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Category Archives: Empathy

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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The Providing Man: An Inescapable Gender Role

Caveat

A lot of people talk about the gender roles that are put on women and how shackling they are: devoted wife, nurturing mother, chaste virgin, the whore—I also find feminist to be a bit of a gender role by this point as I feel more pressure to be a “champion of womanhood” than any of those other things, no thank you—but if there are roles for women there are also roles for men, such as the strong and silent type, young angry man, chivalrous knight, fearless warrior, and, my absolute least favorite—the providing man.

What, Pray Tell, Is the Providing Man?

The Providing Man role comes from the idea that the head of household is the man; therefore, all monetary responsibilities fall to him. This is why men, especially of older generations, often get jobs that make them unhappy but are lucrative. It’s why a man who doesn’t have a job is viewed so negatively. It’s why men give up their dreams, while women often—but less so than before—give up their dreams for children. The Providing Man mindset makes men think that if they aren’t bringing home the bacon then they aren’t worth a damn. Nurturing their children and being there emotional for their wife is a distant second to depositing a (healthy) paycheck in the bank account on the regular basis, so they are distant, distracted, and depressed.

But Isn’t Money a Way to Power?

Actually, more often than not, at any level, money is a prison, especially when a person thinks that is their sole responsibility and contribution to life. It’s too much pressure for one person, and some people may say that men just need to “get over it”, this is the kind of attitude that is disgusting to those people in the reverse (i.e. Woman: “I don’t want to give up my dreams to have a baby.” Society: “Get over it.”). Mostly because being told who you are and what makes you important is a trap, no matter who you are.

Where the Role Is Most Seen

If you’re a man, you’ve probably paid for a woman’s meal, and if you’re a woman, you’ve probably had a meal paid for by a man. This isn’t inherently a problem. If both man and woman find this equitable and what they want, than it’s not a problem. It becomes one when the man doesn’t really want to pay for her meal but feels he must or when she thinks that he’s a jerk if he didn’t pay for her meal. I’ve also heard men say something to the effect that his money is their money, but her money is hers alone, which can be sweet if they have a good relationship, but is nearly codependent when they don’t. A woman shouldn’t feel entitled to a man’s personal earnings, and a man shouldn’t feel obligated or forced to provide and to give her his earnings.

Lazy, Shiftless Men

Some people completely disagree with me, stating that the only men who have a problem with this role are the kind of men who lay around all day, drinking beer, eating, and watching T.V. Maybe people will also say they are dishonest in their relationship, taking and taking from her and possibly sleeping with other women. They are immature, have no ambition, and are irresponsible. Some men are like this because they enjoy it and their friends and family enable them, but some men seem this way because the pressure—especially in a bad economy where their skills may not be useful—got to them and they gave up. For those men, it is a spiral: they failed to provide for their families because they were laid off or couldn’t get a job, they felt so down that they stopped trying, they kept failing because they weren’t trying so they felt like more of a failure and their will to try lessens even more, and so on down the drain. Calling them names or accusing them of laziness is not going to make them feel good about themselves. Some may respond “What about the guy who doesn’t pay his alimony or child support?” Child support is based on a separate idea from this gender role; it is based on the idea that both parents are responsible for their children’s well being. Alimony confuses me in a society where women act like they can do anything and support themselves; it seems to undermine the idea that women are independent and can take care of themselves without a man’s support and money. Different from even that though is . . .

The Succeeding Woman

On the other side, wherein a bad or shifting economy has a similar effect on women, is the woman who feels the pressure to succeed. This success isn’t as strictly tied to monetary gain, but more to a sense of “doing it all”: having the career, the house, the husband, and the children. Women often feel like they need to prove to the world that they can be successful “in a man’s world” by reaching the same levels professionally as men, so depression of the same sort can happen to women who feel this kind of pressure. This is the career woman who can’t get her career off the ground, who hasn’t found a job or a good enough paying one to feel as though she has been “successful”. Success in our society is tied strongly to two ideas: your wages and your usefulness—neither of which are ideas I find very good for personal happiness.

