a rock and a hard place

a rock and a hard place

In the media recently I read of a plan to encourage Uber drivers to spot victims of sex trafficking.

While some of the advice given was sound (watching for bruises, fear, controlling behavior from the people a woman is with) a lot of it crossed a line into slut shaming.  Looking for scantily clad women, unprofessionally dressed, wearing too much makeup, and being too talkative/flirtatious were all supposed signs of sex trafficking.

This is obviously outrageous.  If a woman goes out in public dressed like a whore and acts like a whore it doesn’t make her a whore.  And even if she is a whore, she should still be treated like a human being.  Her status as a sex worker doesn’t mean she requires the “help” of a nosy Uber driver.  If a woman is not showing active signs of being in serious trouble, butt the eff out, yo.  As some may recall, I’m of the opinion that it’s a woman’s business if she’d like to trade on her sexual favors for personal benefit.

Men are confused right now about women and sex.  I have sympathy.  Because on the one hand women, including me myself, often point out that it can be scary to be a woman in the world, that men sometimes put women into positions in which they feel a sense of discomfort or outright fear over seemingly mundane interactions.  Guys feel like they can’t flirt, can’t ask a woman for her number, can’t even ask her if soy milk is better than almond in the grocery store, without getting called a rapist, practically.

And we have some things to answer for in that regard, ladies, we surely do.  We’re conflating WAY too much and we need to do better both to be less oversensitive and more empathetic to male concerns.  Because if decent guys can’t even approach us without getting their dicks whacked with the indiscriminate hammer of social justice, demanding they have no reaction whatsoever even as we’re parading around in front of them wearing come-hither expressions and even more come-hither-y clothing, well, that’s a pretty awful position for us to put them into.  We women shouldn’t both perpetually whet the appetite without offering a reasonable chance – not of success, of course, but a reasonable chance of being treated like a human instead of a horny sewer rat.  Men should to be able to approach women they’re interested in without fear that they’ll be destroyed in perpetuity, having their names added to “bad men” lists for trying to reach out to a woman they like, who they thought maybe liked them in return. *

It’s just not a nice thing to do (and nor is it safe for us to do that, because at least some of those guys are not decent guys; bad guys are not vampires, they don’t wait for an invitation.) Pretending that we women are soooo delicate and fragile that we’re destroyed over being asked out when we didn’t wanna be or by clumsy unwanted passes that are easily shut down and that men are usually way more embarrassed about than we are, be is ridiculous nonsense that’s setting the cause of feminism back decades if not a century.  And doing it while we screech “girl power” and prattle on about how tough and strong we are is straight up bullshittery.

Men are confused ostensibly because me saying “women should be able to ride in a Uber dressed like a slut” and “men need to be more aware of the reality that men can frighten women even in non-sexual situations” at the same time seems from their perspectives, an awful lot like me giving women a pass – saying we should be able to act however we want and men just have to suck it up, avert their eyes, and pray not to get a boner like a 12 year old in gym class.  Worse, they can’t even ask us out because we’re too delicate.

I’m quite sure it seems to men like women want to eat their cake and have it too sometimes.

But these things really are not the same at all.  These two beliefs can coexist and if one sets aside their 27 piece set of matching baggage to take a look at them without larger cultural demons whispering into their ears, it’s pretty obvious IMVVVVVVHO.

I think it’s ok to occasionally gently remind men that their very physical size and presence can be threatening to women.  I honestly think men sometimes forget that is the case.  They’re used to being in their own bodies and navigating the world in a certain way, so what feels normal and natural to them may be upsetting, even frightening, to another, smaller person who happens to be nearby.  It’s ok to remind men that some women actually have been assaulted or abused in the past and are even more sensitive to size differences and personal space than the average woman is.  It doesn’t mean we’re indiscriminately calling you rapists to issue this reminder, it just means that maybe it’s worth thinking about now and then.  Because you ARE bigger and stronger than us and sexual assault IS an actual thing that happens far too often.  After all, people give warnings about not standing under trees in lightning storms and getting hit by lightning happens way less than sexual assault does.  It’s not personal, guys.

It’s also ok to say that women should have the right to go where they wanna go, do what they wanna do, and dress how they wanna dress without inviting being narced on big mouthed Uber drivers.  I mean really, are we at the point already in our society where this drive to “protect women” is manifesting itself ALREADY as a prohibition not only women’s sexual freedom, but their clothing?  It’s been like a year of #metoo, I was hoping it would take at least 10 till this happened.  At this rate we’ll be in burkas before 2020.

If you, my masculine friend, can accept those two things, I will lay the following two things on the table:

It should be ok to occasionally, delicately, tactfully, and graciously point out to women that some of the stuff they’re #metooing about involves minor and unintentional gaffes by otherwise decent men who meant well and innocently mistook kindness for romantic interest. (SOME of the stuff!!!  Use your best judgement, of course, and if a woman says she felt uncomfortable in a situation, please respect that). Some women want to both be able to exploit their sexuality to the fullest extent while still playing the victim card whenever it suits their personal agenda.  Sadly, I think this has devolved in a troubling number of cases into a saga wherein rich and/or cute guys get away with just this side of anything while ugly and/or poor guys are getting a rape whistle blown for bumping into a woman on a subway.

