The Bleader | Blog + Reader, Gender Issues blog posts

Gender Issues

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What we learned at the Chicago Humanities Festival about witches

Posted By on 11.13.18 at 10:30 AM

Sollée - COURTESY KRISTEN SOLLÉE
  • courtesy Kristen Sollée
  • Sollée

Last Thursday, Kristen Sollée, writer, editrix of the sex-positive feminist website Slutist, and lecturer at the New School, visited the Museum of Contemporary Art to speak about her book, Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. According to Sollée, witches are having a moment (politically, aesthetically, and spiritually), and it's no coincidence that this comeback is happening now.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The new Suspiria manages to be about women's power without being feminist

Posted By on 10.30.18 at 06:00 AM

SUSPIRIA
  • Suspiria

From the beginning, the Suspiria remake is intent on giving us its own vision of Dario Argento's beloved 1977 horror classic. Both films revolve around a young woman named Susie—played by Jessica Harper in the original and Dakota Johnson in the remake—who has come to Germany to study at a dance academy, but most of the similarities end there. Where Argento tended to avoid the politics of the time and focused on creating a lavish feast for the senses, Luca Guadagnino immerses us in a gritty Berlin of darker muted color tones. The city is grappling with the revolutionary spirit of its young people; hijackings and bombings are semi-regular occurrences. Both films show Susie coming to the realization that the school is run by a coven of witches with supernatural abilities. But it's the recent version that most fails to deliver the feminine, feminist vision it so clearly thinks it does. As The Love Witch director Anna Biller wrote in her essay about feminism in movies: "To be feminist, a movie has to have the express purpose of educating its audience about social inequality between men and women (and, I would argue, not take pleasure in the voyeuristic degradation or destruction of women)." Suspiria doesn't much bother with the first, and absolutely takes pleasure in the second.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, October 29, 2018

What we learned this weekend at the Chicago Humanities Festival

Posted By , and on 10.29.18 at 06:00 AM

Jerry Saltz is happy to pose for selfies

Saltz at the 2018 Pulitzer awards ceremony - FUZHEADO
  • Fuzheado
  • Saltz at the 2018 Pulitzer awards ceremony

Jerry Saltz says he’s so withdrawn, he hasn’t gone to a sit-down dinner for 20 years. But give the 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York magazine art critic an audience of 400 or so, and it’s SHOWTIME.

Last Saturday, on the stage of the Art Institute’s Fullerton Hall (a platform he says he’s wanted to occupy since his student days there), Saltz—cannily self-deprecating, shamelessly endearing, and, above all, funny—gave in once more to the demons that tell him to "dance naked in public."

Which is something he clearly loves to do. "Like Bruce Springsteen," he announced early on, "I will play until there's nobody alive in the audience."

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, October 26, 2018

Why should the government interfere with the very personal process of gender identity?

Posted By on 10.26.18 at 06:00 AM

At an Intersex Awareness Day protest last year outside Lurie Children's Hospital - SARAH JI
  • Sarah Ji
  • At an Intersex Awareness Day protest last year outside Lurie Children's Hospital

Transgender historian Susan Stryker wrote in her 2017 book Transgender History that the contemporary meaning of the word "transgender" is still under construction. It has been redefined often since the word was first created in the mid-20th century, but even then the very concept of moving from one gender was already very old. While Roger Severino, appointed by President Trump as the director of the office for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would call this concept "radical gender ideology," the history books and Chicago activist groups call it reality.

Severino's memo, leaked earlier this week by the New York Times, argues that gender should be rigidly defined under Title IX "on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science," as a male/female binary that is unchangeable and determined by genitalia perceived at birth. HHS is encouraging the other government departments that also enforce Title IX—including Education, Justice, and Labor—to follow suit. Under this rule, genetic testing is the only option to determine a person's gender. The memo doesn't just define a gender binary as a rule, it also invalidates gender confirmation surgeries, ignoring any possibility of a person transitioning from the gender assigned at birth. The memo all but explicitly states that all people must identify as either male or female, whichever they were registered at birth. Many trans people feel this strict binary erases their identities.

