Monday, April 27, 2015

A well mannered dilemma

I know I am a white girl.  I know that to others and to society I have a lot more privilege than I really have.  And I know that this is not my call, or my fault or anything I had anything to do with.  I know all of this.  And because I know this, I work really hard to disseminate my privilege whenever and wherever possible, appropriately, and sometimes even inappropriately.  I am not Lady Bountiful.  I am just a blue-eyed Southern chick who grew up in two really great small towns, poorer than some, not as much as others.
So when friends of mine who are of a different background (and there are a lot of those), say something weird, (and it happens a lot), I simply accept their cultural differences as they accept mine.  Mostly these are just quirks and we all have those. (I introduce everybody to everybody, more than once, just in case, and I have been known to call people a coon dog).
Sometimes, though, what they say about their own social group shocks me.  My friends who are Jewish will make jokes about the Holocaust.  My Hispanic friends make a bean joke, and so on.  They see it as being at ease with their heritage.  I often walk away feeling run over.  I call it getting Chappelle’d.
What Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and even Jeff Foxworthy don’t seem to understand is that when you make a racist joke, it is still a racist joke even when you are a member of the group being made fun of.  But when you are not, it is a double whammy.  Especially when you come from a culture or a family, like mine, whose core cultural values is to make other people comfortable, as often as possible.   And when you are in my home, doubly so.
Here is the dissonance for me:  If I laugh at the joke, and they are often very funny, then I am a racist, because I am NOT a member of that racial or social group.  And if I do not laugh, then I am rude.  To a guest.  In my home.
This is, to me, JUST as horrible.
I have plenty of friends from many different cultures who have a similar cultural value.  To make a guest welcome is above all, the height of graciousness.  I have seen this in my Armenian friends, my Indian friends, my Latino friends and so, so many others.  Thus, I cannot for one minute imagine that these friend were raised to go into another person’s house and do or say something that makes the host feel uncomfortable, or place them in dissonance.
And yet it happens all the time, this phenomenon.  Maybe I am just too sensitive.  I hate it when people suffer.  I hate the casual reference to catastrophic suffering. I know that often humor defangs the severity of a situation, and maybe I should just lighten up.
I have thought about this a lot.  Even when Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle are on television, I still can’t bring myself to laugh wholeheartedly no matter how funny the joke is. Maybe it is just a privileged guilt that I feel, the white girls burden.  I cannot find a way to disseminate the argument except to politely pull people aside and explain that hate is hate, even when it is self-hatred disguised as humor.  And this is SO self-righteous and goody goody, and often provokes a defensive discomfort that I do not want in the other person, so many times I don’t.
I have wrestled with this since I entered college and discovered the idea of privilege.  I cannot find a solution and wonder if it just my White Girl cross to bear.  I am opening it up.  What do you think?

Monday, January 5, 2015

The curious promise of limited time.

to honor as Carrie Newcomer says, “
The curious promise of limited time.”