It’s also ok to occasionally point out (without being tarred and feathered for it) that while women should of course be able to dress and act however they want, there are real world consequences to doing so.  The way one ornaments their body particularly for females, is a method of non-verbal communication.  And unlike many subtle forms of non-verbal communication (frowny faces, crossed arms, sighing) the clothing we choose speaks very loudly and clearly and the messages we send may not be the ones we intend to.  Social disapproval, judgement, and unwanted attention from men (even otherwise decent men) are the natural consequences of sending mixed messages about one’s sexual availability.   It’s kind of like the “men need to be more aware of the physicality of their bodies” argument.  Maybejustmaybe women need to be more aware as well, and no one ever taught most of us about that.  We were taught about not wearing white after Labor Day and not mixing red and purple and not wearing socks with sandals, but I never once read in Seventeen that I might be sending a non-verbal invitation for male attention by wearing provocative clothing at inappropriate times.

(Aside, I would also point out that many men love – even feel entitled to – women dressing in a sexually suggestive, non-modest way.  Indeed, a good many men pressure women in a variety of ways to dress immodestly even when the women themselves would prefer not to.  But that’s a very complex issue best investigated in another post.)

These four things are all equally obvious to me.  Yet I often feel pressure as a woman to put my head down and embrace this in-between position that’s the worst of all worlds from my perspective – favoring every aspect of the misunderstanding before us that benefits men.  The default position ends up being that men have the unquestioned right to go through life without ever considering how their physical presence affects women, yet women need to guard how they dress and behave always.  Men “deserve” women who keep themselves up and fix themselves up however the man sees fit, and yet men are owed sex no matter their own appearance or level of personal cleanliness.  Women should put up and shut up with minor #metoo offenses and even not so minor ones.  I do at times feel that men go through the world wanting to define the terms of every male-female conflict in whatever way most behooves them.  #yepallmen

Believe it or not, women are not these coldly calculating entities that are plotting and scheming to inflame male sensibilities by dressing like sluts and then denying deserving men sex out of sheer spite.  That’s a fiction.  If such women exist, I certainly don’t know any.  Women dress up because we want to look cute and that’s really pretty much the whole entire thought process involved.  And at the same time, yeah ok most men are not Harvey Weinstein.  But some of them are, and some of them are worse, and that’s an important distinction.

I look around and see women being held responsible for supposed stereotypical behavior that no woman actually does while men say again and again “well not all men do this thing that actually quite a few men totally did, feel sorry for me”.  While I do feel sorry for them, truly (as a conservative person I know it sux to be always held accountable for things you didn’t do) at the same time it feels like this huge terrible double standard.  Women are not only all held accountable for things other women did (let’s be honest, at least some women are cockteases and some don’t put out that much and others have cheated on guys and gotten pregnant without permission and made men pay child support for kids that weren’t even theirs and all manner of scumbaggery) we’re held accountable for things that are totally made up, like that we’re out to provoke men so we can turn them down and laugh.  Even as the same time men demand a pass from us even considering they could potentially do things that really quite a lot of other men actually did.

What it boils down to is this – I simply do not believe that men are that dumb.  I wrote a big long thing about that concept but long story short, I think a fair number of men embrace stupidity as a defense when in reality they just want to do what they want to do whenever and however.  And a healthy chunk of men get off on doing stuff to women that women don’t like.  A healthy chunk more don’t get off on it, but do feel entitled to push the envelope as far as they can – bullying, manipulating, guilt-tripping – women into sexual situations that they don’t want to be in or into agreeing to sexual experiences they have no interest in.  And that is yuck.

If you sit next to a woman on an empty bus in such a way that she cannot leave without climbing over you and start demanding her phone number, uncool.  If you’re asking a woman out and ignoring her body language ~regardless of how she is dressed~, uncool.  If you corner a woman anywhere and continue talking to her if she seems uninterested, even if you’re in public, uncool.  These things aren’t sexual assault.  Of course they’re not.  And it’s wrong that some women have tried to conflate the two.  It’s wrong that men are made to feel like they can’t do anything right and are getting mixed messages from society and from women at large.  But they are still yuck!

Please, if you would be so kind, my dudes, please keep in mind that women feel uncomfortable in situations men don’t, because sexual assault happens and most of us are tinier than most of you.  It’s not because we’re playing games, it’s not because we’re being meanies and snickering over withholding things from you that you desire, like our time and attention and our phone numbers.  It’s because we’re scared, and we all have reason to be.  Some of us have more reason to be than others.

Sexual assault is by any reasonable metric a worse thing to endure than feeling a little butthurt over gender stereotypes.  Stereotypes suck, but they’re words, and I’m told words don’t really hurt like sticks and stones and unwelcome gropes.

