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Category Archives: Empathy

Ethnocentricity and Gender Violence: Where Sense8 Failed

I was quite upset last year when I found out there would be no more new episodes of Sense8, especially when the last episode ended on such a kickass moment. But a year on, I realized an issue with the show that I hadn’t noticed when actually watching the show. There were glaring issues that were present in my mind as I watched the show. But this one that I’ve more recently thought of is quite possibly the biggest issue in the crafting of the show. And that is the issue of the whitewashing of Kala’s experience in India to be basically the same as any privileged American woman. Spoilers below.

The Characters

Some characters had very personal issues while others had issues that dealt with major national and global issues. Sun, who lived in South Korea, had to deal with the fact that no matter how good or capable she was in her life, she was often seen as inadequate based on her sex alone, and her brother could be the worst person imaginable and still be considered better than her. We see this in her decision to sacrifice herself to the law to hide her brother’s embezzlement of the family’s company funds. We also see this in the fact that to compete in her favored martial art, she had to do so under an assumed name and eventually quit competing altogether. Nomi was a trans woman, who had to face her family’s rejection and even the rejection of other women of her identity. Her mother continually dead named her whenever her family deigned to contact her. And some feminists saw Nomi as a man trying to take more from women. Riley’s issues were much more personal. She had to deal with the underbelly of club life, but most of all, she had to deal with her grief over losing her husband and child. Wolfgang had to deal with the gang life of Berlin, trying desperately to both stay alive in a dangerous world and carve out a place for himself in it. Lito, living the predominantly Catholic and highly toxic masculinity soaked Mexico, had to hide who he was from the world in order to continue the career he loved. This was definitely the most turmoil filled of the character issues. Capheus had to deal with the difficult task of getting his mother AIDS medication and surviving the very dangerous violence of poverty-stricken Kenya and possibly corrupt government. Will, a Chicago cop, had to deal with the very adversarial nature of policing an area that hated the police and divisive community that both wanted help and was suspect of it. Kala was asked to marry the son of an affluent man who owned the company she worked for and deal with meshing her religious family with his non-religious family.

Some of these storylines grew and development or were dropped entirely by the end of season two. Eventually, Sun just worked to murder her brother, Nomi spent most of her time in hiding from the law but also developed a better relationship with her sister, Riley had a pivotal moment wherein she had to at least stop suppressing her memories of her deceased family but then simply spent season two helping Will, Wolfgang continued to try to find himself a place in the organized crime of Berlin, Lito was outed and his Mexican film career was ruined but his career was opening up in the US after giving an amazing speech at a Pride parade, Capheus was pushed to run for a political position to help his community with integrity, Will developed a heroin addiction but also spearheaded the fight against the shady organization after them, and Kala married her wealthy paramour and found out that many of their poorly produced meds went to the areas that needed them the most, such as Kenya.

Gender Inequality and Violence in India

Back in college, I took a course in Global Women’s Issues which covered problems that women faced the world over. For example, FGM in Africa or Bride Burnings in India. If like me, you’ve paid attention to the gender violence that goes on in India, you would notice that it hasn’t slowed down much. First off, women are not highly valued in their infancy but many communities in the country cannot afford numerous children. As such, there aren’t currently many women in India. Counter to most statistics elsewhere, men outnumber women in India. Recently, the NYT covered this subject, but the number of women there is trending upward. But not only are women outnumbered by men, but due to the lack of plumbing infrastructure, there are many public bathrooms throughout major city centers that require people to pay for their use when defecating. Last I read, men’s bathrooms far outnumbered women’s bathrooms beyond the male to female ratio, and since it is hard for a woman to prove whether or not she had only urinated without a major invasion of her privacy, going to the bathroom costs women money more often than men. These two things seem minor, however, in comparison to the violence perpetrated against women in India.

First of all, I had previously mentioned Bride Burnings which involve the killing of a young woman recently married for either her family not paying a dowry, not paying enough or more in the dowry, or when the husband dies and the husband’s family does not wish to pay or care for the young bride. These women are not killed and then their bodies burned. They are burned alive. Unfortunately, the India government, mostly local courts, has turned a blind eye to most of these murders, with a conviction rate of only 33% in 2008.

More commonly, rape is a very prevalent crime in India, despite the idea that it has one of the lowest rates of rape of all countries. This is because rape is not often reported in India. One of the most known incidents was the rape and murder of a student on public transport back in 2012 in Delhi. A male friend of hers was badly beaten during the incident and all six other men, including the bus driver, raped her. She was also violated with a metal rod, severally damaging her internal organs, leading to her eventual death. After this, the public outcry against this kind of extreme gender violence broke out into protests, the demands of which included better safety for women in India. Fortunately, the court did convict the rapists of multiple charges, including rape and murder. All levels of the Indian government got  involved, including the parliament. But this didn’t change too much, as not even a year later, another student was gang-raped. But the men who raped this woman in 2013 got the death sentence, so the government was trying to make rape less and less appealing to gangs. But even as recently as this January, an eight year old was raped and murdered by eight men including two political party members. There have even been reports of mass rapes, which included children and elderly women. The anger over all this gender violence once came to a head in 2004 when a crowd of about 200 women lynched a rapist who called one of his victims a prostitute. The women had stated that he had been bribing the local authorities to prevent arrest or prosecution.

In cultures where women are not valued as equals to men, rape tends to be pretty common. Rape has a much worse impact on women and communities where women are not valued as equals, because a woman’s body and virginity are the way by which the majority of the society values them and how they are able to create livelihoods, not as prostitues but as wives. Rape damages their worth in the society and lowers the number of women considered viable for marriage even when the overall number of women is already too low. One would think that the act of rape would result in the worst possible punishment in communities that bases women’s values on their bodies’ worth as wives and mothers, and while India, the nation, is trying very hard to fight against rape, local governments are fighting against the tide to punish rapists to the maximum limit. The tide is shown below. It shows absolutely and without a doubt what rape culture looks like when it runs amok.

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The American Gaze

The average American has no idea about any of those issues in India. Feminists tend to know about it, and some other people have a general vague idea about these problems. But American news tends to focus nearly entirely on the United States. A person typically really has to dig to find out what’s going on in other countries. It’s not because interest in other nations went down. It’s that a wider American audience was wanted for the news so more US stories tended to get a wider view. So when most Americans hear about another nation, they tend to put an American cultural context on it. And the American cultural context is almost impossible to untangle from slavery, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement. The United States literally sees most things in Black and White, even though those aren’t the only races in the US, let alone the world. Sometimes jokes that are meant to be about regions are seen as racist against Black people. One great example of this is the Brittish conductor’s firing from an American music festival for making a joke to his long-time friend from the South about his possibly wanting grits. This friend happened to be Black. A White woman overheard the joke, which was long-running between the two who traded barbs on a regular basis about what the other one culturally was more likely to consume, assumed it was about his Blackness, then reported it. The music festival never once asked the person who was supposedly subjected to this so-called racism what he thought about it. Their administration made a unilateral decision and fired the conductor. This is far from an acceptable way of handling an accusation of racism. If one simply ignores the cultural differences between Americans and Brittains, but just looks at the fact they didn’t ask the Black person if it was racist, but decided for him that it was, that can be considered racist to the extreme. But the fact that the conductor was Brittish is important. We hardly acknowledge that other countries and cultures have a different and unique history with Black people, let alone consider the interplay between other races. We often don’t pay attention to those issues that affect other minority groups in other countries. We don’t hear about them either, because the US media focuses almost all its minority attention on how Black and White people interact in the US only. As such, the average American tends to apply this filter to all issues in all countries without knowledge or context. You can see such reactions to the attempt to protect women on transport through segregation below. I’m not sure if this will actually help, especially considering the aforementioned victim who died was also raped by the bus driver, but I understand that they are trying something.

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I appreciated the fact that more informed tumblrs were willing to share their information. But since we don’t know the sex of anyone on tumblr, we can’t say for certain that those who brought up segregation were all male nor that all of those who were informed were female. It’s surprising who is and is not informed of other nations’ issues and violence against women. To me, the funnist and most ethnocentric comment is that it reminds them of something “everyone” has learned in school. Do people truly believe that all the intricacies of US history is taught in all other countries in the world? Because that’s just ignorant.

Sense8’s Failing

My real issue with Sense8 in connection to all the above problems is that Kala’s story is whitewashed. It’s about a woman feeling pressured to marry an affluent man (something that still happens in the US) while she’s in love with another man (another thing that happens in the US) and dealing with a pharmaceutical company’s unethical practices (definitely happens in the US). We get a glorified love triangle. To not even mention the very real physical dangers that women in India face, when the show seemed to pride itself on showing the issues facing people of specific demographics around the world, is an unforgivable oversight. And if it was a conscious decision to do so, then the show wasn’t nearly as progressive as it liked to appear. We need more awareness of these issues in India, not to have them glossed over in a TV show that could have exposed a global audience to the gender violence in India.

