I’d like to…

September 8, 2009

Part two in an ongoing series…

be able to wander into a movie with a bunch of new acquaintances knowing that there was absolutely no chance that I’d be surprised by a super hilarious rape scene in the dvd extras, and that if such a scene did appear, there would be no way anyone would actually laugh.

I’d like to…

September 6, 2009

Part one in an ongoing series…

There are a lot of things I would like to do but can’t because of kyriarchy.

I would like to take a walk alone right now.

To the extent that opposition to kyriarchy is a deeply felt, non-theoretical, fully incorporated aspect of our being, we will be unable to enjoy the elements of a work of art that rely on kyriarchy. Not because we think the art is “wrong” in an abstract moral or political sense. Not because we think we “shouldn’t” like it.

Because that art will make us feel pain.

Before the Iraq War started, I was at a protest, and a man on the street started yelling at us, totally enraged. I walked up to him and asked, “Why are you so angry?” He was a little shocked that I would approach him calmly instead of yelling back, but he answered that he had been in New York when 9/11 went down. I told him that I was in the city on 9/11 too, and he was even more taken aback. He paused for a second, and then, gently now, told me that I was naive. I was too young to understand. I needed to be “realistic.” There would always be war.

It’s an argument I’ve heard all my life, from all kinds of people, whenever I express disagreement with the status quo. It seems that according to many people, making no effort to reduce the suffering in the world is what constitutes “realism.”

And it’s such a load of bullshit.

The claim that people trying to change something are lacking a sense of “realism” is nothing more than an attempt to shut them down without substantively engaging their arguments, or the changes they are suggesting.

The world changes. People change it. Slavery isn’t legal anymore. There is such a thing as a weekend. I can own property and vote. People fought and bled and died for these things, and it is spitting on the graves of our ancestors and spitting in the faces of our elders to claim that nothing ever changes.

Just as saying that human nature is all evil and dark gives people a handy excuse to act like assholes, saying that change is impossible lets people who are actually being lazy and uncaring pretend that their motivation for apathy is a noble understanding of the “real” truth.

No. If you are not doing something to make the world better, it is not because you’re smarter and more perceptive than all of us poor deluded souls trying to make a difference. It’s because you have chosen not to, despite the fact that things do change. You are responsible for your choice. Do not disown it.

I’ve heard many a hipster tell me that they don’t get involved in anything other than self-indulgent performance art (or building robots, or kickball, or whatever) because signing a petition isn’t going to solve the problem with the environment anyway. And it’s not like anything they do is going to end racism in our lifetimes, anyway. And voting doesn’t matter, anyway.

In other words, if they can’t find one activity that will instantly and completely rid the world of every single bad thing ever, it makes much more sense to spend all of their time on self-involved bullshit.

This lovely little bit of illogic is what writer Paul Loeb has dubbed the “perfect standard,” a common cause of paralysis for people who would otherwise try to improve things in some way. The perfect standard dictates that unless social action is determined to be both lacking in any flaws and perfectly effective in solving the world’s problems, it isn’t worth doing.

So, for example, ANY ATTEMPT TO CHANGE ANYTHING, EVER, is a total waste of time.

The perfect standard’s apathy has a counterpart in an unwillingness to limit activities that harm others, for example by recycling or boycotting businesses known to be socially irresponsible. People will argue that they shouldn’t bother with those things, since harming others is inevitable. I call this the “we might as well eat some babies” approach to life. In other words, if we can’t live without doing ANY harm, we should cause MAXIMUM harm.

Christ on a cracker. Think about the implications of that approach to ethics for two seconds. It makes no more sense than eating delicious babies.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have fun. Have fun! Fun is good! And I do understand that trying to make our little corner of the world better can be exhausting and heartbreaking, and it’s scary to take the risk and believe that you have the power to change things. Because then if you try and you fail… Well, that sucks. But thinking that you have to succeed totally and immediately is just the perfect standard doing its work. The kind of changes progressive people believe in are not going to happen all at once, and they often require a lot of “failed” attempts, which teach the next wave of activists what not to do. You do your best. You let it go. Sometimes the victory is won years after your death. You may never see the results of what you do. But someone, someday is going to be very grateful that you did that work.

And that’s just realistic.