The crux of Severino's argument is that X and Y chromosomes determine gender, a theory that has been disproven. And even before genetics were discovered, no one talked about regulating a person's gender expression based on anatomy. Before the 20th century, there was no standardized system of birth certificates that assigned gender. Our contemporary understanding of gender is relatively new, only dating back to physician Magnus Hirschfeld's work in early 20th-century Germany. In his studies of gender and sexuality, Hirschfeld coined the terms "transsexual" and "transvestite," both of which have changed in definition and connotation over the past century. As time passes, the terms we use to define gender change along with the way we perceive gender roles. Past cultures have used systems that have organized people into social genders through a variety of methods different from our contemporary binary, often by the work people did rather than by the bodies that did the work. Some gender systems were determined by social, legal, or religious obligations. Some people changed gender roles based on dreams or visions. Many indigenous American communities have three or more genders. Ancient rabbinical texts explain seven distinct genders once recognized in Judaism.

Gender varies by time, place, and culture, not just science. Yet another factor influencing gender identity for many people is genitalia deemed "ambiguous" at birth. With so many contingent factors, gender is difficult to explain, making it an easy target for bigotry. The memo's leak coincidentally occurred during the week of Intersex Awareness Day and protests in Chicago and New York, which aim to educate people about the often overlooked group of intersex people in the queer community.

The existence of intersex people is stark proof that bodies exist outside a gender binary. One in 100 people is intersex, possessing some combination of male and female genitalia, internal sex organs, and chromosomes. Oftentimes intersex people have combinations of chromosomes that aren't male or female, such as XXY or XO. When intersex babies are born and doctors are unable to determine a male or female gender, they often assign one to the infant. Surgeries that are considered "cosmetic," such as clitoral reductions, vaginoplasties, and the removal of functional testes are forced upon the child, and may not match their identity. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago is still performing these operations, which the United Nations has deemed a form of torture.

The Intersex Justice Project protested last Intersex Awareness Day, October 26, 2017, outside Lurie Children's Hospital, which continues to perform cosmetic surgeries on intersex babies and children. - SARAH JI
  • Sarah Ji
  • The Intersex Justice Project protested last Intersex Awareness Day, October 26, 2017, outside Lurie Children's Hospital, which continues to perform cosmetic surgeries on intersex babies and children.

The Chicago-based Intersex Justice Project launched a campaign outside Lurie last year on Intersex Awareness Day to end intersex surgery, and will be leading another protest on this year's Awareness Day on Friday, October 26, this time organizing a train occupation. Pidgeon Pagonis, cofounder of the project, summarizes their demands: "We want a public apology for the irreversible harmful surgeries that have been done on intersex people without their consent." The group also wants sensitivity training for Lurie staff and clinicians who handle intersex children, taught by intersex individuals. They demand reparations, Pagonis says, "including free medical care that doesn't position intersex variations as problems to be fixed." This would include hormones and psychological support for intersex people and their parents.

Friday's protest, which begins at 1:15 PM at a location that is only disclosed privately on Intersex Justice Project's Instagram account, is inspired by the first (and last known) intersex protest in 1996 outside the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual convention. The idea for the train action, Pagonis says, was inspired by the Black Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Collective and #NoCopAcademy who crowded CTA Red Line cars to commemorate Rekia Boyd and chant against Mayor Emanuel's proposed cop academy, respectively. IJP's protesting arguments against "corrective" surgeries will conflict with the administration's historically and scientifically inaccurate definition of gender.

Sex defined by a male/female binary is too rigid to accurately label the many ways we express gender socially. Bodies are too varied in their chromosomal makeup and genital formation to accurately conform to the social categories a person lives in. They can't be defined on such a narrow binary. Many people—myself included—have taken years to come to an awareness of their own gender identities. Why does the government need to intercede in that already complicated, and very personal, process?

So why does the Trump administration insist on defining gender as a binary? Comments in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and even from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow speculate that it's a simple tactic to score political points before the upcoming midterm elections. Maddow framed her coverage of the story by recalling President's Bush's homophobic remarks before the 2004 election to encourage conservative voters to come out and vote against marriage equality. This is not a scientific debate on whether or not 1.4 million transgender people exist in the U.S.; this is political, using real people as pawns to gain power.