Maybe they were planning this in another season, but the show was cancelled and I don’t believe that they were planning it, because it’s not even in the background. Kala behaves as if rape isn’t a possibility in her life, going to public places alone and without some kind of defensive device all the time. Even most of her clothes are very Western by comparison to what some of the women in India wear on a day to day basis. I just can’t help but think that this is a great disservice to the women of India. I’m not saying Kala needed to be raped on the show. I’m saying that it should at least have been a topic and fear that she had to deal with on daily basis. Instead, her experience and story feels very Western, and while Western women still worry about rape and rape culture still exists in Western societies, the degree to which Indian women must deal with both is in a much greater extreme. This needed to be shown. Realizing how much this subject was ignored in the show in favor of a love triangle really bothers me and I will most likely not watch the show again, as I have other cancelled or completed shows, because it is just plain bad writing, which is sad considering that Jessica Jones deals with rape in such a poignant fashion.

But What Do You Think?

Were there any other topics that you felt this show ignored that were ripe for showcasing? Were there other shows that ignored a major issue in a culture? Do think it’s purposeful or an accident? I’m interested in what you have to say on the subject.

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I’m Not a Female Writer; I’m a Writer

I remember once during my grad school time, I took a class on creative writing theory. One essay we read was by Langston Hughes, and in it he said that the young black writer who doesn’t want to identify himself as a black writer is wrong. Of course, discussion followed. I was against this idea. My professor hit the nail on the head when he asked me if I want to be identified as a “female writer”. I gave a very quick and very loud, No! in return. I’ll explain why this is so important to me.

To Be Identified Is To Be Qualified

We don’t say that Stephen King is a white writer or a male writer. We say he is a writer. Some may say he is a horror writer, and that is a qualifier of a different sort, but with all the minimization that the genetic qualifiers are used with. Identity social protest and politics are very in right now. I’ve never been behind them, and I’m not behind them in art either. When our identity is put before everything else, it pigeonholds us. It’s a qualifier. “Miceli is a female writer” vs “Miceli is a writer”. It’s clear to me that one of these implies that as a writer, I’m not on equal footing with others. It implies “less than”, a niche, a special case. We get the same thing with athletes and scientists. It’s not necessary to say a person is a woman. Let other people figure it out on their own.

To say that Stephen King is a male writer is to suggest that we can’t expect good women from him. But his first novel blows that theory out of the water. To say that he is a white writer is to suggest that we can’t expect him to understand the issues that ethnic minorities face. That’s also disproven. To say that I’m a female writer is to suggest that you can’t expect good male characters from me. Empathy is supposed to bridge these gaps. It is a writer’s greatest tool and we can stop qualifying people at any point.

The Womanly Effect on Writing

Well, being a woman has an effect on my writing in the same way that being a man effects a male writer: minimally, if you wield empathy correctly and well. I have no control over the sex I was born with, nor even with the sex I identify with; however, I’m a strange person. I don’t get along with most women. We often have less to talk about. I don’t wear makeup, and I get haircuts every two years. I hate fussing with my appearance and don’t like kids. This is basically the opposite of most women I know. I do identify myself as a woman, but about as much as I identify myself as a human being. All of us are human beings, and a little more than half of us are physically female. It’s what I am. It’s not who I am. I have other things that I feel make up who I am a little stronger than those two things. Those are foundation, not home.

I have a learning disability. It made me incredibly different those around me. It made learning how to read and write so much harder. Yet all the rewards were so much sweeter. I am an atheist, not by choice (it’d be easier in this world to believe and I tried), when everyone around me was devout. I had to discover Christianity and discover that I didn’t believe in it, nor anything else resembling creation, the divine, or an afterlife. I more recently discovered that I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and had to learn how to deal with that. These things more greatly explain the kind of person I am and explain the kind of writer I am a lot better than simply being a woman. Being a childfree woman has more of an effect than just being a woman.

Being a woman is so simply a part of me that it is hard for me to focus on it. Just as I imagine being a man is hard for men to focus on. I think only people who want to simplify themselves focus on their genetic differences. It’s easier to feel like you’re part of it all when you can pick out others who look like you and feel the same things you do. But I identify with no one and everyone, because everyone feels differently and feels the same. I think that’s what writing and art is supposed to show us, which is why what the writer is doesn’t matter, just what they write.

Proud to Be a Woman and My Name?

First of all, my name is Alex. It is not Alexis, Alexandrea, Alexa, or Alexandra. My first name really is just Alex. Yes, people have thought that I was male before meeting me on occasion. This doesn’t usually bother me too much. I am not proud of what I didn’t accomplish. I didn’t accomplish being a woman. That doesn’t mean anything. I didn’t control it. Genetic chance doesn’t seem like something I should be proud of. I’m proud of the things I do. I’m also not ashamed of things out of my control, like genetic chance. It doesn’t make any sense to me to be so. I feel like pride and shame should be wrapped up in actions, not chance. So I’m proud of this blog, my Patreon, my published play, the awards I’ve won, the stories and poems I’ve written, the actions I’ve taken to help others.

I Am Woman; Hear Me Roar?

I care about women’s issues. I  also care about men’s issues. I care about poverty issues. I care about animal cruelty. I care about messed up beaucracity. I care about everything that feels like it is hurting another living creature. Some are higher on the list of emotional response, such as women’s access to sterilization in the US and animal cruelty or the treating of animals as property. I don’t necessarily let these things guide my writing however. Instead, I let my writing guide itself. Will it be effected by these things? Of course, they are all in my head, and what’s in my head invariably comes out in my creations. I don’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write about animal cruelty”, unless I’m writing here in this blog or for a paper. In my creative work, I’m writing from an image or a character first, not an ideal or an injustice. Let the work be interpreted as audiences are wont to do. I know I interpret work I experience.

I’m Simply a Writer

The end goal of equality should be to be seen no different than someone who is different. Of course, that doesn’t apply when I go to the doctor, except that the doctor should still see me as someone who is smart enough to make decisions about my body. Overall, though, I am simply a writer. This is who I am above all things. I’m reading about Jonathan Swift right now, and I keep having some eerie feelings while doing so, because his attitude is so much like mine (Everybody can fuck off, but I worry that you’re being treated like shit). He lived centuries ago, in a different country, and with a different set of sex organs, but I keep getting the idea that I would have loved this man and also never hung out with him, just as I never hang out with anyone. I don’t like people when they are in front of me, but I certainly care about them. This seems to be something a lot of other people feel, and it doesn’t seem to be effected by gender. It’s an example of how characteristics transcend obvious genetic differences. They can also transcend cultures and times. We can all find something that connects us to someone else. Anyone else. We can all empathize, if we try, with everyone in the world. And that effects my writing more than my sex.

 

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Passive vs Active: The Language of Victimization, Victim-Blaming, and the Intent vs Effect of Communication

Recently some friends on Facebook posted this spiel about the use of passive voice in talking about gendered crime and statistics. Read it for yourself below.

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I immediately felt uncomfortable with the whole thing. I have several reasons why. Keep reading if you’re interested in why.

Passive Voice and Crime Reporting

The quote above by Katz is focused on gender related victimization; however, we use the passive voice when speaking about crime in general. Reporters will often write or say “Last night a man was mugged while walking to his car” or “Many people’s identities were stolen last week” or “A teenager was hit by a car yesterday”. So right off the bat, I question the validity of linking the use of passive voice with gendered crime exclusively. “Was murdered”, “was attacked”, “was car-jacked”, “was mugged”, “was abused” are all terms used in the reporting of crime and do not specify gender. I argue that rape isn’t even a gendered crime, so I cannot help but feel that Katz is limiting the use of passive voice to gendered crime is a limit of the mind and excludes victims.

Counting Crimes

Another issue with this argument is that the number of victims and the number of perpetrators is disproportionate. We can easily count those who have been victimized. We cannot count perpetrators until they have been convicted. The teen pregnancy is the best example of where in reporting the number of instances, the pregnancy count is more accurate than the number of males involved in those pregnancies. First of all, the chances of a male getting more than one teenager pregnant is pretty good (which is horrible, I agree), but we have no way of tracking that. We can, however, track the teen pregnancy amounts. If the guy got pregnant or had some sort of messed up score card emblazoned on his forehead, we would count that instead.

Focus on the Pain = Focus on the Victim

I don’t believe we should take the narrative of the event away from the victim. In doing so, we remove the focus on the pain they have suffered. We can argue that active voice about a perpetrator can express outrage; however, outrage should not be the focus. Empathy for the victim should be the focus. We do this by presenting the narrative of the event from the perspective of the victim. We keep the victim as the subject of the sentences. When the media reports on victimed crimes, they are required (generally) to do so impassively. They cannot present outrage in their tone, especially with written reports vs verbal ones. As such the narrative with the perpetrator as the subject of the sentences can create a dissonance because we are used to narratives wherein we are meant to believe and empathize with the subject of the sentences. We all have years and years of training to think this way. Imagine the story of Brock Turner and his victim as presented by him vs the letter she wrote to the judge. Or compare the dispassionate reporting of the events from his perspective vs from hers. If the press gave his story first, most people would be predisposed to disbelieve her story coming second. The act is not made illegal based on the inner thinking of the perpetrator but for the damage it causes the victim. While I see the dangers of passive voice in fictional narratives, I see it as a necessity in the reporting of victimed crimes to focus the empathy on the victim.

