A Letter from an Editor
Welcome back to the new edition of That’s What She Said!
It has been, for lack of a better word, an interesting few months since the midterm elections. More women are serving in the US Congress than ever before. Several women of color, notably the two first Muslim women to serve in Congress, were elected in November. This increase in representation has been exciting, though the actions of the current administration have also been disheartening. We are currently experiencing one of the longest government shutdowns in American history, and, with the president remaining unwilling to compromise, it appears that it will continue on.
What has been exciting to watch, however, is the response of young people to our government's actions. In the classroom, at the dinner table, and on social media teenagers and young adults everywhere have been keen to express their political views. One important aspect of young people's desire to discuss political and social issues is accountability. Throughout the new year, we must continue the trend of holding people, especially politicians, accountable for their actions. More than anything, it is important that we continue to speak out on issues that we are passionate about, whether that be sexual assault, mental health, immigration, or something else.
Our Bodies, Our Selves, Our Hair.
For many people, feminism is not just about achieving gender equality socially and politically, but also about having a choice in how we present ourselves and our bodies. One such decision that can be particularly difficult for women to navigate is shaving. In seventh grade, simply seeing my own body hair filled me with anxiety. I was sure that people were going to judge me for any trace of it, positive that they would think poorly of me for this natural occurrence. As I became more involved with social justice, I learned more about how the societal expectation that women must shave can influence whether or not they want to do it. Eventually, I realized that shaving wasn’t making me feel better about myself anymore – it was just a hassle. And yet time and time again, rather than explain this when the topic of shaving came up, I fell back to the same phrase: “I’m too lazy for that.” Though my choice not to shave was a deeply personal one based in many factors, I pretended it was a passive decision in an attempt to distance myself from the criticism I still feared.
Shaving does not make someone a bad feminist. Nor does wearing makeup, or spending lots of time on your appearance, or wearing traditionally feminine clothing. I have many friends who care deeply about women’s equality and love the color pink! But it is important to explore how much of a choice many women really have regarding this issue, seeing as how we live in a society where people are punished emotionally and even physically for not complying to gender roles.
I often see girls my age being their own worst critics when it comes to their body hair. Once, at camp, I heard a friend remark, “Ugh, I look like Chewbacca!” While she obviously meant it as a joke, to me the self-deprecating nature of the quip only reinforced that for many women, shaving serves not as something they choose to do for themselves, but as a tool that keeps them from feeling ugly. They shave because gender roles have taught them that it is a necessary part of keeping up their appearance. These subtle comments don’t just affect the speaker, but everyone around them. By expressing disgust at one’s own body hair, one justifies those feelings in others.
I do not judge women who shave, whatever their reason may be: whether they like the look or feel, need to for their job, or would rather not face the discrimination that can come with defying gender expectations. I only wish that everyone -- men included -- worked to unlearn gendered expectations to discover how we truly wish to present ourselves.
Woke Holiday Recommendations
In honor of Michelle Obama’s bestselling new book, Becoming, I’ve compiled a list of podcast episodes to help you stay woke this season, as well as some books you need to read written by badass women. Enjoy!
- Pod Save the People - “American Do-Over”
- Justice in America - “A conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates”
- The Stoop - “Black, Queer, and Free”
- Still Processing - “We Louvre The Carters”
- Never Before with Janet Mock - “Kris Jenner”
- Stuff Mom Never Told You - “Terry Crews and the Men of #MeToo”
- Caught - “I Just Want You to Come Home”
- At Liberty - “A Nation in Love with Locking People Up”
- Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist by Franchesca Ramsey
- Surpassing Certainty by Janet Mock
- Hunger by Roxane Gay
- You Can’t Touch My Hair: and Other Things I Still Have To Explain by Phoebe Robinson
- Sisters In Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World by Linda Hirshman
- Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
- The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
The TERF Movement
The basis of my beliefs as a feminist is universal equality. However, some individuals within the feminist movement insist on disrespecting and delegitimizing the experiences, as well as the very existence of, other women. These individuals are known as TERFs, or trans exclusionary radical feminists. The very premises of excluding an entire group of women goes against everything the feminist movement stands for, as its intended purpose is to empower all genders. The bigoted beliefs of TERFs openly contradicts the core value and meaning of being a feminist; therefore TERFs are not part of the feminist movement.
Intersectionality is vital for the progress of gender equality. If individuals of all races, genders, sexualities and socio-economic statuses had not fought for the feminist movement, women would not have gained the freedoms they have today. Feminism is, was, and always will be at a loss without inclusion and diversity. Women of color, for example, such as Ida B. Wells, Luisa Moreno and Anna Julia Cooper played critical roles despite initially being excluded by white “feminists”.
Similarly, the world has a heartbreaking track record of trans suffering and hateful exclusion from movements that aim to gain rights and recognition. Groups of homosexual people have even gone so far as to display hate during pride festivals, such as in London’s 2018 pride parade. The TERF movement has harmed trans people by dehumanizing the community as a whole. An article from the Huffington Post summarized the TERF perspective, stating that TERFs believe “a transgender woman is a nothing but a ‘self loathing gay man,’ and that trans women are gay men who, rather than stand up and come out as gay, would rather ‘hide’ by being transgender”.
Knowing and addressing the flaws in so-called social justice movements, like the TERF movement, is vital. Actions must be taken against those who openly spread hate toward our fellow women. Every person, regardless of their pronouns or their birth given gender, deserves equality. The exclusion of women who have struggled just to come out and transition into their rightful identity is heartbreaking, especially because trans people have been integral members of feminist and LGBT+ movements.
Icons such as Marsha P. Johnson, who participated in the Stonewall Riots, spent their life fighting for their basic human rights. Women like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera have dedicated their lives to the gay liberation movement and were still left behind after their gay and lesbian counterparts won certain rights. Trans women have endured far too much suffering. The frequency of violence against trans women, especially trans women of color, is unbelievable. The Human Rights Campaign has recorded (there are most likely more) twenty two murders of trans women in 2018 alone.
Transphobia exists everywhere, but it has no place in movements that aim to promote equality. The TERF identity has no place in the feminist movement, as the future of the feminism is dependent on its ability to support marginalized groups of women, especially transgender people.