Blog Review: Shakesville

August 30, 2009

Shakesville is the biggest of the feminist blogs. It’s kind of the Daily Kos of the feminist blogosphere (If the Daily Kos weren’t full of sanctimonious dudebros who can’t grasp the concept of identity-based oppression).

Shakesville, which started out as the individual blog of Melissa McEwan but has expanded to include a whole posse of writers, has somehow managed to avoid any major feminist deathmatches in its five years of existence. Sure, there are disagreements and whatnot, but no explosions that leave feminist intestines strewn about the blogosphere. If you know anything about feminists and/or bloggers, you know that this is one hell of an achievement.

Part of the reason for Shakesville’s success in this department is a heavy comment moderation hand and a clear and consistently articulated commitment to not having any oppressive bullshit in that space. I like being able to visit the space trusting that if someone says something hurtful, it’ll be taken seriously and dealt with. And over time, a lot of people have found a community at Shakesville because of that same trust.

The Shakesville crew also shows a general lack of interest in tearing down those who disagree with them. To be sure, if someone goes into that space throwing around slurs or oppressive tropes, they’ll get their ass handed to them. But debate between people with a shared commitment to ending oppression is just fine. Case in point: even though Melissa supported Clinton during the 2008 primaries, unlike some others on both sides, she maintained respect for those who disagreed with her. She never said that Obama supporters were brainwashed robots, or started in with the Oppression Olympics. As an Obama supporter, I still felt comfortable checking out Shakesville. There is room for respectful disagreement there.

As for content, Shakesville is basically an all-purpose progressive website that includes feminism in its vision of progressivism (unlike sites like Kos, HuffPo, TPM, etc., where so-called “women’s issues” are relegated to the occasional brief mention). General news and politics are discussed, along with commentary on various expressions of misogyny, racism, heterosexism, ableism, and fat hate. Shakesville also facilitates a community of commenters with regular open threads (in fact, the community has developed to the point where it has a culture all its own), and bubble gum intertubes entertainment like random pictures of cute cats grace the page daily.

Shakesville has an excellent set of 101 posts, which answer common annoying anti-feminist memes. I regularly direct people to it, and it saves me hours of tedium.

Since Shakesville is updated quite regularly, it’s my go-to website for procrastination and relief from work-related boredom. Overall, I highly recommend checking it out!

A few Shakesville classics:
Feminism 101: “Feminists Look for Stuff to Get Mad About”
Feminism 101: “Sexism is a Matter of Opinion”
The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck

Feminism and Loneliness

August 26, 2009

I recently went through a fairly shitty breakup–a breakup that largely happened because I am a feminist and my boyfriend was not. He said he was down with the theories behind feminism, sure. But when he was actually asked to live it? Well, let’s just say he was not down with that.

The whole thing was incredibly heartbreaking for me, because I really dug the guy. But I don’t have it in me to be a doormat, and he didn’t have it in him to stop treating me like one, so I left.

It’s a painful reality that feminists don’t often talk about, because it plays into stereotypes of feminism ruining relationships (the opposite has actually been well-documented). But being a feminist can be very, very lonely.

It’s lonely because most people do not identify as feminist, and we see the world in an entirely different way than most other people do. It’s also lonely because it sometimes literally means that we have to be alone–forgoing certain friendships and relationships. In my case, the choice was between the aching lonely of being with someone who refused to understand me because understanding me would have meant confronting his privilege, and the honest loneliness of ending things. I’d rather be honest.

There are undeniable benefits associated with living up to the expectations laid out for us as women. If we are pretty and docile and nurturing and play the role we’ve been given, it just gets easier to make it through a million different situations.  If we’re straight, many men will want to build romantic relationships with us, and nearly every social situation gets easier. If we won’t do all that, there’s a much smaller pool of friends and partners out there (On the other hand, the people who like you docile are usually kind of terrible to be around, so pick your poison: bad company or no company?)

Things always get better, and I’m lucky enough to have a really strong community of feminist friends.  But sometimes being honest about how hard it is to take the road less traveled is important.

 

No Pubic Option

August 23, 2009

puboptionnc

Via: [A] Funny Feminist

Brownfemipower, the force behind Flip Flopping Joy, is, quite simply, totally fuckin’ rad.

Jess, another blogger who sometimes posts there, is also totally fuckin’ rad.

Together, they have created a blog that is… totally fuckin’ rad.