Passive Voice and Victimization

Katz presents the idea that by focusing on the victim, we are also holding them responsible for their victimization. However, besides leaving the victim as the subject of the sentences and thus the focus of empathy, passive voice perfectly matches the reality for victims. Being a victim is a passive act. Victims did not do anything to bring on their victimization. Of course, passive voice should be used when describing victims. They were not active in their victimization. It is the very opposite of victim-blaming to use passive voice. Victims themselves are allowed to use whichever form they please (I was mugged vs Someone mugged me) because as the authors of the sentences about the event, they are already forcing the audience to acknowledge them. But if a reporter were to use active voice with the victim as the subject, that sentence would have to be very carefully structured to avoid victim-blaming. I foresee sentences like that being unwieldy and unclear.

Violence Against Object Phrasing

While I get what Katz is saying that men aren’t involved in the structure of the phrase “violence against women”, the argument ignores the fact that most organizations that fight against violence structure it that way: Violence Against Children and Violence Against Animals are both used in organizations lending assistance to those groups. Most Violence Against groups are victim focused first. They try to help the victim out of bad situation. Secondary to rescue actions are education actions. It makes sense then that the title should focus on the victim of the act, not the perpetrator as the organizations usually have no direct contact with those people and legislative lobbying is not as big a focus.

If a person searches for “violence against” in an online search engine, most results will be about women. Half of those will be organizations with Domestic Violence in the organization name. I believe that Domestic Violence is a better term. While many believe that the term Domestic is problematic because it can imply Privacy, I relate it to Domecile, which implies co-habitation. Domestic Violence is specific to two people in a relationship living together, one of whom has become abusive of the other. This is non-gendered, which to me is highly important. So often, people say that domestic abuse is not about who is physically stronger, but who is more powerful and controlling. This is not a gendered issue, also because people of non-cis-sexualities are capable of domestic abuse. Believing that a man simply by being physically stronger can never be a victim of domestic abuse feeds into toxic masculinity and just compounds the gender divide. That is why Domestic Violence is a more inclusive way of describing the problems. Women can and do abuse men, emotionally, verbally, and yes, physically. However, abuse can still happen if the two aren’t living together, so even that term is not enough. Inter-relationship Violence is most encompassing of the terms I can come up with because while we have a word for a guardian abusing a child (Child Abuse), we don’t have a word for child to child abuse or a child abusing a parent, both of which do happen. Our terms unfortunately are based on archaic ideas of relationships and family, namely the nuclear family. The nuclear family was rarely a reality and even rarer now than it was when it was considered the norm. So I agree with Katz in saying that the term Violence Against Women is problematic, but not for the same reasons.

Intent > Communication > Effect

When I pointed out to someone that I felt that Katz argument was flawed, I mentioned intent and was parried with the statement that intent did not matter. I’ve been reading up a lot lately on how to speak to someone who has distorted thinking in order to properly communicate intent to the right effect, all of it written by psychologists and psychiatrists. So I’m going to break down what I’ve learned.

  • Intent: Person A’s desired effect fed or countered by bias, emotion, thoughts, memories, and situation – example: to report on a recent crime in an objective manner to make Persons B knowledgeable of the crime
  • Communication: the words by which Person A will attempt to match effect to intent
  • Effect: Persons Bs’ mental and emotional reaction to the communication, influenced by their pre-communication memories, thoughts, and feelings

Of course, in a perfect world, intent and effect would always match. We don’t live in a perfect world, so they don’t always match, because Person A’s conscious intent can be greatly effected by their unconscious intent. Person B can also be suffering from distorted thinking. Distorted thinking is a symptom of depression, anxiety, PTSD, several personality disorders, and other mental health issues. Disorted thinking can warp communication to mean something it doesn’t mean, such as seeing hostility where there is none. When the issue is Person A’s bias or unconscious intent, they can have this gently pointed out them and re-evaluate how they communicate their conscious intent. When the issue is Person B’s distorted thinking, they should be made aware of this, probably with a professional, and use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them change their reactions to the communication.

Triggers

CBT is used to help people have more rational reactions to triggers. Now, I’ve been hearing a lot about trigger-warnings and safe spaces. About people trying to prevent people who suffer from bad reactions to certain things from experiencing those certain things. Especially victims. Now, victims of crimes are not the only people who experience triggering events, as explained above. Those with anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and depression who may never have been victims of crimes experience triggering events as well.

Every psychologist I’ve spoken to and every book on the subject I’ve read by psychologists and psychiatrists has stated that it is best if patients limit their contact with triggering events, but that they also learn to change their reactions to those events through therapy methods such as CBT or DBT. The goal is not to walk around in a bubble, silencing everyone around them to prevent them from ever feeling pain. Friends and family are meant to help by not exasperating the bad feelings by triggering them; however, strangers are not meant to change their behavior. Therapy does not expect this. In fact, it explains that a patient can expect to be triggered through non-personal interactions on occasion. Just because the patient is triggered, does not mean that their reaction is appropriate or requires change from others. Again, therapy expects the patient to eventually change their reaction. The basis is always that a person can control only themself, not others. We can only control ourselves and our own reactions. This is actually very helpful to hear when dealing with other people who have distorted thinking.

Does this mean that people get to be insensitive? No, of course not. There needs to be a balance between communication that matches the intent, which shouldn’t be to harm, and the reaction, which should be free of distorted thinking. Both sides require empathy; it is the only way for understanding to happen.

But there is one group of people who get to be purposefully insensitive: comedians. Why? This again takes understanding. First of all, it is a long standing tradition, as in centuries old, for comedians to be able to say what no one else is daring enough to say and to use that daring to satirize issues in our society. This includes sensitive, triggering subjects. The understanding from people listening to or reading comedians that is required is that comedians will do this and that is their job to do so. Acting surprised and hurt that a comedian said something shocking about a sensitive subject is frankly silly. Comedy is meant to make us laugh about sensitive subjects and relieve some of our tension and pain on those subjects. It’s also supposed to make us think about them differently. That’s a good thing. I’ve had bad reactions to jokes before. Yes, some of them were in poor taste and/or not funny in my opinion, but that just means I don’t have listen to that joke again. I can say I don’t think it’s funny or that it’s not for me. I can turn off the special and decide not to watch that comedian again. Again, I can only control my reaction and actions. I let my feet doing the talking when it comes to my opinion on comedy. I don’t expect the comedian to change. But if enough people agree with me and decide not to watch that comedian, well, that comedian will get the message that they aren’t all that funny. But then again, maybe other people think they are funny and that’s fine. Even if they are offensive. It’s called freedom of speech.

Conclusion

Language is a tricky thing. It is also one of my favorite subjects to think about and discuss. It’s a subject that requires a lot of critical thinking. I don’t believe I have all the answers because language is constantly changing because society is constantly changing. Some things are always the same. Comedians make jokes. People get hurt. People say hurtful things, both on purpose and by accident. People learn to get past being hurt. Or at least, they should try to. I react to things in overly negative ways too. I say things that get distorted. I say things that are hurtful. We all do these things. This is life. It requires us all to think about what we say, what we mean, and what others mean. There are no easy answers, and we can’t just look at one way and expect everybody agree with us. I don’t expect all of you reading this to agree with everything I’ve written here or even any of it. That’s discourse. If you still agree with Katz’ point of view after reading this, that’s fine. I’m not upset. It’s not necessary that you agree with me. You’re your own person, so you’re allowed to have your own point of view. That’s also life.

 
 

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I Don’t Like Children, But I’m Not a Monster

The Stage

Right now, the U.S. is very family oriented, and not in the way it used to be. Some have opined that parenthood has become the new religion, and I can certainly see how that is the case. Almost every T.V. show has some form of parenthood as a central theme (Examples: How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, Accidentally on Purpose, The Gilmore Girls, Desperate Housewives, Malcolm in the Middle, The Middle, Modern Family, American Horror Story: seasons 1-3, Cougartown) or if a main character didn’t want children or children were not essential to the show, this quickly changes (Examples: Bones–she was previously staunchly against having children, Scrubs, Friends) as the main characters can never be people who just don’t want to have children. Versus past T.V. shows that allowed characters to not only not want children but also not like children at all (Captain Picard, my hero). But T.V. shows are not the only one that present messages of how wonderful and required parenthood is (Examples: Four ChristmasesDid You Hear About the Morgans?Steel Magnolias). The movie Four Christmases was quite possibly one of the most insulting of films, because it basically says that a couple doesn’t work, can’t really be in love, can’t really know each other, if they don’t have children (not get married; they don’t get married, they have a child). Steel Magnolias shows that having children is more important than being alive and healthy (we can see this repeated ad nauseam in medical drama T.V. shows, such as House, M.D. wherein a woman chooses her unborn child’s life over her own). But it’s not just T.V. and movies that show us that parenthood has become the new religion. We can see it all over the internet in the Momsites, which up-play the importance of doing everything for one’s child to the determent of everything else, such as their careers, their spouses, their health, and their emotional fulfillment. No one wants anyone to say anything remotely bad about children, even if what is said is possibly constructive, instead everything said which is contrary to the belief children are angels and parenthood is the be all and end all of life is an insult and we’re all monsters for thinking otherwise.

