Inquiry on Issues No. 1

Our blog team tables in Atwood twice monthly and one activity we offer to the students and faculty on campus is “Inquiry on Issues.” This activity provides individuals a chance to write down any questions they have about feminism (anonymously) that our blog team can answer here on our blog!

We have retrieved two thoughtful questions thus far and they will be answered by two of our blog members: Ruth Sybil May and Melissa Anne Frank.

  1. How do I talk to a trans person about pronouns if I don’t want to offend them?

Talking to someone about what pronouns they use can seem daunting. You want to be respectful without crossing any lines or boundaries. And as a trans person, I must say that I take to it kindly when people respectfully ask what pronouns I use, because it shows that they care and are aware enough to ask in the first place. 

Upon first meeting someone (or even if you’ve known someone for a while), I generally directly ask about a person’s pronouns in 1 of 2 fashions: What are your pronouns? or What pronouns do you use? I’d stay clear of the whole “preferred pronouns” because it is quite cissexist; meaning that cisgender (which means someone who identifies with the gender that was designated to them at birth) people are never thought of to have “preferred” pronouns; they’re just pronouns. Pronouns are mandatory, not just a mere “preference” for most people. And once you ask someone what their pronouns are, they may turn around and ask you, so be prepared to state your own pronouns.   

Also, try to be sensitive to the fact that it might be uncomfortable to be asked about pronouns in front of a lot of people; especially if that person doesn’t know if they are accepting or to be trusted, so try to ask only when it feels safe and comfortable to do so.  

Another good piece of advice is to default to using the gender neutral, singular form of they/them pronouns when unaware of the gender/pronouns that a person uses (and some people, like I, use they/them pronouns anyways). This way you can maximize respect by not assuming what pronouns they use prior to finding out.  

It can feel uncomfortable when first starting to ask people what pronouns they use, but it is a great habit to develop to shift our culture away from making assumptions about people’s genders based on their gender expression, and move towards a self-determined horizon where everyone gets to define their own gender and self-narrate their bodies on their own terms. And this can be used when talking to someone of any gender, because you can’t always tell what a person’s gender is just by looking at them.  

I wish you good luck on your pronoun quest!  

 -Ruth Sybil May 


2. From a feminist standpoint, how would the song, “You’re the One that I Want” from Grease be interpreted? This is nothing academic; I’m just wondering for my own sake.  One of the lyrics, for example, is:

“You better shape up
‘Cause I need a man
And my heart is set on you.”

While it is perfectly fine to be a woman and want a man in her life, is it okay to change for a man, or ask a man to change/“shape up” for her?  In the context of the movie, Sandy shows up dressed in leather.  She’s dressed unlike her preppy self, simply to impress Danny.  Yet she sings, “To my heart I must be true.”  How is any independent-thinking girl supposed to reconcile this?  I know this song is from the 70’s and written to be catchy; I’m just wondering what a feminist thinks of it.

This is a great question!  As a lover of musical theatre, I have often looked at some of them and thought about how they perpetuate the very stereotypes that I fight against on a daily basis. Even some of the best musicals can look at things in a way that isn’t great.  Take for instance one of the hottest musicals in the last two years, Hamilton.  While this musical is breaking boundaries between race and class, it also escalates some sexist, classist, and racist issues.   

Grease is a lot like this.  The idea that Sandy changes just to get a man is a sexist issue. Let’s be real, almost every song in the musical sung by Danny Zuco’s band of problematic men is quite sexist; from lyrics like, “Tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight?” to, “With a four speed on the floor, she’ll be waiting at the door.  You know without a doubt I’ll be really making out in Greased Lightnin’.” 

But the Pink Ladies of Grease aren’t much better either.  In Summer Nights, the gals are more concerned with whether Sandy’s beau has a car than if he can treat her well.  

While Grease is steeped in cultural norms of sex, race, and identity, it is also about believing in yourself, perseverance, and learning to be your own authentic person.  These themes live together in many of the same ways that our own identities do; they are sometimes confusing and conflicting. 

Just because we love something doesn’t mean it’s perfect!   

I think the most important thing is realizing where those imperfections come from and thinking about how our own biases work. Of course, finding a partner in your life is something that some people want to do, but it’s important to recognize that changing only for that person is not the way to go about it. I hope that, someday, Danny will dress again in that preppy outfit to show Sandy that both of their choices are valid for their lives. 

As for myself, I will enjoy musicals and think deeply about the problematic issues in them. I do this as a way to relate to the problematic nature even in myself, and as a way to relate even more to the world and people around me. 

I hope this answers your question! Thanks again for submitting and keep ‘em coming! 

-Melissa Anne Frank 


As always, we are open to answering your questions, and we welcome you to talk to us at our booth or send your questions about intersections of our lives to Remember, we will not identify you on our blog, so your question(s) will remain anonymous!

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