Hey, readers! It’s been a quiet week or so in these parts. The news here in the US has been generally bad, to the extent that writing about it just seems exhausting. Here, the summer’s over and I’m back to my job this week, which is another reason I’m tired. I’m trying to figure out how to navigate current events in my classroom while keeping it open for dialogue across all spectrums. That way people can come to informed conclusions without assuming my own positions and clamming up. It’s going to be a challenge.
I attended a faculty workshop recently in which one of my colleagues talked about how, in the name of his neglected research, he was going to stop working on dialogue and justice on our campus. He was going to take all the time for himself. But then, as events unfolded, he couldn’t. He felt dirty with the knowledge of how his privileged position as a white male allowed him to turn his activism on and off, as his outer appearance allowed him to blend away from crisis whenever he pleased. So he changed his mind.
May we all be that colleague. May we take time for ourselves when we need it, but not stop fighting because we can. Let’s use our various layers of privilege to work for others, to find ways to dialogue and also ways to reject fascist hatred. We’ve all got gifts–if we use them for others, we’re making the world a better place. If this week has shown us anything, it’s how badly we need each other in the face of the dearth of understanding and empathy in our culture.
Good luck with the rest of your week! I’ll be back on Friday. Kitten quarantine is lifted Saturday. Wish us luck.
This is a post I’ve been mulling over for months, but wasn’t sure how to write. I am not comfortable talking about vulnerability or being vulnerable. But I’ve been reading Roxane Gay’s tremendous Hunger and got thinking that she is brave, and she is vulnerable. Being willing to be vulnerable and able to handle the risks that come with it is, I suspect, key to figuring out who you are, under your layers. A lot of us wear a great deal of armor to hide those layers. I further suspect we aren’t always doing ourselves favors hiding in our armor, as hard as it is to shed.
I am a Rock. (I am an Island)
I have often been a rock for others. I chose that position. It’s a good one. It’s good to be the person your friends count on–in college, we’d gather in my room when things felt out of control, and I’d lead the process of bringing us back to where we needed to be. We called it the “sanity club”. These days I tend to bring my “sanity club” approach to things like meetings–in, out, let’s get things done.
Part of why I make a good rock is that I’m ruthlessly rational, methodical, and pragmatic (hi, I’m a quintessential Virgo). The downside is that I don’t deal well with emotion and in my less-generous moments, don’t have a lot of patience for them, either. I realize the irony there, as my attitude gets me into emotional messes. I like to fix other people’s problems, whether they want me to or not. I realized later that this attitude meant that when other people were vulnerable with me, giving me that gift, I shut them down. I was uncomfortable with emotions and people’s pain, so I tried to fix them in order to send own discomfort away.
(Incidentally, I loved Olivia Pope on Scandal in the early seasons–a problem-fixer by trade!–until she got too stupidly emotional over Fitz. Pffft, you’re so much better than that dumbass, Olivia. Get your wine and go home. Rational. Methodical. Fix it and move on. Sheesh.)
When we moved in order for me to take my job, it was 2008. The market crashed as we arrived in our new destination. My husband–who left his job to come with me–had job prospects that dried up rapidly. We ended up in a really rough place as the terror of watching the fiscal system left us not knowing what would happen next. I wanted to fix it, and the pain that came with it for us. I couldn’t. It was awful.
Years later, in a different rough place, I began seeing a therapist who asked me, in the first fifteen minutes, when I became so co-dependent. It occurred to me, as I worked through all my garbage and googled what the hell co-dependent meant, that I had always been, even when I was a kid. I don’t let other people solve their problems, because in my wacky perspective it’s easier for me to do it so we can all move on. I wasn’t good at letting people sit with their emotions; I didn’t accept them all that well, and I’d try to fix whatever caused negative emotions so I wouldn’t have to deal. You can guess how that usually goes: poorly, for all involved. And at the root of it all was an unwillingness for me to be vulnerable–to accept that I am not always the rock or the fixer–and that I, too, had emotions.
