Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Window into Workplace Sexism: The Experience of Transgender Individuals

A friend recently sent me a news article entitled “Why Aren’t Women Advancing At Work? Ask a Transgender Person,” written by Jessica Nordell and published on New Republic. The unique and enlightening experiences of a small minority really gave me pause. While sexism and inequality in the workplace has been a recurring and often contentious point of discussion, some attention has been given to the lived experiences of transgender individuals, particularly those who transitioned from female to male. Interviews conducted with a number of transgender individuals shed light on these work place experiences that many deem sexist.

Qualities unappreciated as a woman (e.g. assertiveness, ambition, etc) were highly valued in a man. What was once considered aggressive was now a wonderful “making-things-happen” attitude towards work. One transgender man explained that someone unfamiliar with his story, with whom he was speaking, informed him that his sister’s presentation was dull, but his was light-years better. His “sister” was actually him, prior to his gender change. What struck me is that a transgender individual’s experience is much like an experimental study in that confounding variables, such as differences in personality traits, values, skill sets, and abilities are removed from the equation. Not only were the studied transgender individuals perceived and valued differently by their colleagues and employers, but they were also treated differently. Another man recalled his prior female self being interrupted frequently by others during meetings, and his questions were frequently considered to indicate a lack of expertise rather than an educated attempt at dialogue. As a man, he noticed a distinct change. Now, he was being taken seriously and treated with respect- without interruption or skepticism. He was now someone worth listening to. He explained, “Men are assumed to be competent until proven otherwise, whereas a woman is assumed to be incompetent until she proves otherwise.”

As displayed in research that identifies gender differences, men and women frequently have different means on a bell curve. We can frequently conclude that cis men and cis women differ in certain ways (in physical strength, norms on objective personality measures, etc) because of these differences in means. It doesn’t bother me to say this. However, this reality does not account for variant treatment in social settings that have little to do with these mean differences. There is a definite, undeniable problem when characteristics that are considered qualities in one gender are devalued in the other. It’s a problem that one gender has something to prove when the other does not. I truly believe that our society is quick to forget that men and women share countless qualities that are appropriate and suitable in an array of social settings.

 - Written by Nina Silander

Becoming a Feminist Killjoy

            An acquaintance of mine crafts. Recently, she started to make triangle banners. The triangles are deliberately pastel, each containing a stark, black letter: K-I-L-L-J-O-Y. This acquaintance seems to reject the pressure to temper her politics, everywhere, and her crafting reflects that, which I admire.

            But I’m not a very good feminist killjoy. Confrontation worries me and makes me worry, not always, but I still catch myself devising ways to avoid it. As one example: I was procrastinating on Facebook and noticed that someone had shared a link to a Daily Xtra article (Daily Xtra’s the online presence of Xtra, a Canadian LGBT weekly paper). Written by Andrea Houston, it was about Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird. Baird is known to be gay; he’s reportedly out, though he’s never talked to the media about his “alleged” gayness. Canadian reporters tend not to ask such questions – here, there’s this idea about what’s private, and Canadians don’t care much to know about politicians’ “private” lives. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the CBC) had asked Houston to appear on The Current as part of a panel that would discuss the politics of outing politicians. She told a producer she would talk about Baird’s “glass closet” and she was told not to do so, so she declined the CBC’s offer. Then, Houston wrote an article for the Daily Xtra, wondering whether the CBC is “censoring Canadians to protect John Baird.”

            The linked Facebook article had been commented on by a few gay men. They argued that Houston ought to remain silent because Baird, having not spoken to the media, wasn’t “officially” out. They were all against outing in every case, even anti-gay politicians. I disagree – I support the queer ethics of exposing hypocrisy – but what compelled me to respond was one comment that praised Baird for not only remaining silent but also for not being obviously gay (i.e., not “gender nonconforming”). This commenter wrote that Baird’s “normality” was good for gay men…because effeminacy, being like a woman, is bad, I guess, pathological. Disordered.

I think that’s misogynistic.

            I wrote an impassioned response, but when I was editing it, I started to feel embarrassed – it really was long, probably too long, I thought. You’re being pushy, pedantic. Leaving my laptop open, I left my desk to run a few errands, giving myself some time to think about it before submitting it.

Later that day, I came back and closed my browser.

            Why the embarrassment? I suppose I had imagined these gay men reading my response and rolling their eyes, “oh here she goes.” And on Facebook!

            In retrospect, I regret minimizing my Facebook comment to the point of deletion. I’m a graduate student who hasn’t engaged in much direct action. I’ve remained in classrooms and laboratories. I like to think my research has been, and hope my academic future will be, my own form of activism. My research, my writing. Language matters, in all its forms – Facebook comments included. That is what I believe.

