Flattery, Feminism, and how Interaction Validates Art

I had a really interesting day on the internet, so I wanted to take a brief intermission from the poetry and art posts and just talk. I do hope that you’re cool with that, but if you’re not, I wasn’t really asking for permission. After all, reading or viewing content is always a choice. No one is holding you at gunpoint if you don’t want to read a post about art, feminism, and trolls.

First thing that happens when I roll out of bed and onto my cell phone is that I find Larry Marotta of God, Lipgloss, and Meat shared my Grrl+Guitar post, ‘Leading with the Heel. I try not to crossover the blogs much, but in this case it’s relevant because he had some very flattering things to say (seriously, I blush!) and because getting such a nice wake-up call first thing in the morning really sets the tone for the day. You start the day thinking ‘it doesn’t matter what else happens, because this morning, someone said nice things about me.’ The value of offering people flattery and encouragement is really that high. I won’t lie, as the day progressed, I revisited that post a few times, just to give myself a little pick me up as I dealt with endless mountains of life and internet life.

Because of it, I think I handled the very next thing that happened with much more optimism and grace than I might if it had been the first thing I saw in the morning(of course, it’s never enough when there’s a troll involved, but I could have gotten really worked up by this if it was the first thing I saw. The fact the very nice guitar post was the first thing I saw really helped at those points when I felt my patience wearing thin. I had something with some immediacy to look at and go ‘look, today something good happened. Everything is a-ok.’  Between e-nonsense and random office emergencies that weren’t actually emergencies at all (long, totally irrelevant story other than to say in spite of my pleasant wake-up call)it’s been a day.

Anyway, the second thing that happened this moning was that I got a feminist-hating diatribe on the recently posted ‘As A Woman’  piece on Youtube (which some of you liked – Thank you, you’re all awesome. That also helped me through this interaction, which I am about to discuss.).

I don’t actually have any sort of following on youtube. My visibility is basically nil. Actually, youtube has no idea what to do with my stuff, so the last time I watched through one of my videos to make sure it loaded right, the very next thing to roll up was about a dog named Shelby. Poems and dogs are apparently that similar. 🙂

That is not a call to arms for you all to just go over to youtube right now; it’s just for sake of giving what’s to follow some sort of framework. I vastly use youtube as a sort of easy backdoor to blogging, so when I get some kind of interaction over there, it’s awesome, but it’s also atypical. I have something like two or three followers, and one of them is my Aunt. Everything is about perspective. So, putting things in perspective, I am basically a non-entity on the internet. I run two tiny blogs, with an even smaller youtube channel and facebook page associated. That someone found my video on youtube at all is practically a miracle, troll or otherwise, really.

So, I get this three or four paragraph diatribe that can basically be summed up as ‘feminism doesn’t exist without evidence’ and if I don’t want to be a ‘girly girl’ I should work in a sewage plant, and my favorite part is when I get called a ‘western princess’. Oh! And he starts out the thing with ‘As a Christian’ which has literally nothing to do with the poem, so I find utterly priceless.

Aren’t trolls just adorable?

Now, I could have ignored the comment. I could have figured out how to just delete it, probably. I could have gotten really mad that some random person on the internet who knows nothing about me has the gall to tell me where I fit in the universe and that my experiences and the experiences of women I’ve met and spoken to don’t matter – there is so much “mansplaining” here that it’s indescribable (for the record, I really dislike the word mansplaining, because this is not a strictly male trait. Can we maybe call it ass-splaining instead? Everyone has an ass and is equally capable of behaving like one. See how that works?). But, really, guys, it’s a poem. Poetry is art, and he took the time to watch it and interact with it in spite of the warning at the beginning of the video that it’s an ‘angry feminist poem’ (which I say with love).

When you interact with art, whether for good or ill, you are validating that art’s existence. It doesn’t matter if that’s your intended purpose, because art is intended to evoke a reaction, and you’ve reacted. Now, I might have preferred a more affirmative reaction, but when you’re a non-entity, every reaction is a good reaction. Every comment is a good comment. I put a piece of poetry into the world, and from that, someone reacted, so really:

My work here is done.