Reproductive Rights, Either Way

I’m a firm believer that everyone should be able to decide if, when, and how many children they have (this includes men), and if that means no, never, none, then no one should scrutinize, judge, or persecute someone for taking that path. Some people may think, Well, who is doing that? You’d be surprised, but most people are. The majority of people want to have children. That’s fine. And a lot of those people can’t fathom life without children or the desire for them, so they can ask rude, penetrating, or stupid questions, such as “Who will take care of you when you’re old?”, “What about the family name?”, “What if your parents hadn’t had kids?”, “Don’t you want to give your parents grandkids?”, “What’s wrong with you, don’t you like children?”, “Don’t you want a legacy?”, and “Don’t you want to know what your kids would look like?” Or they make flat out statements about who someone is for not wanting children, like: “You’ll change your mind.”, “People who don’t want kids are selfish.”, “You’re immature if you don’t want kids.” There is more, but all of it implies that a person who doesn’t want children is: A) selfish, B) not an adult, C) not important, D) unaware of what they want, E) broken in some way, and F) missing out on the best parts of life. None of these are actually true. The real reasons people don’t have children are many and varied, running the gamut from environmentalism, to not wanting to pass on a genetic deformity, to not feeling emotionally, mentally, or fiscally stable enough for the responsibility, and finally to just disliking children.

They’re Different When They’re Your Own

The idea is, though, that we don’t like children that have no genetic connection to us or we did not get flooded with oxytocin that comes with having one’s own child and that were most of us who don’t like children to have our own, we’d not only like them, we’d love them. This seems like a major risk to take, especially with lives on the line, and I’m not even talking life vs death, but well-adjusted life vs why-did-my-parents-hate-me life. Is that a risk parents want nonparents to run? Oh, just roll the dice. You’ll probably love ’em! And if the previously nonparent who didn’t like children now has a child and if it wasn’t different because it was their own, that child can grow up to keep a therapist in business.

How Long Is “As Long As I Can Remember”?

I have never liked children, for as long as I can remember. Most people think that means in the last few years, but in may case, I’m being quite literal. I remember being about two or three years old and seeing a baby. I had a very deep and visceral feeling that I didn’t want to be anywhere near the infant. And this continued throughout my childhood. As I aged, the children I didn’t like were older and older: at four, I didn’t like babies and toddlers, at twelve, I didn’t like babies and toddlers and children, etc. I am missing the evolutionary drive that makes young of my own species attractive to me. I don’t think this makes me a freak or a monster, but just different. I can’t explain why I’ve never liked children; I just never have.

Intellectually as Well

But it is not just because of instinctual reasons that I dislike children. I also don’t like the reality of them: the mess, the responsibility, the environmental impact, the underdeveloped intelligence, the noise. All these things make children in general unlikable to me. I don’t want to be anywhere around them. I hate going to the movies, the bookstore, or a restaurant and hearing a child have a tantrum. The noise they make sets my teeth on edge and makes it impossible for me to have any enjoyment. But because I’ve never liked children, they don’t even have to be making a lot of noise to put me off. It bothers me when a child stares at me with a blank face.

You Were Once a Child!

Yeah, and I’m sure I freaked out and annoyed adults like me. This argument also doesn’t make sense when as a child, I didn’t like children. Sometimes children of my own age bothered me too. I enjoyed the company of adults infinitely more than my fellow children. My mom was my best friend growing up. Adults were just better conversationalists, nor did they do things for basically no reason sometimes. I know as a child I fell prey to the inexplicable action every once in a while.

But What About My Child?

Understand that I’m not singling out anyone’s child. I don’t dislike specific children to insult anyone; I dislike children in general. This doesn’t mean I don’t love my child relatives either. I do, because liking someone and loving them are not mutually inclusive. I just can’t wait until they are adults. I do like some children, but only in small doses. The fact that I don’t have to raise them makes me like them more and these children are usually the best behaved and/or the most intelligent ones.

Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Care about Children

I am not apathetic to children’s suffering just because I don’t like children in general. When I see a child playing near a pool, even if I am not related to the child, I worry about the child drowning and watch the child just to make sure someone is paying attention. I am upset when bad things happen to children too. It’s sort of like Swift and the Irish people. He hated the Irish but hated the English’s treatment of the Irish more. If someone does something terrible to a child, I’m not going to applaud them; in fact, depending on what they did to the child, I’m most likely going to want them to be put to death (such as child murder, molestation, or abuse) because a child can’t defend him or herself as well as an adult. I’ve heard other people who don’t like children state similar feelings about still caring about child safety and well being, so I think this is the part that really brings home that disliking children is not monstrous.

Conclusions

Don’t jump to conclusions about people who don’t like children. Don’t assume they are insulting your child or your way of life. They’re not. Most of us can’t control whether we like or dislike something, so it is unreasonable to judge someone based on the way they feel intrinsically. Some may say disliking children is prejudice, but I don’t think it is. There’s nothing inherently detrimental to children when someone doesn’t like children because people who don’t like children avoid them in their day to day life but tend to still understand the importance of their existence and safety. Children are also not comparable to adults in development; otherwise, they’d be able to vote, drink, drive, and get a job which are all things they are not allowed to do by law based on age. Whereas, people of different races, genders, and sexuality are on the same level when it comes to development, which is why it is illegal to discriminate based on these labels. Ageism really only kicks in when a person becomes an adult, because child psychologists have shown that children lack certain skills that are gained over time culminating in adulthood. Meaning that they are fundamentally different from adults. This does not mean that they are worth less than adults, nor does it mean they are worth more. Both children and adults are important to the sustained functioning of our society, but that doesn’t mean every adult has to like children.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2014 in Empathy, Social Issues

 

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The Taking of Women’s Agency and Men’s Victimization: How They Can Relate

What Brought It Up?

I’ve been reading a lot on CHE lately, from editors and opinion pieces and letters to the editor on adjuncts’ rights and Chancellor Wise’s and the UI BOT recent pulling of the rug out from under a faculty approved applicant, but mostly, on Title IX and I’ve also perused Bing and Yahoo! News a bit about Emma Watson’s recent speech to U.N. on her new campaign HeForShe. All of it has my brain churning. These situations seem to feed into each other a bit, maybe a lot. Unfortunately, I can’t link to all (or even most) of the articles because CHE doesn’t really let free readers browse old articles and some of my references are to articles I can’t even find anymore (in a bunch of moves–5–in the last year and half I’ve lost a lot of books, movies, CDs, and articles I would have loved to have kept).

The Statistics on Female College Students and Sexual Assault

In many of the articles and letters to the editor, the number of 20-25% of all women in college would be sexually assaulted was repeatedly brought up, but many commentators on the articles brought up that the reported number does not match the percentage. One could easily chalk this up to assaults going unreported. I’ve always questioned that logic though. How does one count what has no indicators? Other commentators brought up another good point on these numbers: what counts as sexual assault? CHE commentators tend to include sources or cogent counter arguments (though as a website it can be prone to trolling and fallacy, but this tends to be countered again by other commentators calling them out on it), and some started examining studies on college sexual assault and what counted as sexual assault in those studies: actions like forced or attempted forced kissing (such as may happen at the end of a first date) and consensual sex wherein the female party was intoxicated but did not call the sex non-consensual. This seems like a much more logical reason behind the 20-25% statistic as it would indicate why the number of reported instances was lower than the rate would suggest. I’m not saying the statistic is wrong; I’m just calling into question the calculation of it.

College Committees and Their Inadequacy

I don’t trust any college employee to go into a sexual assault hearing and not be prejudice, either way. Why? Because they are human and employees of an institution that has a culture they want to promote. Either they want to find the accused not responsible because he or she benefits the college in someway (typically this boils down to a male athlete). Or they want to find the accused responsible because they want to have a reputation of being hard on sexual assault. If the committee members have these thought/feelings/leanings before an instance is brought before them, they are going in with bias, which means they will downplay the evidence they don’t want to hear or perform mental gymnastics to get the conclusion they want. There are no checks and balances to this. Another form of their inadequacy is their extreme lack of skill in the matter. They are not detectives, they are not lawyers (all of them anyway as many colleges to not have justice or pre-law departments), and they are not judges in the usual sense. This means the majority of committee members do not have the experience or expertise to make judgments in criminal matters, meaning they can either try to be objective as best as possible or fall back on their personal feelings. Neither bodes well for the validity of their findings. Third, they do not have access to some of the tools available to police investigations, such as rape kits and physical examinations of the accused. This is important in proving that any intercourse, in the accusations of rape, actually took place. Without this evidence, the idea that sexual contact even happened is called into question. I’m not saying that in all, or even most or half of, cases the rape didn’t happen. I’m saying that in the small number of instances (and I do believe it is small) wherein the rape did not happen there is no evidence supporting one claim or another. The physical examination of the proposed victim and attacker are most important in the instance wherein the victim describes the rape as one of the violent type or wherein the accused says the rape and even intercourse never happened. In these cases, not having this evidence is a giant gap in the support of the judgment of the committee, in either accuser or accused’s favor or detriment.