Should other government departments follow HHS, the results would be bigger than the ongoing bathroom debate. On Wednesday, the Justice Department told the Supreme Court that businesses can discriminate against their own workers based on their gender identity, suddenly reversing the position of 2008's Schroer v. Billington. People may begin to face discrimination at work and while jobs-hunting. Social services and health care (including gender-affirming surgeries, hormone replacements, and other necessary care for transgender patients) could be denied. Military bans lifted during the Obama era could go back into effect. Identification documents such as drivers licenses, birth certificates, and passports might be impossible to change. Medical records would be inaccurate. The memo's broad support from the government, says Pagonis, "will only serve to give surgeons who ignore the United Nations more fuel for the already existing intersex-phobic fire. A parent of an intersex kid who (rightfully) decides they don't want to allow surgeons to 'fix' their child could be met with, 'Sorry, sex reassignment surgery is the law now.'"

Pagonis cites the colonialists who attempted to decimate the two-spirit people of indigenous communities, the medical-sanctioned genital mutilation of infants since the 1950s, and the U.S. government's refusal to acknowledge the existence of AIDS in the early 80s, even as it plagued and ravaged the queer community. "Yet we fought back," Pagonis says. That might be where the Trump administration's political trick for votes goes wrong: transgender and gender-nonconforming people have historically turned out to fight and vote more so than their cisgender counterparts, and in disproportionately high numbers for Democrats.

Following the memo's leak, activist group Voices4 and Lambda Legal gathered hundreds of people in Washington Square Park in New York City, the same park where activists Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970. They shouted "Hell no to the memo!" Hundreds more protesters gathered outside the White House.

The Trump administration's definition of gender becoming policy would undo legal work to protect trans people dating back to the Minnesota state legislature's ban on discrimination against transgender people in 1993, all the way through President Obama's protection of trans identities on a variety of federal fronts. But this unprecedented setback on one vulnerable community's civil rights might not take shape should the election favor a democratic senate. With 33 Senate seats on the upcoming ballot, a shift in power might see HHS's Roger Severino out of a job.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, October 22, 2018

A conversation on the future of the highest court in the land

Posted By on 10.22.18 at 06:10 PM

CHICAGO IDEAS WEEK
  • Chicago Ideas Week

A crowd bundled in sweaters and scarves against the changing Chicago wind gathered at the Museum of Contemporary Art last Thursday to hear a conversation on the Supreme Court held during Chicago Ideas Week, an annual festival that brings together diverse thinkers to promote sharing of ideas.  

No doubt spurred on by the recent contentious confirmation hearings of now Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, attendees packed the 296-seat Edlis Neeson Theater to near capacity. Onstage were former Obama White House counsel Kate Shaw; Neal Katyal, a Georgetown University professor who has argued cases before the Supreme Court;  and Geoffrey Stone, law professor and provost of the University of Chicago. Moderated by U.S. district court judge Manish Shah, the conversation took a broad look at the functions of an effective Supreme Court.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , ,

‘Tackling Taboos’: A conversation on redefining our own truths

Posted By on 10.22.18 at 03:38 PM

Yvonne Orji and Luvvie Ajayi - VANESSA BUENGER
  • Vanessa Buenger
  • Yvonne Orji and Luvvie Ajayi


"I honestly feel like telling the truth has become taboo," said author and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi to an audience at the Chicago Ideas Week event "Tackling Taboos." The night was broken up into three conversations, a performance, and a talk and addressed conventionally taboo subjects including porn, sex, and religion. This allowed audience members—specifically, the high school students who are part of the Chicago Ideas Youth Ambassadors program—to walk away with a new understanding of why it's important to talk about difficult issues transparently.

The first conversation was between Ajayi and Yvonne Orji, a Nigerian-American comedian and actress who currently stars as Molly on HBO's Insecure. She talked about the shift in career plans that occurred when she put her faith in God, or "Daddy," as she calls him. "I don't have daddy issues, don't worry," she joked. When she devoted herself to religion, she dropped her plans of becoming a doctor and took up comedy. This led her down a path of success she didn't know she could have because of the confined lifestyle she'd had growing up in an African household.