So, even though this commenter’s intention was to spread hate and make me feel bad (not very Christian things to do, but really, that’s an entirely different subject, and one that seems so disjointed from the topic at hand, I’m not entirely sure why it was mentioned at all), what he actually did is interact with a piece of art that he found evocative.

So, my reply was something to the effect of: ‘Awesome! My first troll! Congratulations on being the first hater on the internet to post an anti-feminism diatribe.” It was something like that, anyway. I won’t link to it here, because I really don’t want to spread any more hate into the world than I have to to make my point. If you’re that curious, find the piece on youtube.

Literally, this is about my 2nd youtube comment ever, so even if it wasn’t a very nice one, it still means there are people out there that are seeing what I’m doing, and reacting to it. It is not, however, my job as an artist to validate his opinion by giving it more attention than it is due.

And yes, I do realize that’s exactly what I’m doing by writing this post, but I am doing so because it’s kind of a handy lead-in to discuss the nature of poetry and feminism a bit, which is not actually something I ever thought I’d be doing on this blog, but if I’m going to do it, then right after posting ‘As A Woman’ is actually the perfect time.

First, can I say how much I love it when an angry commenter demands evidence in response to a piece of art or poetry? It’s ART, which is subjective, and therefore evidence is not really part of the equation unless the artist wants it to be. I always have the option of choosing to provide evidence, but I am not obligated to, and if he has enough internet to comment on youtube videos, then he is fully capable of doing his own legwork, really. Fact-checking is not required to validate a subjective experience. No one can tell you ‘your artwork is no good because your emotions are not factual’.

Well, to be fair, they can totally tell you that. Anyone can tell you anything that enters their head, but facts don’t validate or invalidate feelings. If they did, the world would be a much less varied and unpredictable place.

That leads me to my second point: feminsim is a subjective experience. While there may be statistics that can prove some of the arguments that it exists/doesn’t exist, much of what it means to be a woman is just not something you can hold in your hands, or put on a pie chart. Being a woman is not math. There are subtleties.

I know feminism exists because when I was a small child, I wanted to be an adventurer, like Indiana Jones, or if I couldn’t be that, I wanted to be a pilot. Neither of these things were openly discouraged, and neither of these things are precisely ‘unfeminine’, but they are both male-dominated interests and there was an aura about them that inevitably made me feel like I was somehow wrong or strange for wanting them. (Okay, Indiana Jones is not realistic, but a pilot, I totally could have done that!) There was always a sort of unspoken understanding that I was going to grow out of them and into more feminine things.

I know that there are differences between men and women because when I was young, I was taught office work, and no one in the office was male. As an adult, virtually none of my immediate coworkers are male, and certainly none in my immediate department or the ones most closely related to it. It remains a female-dominated field, even though there’s nothing about general office duties that is specifically feminine. And, while I know male receptionists exist, I have worked in many companies and never met one. We may lack a job divide in the strictest sense of the term, but there is still an undercurrent of work that is typically associated with men or women. The ‘fact’ of the matter is, a woman may very well want to be a sewage worker, as this commenter suggests, but she would not be as likely to get that job as a male counterpart. I have no statistics to back that up (and I trust that you are all fully capable of utilizing the internet to determine for yourselves whether or not my opinions hold any water), but any woman will tell you this is common sense, and that belief that it is common sense is a sort of proof in its own right. We can do male work, but we have to work harder, and we have to present as if we are men, or our chances of having access to do that sort of work is just plain smaller. Would that still be true if more women pursued those careers? Possibly not: as time goes on, we are seeing more women pursing I.T., for example, a field that has been very male dominated which is expanding to include women, so I imagine the same is true of every field. But, realistically, we are raised in a state of exclusion. We don’t even know if we want to do mens’ work, because many male-dominated jobs are simply never mentioned to us as options. How do you know if you want to do something if it’s not even on the radar?

