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Sunday, August 13, 2017

The reasons why women hate the "compliments" in this Kasia Babis illustration

The following scenarios are based on interactions I have had in real life:

1) I have been sitting in a bus station for three hours. For about the first hour, I have been scrolling mindlessly through social media, even posting about doing so. By the second hour, I decide to take out my Kindle to read a book I have been working on. It's a good read, and I become fully immersed in it. Before I know it, I'm two-thirds of the way through, and the main character finds out that his mentor just committed suicide. "Excuse me," I hear a male voice say. Real life and what has been happening in the book have blurred, so it takes me a few seconds to adjust to the surrounding environment. The voice came from a man who looked to be just over fifty-years-old, sitting across from me. "You shouldn't look so serious. I bet you're really pretty when you smile." So I half-smile to appease him, then go back to my book.

2) I'm at a conference and am manning a booth for an organization I volunteer for. I do many things - pass out flyers, get passerby to sign up for emails, talk to people about the organization, etc. Along comes an older man, then he does a double-take when he sees me. After oogling at me for a few seconds, he tells me, "Wow! No wonder why you're getting so many sign-ups. Only if the other conferences I go to had beauties like you. All the women at those - their old age is showing." Thinking this is a good opportunity for another sign-up - or maybe even a donation - I tell him what the organization does, and if he would want to receive emails. "Oh, no thanks. Sounds like a good organization. I love groups that are aimed at younger people, but I get too many emails." And as if we weren't even speaking, he walks off.

3) Taking a break from my work as a waitress in a strip club, I sit at the bar and eat my lunch. When I'm halfway through, a man comes to sit down next to me, and quickly orders a drink. He looks to be in his thirties, and not someone who comes super-regularly - maybe about once or twice a month. Probably a traveling businessman. "How's it been today?" he asks. I respond with, "Alright. It's been slower than it usually is. Hoping it picks up in the next hour." He and I get to talking, then the subject turns to politics. It's always something I tread carefully because I know some people get easily offended by my having different views from them. It seems safe enough, so I eventually tell him about my libertarian views, and he asks a few questions, never having heard of libertarianism before. After talking for a few minutes more, he finishes up the conversation with, "Well, it's been nice talking to you, especially with someone who actually know what they're talking about. I swear, most women are so goddamn stupid about everything. It's nice to finally hear something intelligent." After he finishes his drink, he gets up to leave.

4) About a year later, I'm again doing my waitressing job. Instead of sitting at the bar, I'm in the VIP room sitting with a man who offered to buy me lunch. He wants to know what I do outside of this line of work, so I tell him that I go to college out-of-state, and somehow I get around to my experiences with being a custodian for a residence hall the last summer. The man make this weird face, looks me up-and-down, and exclaims, "You're too beautiful to do that! I mean, you're even too beautiful for this place!" I thank him, but also explain that I need to make money somehow. (Plus, to an extent, I liked working both jobs.) Sadly, he doesn't offer to pay for my tuition, and makes no talk of connecting me with his network. *sigh*

Okay, so what was with these stories? I wrote them out so that if you had not seen a certain illustration by Kasia Babis before, your perceptions of the scenarios would not be influenced by her work. I decided to write this after posting this illustration to my Facebook. Seeing as how many men misunderstood the contexts of the situations presented, I couldn't stand explaining comment-by-comment why women are put off by these "compliments". (And like I say in the Facebook post, they're back-handed compliments at best.)

If you read my scenarios, and thought, "Those weren't too bad," just imagine having these interactions on a weekly, or even daily, basis, depending on the work you do and how much you go out. If each of the scenarios had happened only once, I would think, "Oh, that was weird," and dismiss it. Maybe I would completely forget it over time, or it would a funny story to tell people later. But when these are constant occurrences, it can change how we present ourselves and what we do. Sometimes we may even forgo plans we made weeks earlier because we don't want to be bombarded with, "You should smile more."

In order of frequency, I have #1 happen to me the most, then #3 (bottom left), #2, and finally #4. (As a writer and social media strategist, I get to limit my contact with people in real life.)

There are two things I have found that each of the panels have in common. These interactions don't come off as ones between people who know each other. Why do strangers feels the need to say these kinds of things? I don't care if you find me more attractive if I do [this]. My world does not revolve around you. (I probably won't even be seeing you again.) I also most likely don't want to sleep with you. When we receive "compliments" about our looks in this fashion, it reinforces the notion that we are most valued for how we look. (I recently wrote something similar.)

