I Love This Photo

I have found few photographs as uplifting as this one:

Tribes Woman

 

(from here.)

There’s a lot of sadness in this photo, as if we are witnessing the first steps of a unique culture vanishing into abyss of modernity, but there’s hope too. As we witness *our* way of life being subjected to *her* gaze, it becomes apparent that there is more out there than the panopticon that is our own society.

I stumbled across this photo when I was torturing myself by using the internet to classify my body type. What I was really hoping, as I am always hoping whenever I do this, is that somehow my body will magically get categorized to be in the “hourglass” category. Unfortunately, it is nearly always categorized in the “box” category. And, even more unfortunately, if I could just lose a little off my waist, I could just barely classify as an “hourglass” shape. Well, logically, I know that if I lose an inch of my waist I will almost certainly lose an inch off my bust thus keeping me squarely a box. But, in my head, I always suspect that maybe, magically, my weight loss could defy my larger “body type” patterns and just remove itself directly from the offending area.

Then, I would be hot like Christina Hendricks and could resent everyone who was attracted to me for being a superficial ass. Victory!

Funnily enough, for years one of the things that kept me from this body type was skinny legs. I tended to put on slightly more weight in my upper body than lower body, which perpetually interfered with my plans for the optimal hip to waist ratio. The other day, I realized my legs had gotten a little bigger. I’m not sure if it’s from getting fatter or buffer (I prefer to imagine buffer,) but I freaked out. Despite a decade of telling myself that I wanted to put more weight on in my lower body, when it actually *happened* I started googling “thigh gaps” and lamenting the loss of my teenage skinniness.

Anyway, while I was subjecting myself  to all this judgement, I found this photo and realized that I am totally crazy. I have found myself caught in a narrow, temporal definition of beauty and I focus on it – performing behaviors that increase it’s hold on me rather than behaviors that support my own mental freedom. My mental habits reinforce my own dissatisfaction, and then consequently, fuel my drive towards cosmetics, certain exercise, etc. Sure, there’s beauty culture, and marketing, and whatever. I’d even go so far as to say, I don’t think it’s my *fault* I do this – I’ve just absorbed the values of the culture around me. However, it is still my *responsibility* to fix it, in the sense that no one else will fix it for me. And, this doesn’t just apply to appearance. My whole value system, all the ways I reduce myself to achieve my cultivated definition of success, are my responsibility as well.

And, this woman provides hope. Not because she’s better – for all I know, she devoted her entire life to acquiring a head-necklace of shells which chains her to an identity that doesn’t fit – but that’s not the point. The hope in this picture, is that this woman is totally different from me in all the ways I think are important, but probably exactly like me in all the ways that are actually important. We look at her, she looks at us, and we all see *another option.*

Not everyone thinks skinny girls are beautiful, not everyone thinks white face markings are beautiful, and one day both these definitions of beauty will be forgotten anyway. For me, that’s where the hope really lies. One day, all the systems that trap you, that trap me, that trap her will disappear. These traps are only in our heads, and are no stronger than our own minds. What will arise once they have fallen?

Not Religion

I just came back from a week at Tassajara, a Zen Buddhist monastery, and when I was there I casually referred to Zen Buddhism as a “religion” a few times – to which, other people often responded “oh, I never really considered Zen a religion.”  Wikipedia refers to Buddhism as a “religion” within the first five words of the article, which at least points to the fact that most non-Buddhists probably consider Buddhism to be a religion. However, I suspect many Buddhists do not. I also suspect many Buddhists do not consider themselves Buddhists, which makes them a lot like bisexuals.

According to the Dharma talk I went to (given by Greg Fain,) if I’m remembering correctly, “Buddhism” is really a Western translation of something that reads more like “the Buddha way” in Chinese or Japanese. The “ism” is a Western concept, perhaps an indicator of the framework we’re using when we talk about belief systems. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t consider myself a Buddhist – I just go to the Zen center and meditate one two times a week.