Thus, it’s not only ok, but a necessity for some of us girl-type-people to push back on that now and then, even if it reduces my “cool chick factor” by some percent.   Even if it makes my conservative man buds scratch their heads.  That’s why I keep the “Feminist” in my name even though a lot of people take umbrage at a conservative feminist.  I’m a woman and I advocate for women and my needs/wants/hopes/desires and other womens’ needs/wants/hopes/desires do not always mesh identically with the needs/wants/hopes/desires of men, utterly aside from political stuff.  At times women, even supercool conservative women, need to advocate for a position of gender-based reality that transcends inexact political definitions.

Because with so many things, the extremes on both ends are ridiculous and incorrect and the truth is somewhere in between.

* At least till such a point in time as women become more accustomed to, and comfortable with, the idea of being pursuers rather than the pursued.  Personally I’m not there yet.

 

 

 

 

 

fear and loathing

fear and loathing

The question on the table is this – what are conservatives so afraid of?

My concern regarding the direction the liberal movement is headed is a theme I’ve harped on a lot recently. I believe that fear of the left is the primary driving force underlying conservatism right now (quibbles over tariffs and Ayn Rand kinda take a back seat to existential angst) and when I’ve said this, several people have blinked at me curiously and wondered why. I decided it’s too big a question for me to try and answer in a comments section or a tweet in between making my children lunch and walking the dog and doing the laundry. It deserves a slow and thoughtful response, not a rushed one. It deserves a thinkpiece.

So here we go. Thinkpiece powers, activate!

People – the blinky ones – claim to want specifics. They expect, and some even demand, specifics from me, specific instances to support my claim that conservatives are scared of liberals and further, that they have valid reason to be.  

The trouble is, I don’t think that understanding and empathy is really the driving force behind this request. I think these people want specifics so they can disprove what I’m saying. Because by and large, that has been my experience, arguing with liberals. They ask for specifics and examples so they can trap me into arguments about namby pamby details instead of listening to what I’m really trying to say.  (Indeed, I suspect this is why a good many commenters on my fave site Ordinary Times.com often engage in drawn-out exchanges where no one will commit to a position, instead trading bizarre cryptic statements and non-committal Socratic-Method-y questions back and forth until I lose interest and stop reading.) These requests for specifics are not made in good faith, not to further understanding, but to mock, diminish, and belittle my examples so they can undermine my case, even if only in their own minds. They demand specifics only so they can assure themselves that I am crazy or overly sensitive or rabidly partisan.

I am none of those things, so I’m going to vault over the pit of punji sticks entirely and decline. I refuse to give specifics because I refuse to get sucked into an argument about specifics. Instead, I humbly request that any liberals who are reading this, take a look around and using that famed liberal empathy, try to put yourself in the shoes of a conservative – even someone only just barely the smallest bit conservative like me – and imagine how YOU would feel if you were us. And if you really really can’t do that, really can’t conjure up even a drop of empathy, think about that, consider what THAT means. A person who you actually kind of know, if only just a little, is standing in front of you saying “I am scared of the people you’re associating yourself with” and you cannot find any reason other than misguided paranoia at best, outright lies at worst. A person who you actually kind of know is asking for your compassion and understanding and you are demanding specifics not so you can better understand them, but so you can debunk their claims. A person you actually kind of know is trying to share their experience with you but you really cannot find any common ground, cannot conjure any sympathy or empathy for millions of your fellow human beings and so have written them off as liars or lunatics. Suffice it to say I have a firm belief based on my own personal experience and observation that many if not most conservative people in America today are scared of the left for what I consider to be entirely valid reasons. And the few who aren’t are so complicit in the system as it is that they may as well be of the left themselves.

What am I so afraid of? Not specific instances, but in generic terms?

I believe that humans are flawed and imperfect, capable of both incredible good and incredible evil. Humans are selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even the good ones have a nasty Puritan streak. Despite this, I like people. I enjoy them. I am one myself, I’m occasionally surprised to recall. I’m neither cynic nor a curmudgeon and I remain ever optimistic and hopeful that we’re going to get this silly misunderstanding worked out between us.*  

I’m brimming over with tolerance and camaraderie for my fellow humans of all walks of life, ethnicities, religions, and creeds. My level of cheer on a good day is Pollyanna and on a bad day is Little Orphan Annie. Regardless of whether we agree all the time, I like you and I like talking to you. I treasure our friendship. In the interest of full disclosure, a couple of you I could probably do without, but I don’t HATE you, not even a little.

But delusional I am not. Historically, the human story has been one of horrifying violence and cruelty. If there’s a Bad Thing you can envision, some human somewhere has done it already and lots of others are thinking about doing it right this very minute. Even without the human awfulness factor coming into play, life is hard and will always BE hard because the world itself is out to kill you. Mother Nature is sending cold temperatures and wild animals and solar radiation and bees and starvation and bacteria at you from every direction. Gravity in the wrong place at the wrong time can kill you. Even your own body can kill you (take my word for it, my own body is attacking itself remorselessly even as we speak.)