Now let me explain how I interpreted each panel, and why being "complimented" in this way is really annoying:

1) It seems from my Facebook post, men just read the first sentence and ignored the second one. If a random man compliments our looks in passing, we usually pass it off as whatever. (Unless we're afraid that they'll then follow us and start hitting on us.) Those who aren't usually complimented much may be more glad than most women when they have a stranger compliment their looks. What annoys women is when men tell women "to smile", especially in combination with it having to do with our looks. Do you really expect us to smile all of the time? Is this really about exuding positivity? What if we have a legitimate reason not to smile? (Like a pet just died?) It is not up to any other person to tell you how to feel or look in everyday life. Why, especially, should we care about looking good for any one random stranger?

2) To be honest, I don't have a problem with the second panel, calling people "lovely". I've seen many people call a group "lovelies" or "lovely people". However, I think the point the illustrator was trying to make is that even in professional spaces, men will often bring up how women look, even making inappropriate comments. Sure, you can appreciate how people look, but specifically in work spaces, people will probably better appreciate compliments related to their profession. Don't make anyone feel like you value their looks more than their personality or work ethic.

3) I think this panel is the one open to the most interpretation, which also makes it harder to explain to men. In my experiences, men will compliment my intelligence at the detriment to women in general. From what I've heard from other women, if there is an exaggerated amount of impressiveness with the work they accomplished, they are probably getting hit on, which can create very awkward situations. A lot of women don't want to be hit on when they work, especially by strangers. If they work in a profession where female-to-male ratio is really low, they're already aware of it, and don't need to be talked at about how special they are. Give them compliments like you would give anyone else who accomplished something neat.

4) Like I said, this is the panel I have the least amount of experience with. If you say this to a person, why are you taking a hit at the occupation they currently hold? Why not, "You're very pretty!"? Maybe they enjoy working there. Maybe they are saving up enough money to do what they really want to do in life. Maybe they have to work there because they're in a really bad situation. If you really think you can help them get another occupation, and they actually want a job change, then offer it instead of making disparaging comments about their work. If you are not actually qualified in offering professional help, don't be like this guy. Unless you know for sure that they're looking for a sugar daddy, sex should play no factor in offering help. (Also, a sugar daddy relationship should never be a tit-for-tat kind of exchange.) If you actually want to professionally help someone, you won't learn what they want or need just in passing. So, avoid "You can do so much better than this!" kind of remarks if all that is to the encounter is the cashier ringing up your items. If you strike up a conversation with someone at a conference and they tell you that they don't like their job or are looking for a new one, that could be an appropriate time to comment upon their career.

I hope this offers some insight. If there are other interpretations of these panels that you would like to share, please post them in the comments.

Tips for interacting with people:

  • Don't be condescending
  • Value people for more than their looks, and be aware of when your comments can come off as objectifying (that is, your sexual interest in or disdain for them distracts from the fact that they're human beings)
  • Just because you say things to your friends (people you already have established relationships with) doesn't mean they're appropriate to say to strangers
  • Read speech and bodily cues - if they seem very uncomfortable, you may want to tone down any assertiveness, stop flirting, or leave the person be
  • Understand the environmental context you are in, and judge from that and the person you are interacting with whether or not it is appropriate to flirt, talk about your political opinions, etc.
  • Especially in professional contexts, think it over whether or not to flirt with someone - it could be unwanted or inappropriate, depending on who you are talking to and what you're saying
  • If you only or mostly give people compliments when you're flirting with them, it doesn't come off as very genuine

As it seems I keep having to explain, genuine compliments are good. But if you only dole them out while flirting, give them a back-handed one (say something good while inferring something bad about them), or disparage their gender, etc., then you detract from the positive experience. If you want people to give you nice compliments, it's up to you to set help set up a precedent in your circles on "compliment etiquette".

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Interview with Julie Mastrine About Care 2 and Activism

Julie Mastrine, a self-described libertarian feminist, can often be seen on Facebook and Twitter sharing articles and petitions for many social justice issues. As a hard-working and effective activist for liberty, I felt like she would be a great person to interview. Especially as someone who utilizes social media for her work, I thought she could provide some background on what she does at Care2, as well as share some handy tips on how to make a positive difference with the causes you believe in. 

Hobbies: Fire spinning (performance art), poi, hula hooping, dancing, crafting, and sitting in San Francisco's beautiful parks!

1) How would you describe what Care2 does?

Care2 is the world's largest social network for good. We have over forty million members who are sharing stories and starting petitions that inspire action. We are an online petition site where anyone can start a petition for free or support a cause they care about. We also help nonprofits connect with the people who support their causes.

