Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tennesee Valley Unitarian Universalist Shooting

I had to spend a couple of days reflecting on this. My first instinct was some sort of angry screed that contained about fifty "fuck yous" hurled in the general direction of the asshole who opened fire, and all those who would support his actions based on the premise that UU's "deserve" horror like this because they aren't a "real" church.

I've calmed down a little. I don't think I'll get to the "fuck yous". But I'm not 100% sure of that. We'll see.

For those who haven't followed the story, a man named Jim D. Adkisson walked into Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday and opened fire with a shotgun as approximately 200 people watched a children's theatrical production based on "Annie". At this point, two are dead, and at least five others were seriously wounded. The motive seems to be that Adkisson's ex-wife had been a member of the church at some point, and he knew the church had liberal beliefs. He did not share those beliefs, and thought they were somehow to blame for his recent joblesness and overall condition. The church had also recently put up a banner welcoming gays.

This is the sad cost of America's "culture wars". For years, as a society, we have sat back while a small but vocal group of individuals have screamed about how "liberals" are trying to tear the "righteous" down, how gay rights are really a threat to heterosexuals, and only some churches are "true" churches. We have allowed these people to perpetuate the myth that this is a "Christian nation" founded on the principals they espouse, and that there is no room at the American table for anyone else. We have allowed the rhetoric of contempt for the "other" to reach a fever pitch in areas like the fight against terrorism and immigration. We have allowed them to frame things like the political fight for women's bodily autonomy in moral language, we have allowed them to reintroduce discredited creation myths into science classrooms in order to frame science as some sinister force trying to push out their religion. We have accepted the right of virulent attack groups like the Catholic League to bully and menace people who's only crime is not agreeing with them.

One man took all of this to heart. In his own deluded mind, he bought the rhetoric of the hateful "other". He bought the idea that this is "war". He took his shotgun into a crowded church, and started to shoot at the "enemy".

Adkisson's actions were simply the logical end result of such institutionalized hate.

This is all very personal to me, because I attend a UU church with my 9-year old son. We live in the midwest, and I've often worried that the "civil marriage is a civil right" banner on our building might invite the local knuckle-draggers to vandalize the church. We live in an area filled with people who buy into the culture war venom. Some just kind of accept it on a surface level, but get on with generally sane, decent lives. Others are true believer fanatics. All have the capacity to cause great hurt. It could have easily been my UU church attacked last Sunday.

The culture war needs to end. Now.

Non-Christians are Americans, too. This country was expressly founded on the principle of the separation of church and state. The Enlightenment thinkers who founded this country- Jefferson, Madison, Washington, etc. were the "liberals" of their time. Many were Unitarians. All of them had a huge problem with tyranny. What the culture warriors do today, they do in their own name, not the name of the founders of this country.

If you think none of this matters very much to you, think again. If you think you are immune because you are a Christian, think again. These people have a very narrow definition of "Christian". If you are reading this blog, I doubt you fit it.

We all have a vested interest in renewing the struggle for religious tolerance. All religions. And no religion. Each should be equally and rigorously protected by a populace who knows the danger of letting a majority steamroller a minority. When blowhard assholes want to inflame the passions of people against a group, we should be there to counteract that. We should be there to stand up and say, "Not on my watch." Actual discussion and debate is great. Everyone deserves to be heard. But like the famous supreme court decision pointed out, no one has the right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater. No one has the "right" to incite hate and violence against another group.

Unless we want more Jim Adkissons to heed the call to "war", we all better start working for peace.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Will The Real Feminist Please Stand Up?

