Furthering the Conversation: The "Beta Babe" Effect

My essay, "I'm Not Your Babe, Bro," has caused an interesting mix of reactions and thoughts. A long thread of comments were made in response to the essay. I think Facebook has its place for certain kinds of communication, and then at times, it can fall short as a platform to express critical thinking. I decided that in order to respond to the biggest critic of the essay, Michael, that it would be best to express myself in a separate essay. This kind of discussion calls for it. 

First, thank you.

I would like to directly say to Michael: Your feedback is fascinating. I appreciate you taking the time to thoughtfully respond to my writing. I’m glad you feel encouraged to speak your mind and please know that this is very much welcomed. You are opening up the space for us to really get down to the nitty gritty of these very complicated and interwoven issues, ideas, and philosophies.

Thank you to everyone who responded. It is so important to express ourselves. It is also so important to provide genuine feedback to those who share their thoughts as it creates community. Thank you so much for contributing your thoughts.

 Let's clear some things up

 

I would like to clear up some confusion as it seems my article was unclear in some ways. To get a full picture of where I stand, I highly recommend to those who are interested that they read my previous post titled, “feminism.” It’s by no means all encompassing, as the feminist movement is incredibly complicated. And because it is so complicated it takes years of reading and absorbing to really understand the movement and the material. If possible, it’s really important to know a subject before coming to any conclusions, assumptions, or judgments. However, just because it takes time to learn does not mean you can’t ask questions now. I’m so glad that Michael is asking questions and responding. I appreciate his willingness to learn about feminism, the feminist movement, and individual feminists. I am still learning as well, and have more questions than answers. 

Let me say as a precursor that feminists can be any gender, man, woman, or transgender. Also, my feminism, (because there are many different kinds of feminism), strives to create equality in all of our communities for all genders, races, and classes. This includes the very underrepresented queer and trans community, and those who do not identify as female or male. Again, there are many different kinds of feminism. This article is a feminist response to the title, “Beta Babes.” There are many different lenses to look through. Below, I will respond to Michael's thoughts. These are my opinions.

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Michael's response to my statement, "'Babe' literally means a baby":

Not really. The word "babe" doesn't actually get used to mean "baby" unless you're reading out a hymnal or you're 150 years old. In common, modern usage, "babe" refers to adult females. Nobody was confused about this.

My response

If you do a quick search, or you look it up in the dictionary, you will find that it does indeed mean “baby.” In our daily colloquial language we tend to use “babe” as a way to describe a female. I have heard it used to describe women of all ages, but not usually when describing elders.

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Michael's response to my statement, "It could be argued that in this way, the phrase 'Beta Babes' suggests that we are not people with individual climbing goals seeking community, but that we are quite literally babies looking for answers":

It could also be argued equally that the word "Beta" was referring to someone who GIVES climbing advice. Nowhere was it specifically intended to imply that these women were RECEIVING the advice, or needed remedial climbing instruction. Appending the word doesn't imply one or the other, and I feel like the author simply inferred the more offensive meaning just for sake of being offended.

My response 

I never write for the sake of being offensive. You are misguided in this belief and I think you should read my article and my tone again. I feel as though you may be offended by what I’m saying and you might want to do some looking into that. Dig deeper. Why does what I say offend you? What chord does my article strike in you? 

Michael is correct that some might interpret the phrase, “Beta Babes,” in the most positive sense and have the best intentions. However, we must first acknowledge the fact that certain words carry baggage. The term “babe” when used in certain contexts by certain people can be condescending and belittling. In this context, “Beta Babes,” myself and other women and men, feel irked by the phrase. As women growing up in a society such as ours, a Patriarchy, where we are encouraged to be sexy, but not too sexy, smart, but not talk back, successful, but not too successful, nice, but not sensitive, we are asking for better signifiers, adjectives, and associations as to what it means to identify as female.

