Sunday, September 29, 2013

Men: Using Privilege for Good, Speaking Truth to Power, Being Good Feminists

Toward the end of the summer, my boyfriend was walking me back to campus one afternoon. I took an unusual route, looping the outer edge of campus, rather than walking through the main quad. He asked why. I walk that way because it is quieter, not much longer, less crowded, and, in the mornings when I am usually walking home, much prettier. I added as a caveat, assuming ti was why he had asked, that I walked on the busier, more populated quad when I was alone late at night.

He paused and said to me "I am so sorry that you have to think about things like that."

Not "Oh, my goodness I'm never letting you walk home alone again!" He didn't try to claim the experience, or take it over; with that simple phrase, he just acknowledged it, acknowledged that it was something he would never have to face, and reassured me that he was there.

A few weeks later he was reading an article called something like "100 Things Men Can Do to Help Women." As he read down the list he would occasionally ask for confirmation. "Would that really be helpful?!?" Usually, the answer was yes.

There are a lot of problems with men thinking they can improve the situation for women, as so many oppressed groups find, your oppressors cannot unchain you, you must unchain yourself. But we give men a bad reputation. Many, if not most, men are allies.

This wonderful man, from whom I have heard in the course of our friendship and subsequent relationship some unwittingly offensive things, now tells me I can bring him home a pink and black "THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE" t-shirt from work. He has never paused for a moment to question my struggle as a woman when I choose to articulate it to him. He validates my experiences and doesn't ask how to fix them for me, though I'm sure he would do anything I asked. I occasionally tell him to check himself – his position, his privilege – and he does.

The power we have when we trust our allies to be our support, not our saviors, is immense. Too often, we fear letting allies in because we worry they will rewrite our stories as their own. So thank you, Benjamin, for continuing to allow me to struggle, for quietly reassuring me that I am not alone, but creating spaces where I have autonomy, self-authorship, and the freedom to choose my own battles, path, and destiny. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tabula Rasa

Sometimes I wonder what my political views would be if I had gotten the opportunity to make those choices outside of the context of social construct that is political life in this country. I would like to think that I would still be as socially liberal as I am, I don't much care what my fiscal policy would be, but I am way less confidant of that than I would like to be. If I was raised in a socially conservative, heavily capitalist, "Don't Tread on Me" environment, I don't think I could say I would be what I am.

I was sitting in a class last night and we were talking about school choice. School choice means a lot of different things and I'll preface this discussion with the caveat that I have no idea how I feel about the concept. One aspect of school choice is public choice, where a parent can choose to send their student to any other public school. Currently, this typically happens when schools aren't meeting the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standard of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). Once a school is deemed "failing" parents are allowed to voluntarily move their students to other public school. The second educational choice is to enter a charter school. Usually entrance to a charter is determined by a lottery within the community, with preference sometimes given to families (basically, if the brother/sister is already in the school the second, third, fourth, etc. children have higher chances). I went to a Montessori charter school for three years and truly enjoyed my time there, especially the second two years, but I watched many of my peers really struggle, particularly upon reentry to the traditional public school system (the charter was only K-8). The third and generally most controversial form of choice is voucher systems. If voucher programs are available, students can move to private schools and their public funds will follow them.

Republicans tend to favor voucher programs, the Obama administration has actively opposed them, and I don't think I like them very much, but I have no idea whether that is because I really think they're wrong, or because I know that being liberal means I oppose them. Charter schools are an even bigger shenanigan, largely because people seem so divided. I think I like them, but I liked the one I was at. I really disliked a recent school board candidate in my hometown who didn't like them, but I don't know if that is because it feels like a personal affront to a system that served me well, or because I really think charter schools are important.

Mostly, I just wish I could have had a chance to make up my minds about these issues, and all issues, outside of the bubbles of liberalism or conservatism. And I wonder how different of a person I would be, and, for some reason, it really disturbs me that I might not be exactly who I want because I grew up in a society that was giving me competing views on what to believe. There is much agreement that the social construction of beauty is dangerous for women's health and happiness, why, then, is politics not subjected to the same criticisms of a socially constructed institution?

