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Things I learned as a WASP

Food does not have taste. If food has taste, it hasn't been boiled long enough.

Anyone is who isn't white is "ethnic."

"Ethnic" is synonymous with: loud, spicy, colourful, and poor.

Certain words may only be whispered; these include: "cancer," "money," and "suicide."

Some words may only be whispered and known only by their euphemisms: "down there" (genitals), "in the bedroom" (sex), and "one of those" (homosexual).

Feelings, when they happen, must be civilized in manner, decent of proportion, and referenced briefly, with an air of mild disbelief.

Conversation between WASPs is akin to a spiritless badminton game between two people who would both rather be doing something else but lack the imagination to think of anything. Excitement and gesticulation is for ethnics.

If you're too happy, you're not working hard enough. If you're too unhappy, you're not working hard enough.

Our bodies are unfortunate and we should be apologetic about them, when we are forced beyond the boundaries of good taste to acknowledge them at all.

Regard everything, always, with faint suspicion. Cynicism is a virtue.

"Decent" is the best thing a person can be, and "decent" means blending in with other WASPs.



(*This is an exercise is recognizing my cultural conditioning and the many ways in which it is flawed. I think these are all terrible but I know countless people who were instilled with the same subliminal messages and I see how it fucks us up and causes us to fuck up others. I just want to be clear this is not an endorsement or defence of these perspectives. I think it's painfully obvious how utterly pathological this shit is and I think we need to recognize our cultural default settings.)

Some random thoughts about internet memes

I see a theme, among internet memes and the like, of what people "deserve." There's that famous quote mistakenly attributed to Marilyn Monroe-- "If you can't handle me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best." People talk about deserving to be treated certain ways, deserving certain qualities in partners, etc. I find it troublesome.

First of all, these are not inherent rights. No one "deserves" another person. It's like the "nice guy" syndrome where men are taught all they have to do is treat a woman with a modicum of decency and they "deserve" to get sex from it. Love, intimacy, affection-- these are not transactions. They are not things we can buy with our behaviour. They have to be choices made on the part of those we're with.

Secondly, there's never any mention of what a person has done to "deserve" these things. You have no right to demand respect from someone you treat disrespectfully. You have no right to demand trust of someone you don't trust. And so on. If you act like an asshole then you have no right to demand that someone is going to treat you well.

While that might seem self-evident, a lot of people out there are demanding to be loved unconditionally while having all kinds of expectations. They want forgiveness without offering it. They want allowances without granting any. They want to be accepted as imperfect while skewering others for mistakes.

Obviously standards and boundaries are good things, and self-respect is important. But there's such a lack of generosity, sometimes, and accountability.

You don't really "deserve" anything. You have the right to decide that the way someone is treating you is unacceptable and walk away. And it's reasonable to expect that if you're honest, loyal, caring, etc. that someone will be honest, loyal, caring, etc. back. But they don't actually owe you that; you haven't purchased their behaviour with your behaviour. It's their choice, just like it's your choice to find something acceptable or not, and stay or go.

And you certainly don't deserve to be loved and cherished just by virtue of existing. I don't know where this idea comes from. You become loved and cherished by making connections, doing the work of being vulnerable in order to create intimacy, putting effort into nurturing relationships, making time, and creating something with someone.

Thinky.

Witnessing the difficulties much_ado is having with the regulatory bodies of her chosen professional got me thinking. I understand the need for regulation, accountability, development, standards, etc., especially in health care fields (and where insurance and billing are involved)... but it all smacks of so much corporate to me. And all the other unspoken-- and therefore coercive-- expectations of our society.

While I absolutely prefer our existing relationship, the fact that I feel it precludes a therapeutic relationship with her has always been profoundly disappointing to me, because it's exactly the kind of "fit" that actually benefits me, and it's a "fit" that has nothing whatsoever to do with what the regulatory bodies want of her.

And I was thinking: of all the counselors, doctors, psychiatrists, and other mental health care professionals I've encountered in the many, many years those encounters have been happening, who has been the most beneficial to me? Who has done the most damage?

(Because the damage a mental health care professional can do to a patient is staggering. The last psychiatrist I saw was getting a history from me and when I told him about my abusive first marriage, which I ended after six years, he leaned back in disbelief and asked me blankly, "What took you so long?!")

I think about the brusque, preoccupied, authoritarian men I've encountered who crackle with impatience, the meltingly-soft, young white women who ooze innocent Christian hetero-normativity, the anonymous functionaries in fluorescent office buildings who never make eye contact in between their paperwork and coffee cup.

Then I think about the woman I saw when I was 16. I was a suicidally depressed, actively bisexual, highly intelligent, pagan, feminist, high-school dropout. She was a menopausal butch lesbian who saw patients in her eccentric home office.

And she probably saved my life.