How would a similar statement read, “I don’t consider myself a Christian, I just go to Church and pray two or three times a week?” Would you consider that person Christian? Do most of the people who go to Church on Sundays think of themselves as Christian? I think so. Do most Christians consider Christianity a religion? Again, I suspect that they do.

One of the big differences between Christianity and Buddhism is that Christianity seems to be defined by what you believe. If you don’t go to Church, but believe that Jesus Christ is your savior, then you still count as Christian. The Western Zen centers I’ve been to have tended to say something more like “why not just start meditating, and see what happens?” There has never been a request to believe any of their metaphysical ideology, or even a solid description of what that metaphysical ideology may be.

While we’re on the topic of fruitlessly categorizing religions, where would “science” fall? Some people call science a religion, but like Buddhists, I suspect many scientists do not consider science a religion. And, perhaps unlike most Buddhists, I think most scientists would be offended by the idea that science is a religion. And, although I’m all for offending scientists, I personally don’t believe science as correctly understood is really a religion, but science as implemented in our society is practically a religion.

If we change “believing in a metaphysical ideology” to be “believing in things a higher authority tells you to without calling on your personal experience” then science is a religion. Practically, for most people. Sure, some of my friends at MIT replicated some of the classical physics experiments – and I, myself, have personally seen the double slit experiment thus providing personal evidence for the wave/particle duality of light. Yet, most of the scientific things I believe, I believe without personally examining the evidence. I believe it because someone I consider reliable told me it was true.

And, in a way, that’s the way it has to be. Unless you have a big mirror, and can bogard two mountains to measure the speed of light for yourself, you’re going to have to take someone’s word for it.

However, the danger comes in dropping science into a culture that’s basically primed for Christianity. Christianity is still the most prominent religion in the west, and it definitely was – say – 200 years ago, and Christianity as implemented was essentially a perpetual appeal to higher power. I mean, maybe not *real* Christianity (I have no idea what the experience of Christianity is like for Christian nuns) but practical Christianity as exists in the world. People use it to prove themselves right, by appealing to a higher authority (God, if you get all the way to the top) the same way many people use science now. Not *real* scientists, of course, not the people who actually ran the experiments and are likely aware of the fallibility, and limitations in what they have discovered.

Consider, for example, the entire vaccine/anti-vaccine debate that’s happening as more parents choose not to vaccinate their kids. I don’t really care which side people come down on this debate because we’re all going to die anyway*, but the fascinating thing is that both sides are intent on *clothing* their arguments in the *appearance* of science, or appealing to scientific authority.

Check out this article on Jenny McCarthy on hollywoodlife. Actually, you probably shouldn’t, but checkout a few choice quotes:

despite all the medical research and recommendations by the World Health Organization

Even though she doesn’t have a medical degree or any medical training

Jenny clearly feels that she and other parents know better than doctors

There is an appeal to scientific/medical authority with no real attempt was made to actually disseminate information about vaccines. Conversely, on the other side of the argument “Studies Prove Without a Doubt That Unvaccinated Children are Healthier.” (Pro-tip, basically nothing can be proven “beyond doubt.”) This article digs up quotes from some scientific study done in the 90s to prove its points.

Thing is, scientific papers are sort of like the Bible – you can really dig up a section that supports your point of view on anything if you want. Yet, most people seem deeply disconnected from anything approaching actual science, which is, essentially, being open minded. Having an opinion, then hand selecting evidence to support it is not “science” even if it looks like it. You have to start with a hypothesis, do a fair test, and then check if your results supported your hypothesis. To be fair, it’s actually really hard to do science. Most scientists don’t even do it right. And, that’s ok – but, there is no authority. No one *knows* – there is no safe path, no way to do it “right.”

You are always open to being wrong, and no *one*, no *ideology* can save you from that. And, as long as that’s where our energy is focused, we’re always going to be wasting time to some degree.