The director of a new Centre for Feminist Research at Goldsmiths, Dr. Sara Ahmed, is working on a new book, Living a Feminist Life, and I gather it’s related to her research blog. It’s called feministkilljoys. It’s about how Dr. Ahmed thinks, and she thinks about women’s eye rolling, nagging, complaining, moaning, whinging grumpiness as feminist pedagogy. In response to “oh here she goes,” keep going. I’m learning to recognize my fear of being judged as the “feminist grump”; I want to disrupt that fear like I’ve come to recognize, as a queer cisgender man, the value in making visible and celebrating that which she shaming, heteronormative majority considers shameful.  

Right now, one of my crafting acquaintance’s friends, a mutual friend, has as her Facebook banner a photo of herself holding the feminist killjoy triangle banner, which she had been given as a gift. She looks grumpy, like she could and might complain. I hope next time to follow her lead.   

- Written by Alexander Vasilovsky

New Years Resolution: To use the “F” word.

As a female in society, I’ve always noticed the hesitation to use the F word. Feminism or stating the phrase “I’m a feminist” has become such a feared concept due to the immediate judgment or criticism attached to it. Now, I was pondering about this concept for a while. Despite being a grad student, I still find time to read celebrity news and noticed an abundance of articles of celebs stating they don’t identify with being a feminist. Additionally, I had returned home and noticed my own hesitation to identify as a feminist in front of my tradition family and I wasn’t shocked to hear this same hesitation from my friends. With the New Year, I personally made a New Years Resolution to take the phrase “I’m a feminist” back. I don’t imagine I can do it by myself, but I imagine that I can be a small part in removing the fear and judgment placed on the phrase. In order to remove the fear, we have to understand why the fear exists in society and identify with our own interpretation of feminism.

The dictionary defines feminisms as gender equality between sexes in political, social, and economic environments. As a music buff, this definition can also be heard mid song on Beyonce’s song “Flawless, by talented feminist speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her speech “Why We Should All Be Feminist”. One could wonder under this definition, why is it so hard to identify with being a feminist? Unfortunately, this definition is not the one being propagated by society.

Ferguson (2010) stated that some of the fear attributed by society about feminism include that feminism is too judgmental, radical, and exclusionary.  The radical approach means that feminism is often associated with extreme body positivity movements, sexual freedom, and removal of traditional roles as options for women. The exclusionary approach means that feminism is associated with only White American women. Lastly, the judgmental approach, which personally is the most prominently feared concept in society, is that feminism is associated with women who hate men, hate other women who choose to be a homemaker, and hate the heterosexual lifestyle. Incorporating all three concepts together, stating “I’m a feminist” equals being a middle class white woman, who hate other women for choosing to be homemakers, hate the institution of marriage, and want all men to disappear completely from the earth. The phrase comes with such a loaded judgment; it’s understandable why many hesitate or fear to identify with feminism.

Thus, we have to educate. Regardless of if you’re views include some of the radical, judgmental, or exclusionary approach perceived by society, it’s important to note that the goal of feminism is gender equality.  Thus, don’t be afraid to use the “f” word. State you’re a feminist and be prepared to tell others it doesn’t mean that you hate men, hate institutionalized marriage, or hate the idea of being a homemaker. The phrase “I’m a feminist”, should equal that as a woman, I deserve to have the same equal rights in society, politics, and economic environments as any man.


Written by Yvette Gely


Ferguson, M. L. (2010). Choice feminism and the fear of politics. Perspectives on politics8(01), 247-253.

Standing in Solidarity: #BlackLivesMatter

As my time came to write this post I could not think of anything else to talk about other than race relations and the current upheaval that our country is dealing with. The recent events of the past few months have been difficult to process and I have found myself experiencing a slew of emotions. Yet, as a White individual I have the privilege to choose when and when not to talk/think about this, it is NOT my lived reality. Even in writing the opening sentence, yes these events have created a public “current upheaval” but this has always been a problem, systemic and institutional racism has and is currently a strong force in this country. It is unfortunate that it had to take publically documented footage and social media push to get America to open its eyes and question … wait maybe racism is a problem.
Although many Americans have taken this opportunity to discuss race relations, I have been having a hard time controlling my anger with people (especially White individuals) who continue to perpetuate and reinforce these systems of oppression. In trying to sift through this anger I realized that I need to do something about it, that as a feminist/womanist activist I need to take a stand. Thus, I am writing this blog post to my fellow White people about how to talk about race relations and most importantly how to stand in solidarity with people of color.

