Divided We Fall

This morning, I sat with my clutch of rising high school seniors, all low-income, minority students, and tried to get them to discuss the Ralph Ellison short story “Battle Royal,” an excerpt from his novel Invisible Man.

I have never felt more acutely aware of how white I am in my life.

In the story (go out, find it, and read it now if you have somehow made it this far in your life without reading Ellison; I think he is where white liberal guilt comes from, and he is an amazing writer) a group of young black men are brought to a rich white men’s social gathering to fight, blindfolded, for their entertainment. The white men are in tuxedos, drinking, “wolfing down buffet food,” and yelling obscenities as the young men duke it out for supremacy. Afterward, the black men are given “the opportunity” to fight each other for money that is strewn on a rug. The rug is electrified (and, unknown to them, the cash is fake), but at the urging of the laughing crowd, they keep fighting each other.

I was trying to steer my students toward seeing the fight as an extended metaphor for society. It wasn’t just an isolated incident, and the rich white men weren’t just pitting young black men against each other for entertainment at a club, they were doing it in a very real way out in life. I wanted them to feel the power of the story. They were absolutely feeling strongly about it and seeing a lot of the imagery, but I wanted them to go further (what teacher doesn’t?).

But damn, I am white as hell. I can only do so much.

It got me thinking about the violence in low-income areas of Boston. Today marks the second day in a row that someone has been murdered in broad daylight in Dorchester. Yet it barely makes the news outside of Universal Hub–it’s just a little tidbit in the deep inside pages, rather than a headline. This kind of intra-community violence is simply accepted and normalized. This is “part of Dorchester.” Part of “what it means” to live in Dorchester, to be poor, and, ultimately, to be non-white. Self-destruction from the inside.

Anyways, all I could think about was how much that resonated with me as a female. I can’t relate to the racial issues going on, but I can extrapolate those same feelings to issues of gender. I look at the way women are pitted against each other, the way we’re constantly dragging each other down–“oh, she’s such a stupid slut!” “She is so ugly!” “She’s such a gold-digger!”–and so on, that instead of having a powerful force of women, we have a bunch of squabbling girls.

I’m not saying we should like each other just because we share common reproductive organs–that’s stupid. I don’t get along with most of the world, let alone most other women. But it would behoove us to give each other the benefit of the doubt now and again. To stop seeing one another as the enemy. It’s so easy to keep us squashed down to being simply trophies when we judge each other just as harshly.

I mean, c’mon, patriarchy doesn’t even have to really do much if we keep destroying ourselves from the inside out.

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08/18/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Chocolate, shoes, and the spinster dilemma.

So, for those of you who live under rocks (like me), you should probably know–that silly comic strip, Cathy, is ending. October 3rd is the big day.

The announcement got posted over at the Post Punk Kitchen forums, where lively discussion began. Cathy certainly seems to induce reactions in people, mostly negative. Someone linked this article from Feministe, which opens by saying that Cathy ending will be the greatest day for all of feminism. There was a lot of issue with that over at the PPK.

Well, this morning in class I walked my clutch of soon-to-be-AP-English-scholars through writing one of the kinds of essays that they’ll see on the AP exam, so I’m currently thinking in literary terms. All I can say is HYPERBOLE. There have been lots of great moments for feminism! Cathy ending is not overshadowing them!

But oh, how great it will be that strip ends. Sometimes, exaggeration is the best way to get across the intensity of emotion.

Cathy, like Miss Piggy, was one of those things that struck me at an early age as hating portrayals of women in media. Of course, I was hanging out with lots of misogynistic guys and had few close female friends, so I translated them into hating women and hating my gender and myself; I went out of the way to prove that I was the antithesis of Cathy (and I still carry some of that with me). Cathy embodies so much of what drives me up a wall–she is Sex and the City but with a lower budget. She’s a single career girl… but not by choice. She hates that she’s single, she spends all her time being neurotic about men, worrying about her appearance, binge eating, and then drowning in guilt for having dared to do so.

Yes, it’s remarkable that we’ve had a syndicated woman cartoonist for 34 years. As I already covered while I was reading Trina Robbins’ excellent History of Women Cartoonists, the ladies don’t really get a lot of press. Now that we’re all big on the internets, being syndicated isn’t such a big deal, but syndication used to be the ultimate “making it” for comic strip artists/writers. The existence of Cathy was, on the outside, a victory for women.