That doesn’t mean science is useless – I am using a machine to type this right post now that owes its entire, complex creation to science. I’m just trying to point out that, as a culture, we tend use science and religion similarly, to either justify beliefs we already have, or to get someone else to tell us what to think.

In Greg’s Dharma talk, he said one of the things that a lot of people new to meditation want to know is what to think. What should I be doing with my brain, when I meditate? I think that’s a big part of our current Western cultural heritage – even though we have, to some degree, in some parts of society, dropped our “Christianity,” the type of structures it lends itself to still permeate throughout, and those structures permeate deep into our minds. When I go meditate, even though I have been an atheist or agnostic most of my life, and even though both my parents are atheist/agnostic, I cannot escape the deep structures of Christianity. Even to call it Christianity is itself likely wrong – Christianity is probably an expression of a pre-existing cultural tendency that is without name.

Don’t believe me? Check out this Last Psychiatrist article, he’s really smart, AND a psychiatrist, so maybe you can believe him instead.

😛

*fwiw, if I had kids, I’d vaccinate them, and ideally send them to a school that mandated vaccines – but, I respect the right of people not to vaccinate. On isolated hippy communes. Far away from me.

Not Allowed in Gay Spaces

I was a member of a lesbian science fiction meet-up group, before they explicitly dis-allowed bisexual girls. I mean, I know I’m not a lesbian – but, both me and my girlfriend liked science fiction so I figured whatever, I’ll just join and we can go together. It’s not like we’re really going to be fitting in super well in science fiction clubs dominated by straight men.

But alas, a recent update to her description of the group:

the organizer is purposely and intentionally creating a lesbian space.  this is not a meet up for bisexual women.  if you identify as “queer” as a modernized way of saying “lesbian,” this group is for you.  it is my hope that women who identify as lesbian will join the group.  it is also my hope that those who are not lesbian will recognize this, be aware of and sensitive to the intent of this group, and not join the group.  in these hopes, my hope is also that i do not have to become the “lesbian” police.  i am looking to build a sci fi lesbian community.   thank you.

SF/Bay Area Lesbian Science Fiction Fans

So, this brings up a difficult point of being a bisexual woman in a gay relationship. When I’m out with my girlfriend, people see me as gay. For instance, when we went on our anniversary trip, and we checked in to our hotel room together, I felt a little weird. I told my girlfriend that sometimes I worry how people who aren’t from a big city are going to react to us. She told me she worried about the same thing (it’s worth noting, they were very nice to us at the hotel.) Sometimes men holler at us together, “make my night, let me watch you two” – stuff like that. Sometimes, I think people don’t give my relationship with my girlfriend as much respect as they’d give a straight relationship – say, by suggesting male partners when I have a girlfriend, or by not giving us as much space/privacy as they’d give a straight couple.

All of this boils down to, as a bisexual woman in a gay relationship, many of the things that are difficult about being a lesbian are difficult for me to0. Except, I don’t have a safe space to be with my girlfriend in. I do feel more comfortable being with my girlfriend in places where there are other gay couples. Yet, if I tell the lesbians around me that I am bisexual, many of them will not want me there. Even if it’s not stated, and even if the lesbians I’m with really would not care, I always feel like I’m “passing” – or, have stepped into a lavender closet, so to speak. On the other hand, straight people tend to really not care about my bisexuality, but being with my girlfriend in heavily straight spaces sometimes is awkward for me. Especially when men don’t read us as a couple, and hit on one of us (that really pisses my girlfriend off.)

So, where do we go? Probably the places I feel most comfortable, actually, are gay male places – like, walking around the Castro. They tend to read me as “gay”, but probably wouldn’t be upset to find out that I wasn’t. They also wouldn’t judge me for having sucked a little dick (lesbians are SUPER uptight about sucking dick.)