And yet despite people being these fundamentally depraved, inherently awful critters, despite the very universe itself plotting your demise, humanity is on a trajectory towards better. Things started off terrible in this ol’ world and were terrible for quite some time, but only just recently things have gotten fantastically, unimaginably better. Not only would Og the Caveman be blown away by our world as it is, even people born just a generation ago would be amazed by the lives we are blessed to have. The poorest Americans have a better quality of life than the richest Americans two hundred, one hundred, even just 50 years ago. Thomas Jefferson’s wife died of mastitis. Calvin Coolidge’s son died from a blister on his foot. John and Jackie Kennedy lost a premature son who would have lived had he been born today. By any metric short of perfection, humans who are alive right here right now, even in the worst of situations, are the absolute luckiest sons of bitches who have ever lived. Just because we have painkillers, if for no other reason.

I have a client who is about 20 years younger than me. She told me her grandfather was a professional bicycle racer. Like, he literally made a living racing bicycles. My grandfather rode a horse to school. His feet were deformed because his shoes didn’t fit him as a child and he probably couldn’t have ridden a bike if he wanted to. His younger brother died of the Spanish flu and he himself nearly died in a blizzard – saved only by that trusty horse, believe it or not.  

This happened in 20 years’ time.

America is so fucking awesome it is mind boggling. Modernity is so fucking awesome it is mind boggling. We have freedom and video streaming on demand. Everything is like Disneyland and Christmastime all rolled into one. I have a tiny computer I carry with me everywhere. I have five children and none of them died. In my fridge I have Dr. Pepper which is my favorite food in the whole wide world.  A can of liquid sugar is my favorite food in the world and I can have it whenever I want to. America gave us those things.

So what am I so afraid of?  

I’m afraid you people are going to mess it up.  

Remember the thing where people are capable both of incredible good and incredible evil? Well, the biggest danger of humanity lies in the fact that most incredible evil has been done by those who believe themselves to be doing incredible good. No one ever rode out on a pogrom in the middle of the night thinking that they were the bad guys and they were going out to get innocent victims. They believe they are going out to get the bad people and that all actions are justified because good needs to conquer evil.  

I have come to believe that there’s a culture war going on  – a real one, not the Kabuki theater that Democrats and Republicans have played at since the turn of the 20th century – and conservatives have been unwittingly drafted to play the bad guys. (Gee, thanks, Republican milquetoasts, for taking part in this sham so you could have the illusion of political power for a little while longer.) In this culture war, conservatives are allegedly Darth Vader, the Nazis, Panem, Lord Voldemort, and the Handmaid’s Tale villains all rolled into one. I personally believe that this culture war is obvious and self-evident and that liberals, even liberals I really really like a super whole lot, to some extent buy into the concept. They are the good guys, they are the future, that the right and proper final evolution of human culture will look exactly like what they envision the perfect society should look like, and in order for this beautiful day to dawn, conservatives have to go.

In short, liberals believe they believe they are not only good, but immune from evil. Because they believe they ARE good – not just a person who is good, but that they actually ARE Good, that liberal people are the human embodiment of Good Itself.  They believe their vision of the future represents what an ideal human culture should look like, they believe that they know how to get to that ideal culture that they envision and they believe that I am standing in their way.  Liberals believe that I AM Evil and they are not only immune from evil, but that they are Good.

How can this story have a happy ending – at least for me?

I see signs – and again, I don’t think these signs are anything less than fully obvious – that forces are in motion to turn conservatives into a despised minority (if they aren’t one already, which I’m not entirely sure that they aren’t). Historically speaking, things don’t go well for the despised minority, especially when the despised minority is perceived to have wealth or privilege that they don’t deserve and that others believe they deserve more. People have been murdered for wearing eyeglasses or owning old books (I will be doubly dead) based on this toxic idea. And yeah maybe you’re right, maybe this won’t happen tomorrow. I’ll grant you that. But I don’t worry just for myself, but for my children, who also wear glasses and even read books on occasion, when I force them to by confiscating their video games. Maybe these changes won’t happen in our lifetime, but if this myth where conservative people are the root of all evil continues to spread unchecked, it will happen eventually. Because humans are selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even the good ones have a nasty Puritan streak.

I have a dear friend who’s a truly wonderful person. She’s so fabulous that she adopted an HIV positive orphan from the Ukraine and when she found out that the little one had a best friend at the orphanage, she adopted a second HIV-positive Ukrainian orphan so they could stay together. She’s an amazing, amazing person; I admire her so much. But she has stated openly and repeatedly that she would not help Christians if they were being persecuted unless it was first demonstrated “they weren’t hurting anyone with their beliefs any more”. She would not take action to prevent people, human people, from being persecuted unless they changed their beliefs to be in line with hers. Not their actions, their BELIEFS. She is an otherwise supremely excellent person (better than me, for sure) and yet she has stated this viewpoint repeatedly, thoroughly, and with crystal clarity. I did not mistake her; in fact I asked her to clarify her position, and she did. Many other equally good people I know agreed with her, applauded her. Many other equally good people I know expressed similar sentiments on multiple occasions.