The Time I was Ditched
The real test of this awareness came a year or so later. When I was sorting through with all of this personal stuff–and it took months to get to a place where I felt I had a handle on it–I wasn’t altogether pleasant. I was blue a lot, which is what got me to the therapist in the first place. I was struggling at work (not with my work, per se, but with other elements–I had no patience with anything and my anxiety was through the roof. I stopped going to some meetings because I just couldn’t handle them). I was mopey, though I thought I often masked it pretty well.
At the time I had a couple of very close friends with whom I’d go out regularly, the three of us. And I hadn’t seen much of them and I know I wasn’t entirely great when I did. And eventually, I opened up to them. I told them a lot of this stuff. In those days, I didn’t tell people this stuff.
And shortly after I did, they stopped talking to me. I saw them once more inside several months, and then abruptly, that was it. There had been an ugly moment that led to a break with one of them, but when I tentatively asked her about the whole thing months later, I was told the friendship had been long dying, which was news to me. The other friend never returned my calls or messages, both prior to the moment of break and after. It was brutal, and at the time, I figured I had to have screwed up royally in some capacity I couldn’t even figure.
I cried for months, beating myself up, unable to see what had happened. I hated myself for being weak–they didn’t deserve my tears–and for not being able to see what they did. I believed I must have done something horrible but ultimately not memorable for me in the least. It took a lot of talking with other friends to see otherwise.
But on the Bright Side
Eventually, it occurred to me that the two former friends couldn’t handle my vulnerability. Yeah, I wasn’t a great deal of fun for probably a few months. I know there’s an ethos out there that says people should prune from their lives those who bring them down. I get that, but only in terms of people who are, say, negative for the sake of negativity. I’d opened up, and I’d been honest with them, and I’d been vulnerable in talking about what bothered me and what was going on, and they’d ditched me–they confirmed my hunch that being vulnerable was not my bag. I hid inside myself for a long time after that. I didn’t know adults could be so brutal–it felt like junior high.
But in the long run, I realized that I deserved far better. I realized that my vulnerabilities don’t make me weak or stupid, and that I don’t need to be everyone’s rock all the time. They don’t want or need me to be. I can be honest about what I struggle with and often, that honesty strengthens the relationships I have (though I don’t rush into friendships any more–I am pretty careful about who I let in, but pretty open once I make that call).
I am not always brave. I am not always patient. I am still cruel to myself (I’m a terrible self-talker) but I also realize the nonsense inherent in doing so. I try to let people fix their own stuff, and listen to them rather than taking the helm. I’m trying to soften my edges, and the real perk of all of this is that increasingly I realize that things I tend to worry over aren’t my things to worry over, because it’s not my job to fix all the things.
May you find safe spaces to be vulnerable, and to reveal what shines under your layers. May you not have brutal people shock you into doing so. May you gain insight and compassion through your bravery, and find peace in the process.
Back to work tomorrow. May I remember my own words.
I know I haven’t been up to too much in this space in the last two weeks. It’s been exhausting, both at home and at large. Here’s hoping next week is better.
These two are much improved. Sol (gray) has another week of antibiotics and is still sneezy, but much less gross. Trixie (calico) is good to go.
Wardrobe creation continues. Tally is currently 2 cowl neck shirts, three skirts, two pairs of pants. There’s a blouse in need of revision as well. I was hoping to show you some of the pieces today, but it didn’t happen.
I’m going to stay up for Wynonna Earp at 10, and then I’m hitting the hay.
I hope you can find a little peace this weekend, even as we stand strong.
Last week was a personally rough week. I didn’t post much as I dealt with stuff. I was thinking about a Monday post about that jackass at Google, until that seemed like the second or third most important story of the week–escalating tension with North Korea being another, and Charlottesville a third. So here we are.
What you might not know about me is that I’m a professional historian by trade. I know US history pretty well, and I know its social contours–its constructions of power based on constructions of race and other issues–particularly well. I’m a historian of women–that’s my own work–but I teach the whole kit and kaboodle. And while I’m sorry for some that they found the events of the last week shocking, as someone who teaches US history for a living, well, the most I can say is that I’m horrified while not surprised.