Ambition, the Murderer of the Soul

From both these gender roles, ambition is born. People strive for a goal that they think will get them satisfaction in their lives, but this goal which they believe is the “end” of the strife never comes whether you are successfully reaching for it or if you fell short. Why? Because ambition begets ambition. Once you catch the ambition bug, you are a slave to it. The Providing Man and The Succeeding Women are both ambitious, even when they feel they have failed because ambition and a loss of identity is what is hurting them and forcing them to care so much. The actual lazy, shiftless man has no ambition, and frankly, I’m happy for him because he is ignorant of its barred cage. Either way, successful or failing, ambition is too painful. Either you’re not focused on other things in life that also matter (family, joy, self-awareness, personal integrity) or you end up hating yourself for failing your grand ambitions.

Personal Identity vs Social Identity

Gender roles are social identities, labels. They are inherently designed to make the machine keep moving forward, but most people end up ground up in the gears. When a person replaces their personal identity with a social one—or maybe they never had a personal one—they destroy themselves. They end their lives and just stand in line.

The Man Wearing a Tie

So when you hear the voice in your head telling you you’re worthless because you don’t have a job, because you don’t have a goal, wife and children, because “childish” pleasures make you happy, that you need to grow up, that you need to give up your dreams to get a paycheck, tell that voice to SHUT UP! We are all capable of being happy and amazing people if we stop listening to the roles talking at us. Like the Angel in the Attic or the Grandmother in a woman’s mind, the Man Wearing a Tie or the Grandfather in a man’s mind need to be killed, need to be told to be quiet. And if you are one of those people who actually voice those imprisoning ideas to men, remember the Angel in the Attic of Virginia Woolf or the Grandmother of Erica Jong. If you don’t like it to happen to women, don’t do it to men. Just as a woman’s worth isn’t based on how many babies she’s had and if she is domestically optimal, a man’s worth isn’t defined by how much money he makes.

 

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I Care About Your Work Not at All: When Characters are Not Interesting

 

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Yes, Google Tell Me

Recently, my husband started watching this show. My interest in this show was satisfied by two Google searches: 1) Who killed Rosie Larsen?, 2) Why did so-and-so kill Rosie Larsen? Now, I can continue not to care. Why so apathetic? says flat mouthed Joker. Well, no character was remotely interesting, and I didn’t like Twin Peaks the first time I saw it. Dual Spires was much more compelling (Yahtzee voice: Look it up!–Look him up!).

It’s not just this show that lacked any characters I could pretend were real people. After finishing all seven seasons of Supernatural, I wanted a new show to watch on Netflix (I do not have cable so shows are like days long movies that I watch until responsibility knocks, pesky jerk). I also tried Once Upon a Time–blech, then Terra Nova–rage quit, Being Human (U.S)–heavy sigh, then finally found something that peaked my interest in American Horror Story: Murder House.

Once Upon a Time (in Mexico? No, Storybrooke. Oh, I see what you did there, clever beyond repair) was half interesting, as in the current timeline was interesting but the fairy-tale land scenes were so unwatchable I felt my eyes needed Windex for all those horrible sets, costumes, and hair. Terra Nova was infuriating. Now the rant tangent begins (feel free to skip it):

Okay, end of the 22nd Century and the Earth is basically a ball of dust that rivals Mars in desert sunsetscapes. Humans are on the brink of extinction because they screwed the planet like it was a watermelon (picture it!), and to keep things going until maybe the problem is fixed there are population caps. Our main characters say “Screw you” to everyone else on the planet by having a third kid, and I’m supposed to like these jerks? Nuh-uh. Oh, but wait, they hop an illegal ride to the past so they can live together because since they broke the law the government is mad at them. But wait, there’s more (says the late Billy Mays)! When asked why they had a third child, dad says “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Why? because you didn’t have a futuristic condom good enough and had to get your rocks off just then? because you hated everyone else on the planet? No answer? Fine! Then their teen-aged son starts acting like a self-absorbed jackass, and his parents get mad at him. Seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the self-absorbed jackass tree. And I’m supposed to root for these people? Suck it, Terra Nova.

Rant done. Being Human, one word: predictable. And, this is a big one, the vampire kills somebody within the first five minutes which was a totally avoidable action. He could have not tried to get laid. He could have pushed her off when he was having trouble and said something like “I’ve got to go to the bathroom” and pretended to have diarrhea (so less embarrassing than figuring out what to do with a dead body). But noooo, he’s got to try to get some. (Note: This scene represents what would have happened on Bella and Edward’s wedding night had the work been realistic.) And I’m supposed to root for him? Suck it, Being Human.