Anyway, in a way, I’m glad this organizer made her intentions explicit because it’s a lot easier to pin down. It’s hard to pin down the subtle ways I feel unsafe in gay spaces, the looks, the intonation, etc. But, I’m sad. I would have liked to go to a queer science fiction thing. Also, I have this larger fear I have that there is no space for me. The problem with being bisexual, is that you don’t date only other bisexuals. You date gay people, and you date straight people – and sometimes bisexuals/pansexuals/queer too. I think this actually the main reason it’s hard to create a bisexual community, is the diversity of sexual partners. So, when I’m excluded from lesbian places – from places where my girlfriend is welcome, from places that are safe spaces *for her* – it creates a divide between us. There aren’t really bisexual spaces, and there aren’t a ton of spaces for us to be safe together.

I’m not really sure what’s to be done. I messaged the organizer and tried to explain some of this to her, but I doubt it will really make a difference. I wrote about it in my blog (and, apparently  you read it – thanks!) but, I’m also not going to demand inclusion, and I’m not going to lie about my sexuality. That’s just not my style.

Nazis and Meditation

If you were beamed back into the body of a young, Aryan man in 1930s Germany, and you could send yourself one message, what would that message be? Also, for fun, it’s not allowed to be place/time specific. It has to be a message that you could apply anywhere, any time.

Because, for whatever it’s worth, I think  you *should* apply this message to yourself – right here, right now. You think it was obvious to the Germans in 1930 they were starting down a path more fucked up than incest? Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’re not going to be on the oppressed side of the next holocaust. Well, maybe – can we ever really separate the oppressed from the oppressor? I suppose a bunch of dead Jews would say “yes,” but I still think it’s complicated.

Anyway, what was your message?

I struggled with this question for a while. Sure, there’s “don’t kill anyone,” but is murder really the only way we can oppress people? (Also, how does this square with my tax dollars funding drones? I may actually be fucking this one up, but I’m not even sure what steps I could take to stop paying taxes. Go to prison, maybe? Sorry Afghani babies, I’d rather you die than go to prison. Now we’ve established that, we can probably establish that if I were in the SS and knew I’d get shot for not killing Jews, I’d probably kill some Jews. But wait, back to Afghanistan, even if I *didn’t* pay my taxes, the government would still fund a similar number of drones – my money deficit would just come out of the education budget. I’m safe! Except, if I was in the SS and didn’t shoot the Jew in front of me, Hans would probably step in and do it for me. So, would I lose my life just so *I* wouldn’t be the one to kill that jewish child? She’s still going to die – why waste my life on a meaningless gesture? Oh my god, it’s so hard not to kill anyone.)

Anyway, I digress. I abandoned the “don’t kill anyone” option as too easy, despite the fact that I have not actually been able to achieve it, and tried to get a more generally applicable answer. To that end, I read Rudolph Höss’ autobiography trying to figure out what he did wrong, more generally than killing one million people.

The main answer I came away with was he ignored his inner feelings. Apparently, people asked him if he ever felt any remorse watching all those families walk into the gas chambers. He said of course he did, but he had to do his duty. He had to be hard, to steal himself against emotional weakness.

In fact, it was reading that book that convinced me that emotional expression was *not* a weakness. Since then any versions of the phrase “suck it up” have become abhorrent to me – borderline immoral. To ignore your inner sense, to do things you don’t like doing because other people think it’s a good idea, is usually a horrible idea.

Unfortunately, I’m also a programmer. I often don’t even *know* what my inner sense is telling, let alone have the strength to follow something as insubstantial as my feelings when pitted against societal institutions. Meditation has helped me somewhat – when my insides go quiet, I can more easily see what is underneath. But, it’s hard.

Doing the right thing is scary, often insane seeming. Even when I’m just disagreeing with someone, I often feel like a lunatic. For instance, all the liberal/conservative back and forth never addresses what I see as the underlying problem: one side never allows the other side enough dignity to change their opinion while saving face, so we can never achieve a reasonable answer. All opinions get more and more entrenched with continued arguing. Consequently, every single “YOU ARE SO WRONG” article someone posts on Facebook nearly always acts *against* its cause. But, I don’t even know how to *say* this without causing whoever I am talking to to double down into their established beliefs. So I usually say nothing, but I keep wondering – am I crazy? Are they? Why would *everyone* do this if it didn’t work? Do people care more about being right than actually convincing others of their point of view?