Well, it seems as though the feminist blogosphere is doing its semi-monthly implosion over who, exactly, is THE REAL FEMINIST, and who is the eevul shill for our Patriarchal Overloards, who are trying to convince us its cool to remove our floating ribs and wear whalebone corsets again.
Let me throw out a few things before I really get into this:
1. I know that not everyone who calls themselves (I'm going to use the incorrect gender-neutral plurals 'they' and'them', because I find the personal pronoun juggling cumbersome) a feminist is.
2. I know the MSM, among others, tries to sell women on "empowerful" popfem crap that is really just the same old patriarchal tripe.
3. Patriarchy is everywhere. It is the water we fish swim in.
Let me also talk about what I am referring to. Specifically, I am referring to this post on Feministe, the diatribe by FA linked to in the Feministe piece, this response at Renegade Evolution's place , and this piece from I Blame The Patriarchy.
Got all that? I hope so. Blogger HATES real html, so that was a real labor of love up there.
Now. The upshot of all of that is that- surprise! Some people think that "pretty" feminists aren't real feminists. "Feminist Anonymist", who I don't know, had some interesting things to say to women who fit within societal beauty norms-
If an ugly woman posts her picture on her blog, she is being transgressive.
But a pretty conventional woman doing that is performing the exact opposite
action. If you're going to show off your looks to gain approval from men don't
call yourself a feminist.
So, being ugly is transgressive? I'll have to remember that for future reference. FA seems to think the "sexxxyfunfeminists" have "let us down", the presumptive "us" in this case being "feminists"...because they weren't born transgressive enough?
Wowwie wow wow wow. I don't even know where to begin here. What a crazy can of worms. First of all, "ugly" by who's standards? FA's? Mine? Hugh Hefner's? Am I supposed to vet my pics from now on with the arbiter of ugly so as not to "let down" The Movement? Talk about New and Improved Oppression, Now With More Self-Loathing!
Twisty takes on this subject with a little more nuance, and links it to the "rape culture". Women who make themselves pretty buy into the rape culture. As do sex workers, which I will deal with in a moment. Now, Twisty's take on things has always been consistent, and a lot more coherent than the stuff I read at FA's. I like a lot what Twisty says. I buy the whole rape culture idea- we do treat women as consumables, and that's a huge problem. But here is where Twisty and I part ways- I still blame the patriarchy. Twisty apparently puts part of the blame on the "funfeminists" who "buy in" by making themselves conventionally attractive.
Please refer back to #3 above. Patriarchy is the water we swim in. We are fish in that ocean. EVERY single blessed thing we ever do is shaped by the patriarchy. Even if I rebel against it, I use techniques of resistance it taught me, and I legitimize its opression of me, because now I AM dangerous and antisocial. No one can get away from it. Why, oh why would anyone want to condemn any woman who is self-aware enough to know she is being used by the patriarchy and who is fighting back any way she can? And who among us is so stainless that we can judge anyone for capitulating? True "collaborators" are those who join in the shaming, blaming, and narrowing of women's horizons by telling them what they can and can't do.
Also, we've got to get away from the gender stereotyping crap ourselves. Just because society has named makeup or the color pink or shoes "feminine" doesn't mean they in fact are. Just because society has defined "feminine" as weak doesn't mean it is. The truth is much, much scarier for the patriarchs- "feminine" DOESN'T EVEN EXIST! I can think of many occasions where wearing makeup or donning heels could be a transgressive statement, especially when certain brands of patriarchy are tied up in modesty fetishization, and call those things immodest. No one size fits all, and no one knows better than the individual women in the individual circumstances they face what being "transgressive" truly is. And why this big push for transgression? Can't I wear standard clothes and still make a statement about my political and philosophical beliefs in other ways? Were the suffragists who marched in their corsets and long skirts not transgressive enough to count as feminists?
This all leads me to the sex work conundrum, because this is where the lines seem to be drawn the deepest. Over at Twisty's she lamented the fact that:

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, while privileged Western dudes continue to
reward funfeminists who “choose” to ironically embrace the
hilarious trappings
of rape culture, the ripples they make in the global
misogyny continuum aren’t
so funny: “I am a widow
and I have to feed my five children. I am illiterate and no one will give me
job. I hate to be a prostitute but if I stop doing this job my children
starve to death.”