2) What kind of work do you do at Care2?

I do social media, PR, and influencer marketing for Care2. That means I help everyday citizens, celebrity influencers, and nonprofits to start online petition campaigns that get the attention of decision-makers and mostly, the media. I talk to reporters, help to stage on-the-ground events, and craft social media campaigns.

3) What are a few accomplishments of Care2 that you were involved in and are particularly proud of?

So many! I'm proud of the work I did with the Drug Policy Alliance to gather over 118,000 signatures on a Care2 petition to help a 7-year-old girl named Sophia get medical marijuana to control her epilepsy. In fact, I've worked on a number of petitions to expand marijuana access to folks suffering under prohibition in various states, including a successful petition to get a medical marijuana program underway in Pennsylvania, and another to help a woman who was undergoing chemo for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis in New Jersey, which only permits marijuana if you are undergoing chemo for cancer treatment.

I hope that my work on these types of campaigns underscores the importance of decriminalizing marijuana nationwide. A lot of people hear that states are creating medical marijuana programs, but they don't realize how truly narrow the list of qualifying conditions really is. Often, people with depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and other ailments are still left to suffer because they are prohibited from using marijuana for their ailments even with a medical marijuana program in place.

I'm also really proud of the Care2 petition campaigns I've worked on to help sex workers fight for their rights and end stigma and exploitation. One of these petitions is asking Alaska to make it illegal for police to have sex with sex workers who are under investigation. It's a totally disgusting thing that happens to these women, and is state-sponsored rape. This petition has resulted in a bill. Another petition asked California's Gov. Brown to meet with sex workers to discuss decriminalization. The women behind this campaign went to the capitol to present the signatures in person, and we were able to secure some excellent media coverage.

I'm really honored to help sex workers elevate their cause; I think these women are incredibly brave for coming out of the woodwork and making their struggles public. Sex work is still clouded by so much misinformation and stigma. They are among the bravest advocates.

4) Which political and social issues are you most passionate about?

I'm most passionate about civil liberties issues. This includes drug policy reform, privacy protection, immigration/open borders, sex worker rights, criminal justice reform, and ending mass incarceration/prisons/police brutality.

Lately, I've also been very interested in reforming local and state policies that lead to the arrests of nonviolent people. For example, food safety laws in Stockton, California resulted in a single mother of six being threatened with jail time because she sold homemade food over Facebook. I started a petition to drop the charges, and she ended up avoiding jail time. We then teamed up to work on a separate petition, alongside a startup called Josephine, to support a bill that would legalize homemade food sales in California. We organized an event at the Capitol to encourage lawmakers to vote yes, and we gave out free food. We garnered some amazing media attention, and the bill has passed out of Assembly!

I also recently started a petition to fire a police officer who violently tackled a woman who was selling flowers outside of a graduation ceremony. And we had another petition that was successful in convincing Philadelphia not to shut down a man who was giving free haircuts to the homeless (the city cited the fact that he didn't have a vendor license).

I think our society needs to think critically about how well-intentioned laws end up having unjust institutional outcomes. It may sound great to outlaw homemade food sales or require a vendor permit because we are concerned about people's safety, but the actual outcome of these laws is that they help the state reign in revenue on the backs of poor people through fines, court fees, etc. These laws also shut down perfectly harmless operations and send nonviolent people to prison just for trying to help people or to make a living. And it's everywhere. Some cities crack down on Little Free Libraries. And in the UK, police even fined a 5-year-old girl for selling lemonade!

Julie fire spinning [Image credit: Darren Kruger]

5) How can people incorporate tricks of your trade into their activism?

Very easily! Anybody can start a petition for free on Care2. It's as simple as that. Start a petition, explain your issue, and share, share, share.

Organizing a delivery event or rally to get attention is easy, too. Just print out or make some cardboard signs, decide on a time/date/place that makes sense, start a Facebook event and get a few people to commit to show up. I think activism is easier than people may think. You can also easily find contact information for local reporters and let them know what you're up to, invite them to come cover it. It doesn't have to be an intimidating process.

6) What would you recommend people do if they want to professionally pursue your line of work?

Start volunteering for activist campaigns in your free time. I know no one wants to do free labor, but this is truly how I got my start! It can be as easy as dedicating an hour or two a week to spreading the word about activist campaigns on social media, showing up to community meetings, or organizing a small rally. Then you can tout that info on your resume. There are lots of organizations that need people who have advocacy know-how. Aside from that, we're living in politically tumultuous times, and your efforts can really make a difference.