When living with African parents, "dreaming is a luxury," Orji said. "Living with Mexican parents too," said one of the teenage girls sitting in front of me. Though Orji had followed her parents' plans up until graduate school, she was able to tackle the taboo of pursuing her own dreams and following her own plans.

Orji also talked about therapy and mental health stigmas within black communities. She and Ajayi joked that their parents would be so much happier if they went to therapy and let go of all the pain and grudges they've held on to for the last 40 years. "Our generation is making it more healthy to seek help," said Orji.

Journalist Emily Witt took the stage next and gave a talk about the contemporary pursuit of sexual pleasure and connection, including topics like porn, orgasmic meditation, webcam sex, and polyamorous couples who schedule sex.

"Our own taboo limits us," she said in regard to how we restrict ourselves from exploring different sexual experiences." What a wonderful thing for teenage girls to learn so early on in their lives, I thought.

Following Witt's talk, comedian Becca Brown sang a song about the lies women tell to get rid of the unwanted attention of certain men, specifically tackling the taboo of periods. "Your fake period got rid of that jerk," she sang. "'Cause you're disgusting and useless when your pussy don't work."

The second conversation of the night was with Michael Arceneaux, author of I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyonce. He spoke about the taboo of being gay in a southern, black, Christian family.

"I think religion is very beautiful and very helpful in people's lives, but at the same time, religion tortured me," he said. He thinks the transparency in his book helped tell other people's stories and solidified him as "the Cardi B of lit."

The final conversation featured fashion designer Norma Kamali, whose recent work raises awareness about the unique experiences women face regarding objectification. She said because of how widely accepted harassment and assault were in the fashion industry, she never realized how bad the things she and other models or designers had experienced were. She encouraged everyone to keep talking about assault so it doesn't continue being normalized.

Overall, the event was fun. It opened my eyes to the way my different identities have caused me to view certain truths as taboo and to hope for a future where these truths can be commonplace.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

#TimesUp: What's Next? Chicago Ideas Week conversation discusses the next steps for the movement

Posted By on 10.17.18 at 05:00 PM

SONA JONES
  • Sona Jones

Earlier this year, the #TimesUp legal initiative was launched to provide steps for women across all career industries who have been sexually harassed in the workplace, but now many women are asking, "where do we go from here?" Chicago Ideas Week hosted a conversation last night titled #TimesUp: What’s Next with activists and experts Amber Tamblyn, Saru Jayamaran, Tina Tchen, and Celeste Headlee to answer this question, offering some suggestions for next steps and examining areas where change needs to occur the most.

Thus far, most of the focus of the movement has been on high profile cases involving celebrities or public figures. Women in Hollywood have stood together at awards show announcing that time was up for abuse and assault on movie sets. "The Screen Actors Guild has changed on-set rules about how women are allowed to be treated and how their bodies can be touched," said Tamblyn, an actress, director, and one of the founding members of the #TimesUp movement.

But there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of inclusivity and diversity within the movement and advocating for women (and men) in all other fields. Tchen, one of the leaders of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, says workplace sexual harassment infects all industries. One of the only ways to implement any real change is to change the workplace culture that has allowed for harassment to grow and continue to be accepted. Opponents of the #TimesUp movement have argued that if companies just followed the law, there wouldn’t be any harassment issues, but those people fail to realize that these laws have not caught up with 2018.

Tchen says these laws do not protect bystanders who report sexual harassment. One change that is occurring, however, is the termination of employees accused of harassment who earlier would've been given a slap on the wrist or made to watch a sexual harassment training video. "Sexual harassment training is really ineffective," she said. Learning about sexual harassment won't change an offender's behavior. It'll only make them more aware of the procedures surrounding the harassment. 

Jayamaran, co-founder and president of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United), shifts the conversation to restaurant workers. "In addition to support for legal challenges, we need to dismantle the systems and structures that lead to sexual harassment in the first place," she said. "Like the system of working for tips."