The first and most important step is to be aware of your defensiveness. When talking about racism it is almost a guarantee that as a White person you will feel a mixture of uncomfortable emotions (i.e., anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness) that lead you to put up defenses. I get it you do not want to come off as being racist, trust me I have been there, but you need to push past this. As a White person you have been socialized to hold prejudices and biases that in turn provide you with privilege. An example of one of these biases is: automatic associations of Black men being violent and someone we need to be afraid of. Although I would like it to be so, these biases and prejudices cannot be erased or deleted. Yet, one thing that you can do is to become aware of these biases and take action to challenge them on a daily basis. If you are unsure how to go about this I encourage you to read the article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack, by Peggy McIntosh. Being defensive in hopes of coming off as “not racist” is one of the worst things you can do. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to work on becoming aware of and challenging your defenses

Another important thing is to recognize that these recent events are not a “new thing.” Racism has not come back; it has always been here and is something people of color live with and experience on a daily basis. Racism does not just take form in overt and violent acts; it often takes place in implicit forms that are invisible to most White people. For example, asking an Asian American, “where are you from?” They say, “I am from New Jersey.” And you say, “no where are you really from or where are your parents from?” Although this White person most likely has the best of intentions they have offended this individual by communicating, you do not belong in America so therefore you cannot be American. If you would like to learn more about these forms of oppression I suggest reading the book, Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation, by Derald Sue.

Lastly, it is important to know your place when discussing race relations and providing support for your friends of color. Remember that you still benefit from racism, so do not make this about you. For example, if you are involved in the protests or any type of activism don’t stand in the front line or don’t brag about how cool it is to be part of this moment in history. Instead partake in these events along side people of color. Show your support just by being there and asking how and in what way you can help. If you want more information on how to be involved as a White person I suggest reading the following blog post I will end with a quote from an inspiring feminist in which I think nicely complements the topic of this post.

“Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet, all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensive destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection of changelessness.” ~Audre Lorde

- Written by Liz Geiger 

Hiding Behind Privilege: What We Must Do in the Wake of Ferguson

In the wake of recent events in Ferguson and New York, many people sigh in dismay at the news and scroll to the next item in their newsfeed.  Still others think to themselves, “What can I do about this?”, and when they console themselves that the problem is too big for them to take on by themselves they move on to the next thing on their to-do list.  Some even get so far as to voice their question of what to do, unfortunately it is often to a black person expected to represent the entire race.  Why do some of us get the privilege of scrolling past this news story or of choosing not to talk about it with our friends, parents, and colleagues?
Recently at work, my black, female supervisor said to our staff that she is tired of hearing the question “What can I do?”  With exasperation and exhaustion, she talked about what it was like to go home to her children and have to explain what happened in Ferguson.  With tears in her eyes, she told the story of when her daughter said that sometimes she wishes she was white.  The point she was making, and I want to make too, is that not everyone gets the privilege of forgetting what occurred in Ferguson, or in New York, or at times, in every city in America.  Those of us who are white cannot let ourselves scroll past the news story or drive by five cop cars surrounding one black man.  We have to stop overlooking subtle racism and speak up when we notice that a black person is being treated differently than we are.

This kind of response isn’t often the answer we want to hear when we ask “What can I do?”  It isn’t something we can do sitting comfortably in our living room, hiding behind our privilege.  This is the kind of response that requires action and daily commitment to the idea that what happened in Ferguson is far too common and is a result of systemic racism that is unfair and should never happen again.  This requires the understanding that the world in which we live is different for people of different races.  Living in black America is not the same as living in white America.  Talk to any black person, or any other non-white person, about microagressions they’ve experienced or instances of overt racism and they will unfortunately have a story to tell you.  Changing this requires the commitment of others who recognize that there is an issue.  It cannot just be black voices fighting for black lives; everyone’s voice is needed.  Instead of using our privilege to forget Ferguson and New York, we need to use our privilege to remember and help others tempted to forget to remember it, too.  By doing this, we can remember the inequality in America and motivate ourselves to be part of the change. 

As my colleague, Tangela Roberts, points out #BlackLivesMatter is a feminist issue.  It’s an issue because as long as the system maintains the power all other marginalized groups are fragmented and pitted against one another.  Women against men, black against white, Latino against Asian, heterosexual against homosexual, transgender against gay, and the list goes on and on.  Until all oppressed people are against the system and not against each other, the system won’t change.  This change begins with acknowledging oppression and refusing to stay silent. 

-Written by Alyssa Tedder-King


As an athlete in middle school, high school, and college, I was painfully aware of the limited value the majority of society placed in my athletic abilities.  There was no way to ignore the fact that the twenty loyal fans always present at my high school basketball games, turned into several hundred during the last several minutes of the game.  They were not there to watch us play; the boys were about to begin.  Sports always contributed immensely to my developing self-esteem and in many ways defined who I am and how I approach life; however, certain aspects of being a female athlete were also infuriating.  At times I was overlooked or dismissed; not always explicitly, but through the general attitude of the people I was around. 

