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.

Fun Times in Bostonland!

Hot on the heels of my last post and potentially directly in contradiction to it…

Tonight! 6PM! Lir Pub on Boylston St!

Boston NOMAS (National Organization of Men Against Sexism) will be hosting a panel/discussion on Dating While Feminist. It is being organized in part by the rad Dave of the BARCC blog, and will include such awesome speakers as his co-BARCC-blogger Shira, Jaclyn Friedman of Yes Means Yes! fame (amongst other fames), and Holly of Pervocracy!

I’ll be there, trying to convince people to eat leftover vegan nutella brownie bites from the massive batch I made last night to give to my students on my last day of field placement today and regenerating my will to live via beer consumption.

On that note, my field placement ended today. Although I still have plenty of academic work for the remainder of the session, I expect to be able to get back into a more regular posting pattern again. It won’t be back to 5 days a week for a while, I imagine, but I’ll keep striving to get back there. My last day at my office is August 20th, so although I’m in a mad rush to get all kinds of loose ends tied off, I’m also able to pass more and more work off to my assistant, who will most likely be stepping into my position when I leave. So, more workday blogging. Neato!

Anyways, hooray beer, hooray dating while feminist, and hooray brownies. Hooray today!

07/29/2010. Tags: . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

The Foursquare Conundrum

So here’s the thing about the internet–it’s not a particularly private place. Everyone knows better than to put lots of personal information out and readily accessible, and websites using particularly sensitive information are heavily encrypted and put us to very rigorous password standards. This is basic security precautions, just as we lock our houses or cars when we leave them. There are assholes out there in the world who have no regard for decency. We take it as our responsibility to protect ourselves, insomuch as we are capable, from the malicious vagaries of modern life.

When do we move from wanting people to be responsible to crossing the line into victim blaming, though?

A recent post on Jezebel talks about the dangers of cyberstalking becoming real life stalking courtesy of Foursquare. The article mentions examples of real women being approached by people that they did not know because those people had figured out where they were via the internet.

So, first off, I dislike the Foursquare concept, so I’m biased here. My privacy is very important to me–I don’t even like informing close friends, family, or significant others what I’m up to all the time, no matter how innocent it is, because that’s just how I am. My Facebook and Twitter accounts are both locked to the fullest extent possible, and even then, I hesitate to share details. Unless you recognize me from my photo and are in Boston, there’s (I hope) no way to get much information about me off this blog. My obsession with maintaining my privacy and anonymity means that I find Foursquare to be several levels of repulsive. So, I’m biased.

A while back, there was a website called Please Rob Me, that did a real-time stream of updates of people who aren’t in their homes because they have checked in elsewhere on Foursquare. Of course, part of Foursquare is checking into your home, thus putting your address out there (I’m glad none of my friends use Foursquare, as I have heard of people “checking in” to friend’s houses, and thus throwing that address onto the web without the friend having a say in the matter). The website was intended to be tongue in cheek, while pointing out the danger inherent in broadcasting where your location is. However, even in this instance, the context was the danger of belongings, the potential for being robbed. I don’t think that “well, he/she put on Foursquare that the house was empty!” is a valid excuse in court for robbing a house.

And that’s the thing. Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Just because you know that a house is empty and therefore ripe for the robbin’ doesn’t mean that you SHOULD rob it. It is not the victim’s fault that they occasionally leave their house. No one would suggest that someone whose house has been robbed should never leave the house because then it is their own fault if they are robbed.

However, when it comes to female bodily integrity, we always sing a different tune. What a woman wears means she’s “asking for it” (check out this great Scottish PSA on how skirts are not ever a request to be raped), if she’s walking alone at night it’s her own fault, if she accidentally drinks too much then she brought it on herself.

And now if her cyberstalker can find out where she is in the real world, it is her own fault if he shows up and starts harassing her (after all, that nice man was just being so good about taking care of the silly little girl and keeping her safe from her own childish stupidity!).

I am so violently against victim blaming. It’s one of the few things that can push me to seeing red and wanting to become literally violent. Do. Not. Blame. The. Victim.