This is not normal.

This was years before Trump. Harsh and vicious liberal rhetoric is not caused by people being upset over Trump. Trump was caused by harsh and vicious liberal rhetoric.

Scratch that, because it ISN’T liberal. The core beliefs I thought being a liberal entailed, the concepts I embraced when I was 14 years old and first starting to understand politics, the philosophies that I’ve spent 35 years studying, the stuff I still fully believe in to this very day that keeps me from being a Republican, are gone. Belief in free speech and free religion and free assembly. Belief in the rights of an individual to live the way they want and love who they want and to control their own body even when you don’t like how they live or who they love or what they put into their body. Tolerance, true tolerance (fun fact, tolerance is NOT just tolerating people you like and agree with). Understanding that there are no good people or evil people, that we’re all products of our DNA and environments and all human action needs to be viewed in that light, with compassion and empathy. Trying to understand people’s behavior based on our commonalities as humans rather than our differences as tribes. Those things are gone.

When I call liberalism on the telephone looking for those things it’s all like “New Line, Who Dis?”.

 What liberalism was is dead and what has replaced it is not only ugly, it is utterly, completely and totally illiberal. Liberalism used to be about nurturing the best impulses human beings have and understanding that sometimes it’s hard to nurture our fine impulses since we’re all selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even good folks have a nasty Puritan streak. So we need to codify our finest impulses into incorruptible laws and well-designed systems rather than relying upon fine impulses. The liberal movement in 2019 is not only playing to the worst, very worst impulses that human beings have, it also appears wants to tear down legal protections and cultural touchstones that stand in the way of that agenda. And the good and awesome liberals out there are snoring at the wheel, dreaming of Burning Man or maybe visiting Austin, not even seeming to realize that the vision we once shared is gone. What you guys are supporting and voting for now is something entirely different that I really don’t believe you actually want.

Please wake up. Wake up!! Because you are so much better than this. You are the reason I’ve been proud to identify as a liberal for all these years. You are the reason I spent years begging and pleading and cajoling my fellow libertarians not to get too chummy with conservatives because our natural allies were liberals. You are better than what you’re becoming and you have to stop it because you’re the only ones who have the power to do it and you have to act fast because now is the only time it can be stopped. By the time these things are underway, it is too late to stop them. You may think I’m wrong and paranoid but this is the part of the movie where the crazy old scientist no one wants to listen to is saying “You have got to stop injecting that adorable baby gorilla with HGH, testosterone, and radioactive waste because it’s only going to get bigger.”

I am afraid you people are going to mess it up.

And setting the threat of actual violence aside, because I know you don’t believe that could happen, that the adorable baby gorilla you cradle so lovingly in your arms could never possibly grow up and be worse than Dick Cheney. Set it aside for now and focus on the practical elements instead. The reason I am an economic conservative is because I believe that free markets (and just for the record, what we have now is very far from a free market economy; I don’t like our present economy any better than you do) really truly are better for everyone than managed economies. I believe free market economies create more opportunities for women, minorities, and the poor than managed economies. I believe free market economies create exponentially more wealth for exponentially more people even though it isn’t “fairly” distributed. Managed economies are like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, giving over power to a handful of corrupted businessmen and bureaucrats who are going to be just as self-interested as ever they were, because humans are inherently self-interested. I believe that moving towards a socialist, managed economy will bring about less freedom, less prosperity, less technological innovation, less access to health care and other necessities than a free market could bring. It will also make the poor poorer in the end, because I believe, strongly, with every fiber of my being that a rising tide really does raise all boats. I believe even more so that a minimum basic income will serve to simply create a permanent underclass from which people like me, barely hanging onto the lower middle class with the very tips of my fingernails, will never be able to emerge.

You’re going to kill what has provided me, an Actual Poor Person, with a lifestyle that the richest man on the planet a hundred years ago could only dream of, as surely as the greedy farmer in the story killed the goose who laid the golden eggs.

And you’re going to do it because things aren’t perfect, aren’t equal, aren’t fair.  They’re more perfect than ever, more equal than ever, and fairer than ever, but they aren’t as perfect, equal, and fair as you imagine they could be if only you were allowed to run the world. Funny thing is, speaking as an Actual Poor Person, I don’t care about “fair.” I don’t care about “inequality” and nor should you. If we are all better off than we would be otherwise, what does it matter if Paris Hilton has too much money and I don’t have quite enough? Because I assure you, even in a socialist paradise, there will still be Paris Hiltons gadding about, there will still be inequality, because all systems are run by people and people are selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even the good ones have a nasty Puritan streak. Collectivism has failed everywhere it’s been tried because people are selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even the good ones have a nasty Puritan streak. The socialism you claim to want is only going to protect the rich at the expense of the rest of us. The freedom that has given me the ability to run my own life and own my own body inasmuch as I can, will vanish and others – the king or the prefect or the Politburo will be making essential decisions for me.