If we are “Beta Babes” this has a serious connotation with sexiness. I am dissatisfied with being referred to as a “babe” in the climbing world because I reject the trope of sexiness as a requirement of being a woman. Sexiness is not bad. I think lots of people are sexy, and I like to feel sexy. However, this is irrelevant to my climbing. I am arguing that we need to splice the expectation of women to be sexy in all realms of a woman’s existence. In my opinion, the phrase “Beta Babes” sets up and reinforces the expectation that women are not separate from sexiness. Ever. “Beta Babes” implies a standard that even as a climber, when you climb, you are a “babe.” And that word holds a world of implications such as the ones I discuss in my original essay.  I prefer my climbing community to first see me as a climber above any other judgments. Climbing is my lifestyle and being referred to as a “Beta Babe” demeans my practice and purpose.

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Michael's response to me asking him to elaborate. 

And by sexist I mean that it excluded men. I'm all for a women's only climbing night if that's what the owner of the gym wanted to do. But don't call it equality unless you also have a men's only climbing night.

My response

Your sentiment about a Men’s Only Climb Night is not an uncommon one. My friend, Andrew Naugle, responds to this by saying, “So, then it would be called Men’s Rights Night. Buh dum chissssshhhhh.” This is a satirical response. If you are to take a look into the past you may note that the male’s presence dominates our culture. It is not an attack on men. It just is what it is. If you can first accept this idea, then you will be able to understand my argument.

Let’s play a thought game:

Hypothetically speaking let’s say women don’t have the same experiences as men. Let’s say that some women feel a deep, survival instinct to confront the night (on the street, outside work, outside their home, walking to and from a restaurant, walking to their car) because they feel unsafe to the point that they look behind their back every twenty seconds, they walk fast and keep their head up, they carry pepper spray.

Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that some women, grew up being told that the night is full of rapists or kidnappers, and that you need to be on guard at all times. And let’s say, that some women grow up hearing stories on the news that tell about young girls who these horrible things actually happen to. Let’s say, that some women, grow up in a world of sensationalism, where each news story elicits fear.

Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that women have been encouraged (intentionally or not) to be shy and not raise their hand in class. Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that through various life experiences, that some women have lived with the belief that they are not as physically strong as men, so they are led to believe that they are not strong at all, and that they should “leave it to a man to do man’s work.” Let’s say, some women have grown up from a young age convinced that they wouldn’t succeed at sports, that they shouldn’t go outside and get dirty, and that if they sweat or look in any way disheveled that they will not be sexy and refined (at the same time), and therefore invaluable.

And let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that some women have grown up on Cosmo Girl magazine, MTV, and the like, that taught them that if a woman fails at being sexy, no one will want her, no one will love her.

However, Michael, this is not hypothetical. Unfortunately, this is the truth for a lot of women, myself included.

 

Why don't we have a men's climb night?

I'm so glad you asked...

 

Men do not need a Men’s Climb Night because every night is Men’s Climb Night. I would argue that typically, a man does not feel unsafe or vulnerable walking into the bouldering area. Typically, men do not think twice about walking into the gym. Typically, men do not think twice about entering any space. They have no need to think twice. It's not a bad thing. The thing that needs to change is when women feel unsafe and vulnerable. The fact that women think twice about asserting their presence needs to change. Women’s specific clubs, classes, and organizations are all crucial and relevant to our world because there are still limits that our society places on a woman's ability to literally take up space.

This is especially evident in the sports world. However, it is incredibly evident in all worlds. It exists all over the world, in many different capacities. This is called Sexism and it occurs in newsrooms, classrooms, boardrooms, gyms, coffee shops, and even within trans clubs, which are viewed to be the most open minded and progressive.

The sexism of our world is inherent and deeply rooted in how our society was founded. It goes back to agriculture when men were given land. With land they were given a woman for that land. Our country was founded on men literally owning land and women as their property.

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More of Michael's response.

The owner of the gym in question created a women's only event even though he/she probably lost revenue by excluding male climbers. I'm not fully acquainted with the circumstances, but it seemed to be for decent reasons, and not for some ulterior motive. The name of the event is not offensive, unless you use your own personal definitions for the words comprising the name.

My response

The owner of the gym did not lose revenue as we leave the gym open to everyone. As Yetta Stein said, it runs as usual. However, this comment reflects your goals and ethics as a human. The motive behind "Beta Babes" is to provide a space in the bouldering area, a typically intimidating, male dominated space, for women to feel encouraged and safe to climb as much as they want, wherever they want.