But this Foursquare thing makes me uncomfortable. At what point is it common sense to cover your tracks, and at what point is it patronizing scare tactics? I don’t know. I really don’t know. But this is an instance where I lean toward erring on the side of caution. Women should not stop doing things in order to avoid assault, and they should not change how they dress or act or speak or anything. The responsibility is not on women to not be assaulted. The responsibility is on the would-be assaulter to not assault.

However, I fear the way Foursquare would be treated in court. I fear that it would be held up by a jury as a woman contributing to her own victimizing, even though in a sane world that shouldn’t be something someone would say. But the thing is, we don’t live in a sane world, and a lot of people really underestimate how easy it is to get information about them from the internet. When Blizzard’s RealID proposal was first making waves, it was over and over pointed out how dangerous putting people’s real information on the web could be. Blizzard had the best of intentions–make the game environment safer and with lower instances of harassment–but the reality is that the more people know about you, the more they can put together online. Check out this post about how one Blizzard user was able to demonstrate this in a very real and frightening way; lucky for the person he demonstrated on, he was benevolent.

A lot of people aren’t benevolent. A lot of people are malicious.

We are not responsible for the actions of others.

However, the world is full of fuckwads and we all know that. We know that they’re out there and on the internet and victimizing people–it happens often. There is a constant dialogue going on about how to protect your identity, your privacy, your reputation, etc. I don’t think that employers should look up the Facebook accounts of potential employees and judge them based on that, but they do. So we all do our best to keep our Facebook accounts work-safe, at least to the public eye. I don’t think that women should have to worry about men showing up at places that they’ve check into on Foursquare and demanding their attention, but they do. To what extent is this different?

I don’t know. I am so deeply against victim blaming, so the idea of saying that using Foursquare is bad and opens women up to all kinds of potential violence makes me uncomfortable, because it smacks of saying that if a woman is harassed or assaulted because of Foursquare that she is in some way responsible for that. I don’t stand by that at all. But I do stand by the fact that I think women–and, hell, everyone–should be wary of the danger of any kind of internet presence linked to your real self, but particularly one as direct as Foursquare.

Am I losing feminist cred for this? Please share your thoughts. I’m pretty divided about this whole fracas.

07/29/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

All Your Books Are Belong To Us

So, you guys sick of hearing me wax poetic about how much I love sci-fi/fantasy and all things nerdly yet? NO? Well good, cause I am not shutting up.

First off, I am halfway through my summer class and it’s enough to make a girl cry with happiness. I spent literally my entire weekend highlighting articles, writing outlines, and creating concept maps (with the exclusion of going out for a rockin’ brunch yesterday, at which I ate so much that I think I am still digesting). My brain has been wrung out to dry, and when I get home, I stare mournfully at my bookshelf and dream of reading for pleasure.

Because books, guys. Books are goddamn awesome. Writing is incredible. I have poetry everywhere in my apartment, and post-it notes scattered around with favorite lines of novels. Books are probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

As someone who is only nine months away from being a high school English teacher, that’s not a bad attitude for me to have. What I am about to say is probably a bad thing to say, but hey, screw it.

Our kids are incredibly disinterested in books and reading because there is much more intriguing stuff out there to consume.

Author Blake Charlton writes that boys aren’t as into sci-fi/fantasy anymore, and while I have some disagreements with some of his points, I can’t aggressively disagree.

Bear with me for a second while I go on a tangent. Remember a while back when I ranted about passivity and gender? How boys are generally steered toward “active” entertainment while girls are encouraged to be passive? Little boys are subjects, while little girls are often objects (please accept my blatant over-simplifying and sweeping generalizations; I’m trying to be brief).

So here’s the thing–it is acceptable for girls to read, within reason. Books that are marketed to girls are essentially chickflicks on the page.

The things that are more “boyish” are still not marketed to girls. However, they are not marketed to boys, either. There was a time when my love of sci-fi made me tomboyish. However, the fact that I giggle gleefully at Stephenson’s humor when reading Cryptonomicon no longer makes me tomboyish–it makes me a really big geek. Hard sci-fi and, well, I guess “hard” fantasy (I’m thinking stuff like Dune, Foundation, LOTR, and other classics, as well as newer stuff like George R. R. Martin, if the dude would throw me a bone and publish another book) are seen as dense books for the truly nerdy amongst us.

When we have Cameron throwing out intense 3-D experiences like Avatar (yes, I hated it, but I will not deny what a visually phenomenal experience that movie was) why would people who want to experience other worlds turn to a book? You gotta, like, SQUINT and KNOW WORDS and shit.

Dictionaries: they are pretty damn rad. I wish I could get my students to get that, because getting them to use the dictionary or thesaurus on their assignments is an uphill battle.

Anyways, so we have this triple-edged sword: books are passive things that girls engage with (books are for sissies!), books that aren’t sissy girly books are only for super smart people, and there is other media that doesn’t ask anything of you to take you away to another world.

If boys want to imagine a fantasy world, they can pop in a videogame and not only be IN that world, but interact with it and shape it. They are a character that they control. It’s full-submersion escapism. When we as a culture are progressively more interested in instant gratification, what can compare with being able to push a button and have the world you’re experiencing immediately respond to that? You can interact with the characters, not just watch from the sidelines.

I will confess to occasionally wanting to reach into my books and shake/yell at main characters (*cough* Robert Jordan *cough*).

On top of being “non-interactive,” books make demands of their readers. You have to keep track of characters, plot arcs, politics, fictional worlds, and more, let alone having the vocabulary and grasp on the language to keep up with the author’s writing. Sometimes it can be very challenging to keep up with an author who enjoys complex styles or words. Sometimes you don’t get all the information simply laid out in front of you and you have to–*gasp!*–draw conclusions from inferences and subtleties in the text. Never mind if we get into any sort of math or science or technology; that’s yet another layer of intellectual demands.

I, personally, find all of these things rewarding. I love stumbling upon a word I don’t know, and I have reread individual sentences over and over and over simply to delight in how they were constructed. (Well-crafted writing is just so amazing. I… Uh, is it getting hot here? Anyone?) I love when authors show and don’t tell and let me draw my own conclusions or form my own image of something (would Beowulf has been as powerful if Grendel had been explicitly described?). And if I come out of a reading experience feeling like I’ve learned something neat, well so much the better! The more my brain does somersaults while I read, the more rewarding I find the experience to be.

The keyword there, of course, is “rewarding.”

We engage in behaviors that we find rewarding. Most of my students will get more sense of reward–that is to say, more affirmation from peers and family–through success as an athlete, or even a musician, than they will as a student.

Someone please issue me a cane, a lawn, and some whippersnappers so that I can wave my cane at said whippersnappers to get off my lawn, because I am about to sound really old:

Guys, we really don’t value reading anymore.

Honestly, in many ways, we don’t value education in general. Outside of us teachers, kids are not getting any sort of reward for reading. While there is a degree of personal reward for being a bookworm, the social pressure to NOT be one far outweighs it. The lonely friendless types will turn to books because hey, what else have we got? However, that’s not the case anymore–now there are videogames, that allow kids to interact with others and not feel isolated.

But we’ve already been over girls and gaming and… and…

I am exhausted. I wish I had the faintest notion how to encourage girls to read better books (Twilight, I wish I could fight you. I’d punch you in the face so hard), how to encourage boys to want to read again, and how to make our parents encourage our kids to read instead of sitting around with videogames and shitty movies like Avatar.

But no, I do not have answers.

What I have is a midterm on Friday, and I still have a lot of charts to make.

Instead, after reading Charlton’s post, all I want to do is head to my local bookshop and curl up on the floor of the sci-fi/fantasy section and read for a week straight.

So help me, I will teach a class on sci-fi/fantasy and comics as literature. It’ll be one of my little contributions to saving the world.

07/19/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 5 comments.

The Paradigm Your Paradigm Could Be Subverted Like

I… I just really wanted to use that subject. Forgive me, internets, for I have sinned.

The other night, as I was waiting for my delicious vegan bagel pizza to bake (you guys have no idea how delicious this is; I am eating one for lunch at this very second and my mouth is having spasms of happiness), I stumbled upon the Old Spice Twitter account and the real-time marketing campaign they’ve been doing with the guy in the shower in the towel (mmm, abs) responding to people’s tweets and facebook posts. Some of them are seriously hilarious (when he responds to Anonymous? Guys, I love it!).