I think you all know me enough at this point to know that I don’t avoid contentious issues and that I like to argue. I am a teacher by trade, so I see it as my mission to educate when I can, regardless of audience and situation. This means I do a fair amount of arguing, for example, about feminism and politics. I use various theories as both example and support. Lately the amount of work I’ve been doing on this front has been mammoth, and I’ve figured out that even for me, there’s a point at which I have to walk away.
A Sucker for Punishment?
Those of you who follow me on twitter have seen glimpses of this process. A good friend invited me to join her in a group founded for cross-political discussion but without namecalling or harassment. I thought this was a great idea, as I’ve been wanting to understand how people who voted for the current president feel now that he’s been in office a bit. I wanted to know why they felt as they do–not just their feelings, which, frankly, I don’t have much patience for, but what those feelings were grounded in. So, if someone said “he’s great!” I wanted a “here’s why–examples 1, 2, 3.” And specifics, too. Not just “he’s good for America” or somesuch. I like sources.
At first it was fun, mostly because I like to argue. I like to marshal my sources and ask questions. But it slid downhill fairly quickly and has ended in a bit of a tire fire when I made the decision to walk away.
The “Red Pill”
After spending an inordinate amount of time in this group daily (friends and I noticed that it was only those of us on the liberal side who tended to be so invested and so attacked), repeated invocations by the group’s founder that we should all watch a “documentary” called “Red Pill” put me pretty close to the edge. The poster insisted it had nothing to do with Men’s Right’s people, that he didn’t know what that was, that we were being intractable by refusing to watch it (we argued it was like a movie about race relations by the Klan–no). We walked him through what the MRA movement is, and we said, yes, there’s some points that make that are valid, only they’re grounded in flaming misogyny (for example, it’s troubling that men have a hard time getting custody because of stereotypes). We shared links about all of this, including a particularly resonant one from Everyday Feminism.
And still, he dug in, got defensive, and would not ground any of what he was saying in evidence.
The convo devolved further as discussion over feminist theory was then “used” against us (“if feminists hate FGM, they must love Trump’s travel ban!”) (he was serious). And those we were arguing with never used sources to make their case, never did their own googling. The whole thing took so much energy. I don’t mind spending lots of energy on discussion, argument, and education, but not when I’m a) unpaid to do so and b) doing so with people who refuse to seek even remotely the same standards of truth, sourcing, and then criticize what sources others provide, all while refusing to even do their own searching.
So. Mr Tenacious and I took a few days’ vacation on the water and when I came back, I decided to walk away. The nail in the coffin was when someone asked why people had a problem with the president’s commission on “voter fraud.” When I gave him an NYT summary, he said the NYT was unreliable. For one thing, he just wanted a summary of facts and reasons–why would this have been a problem? For another, he refused to google. He also refused to say why the NYT was unreliable. I threw my hands in the air and called it a day. (I have had real issues, incidentally, with the NYT lately. But they’re reliable for reporting.)
I Like Me, so I Stopped
My departure was a form of self-care. If we can’t dialogue because you refuse to, my refusal to engage is asserting my time is better used for other things. Like watching this Christmas rerun of the Price is Right. One person commented on my final thread that, “I don’t debate in here cause a lot seem to just want to show how educated they are or how much research they do or how much better they are because they can use big words and talk in circles.” Well, I’m out of the circle now. I like myself too much to waste my time here.
If you, like me, are in it (the resistance to this administration, education, feminism) for the long haul, you need to know to pick your battles. You’ll need to self-preserve for a good while, so don’t let people bait you. I’m not afraid of other opinions (though one member of this group suggested I’d prefer Soviet-style media control, lol). But I am afraid of losing my mind.
Take care of yourselves! A key to tenacity is moderation.
Some time ago I wrote here about weightlifting helping alleviate my focus on the scale and size. Welp. I feel like I have to be honest with you: I don’t always feel that way. Lately I have felt like a tangle of emotions regarding weight, size and the gym. Guilt becomes my overriding feeling. And that is the worst.