Same as it ever was.  

Utopia is not an option.  There is no ending where the bad conservatives are eradicated and the glorious socialist future of humankind dawns bright and free of trouble.  Because even in the glorious socialist future you’re still gonna be surrounded by people, selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even the good ones have a nasty Puritan streak.  

Even the liberal ones do.

*But I’m still holding onto that case of Chef Boyardee ravioli in my cupboard just in case.   

Intersectionality is impossible

Intersectionality is impossible

Or, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

I wrote a recent piece about Sarah Sanders in which I took Jimmy Kimmel to task for saying she was doomed to live in a craft store (in a sexist way).  Someone was annoyed that I didn’t include a mention of boys who crochet/embroider in my piece about the grossness of men using domestic words to insult powerful women.  (The piece was not about crafting and it was not about men, either; it was about a type of specific abuse that is heaped onto powerful women.)

I wrote a very damn fine piece about Wonder Woman in which I complained that we were valuing pretend comic book characters so much that real women who lived real lives were being overlooked, even forgotten.  Someone was annoyed because I didn’t give adequate representation to women who don’t fit a certain gender stereotype growing up.  (An untrue charge, and I didn’t fit that gender stereotype growing up either, but the piece wasn’t about that and if I’d stopped in the middle to go into a diatribe about gender stereotypes, my piece would have completely sucked.)

I wrote a piece about Fifty Shades of Grey through the lens of having endured a controlling relationship and was attacked in the comments for not being sensitive enough to the concerns of people who are into BDSM (Sadly, I am not making this up, and had I paused in the middle to add several paragraphs about how Fifty Shades is not representative of the “healthy” attitudes of BDSM participants – if I thought that BDSM attitudes were healthy, which I don’t – again, it would have totally ruined the flow of the piece.)

It seems that nowadays people seem to want to demand that every viewpoint takes into account every other viewpoint before it can be publicly shared.  Regardless of how terrible a piece of writing that consisted of 80% disclaimers and 20% actual content would be, writers are supposed to give a shout out to every minority group out there every time they write anything.  Maybe this would be ok if there was some sort of set limit on the amount of victim groups that existed, but they invent new ones every day, it seems, and we’re supposed to give equal credence to them all.  (The BDSM guy felt fully justified playing his victim card to bitch at a woman who actually had experienced abusive behavior.)

And you know what I say to all that – SHUT THE EFF UP.

Because you know the one group who seems to get it in the rear every time – regular plain old everyday women.  Women are supposed to be sensitive to everyone’s needs.  That’s the expectation here.  That is the demand.  Our needs are supposed to be sublimated to everyone else’s on pretty much every conceivable basis.  If we’re thin or pretty or rich or traditionally feminine or straight or were cheerleaders growing up or even if we are none of those things and are simply average and are willing to admit we’re not suffering every moment of every day, we are told time and again that our experiences don’t matter due to our “privilege”.  We haven’t suffered enough to have an opinion.  We should prioritize the needs of people who are less privileged than we are, even though “privilege” oftentimes carries with it an entirely different set of problems and we’ve simply suffered in a different set of ways.

Our experiences have meaning and value too and we have the right to express them WITHOUT YOUR INPUT – without the shaming, the calling out, the attempts at emotional blackmail and public humiliation – even if you think we have it like, so totally way easier than you.  Because quite frankly, you don’t know shit about my experience as a woman like me if you are NOT a woman like me.  Assume nothing about what I think and feel.

Regular plain old everyday women are not allowed to talk about what it means to be a regular plain old everyday woman without including a shout out every possible unhappiness that any other of the 8 billion people on Planet Earth may have encountered.  My experience as a victim of psychological manipulation was to at least one person, not good enough – I should have taken his feelings as a MALE BDSM fan into account when I wrote an essay about my own personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences.  Complaining about sexist treatment of Sarah Sanders at the hands of men should not be allowed because some boys like to crochet.  You see, ladies, we are supposed to sublimate ourselves EVEN TO MEN because the men’s rights movement is just another group of a-holes trying to get their piece of the victimhood pie.

There’s not even a WORD for us any more.  That’s why I have to use 5 words to describe who and what we are.  Regular plain old everyday women.  We’re being told that women have penises and XY chromosomes, that women don’t have periods or have babies or breastfeed, that basically any biological or cultural definition previously used to describe us does no longer apply.  We’re being told that being a woman amounts to some sort of dress-up club that anyone can join.  And you know what, maybe that’s all true, I have no problem with trans people.  I’ll say again, very very clearly – I have no problem with trans people.  You do you.  But WHAT ABOUT ME?  What about my daughter, my mother, my sister?  Who are we?  What is the word for a woman who was born with two X chromosomes, specifically?   Black, white, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, straight, lesbian – what is the word for those of us human beings who were born with two X chromosomes?