But, you know, the Holocaust. It happened.

Everyone is crazy. How can you not be? Only you know the answer to that.

Privilege and Dating White Women

Privilege has become something of an obsession of mine for the past few weeks, because there’s something so wrong about it, but something right too.

One of my old friends is a trans woman, called the “privilege master” by one of my cis white male friends. This is because, over the course of her life, people have looked at her and seen everything from a half-white “cis” “straight” “man”, to a lesbian Latina trans woman. Her opinion has varied over the years, from something that was effectively “Shut the fuck up, white boy!” to an acknowledgement that accusations of privilege could be used as a type of mental laziness, an unwillingness to fully consider the point of view of someone unlike you.

However, she has always maintained she could only date a white woman who was fully willing to acknowledge her privilege. But, one night, as we were re-having this discussion, I retorted “If you’re a person of color who only dates white people, you’re not allowed to bitch at me about my privilege,” to which she responded “maybe” – and, acknowledged that some people of color do choose to date mainly white people.

So, on the one hand, my statement was wrong – but, there was a kernel of truth locked in there. There has always been an uncomfortable question for me – what do I do when I’m dating someone who admits their preference for dating white girls? MANY of the people I’ve dated have explicitly told me this, with varying degrees of crudeness. If it’s a white dude telling me this, I tend to assume they’re a little bit of a bigot, but (honestly) I’ll date slightly bigoted people. When it’s a not-white person though I don’t know what to think.

The stated reasons are usually varied, but often boil down to “I don’t think people of my own race will like me.” For instance, I once dated a 5’2″ Asian man who claimed “Asian women want to date tall men.” Maybe that was true, and maybe that was only true in his head, but I had a fair amount of sympathy for his reason. Even if it wasn’t quite right, I could also see a similar reason “It’s less painful to try to date white women, who may reject me for being Asian, than it is to try to date Asian women, who may reject me for being short,” being his motivation. Regardless, to him, there was nothing *wrong* with Asian women except their taste.

Still, not every person of color with a preference for white women has quite so solid an alibi, and it gnaws at me.

So, to make an obvious point – I have no idea how many people of color have a preference for dating white women, but a disproportionately large percentage of the people *I* date have a preference for white women because I am a white woman. People who like black men don’t come within 100 feet of me, unless it’s to ask for a sip of my mojito or something. Anyway, I can’t place this in a larger cultural context very easily – but, I know these types of discussions have come up before.

Like in Why Don’t You Date White Girls? and Butch and Femme Through a White Lens (I’ve been reading a lot of Black Girl Dangerous lately.)

There are a few choice quotes here:

Over the course of the last few years, I have learned a lot about the institutionalized desirability of white women and the misrepresentation of black women as unsuitable romantic partners.

It was only as my stepfather explained how I qualified as a suitor to white women that it became clear that he was speaking to me as he would another black man. Indeed, I thought, this must be how many black men speak to their sons. Fathers, brothers, and male community members often espouse the idea that a white woman is a black man’s trophy for excellence. 

“White women are docile and loyal and they’ll take care of you…” he went on.

– Erika N. Turner, Why Don’t You Date White Girls?

Also:

Being feminine, aside from how triggering it is to feel forced to perform femininity as a MOC person, was hard – really hard – because femininity is viewed as intrinsic to valid womanhood; it is white and a reflection of female inferiority. I wasn’t a slim, straight, able bodied white girl and that overwhelming sense of inferiority is something I remember and resent when faced with anti-femme sentiment from white, MOC queers.