I kind of love these Old Spice commercials because there’s a lot of mockery of the “manliness” ideal, a lot of tongue-in-cheek silliness, and overt mockery of the Axe commercials (which mostly make me want to stab myself or someone else). I find them to be pleasantly self-aware, plus I always encourage the shameless objectification of men–since the objectification of women is never going to go away, let’s at least level the playing field! I enjoy the idea of applying the “sex sells” concept to male bodies as well; it concedes that women have libidos and can also enjoy sexuality on a purely physical level.

Since the first “the man your man could smell like” commercial came out, there have been tons of parodies circulating around. I think this has to be my favorite, though, and since I currently have exciting and glamorous plans for this weekend of doing a lot of homework and studying, it rang a bit true:

Lovely.

I love geek culture adjustment. We are legion!

Happy weekend, all. I’m absurdly burnt out from a weekend that had suck that went up to 11. Here’s hoping for a great weekend and a better week next week! Maybe I’ll even catch up on my poor overloaded Google Reader.

07/16/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

On The Value of Education

Into week two of summer school teaching assistantship. I’m in a local high school, working with an “essay writing workshop” group, which is to say a hodgepodge of kids ranging in age from rising freshman to rising seniors, all with a variety of writing levels and even English levels. The teacher was explaining to me that some of the kids are there for enrichment (there’s some very talented students), while some are there as “babysitting,” essentially, and others are there to try to keep them on track (one of the girls clearly has a gift for writing and self-expression, but struggles with English, as it’s her second language, so she’s here to work on developing her language skills).

Today, we were talking about description. The teacher brought in an exercise for us to think about metaphor and personifying concepts and things. The exercise was taking an adjective and deciding which of the two things it better described. (Examples: “Which is wiser, a pen or a pencil?” “Which is braver, an hour or a year?”) One of the questions, “Which costs more, a home or a house?” brought up some interesting responses from the students.

One of the boys vehemently argued with everyone that a house costs more than a home, because a home can be anywhere. He explained that just because you live at an address, that doesn’t mean it’s your home. For a lot of kids his age, this school is their home and that if we asked a lot of his contemporaries where home is, they’d say the school. Not just because that’s where their friends are, but because that’s where they feel safe and supported.

This is one of those boys who often projects a “too cool for school” air and is hesitant to participate in group activities or express himself.

To say that I, as a student teacher, found that stirring is an understatement. This boy, much like the girl in his class I mentioned above, is clearly a very bright kid. He, too, struggles with English as a non-native speaker, but also seems to worry about his image as projected to his peers. He wants to be cool, and it seems like he worries about stumbling when participating or class, or revealing himself as too vulnerable.

So, as an aside, I’d like to mention how fantastic the teacher I’m working with is. She is very smart and well-read, but has such a great way of getting down to earth and interacting comfortably with the students, making everyone laugh and feel a little more at ease. She is absolutely the kind of teacher I want to be, and I attribute her excellent class leadership to this boy’s willingness to speak out about his feelings on the house vs. the home.

It was such a jolt to me to hear a student say that school can be a home. I’ve known for a while that for many of our urban students, school is in fact the safest place (I’ve heard stories from colleagues of students who come to them after experiencing sexual assault, abuse in the home, dealing with friends in trouble; the students see good teachers are sources of strength and safety, and the school building itself is a bastion of safety from the messy streets outside). It had just never dawned on me that students–even students who are hostile to the idea of schooling, regardless of whether or not they are smart (smart kids don’t always love school!)–would actually see school as a place that they identify as a home.

When we consider education budget and support, when we think about closing schools and libraries or cutting after school activities, when we shrug off the importance of providing teachers with sufficient support… we’re denying the importance of our students having homes.

I don’t mean teacher support in the sense of “gimme gimme gimme I want a big salary” (though it would be nice), I mean providing teachers with adequate sick days and sub coverage, providing access to materials, letting them have some freedom with their curriculum, and so on. I’m not being selfish here; I’m speaking from a fact–a teacher without sufficient support, especially in a tough school with the students with the greatest needs, will burn out, and a burnt out teacher cannot provide the environment students need to feel at home. A school without after school activities denies students the opportunity to find their strengths and then cultivate them. Slashing funding to the arts and music might be justified by the fact that they aren’t “job skills,” but are we making cogs in a machine or are we helping to grow human beings?