Really, Twisty? A woman who wears heels or who works as a stripper is making the woman in Afghanistan suffer as a prostitute? Sorry- here I thought that was the patriarchy again. The sad fact is that a lot of women are pushed into prostitution out of desperation- here in the US, and abroad. It's sad. It's deplorable. But really, it isn't the fault of women who embrace sex work. It's the fault of societies that accord no respect to women, which have no safety nets to help impoverished families, and which often pass laws that make sex work a dangerous, unregulated sector of society that largely passes under the radar. This, along with the fundamental disregard society shows for "fallen women", makes their lot precarious.
Just because sex work has been labeled as "dirty" and "bad" by the patriarchy doesn't make it so. Women can and do choose to do this kind of work (as much as anyone can choose anything in an oppressive system). The answer isn't to limit women's choices. The answer is to legitimate all choices, and give more women the chance to choose.
As I see it, all of this hoo ha boils down to one real issue- short term v. long term goals. Short term goals tend to revolve around making things better for the people right here, right now. Changing laws usually falls into this category. Most of the big landmarks in the feminist movement- suffrage, access to education, liberalized divorce laws, liberalized employment laws, etc. fall under this category. These tend to be easier changes to make, because they are more concrete.
Then, there are the long-term goals. These are the "revolutionary" ideas of actually changing the philosophy that underpins patriarchy. This is the hearts and mind stuff. I'm not saying changing laws is easy, but it's a walk in the park compared to this. Change in these areas moves at a glacial pace- lifetimes go by with only the smallest shifts being made here.
Both are important. Both need to get done. People who focus on the long term, I am convinced, are the ones who see "funfeminists" as a disappointment. They want to go for the "big idea" things, start the revolution of ideas. But ironically, the spark that starts the revolution of ideas is usually the short-term goal action. The women who make sex work safer and more respectable slowly start to tear down the madonna/whore dichotomy. Women who focus on affordable daycare and health care normalize the consideration of "women's issues" as general quality of life issues. The winning of specific "rights" forces society to look at women as full citizens. See how it all hangs together?
People who care about women being treated as full human beings are feminists. Pretty or ugly, lipstick or no. We can differ on the particulars, but of that fundamental fact, there can be no argument. Divisions and labels are arbitrary, and are placed upon women by the patriarchy.
I don't want to prop up those divisions any more.

Plan B Panic

Well, I just had every person who uses contraception's worst nightmare- contraception failure. It was actually more akin to "user error", but the end result- unprotected sex- was the same. The upside to all of this was that I was able to get my hands on some Plan B seven hours after failure, with very little hassle. The first drugstore I called- my local Walgreens- had it in stock, and the whole transaction took less than five minutes, and was totally hassle-free. That's no mean feat, considering I live in the highly conservative Kansas City metro area.

The moral of this story? Don't have sex at 3:00 AM when you are groggy and out of it. Having to rely on condoms can suck. Thank the Universe that Plan B is available as an over the counter drug, and fight like hell to keep it that way.

Oh, yeah. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Don't Break Up- Break EVEN!*

* Cheesy pun intended.

Here's some more world-famous Neko Relationship Advice. Nothing in particular inspired this, except for the paucity of reasonable advice about breaking up. Oh, sure. Advice columnists love to wax poetic about starting relationships and maintaining relationships, and even repairing relationships, but no one has too much to say about ending them. So here's my take on the whole deal. Notice I didn't say here's my reasonable advice. I'm not really sure if it is reasonable or not. It's just how I would like to be broken up with, not that it has ever happened like this. Or probably ever will. 'Cause the people I hook up with tend not to read this kind of stuff.

NOTE- This advice in no way pertains to people who feel they are in an abusive relationship, or who fear violence from their partner. If you are being abused, you don't owe anyone anything. Do whatever you feel you need to do to keep yourself safe. Really.

When you decide to end a relationship, it can be hard to know what to do. Emotions are running high, and often, people just make things worse when they try to make a graceful exit from a relationship. So, below are a few things you can do to help smooth the transition for yourself, and your soon-to-be-ex-partner.

A few helpful definitions- the following are terms I will be using:

Dump- This is what you are doing, really. You are dumping your partner. Aren't comfortable with this term? Good. You shouldn't be. Don't try to sugarcoat this. Believe me, it only backfires in the end.

Dumper, AKA "Bad Guy"- That would be you, at least from your partner's perspective. Get used to it.

Dumpee, AKA "Victim"- That would be your partner. This is how they see things.

Committed Relationship- If you have been with your partner for a few months or more, if you live with them, if you or they have used the word "committed", "serious", "exclusive", or "monogamous" to describe your relationship, if you have made big purchases/decisions together, etc., you have a committed relationship. If none of this applies, you have a casual relationship, and a quick good-bye phone call should be enough.

OK. Now we've established some definitions. Let's get to it, shall we?

1. Think before you leap. Nothing is worse than having the drama of a dumping, only to have the dumper come slithering back in a few hours/days/weeks begging forgiveness. If you are the dumper, this makes you look bad. If you are the dumpee, it makes you go through a lot of needless heartbreak. Either way, it doesn't do good things for trust in the relationship. A committed relationship, is,by definition, something both partners have invested some time and energy into, so be sure you really want to end things before you go through with it. You've been together for a while, what could a few more days or weeks hurt? Once you've made up your mind, don't waver.

2. Plan Ahead. If you live together, think about what the arrangements are going to look like post-dumping. If you live at your partner's place, have another place ready. If you both co-own or lease, have some contingency worked out to sublease, or be prepared to buy out their interest/sell out your interest. If it is your place, make sure you give your partner reasonable time to find someplace new. If you co-own things, have an idea of how to divide things up. Remember, it is you who is electing to leave. therefore, if there is any hardship to be borne, YOU should bear it.

3. Be direct and honest. Don't beat around the bush. Hopefully, you and your partner have been communicating about the relationship, so this dumping shouldn't come as a total shock. If not... it WILL come as a total shock to them. Be prepared for this. Know exactly why you are leaving. Don't say "I don't know." Don't lie. If another person is involved, tell your partner-- they will usually find out at some point anyway, and it's better they hear it from the horse's mouth. Be ready to answer questions. Your partner will likely have some. Again, you need to be firm. If you waver, you just make things harder.

4. Expect drama. The dumpee is going to have an opinion about what you are doing. they will usually express this opinion through crying, yelling, pleading, etc. That's OK. They deserve to have this chance to respond. You need to be ready for this, and you need to accept it. If they veer into the violent or crazy, get the heck out of there. If they don't, be patient, and take it. From their perspective, you deserve it. You are either going to hear it now, or hear it later. You might as well get it over with, and give them a chance to vent. Don't tell them you are sorry, don't tell them you don't want to hurt them, etc. You have weighed your emotional well-being against theirs, and decided yours was more important. You are entitled to make that call, but don't be patronizing about it.

5. Never, ever be "just friends". Ex lovers do not good friends make. It just keeps false hope alive, or continues the friction that necessitated the dumping in the first place. No, if you dump someone, you can't really qualify as a "friend". Maybe, after time has passed, and both parties have moved on, a cordial relationship can be re-established, but don't bet on it. Old hurts die hard.

6. No mercy fucks, last flings, etc. Again, when it is over, its over. Don't call them looking for love on a lonely night, don't accept calls from them looking for love. It never works out well.

Having a relationship end sucks, but you don't have to. Treat the other person LIKE a person, expect some unhappiness, and move forward decisively. One day, they'll thank you for it, and you will too.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More Dating Advice, Gender-Essentialist Style

Oh, you know me and my dating advice. I can never get enough. Yahoo has delivered the goods again, this time with David Wygant's "Six Dating Behaviors That Scare Single Men Away".

First, I gotta say this guy is list obsessed. all of the other things he has written are "10"this and "14 "that. Most all of them, of course, are aimed at what women do wrong, or what men need to do to "catch" women. Ugh.

In the spirit of my usual flying finger to all gender-essentialist bullcrap, I offer the following counterpoints to Wygant's "Six" behaviors guaranteed to turn off single men.

Wygant- 1. Trash-talking your ex. Don't talk negatively about an ex-boyfriend in front of a guy you're dating. I don't care if you're on your first date or on your 15th date with a guy, don't ever trash-talk your ex. Your ex is somebody you dated, invited into your life, and with whom you spent a lot of time. So don't talk negatively about your ex in any way, because what a guy thinks when you do this is that if he ever becomes your ex that you're going to trash-talk him the same way. So, when a man asks you about your ex, you can politely say, "We are no longer together. It was a great relationship while it lasted, and I learned a lot." That's it.

Neko- 1. Don't Expect women to be soulless mannequins. Nothing pisses me off more than the old saw that men just want you to be perky, Perky! And talk about happy things like potato chips and the weather. Let them know you have-gasp- feelings, and baby, it's all over. This particularly pisses me off when many guys make a habit of specifically targeting women on the "rebound" because they think they'll be easier to manipulate. Better advice- Expect the women you date to have emotions. If you are knowingly dating a woman who has just ended a relationship, expect their to be some ex-talk. Of course, anyone going on in rude ranting-and-raving form is going to be a turnoff, but someone electing to share some of her feelings is not necessarily ranting and raving. And here's a shocker- women can and do experience anger, too. Sometimes emotions-talk will be about anger. If you want to make a person who is opening up about a past hurt feel better, be willing to share with her, too. Let her know you can empathize, and that you don't want to repeat old patterns, and before long, the talk is most likely going to center on this relationship and not the last one.

Wygant- 2. Paranoia Runs Rampant. Here you are dating a man you really like, and the first couple of weeks are going well. Then, that first boys' night out happens. In the beginning, you send him a text that says, "Have a great time tonight!" As the night progresses, however, seeds of doubt start forming in your mind about what he's doing, and you start to think "Is he cheating on me? Is he flirting with other women? Where is he right now?" So then, you lob another text in to him asking "What's going on? What are you doing right now?" Even though he tells you he's just hanging out with his friends, you proceed to make a major blunder:
You start checking up on him with continuous texts throughout the night. This paranoia will push a man away.
You start checking up on him with continuous texts throughout the night. This paranoia will push a man away. So when you are dating a man and he's out with his friends, respect his "guy time" -- it will make you the cool woman he's always wanted to find.

Neko- 2. The truth hurts. All women aren't paranoid psychos who are out to "control" men. sorry- it just isn't true. And if men don't like women checking up on them- they shouldn't cheat! Our society does a lovely job inculcating in women the belief that men just want to fuck around, and sooner or later, they WILL cheat. Add to that the actual experience with cheating partners many women have had, and you can't really blame them for getting a little nervous, can you? Better advice- Be honest and up front with women. If you want an open relationship, say so. If she doesn't, move on. Don't play up male cheating stereotypes by constantly ogling other women and flirting shamelessly in front of your partner. If you want to go on a "guys night" in a new relationship, and your partner is nervous, ask her along. Show her there is nothing to fear. If she's worth calling a girlfriend, she is worth treating AS a friend. Don't just dismiss her. if she gets too paranoid, talk to her. If she doesn't have legitimate reasons for her mistrust, move on. But above all else, be willing to communicate. Oh, and figure it out- women don't want to be "that cool woman he's always wanted to find". They want to be themselves.

Wygant-3. Trash-talking other women. A huge mistake many women make is trash-talking other women in front of the man they're dating. For example, you are out with him when a woman walks by wearing a skimpy short skirt. You say, "Look how promiscuous that woman looks! I can't believe she is going around in public like that!" What you are doing when you make comments like this to a guy you're dating is telling him that you're not confident in the way you look. It tells him that you don't love who you are and haven't embraced your own body. You are planting a seed of doubt in him, causing him to wonder if he he should date someone else who is more confident (and tolerant). Don't trash-talk other women. It makes you look really insecure.

Neko- 3. Don't be the pot calling the kettle black. Men trash-talk other men, too. News flash- insecurity happens. Any person who goes around 100% secure in themselves is either a liar or an egomaniac. Sure, trash-talking people is bad. No one should do it. But people do. All the time. So what to do? Better advice- Get to the root of the problem. I'll talk more about women's insecurities in the next point, but suffice it to say, everyone can use an ego boost now and then. Make your partner feel good about herself with honest compliments, pay attention to her, and don't make her feel like you are always looking to upgrade to a better model. It'll amaze you how much less she will feel the need to run down other people if she feels good about herself.

Wygant- 4. Fishing for compliments. This is something that can drive a man crazy. Here is a typical scenario: The guy you're dating looks at you and says, "You really look beautiful tonight!" Ten minutes later, you look at him and ask, "How do I look tonight?" Stop fishing for compliments. Real compliments come from the heart. Allow us to compliment you when we really mean it. If we don't give a compliment at the exact moment you desire it, just accept it and be OK with that.

