Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why I'm a Feminist

I started thinking about this post about a week or so ago, after Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke -- a Georgetown Law student who testified before Congress in favor of insurance coverage of birth control -- a "slut" and a "prostitute."  I'm not going to bother linking to the video, or to one of the many stories online now about the controversy.  Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week, you've heard it already.

I've self-identified as a feminist since college, after I took a media and cultural studies class that talked about the theories and attitudes behind feminism.  Prior to that, I don't believe I thought about gender activism much.  In my young life, I had never felt repressed or restricted because of my gender.  I had grown up with family and teachers who told me I could do whatever I wanted.  If I thought of feminism at all -- and I'm now ashamed to admit this -- I thought of the angry, man-hating "womyn" often satirized on television and in film.

But in that class, I started to see the subtle, yet insidious, ways gender roles are reinforced in media and film.  Take, for example, a movie like Clueless.  Cher, the heroine, is depicted as flighty and shallow, concerned only with clothes and boys, until she falls in love with her activist stepbrother Josh and changes herself so he'll like her.  Or Sex and the City, where intelligent, educated women with successful careers spend entire episodes talking to each other solely about men and fashion.  Or any of the numerous romantic comedies and romance novels where thirty-something (or even twenty-something!) women, often with successful careers and social lives, are ridiculed or pitied by their families and friends for not being married (The Wedding Date, Picture Perfect, Bridget Jones' Diary, 27 Dresses, et al).  (In contrast, when was the last time you saw a movie about a guy being harrassed by family and friends because he isn't married?)  Or even take the not-so-innocent 1978 musical Grease, where the grand finale features goody-two-shoes Sandy dressing in spandex and leather to woo her biker bad boy.  No one remembers that Danny spent a good chunk of the movie going out for sports teams and going all All-American High Schooler to win Sandy, because as soon as the spandex and platform heels came out, there went Danny's letter sweater.

I was also introduced to a new idea of feminism, one in which the main idea was that both men and women should be treated and regarded equally in society.  Well, of course, I thought, I believe in all that stuff.  My professor then went on to point out that, as a woman especially, why wouldn't you be a feminist, when the only requirement is the belief in male and female equality?

Since then, I've been subjected to questions -- from boyfriends, from friends, from coworkers -- as to why I would identify myself as a feminist.  After all, men and women are equal now, right?  Women can now vote and go to college and get jobs and do whatever they want.  What more could we ask for?  And if there are movies and books and television shows and comics out there that perpetuate stereotypes, so what?  It's just entertainment, right?  No one actually watches Grease and thinks, "Gee, I really need to give up my poodle skirts and cardians and start wearing spandex and heavy makeup."  It's not like anyone even wears poodle skirts anymore, anyway.  I'm clearly reading too much into it.

But then comes a debate like this.  Should private organizations be required to provide insurance coverage for birth control, even if such medication violates the core beliefs and principles of that organization?  But instead of discussing that point, Limbaugh resorted to calling Fluke -- who had done nothing more than testify her point of view to Congress -- a slut and a prostitute, and saying that Fluke should post her sexual encounters online.

Limbaugh has since apologized for his statements.  Whether because of genuine remorse, or because his advertisers starting fleeing from the show, I don't know.  It doesn't really matter.  The fact is, Limbaugh himself has acknowledged that his remarks were inappropriate and uncalled for.  So why does it matter?

It matters because a discussion that should be about the authority of the government and the rights of private institutions has instead focused on women's sexuality.  If a woman advocates for having birth control subsidized by insurance companies, it must be because she's having so much sex.  Let's overlook the fact that women take birth control for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with sex, including regulating their periods, lessening painful periods or heavy periods, managing hormonal disorders and ovarian cysts, and even clearing up acne.

But let's pretend, just for a minute, that every woman who takes birth control is taking it for contraception, that they are sexually active and choosing to use birth control pills to prevent pregnancy.

So what.

That's a statement, not a question.  So what.  What does it matter?  Don't women have the right to have sex with whomever they want, whenever they want?  If one woman wants to have sex with one person, or one thousand, how is it anyone's business but her own?

Yet so much of this debate has focused not on whether the government should force private institutions to subsidize birth control in their insurance plans, but on whether we should pay women to have sex.  And every time the debate turns in that direction, there's that unspoken -- or, in Limbaugh's case, spoken -- accusation: that women having sex are bad and dirty and whorish, that it's not acceptable for a woman to have sex, outside of marriage, possibly with multiple partners.  Subsidizing birth control will encourage more women to have sex, and that's not okay. 

Yet we also live in a society that often encourages men to "sow their wild oats," so to speak, to go out and have sex with as many different partners as possible.  If it's not actively encouraged, it's at least overlooked.  Certainly men who do so are not subjected to the same cruel rhetoric as women are.