A student may barely pass high school and graduate by the skin of his or her teeth (hell, that was pretty much me). Yes, I’ll be sad about that–I want to see all my students thrive academically! I’m a big nerd who loves school, so of course I want everyone else to share in that view. But students need not be valedictorians to be citizens. We lead by example in providing students with a home outside of the house; they will build these environments in their communities when they leave school. One of the things I find so beautiful about community activism is the potential that people see in their communities that outsiders write off (which references back to my post about how the rest of Boston seems to write off violence in Dorchester/Roxbury/Mattapan/etc). I think schools are a place where that feeling of potential and community identity can begin. Not to say that other community sources are irrelevant–for many communities, strength can come from religious groups, social groups, sports groups, etc–but schools are a shared experience for the youth of a community and it’s an opportunity for them to build an identity. It made me feel good to know that we have students who feel such a strong identity with their school.

I just hope that such feelings can continue, that our students will get the best education, in all respects, that they can get, and that there are other schools out there serving the same purpose. The school I’m currently in has a reputation for its strong community and atmosphere; not every school is so fortunate.

I’m not necessarily driving at a point here; I’m not really saying anything revolutionary. It’s all been said before. I guess it’s just a little more powerful when you have the experience yourself, and it never hurt to let these thoughts bubble back up to the surface.

Education: it’s important. Please stop voting down education budgets.

07/13/2010. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Actually, I like my term better.

THIS JUST IN. Ladies can get sexually frustrated, too.

Guys, while I have been completely out of touch with the world (I hope that this weekend I have an opportunity to write about some of the “educational theory” I am learning about, because dear god it is lulz), I am delighted to see that science has been marching on.

But “pink balls”? Really?

I much prefer the term “blue boxed.”

07/09/2010. Tags: , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

In Defense of “Fight Club”

Good news, everyone! I’m going to be skinny after this weekend, from all the damn sweating I’ve been doing. I just spent a couple hours down by the river, soaking up some sun (little known fact: I am powered by photosynthesis) and trying to slog my way through Dune: House Atreides. A friend of mine loaned it to me, telling me that since I enjoyed Dune, I would enjoy this prequel very much, as it sets up the story as well as developing the characters and being a much more exciting plot. While I did love Dune, I’ll grant you that it’s a little dry (pun not intended). So I decided to give the Kevin J. Anderson rendition a go.

Guys, this is like pulling teeth. The plot is painfully forced, the characters are so trite that my teeth hurt, and it violently fails the Bechdel test.

Now here’s the thing–I don’t expect, or even want, everything in life to pass the Bechdel test. The original Dune story was just chock full o’ dudes! I love Lord of the Rings and that is kind of like the shining festival of Dudely Dudes Being Superbly Dudeish. The cast of LOTR probably greets each other not unlike The Todd in Scrubs by asking everyone, “How’s your penis?” (Based on internet fanfic, I know I am not the only one who has imagined Aragorn and Legolas answering that question for each other.) The interesting thing about the Bechdel test, though, is that you can apply it to more than just movies–TV shows, books, comics, etc–and it’s kind of a fun mental exercise. I find that a lot of the stuff that I come back to again and again passes the Bechdel test, or my own adjustment to it (if the cast is limited to having only one female, or the females who have names do not interact with each other, do they at least serve a purpose beyond just love/sex interest?). It is media like this reimagining of Dune that makes me cringe–oh, there’s women, but it feels like they’re there because well, shucks, if some folk didn’t get it on back in the day, the cast of Dune would never be born! I would be much happier if this had been a Celebration of Penis Owners instead of the jilting, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard attempt at including females. Eee.

And so that brings us to those things that DON’T pass the Bechdel test and that people tend to get hung up on. The shining gem of this issue is Fight Club. We (and by “we” I mean the big bad scary evil Feminist Hive Mind (TM)) seem to be really hung up on its evils. It’s even been alluded to in some installments of “how to date as a feminist” that one should rule out dating men who list Fight Club as a favorite movie or book.

I… I can’t go with that. I can’t even see Fight Club as all that evil.