It’s not just T.V. shows that can lose me if the characters are not sympathetic as The Killing, Terra Nova, and Being Human were perfect examples of lackluster character attempts. Books and movies can do this too. The Lorax and Avatar spent more time trying to send me a message than they tried to make me actually care so my sighs through Avatar were justified by the predictable plot as well (And don’t tell me it is visually appealing. So is a lava lamp, doesn’t mean they should turn it into a movie. What are we, cats? Also, watch that movie on a screen less than twenty inches wide and the pretty lights don’t hold up).

I had this happen to me with a couple of popular books as well. I read the first two 50 Shades books (gasp, she admitted it!), got to the third, and became bored. The characters were just fairy-tale copies (a prince/thief–of virginity–and a princess, pure and chaste) and couldn’t hold interest for three books, even/coupled with sometimes good, sometimes way too freaky sex, pointless drama (said in a How-it-should-have-ended voice), and bad prose. I read the first Shiver book for a possible piece on Young Adult (not creative but journalistic) and started reading the second novel when I had to stop when my audible sighs became too annoying to my own ears.

But it’s not just modern pop work that isn’t immune to my demand for at least one compelling character. I want to read the classic pop novels and can’t do it. I get fifty pages in and cannot care anymore: The Lord of the Rings, Dune, Interview with a Vampire, etc. I’m not what sure goes wrong, but it does. I can’t figure out what I’m missing either, since I love the live-action versions of these things (not old Dune with Kyle MacLachlan, though this was my introduction to Dune, not the theatrical version but the extended version, which by the way is as long as all three Lord of the Rings extended movies put together–It has a lecture at the beginning, which I sat through as a very bored, insomniac fourteen year old).

Not even the classic novels are immune. Aren’t these supposed be good? Aren’t these writers supposed to be the masters of their craft? The only reason I made it through The Scarlet Letter is because I had to for an exam. Everyone in Wurthering Heights was irredeemable. Henry James is the perfect material to put anyone to sleep with (To read his work I need someone crashing cymbals at random intervals behind my head so my eyes don’t close and suddenly I’m George Bergeron). I am supposed to read Ulysses over the next few weeks and that scares me because it is (read in Carol/Cheryl Tunt’s fancy dinner party voice:) “the greatest novel ever written”, which usually seems to mean that you’ll need to read it one million times to understand it, when you probably won’t get through the first reading nor like it or find it enjoyable.

So can I not be satisfied? Actually, I can. I could go through a list of novels, shows, and movies I love, but that seems like a boring way to do this. I’ve already mentioned that I like Supernatural and that I was satisfied with American Horror Story: Murder House, and I’ll talk about the last one.

I watched all of this season in two days. I consumed it like it was chocolate cake with raspberry sauce drizzled on top (i.e. like a I was a Hoover). It wasn’t just the mystery (jeez, there’s more than twenty dead people by the end); the characters were also interesting, with the great exception of Vivian. Ben and Violet were compelling. They had flaws. They made mistakes. They wrestled with their humanity–sometimes they wrestled naked with others (what? sex is interesting and you know it!). Vivian was the worm in the character apple of that show.

Ben: I know you don’t want me here, but my patients see me here, so I’ll leave after my last patient.

Vivian: *really long mean rant followed by* You can see your patients here, but you will leave after your last patient.

Me: Did you not hear what he said? He literally just said that’s what he would do. Are you so self-absorbed that you can’t hear what he’s saying?

Husband: You know she can’t hear you, right?

Me: That’s my point!

I hope the writers bring just as much awesomeness to Asylum and leave off on the bad wife cliche.

Empathetic Characters

1) show emotion (unlike Linden of The Killing), 2) have flaws that they are aware of (unlike the parents of Terra Nova), 3) make mistakes and at least consider taking responsibility for them (unlike Vivian of AHS: Murder House), and 4) are mostly good people (unlike the vampire from Being Human–I can’t be bothered to remember/look up his name, that’s how little I care: not even a quick Google search level of caring).