New Years Day I awoke with a bright promise upon my lips and in my heart.  I wrote down the things I hope to accomplish in the coming few months. Among them was to begin visiting people I have not seen in a decade or more.  Some are very close geographically and it is silly that I have not seen them.  It is time for me stop being such a hermit, and tell the people that I love that I do.  My mothers best friend, Pat, told me after she died that she was never really sure how my mother felt about her.  It broke my heart, because I knew how much my mother cared for her.  But my mother, as loving as she was, could not seem to express her feelings in this; she was too introverted and too unwilling to inconvenience anyone.  The ones who lost were the people she loved, and I cannot let that be that fate of those I love. 
In September I had made a few tentative plans with a friend to visit my hometown in March. Kim grew up down the street from me.  She had grown a up girl with a hearty laugh who loved pranks, nicknames and sports (Peppermint Patty) who loved large and wanted to be friends with everyone.  She was the first girl into the then all-male dominated Little League as well as a cheerleader, soccer player, and very very popular in High School.  She grew into a woman who coached her children’s sports teams, loved her husband and knew everyone in town, probably having had a drink with most of us at one point or another and my favorite person to celebrate with back home.  Every small town has one. 
She bought her mother’s house and raised some beautiful children.  When her mother died. I was unable to make the service for Gretchen, a woman who had welcomed me into her home many many times in my life, but sent flowers writing the familiar address in my sleep with silent tears. Gretchen and I had spoken Spanish with each other.  She was from Nicaragua and my father from Argentina.  I felt the closeness of outsiders with her.
            During our phone call, Kim was excited that I was coming to stay for a few days and had started to talk about holding a Bar B Que, worrying a bit that March would be too cold.  Then she laughed in her hearty way and said, “Well, we will just have to have fire pits and jackets on. And lots of alcohol.”  I smiled at the other end of the phone and chuckled to myself.  Such a Kim thing to say.
            At the time, I remember thinking I was lucky to have grown up on our street.  Her best friend, Wendy, lived next door to me and we had about twenty other kids on our street who all played and fought together, including about nine in our class alone.  There were another eleven or so in classes within two years of us.  It was a pretty great street with lots to do and lots of amazing people.  It was a street that everyone should have grown up on, with late night games of all sorts of things. We had to be in when the street lights came on, and happily went to bed, stinking of child, soap, and evening.
            My plans were in my head as I opened Facebook.  So my heart stopped when I saw Wendy’s post.  It was a picture I remember clearly, of the two of them, aged 13 or 14.  I think it was taken in a photo booth at the county fair.  They are both so beautiful and so young, the promise of them shining out their happy faces.  Kim is leaning in and laughing, with Wendy a blond contrast looking straight forward and relaxed with her best friend at her side, waiting for whatever was to come.  It is who they grew up to be.  There was an RIP next to it.
            My heart turned into liquid nitrogen and froze. When I took a breath, it shattered.  Cold tears began to river down my face and drip into my lap as I frantically typed Kim’s name into the Facebook search engine.  A small piece of me wanted it to be a prank: a silly stupid thoughtlessly hurtful horrifying prank.   But the rest of me knew it was true.
 I read the tribute her husband left, and another a small piece of me broke away to grieve in the silent private place where my mother also lives.  Kim was one of the witnesses to my life, and she is no longer able to laugh with me over how stupid we were. She is no longer able to hug me fiercely or tell me to stop being such a nerd.  She is no longer able to drunkenly make silly fun of my childhood nickname, singing it, as no one else could,
            And then I though of Wendy and what was left of my heart fell away.  I messaged her immediately and asked her how she was.  The answer came a few hours later, and I worried about her the whole time.  She was just so sad.  A lifelong friendship was no longer, and she is twice, thrice, a thousand times more shattered than I.
            I have been in tears off an on since then, remembering random things and going through some old photos.  Kim had plans and wanted to do more things, and yet she lived more in her short life than most people do in long lives.  She certainly loved more.  I know that for sure as she knew how to love since we were 7, when we met.  Not a mean bone in her body and automatic friends with everyone, I am sure it stumped her when I wanted to stay in and read sometimes.
She taught me a lot about both love and how to live.
            When I stop and think about Kim in the calm moments, I realize she is still teaching me.  I only have so much time.  It is curious this promise of limited time.  It makes me more determined to accomplish my dreams. When we finally grow up to realize we are not child prodigies and the time we have left may be shorter than the time we have lived, we begin to live the way Kim did, out loud.  We take the chances, smile at strangers and begin to cross things off our bucket list.  We become friends with people we share history with and take trips to see them.   I have signed up for Swing Dancing lessons, a pottery class, made tentative plans to hit the Outer Banks, and scheduled lunch with a friend from long ago, all just yesterday.  As Kim leaves us, her mark remains.  She may not have known what Carpe Diem meant, but she certainly did seize the day, month, year, lifetime.  I was lucky enough to sing with her, dance with her, dream with her, and above all, laugh with her.  
I know how now, Kim. Thank you.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

More then enough

Hear the Song 
Hear the Song

An all female band called the Mrs’ was at the BlogHer conference.   They opened for Kerry Washington, after both Guy Kawasaki and Ariana Huffington spoke.  These are former rocker chicks who suddenly found themselves married and with kids.  They realized that there was no music on the radio that represented their demographic (not exactly a surprise) and decided to change that.  Quite laudable.  After all, they are more than just mommies, or mommy bloggers.  (Yet call themselves the Mrs?  I am hoping this is an ironic point).
Their single is called “Enough” and is meant to be an anthem for women in their demographic.  Women are 52% of the population and a good majority are mothers, so this should be an easy sell, especially to a feminist like me.  And it is.  I really want to support them.
I think what they meant to say was “enough” of the crap that are constantly being fed by the media our partners and our colleagues.  Tired of being told you are not smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough, techie enough, whatever enough.  They were tired of buying in, threw their hands in the air and yelled “Enough: Enough of you and your limiting message. I AM enough, and screw you for telling me that I am not.”  Indeed, one of the lyrics is “No more telling me who I need to be.”
Okay, I get that. And, again, laudable.  I feel that way, too.  But I am still bugged.
To further their message for all women, they had a booth at the Vendor Hall that handed out stickers for the bathroom mirror which said “You look amazing.”,  and “Whatever you are doing, keep it up,” and “You are enough.”  They also had a magic mirror booth to say things to the gazee that women don’t say to themselves, positive things about self worth and beauty.  All great things, and I was on board, sort of.  Yet, something about it bothered me.
It seems so limiting to say ‘”I am enough,” as if that is all that I am capable of.  I am upset that these women are mitigating their own self-worth.  When I first heard this message I was disturbed.  I don’t want women to say “I am enough”, I want them to say, “I am MORE than enough, and you are the problem because you can’t get that.”  The way it is now, women are the problem because they can’t get that they are enough, because they are too busy comparing themselves to what they themselves and others think they ought to be.  What is worse it that the anthem comes off as a rebel song.  That sucks. That sucks that the rebellion is even present or necessary.
It gives rise to the reason that BlogHer exists in the first place. Women don’t think they have the chops to be tech dorks, and the tech dorks are quick to let them know they agree, and call these women posers.  So women have to come together for solidarity to combat this.  If 52% of the population are women, then we are NOT a special interest group, and should not be treated as such.  To be relegated to be being just another Girl [mommy, crafty, fashion, pick your title] Blogger is again, limiting an all levels.  I write because I have something to say.  And I use technology because I am an intelligent articulate person in the world. Not because I am a fake geek girl who just wants a platform to bring attention to myself.
The whole fake geek girl thing is just stupid anyway. How do you get to a place where your argument is that I pretend to love technology just to attract a nerd boy?    Again, limiting, and this time you expect me to buy in.  The best rebuttal to this that I have seen was featured on Upworthy and has two nerd boys talk about why the concept of a fake geek girl is ridiciulous.  It is logical and well thought out in its conciseness, explaining yet again that women are more than capable of being techie without wanting to date the boys, or having to be the nerd version of a Supermodel
Technology is a tool that is gender blind.  Being a nerd should not have the idea of genetalia attached to it.  The boys do this.  Not the girls, and this is once again why the Mrs wrote their song and once again why I take umbrage. It is this kind of false attribution that creates a culture in which I have to defend my nerdiness, because the truth is, I AM kind of a cool girl.  But I am ALSO a nerd, and also a jock, and also crafty, and also lots of things.  To quote Whitman, "I am vast, I contain multitudes."  Do not confuse me for a one dimensional object that shocks you with an opinion, or worse, a capability.  And don’t expect me to suddenly feel as if I have to defend myself to you because I am all of those and more than good enough at one thing.  This is my problem with Mrs.  I am so so glad they are coming into their own, and rock ON, Sisters!!   I am already there, and I think a lot of women of my generation are too.
So I get the idea.  I get the anthem.  But I almost think that by putting it out there more attention is brought to bear on why we limit ourselves then how we don’t have to.  It almost becomes an angry self-limitation. And I am bummed about this.  And I am bummed that they have to feel this way.  I do think the problem is the buy in of women.  I also think it is easier for women to buy into this because the pressure to be perfect IS directed at women.   My suggestion is to put the onus where it belongs, not on ourselves, but on those who are creating the pressure, and lets not buy THAT.  Pointing it out when someone wants you to be who you are not is a great message.   To say you are only enough, is not.  We are all more then enough.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BlogHer 2014 and what I learned

 The dude with his arms in the air on the screen is Guy Kawasaki.  I waved at him.  He waved back.  I felt cool for five minutes until I realized he probably didn't recognize me. ( I sit with his wife in church sometimes) Ah well, take your moments where you can.