Neko- 4. Don't expect your partner to be bulletproof. Women's low self- esteem is a feature of the system, not a bug. Women are taught from an early age that they are only as good as they look, and that they look awful. Pretty screwed up, isn't it? Any woman who isn't always secretly hoping for compliments either is fully liberated from patriarchal gender-norming and beauty standards, (pretty rare), or lying to you and herself. And if a woman does like her looks? She's branded a stuck-up, self absorbed bitch. Better advice- Give your partner compliments. Understand the fucked-up system she navigates, and applaud her for her strength, don't ridicule her for her weaknesses. Give compliments about things other than the way she looks too, and clearly communicate to her that you like the way she looks, but the rest of her is even more important to you. Don't expect a woman to be "OK" with your thoughtlessness.

Wygant- 5. Clingy and possessive. You don't need to do everything together. You're still getting to know him. If there are things he likes to do that simply don't interest you, be cool with it. You don't have to be joined at the hip. If you are going to a cocktail party together, you don't have to be next to him at every moment. If you see him speaking with some woman at the party, do not immediately run over and start grabbing his hand and giving him a big hug -- and certainly don't do this all night long. You are being clingy and possessive when you do this.

Neko- 5. Get over yourself, all ready. Wanting to spend time with a new boyfriend isn't necessarily being clingy. It's called infatuation. People in the beginning stages of a relationship often want to spend every minute together possible. it usually wears off after a while, and then- OMG!- people tend to miss the "good old days" when every minute together was bliss. Insecurity can also be a factor in "clingy" behavior too, so refer to #4 and #5 above. Better advice- Enjoy the infatuation stage while you have it. If you don't find yourself wanting to be with your partner a lot, ask yourself why, and be honest with her about the answer. Set boundaries early on, and if things seem to be getting out of control, talk to your partner. Try to find activities the two of you can do together, instead of just doing things you want to do. Don't take your partner to a cocktail party where she knows no one else and expect her not to gravitate to you- the one person she knows- all night. And don't get flirty with other women and expect for her to nod and smile. If you really just want to play the field, do it, and stop pretending to be a boyfriend all ready.

Wygant-6. Pushing friends on him. Avoid pushing friends on us too soon. Example: A woman will hang out with a guy on the first or second date and say to him, "You have to meet my friends Jenna and Amy. You also have to meet my friends Phil and Anne; they're such a great couple, and you'll love them!" A man hears this and thinks, "I don't even know you yet. Can I get to know you for a month or two before I have to go meet all of your friends and be put on display as 'the boyfriend?'" We don't want to be "the boyfriend" right away. It's too much pressure. We want to get to know you slowly and learn what you're all about. Believe me, once we get to know you -- and like you -- we will be more willing to get to know all of your friends.

Neko- 6. Stop being antisocial. Women are taught that they gain status through relationships, and the romantic relationship is one of the most important status-givers for a woman. She's also showing off her "assets" to you- see how many people like her? Think this is screwy? No duh. Patriarchy is pretty illogical. But it's the system that gives you your male privilege, so you better not piss on it too much. Better advice- If a woman invites you to meet her friends, take it as the high compliment that it is. Again, set boundaries. Let her know how much time you are willing to spend with people you don't know. And if you don't want to be "the boyfriend" right away? Walk away now. Because I'm betting you won't feel like being the boyfriend any more in six weeks or six months. Seriously. if you are dating someone, and you don't even know if you "like" them yet, you are the one with the problem.

Wygant- Snappy conclusion. Following these tips will help you get past the first month of a new relationship with a man and avoid some of the major pitfalls that can end a new relationship before it even starts. Be the confident woman you really are so we have a chance to embrace you. Don't scare us off before we have a chance to get to know you!

Neko- Exasperated conclusion. Following these tips will help you see your partner as a real human being, and not just a cardboard cutout! Heck, it might even help you see that you are not, in fact, the center of the universe! And if these don't work? The relationship probably wouldn't have, either. Better to get out quick, rather than drag both people through the muck.

Oh, and if you know we are "confident women" you want to embrace, what's all the pissing and moaning about in the first place?