It is easier for men to simply walk through the world. Women, on the other hand, tend to grapple with a lifetime of hollers, catcalls, sexual assault (ass slapping/pinching/grabbing/holding from strangers). I acknowledge that men experience sexual assault and verbal abuse as well.

However, we do not live in a Matriarchy. We live in a Patriarchy. And in a Patriarchy women are second best. In a Patriarchy, the dominating ethos, though it is invisible, very much affects each of our thoughts and actions. In a Patriarchy where it has been reinforced in the past that women are property, it is important to change that oppressive system. Though it was so far back in the past that women were literally property, it still leaks into our every day lives in 2016. We can change the system by providing space for women where they have not typically been able to hold space. Yes, I am literally talking about space. Think on this.

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Michael's response to Taylor Feldman's comment: "Yet, as Taylor so eloquently put, 'we don't really give a damn if it's well-meaning.'" 

I think this qualifies as bitching.

my response

Ultimately, intentions and well-meanings do not mean a thing - actions do. However, I believe compassion is key. When talking about these issues and striving to change systems, the most gains come from remaining compassionate and receptive. I can't speak for Taylor, but I believe her comment may have been trying to get at this concept. In the end the action that was taken, the final say, was that "Beta Babes" is the most marketable and therefore will remain the title. This is one of many examples where our capitalist world is run on money and marketing, and so very rarely do we make decisions by considering individual circumstances as humans relating and interacting with humans.

I applaud my boss for originally opening up the conversation and allowing me space to express my thoughts and argue against the name. I appreciated the long, and many, conversations surrounding the title of the event and his openness to changing it. However, the ultimate decision to keep "Beta Babes" proves that sex is still the main way we market. Sex still sells even in our liberal, progressive bubble of Portland, Oregon. Marketing towards women in these basic and stereotypical tropes is detrimental to our moving forward. Keeping "Beta Babes" leaves us stuck in a world where women are boxed up, packaged, and sold as sexy things. (Click the link to learn more about this). I would like to see marketing strategies that destroy these limiting messages. It is a challenge. I challenge marketing strategists in any realm to break the box. It is rare that the final say is one of integrity, but I know we can change that through discussion, awareness, compassion and receptive listening. 

It seems that Michael is qualifying Taylor's statement, or possibly referring to my article as a whole, as "bitching." To be a bitch, in our colloquial usage of it, means one who is opinionated, loud, outspoken, fearless, shameless, expressive, and not shy. All of the things that some of us, as young girls, were told not to be. So, if to be a bitch bitching means that one is simply outspoken, then I adhere to being a bitch and I state that with immense confidence. It appears that Michael is using the term "bitching" in a negative sense. I believe that we need to stop disparaging a woman's voice as "bitching." We need to stop viewing women who speak their minds as complainers, attention-seekers, and nit-pickers. 

I will reference my beloved publication, Bitch Magazine, for support on this idea of "bitching." From Bitch Magazine's about page:

“When it's being used as an insult, "bitch" is an epithet hurled at women who speak their minds, who have opinions and don't shy away from expressing them, and who don't sit by and smile uncomfortably if they're bothered or offended. If being an outspoken woman means being a bitch, we'll take that as a compliment. We know that not everyone's down with the term. Believe us, we've heard all about it. But we stand firm in our belief that if we choose to reappropriate the word, it loses its power to hurt us. And if we can get people thinking about what they're saying when they use the word, that's even better. Bitch. It's a noun. It's a verb. It's a magazine. It's a feminist media organization.”

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In her comments to my article post on Facebook, Georgie Abel hit the nail on the head by bringing to the table the act of  reappropriation. The reappropriation of certain words, like bitch, is heavy, yet necessary work. This takes much time and thought, but it can, and should, be done. As we consider reappropriation we must also consider if we are at a point as a society to reappropriate certain terms. 

Shelma Jun so cunningly brought up the fact that this singular circumstance, the one of "Beta Babes," is wrought with complication and slipperiness. This topic is a difficult one to discuss because no one has all the answers. The point is to acknowledge the issues and spark a conversation. It is our job to truly look at ourselves and question what we see and how we think.

Here are my recommendations:

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Rape” a poem by Jayne Cortez

Unbought and Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm