Liberal Rage

I’ve been reading Sloterdijk’s Rage and Time (very slowly) and he said two things that came together for me.

– Liberal parties are “banks of rage”

– Resentment arises when vengeful rage is prevented from expressing itself directly.

In fact, these two things feed into each other somewhat. When vengeful rage is prevented from being expressed, it stores up as resentment which can last a lot longer. You know, how sometimes it’s quicker just to shout your argument out than it is to act like everything’s ok when you’re eating away at your own insides? Creating a system where people cannot express their rage leads to a system where we create resentment, for a loooong time.

Anyway, this sort of ties into my whole discussion on my irritation about the concepts of “privilege.” I don’t believe, for a second, that discussions of privilege are in any way about empowering disempowered groups. I believe they are a socially acceptable avenues to vent anger in the form of resentment.

For instance, as McKenzie says in her piece about pushing back on privilege, it is not enough just to acknowledge your privilege.

I would ask, is it even helpful for someone to acknowledge their privilege?

What I find is that most of the time when people acknowledge their privilege, they feel really special about it, really important, really glad that something so significant just happened, and then they just go ahead and do whatever they wanted to do anyway, privilege firmly in place.

– Mia McKenzie

Do I detect a note of resentment? If not from her, I’ll own it for myself. I find it really annoying when people acknowledge their privilege to me also. However, unlike McKenzie I don’t think an even stricter set of rules is really going to help. Sure, it’s frustrating when straight men claim to be queer, but I’m not oppressed by the masses of “queer” straight men.

Here’s how you deal with straight men pretending to be queer. You yell at them. You say, “You don’t fucking get it. You don’t get what it’s like to hate yourself for who you love, you don’t know what it’s like having to come out to your family. You don’t GET IT, shut the fuck up!”

Or, if you’re feeling more diplomatic, you write in your blog “I make no commentary on if it’s right or wrong, but GOD DAMN it fucking PISSES ME OFF when straight guys say they’re queer.”

But, liberals generally don’t express anger directly. So, now we’re dealing with resentment, which lingers like a silent but deadly. That’s why this whole “privilege” discussion has been around for *ages* yet no ones lives have actually been improved. What people need is a place to vent their anger and have their feelings validated. It’s ok to be angry, it’s a good sign, in fact. In our society, the ability to express anger is generally associated with, uh… privilege. It’s no coincidence that white men openly express anger more than any other group (Columbine, anyone?) If you’re in touch with your ability to feel angry, it means you’re moving up in the world!

The fact that various minorities have to express their anger in the passive aggressive requests that will likely go unanswered is both a symptom, and a perpetuation, of the problem.  We don’t let black people, or women, or trans people, or whoever be angry. So, now we have cis white men doing some stupid song and dance every time they try to say something in public, and it’s funny, but it doesn’t help. What we need is space for these people to *get out* all the violence they have absorbed.

We don’t need white men acknowledging their privilege, we need a space for black men to say what it’s like being in a job interview with a racist. A space where it’s ok to curse, and be politically incorrect, and to tell white people to go to hell. A space where it’s ok to say this, and their comments will not haunt them for the rest of their lives. The fact that there was ever a controversy over Obama’s *pastor* (not him, but his *pastor*) making “racist” comments is absurd. Also, most of what he said was fairly reasonable.

[The United States] government lied about their belief that all men were created equal. The truth is they believed that all white men were created equal. The truth is they did not even believe that white women were created equal, in creation nor civilization. The government had to pass an amendment to the Constitution to get white women the vote. Then the government had to pass an equal rights amendment to get equal protection under the law for women. The government still thinks a woman has no rights over her own body, and between Uncle Clarence who sexually harassed Anita Hill, and a closeted Klan court, that is a throwback to the 19th century, handpicked by Daddy Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, between Clarence and that stacked court, they are about to undo Roe vs. Wade, just like they are about to un-do affirmative action. The government lied in its founding documents and the government is still lying today. Governments lie.

Uhhh, how was that wrong? I mean, I guess we can’t prove the “closeted Klan court” part, but given the disproportionate number of black men who go to prison I’m not going to press that one too hard.

