ultimately, when our livelihoods are at stake, we might employ methods not normally in line with our values. And that's the benefit of the doubt we are giving BARCC. But we couldn't let the occasion pass without wondering if HollaBackBoston, and more generally the HollaBack movement, were left out of Boston's most recent anti-harassment efforts by way of being perceived as fringe, radical, or too grassroots. We struggled to overlook the numerous historical instances in which the mainstream has co-opted efforts of those unattractive "perpetrators" without giving credit.

Yet we know critique is best offered when coupled with alternatives, so we'd like to contribute some imaginings for how things could have gone differently. Perhaps the MBTA design shop could have checked with HollaBackNYC - the grandmother - about whether the language "use your camera to snap a picture" is trademarked. Maybe BARCC could have worked in some statements about the grassroots and largely anonymous work women of this city - including young people from Hyde Square Task Force - have had to do in the absence of movement from the T. Or by chance somebody could have just sent an email to us with a heads up that this was going down. You know, making a seat at the table for those who have gone before you.

Basically, we just hope that as individuals who will no doubt make mistakes in our movement, we can be more generous in honoring those who have come and struggled before us. That we will share what is given to us - the good and the bad - knowing that the successes are more beautiful and the pitfalls more easy to bear when shared among many. That we will disavow a culture that tells us to only go for ourselves and instead build one that builds community - across issues and organizations and in the face of fame and fortune.

We know we're going to try to remember this next time somebody comes knocking on our door.

Good news is...seems the campaign is already working.

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From a male view

Big shout-out to men getting it done. This week, Robert at Larvatus Prodeo wrote an excellent, concise piece about being in public with his girlfriend.
My girlfriend startles quite easily in some contexts. But she’s had far too much practice at this - she expertly feigns nonchalance and stares laser beams directly down the footpath. I, less trained in such encounters, turn around to identify the source of the noise; a human voice, though the actual words are impossible to make out. The tone is unmistakable, though; it’s the tone of contempt, mixed in with a not insubstantial level of implied threat. And it’s coming from the open window of a car driving past, with the three other burly young blokes smiling as their hero yells at us.
We wonder if he knows the good ladies of Hollaback Australia, who sure know how to get it done with feisty style. Regardless of similar country of origin or otherwise, we love to hear men's take on street harassment. We prioritize the voices and experiences of women and marginalized groups, but because we firmly believe educated, informed, conscientious men are a key component to ending violence against women, we send Robert (and anyone else doing similar work) some love this week. Keep it coming from far and wide, allies.

Also worth watching for the first minute is this Current.com clip about a Dutch student in trouble for flashing the Taj Mahal on a school trip. We get the cultural and social significance, but why can't a guy flashing us the subway get this kind of coverage? That's pretty fucking violating, too.

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Everyday feminism

In increasingly warm weather, it never surprises us when harassment narratives loom large. Two worth noting from the last two weeks:

One, from The London Projects, half joking but somewhat serious, asks: how should I be responding to harassment? What's the most grammatically correct, appropriate response?

And, perhaps predictably, another long thread started up on Feministing about men masturbating in public. We believe harassment and sexual violation live on the same spectrum, so while we always enjoy conversations that validate women's experiences and simultaneously raise awareness for an issue, we grow quickly tired of debates about how to define the difference between catcalls and assault. We hope these kinds of spaces will inspire more women to speak out, but we're wary of arguing online about legal definitions and the like. That sort of "discussion" has never done us any good...yet not surprisingly, standing up for ourselves in real time has.

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