Yes, we live in a society that allows us to educate ourselves and get jobs and pursue our own happiness -- no matter what our gender -- and I'm grateful for that.  But we also live in a society that still holds double standards for men and women.  And it's not only bad for women; it's bad for men, too.  We still live in a society that teaches men to view women with sexual histories as sluts.  We still live in a society that teaches women to feel ashamed of their own sexuality.

And that's why I'm a feminist: because we're still not equal.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Things I need to do

I've found over the past few years that I need defined, measurable goals to keep myself focused.  National Novel Writing Month, which I completed back in November 2009, was a boon for me, productivity-wise, because it kept me on task.  In order to make the 50,000-word goal by the end of November, you need to write approximately 1,667 words every day.  It was an ambitious goal, but I found that it was a doable one.  I could mark my progress daily, figure out whether I was on target, and adjust my work time and output if I was not.

In 2010 I wrote a novel, which I spent a good chunk of 2011 revising.  Unfortunately, in 2011 life got in the way, and my output of new material was...well, crappy.  I got a new job, which altered my work hours.  (I had previously been writing mostly in the mornings, before I had to go to work at 10:30.  Now, I have to be in the office by 7:30.  Somehow, getting up at 7 and writing for two hours is a lot less daunting than getting up at 4 and writing for two hours.)  I also had to travel for work a lot more, especially during the summer.  Plus, there was a lot of other stuff going on in my personal life that took my time and emotional energy, some of it good, some of it...not.  I had thought things would calm down after the New Year and I'd be able to write more, but so far I've been lacking.

I think I need to set a goal for myself again.

So I'm thinking about doing my own mini-NaNo, in which I set my own personal goal of 50,000 words in a month.  One of my Facebook friends pointed out that 50,000 may be too ambitious a goal.  He may be right.  I completed NaNo without a problem in November 2009.  But in November 2009, I was single with a job that required no traveling.  Here in February 2012, I have to live with the fact that the office may send me away at very short notice--and frankly, I don't get much done while traveling. 

Plus, I'm no longer single; I'm now involved with a guy who lives three hours away.  The distance is not terrible (especially considering that, once upon a time, I kinda/sorta dated a guy who lived in the United Kingdom!), but it does mean that some thought and planning and coordination are required before I see him--not to mention the travel time there and back, if I go there.  Plus, once I'm there, I'm not really thinking about my fictional world; the real one is so much more engaging, at that point.  (And writing is a very, very solitary activity for me, and I have difficulty forcing so much as a sentence of fiction out with other people around.) 

Frankly, I want to see him whenever I can.  I dig him.  Things are pretty much cupcakes with a side of ice cream right now.  So yeah, it's definitely a time suck that I didn't have two and a half years ago.  But it's a time suck I want, and it's non-negotiable.  Writing may be good for my mental health, but so is he.

So yeah...50,000 words was doable back in November 2009, but in February 2012 it may be a strain.  That said, I need to find a way to fit writing into my life now, without sacrificing the things that are important to me.  I need to set a goal for myself that is both ambitious enough to feel like an accomplishment, yet realistic enough to be completed without killing myself.

The aforementioned Facebook friend suggested three pages a day.  Since word counts are something that my damned left brain (which I keep trying to get rid of), I'm thinking maybe 25,000 words in the next 30 days.  Total of 834 words a day.  Doable, right?  And also something I may be able to progress into future months.

And if I make it, I'm totally buying myself something nice next month.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I don't know what I don't know

I am an agnostic.

This isn't something I'm closed-mouthed about, or something I hide from people.  However, it's not usually something I talk about so openly (certainly not on a public blog) because religion and personal belief systems are icky topics that tend to make people uncomfortable and, sometimes, angry.  If they don't believe the same way as you, you must be right and they must be wrong.  How many wars can trace their roots back to differing belief systems?

But I decided to air this one over my blog, and on Facebook, because I'm tired of misunderstandings and misconceptions, and I have a few things I need to say.

As an agnostic, I neither believe nor disbelieve in some sort of higher power, deity, or deities.  Honestly, I just don't know, and I don't think I have enough information either way to make a decision.  On the one hand, it's difficult for me to believe in something I cannot see, hear, touch, smell, or taste.  On the other, I'd like to say that I keep an open mind to the world of possibilities.  I think the world--and the universe--is a big and mysterious place, and we cannot begin to quantify it all in terms and concepts we can understand.  On the other, just because something hasn't been explained doesn't mean it cannot.

This is not a place I arrived at quickly or easily.  I started questioning my own personal belief system when I was in my early teens.  This was where I arrived after years of reflection, and I've been here for the better part of a decade now.

I think maybe the ambiguity of it is uncomfortable for some people.  I have friends who are religious, and I have friends who are atheists.  (A roughly equal number of both, as a matter of fact.)  I find that I receive pressure--from both sides--to "decide," to "figure it out."  Do I believe in a higher power or not?  Pick a team, pick a side.