Six or so weeks ago I decided I wanted to see my muscles more. I wanted to stop buying pants every six months, too, so I figured stabilizing my size by shedding some body fat is the way to go. I would LOVE to see my muscles more. It’s not that I feel like I should take up less space (usually) or that I’m not entitled to just be me (ok, sometimes that is an issue. We’ll get there). But I work so hard on these muscles I would very much like them to pop a bit more.
Since it’s summer and I’m not on contract I have more gym time. I’m a regular gym goer–I try to lift three days and do some conditioning like the rowing machine 2-3 other days. I love the gym once I’m there, but getting there isn’t always easy. And 5-6 days is serious.
I’m also not rushing so much and thus–theoretically–have good control over what I’m eating. And eating is the issue. At my request, my trainer gave me a calorie and macro target. And, consequent to my tenacious behavior in all things (not always a positive), I’m a religious food tracker. I’m generally on target, tho not always.
He also told me to cut out sunny summer cocktails, cold beers, and the like. I confess, that kind of instruction is hard for me to swallow (ha). I don’t like being told what to do, and I don’t like feeling like I’m setting myself up to fail (cough). And so, we get to guilt.
Did I not make it to the gym? Guilt.
Did I eat more than I should have? Far too many carbs? Guilt.
Did I have a margarita? Guilt.
These feelings alternate with “I’m an adult human. If I want a Saturday margarita, I’m having one” feelings. The “I am not here to deprive myself” feelings. I don’t know about you, but this whole situation becomes for me a vicious circle. And I start having bad feelings about my body, it’s various squishes. I forget about my strength. Then–ready?–I FEEL GUILTY ABOUT FEELING GUILTY BECAUSE I’M A MODERN FEMINIST, DAMMIT, AND KNOW THESE FEELINGS ARE BULLSHIT.
My head spins. Rationally, I know all of this is not worth the emotion they cost, but I’m not great at not-feeling what I’m feeling. Right now, writing at a friend’s house, having completed one project’s page proofs and now drafting this, I’m feeling like a lunch with beer sounds awesome. But later–having missed my Monday lift and had god knows what–I’ll feel less awesome about it.
And I know that this feeling cycle is likely rooted in self-perceptions that I’m not worth flexibility and treats, that I fear not being in control, that I’m somehow letting myself down by not sticking to the program. I tend to set up rigid parameters (“ok, one little splurge a week!”) that set me up for frustration because I’m not about to turn down the occasional request from a friend to go out.
The solution isn’t “well, get a salad for lunch!,” I’d argue, because it’s not getting at the underlying issues which I guess are that I have complex feelings about my worthiness, that when I’m not adhering to my regiment (whatever it is) I feel like a failure. And I know that these feelings aren’t true–I know I am awesome, at least in my head, but my head and my gut don’t always align.
Do you have complex body feelings? How do you (or have you) deal(t) with them?
In 1852, escaped slave and extraordinary orator Frederick Douglass gave his speech, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” in Rochester, NY, in those days a hotbed of radical activism. In his speech, Douglass reminded his audience of the achievements of 1776, praising the men who achieved liberty from England and parsing, to some extent, their philosophy for doing so. Then he launched into the meat of his argument: that liberty did not extend to the enslaved, that they could not partake in the joy of the holiday for it did not apply to them. At one point, he calls out his audience for their bullshit in a way reminiscent of some current argumentative frameworks, to wit:
“But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man?”
We’re back with round 2 of Ten Things Feminism Isn’t, numbers 6-10. Here we address issues beyond the stereotypes of feminism included in numbers 1-5, getting into more complex issues. If you missed round one, you can find it here.
6. Supportive of women candidates just because they’re women.
This is a tough issue. Feminism believes all women have a right to equity, bodily autonomy, and so forth, including women who speak against it (point 4 on the original list), but that does not mean we support women who run for office and the like just because they’re women. It doesn’t mean we publicly support all women just because they’re women. Women who campaign on principles aligning with racism, sexism and homophobia have a right to what feminism represents, but will (generally) not be supported by feminists. See, for example, the recent Georgia run-off race. Had I been a resident in that part of Georgia, I’d vote Jon Ossoff in a heartbeat over Karen Handel, as he is far more representative of my beliefs in a safe equitable world for all people than Handel, whose platform was homophobic and the like. Assuming women feminists vote for other women just because they’re women is biologically essentialist and insulting.
7. Globally focused on primarily American values.
I’ve talked about this before on Tenacious Feminist—what we call colonial feminism. Feminisms are varied, and particularly varied by geography and culture. Feminism here in the states has an ethos and goals particular to our location. Several other feminisms share elements of it. But we as American feminists should never assume our goals are the be-all-end-all of all feminisms, and let feminists in other places determine their feminism. This approach is particularly problematic when American feminists assume, for example, that women in predominantly-Muslim countries feel religiously oppressed, and then give advice accordingly. That’s not feminism—that’s colonialism.
8. Unwelcoming to nonbinary and trans folk.
This can’t be further from the truth, though I suspect theory and practice are two different things. It’s not an experience I can personally speak to or presume to speak to, but feminism as a movement has a vanguard that tends to be much better at merging practice and theory, and others who tend to be, um, slower. For example, well known global feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author, made the following comment: “When people talk about, ‘Are trans women women?’ my feeling is that trans women are trans women. … If you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men, and then sort of changed, switched gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman, and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”
Adichie justly faced a tremendous response, as her comments implied trans women aren’t women; her comments also suggested that growing up desiring to change genders still placed those boys in a privileged category, which denies all the pain and challenge those boys faced as gender dysmorphic. In any case, her clarification of her remarks insisted this was an argument about language; trans women and allies felt otherwise. Adichie might be a very well-known and articulate feminist, but she’s not at the vanguard on gender issues at all. As Teen Vogue author Morgan Jenkins in a stellar response piece noted, “Despite her international literary acclaim, her knowledge, just like everyone else’s, has its limits; she may be an incredibly accomplished woman whose work speaks for itself, but she is human and will fail, just like the rest of us.”
I’ve heard this one a lot, particularly from younger women who—mercifully—have grown up without overt harassment. But the problems feminism addresses—patriarchy, inequity, pay disparity, health care disparities, rape culture, and so on—are all systemic. One can indeed get through life without experiencing catcalling, though I’ve yet to meet that woman; but one who grows up in America is in the American system, and patriarchy is pervasive in our economics and culture. When I start drawing this stuff out with young women, they often begin to see their own experiences differently. In some cases, they experienced catcalling as complimentary; over time they come to see it as part of a structure that gives men power over public spaces. We all need feminism.
10. Full of cat ladies.
Actually, that’s probably true, though we love dog people, too.
Morning, all. There’s an awful lot going down this week and it’s only Tuesday morning. I’m going to give you all a quick roundup of current political fires and their implications. Pardon the swears.
Today’s the runoff election in Georgia between Jon Ossoff (D) and Karen Handel (R). Now we’re all for supporting other women, but we’re not about supporting women who would oppress other women. Handel is a nightmare for civil rights, who sees her Christianity as a reason to oppress gay people (see video here where she condescendingly avoids a question about Georgia protections for LGBTQ people, and here’s a Slate piece on her opposition to gay adoptions). Ossoff, on the other hand, has spoken about his support for LGBTQ issues. It’s a major stakes election with serious implications for the national arena. Godspeed, Jon Ossoff.
The supreme court decided yesterday to take up a case regarding gerrymandering, the heinous practice of reorganizing voting districts to benefit one particular political party. Gerrymandering has been used to dilute, for example, the voting strength of certain areas. A neighborhood whose demographics and voting history might suggest leaning Dem can be split, its parts then added to larger areas that lean Republican, drowning the Dem voice. Gerrymandering, regardless of who it benefits, is just wrong and linked to oppression of women and minoritized voters. To quote the Washington Post, “The court accepted a case from Wisconsin, where a divided panel of three federal judges last year ruled that the state’s Republican leadership in 2011 pushed through a redistricting plan so partisan that it violated the Constitution’s First Amendment and equal rights protections.” Here’s hoping.