Drunk Sex = Sexual Assault

This is such a sticky equation, but one that seems much too black and white to have any real world application. Any married person would most likely find this idea laughable as a common occurrence among married couples is drunk sex, say after a party at a friend’s house or similar alcohol infused situations. I don’t just find it to be joke; I find it to be an insult. The idea is that women in college when intoxicated are incapable of giving consent, but that men in college, intoxicated or not, should be able to see that a woman is intoxicated and stop intercourse even if she has given her verbal consent. This is insulting in many ways. 1): People (all people, men and women) are always responsible for their actions when intoxicated when they brought on the intoxication themselves, meaning that all people are responsible for whether they get behind the wheel of a car, physically assault someone, or commit other acts illegal or legal that they would not do when sober. Regardless of the genitalia they happened to be born with. 2): It takes away a woman’s agency, by suggesting that a man in the same state of intoxication is more capable of reasoning than a woman. How is that not sexist against women? As in, women lack a capability that men have. 3): It places an archaic and nearly impossible to meet responsibility on men for not only their own actions when intoxicated but also women’s. They’re supposed to “take care of us women”. When are we going to move past this idea that men have to make decisions and take responsibility for the women in their lives and let women have responsibility over their own lives? Apparently, not in college. It is also unfair to assume that his judgment is not as impaired as hers at the same level of intoxication and requires basically omniscience, when he may also be intoxicated, on his part. 4): It waters down the reality of sexual assault and lowers people’s empathy for the victims of violent and non-violent sexual assault. Please understand that these insults apply to when a woman in conscious and intoxicated. If a person is unconscious when intoxicated, obviously consent was not given and sexual assault occurred.

It is also a weird contradiction that many colleges think this way about alcohol consumption in relation to sexual assault when they are not even allowed to talk about preventative measures involving alcohol consumption when they have their sexual assault orientations: don’t tell women to alter their behavior by consuming less alcohol, but find men responsible for sexual assault if the woman has consumed alcohol. Uh, . . . I’m not even sure how to respond to this, because I understand why they don’t want to tell women to consume less alcohol, but I really don’t understand why they think drunk sex = sexual assault in relation to their reasoning (not allowed by most Title IX related polices) to not telling women to alter their behavior. It would seem to mean that drunk sex ≠ sexual assault.

Pragmatism vs Victim-Blaming

I am not a fan of victim-blaming, more than that I hate it. I don’t think what a woman wears, says, or does excuses sexual assault, even if she is inhumanely cruel beforehand (think the first episode of AHS: Coven). But I do believe in pragmatism. I have a right to walk down a dark alley, but I also know that I may get attacked if I do, which is why I carry pepper spray. That’s pragmatism. If a person leaves their front door unlocked and open when they go on vacation and someone burgles their home, it doesn’t make what the criminal did any less wrong and doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be punished, but the preventative action of closing and locking one’s door is just smart. It means one didn’t have to go through the violation of being burgled. Victim-blaming is different than pragmatism. Victim-blaming is when someone says that the victim deserved what they got because they were wrong for some erroneous reason. They may have been wrong. It’s wrong to leave your front door unlocked and open, but it does not change the fact that the criminal was wrong. It does not mean the victim deserved to get burgled. The idea that we have to change possible criminal behavior is nice to say, but it is not something we can actually control. We can say that crime is wrong as much as we want. We can promote a crime-free society as much as we want. It will not completely eliminate crime. The means to crime are desire and opportunity. We cannot take away the desire, but we can lower the opportunity. Otherwise, banks wouldn’t have vaults, guards, cameras, and alarms. There will always be people who want to hurt others, who want to steal, and we cannot eliminate their existence, but we can be prepared for it.

College Men and Sex

I was appalled to see some commentators on CHE on the recent “Presumed Guilty” article saying that college men should just abstain from sex to prevent incorrect judgments against them because it is the kind of argument put against women (“Maybe you shouldn’t do your laundry at midnight alone . . .” “Maybe you shouldn’t walk at night . . .” “Maybe you shouldn’t dress like a slut . . .” “. . . if you don’t want to be attacked”) basically saying they should change their legal behavior past the point of pragmatism to the point of living in fear. Some men have abstained from having sex in college, but that won’t protect them from judgments, which is another reason the argument disgusts me. One of the men examined in the article, who went by John Doe in his law suit against his university, claimed that he and the woman who had accused him had never had sexual contact. That he, in fact, just walked her to her dorm after a party. If true, and it just might be as I’m not about to assume his guilt based on his genitalia nor assume his innocence simply because he professes it, this throws the changing their behavior argument not just out the window but out of this dimension. One argument that often baffles me is that all guilty people profess their innocence, which isn’t true as some people plead guilty. But what is true is that all innocent people profess their innocence, because if you were innocent why would sit back and let people call you guilty?

One respondent to this article in a letter to the editor called for an apology for its publication. No, don’t apologize for this. We need to recognize that the system of judgment in academic sexual assault is broken in more ways than one; otherwise, it will never be fixed. We do not improve systems or ourselves by ignoring flaws. We improve by recognizing all the flaws, even when they seem contradictory. They aren’t actually, because each case has its specific nature and culture with its specific people involved. Cases can be mishandled in different, opposing ways within the same university depending on the people involved alone, because universities all together and within themselves are not homogeneous entities.

Other Equations

I’ve already explained how I believe the Drunk Sex = Sexual Assault equation hurts both men and women, but the institutions seem to be using it as an excuse to pre-judge in sexual assault cases. I am not suggesting that all sexual assault cases are bullhockey, but that the university committees may be coming into it un-objectively, in either gender’s favor or detriment. I believe the ideas that Women = Victims and Men = Assailants is very prevalent in our society, often even in the parts of society that consider themselves progressive or politically correct, but I feel like this is sexism with both equations. It’s still very archaic. It still casts women as damsels in distress. It makes us less human. Women are just as capable of being assailants as men. Again, the idea that men have a capability that we don’t is in people’s minds, and just because it may work in a woman’s favor doesn’t make it any less sexist. Because on the other side, we have men who are the victims of abuse at the hands of women. Such as but not limited to: assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse. These black and white equations take away the voice of victims. Victimization is victimization, and wrong is wrong. Just because one empathizes with one group more than the other doesn’t mean they aren’t all in pain. Don’t judge one person’s pain against another. Don’t say “It could be worse”. Don’t minimize a person’s victimization by saying that in the past, or even now, the other side had it worse. That doesn’t mean the victim deserved what happened to them just because of the gender they happened to be born with. Isn’t that victim-blaming? And even not about that victim’s actions but about a group’s actions they by chance belong to?

Recently, I saw the above PSA on Tumblr (of all places) wherein two actors of the opposite sex were hired to pretend to get into an argument in public then one start to physically assault the other. In the first instance, the man started to assault the woman. People got involved. They yelled at him and threatened to call the police. In the second instance, the woman started to assault the man. People laughed. It was funny to them. The PSA ended with a statistic of how many abusive relationships have men as the victim. That number is pretty even with ratio of men to women in most developed countries (2:3). I’m not willing to ignore that many victims, nor downplay the pain they are in. The argument sometimes goes that a woman cannot hurt a man as much as a man can hurt a woman. My god. Again: women lack a capability that men have. Yes, we can. We’ve all heard of those times that women have mutilated men. Run them over with cars. Shot them. Poisoned them. Women are just as capable as men at hurting and victimizing someone else. And men are just as capable as feeling helpless when in an abusive relationship. As the PSA’s last poignant statement says: Violence is violence.