The atheists in my life, when I question the idea of where did we come from, how--if there is no higher power--something could come from nothing, say to me, "Oh, I was there once.  The chicken-and-egg argument.  You'll get to where I am eventually."

The religious people in my life, when I question why, if there is a higher power, the world tends to be such an incredibly screwed up, cruel place to so many, say, "You've just lost your way.  You'll find it again."

(And before I go on, I'd like to note that this is not all the atheists in my life, or all the religious people in my life, by any means.  But responses like this seem to happen almost every time my beliefs come up.)

I am not lost.  I am not undecided.  I have decided that I don't know.

I am not saying that this can't, or won't change.  But I don't think it's likely.  Sometimes I envy people who have faith--and I include atheists in this number.  Religious people have faith in a higher power.  Atheists have faith there is none.  It must be nice to feel like you have answers instead of just questions.  But I'm not wired that way.  Any answer I try only leads to more questions, and I'm not satisfied with answers that leave so much doubt.

I believe in asking questions.  I believe in questioning your assumptions.  I believe in keeping an open mind.  I believe in using words like "impossible" and "never" sparingly, because you don't know what you don't know.

I believe in possibility.

I also believe in respecting others and their belief systems.  I think this is one of the reasons why I've had friends from so many different nationalities, backgrounds, political affiliations, and belief systems.  As long as you respect me, and I respect you, it's all good.

You're allowed to disagree with me.  Most of the people I know do.  But don't patronize me.  For me, this is not a "stepping stone" to a less ambigious belief system.  I am not naive, nor am I having a crisis of faith (or a crisis of doubt, as it may be).  Until I see a vision in the sky saying, "This is the answer," I will continue to ask these questions.  (And even after I'd see such a vision, I'd probably still ask questions, like whether I should get an MRI to check for possible brain tumors.)

I could say, "I believe in a higher power," or "I am an athiest."  I could choose my faith, pick my side.  It would certainly be easier for me.  But that would make me a liar, and a hypocrite, and I respect myself too much to be either one of those things.

Personal beliefs are exactly that: personal.  Mine are no different.  When I tell you that I'm an agnostic, I'm not looking for help or guidance.  I'm okay with where I am.  I only ask that you respect that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sometimes People Suck, Part 2

I wonder sometimes if I'm just too damaged for relationships.

I guess I could make the argument that I'm talking about all interpersonal relationships, but there's definitely something different--something MORE--about romantic relationships.

I'm stubborn, argumentative, and quick-tempered.  All my life, people have told me how "difficult" I am.  After awhile, such descriptors stick to you, to the way you see yourself.

I know happy relationships exist.  I've seen them.  But I wonder sometimes if that's even possible for me.  Maybe I'm just too broken, too unwilling to compromise, too unable to change.

Or maybe I don't trust enough, won't let anyone close enough to my heart.  And why should I bother?  When I do, I get hurt.

I don't know if people are worth it.  I don't know if relationships are worth it.  For whatever momentary happiness they bring into your life, they seem to be accompanied by so much pain and aggrivation.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Because People Suck

I am a loner.

This is not news to anyone who knows me.  I can, during the best of times, lock myself in my apartment, turn on my Kindle, and forget about the rest of the world.

I thought, for a long time, that my reclusiveness was just a function of my character.  After all, both writing and reading--my two primary sources of escape--are solitary activities.  (Especially since my brand of writing involves talking to myself and pacing.  Lots and lots of pacing.)

But I'm beginning to wonder how much of it is driven by my character, and how much of it is self-preservation.

Sometimes I think it would be easier to live a life where I cut myself off from people altogether.  Sometimes I think it would even be better.

When you start to care about other people, they frequently disappoint you.  That's a lesson I have learned over and over again throughout my life.  It's not that most people are inherently bad, it's that they're selfish.  When you need to depend on them, selfish impulses will often override whatever care they have for you.  I have a theory, that the selfishness of people can be measured on a bell curve.  66% of people fall within one standard deviation of the midpoint--i.e. true neutrality, neither selfish nor selfless.  They're not going to kick your puppy or burn your house down, but they're not going to give up their seat on the bus when you're carrying heavy packages or give you change for the pay phone if you've lost your cell.

Even the people you think you're supposed to be able to rely on, the ones who will have your back no matter what, aren't immune.  In my life, family members have frequently been the worst offenders.

When you open yourself up to people, when you allow yourself to care about them, you're opening yourself up to get hurt.  I've been hurt enough to hesitate to take the risk.

A life of solitude might get lonely, but you'll never get hurt, either.  You'll never trust someone who betrays you.  You'll never love someone who abandons you.  You'll never grieve for someone who dies on you.

So you have to decide: what's the more worthwhile option?  Do you risk yourself and allow other people into your heart, or do you protect yourself and keep others out?

Right now, I'm honestly not sure.