There isn’t one that hasn’t been co-opted by someone else.  There isn’t one that somebody or another doesn’t find problematic.

WE ARE BEING ERASED.

And the reason why we are the ones being erased is because we regular plain old everyday women are, at our very core, pretty freaking nice.  We don’t WANT to hurt anyone’s feelings.  We want to make everyone happy and make sure everyone is included but folks keep coming up with more and more people to include and our place at the table has shrunk away to nothing.  And no one is advocating for us.  No one will advocate for us.  They’ll only take up more and more of our space until they’ve taken everything like a humongous jerk manspreading himself all over the subway.  There will be no space left for regular plain old everyday women.  All this despite the fact that regular plain old everyday women have endured, historically, and still endure an awful lot of BS and abuse and the world keeps coming up with new ways to heap BS and abuse onto us.

If I write something and I haven’t represented you in this thing I’ve written, well, maybe-just-maybe I am not writing for you or about you, mmmkay?  Maybe-just-maybe I am writing for human beings who happen to have a life experience fairly close to my own.  Or maybe-just-maybe I think my life experience is somehow unique or interesting or informative even to others who DON’T have that life experience.  Whatever.  If you don’t relate to what I say, if you think I’ve forgotten something or excluded someone, then by all means write your own piece that better represents your version of the world and relays your own human experience.  I am writing about my unique experience and I do this because I believe it may be helpful or interesting to others in some way.

Personally, I love reading about people with different lives than me.  I love reading about what their lives are like, and pondering the many ways we are different and the many ways we are the same.  I would NEV-VER, and I mean NEVER, want to horn in on someone else relaying a story of their life to tell them “Well achtually, I couldn’t help but notice, you didn’t talk about ME, like AT ALL, and I was wondering when you were going to get to the part that was about me?”  First of all because it’s incredibly rude to do that, but secondly because it would put a damper on the story they were telling!  If I stopped them in the middle of their story to demand they pause to tell MY story, that would end up being a pretty lousy narrative, now wouldn’t it??

There is NO WAY that any given thinkpiece or memoir or coming-of-age tale can possibly include a shout out to every marginalized group.  There just isn’t.  Intersectionality is impossible, at least the way they’re asking us to do it.  Understanding and compassion isn’t enough anymore, we have to be vocal cheerleaders for everyone else’s oppression.  But every person cannot carry the banner of representation for every other person constantly.  There’s not enough hours in the day and not only that, it makes for bad writing (isn’t there enough of that in the world already?)

I’m wasting my time scribbling things because I want to communicate some ideas for and to other women that I don’t see anyone else communicating right now.  I want to offer a vision of a different and better feminism because I believe it is of critical import for the good of other women like me, to do so.  Because I don’t think regular plain old everyday women deserve to be erased, to continue being put last by every other person on Planet Earth and that really does seem to be the endgame of some of this intersectionality jazz.  Erasure.

Women have a right to exist and communicate our experiences to one another without being constantly interrupted by people who want to steal our spotlight.   I’m gonna keep exercising my rights and fighting for the rights of other women as long as I can.

Because this vision of intersectionality is impossible unless it comes at the expense of somebody, and maybe for once, it could be somebody other than women footing the bill.

 

Heroes and Villains

Heroes and Villains

I’ve gotten to wondering lately if fiction could be having a negative effect on how we perceive one another.

We’re fortunate to live in a fiction-rich time. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that human beings have never consumed as much fiction as they are consuming right here and now. Overall I think this is a good thing; I not only love fiction myself (both reading and writing it) but I also think fiction can serve as a window into the minds of other people. Fiction allows us to understand the thoughts, emotions, and actions of others in a deeper way than just trying to sympathize with theoretical people in a theoretical way.  

But just because some of something is good for us, doesn’t mean more is necessarily better.  A person can overdose on vitamins or even water.  And just because something nourishes us in one form, doesn’t mean all its forms it will be equally beneficial. Our prehistoric ancestors ate some grass seeds we now call wheat, but modern farmers have bred it so much that the proteins in it now cause some people celiac disease.  As technology has grown we process this wheat so highly that it’s become devoid of nutrients and fiber – eating too much refined white flour may cut short our lifespan even if we tolerate wheat perfectly.

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. Much of what passes for fiction nowadays is not the healthy and nutritious whole grain wheat of our ancestors, chewy and filling, taking a long time to digest. Our modern fiction is highly refined and processed. It tastes delicious and it’s all too easy to overindulge.

And it is EVERYWHERE, in everyone’s face constantly. We read books and watch tv and listen to music and play video games and all of it has a narrative arc. We even communicate with each other using a constant stream of fictional metaphors.  Darmok at Tenagra is no joke – try to communicate with someone without either of you using the occasional pop- or classic- culture reference. It’s next to impossible.