...I wonder how many of those associations and regulatory bodies and their professional hoops are inclusive? Representative? I know for a fact that much_ado has experiences and current/ongoing involvements that aren't officially professionally recognizable, but which make her more relatable, accessible, and even empathetic. It's so difficult trying to express oneself to someone you just don't think is going to get it. And maybe, according to some professional idealism, that shouldn't matter... but you know who it does matter to? The patient.

The subjectivity is the problem, I know; it's a matter of qualifying and quantifying experience. I get it. But I still think there's something to be said for recognizing the biases in structures like these: who is deciding what "counts?" Because I can tell you without doubt that the "professionals" I've encountered met criteria that did not equip them to help me.

Embracing my failure

In a corporate, capitalist, material world, where success is measured in dollar amounts, where big houses and big bank accounts are idolized and savings is a patron saint, I am a failure.

In a world of straight-and-narrow, where everything is ladder-shaped and the only acceptable direction is up, I wander and slide and backtrack and stumble, and I fail.

As a woman-- my value all beauty and grace, an accessory, adornment and appeasement, charming the world with my lipstick'd smile and tentative teetering on heels so that I might be caught at any moment-- I fail.

Success is the story of good girl meets good boy, marries him, has children, behaves at all times, drinks sparingly at parties, does not say "fuck," doesn't argue politics or religion, wears pantyhose, budgets, and lives a life with no mistakes

and I am a complete and utter failure.

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Post-it thought

Sometimes I think, "I don't deserve to be this happy. I've done nothing to deserve being this happy."

That thought makes me nervous.

So first, I know I have to re-evaluate what I think I know about "happy."
Second, I need to not get fatalistic; I need to just accept it and enjoy it while it happens.

So I think, "If you feel like you don't deserve to be this happy, but you still want to be this happy, what should you do?"

And I answer, "Be humble about it. Be grateful. Know you don't 'deserve' it and be amazed, be joyful, appreciate it. Don't take it for granted."

"But also think about why you're happy, what constitutes 'happiness' for you, how you consciously seek it out, how you try to fully recognize it when it happens. Because this is what you've cultivated."

So maybe it's not about deserving it, or earning it; happiness is not a moral reward.

Happiness is something you can build, and grow, and tend and nuture.

I'd agree with you if you were right.

Talking to people who aren't anywhere near as invested, interested, or informed in a particular issue or topic is frustrating. It's not their fault and I'm not suggesting they should be more invested, interested, or informed-- I have absolutely no interest in a plethora of things, and varying levels of knowledge ranging from "I can probably discuss that as well as any layperson" to "I wouldn't even know how to spell that in order to look it up on Wikipedia." We get exposed to things depending on what we do and who we know, and we naturally follow our curiosity and passion.

I have a passion for social justice, and feminism in particular. I don't have the same passion for issues that are equally meaningful so I don't expect other people to care the way I do about what I care about. It's good that people care about other things, because we can't all care so much about everything. It's like having a major in University-- you have to narrow your focus in order to increase your depth of understanding.

Unfortunately the stuff I'm interested in is also often seen as a "matter of opinion" and in some ways, to some degree, that can be true. But things are actually a lot less subjective than people think. It's like the difference between people who think evolution and creationism are theories with equal scientific validity-- it's generally because they don't know anything about evolutionary science. When you have a scientific understanding, you know that one is a body of work substantiated with empirical evidence containing statements that are supported enough to be considered "facts" for all intents and purposes, and the other is a belief with no empirical evidence. It is a person's right to believe what they want, and that right should be respected, but that's a far cry from saying that they're both equally "true" objectively or empirically speaking.

So when people proffer their opinions on feminism-- a subject I've been studying and a movement I've been participating in for nearly 30 years-- it can be difficult for me to give those opinions the weight and respect people think they deserve because, quite frankly, they are usually hugely under-informed and have virtually no idea of the larger issues or broader picture. They don't know how it works. And even in saying that, I imagine people's reactions-- the offense, or the skepticism. Either "how dare you suggest my opinion is invalid" or "I don't believe there's enough I don't know to significantly alter the validity of my opinion."

I was talking to a friend about evolution and creationism the other day and realized I was going to have to explain carbon dating. Do you know how boring carbon dating is to someone who doesn't find science interesting and how impossible it is to explain to someone who is already convinced they've arrived at the correct conclusion? But without knowing it's a real thing-- a verified, empirical method of obtaining "proof" (without getting into the ontology of it)-- how can I make my case that they are not theories with equivalent value?

I only wish feminism was as clear-cut as carbon dating; having to present something as a body of evidence based on "soft" science, and something as self-referential as social conditioning, is easily the most challenging, difficult, frustrating thing I've ever had to do. Because people are not approaching from the perspective of, "I want to learn about this." People are approaching from, "This is what I've already concluded and you have to prove I'm wrong using either only what I already know or trying to educate me when I don't want to be educated."