The government lied about the Tuskegee experiment. They purposely infected African American men with syphilis. Governments lie. The government lied about bombing Cambodia and Richard Nixon stood in front of the camera, ‘Let me make myself perfectly clear…’ Governments lie. The government lied about the drugs for arms Contra scheme orchestrated by Oliver North, and then the government pardoned all the perpetrators so they could get better jobs in the government. Governments lie…. The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. Governments lie. The government lied about a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and a connection between 9.11.01 and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Governments lie.

Ok, he loses a few points for the HIV comment, but most of that is accurate. (During Tuskegee they actually allowed African American men who *had* syphilis to die when they had the means to treat them. Point still stands, U.S. government treated those men like shit.) Anyway, dude has a right to be pissed – he lived through the jim crow laws! He has probably, personally, absorbed decades of racism. Can you imagine what that’s like? Because I can’t.

But, there’s no place for that. He can’t even say these things to his own congregation without getting *someone sitting in the audience* in trouble. And, it’s *important* he said these things. The fact that Obama had a place to go where people could say “these things they’re doing to us aren’t right” probably helped him keep his head as a black man in the US. Black men who don’t have that space don’t end up being president – they go somewhere else.

Anyway, I’m fairly fed up with all this PC bullshit – mostly because I don’t think it’s helping. I think it’s used as a way that liberal people with “privilege” gain status over each other by seeing who can out-own-up to their privilege. I don’t think it helps minorities improve their situation.

I also think it’s used as a way for turning rage into resentment, which will cause us longer lasting problems down the line. I think we need to embrace the rightful anger of the “underprivileged”, and only once it’s fully embraced can we begin to transform it. Into what? Who knows – we’re not there yet.

All of the Privileges

I read this article on facebook the other day:

Her first line resonated with me, “it’s not enough to acknowledge your privilege” – but, after that, I sort of disagreed, or only partially agreed, with many of her points. When I expressed my disagreement on facebook, I was smacked the fuck down (by another white girl, I should add) and now I’m afraid comment on it because I’m white.

Then, I read this article:

Which was FAN TASTIC because I’m totally a woman, and I can totally tear the fuck into it without anyone being like “shut UP, you dumb man!”

So, backing up – the internet is full of these lists where people say basically, “I am this type of person, and I will now speak on the behalf of my group to inform the INTERNET of my personal pet peeves while claiming them as generally applicable to everyone else in this group.” So, let me mansplain this to you. One highly recognized form of prejudice is when you *ask* someone to speak on behalf of their minority group instead of asking them what they want an individual. It is dehumanizing, but, that works both ways. Women who put forth general rules on “how to treat women” are just as sexist as men asking “how do women want to be treated?” The problem is with the grouping of “women,” and setting rules as a group, instead of recognizing their individuality.

But, there’s something deeper than the mild hypocrisy. I’m struggling with it a bit.

Part of it is demanding empathy while refusing to give it. “Listen,” for instance, is something that comes up a lot on these lists – yet, often people who like these types of lists refuse to listen themselves. In the feminist article, many men responded with the ways they are hurting too.

Thanks but men right now are being treated like crap currently. The Majority of suicide rates are male, males on average have 5 years shorter lifespan than females, men are more likely to be convicted and receive a harsher sentence for a crime than if a female were to do the same crime. Men are less likely to get custody of their kids in a divorce even if the wife has been shown to create a bad atmosphere for the kids to grow up (This can also be vice versai) The majority of the homeless are men. The list goes on and on and these issues need to be addressed.

Jackson B.

Why, yes, I believe many of those statistics are correct. You raise some interesting questions – why *are* there more men in prison, and more male homeless? Why are there more male suicides? This doesn’t completely square with a simple view of an oppressive patriarchy, and clearly the situation is more nuanced. Maybe there are situations that tend to benefit women, and others that tend to benefit men?

Yet, we get comments like this:

Sad, but not surprising, that 99% of the men commenting here refuse to see how they’re violating nearly every point on this list. And you wonder why there are a lot of “man-haters” out there.

Jeanne C.

Why are they going to listen to you, Jeanne, when you’re not listening to them? We all want empathy, we all want to be heard, we all want love – you don’t get these things by demanding them. You get these things by giving them.

Articles and comments like this basically work through shame. We can shame a few already relatively politically correct men into becoming even more politically correct, and that is it. Yet, even those we shame into these behaviors will still not behave in ways that satisfy us because they will not *see* us.

The reason that first author’s line “it’s not enough to acknowledge your privilege” resonated with me is because so many men I know act feminist, pretend to be feminist, and try to out-feminist other men *to receive female applause*. They don’t really understand our situation, and all their “feminist” acknowledgements fall flat – they are going through all the motions, but never comprehending. And, these men never *will* understand what it is like to be female until women can start to understand what it’s like to be male. We’re two sides of the same coin, baby! You can’t understand only half of this one, it’s a package deal.

As for race – well, I feel uncomfortable speaking about race. Because I am white. Probably, some men felt uncomfortable responding to that article because they are male. And yet, I can’t help but wonder if something very similar is going on. For me to really start to understand what it is like to be a minority, I am going to need to engage with someone on what it is like to be white. By being silenced on this issue, I can mimic the behaviors lined out for me in articles like this, but I can’t begin to deeply understand how issues of race influence the people I love. I need to be allowed to expose my ignorance before I can work on it. For me to see my girlfriend deeply, I’m going to need to find a way to get past this – to ask dumb questions on what it’s like to be latina in America. This isn’t a hypothetical mind game, this is important. This is my life.

I also think it’s notable that it was a white woman who objected to my comments, not someone who had anything to gain by working with me to further my understanding of race. Not someone who was actually affected by my ignorance.

Even after all this discussion (or monologue?) I still think I’ve somehow missed the boat.

If you have the ability to articulate how you are unprivileged, if you have an audience who will listen to you, if you are not afraid for your well being when expressing your opinion, and if you have received the education necessary to express your thoughts clearly, you are most likely in camp “privilege” regardless of your color, gender, or sexual orientation.

Those who can express eloquently need to be the ones listening the hardest, because when they speak, they will need to speak for those who can’t.

Marriage and Last Names

I’m a little obsessed with the custom of women taking their husband’s last names. It’s something I come back to over and over again, even now I’m dating a woman who I wasn’t even *able* to marry at the start of our relationship, to whom the idea of either taking or giving a last name seems somewhat absurd. (Although, she did just agree to get in the kitchen and make me some pie…)

The thing that gets me about it, is that – at least in my circles – it’s usually the woman who wants to take the last name of her husband. I have a few feministy-type male friends whose wives took their last name. When I asked them about it, they usually said something like “yeah, it was a little weird, but whatever – if she wanted it…” I have a few less-feministy male friends who might prefer their wives take their last name, but probably wouldn’t put up a fight if they were engaged to a woman who didn’t want to.

Here’s an interesting thing, in the US, the number of women keeping their birth names is decreasing, from 23% in the 90s down to 8% now. However, in the UK, more women are keeping their birth names –  it’s up to about one third now. Truthfully, I always find it a little annoying when one of my female friends takes her husband’s last name, and part of that is I don’t think any of them has given me the honest reason for it. I think they’re embarrassed to tell me the real reason, because in many of these cases I know their husbands didn’t push it on them (in fact, one of them said “I’d sort of rather she just kept her own name.”)

The reasons I usually hear are usually incidental – “I never really liked my last name much,” or “It just seemed easier,” – something like that. The same type of excuse I’d use to not wash the dishes after dinner. You lie, woman! You’re not telling me the whole story.

I think this comment from HuffPo reader happywifenmom sums up what I suspect it is:

I proudly took my husband’s name and never looked back. What a privilege that he loves me so much that he would be willing to GIVE me his name! When an envelope comes in the mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. His Name, I don’t get offended like the woman in the article (Please! Seriously?!?!) but rather, I am reminded how blessed I am to be the one he chose to give his name to. I am not ashamed to be identified with my man. A lot of ladies have my first name, but NO ONE else gets to be Mrs. His Name. Just me!

All you name takers out there, I think you’re just like this woman! J/k – seriously though, it’s interesting that all the followup responses shamed this woman for her viewpoint. (The first response is “Do you live in Stepford?” which is pretty funny, but, is still full of pointy shamey fingers.)

I think a very obvious thing is happening here. I suspect women change their names because they *want* their identity to be tied in with their husband’s. The fact that the world will see Dianne Woodard as Mrs. Ayo Kalejaiye after her marriage isn’t a slightly irritating side effect to family unity, it’s the whole point. It provides a way to blast away the mistakes of the past, and start again in a new life. Perhaps it also provides some security, like a good luck charm against the specter of divorce. However, I think these desires to identify with another person are not “acceptable” in our current self-centered culture, so many women end up downplaying their decision to change their name.