Systematic Sexism

In most instances sexism on a large scale is against women, but I’m not about to say that it is all instances. A year or two ago, I read a great article on men’s reproductive rights (which I do believe in as strongly as women’s reproductive rights even though they can sometimes be at odds–it’s complex like most important issues) wherein specific allegorical examples were used. “Stop right there!” someone may say discounting that personal stories have meaning. No, one cannot usually make worldwide or overarching generalizations based on allegorical evidence, but such evidence does have validity as it means “This happened” and we must recognize that. A couple of the stories were downright horrifying in how they showed rapists using the courts to further victimize their victims. Most of it was based on child support. A man who was passed out at a party found out later he was raped (it is rare but not impossible for a man to still have an erection while unconscious from intoxication) and his rapist got pregnant and then sued him for child support. The court found he owed her money. Another case was about a twelve year old boy was told by the court that he needed to pay his (statutory) rapist child support. A third man who had oral sex with a woman, who saved his sperm then later inseminated herself with it, was required to pay her child support. Often an argument against men about child support is that they shouldn’t have sex if they don’t want to take responsibility for any possible child that comes out of it. Again, this seems one sided as it used to be the same freaking argument laid against (sometimes still) women who wanted abortions. But this argument becomes so outrageous when applied to these three cases. None of these men (or really, boy) were taking on (or capable by law of taking on) the possible responsibility of pregnancy. But the courts found them responsible for the children anyway even though the first two cases involved criminal action on the part of the woman (remember criminals are not meant to profit from their crimes). Why? The courts have a monetary incentive for finding men in these situations responsible: if the mother cannot afford to take care of the child on her own, then she must either turn to the father for child support or the state for aid. Before applying for aid for a child, a mother must report whether or not she is getting child support (in most cases) and if she isn’t, the court will (most likely) go after the father for money first, because if he is helping to support the child then the state may be let out of its monetary obligation. That means the court has a stake in the judgment. But this doesn’t mean that sometimes a court won’t screw a female parent over in child support cases, letting the potential paying parent off the hook often times in benefit of the man. It is just to show that in some instances the pendulum is on the other side, because courts are not an amorphous blob that is homogeneous in nature, just as colleges are not like that. Different cultures, different personal opinions are involved.

But I do feel like we are missing a vital element in law when it comes to abortion rights and the right to give a child up for adoption. If a state allows abortion, I believe that men should be allowed a “legal abortion” so to speak in the same time period (if he has been told by the woman that she is pregnant) that a woman is allowed an abortion wherein from his point of view, both financially and legally, he has not had a child. If he was never told, he should be allowed the same length of time after his notification to make the same decision. The same type of allowances should be given him for an “legal adoption”. Because if a woman is allowed to decide after intercourse what to do about a pregnancy and child, then a man should be given the same option. It may not be his body, but it is not just about a woman’s body but her whole life after the conception, so it isn’t “my body, my choice,” but “my life, my choice.” I doubt this would ever happen in my lifetime. As I stated above, the courts have an incentive to find men financially responsible for any child they may have fathered, so I doubt there would be much political support for such a thing. Some may argue that this is a way for “irresponsible/lazy” men to get out of paying child support, but it is also a way to protect Childfree men and raped men who under current laws are not as protected as Childfree women and female victims of rape (which sounds almost ludicrous but we don’t even think of women raping men as being an issue–it affects a small amount of men, but no means no for men too and just because they aren’t as high a number doesn’t mean their victimization is any less horrible). Many may say that Childfree men are just being jerks, but any one of any gender who doesn’t want to be a parent ever in their lifetime should be allowed the freedom to choose to not be a parent. Many women’s rights advocates would say that Childfree women have the right to access to those things that would help them maintain this life choice, abortion and sterilization, but I believe Childfree men have just as much right to live their lives as they wish.

Feminism, the Dirty Word

A lot of people don’t like this word. I’m one of them. It has nothing to do with the idea that feminists are man-hating or “don’t really believe in equality” despite the definition. I know the definition, and I know what the movement means in general and in many specific instances (there is a myriad of different types of feminism, not all of them pretty and some of them really good in the fight against gender inequality), but the word itself is what I have a problem with. Words, especially for movements, social issues, and political ideals, are like doors to ideas. The word, not the definition, not the movement, is exclusionary by nature. It’s a door that looks like it has a “No Men Allowed” sign posted to it. Men see it, hear it–some women see it, hear it–and think men are not a part of or automatically against the movement. The word promotes the idea that feminism is only for women’s rights and that it is a “gender war”. I’m not saying that’s the goal of the definition or the movement, but it is what the basis of the word itself which is feminine can present to people. While it doesn’t mean to, I think it can feel exclusionary, or make some people think they have the right to exclude. I believe there could be more inclusive words that would allow men (and women) to understand that gender equality is everyone’s right. We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last one hundred years, and in that ground, we haven’t just shown that women are as valid as individuals as men, but we’ve also brought men and women closer together and fostered understanding between them. I think the time has come to stop separating us as people because both sides have a much clearer view of the other and the needs they face. “Picking sides” needs to put aside to continue the journey of ending gender inequality, because separating us into these groups to promote equality just seems like another subtle way to cause inequality.

Humanism, the Lazy Word

It has been suggested that calling oneself a humanist instead of a feminist ignores/diminishes the fact that women have it worse off than men. First off, I’m not sure sexism is so simple as that, which should be made obvious by the length of this post. I am worried, upset, and quite frankly pissed off by any sexism, racism, bigotry, or prejudice. It doesn’t matter who the victim is. It doesn’t matter who the perpetrator is. What matters is the act. What matters is the pain inflicted. I don’t care about the gender, the race, the demographic of either party, because what I care about is if one party did something hurtful to another party based on these things. If I base my caring on the labels of the two parties, I am still thinking in these same bigoted ways. The idea that I don’t care about a woman’s pain caused by sexism because I care about a man’s pain caused by sexism is fallacious. I can care about both of them. I do care about both of them. I believe that only caring about one group, based solely on their genetics or some other label that can be subject to bigotry, is still bigotry and diminishes the pain of other victims. I know not everyone agrees with me because they see a majority of pain inflicted one way, but I care about that pain too. I look at each instance, instead of trying to generalize all of them at once, to prevent a victim from being forgotten. That’s why I’m even talking about this. This word, humanist (sometimes also equalist), is accused of being a way to downplay the importance of sexism against women usually when men use it. I’m not sure one could appropriately accuse me of this as I am a woman and veryvery, VERY angry when I see/hear about sexism against women. I’m just that same amount of angry at any injustice. I understand some people want to focus their energy on one issue to do the most good, but I really can’t do that. I have the same visceral reaction to every instance of prejudice or unfairness. Until we stop casting groups and labels as victim or villain, we will not move past bigotry. We will still be thinking in archaic ways. We will still be separating ourselves and saying one group matters more than another.

The Personal Side and My Stake in the Conversation

I’ve never considered myself a feminist. I don’t push my femininity as part of my identity either. I don’t consciously suppress it either. I like being what I am. I just don’t feel like running around shouting that I’m a woman (or the less metaphorical version of this). I have felt some sexism before, but I’ve felt more racism (mostly in early childhood), which some may find shocking or unbelievable considering what race I am. The sexism were little things, words not actions, that I brushed off, because I told myself that if someone is willing to be sexist to me than their opinion of who I am and their idea of my validity as a person does not matter. The sexism invalidates their opinion of me. So that sexism never brought me down. Somehow, not sure how it happened, I’ve always thought of myself as a person, then a writer. Those seem to be the labels I most identify with, which is weird I know. I love the unisex quality of my first name (which is not Alexis or Alexandrea, but just Alex which I wrote an essay on in high school). One would think that I am a “woman” first if anything at all, but I’ve never considered myself different based on my gender. I mean, a lot of people fall under that category, that to me means “not different”. I do consider myself to be weird though. I try to understand every side and imagine every scenario in every situation. I’ll try to understand someone who hates me, understand what motivates them, what happened in their childhood to make them the way they are. It’s a major reason why I write. I want to understand people who don’t even exist. I spend the majority of my time trying to think like everyone else, real, fictional, different, or similar. Mainly because people baffle me. What they do and say is so different than what I would expect, always. I think that’s great, but also a bridge I need to continuously cross to prevent my words or actions from causing harm.

What has seemed to define me more greatly than my gender has been my disability. It has eclipsed in my own defining of myself many other labels one may put on me because it is a part of every moment of my life. Not in a bad way. I do not consider myself a person of less value based on my disability. If it has affected me, which I believe it definitely has, it has all been to enrich my life. I am not ashamed of it. It has made me a better writer and thinker. Some may ask how this is possible as a disability means an inability to do something. Well, that’s complex. Because I had a certain learning avenue shut off to me, one most people in the US go down of phonics, I had to learn to think in different ways, ways most people are capable of but are not taught to use. This means one of the capabilities of thought I have in common with most people is stronger than average as it is used more often than the average person. This is another part of me that I like, so I guess I would say I am a person, then a writer, then learning disabled, because even as I write this I’m still having to think sideways to spell my words correctly and not confuse them for other words (not homonyms but more along the lines of “emphasizes” and “empathizes”; they look and sound almost exactly the same to me even though I know they are not).

But why do I care about injustices that have nothing to do with me? It isn’t because I think “What if that happened to the men in my life that I love?”, but because we should all care when horrible things happen to others. My stake is that I have a problem with injustice, with bigotry, with prejudice. My stake is that I don’t need personal benefits to care.