Some of the problem works I mentioned have other, bigger problems than a lack of empathetic characters, but this seems to be the most important part to me. Without at least one likable character, the plot better be so damn interesting or compelling that I’m pissing my pants because I can’t be bothered to go to the bathroom.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2013 in Craft of Writing, Empathy

 

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“Afeared” of Facebook: Political Posts and Offending Friends

Recently, I ended a one week absence from my personal Facebook account because of the Supreme Court ruling on the individual mandate. Why was I absent? I noticed on the day of the ruling that some of my many friends were posting responses to the ruling, most of them in celebration. As a moderate, I realized Facebook had become a dangerous place to anyone who felt strongly about the ruling either way. I changed my status to say I was taking a break for a week and got some Likes and some comments on how smart a move this was. However, I can’t help but feel that this should not have even been an issue. Why should anyone feel the need to run away from a social site? Is it right to chase away your friends?

The problem, as I see it, is simple. Facebook is a social networking website and political posts can be offensive.

Out of Site (pun intended) . . .

Say Person A is at a bar with their friends, the individual mandate has just been upheld, and Person A thinks about saying something. However, they look around at their friends and realize that one of them is not on the same side of this debate as Person A is, so Person A decides not to say anything and stick to less volatile subjects.

Facebook is like a virtual bar, but a person cannot look around the room and decide for the benefit of their friends not to say something possibly offensive. They are alone, so to them, there is no one to notice that may be offended. The chances are, in fact, that they will post something very offensive, and purposely so, without any thought that a friend may be offended. Such a post is basically when a whole group on the other side of the debate is decried for idiots. The problem with that is that some of the poster’s friends may be part of that group. The poster is not thinking of their friends specifically (if they are not trying to bait them, that is), but they have insulted their friends nonetheless.

Consequences

The results to any political post, even the non-insulting ones, can be disastrous. A long lasting argument, name-calling (virtual blows), accusations, and possibly being de-friended. This can be especially damaging because of two reasons: the two people arguing may know each in real life with mutual real world friends in common and others can see the argument. How someone conducts themselves in this argument is reviewed, albeit informally, by their real world connections, including employers, colleagues, family, and friends. These people can make the decision to stay out of it (both on Facebook and in the real world), comment on it (in either world), or take action (as an employer may have to). Opinions of both/all parties of the argument may be changed.

How to Avoid This

The best thing to do to stop a future argument is to to keep one’s mouth shut. Take the “Thumper’s Mother” approach to political topics. Why? Because Facebook is a social network, not a political forum. If a person likes their friends (which they should if they are friends with them), then they should try their best not to insult or offend them.

But Wait!

Isn’t it someone’s First Amendment right to say what they think? Why, yes, it is. We, in the U.S., have an actual right defending our posts on Facebook (not specifically–but wouldn’t it be funny if it was that specific?). So what is stopping someone from being offensive to the max on their Facebook account? Well, social grace, one would hope. Being purposely inconsiderate of others can result in ostracization (or an outrageously awesome career if you are a video game reviewer). A person is allowed to express themselves but probably shouldn’t be purposely rude to others whether in the specific or general. Otherwise, they may end up losing friends or their job.

When Insulted

If a person is looking around Facebook and is insulted by someone’s political post, the first thing they should not do is be a jerk too by commenting on a post with rude and insulting language in return. That’s trolling and akin to “two wrongs”. Better approaches are: not saying anything or telling the poster (in a private message) that their post was inconsiderate. If the friend is not a complete ass, they will apologize and say they didn’t mean to offend.

When Insulted Again

If the friend is an ass, they may say they don’t give a damn if they offended anyone. At this point, it is better not to take it any further. Why? Because “you have the right to be offended, you have the right to offend, you do not have the right to not be offended”. Why? Well, because we are not Betazoids who can read minds and know when we are offending someone. I am a firm believer in avoiding something that actually bothers you (go to another website, change the channel/station, if you are offended, but don’t be chased away from public places like the park). We should understand that being offended is not as big a deal as one would think. Move past it; there are more important things in life. Harassment is another issue altogether because it involves persistent attacks as opposed to inadvertent insults or the expression of reasonable opinions.

Social or Political?

If one does wish to avoid political posts on Facebook, it can be somewhat tricky to distinguish between social and political subjects because social has two major categories: personal and societal. Personal tends to be the safer of the two choices because it is hardly ever related to something political. But personal topics are not inane as so many are? My exercise program is about as interesting to some of my friends as someone else’s toddler in potty training is to me. I’d say, though, that personal good news is always welcome no matter the type. Political celebration or protestation is best left as a comment on a news article where you can argue with strangers that don’t see you in the real world.

 

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