What kind of message are we sending to young girls when no one shows up to their games?  When more people show up to watch the boy’s football team (who haven’t had a winning record in eight years) than to watch a women’s soccer team (who has won the regional championships three years running)?  Many young girls, including myself, internalize these implicit messages. The message is that the accomplishments I achieved as an athlete do not mean as much as the accomplishments of a boy who has done the same thing or even a boy who has accomplished far less. 

Contributing to the devaluation of women in sports is the lack of representation on television and in media coverage.  The assumption made by many people is that there is no interest in women’s sports, therefore they cannot be broadcast on television or represented equally in magazines or on the news.  Perhaps this is true.  It is certainly the message I got as a young athlete.  But what if it has to do more with the accessibility of following your favorite teams?  Or the fact that there are little to no professional women’s sports teams in your area?  It is hard to follow a team who’s games are broadcast twice per season, or who’s games are only broadcast on the channels included in a special television sports package.

All of this makes me wonder; if girls felt that their athletic accomplishments were more valued, would girls engage in sports more often? Would more girls stick with sports longer?  Feel greater pride in their abilities? A greater sense of accomplishment? There are so many aspects of my life that I can see as directly impacted by my time as an athlete.  I am sad at the idea that some girls may not have these experiences because of the messages they are given about their hard work.  As an athlete, I always had a community.  My body image was not based on the ideals of feminine fragility but rather strength and power (physical, emotional, and mental), my self-esteem was raised, and I created unforgettable memories.  There are many ways that girls can have these experiences and sports is merely one of them; however we need to make sure that the option of sports is an engaging, validating, empowering, and exciting choice for all children and adolescents.  If I have a daughter, I do not want her to grow up in a world where her accomplishments are devalued because of her gender; whether that accomplishment is related to sports, or any other area of her life.

- Written by Vanessa Shafa, M.A.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

#BlackLivesMatter is a Feminist Issue

The past few weeks have been a very trying time in terms of American race relations.  I find myself, along with others, holding a myriad of emotions (fear, anger, confusion, dismay, apathy), as well as hope and love when seeing the efforts of protesters and minority communities coming together in solidarity to speak out against injustice.  Sadly, I find that as a Black feminist, it is too easy to become disheartened with the current state of racial injustice; too easy to relate current events to historical depictions of the treatment of minorities in America; too easy to just want to ignore or become apathetic about such real and present reminders of privilege, power and inequality.  It’s too easy to pretend that if it doesn’t directly affect you, then it’s not going to affect you at all. 
After reading numerous news articles and Facebook posts about Michael Brown and Eric Garner, a friend of mine stated “Everyone expects me to be sad about this, I don’t understand because it’s not directly affecting me.  I didn’t personally know the Black men involved”.  In that moment, I became well aware of just how easy it is to allow yourself to become so removed from the situation that you believe it doesn’t affect you at all.  No, I did not personally know Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice or Renisha McBride, but I speak their names to affirm and validate their lives and experiences.  I do, however, know my brothers, my father, my uncles, my cousins, and myself.  As much as I imagine that their loved ones worried for their safety, I worry for the safety of my loved ones as well.  I worry for my 3 brothers, because I know that it doesn't matter that they are educated, humble, respectful & caring individuals, having black skin has been/is seen as a crime in and of itself.   I worry for myself, as a perpetual student and resident of the Ivory Tower.  How will my passion and pride in my communities; my outrage with “the system”; and my anger as a Black woman be viewed amongst friends, advisors, colleagues?  I worry for my friends who may not understand fully the historical implications of abuses of power and privilege directed towards racial and ethnic minorities.  I worry about how this will impact views and interactions with and of them.  Most of all I worry that my anger will be invalidated and cast among the innumerable stereotypes attached to a body that identifies as Black, feminist, activist, scholar, PhD student.  I worry the same worries that have stressed those who have paved the way for my existence in this space, place and time in my life.
When talking about race and cultural competence (as I somehow always find myself doing amongst friends), I was once asked “So how is this a feminist issue?”  Shocked, confused, and embarrassed, I found myself struggling to find an answer on the spot.  Sometimes the words that you are looking for have already been spoken and connecting to those words and the lips from which they emerged brings the most meaning to your experience.  So how is #BlackLivesMatter a feminist issue?  I believe that Audre Lorde spoke it best in saying: “I am a Black Feminist. I mean I recognize that my power as well as my primary oppressions comes as a result of my blackness as well as my womaness, and therefore my struggles on both of these fronts are inseparable.” – Audre Lorde

- Written by Tangela Roberts, M.S.