More poignantly, I watch Black butches and bois size up how white they can romantically and sexually aim for, how out of their league of Blackness they can strive. Because, like Frantz Fanon’s Black cishets, Black queers also want to feel worthy of white love.

– Arianne Diaz-Cebreiro, Butch and Femme Through a White Lens

So, as a supposed “trophy,” this is where I start to feel stifled on the discussion of privilege. On the one hand, I can’t deny I have regularly benefitted from being read as white, and having a white name, etc. On the other hand, these attitudes aren’t just coming from white people, and these attitudes don’t always help me.

I’ll acknowledge my privilege, but I also need space to discuss my experience of being a white woman – my experience of being objectified by *everyone*. Many people are interested in dating me, not because they care about who I am, but they are interested in what dating me says *about them*. Euro-centric beauty standards may have devastating effects on black people – adults and children. I don’t deny that, and, I don’t want to compare my experience in any way or say it’s “worse.” But, euro-centric beauty standards are bad for me too. Once, one of my romantic partners told me “you’re not the type of girl I usually go for,” (when referring to my physical appearance) and I took it as a compliment. I thought to myself, “wow, if he doesn’t like me for how I look, he must like something else about me.” That’s not an experience I usually get.

Most people who date me don’t really love me. They often aren’t even attracted to me physically. They’re just using my body the same way they’d use a fancy car, or a well tailored suit.

In fact, the experience of being a trophy is so painful I have reconciled myself to a life of being single if it comes to it. I’d rather be alone, but be seen as a person – the way my friends see me as a person – than I would live with someone who is using me as only an addition to their own identity.

Often, when we use the word “privilege” we use it to silence someone. Sometimes rightly so – if you are white, you should probably not talk about the experiences of people of color. What you *should* talk about, and what there’s not a lot of discussion on out there, is the experience of *being white*. The fact that we see the white experience as default, as so obvious it’s something not even worth discussing, is a sign of racial oppression. The white experience is *not* the default experience of living in our culture, and to talk about what it’s like to be *white* is less racist than not talking about it. Because, when we don’t talk about it, we assume everyone already knows it. However, everyone does not know it because not everyone is white.

To fully see race, we’re going to have to see all sides of it. The oppression of black women is intimately connected to the objectification of white women. The experiences of Latino immigrants must be contrasted with the experiences of European immigrants and Asian immigrants to fully see what racism is there. The problem isn’t that white people talk about being white, it’s that they don’t identify how crucial their whiteness is to their experience of everyday life.

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:

http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2014/02/4-ways-push-back-privilege/

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:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aaminah-khan/10-ways-to-be-a-better-male-feminist_b_4227969.html

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.

Free Acts of Kindness

There was this vet who wrote a blog post about fixing up a homeless women’s sick dog but then TOTALLY RUINED my emotional voyerism with excessive displays of modesty.

http://dogtorbill.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/she-wasnt-being-rude/

“I don’t take any credit. And I honestly do not write this story to look like some kind of a hero.”

“It’s easy to puff your chest out when you do something difficult. But this wasn’t difficult.”

“Please don’t leave any comments. Like it if you want, and share it.”

Woah – that’s mighty defensive for a kind deed. What was he so worried about? That all of us selfish, self centered people would feel shamed by our indulgent lifestyles to which he wanted to reassure us “Don’t worry! USUALLY I’m just as selfish as you, this was really a small thing – I’ll go back to eating my slave chocolate later tonight.” (Eating slave chocolate is one of my own vices.)

Thing is, we’re all hardened, selfish little creatures at our core – or maybe it’s just me. Anyway, people who are really able to hold others in the same esteem with which they hold themselves are rare, but we’re going to need more people like that to fix the ways that the world is broken. So, what do those of us do who aren’t there yet?

In about ten minutes, I’m going to go walk out in the street and implicitly tell about ten homeless people that their starvation is less important than my coffee. And, what I will feel most for them is contempt, some level of guilt for my own selfishness. Why do they have to be homeless right outside where I live? Why can’t just one morning go by when I can go get my coffee in peace?