7) Engaging in activism through online means has garnered a bad reputation, and terms like "keyboard activism" echo this sentiment. Why do you think this is? How would you recommend for people to avoid situations, especially online, that give the pretense of furthering a cause, when what you're actually doing is stalling progress or even detracting from its value?

I think this negative reputation has arisen because democracy often requires a lot of work. It requires staying on top of the news cycle, doing lots of research, showing up in person to a rally/protest/community meeting, voting, calling your elected officials, and engaging with people who may disagree with you.

Democracy is a system that a lot of us may not feel we have the available time or energy to engage in. We're all working jobs and maintaining relationships and taking care of ourselves and our families, so how then are we supposed to find the time to follow closely what our representatives are doing and show up to meetings and call our officials and organize rallies? 

The internet, and petition sites like Care2, actually make engaging with elected officials much easier, as we can engage in the democratic process on these sites without sacrificing a ton of time and energy. Any criticism of online activism needs to take into account that representative democracy itself requires a lot from the individual, and the internet and sites like Care2 simply make this process a lot easier.

(I personally advocate for decentralized systems and societies that would minimize any given person's power over others, eliminating centralized political or corporate power and with it, the need to put so much energy and time into convincing a politician of your stance - but that's an essay for another day.)

I also think criticism of "keyboard activism" assumes that there isn't a ton of work being put in both online and on the ground, and there is. Online and on-the-ground activism can and do exist side by side. I mean, how are you going to turn out anybody to a protest these days without using social media? 

As far as determining online situations where progress is actually being stalled or detracted, I think it's important to think clearly about who it makes sense to target to make the appropriate change, and whether what you're asking for is lofty or actually doable. For example, I may want prison abolition, but I am okay with working to eradicate local laws that put nonviolent people in prison as a stepping stone to that end.

Liked what Julie Mastrine had to say?

Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or visit her website!

Also, don't forget to visit Care2.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Strip Club Shenanigans: What did the women look like?

In the introductory post of this series, I mentioned how it was a former friend who convinced me to work at a strip club. There were a couple of reasons why I was hesitant, and one of them was because I did not want to work for an industry that put forth a very specific image of what the "perfect" woman looked like: blonde (European descent, of course), lots of make-up, big breasts (thanks to plastic surgery), and whatever. From my observations and what I have been told, I feel comfortable saying that I am at least reasonably attractive. Over the years, I had learned to accept my face and body for what they are, so if I worked at a strip club, I figured I could get by. I was not worried that my self-esteem would plummet, but that by working at such a place, I would give credence to a very culturally subjective definition of what makes a woman attractive. The friend assured me that the women at strip clubs come in all shapes and sizes, and to prove a point, he brought me to one.

The city I worked in was, at least during the time I was there, one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. I have seen people online say that strip clubs are a good representation of what many women look like (as in they come in an array of body types), except for cities like Las Vegas where the dancers are expected to look a certain way. As I have never been in a strip club outside of Texas, I have no idea about the veracity of those kinds of statements. All I can say was that I was surprised with the variety of women who worked at the club I was at.

Funny enough, many of the advertisements I looked at for this establishment showed the very kind of woman I expected them be full of. I would laugh to myself because there was not a single woman who worked there (of those I had seen) that looked like that. Because of the location, most everybody who worked at the club were Latina/Hispanic. There were a few black dancers. It wasn't very racially diverse. Ya know, I am not even sure if I knew of any white women who worked there - there were a few dancers and waitresses who were ethnically-ambiguous and could have been white, but I'm not sure.
Maybe they just took a white-passing dancer and threw this onto her head.

I have noticed that when traveling, strip clubs and escort services tend to display busty (from implants), white blonde women in their advertisements, but I wonder if that image is representative of their workers. From experiences of my own and from my friends', probably not.

Not only did looks vary at the club, but so did age. I guess I didn't expect (what I thought was) the average age to be so high for dancers - probably in the late-twenties. There was a woman who was probably in her forties (who worked there with her daughter) and was probably the best dancer in the entire joint. Personally, I did not think many of the workers were attractive, and I had some customers complain to me about that. Nevertheless, I didn't observe the more attractive dancers making more money than the lesser attractive ones. (This is a topic for a whole new post.)

One aspect I really liked about working at the strip club was that I got to see women of various body types owning their sexuality. Whether they were young and supple, had recently given birth, or "past" their physical prime, they worked with what they had. As an admirer of the human body, I really liked working somewhere that upheld tenets of body positivity. It wasn't like the cheesy graphics you see on social media, but real life, with real women using their bodies for practical purposes.

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