Like LOTR and Dune, it is a bunch of dudes grabbing their crotch and grunting. It’s just that LOTR and Dune had a neatoriffic sci-fi/fantasy backdrop to make said crotch-grabbing seem detached from our everyday world of crotch-grabbing. Hell, Star Wars was so fortunate as to have ONE female (sorry, Mon Mothma really doesn’t count, because unless you’re a giant freaking geek like me, you have no effing clue who the hell that is) and even the oh-so modern prequel trilogy really didn’t change that (again, Padme’s cheery doppelganger crowd doesn’t count). But Leia, Jessica, Eowyn (or Arwen if you’re one of THEM) gave us women to admire.

I guess the problem with Fight Club is that Marla is kind of a bitch. I always saw her as a bit of a sympathetic character to be honest–probably not sympathetic to the dudes watching it, but I felt for her. She was a mess, and living in a fucked up world, and so she responded that fucked up world in the best way she could think of. None of us are flawless at coping, so what are we doing up on our high horses? Poor Marla was a product of the ridiculous society we live in. Her coping mechanism was toxic and vile, just like our buddies the Protagonists De Machismo. Cause no matter how you cut it, punching people in basements is not exactly what I’d call well-adjusted.

But it resonates. I would like to meet the lady who has never kind of wanted to beat the pulp out of someone. Give me a chance to be part of an all-girl Fight Club? I’d be pretty damn tempted. We live in a world–ALL of us; men, women, and everything else–that exults daily in stripping us of power, denying us voice, shunting our agency to the side of the road to bulldoze through more bullshit. It’s not like any one of us angry feminists can’t empathize with having all this frustration and rage that we want to work out.

We’re just lounging around in the Oppression Olympics at this point, okay? I, as a middle class white lady, get to look down my nose at the problems of a middle class white DUDE, cause, like, he totally has the Wang Advantage. Are we for fucking serious here?

I think that’s a destructive mindset. Far more destructive than anything in Fight Club. This isn’t an “us vs. them” in this case. People are drawn to Fight Club because they can relate to the feeling of quiet desperation and desire to break out of a toxic system that breaks us down instead of building us up.

In general, I usually encounter two kinds of dudes who love Fight Club (and I generalize). There’s the one group of dudes that feels strongly about the fact that we live in a fucked up society and eventually the only natural reaction is to flip out and go a little crazy. They are generally down with my feminist ranting and don’t blame me when I freak out a little about shit–because hey, it’s a fucked up world. If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention, as they say. The second category of dude is all about the punching and bromarnce of shirtless grappling and whatnot. They don’t really, at the risk of sounding like a douche, get it. They are the guys that take you on dates in their khakis while they talk about how you are not your khakis, and they pause in that rant to complain about how they can’t find a parking space, because it is downtown Boston on a Saturday night, so honestly, what did you expect, but they refuse to take public transit because ZOMG HOMELESS PEOPLE AND GERMS.

Are you catching my drift?

There’s a lot of semi-misogynistic BS in Fight Club. It’s there. It happens. But when a bunch of ladies get together to tell a woman-centric story (although I cringe to use this example, it’s the best I can think of on short notice) such as Mists of Avalon, you end up with some kinda sexist BS going the other way, too. People, it happens. I’m not saying I like it, and I’m not saying we should write it off and forgive it just because there’s a PRECEDENT of it happening before. Not at all.

However, I see Fight Club as an opportunity. If someone is resonating with the message of how fucked up our society is, let’s talk about that. Let’s see where that conversation can go.

I happen to like the shades of desperation and the acerbic, dark humor of Fight Club. It’s right up my alley, so I find it easy to connect to someone over the subject, and try to take things to the next level of where can we go with this, instead of just railing against its misogyny. There’s plenty of things that I just rail against blindly that probably someone else could use as an opportunity. But I can’t say I’m too terribly worried about Fight Club undermining our society. Basically, it was made to be an “OOK AAK CAVEMAN THUMP” type man’s-man penis-waggling movie. It was never meant to be anything else. In a sense, it doesn’t hide what it is. I find the subliminal “oh, we’re so warm and fuzzy!” movies like Knocked Up and whatnot so infinitely much worse.

I would, in a heartbeat, much prefer that the men in my life loved Fight Club over any of that bullcrap.

07/05/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 4 comments.

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