The Pain Bucket

There’s this weird idea about empathizing with other people that one can only care about those whose pain is considered “valid”. I’m not sure why. It’s like some higher power has a bucket filled with water representing pain and he/she ladles out the pain in varying amounts to different groups. The group with the most water has the most validity. The group with the least amount of water doesn’t matter at all. This is ludicrous. Every single person has an infinite amount of possible pain inside them, and it is all valid. One’s group/label and the prejudice against that group/label may be the cause of the pain, but that group/label is not what makes the pain valid. The existence of that pain makes it valid. The fact that it happened at all makes it valid.

Those that Have No Place in the Conversation

Sexist people. What I mean by this is those *expletives* who threaten rape and murder upon Emma Watson and those other feminists who are trying to fight sexism, all in an attempt to shut them up. I don’t think all these people are men. I think there are some women who also have sexism against women, which is sad. But I don’t believe men shouldn’t be invited to the conversation–that was, after all, Watson’s point in her speech: men should be part of it. Not sexists. They should be told to shut it. But people who don’t agree with feminists on all the issues should not be called sexist just because they don’t agree, nor should they be told to shut up, because within feminism there is disagreement (a Separatist Feminist may be at odds with a Liberal Feminist who may be at odds with the newly emerging Maverick Feminists). Not all types of feminism agree with each other, and not all feminists within even each type agree with each other. There is a conversation. Shutting up cogent counter arguments or points will not be helpful in getting rid of sexism, but these sexists who threaten Watson or belittle her message just enforce the idea that we, as feminists, as humanists, and as moral and ethical people, need to do something in first place.

Because It’s the Right Thing to Do

I loved that Watson recognized that men still face gender stereotypes and inequality, but I disagree with her argument that we as women should support their equality for the benefits it will give us as a gender. That is not why we should stand up for men’s equality. We should do it because all victimization is wrong, because all sexism is wrong, and standing up against injustice is the right thing to do. I also feel as though her argument ignored the victimization men can and do face at the hands of women. Those men in abusive relationships, wherein they are not the abusive party, are not being aggressive and their female aggressor is not being submissive; in fact, the opposite is true in these cases. I do not believe that all gender stereotypes against men result in gender inequality for women. Men are taught not to cry, not to be nurturing, not to be vulnerable, as Watson said, but I do not see how that perpetrates gender inequality for women. Women do have voices telling them it is okay to get angry, to be aggressive, to go for the hard career. Not every woman in the world can hear it, but every day the number of women who do goes up because those voices (bless them for it) won’t shut up. I do not hear the same voices telling men that non-stereotypical action for men is okay. I hear the opposite of the positive reinforcement that women get. Not all women get positive reinforcement for these things, but a lot (in the US and many other highly developed countries anyway) do. It’s in the news, it’s in our T.V. shows, it’s in our movies, it’s in our novels. The “girl power” prevalent in our recent Disney movies (Brave being the biggest one) is one such instance. Then there’s all of Joss Whedon’s work which promotes the strength women have naturally and the support of their right to be sexually active even in casual ways. The Harry Potter novels present one of the most complex, strong, intelligent female role models ever (I hated the change in the movie when Hermione cries after Malfoy calls her a Mudblood. I felt it undermined her character’s strength, though I loved that they had her punch Malfoy in the movie instead of slap him).The enforcement of traditional male roles are still present in abundance in those same sources. This is something we should all fighting against, because as human beings we have a responsibility to fight against injustice, not because it benefits our own lives, but because we should care that people are in pain.

Feel free to voice any disagreements , but do so without threatening or hurtful language or I will remove your comment. This includes trying to shame me or calling me a traitor to my sex: that is not productive language nor a counter argument.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2014 in Empathy, Gender Relations, Social Issues

 

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Firearms: A Single Purpose Tool and Why that Doesn’t Frighten Me

Last November I had my first hands-on experience with a firearm. I took a CCW course, learned about my state’s laws concerning firearms, and shot ten rounds at a shooting range. If one’s paying attention, one will see that I had no previous direct experience with any kind of firearm. I’ve heard people talk about their first time pulling that trigger, and sometimes it’s about how powerful they felt or how they felt immediately that this wasn’t for them, as in the essay “Shooting Dad” (for those of my readers who have not read this essay, she did not shoot her father), but for me there was no strong reaction either way.

The Act Itself:

The protection over my ears made my ability to understand my classmates as they spoke drop dramatically, everything coming to me like Charlie Brown’s teacher. The dimly lit range made my already poor eyesight worse, but I often felt before that in situations like these people allowed visual stimulation to overrule instincts, often like overthinking a multiple choice question when one’s first guess was right all along. Bowling, which is a long-range aiming sport like shooting, is often based more on a person’s muscle memory than their eyes, and the teacher of the CCW course seemed to agree with the idea that aiming is based more on stance than eyesight, not that eyesight is not completely unhelpful. I waited as others filled the practice lanes designated for the class and watched their shots. Someone first shot sent up a small cloud of smoke and the shell casing actually flew behind him, coming close to another student. I couldn’t help but exclaim “Wow,” as the sight of the bit of metal flying back a couple of feet and several students laughed at the wayward ejection.

We had all spent the last several hours introducing ourselves to the class, telling the group why we wanted to take the course, and then the majority of the time on firearm safety and the mechanics of firing one. When it had been my turn to introduce myself, I told the class that I grew up with guns in the house and felt that the most rational thing in that case was to learn how to use one safely. I also stated that I was a writer and felt that to write about someone firing a gun, I needed firsthand experience. The teacher jumped on the fact that I was a writer, asking if I had a blog, and while I do (made evident by this entry), I was more of a creative writer. Both of these reasons were honest. Introductions, the reasons, and the firearm safety and use all led up to the moment we went to the establishment’s indoor range to prove that we could fire within an inner circle on a target seven out of ten times, five shots at five yards and five shots at ten yards.

When it was my turn, I needed help jacking the slide on my pistol, because it’s pressure was too much for me, though of the two guns we own it was the only one I could pull the trigger on, the other requiring too many pounds of pressure for my index finger to handle. The needed help was only slightly embarrassing, but I have yet to find a handgun I can completely operate on my own. After having the pistol ready, I took a slightly wide-leg stance, gripped the gun with both hands, right pushing forward and left pulling back, elbows firm but not completely extended, and lifted to aim at the five yard target. I fired and hit pretty close to center. The recoil barely moved me; the slide jammed in the process—this wasn’t a very high-end (or even middle-range) handgun, so it jammed a couple of times, and I needed help (as I wasn’t strong enough to work the slide) each time. But all of my shots, even those at ten yards were in the middle circle. I had passed the practical of the exam. And frankly, I didn’t feel any different than I had before even though this was my first time firing a real firearm.

Later, the teacher went over our state’s rules for carrying firearms and using them. My state has a very high gun freedom rating, which actually makes me feel safer (I will explain this later), and some of the laws seemed very logical to me. Such as: a person cannot use a deadly weapon to defend their property, but a person can use a deadly weapon to protect themselves against extreme physical harm (this means any situation wherein they could end up in the hospital), a person can show that they have a firearm (defensive display) to ward off the possibility of violence, and some others demonstrated below.

The Situations:

Imagine that you are at the mall and when you come back to your car, you find someone breaking in. In my state, you cannot use a deadly weapon (crowbar, baseball bat, knife, or firearm) to defend it because your life is not in danger, only your property.

Imagine that you are a man walking down a residential street and someone starts to come at you with a deadly weapon (same as above). In my state, you can use a deadly weapon to defend yourself because your attacker may put you in the hospital with his/her weapon.

Imagine that you are a woman and a man stronger/bigger than you attacks you. In my state, you can use a deadly weapon to defend yourself because this is a demographic difference wherein your attacker can put you in the hospital by his superior strength.

Imagine that you are a man surrounded by two or more unarmed attackers. In my state, you can use a deadly weapon to defend yourself because your attackers outnumber you increasing the likelihood that you will be put in the hospital.

Imagine that someone starts coming at you aggressively. In my state, you can say that you are armed, and if they keep approaching, you can take out that weapon without aiming it at them.

Imagine you see a man attacking someone else. In my state, you can defend that third person responsibly if it appears that the attacker may put the third party in the hospital.

To my mind, all these scenarios have appropriate laws associated with them. This is a major part of why I’ve chosen to stay in my state. The laws are rational and applicable to real life possibilities.

A Tool of Lethality and a Tool of Transportation:

Firearms are all designed to kill, to be lethal. This scares people, understandably, but many knives are also designed to be lethal. Firearms are a tool, which is why I felt no different about who I am upon using one. All firearms are designed with lethality in mind but not all lethal events involve firearms. Death, and especially murder, is not always perpetuated by firearms. The tool in this world that scares me more than a firearm is a vehicle. A vehicle is not designed to be lethal, and by this very fact, people do not treat vehicles as carefully as they treat guns. Safety is paramount when dealing with firearms. The savvy individual holing a gun knows that what they have in their hands is lethal and must be treated with care. Since the vehicle is not so greatly associated with lethality, as that is not its designed goal, the goal being travel, and people use vehicles every day without incident, they get careless. I am more afraid of a careless individual behind the wheel of a car then I am the trained, even not by government, individual who carries a firearm—and most people behind the wheel of a car are careless. Accidents involving vehicles happen every day, many involving death. Accidents involving firearms don’t happen as often, partially because less people own them than cars but also because those people are more careful. Willful shootings happen less than car accidents. Carelessness has always been more frightening, and frankly insulting, than malicious intent, because it is far more preventable but far more prevalent.