I attended BlogHer in San Jose this year and at first I felt a little intimidated.  I still feel like that teenager in her room, tongue between the teeth making the zine that only her friends see.   Because really, how arrogant is it to have a blog that you think people want to read?  I am trying to play with the Big Girls, and found myself watching their every move with huge luminous eyes.  What I discovered was pointed out to me before I ever even got there by a wise woman friend Mamagotcha who told me everyone else was gonna be all weirded out too, and try to remember the idea of the Imposter syndrome.  Atfer banging my head against a wall once I realized she was right, I began to love being there.  

In fact, I was MEANT to be there.  Like divinely. Yes, I was too.  God reached down and smote me, until I finally got my ass out of the house and drove to the next town to attend.  And if you have never been smote, it is no joke.

I discovered lots of stuff:  for instance:

The term “scads and scads” is hilarious when said in a South Boston accent. (said by Amy of Cranberry Blogs)

Bloggers have boundaries, e.g. things they won’t write about.  Seriously.  I know if you ever read Jenny Lawson of it does not seem like it, but they do.

Sometimes elevator pitches aren’t sexy even if you show your boobs (from Maria Killam)

Sometimes the fit isn’t right.  When that happens, be gracious about it, and then rip them to shreds on your blog.  Anonymously, of course.

All women are beautiful once they become who they are.  I looked around at lunch on the first day to see this with new and wonderous eyes.  I never would have realized this in my twenties and am so grateful to be in my own body and my own space.  It changed my attitude and viewpoint for good.

The first rule of blogging?  Write what you know and never say no to a topic that flits across your tiny mind.  It will be brilliant.  And if it is not, meh, there is always tomorrow.

A fourteen year old feminist who is my new hero Bethany Huang

Be unapologetic.  Haters gonna hate.  Write it anyway. You can always block them.

And finally,

So. Many. Many bloggers HATE Gywnyth Paltrow (including me).  (This will be a rant post another time).  I overheard three things and a chorus of assents that led me to this conclusion.  
 1) "Does anyone even understand what this “conscious uncoupling” bullshit even MEANS????"
 2) "Hey! got a shot of Chris Martin feeding his kids a big ole pile of fries at an In-n-Out in LA.  I am SO posting it.” 
 3) “Of course she calls it Goop.  She is inarticulate.”

{flops on bed}  I had the BEST time.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Say Something, I'm giving up on you