Personally, I always knew I would never take someone else’s last name. When I was 6, I told my aunts “My husband is going to take my last name!” They all laughed at me. “Good luck finding a man who will do that!” Even my girlfriend said she didn’t like the idea of taking my last name! What’s a girl to do?

Truthfully, I’d probably be weirded out if my girlfriend wanted my last name. But, ever since I was a little girl, I knew that “wife” role wasn’t what I wanted. I’d always been studious and mathematically inclined, I was captain of my high-school wrestling team, I got a degree in computer science and make my living as a computer programmer since college (though, I’ll admit, I’ve asked my parents for money from time to time – usually, when I’m trying to start a company of some sort.) I have supported some people I’ve dated, and would be willing to be the financial base of any family I ever had. The idea of getting pregnant and staying home with my kids – well, it’s just not what I want. If it’s the thing for some other women, that’s fine.

But, what happens in some of my straight relationships is that there are all these assumptions brought in. Like, the guy assumes without asking “oh, if we had kids, they’d take my last name.” I remember getting into an argument with a boyfriend once, and I said “if I ever had a daughter, I would want her to have *my* last name.” He could still get the sons! It’s still a 50/50 split, but he got so frustrated with me he said “you are so power hungry about this name thing.”

Isn’t that interesting, that demanding an equal split is “power hungry?” But, it seemed that way to him, right? When most of his girlfriends were ok with the idea of naming all their kids after him, and probably even wanted his last name in marriage, I probably seemed very selfish by comparison. I always try to be “fair” in my relationships, but one thing about straight relationships is that most of the men I date are conditioned by the other women they date. So, when I feel like I’m asking for equality, I sometimes come across as a femi-nazi , denying them all these things they always assumed they’d have.

Conversely, when I started dating/interacting with gay people, something became so much easier. I remember making the declaration to my gay therapist “Everything that comes out of my vagina will have my last name!” “Ok,” he said. To him, a gay man, that seemed reasonable. I even repeated that to my girlfriend once, and she said something to the effect of “that makes sense.” To these gay people, carrying a baby for 9 months seemed a reasonable enough reason to give it your last name. By comparison, many of my straight male boyfriends seemed somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of naming *half* my kids after me, naming *all* of them after me was never even on the table.

This is just one example, but there were others. Often I’d drift toward doing the cooking, even though I hate it, or cleaning, even though I’m very messy. These things were never stated, they were tasks my boyfriends would just expect of me and wouldn’t do for themselves. In fact, when you considered that I was usually making at least what they were and paid half, or more, in the household expenses I just ended up completely taking care of people who would not reciprocate. Usually, they did not appreciate my financial contributions – they ended up feeling “emasculated” by them. What I was willing to give embarrassed them, and what I didn’t want to give was demanded of me.

With my girlfriend, however, things are easy. She does most of the cooking when we don’t order out. We’re both messy, but I’ve cleaned her laundry and organized some of her stuff on occasion, and we both pay for things. We just drifted toward the tasks we liked more (or, hated the least.) When I date men, I don’t drift toward the tasks I like or am better at – I drift toward the ones expected of me because I’m a woman.

And, the whole last name thing is just part of that. The good news though, is I don’t have to date any of those guys. I’ve come to realize that only women, and the most radically feminist men would be suitable life partners for me. And, that’s fine – I wish happiness to all those more traditional couples out there. I just wish they could be *honest* about it.

If you *like* the idea of merging your identity with your husband’s, that’s fine! If you want a woman to merge her identity with yours, that’s also fine! But, if that’s the case, someone like you and someone like me are not romantically compatible. If you downplay last name change to “not a big deal,” then it gets confusing – the real motives remain hidden, and it becomes much harder to figure out the type of partnership that will make you happy. It *is* a big deal, it’s just giving you something you want – something it’s totally ok to want. But, changing my last name is also not going to give me what I want, so what is a good choice for many women would not be a good choice for me.

If someone said to me on a first date, “I’m looking for a woman who will take on a more traditional role in the relationship” that would be great! It would save us both a lot of time. I know I’m not looking to be in that role. I’ve known it since I was 6. But, it’s ok they are looking for that – there are plenty of women out there who want to *be* that. We all just need to find people we fit well with, ideally without coercion and without guilt.