It's also something that has a very personal level; it deals with our experience and identity and, like most social sciences, requires some awareness of the fact that we are not fully independent, intact, individual beings, but that our "self" is a composite, a creation of our culture. It requires the understanding that sometimes our brains are wrong, which is a very uncomfortable idea for many people, especially when they first encounter it.

I'm not always right, and there are issues with multiple perspectives. I want to make it abundantly clear that I recognize that, because I don't want people to dismiss what I'm saying as some kind of absolutism that won't acknowledge complexity and diversity. Generally those conversations take place, however, among those who are very well-versed in the subject-- just as you would expect among evolutionary biologists. Evolutionary biologists do not sit around arguing about why monkeys still exist or referencing non-existent missing links that somehow "disprove" the entire science. They know better. And as a feminist, I would rather not sit around arguing about whether gender is a construct or if men are actually privileged. I know better. And these things are no more a matter of opinion than whether the Grand Canyon is a geological feature or where Thor's thunderbolt split the earth.

At the end of the discussion, I said to my friend, "I think if you had the time and interest and read about the science, you would change your mind." That's the kindest way I can think to put it; if she really cares, she'll follow her curiosity. More and more I find myself simply not engaging with people when they demonstrate that their knowledge is superficial. It used to feel like copping out or giving up-- or losing-- but more and more I think I just need to return ownership. It's not actually my responsibility to "prove" anyone wrong-- it's up to them to educate themselves based on the information. And while I can and will respect their right to have an opinion, I'm under no obligation to respect the opinion itself. That doesn't mean I'm narrow-minded or dogmatic-- that means I know what I'm talking about.

Just stuff

I'm quite angry with a friend right now, and it's a feeling I hate. I've even been having nightmares, which is partly my subconscious' way of telling me to 'fess up to being angry. I prefer to avoid being angry (except in really academic, intellectual ways). I think I hate anger because for a long, long time it hasn't been okay to express it, which means I have to swallow it. I spend long, long hours combing through it, looking for places of vulnerability and weakness, where I might be accused, where I can be criticized. What are the faults and flaws that will be used against me if I speak about this, and is it worth the onslaught? Usually safer and easier to press it down, bury it beneath, try to make it small.

It doesn't matter. It's not that important. It's such a little thing. I can get past this. Nobody's perfect.

But now that I'm getting healthier, the anger is being more insistent. The fear isn't bigger and can't bully it into silence anymore. That's good. Except now I have to learn how to deal with it in ways that don't eat me up inside.

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Tomorrow there is a New Thing. A Big Scary New Thing. It's also good (oh, and ladies and gentlemen, just feel the reluctance to admit that!) but good in a way a vaccination or dental check-up is good. Good in a hard, unpleasant, but ultimately healthy way.

I am going to ride the proud-of-myself train so hard. And any day I'll take a specific fear I can look in the face and say, "fuck you" to. Give me something tangible to grapple with and I'm a badass mofo. I've got this.

(But love me anyway, okay? Because I'm also still scared.)

No.

I have a young woman friend in her 20s who regards me as a bit of a "wise old woman" (her words, although I do find it terribly amusing). I'm a feminist, I'm a non-conformist, and I've had an embarrassing amount of life experience. I'm also a non-judgmental listener and as a result she often discusses her problems with me. A recent one involved unwanted attention at her swing dance club from a man who Would Not Take The Hint and the fact that she was going to have to come right out and say "no" and how uncomfortable that made her. Among other things, she was concerned she would compulsively downplay it-- say, "Oh, not right now, sorry, I'm tired." Which would mean not only might he ask her again, but that she wouldn't be able to dance with anyone else. I suggested she practice saying, "No, thank you." I could tell she had to do some work with the idea that there was no excuse or justification attached; it felt "rude" to her. And I tossed off a line that is so old to me it barely registers anymore: "No" is a complete sentence.

She had never heard that before (as with many things I say, which makes me feel like a fount of knowledge and yes, I love it) and you could see it descend on her, the wheels turning as she recognized the truth of it and its implications. It was awesome to see.

I love being in a position to help this women empower herself; I love the fact that maybe some of my mistakes might do someone else some good.

"No" has become an important word to me. "No" requires self-respect and courage. In our culture women have so much trouble saying no and men have so much trouble accepting no; women are taught it's "rude" and men are taught it's a "challenge." But that's a bit of a digression-- everyone seems a bit shocked to hear "no" as a response, when it's not cloaked in excuses and apologies and language that undermines our right to say it.