Of all of the many bloggers I can think of, brownfemipower and Jess probably have the most thorough and integrated understanding of intersectionality that I’ve seen. Much better than mine! They write with an understanding not only of the complex connections between oppressions and the ways that those with different identities experience oppressions differently, but with the ways our day-to-day lives are deeply influenced by systemic oppression, and the revolutionary nature of things like healing, community building, and art.

They’re also both real live activists who do real live stuff that helps real live people. I always trust the liberation theory developed by such people about 250% more than I do the stuff done by academics or armchair activists.

Flip Flopping Joy is a daily read for me, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you, too.

A few of my favorite FFJ posts:
Messy but Necessary
I Am Learning To Respect
“Radical Love”: What Is That?

Blog Review: The Curvature

August 22, 2009

I am consistently impressed by the writing of Cara at The Curvature (Cara also writes for Feministe—one of the “big blogs” of feminism). Her writing is clear, her arguments are strong, and she frequently catches important news stories that go ignored by commentators in the mainstream media.

The Curvature usually focuses on current events and feminist news, with an occasional indulgence of Cara’s obsession with The Beatles. Cara is a particularly strong advocate on issues of sexual violence, and her posts on the topic are usually excellent.

Recently, Cara and some other feminist bloggers were called out on work that marginalized transgendered people. In my opinion, Cara responded well. She addressed the problem without defensiveness, and I believe that her actions on the follow up have shown a real commitment to challenge her own privilege as a cis woman. Of course, everyone will need to decide for themselves how they feel about all this. For my part, I believe that she is making an honest and demonstrable effort to do better.

Some good posts from The Curvature:
What Does It Take?
Cis Supremacy: Feminism and Women’s Shelters
A Quick Note on Misogynistic Beauty Standards

Hysteria

August 21, 2009

The etymology of the word “hysteria” can tell you quite a bit.

Originally a term used by the Greeks, hysteria (from the root “hyster,” meaning “womb”) was thought to be a condition especially likely to affect women who were independent of male control, like nuns and widows—though it could potentially strike any woman. According to the Greeks, Hysteria was caused when a woman’s uterus wandered through her body, pushing on her other organs and causing irrational behavior. The cure was pregnancy, which would weigh the uterus down and keep it in its place.

Huh.

The term resurfaced as a diagnosis in Victorian times, again as an affliction affecting only women. In this case, its cause was considered to be sexual deprivation.

Freud other early psychoanalytic theorists later reclassified hysteria as neurosis, again impacting women, again often having a lot to do with their sexual behavior.

HUH.

These days, it’s not uncommon to hear the word hysteria used to describe someone who is being irrational and unreasonable. You may have noticed that it is more commonly used to describe a woman or women.

In particular, it is often used to describe people, usually women people, who are concerned about sexual violence.

HUH.

It is very common for anti-feminist people to call feminists hysterical. Other favored terms include: “irrational,” “unreasonable,” and “oversensitive.”

Would you like to know why I think this is the case?

Here’s why: there is a longstanding cultural tradition of separating  “reason” from “emotion,” and contending that they are vastly different and entirely separable.  The tradition goes on to value reason over emotion.  This tradition contends that emotion makes one unable to consider issues “rationally,” but that some very special individuals are capable of considering issues “objectively” and without emotion.  These individuals are “rational.” Other individuals, who are influenced by their emotions, do not have thoughts worthy of consideration.  They are “emotional,” and not as good.  One cannot be “emotional” and “rational” at the same time, you see.

What’s kind of interesting about this whole fallacy wherein an objective viewpoint supposedly exists and individuals cannot be emotional and rational at the same time is that there are also some long-standing cultural stereotypes about which types of people are most able to be rational.  As it turns out, straight white men are very rational types.  Men of color aren’t as rational, because they tend to be very angry for no good reason.  Queer men aren’t as rational, because they’re kind of like ladies.  Women are the least rational of all, because their uteri are floating around making them crazy.  Science!

So you see, people who really buy into this tend to think that they themselves are rational.  They also tend to think that bad people who disagree with them are emotional and not rational.  And that ladypeople are inevitably emotional and therefore irrational.  So ladypeople who disagree with these upstanding rational individuals are the most emotional of all, so emotional, in fact, that they have crossed over into hysteria.

It’s a very rational argument, if you can think about it objectively.