Jayamaran said the tipping economy is rooted in racism and it came into existence as a way to exploit the labor of slaves. It continues to exploit the labor of people of color and perpetuate power dynamics that result in sexual harassment.

The rest of the conversation focused on the importance of women working together. Though the movement has always placed an emphasis on women supporting women, Tamblyn said that white women especially need to be strong allies. In these spaces devoid of men, some white women are coming face to face with their privilege and the realization that sometimes they may perpetuate the same racism and exclusion as men.

"When you see that there is someone who's missing out of the conversation, you have to do everything you can to make sure they're included," she said.

The panel did a good job of recounting the strides the movement has made and what they're currently working towards but I'm not sure if anything that was said hasn’t already been said before. I would have liked them to highlight sexual assault in other, more vulnerable career fields like the public education system. Though I'm aware that a lot of the work the initiative is doing is geared towards workplace culture, I think discussing how the movement can help young women come forward with their stories, too, would be beneficial and a huge step in moving forward as a collective. Regardless, the conversation was one that we need to keep having in order to see more progress. 

Before the event ended, the four women answered audience questions and offered some tangible advice: Don’t be afraid to be the crazy, difficult bitch in the room and go vote in the midterm elections.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monday, October 1, 2018

In Assassination Nation, as in life, female power can instill fear when it poses a threat to the patriarchy

Posted By on 10.01.18 at 06:00 AM

assassination_nation.jpg

Is there really such a thing as privacy anymore? This question is one of many asked by Sam Levinson in his second feature, Assassination Nation. But neither Levinson nor the film’s characters let you come out of the theater with an easy answer—that would miss the point entirely. Instead, Assassination Nation serves as a dizzying, aggressive, and controversial commentary on how desensitized we’ve become to violence in a world that won’t stop buzzing.

Assassination Nation follows high school senior Lily Coleman (Odessa Young) and her best friends Bex (Hari Nef), Em (Abra), and Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) as they deal with the aftermath of a leak of personal texts, emails and photos belonging to half the population of their small town.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, July 9, 2018

Nerds unite at Challengers for Women’s Comics Night

Posted By on 07.09.18 at 06:00 AM

The June edition of Women's Comics Night - ANDREA THOMPSON
  • Andrea Thompson
  • The June edition of Women's Comics Night

When the owners of Challengers Comics decided they wanted to put on more events, they knew they wanted some of them to focus on women, but they had no idea what that would look like. But when they asked for organizers, Samantha LaFountain volunteered. She knew what she wanted to see.

"I wanted it to be like a party, that was the main idea," LaFountain said. "And to build friendships between women, nonbinary individuals, however you identify. Between people who aren't normally seen."

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Alicia Swiz wants to make you a better feminist—by taking her online course

Posted By on 06.21.18 at 01:00 PM

Alicia Swiz hosting Feminist Happy Hour Galentine's Day 2018 - STEPHANIE JENSEN
  • Stephanie Jensen
  • Alicia Swiz hosting Feminist Happy Hour Galentine's Day 2018

Alicia Swiz is a feminist. She's also a writer, a performer, and an educator who uses her various platforms to initiate conversations about women's issues, intersectionality, and the representation of gender in media. Now, thanks to her recently released online course, potential students don't have to be enrolled in college to learn from her.

After receiving her master's degree in women's and gender studies from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Swiz began teaching at Alamance Community College in Graham, North Carolina. In 2010, she moved to Chicago intending to find more opportunities to perform and to explore more creative ways to create dialogues about issues related to gender.

Since then, Swiz has become an important figure in the Chicago feminist community. Her writing has been featured in a number of local outlets, including a roundtable discussion on the importance of intersectionality in feminism for the Reader. She's also the cofounder of Chicago's local chapter of Shout Your Abortion, a network created to empower people to share their experiences with abortion, and the creator of SlutTalk, an organization that raises awareness of slut shaming and encourages sex positivity through performances, workshops, and social media.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
The Better Half Steppenwolf Theatre, 1700 Theatre
November 08
Performing Arts
Frankenstein Theater Wit
October 24

Tabbed Event Search

The Bleader Archive

Popular Stories