So the point I end up at is one where there cannot possibly be any right or wrong, even though I desperately want to believe civil rights, freedoms, and liberties are right. And if that's the truth then nothing I think really matters much anyway. That's an incredibly disheartening place to be.

In many ways I crave being right, yet at the same time we reside in this culture that, at least at face value, places the utmost importance on respecting all opinions and recognizing all positions as valid. I cannot be right and recognize others' rightness, so I must be wrong?

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Failings of People

One of the greatest mysteries to me in this world has always been hate: bigoted, racist, sexist, ideological, homophobic, adamant, fearful, unwavering, unfounded hate.

A student of sociology I completely understand how one learns to hate. What is around us, shapes us. If we grow up in a community and a culture that hates, that is almost invariably our course. But we land in that position not by thinking we are hateful and going on anyway, but by truly believing the lies that we are being fed to be true. Generally not even by malicious people, but by other people who were raised and taught the same way,

What really baffles me though, is maintaining all of those feelings after being given clear and contrary evidence. A child gets told all gay people are sinners, and so they believe. But when they later meet lovely gay folks, and learn about them and their lives and their dreams, logic would require a tipping point at which all minds were changed.

Hate seems to be one of the easiest things in the world to learn, but one of the hardest things in the world to unlearn. It seems to me that one of the sole priorities of humanity on this planet now should be figuring out why.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Grieving for Girlyman

I don't think it ever occurred to me that I could grieve for something other than a person.

As I've now written here many times, I saw Girlyman for the first time the night before my first day of high school. I remember not really wanting to go to the Indigo Girls (Girlyman was opening) concert because it was the idea of an aunt I don't like very much and I was so nervous to start school the next day. I feel in love with Nate's song about his grandmother, and only in writing this have I come to realize that that is largely because is many ways "Reva Thereafter" reminds me a lot of my own grandmother. I don't know that there are many musical groups that an 80-year-old woman, 50-year-old woman, and 20-year-old woman can consistently enjoy together, but we managed it. Girlyman has always been a bit of family affair for us.

I spent high school surviving on the power they gave me. I screamed songs at people that had hurt me as I sung along, we would have rousing choruses in the car, and it helped me to articulate love.

Several months ago, Girlyman announced that they would be taking a hiatus from touring and writing as a group to work on themselves and other projects. I was annoyed, but fine.

Yesterday, Girlyman announced that they were permanently breaking up and I find myself profoundly angry.

Who gives these four people the right to take away one of my greatest joys over the last four years, second only to my job and my amazing relationship. I can't even listen to old music now because it is too painful a reminder of something I will never get to have again. I never get to sit in an audience next to my two best friends in the world and just lose myself in the magic and the moment and the ability to feel.

Perhaps it's because I have always found it rather hard to express or validate my emotions, even to myself, and Girlyman was a space in which I could do that. They kept saying everything I wanted to but hadn't figured out how to yet.

"It's not quite gone, but it's not around. Must be somewhere different now."

Except it isn't. You made it gone. And I don't how or if I will ever get past that. And so now I am stuck grieving a thing I didn't know I could lose. And I don't think a new star is growing out of this supernova.

"Gone the supernova's over, burned out. Everywhere I look for it I strike out."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

To Move Beyond, Must We Forget?

Twelve years ago I was sitting in a third grade classroom two miles from Ft. Detrick as my peers names were coming in continuously over the intercom saying their parents had come to retrieve them. Today, I sat in the Pentagon Memorial reading 184 names of people that are no longer with us. The youngest person on flight 77 was three. Her older sister was nine. Their parents were both on the place as well.

Walking back a friend mentioned that one of our peers was annoyed that the anniversary services are getting smaller and smaller each year. But isn't that natural, even appropriate? Those of us that are young adults now barely remember our 7-year-old selves; the U.S. is moving out of the wars 9/11 got us into.

We cannot move forward, thinking about the attacks less and less only to whip out a giant ceremony once a year to make ourselves feel like we aren't being irreverent. We can and should be moving on. And we shouldn't be afraid that moving on means diminishing the value of those lives or our sympathy for their sacrifice.

As a nation we cannot continue to pretend one a year that one day 12 years ago still plagues our day-to-day national consciousness.