But how much of a victory can you call it? Had Cathy been written by a man, instead of a woman, I don’t think there’d be a woman out there lamenting the end of this era. It’s sad that we’re losing a woman’s voice on the comics pages, but did we ever really have one to begin with? That strip felt like a puppet–pay no attention to the sexism behind the woman. Just because this pathetic stereotyping and denigration was coming from a woman, that somehow made it okay. That somehow made it PRO-woman.

Cathy is not, and never has been, pro-women or advancing feminism in any way. It serves the purpose of the “my [insert minority here] friend thought [same minority joke] was funny, so it’s not offensive!” line. Because Cathy comes from a female writer, it is therefore that much more insidious in its reinforcement of female psychology or whatever you want to call it.

I’m delighted that Cathy Guisewite was able to spend 34 years doing the job she wanted and hopefully loved. I wish her all the best. But I, for one, will be happy to have Cathy no longer in the papers.

08/16/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Hold me closer, tiny dancer! Or: I’m sick of being nice.

So here’s a delightful story that has made my afternoon: in Ohio, strippers are protesting outside a church because they are sick of the church protesting outside of the club.

Fuck yes.

Look, I don’t have anything against religion. Hell, I myself grew up in a Christian family and am confirmed (I gave a speech about pie). Christians really aren’t bad people or jerks or anything. It’s just that there’s this little bundle of them who give the rest a bad name (this stands, in fact, for all religions. For the most part, they’re just nice folk and then there’s that small clique of asshats that goes and fucks it up for everyone else).

I am so delighted to see the tables being turned. Fuck turning the other cheek. Fuck being nice. Fuck being shamed into being silent through bullshit just because if you speak up, you’re somehow validating the other party’s bullshit claim.

Having a spine and defending yourself is good. But somehow, we constantly get shamed into apologizing when we try to defend ourselves, shamed into keeping quiet instead of “making a big deal” or making mountains out of molehills.

But if mountains are being made, they are not our mountains. They weren’t our molehills to begin with.

I’m sick of being nice and tolerating bullshit just to keep other people from getting uncomfortable. I am too busy and stressed out and strung out to deal with flagrant, narrow-minded jackassery.

I was at a friend’s birthday party Saturday night when a dude laid down the claim that women can’t drive. I rolled my eyes and said “Oh please. You have got to be kidding.” He insisted no, he was serious. He asked another couple guys standing nearby to back him up; they wisely dodged the question. I asked him what weight of oil his car takes. He said he has no idea; that’s what mechanics are for. I went on my oil rant. I asked him what double clutching is and why it’s relevant. I asked him what it means to turn into a spin and why. He had no answers. I walked out of the room.

Later, he came into the room and tried to explain that he is the way he is because WAAAAHHHH. He took a women’s studies course in college and he was one of three guys in the room of fifteen women. Two of the guys were dating girls in the class. He felt like his ideas and input weren’t valued and it was really hard for him. So he turned misogynistic; it’s not his fault, that class made him that way.

OH GOLLY WHAT ABOUT THE MENS.

Motherfucker, if I have to listen to another fucking sob story of when some dude took a women’s studies class and wasn’t celebrated for it, I am going to turn all misandrist.

It’s not my fault; your idiocy made me that way.

Seriously, if I were to walk around saying that I had a really hard time when I took a computer science class because I was one of three women in a class of fifteen guys and the other two girls were dating guys in the class so I felt invalidated and shunned, PEOPLE WOULD FUCKING LAUGH. They would tell me to stop being so sensitive and irrational and that maybe I was ignored and invalidated because I didn’t have anything to contribute because I wasn’t smart enough and what was I doing in a computer science class anyways?

I managed to resist whining, “Oh waaaaaahhhh the poor mens! It is tough being an upper middle class white dude in college!” but only just barely. I held back because I didn’t want to be THAT BITCH that makes the room uncomfortable. That crazy feminist.

You know, the honest person.

The dancers and club owner out in Ohio? Fucking fuck yeah to them for not letting themselves get silenced by not wanting to be the person that makes things uncomfortable.

They have absolutely pushed some boundaries and made people uncomfortable. It takes a lot of bravery to be in a line of work that carries as much social stigma as stripping does and to then turn the tables on people trying to kick sand in your eyes.

That’s fucking awesome. Those ladies rock.

08/09/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.