I know a gender divide exists because there is such a thing as ‘resting bitch face’, and it is not called that when applied to men. Because I, and several women I know, are constantly told to ‘smile more’ because ‘you’re so pretty’, but our male friends with similarly grumpy features are never told to smile more, and certainly not because it would make them more physically attractive. Moreover, they are definitely never approached with this by strangers on the street, or at the grocery store, while my female friends find it common almost to the point of redundancy (and it pisses them off every time, redundant or not).

I know there is a divide down the middle of the gender spectrum because if you are not a girly girl ( which I never was, in spite of whatever I choose to wear — I’m the pragmatic sort so if it’s on clearance, work appropriate, and fits reasonably well, that’s what I’m going to buy. I will even wear pink if the price tag says $3.) – you will spend a huge chunk of your life feeling like you’re broken and need to be fixed if you don’t want/like/feel naturally inclined towards the things that girls are stereotypically programmed to like. You will be called a lesbian (or more vulgar derivatives), whether you are one or not, because that is the only way people are able to mentally process your place in the world. (I, in fact, am not a lesbian. I just fucking hate overly feminine things, and don’t want marriage or kids. <– short version. This is a subject that is much too complex to cover in a blog post on a poetry/art site). You will be told that your vulgar word choice is ‘unladylike’ and be told it is ‘disgusting for a woman to speak that way’, rather than the more neutral ‘crass’ or ‘inappropriate’ descriptors that would be used if you were a man, in the rare instances that anyone bothers to mention your potty mouth to you at all. You will naturally conform on items that are not of huge importance to you, and just do things girls do because you are so very tired or being on the outside of your own life, and taking shit for every single little thing. You will learn to compromise who you are just so you don’t have to be ready to defend your identity every second of every day. You will make “girl” choices, because you don’t want to deal with the hassle of not making them. You will read up, endlessly, on different gender orientations in the desperate hope that somehow, that will make you ‘fit’ somewhere, that by choosing a non-binary gender maybe you can finally ‘make sense’, and ‘be part of something’. And, you will realize that even this is based on this binary systems of ‘girls like this, boys like that’, and you will throw your hands in the air in disgust.

And, you will declare yourself a feminist, in spite of hating that word for all the negative connotations associated with it, even if to you it only means ‘everyone should be able to do whatever the fuck they want, and not feel like they shouldn’t, regardless of their biology.’ You will call yourself a feminist even though that word feels too small to encompass everyone it ought to, and people will decide they hate you for it, whether they know you or not.

Feminism in my life is not about what I can do, or even what I choose to do. It’s about the subtleties of what is ‘unusual’ or somehow askew from the norm. It’s the things that aren’t openly discouraged, but that are subtly frowned upon, and it encompasses more than just women. Every time you look at a woman who happens to be muscular and think she’s unattractive or ‘too manly’, or feel surprised when the receptionist at a company is male, or don’t bat an eye that 95% of womens athletic shoes have pink, purple, and/or baby blue in them while mens sneakers almost never use these colors (and yes, I do wear mens’ or boys’ sneakers, because I fucking hate bubblegum color schemes and feel much more comfortable in neutral colored footwear without sparkles or unnecessary bling.), you are acknowledging the existence of a divide between women and men. You are saying ‘we might be equal, but there is no level on which we are the same’.

I want to say this comment had no effect on me, but in reality, I’m posting about it, so clearly that’s not the case. I feel saddened. I feel saddened that feminism is a dirty word (how many times have we heard the word ‘femi-nazi’?), that does not, by definition, include everyone who spends their life fighting against the divergence between who they are, and who they’re raised to be. I’m saddened that I am attacked with hate and accused of spreading it, when I am only expressing this sadness. I am sad that we live in a world where we still have to say that we have a long way to go in order to acknowledge where we currently are, and that I may not live long enough to see a day where no one would see a woman sewage worker and instinctively do a double-take. But, being sad doesn’t change the fact that this commenter chose that profession specifically because of it’s male connotations, which, in a way, makes my point for me, and proves that the poem was worth writing.

Really, what more can I ask for than that?

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