On some level, I think my mistake is not that I am selfish, but that I am able to view their wellbeing as separate from my own. Still, despite my logical perception of the problem, I can’t un-belive my separateness. Not yet, anyhow.

Is it right to give a homeless person a dollar? Jury’s still out, but I know I tend to feel better when I give them one. The reasons I tend not to are often social. I will never give money out if I’m with another person because I’m usually worried they will see me as weak (unless it’s one of my very close friends.)

We have a culture which causes us to be less charitable, which causes people like the vet to feel defensive when they open up about the kind things they do. But, what if it was just ok to brag? What if we allowed that?

Then, the exchange would be different. It would be more like,

“I want to give, but I still struggle with wanting to impress people. By listening to me brag about my charity, you help me be more charitable, so thank you.”

Why YOU HAVE to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Or to protest it – same thing. Unless, of course, you have genuinely forgotten about it. But, if February 14th comes about, and you have at least one thought “oh, today is Valentine’s day” it’s too late. Now, you have to celebrate it.

Maybe it’s something small, like you look at yourself in the mirror and say “Today is a today to appreciate love, and I appreciate how much I love myself!” Maybe it’s something big, like paint bombing a Hallmark store. The one thing you cannot do is ignore it.

BUT WAIT! Maybe it wasn’t your fault, maybe your sappy coworker gave you one of those little boxes full of those chalky hearts, and blasted Valentine cheer into your brain completely against your will. It doesn’t matter, the damage has been done! You have to respond to it. You are not separate from your surroundings, if the world celebrates Valentine’s day, you do too. It’s like wearing clothes – you cannot be neutral on the topic, because *everyone* is wearing clothes. Either you wear clothes and implicitly support the status quo, or you don’t wear them and make a statement (a commonly executed option in San Francisco.) You can’t say, “Yeah, I’m fairly neutral on the topic of clothes-wearing, so this morning I figured why bother?” The repercussions you will face when you go out in society will demand you take a side.

Similarly, you can “ignore” Valentine’s day, but you will keep getting reminders of it. It will keep needling itself into your brain. And, why do some people choose not to celebrate it anyway? People who choose not to wear clothes generally *don’t like* clothes. Similarly, people who don’t celebrate Valentine’s day tend to *not like* Valentine’s day. Which is fine, but OWN it. Give your coworkers cards with little black hearts on them, with the note “love is dead” on the inside.

Otherwise, you risk being like me on my birthday. I was like, “Yeah, I don’t really care about birthdays. Age is just a number, etc.” and planned to do nothing. But, when the day came around and I felt alone and unloved, and called up my good friend and was like “OH MY GOD CELEBRATE MY BIRTHDAY WITH ME” and she was all “It’s cool, come over and I’ll bake you a cake.”

Anyway, in the sake of full disclosure, this whole post came up because my girlfriend told me she usually “did nothing” for Valentine’s day. I was like, “You have watched every lesbian romantic comedy in the world at least 10 times, and probably 80% of all straight ones. How do you not celebrate Valentine’s day?”

She said she didn’t like feeling obligated to get gifts. I told her sorry, but she was obligated to get me flowers, but they could be cheap cuz I know she’s on a budget. (Hey, I hate to be shallow, but I’m not going to lie. If she’s shows up empty handed tonight, I’m probably going to be pissed.) Alternatively, she could have told me she wanted to protest it and we needed to think of a list of the 10 least romantic things we could do and I would have gone with it, unless it involved coprophagia. That would have been fine. But, a night of sitting around pretending like we both didn’t know it was Valentine’s day? NOT going to happen.

I suspect many people who “ignore” Valentine’s day are afraid they’re not loved. If they don’t get their hopes up for Valentine’s day, they won’t be disappointed – except, inevitably they will. If they really didn’t care, they wouldn’t need to make the conscious decision not to care.