Islamaphobia in Virginia
A young woman in Virginia, Nabra Hassanen, was kidnapped and murdered on her way to her mosque after getting some middle-of-the-night snacks with a group of friends. Virginia is currently not going to prosecute the case as a hate crime but as an incident of road rage. The murderer came upon Hassanen and a bunch of her friends in the street, got into an argument with them. As the kids dispersed, he caught Hassanen and beat her with a bat. Her body was found in a pond.
Let’s not kid ourselves: even if Hassanen’s murderer did not intend his “road rage” to be a hate crime, his victim was a Muslim woman. She wore a headscarf, so both her gender and relgious identities were visibly performed. The crime belies the US’s (and the west’s more generally) growing problem with Islamaphobia and its ongoing problems with violent misogyny. Few consider yet where the two intersect.
And in the UK
Similarly, a British man drove his car into a group of Muslims, killing one and injuring several, in the UK. The UK, for all of its many problems, is at least wise enough to consider this attack a form of terrorism, unlike the US where ‘terrorism’ is a term that only applies to people of color.
Last week’s shooting at a baseball practice in Virginia by a man who had volunteered for Bernie Sanders has led in totally expected directions. The right claims the left supports such action (they seem to forget they’ve labeled the left as gun-taking, so, uh) and leaves out altogether that this jackass had a record of…wait for it…violent misogyny! We know that domestic violence often portends still further violence, but the way the right has dropped that bit of information suggests that they don’t consider domestic violence a problem or a harbinger of anything.
But of course, these are the same people who encourage curtailing the Violence Against Women Act (45 has big plans to gut related budgets and his minion, Sessions, is no fan of it). I think you could make a pretty good case that America’s lack of f**ks given about women has dramatically increased at the federal level since January, not that it was ever spectacular to begin with. This country pretty much accepts violence against women as a given. Such violence can be both blatant, as in the case of husbands hitting wives, and subtle, as in the fallout from medicine-related decisions.
The Senate “Health Care” Act
Which gets us to point 6, the nefarious plotting of the “health care” act by the Senate. In case you haven’t followed that story, there are 13 people planning a replacement act for the ACA behind closed doors in the Senate with the intention of ramming the bill through with only a few moments of debate or time for senators to read it. The plotters are all white. They’re all men. They’re all conservative.
Such actions, besides being in violation of basic precepts of American democratic functioning, yet again speak to the ways in which the system gives no f**ks about women and people of color, nevermind when these pieces intersect. This is a bill that’s going to be awful for most Americans. Its construction and framing suggest a particular “f**k you” for anyone outside white maleness. And white maleness is a political identity–it’s only normative because we have accepted it as so. When we fight against “normativity,” resistance follows from more than just the white men themselves.
Call It What It Is.
To that end, the WaPo had a pictorial essay last week that got on my nerves. “New poll of rural Americans shows deep cultural divide with urban residents” offered more fodder for the “it was economic anxiety” explanation of the last election while leaving largely unexplored the implications within the piece about race. More rural people see limited opportunities, it essentially says at one point; more rural people blame immigrants, it says at another. Most rural people are white, it goes on. Further, it claims, “the largest fissures between Americans living in large cities and those in less-dense areas are rooted in misgivings about the country’s changing demographics and resentment about perceived biases in federal assistance.”
Connect the dots, people. What the WaPo outlines is indeed economic anxiety, but we can’t untether that anxiety from racial animosity. People often deeply internalize such sentiment regardless of no validation via experience or evidence. This sh*t is getting so old. (full disclaimer: I grew up in a rural area, albeit in a wealthy, northern state.)
And that’s your political roundup, folks. While a lot of progressive change is happening, the regression is fierce. We’re going to have to resist over the very long haul and do what we can to be educators for change. I find this a challenge, myself, but it’s the responsibility of all of us who believe in equity, freedom from violence, and civil rights to keep going.
They’ve arrived, badgers! While you can enter our May giveaway to win a Tenacious Feminist sticker, you can also pick them up here for $2. We’ll send 25% of all sales to Planned Parenthood so that we can put our money where our keyboard is. The price also includes first-class shipping.
Stickers are 3.5″ x 4″ and made of water-resistant vinyl so they should be good on your car, kayak, or computer. Take the tenacious honey badger with you wherever you go.