I'm all for polite and civil, but I think we all need to practice saying and accepting "no." (Some more than others-- I acknowledge that many of my friends are actually quite good at one or both, although I'd wager they're better at accepting it than saying it, which is interesting in and of itself.) The fact that this young woman is experiencing such anxiety about it, and the fact that she already knows from experience that the man's response is going to be hostile and difficult, demonstrates that. And let's be honest-- I have difficulty saying no, despite my wise old womanhood and sage advice. Yet every time I do I feel awesome. It feels like self-love. I feel like my own champion, my brave self standing, legs spread and hands on hips, gazing off into the distance as a gentle hero-wind ruffles my hair, while my vulnerable self gazes in wide-eyed adoration. Fuck yeah.

"No" is enough. I'm not interested, I don't want to, I'd rather not, I'm not comfortable with that, I choose not to. We don't owe people an explanation. We may offer one, if we want, but we should never feel compelled-- we should never feel our "no" is insufficient without one. We don't have to prove that we have the right to decide for ourselves. We all have that right and anyone who suggests otherwise is not treating you as a human being.
So apparently the new thing is for "men's rights advocates" and anti-feminists to disingenously reframe women's rights issues and feminism as "infantilizing" women and frame their men's rights issues and anti-feminism as "respecting" women by treating them as intelligent, independent individuals with agency.

I've actually seen this argument, tidily packaged just this way, in multiple places, so I know that's the way it's being sold. It also appeals to women, because what woman doesn't want to be respected as an intelligent, independent individual with agency?

Except for what that actually means: that there is no discrimination. That women are completely equal and anything that looks like some kind of gender discrimination is, by process of elimination, their own fault, flaw, or failing. (Of course, gender discrimination against men totally exists and is the foundation of these men's rights groups.) It means that women are not, in fact, disproportionately the victims of assault and violence. It means microaggressions like verbal street harassment are not real. In means that all these things women are "complaining" about are totally fabricated, invented and perpetuated by a feminist agenda in order to get a one-up on men.

It means if we ask to examine the social messaging and conditioning regarding sexual objectification of women and the subsequent entitlement on the part of men, we are somehow forfeiting our agency, sacrificing our right to even be treated as equals, because it's not a "real problem" and therefore it's an "excuse" to avoid sexual responsibility. If there are no power dynamics, if there is no conditioning and entitlement, if there are no behavioural narratives, if women are not intimidated, threatened, coerced, and assaulted, then it's just women having sex and then calling their fickle morning-after regrets "rape." Because adults can acknowledge what they want. Independent women with agency can admit they want sex. Saying you had sex you didn't want doesn't mean the sex was forced, it means you're not adult enough to admit you wanted it to begin with. (Or you're trying to destroy the man's life, which is the other "real" reason women accuse men of rape.)

The same logic applies to any of the issues. Women stay with abusers because they want to; suggesting they want to leave but can't means we're not giving them "agency." There are no other factors. Women choose to have children to the detriment of their career because that's simply the way it is and the choice they make; if they valued their careers as much as men they just wouldn't have children. It's that simple, and saying otherwise means we're not "respecting" their choice.

It's a fascinating combination of mansplaining and gaslighting that appeals to a generation of men who grew up in a second-wave-feminist world and don't identify with misogynist values like "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen." Men who genuinely believe-- consciously-- that women are equal, and honestly don't see how anyone could think differently, which is why they have so much difficulty believing it's happening. And it appeals to women who are rejecting the negative characterizations of feminism and don't perceive themselves as oppressed or victimized (due in large part, ironically, to the progress made by feminism so far).

Men and women who look around and see that things look pretty good, so a) they're not motivated to look deeper and b) they don't understand what everyone is complaining about. So they assume that what they see is how it is and they dismiss the complaints as baseless.

I guess I could take that as a sign that things have changed for the better. Well, of course they've changed for the better. I just worry they won't continue to change for the better if this is what we're going to do with the changes we made so far.

Bone and Breath

There is a place in me that longs to come undone. To unravel, stretch out from this tightly tied knot of thought, worry, constant noise and mental pacing. When my mind feels like a cage, too small and confined for everything in it, and the rising wild in me starts to get dangerous.

There is a place in me so sick from the pressure of polite, the stricture of constant consideration, the gentility of my gender. And a place so sick from proving, and proving, and proving, that I am not gentle-- that I am tough, hard, smart, fast, justasgood.

I get tired of the noise, tired of my mind. Tired of being pushed and pulled, inside and out, a hundred different ways daily. Immersed in minutiae and moment-by-moment strategies, striving for standards I set for myself and living with the failure inside my skin.

Something inside me starts to growl and keen-- the feral self, the animal in the bones, caught and thrashing in the net of intellect and analysis, weighted with the burden of hateful reason: that internal voice that must endlessly discuss and discuss and discuss.

Then I crave what is ferocious and barbaric, what is primitive, before words. My savagery demands expression in flesh-- muscle and claw and sweat. I need to fight for my survival and scrape down to the bedrock of my existence, lay myself bare on stone, feel shale pierce my skin and remember I am real.

The panting silence that follows is where I find my peace.

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