Do I need cite a statistic on the ratio of car accidents versus shootings? I think not, mostly because if a reader disagrees they will simply explain away the statistic, but also because willful shootings—and even accidental—make the paper and the nightly news every time they happen. Car accidents do not, but you can drive down a busy street and pass one on a nearly weekly basis in any larger city. This accidents don’t always involve poor driving conditions either. My city has the most regular weather, and I couldn’t tell you the last time it rained and it doesn’t snow here, but we see car accidents all the time, meaning that carelessness is usually the cause. This is why I fear car accidents more than being shot.

Why Less Gun Control Makes Me Feel Safer:

I have worked in jobs that are prime targets for mass shootings, which truly feel rare to me. While one part of me was on the task at hand, another part of my mind was on the possibility of a mass shooting happening and what I could do in the situation. I have to be perfectly honest here but in those positions where firearms were not allowed on the premises, I felt more vulnerable to an attack than on those premises that allowed employees and visitors to carry firearms. Why? Because if the building has a no firearms sign, the person who is willing to take a human life is not going to care about that sign, but those law-abiding citizens inside the building are now defenseless. Some may argue that that is what security is for, but schools of all levels and malls are much too big to trust that a handful of security guards will be able to control the situations before human life has been lost. While some may argue that this loss of life is negligible, the loss is not negligible at all when it is yours or that of a loved one or friend.

The biggest reason why I feel safer knowing those everyday people around me may be carrying a weapon is that any potential attacker also knows anyone around him or her may be carrying a weapon, meaning that they are less likely to see the opportunity to victimize those around them. Attackers, of any variety, are like predators. They assess each situation for the possibility of getting what they want. They look at the woman walking alone and try to gauge if she knows how to fight or has some way to defend herself. They look at locations to see if the public at that location is disarmed and at ease. They look at houses to assess if they are easy to break into and if the inhabitants may have a firearm. I look at a no firearms sign on a building and see a target sign. That’s what scares me. Because the more people who are armed, the less time an attacker has to hurt people. I’m not saying that people should wear t-shirts that proclaim the fact that they are carrying a weapon because that also is a target sign and that’s not smart. Don’t forget that while a firearm is a tool of lethality, a potential victim can use it just as well as a potential attacker, and the tool itself does not care of its user’s motives. Instead people need to care about the user’s intent, and the phrase fight fire with fire makes more sense with firearms than any other situation.

What Makes a Potential Victim and Why Other Answers Aren’t as Effective:

Basically just being weaker than the other guy. Seems obvious. For example, the other guy knows karate and you don’t. The other guy is a man and you’re a woman. The other guy is twice your size. The other guy is fifty years younger than you. The other guy is actually three guys. The other guy has a firearm or other deadly weapon. Etc.

But most people who don’t like firearms state you should run away. I hate this simple response like running is always an option. It’s basically never an option for me with my exercise induced asthma; I’m sure an attacker could catch me easily, and others with similar health conditions that prevent running away may also find this insulting (wheelchair bound, advanced age, damaged joints or bones, chronic muscle weakness, blindness, an incomplete or missing limb, etc. all can preclude running). But there are also other situational factors that could preclude running: trapped with the attacker between the victim and the exit, the victim wearing shoes that prevent speed and agility (such as high heels and ballet flats which women are apt to wear but are not good for running), and uneven, dangerous, or confusing terrain. If anyone makes the argument that the chances of an attacker choosing people with these conditions or in these situations is slim are smoking something very interesting because attackers (as stated above) choose conditions that will most likely put the situation in their favor. It is more likely that they will choose someone at a disadvantage.

I have heard the argument that a victim should just let the attacker take what they want. This makes sense if all the attacker wants is just material items. But it is naïve to think that an attacker will always only want a car or TV. Any woman should know that sometimes an attacker wants to hurt you, but everyone should also be aware of this, because sometimes their goal is not just to hurt their victim but to kill their victim. This is why the “don’t fight your attacker” argument never works for me. We cannot read the minds of those around us, and someone who is willing to threaten another person with extreme bodily harm may ultimately plan or decide to kill that other person. I will not hope for the best case scenario when a person is attacking me. I’m not going to just cross my fingers that I will come out of an attack alive and unharmed. I will plan for the possible eventuality that an attacker will seriously harm or kill me, because that is a possibly and I don’t play Russian roulette. The idea that I should allow an attacker to take my life in his or her hands without putting up any resistance, not to mention the maximum possible, is insane to me, because what they are doing is wrong on every level, especially morally and legally and the attacker’s lack of scruples could cost my life. We should fight back because no white knight will come to save us and we shouldn’t hope only to survive it, we should hope to prevent ourselves any harm. I brook no slack for a person willing to break the law at the expense of another person’s well-being because the safety and rights of the person who has not broken the law but is threatened by the first person matters more than the law-breaker’s rights and safety.

Armchair Judgment:

The majority of the time I disagree with the idea of trying to pass judgment on the potential victim who has defended him or herself mostly because of the telephone/rumor game the media puts over any situation. Judgment should truly only come into play in a courtroom. The whole “Well, he could have done this” argument is most often presented by people with no prior experience with a life-threatening situation involving an attacker. In a perfect world, we would all be omniscient and could predict a situation to the best possible outcome, but this isn’t a perfect world and we are always working on imperfect knowledge. Victims can only say that they felt their life was threatened and that they defended themselves. They may themselves look back and think of how things could have gone differently, but we have a saying for that as well: hindsight is 20-20. The panic and fear of a real life-and-death situation can prevent a person from seeing all of the options and instead presents a person with the quickest and most feasible solution to getting out of danger. It is not about thought; it is about the protective instinct. One could argue then that the victim is reacting in an uncivilized manner, an animalistic one, but they are in an uncivilized and animalistic situation where the most basic principles of life and death are at play. It is easy to act civilized from outside the situation, but do not pretend that the situation itself is civilized. That is why armchair judgments are without merit.

Distrusting the Statistics:

To those people who don’t know about my freaky memory, I have been known to retain information, sometimes word-for-word, read or spoken to me. A couple of years ago I read an article that reviewed a several year study on gun related deaths. The review was a rhetorical analysis of the study and why its findings were inaccurate. The study counted the number of deaths involving a gun, but the study did not state the number of firearms owned in America which would give a percentage of gun related deaths versus the number of gun owners. It also did not compare the number of all unnatural deaths versus gun related deaths. Then it came down to the qualifications for what constituted a gun related death. Some were suicides, but not all by gun; some were simply gun owners who committed suicide by hanging or the ingesting of pills, the gun not involved in the act. In some cases of deaths involving two people, the deceased owned the gun and the gun was not involved, such as strangulation, vehicular manslaughter, and stabbing. Nor was there any mention of how many of the two person incidents involved a gun that was not legally attained. Because of all these possibly willful oversights and frankly numbers fixing, I found that I could not trust the conclusions of the study. All data on firearms are based on emotional and/or political bias—either way, so all data is untrustworthy. People should just get over their need for data on this and live and let live. You don’t have to own a firearm if you don’t want to, but that shouldn’t stop others from owning firearms because it is the Second Amendment. The argument that “people” meant the states when the Constitution uses the word “state” in reference to the states is a kind of etymological gymnastic. And arguing that “keep” isn’t a synonym for “own” or “possess” seems disingenuous. Lawyers like to argue about the definition of words but debate is their job not etymology.

The Conclusion:

I understand that firearms are frightening to many people. It is truly a fear of what they represent: death. But this tool can prevent it as well given the right circumstances. Allowing fear to overcome reasoning, or even drive reasoning, is wrong and damaging. Pandora couldn’t put it all back in the box, and neither can we. Firearms exist, and we cannot unmake them. They will always exist. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and legislate them out of existence. They are also an American tradition and part of our history; there is the added bonus that their production creates jobs in a country sorely in need of employment. The more legislation on them, the less they feed into our economy. But the most important reason that I believe that firearms are not to be feared is that it is not the tool which causes harm but the intent of an individual and whatever tool they use, be it a firearm, vehicle, blade, pillow, or their own hands, we can never disarm our society completely because we have not yet disarmed all intent to harm. Anything can be a weapon and anything can cause harm put into the right person’s hands, but we know an object is not even needed. Our fear has been misplaced on the tool. Inanimate objects have no intent, despite the magical realism to the contrary in one of my thesis stories. People have intent. Fear the person who is willing to harm others, but don’t take the tools away from those who would defend themselves.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2014 in Empathy, Politics, Social Issues

 

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