Photo by GraceAdams

The #yesallwomen campaign has brought up so much deeply held finally said out loud shame from women. Reading it brings tears to my eyes. The mini stories are devastating. Yet I know that only half of the stories out there are being told.  The rest are still buried because of the Thing that all women are taught:  The first rule of being a girl is to shield ourselves from the vengeance of men. We try to shield ourselves by being the kind of women they won’t hurt.  Although, that gets tricky.  The criticisms that we aren’t doing it right include too fat, not pretty enough, too intelligent, too dumb, too accomplished to be worthy of anything but scathing derision and hatred.  We must be punished.  If we are doing it right then we owe them sex. At least, a blow-job. We must be used.
I have heard this story too many times.  I have heard it from my students who are just trying to get to class.  I have heard it from girlfriends who are just trying to have a glass of wine, with each other.  I have heard from the female engineers who think problem solving is fun.  I have heard from the 12 year old swimmers who are trying to figure why suddenly men think their bodies in swimsuits are different from last year.  I have heard it and heard it and heard it. And yes, I have experienced it.
When I used to teach I would set up this scenario; “Okay ladies, it is 10 o’clock, after class and you are walking to your car.  You hear a sound behind you.  How many of you shift your keys in your hand or pull out your cell phone and begin talking on it loudly so someone will know what happened to you?”
            Almost all the hands go up.  Once one didn’t.  I asked curiously, why not?  She held a black belt in three different martial arts.  She held a different form of protection, and while she stated she would not shift her keys, she did shift her body weight “just in case.”  
She was killed two summers ago, by her live in boyfriend.  
I cried at the service and thought that what this means is that women know and understand that some men, for no distinct reason, are always going to hate us.  We will never know why and can never name it, other than to recognize that it is a Thing, and it is a rape-driven ethos within our culture. It is easy to blame the group that is seen as “less than” you, and to therefore hurt them.  For men, who have been in privilege for so long, and have gotten there by force, this means women are the problem
And I do mean all men, because no matter how enlightened, or self-aware, that you claim you are, there is some portion of your primal brain that will pop up when you least expect it and throw down the “I deserve more than you because, I am a guy” bullshit.  Straight White Guy Chris Roberson admits it in his blog: and I know this to be true. 
I know this because I have seen my brothers do it.  I know this because I have seen myself do it.  The collusion in one’s own oppression is a fearsome thing, and as much of a feminist as my mother and grandmother were, they were still victims of their historic moment.  I currently live in a world where whole classes of schoolgirls in Nigeria are kidnapped, and even though we know who did it, the perpetrators feel JUSTIFIED in their actions. After all, they threw a handful of coins on the ground as payment for their booty (not a funny pun). And when the UN finally stepped in, I cheered, silently, because I don’t want to be too strident in my feminism.  Not because I am not solidly feminist, but because I am job hunting right now, and don’t want to destroy my chances by male hiring managers.
And this makes me tired.  I don’t want to worry about what kind of man I might be working for, or who might be hiring me.  I’m done with teaching about this to men and women in order to recruit male allies who get rewarded for having the same views I do.  This just reinforces the hierarchies of patriarchy and elevates masculinities.   I want to trust that the man I am hired by gets that I am brilliant and amazing or he would not have hired me.
This also means I am tired of the  “Be a real man” memes. Because the bottom line is I don’t care if you are a Real Man.  I want you to be a Real Person.  Just be a fucking person with all the good that entails, and there is no need for labels.  You will already get it, and have the compassion and empathy that so many don’t.
Men’s Rights Activists rage against child support, no-fault divorce, single mothers, and laws protecting women from domestic violence. They believe we live in a "gynocentric" society where women are the (with)holders of sex. Because of this, women have all the power and men are utterly victimized.  So, sex equals power.  Obviously, men aren’t getting their fair share of bullying, and something must be done about these arrogant women who want opinions, lives, and a say so in their sexual lives.  And if they don’t get these things, they will kill us.  Or at least the feminists among us.  One wonders what they will do when a man self identifies as a feminist.  Is he then in danger?  Because feminism is a philosophy, not a set of genatalia, as Pharrell Williams seems to think.
            And then I hear in my head that I am blaming all men for the actions of a few.  It isn’t that simple.  The best analogy that I have heard for this is the bowl of m&ms being held out to women.  10 percent of them are poison, but you don’t know which ten percent, and M&Ms are your favorite candy, so “go ahead, have a handful.”  No, not all men are willing to rape, but all women are still afraid of the ten percent that are.   Even the nice guys blow it sometimes.  Because they can.  That is part of the privilege we afford them.  But I can’t.  I can’t make that mistake.  It becomes dangerous when I make the mistake.
I just experienced this with a friend from high school who posted a pic of a dog ready to sniff the bikini bottoms of two truncated women along with the headline “you bet I am going to sniff that.”  When I protested, at first mildly, it became a shit storm.  This guy is one of the nicest, most gentle open-minded guys with a transgendered partner, and he STILL posted it as a “joke.”  The problem is not the nice guys, it is the culture that thinks this type of collusion is funny.  The problem is not the guys who speak up, it is culture that rewards them for doing so.  The problem is not the guys who remain silent, it is the culture that lets them.  The problem is not the guys who are abused themselves, by either gender, for their issue is the same as womens’ – the fundamental spirit of this characteristic violence within our culture.
So now that we have named the problem, and finally, finally, finally started the conversation that many of us have wanted to have for years, where do we go from here? As people, we need to exorcise the gender exercise, and learn to empathize.  I don’t know where to start except in my own little corner, maybe even with me, as I recognize my gender discrimination both given and received, my primal brain that does revert to stupid violent ego driven bullshit, and my anger about this all. Above all, I need to keep talking.  I need to keep engaging in the conversation, without blame.  Join me