At no point in human history have human beings ever consumed so much fiction, and a lot of what we consume is the equivalent of Little Debbie Snack Cakes.

My son, who’s also a writer, gave me a gag gift for Christmas this year.  It was a book about scriptwriting called “Save The Cat”.  It’s basically a set of directions on how to take a sack of delicious whole grain fiction and grind it into sugary, easily digestible pap. It’s not much of a leap to say that “Save The Cat” is at least partially responsible for the grist mill of mediocrity that Hollywood has become the last decade or so.

One of the elements of the “Save The Cat” approach to storytelling is the idea of a catalyst.  A catalyst is a triggering event that causes a character to take action or change. Walter White’s catalyst is getting cancer. Luke Skywalker’s catalyst is seeing a recording of Princess Leia. Buffy becomes the chosen one.  Harry Potter gets a letter from Hogwarts.  You get it. The idea of the catalyst is ascendant in fiction right now.

Some might call a catalyst character development, but I’m not sure it really is.  Because the catalyst appears to have a lot more to do with plot than character. For John Wick, his catalyst is of course the bad guys killing his dog. John Wick’s character transformation, on the other hand, actually appears to have happened before the movie ever started – he fell in love and decided to get out of the bad guy biz. That is a character transformation. Him going on a killing spree is the result of a plot device – the catalyst.

So I believe a catalyst and a character transformation are two different things entirely. Walter White does experience a character transformation, sure.  But it isn’t because he has cancer, it’s because his choices after finding out he has cancer strip away the veneer of a kindly teacher to reveal the bad guy who was always there all along. The catalyst starts the action of the plot, it doesn’t determine a character’s arc.  

Except for when it does.

One of the most popular genres (I’m aware this is not a genre, exactly, but I’ll gladly misuse the term if you agree to forgive me for it) of fiction currently is “The Backstory”.  You know what I mean – you take a well-known character and retrofit a story about an event in their past that will, in one fell swoop, explain why they are the way they are.  In Backstories, the catalyst IS a character transformation.  One minute, a character is one way, but then something happens, usually something bad, and they change into a different character entirely.      

Certainly we’ve all had transformative moments in our life, but I find the idea that any one moment, a day, a week, a month, even an entire childhood could COMPLETELY explain and predict a person’s future behavior to be utter nonsense. I just don’t believe that a single traumatic event (and I’ve had my share, so this is not a position of ignorance) turns a good person into an evil one. In fact, I’ve seen a fair few people with every privilege who’ve never suffered a trauma who are total a-holes.  I don’t believe that humans are a computer program and as such, one bad entry corrupts the database irrevocably. I believe in free will and in redemption and forgiveness and the power of love and I will never stop believing in those things.

There’s a new Joker movie coming out which has been rumored to reveal the Joker’s backstory. I find this concept both mindnumbingly boring for me as a viewer, and as a writer, ridiculous. Because I don’t WANT to know the Joker’s backstory. It’s scarier and by far more interesting not to know. After all, as one reviewer of The Dark Knight theorized, maybe nothing happened to the Joker. Maybe he was just a guy who concluded that rules and morality didn’t matter so much. I like that take much better. Whether something bad happened to him or not, the Joker is the Joker because he decided to become the Joker. That alone makes him a terrifying figure – and also sets him apart from Batman, who was supposedly created by the trauma of his parents’ murder. 

Giving the Joker some relatable backstory about a rough childhood and a traumatic event that transformed him actually diminishes the narrative punch of the character, because the Joker is the fictional embodiment of people using free will to sow seeds of chaos and to undermine the social order. If he has some deep underlying psychological reason for doing so, if it’s really not his decision, if he was subject to forces beyond his control, rather than asking an interesting question about the consequences of free will, doesn’t that completely undermine the notion of free will all together? And worse, doesn’t having a bad guy who can’t control himself undermine the concept of redemption? If someone chooses evil, they can choose good and be redeemed. But a flawed computer program running amok? Batman may as well kill the Joker like a mad dog, because there could be no saving him anyway. There’s little room for redemption and forgiveness in a story where every bad guy has a reason why he is the way he is.

It’s not only bad guys who get the backstory treatment. One of the most infuriating backstories for me was that of Ned Flanders, the kindly Christian neighbor of the Simpsons. He was one of the few non-hypocritical Christian characters on tv and as someone who has always been treated very well by Christian friends and neighbors, his character rang very true to me. But eventually the Backstory Brigade came along, and Ned was revealed to only be nice because his parents had been beatniks whose lax parenting caused Little Neddy to be warped. So they took him to a psychologist who warped him even more. Ned Flanders was only ever good because he had repressed his anger since childhood. Ned Flanders was only ever good because he was a broken and warped person. I mean, I don’t even know what to do with that – surely the writers of the Simpsons cannot be saying that an unusually nice person is unusually nice only because they’re mentally ill, can they?

I guess so, because they did.

So if the Joker is only bad because something bad happened to him, and Ned Flanders is good because something bad happened to him, then haven’t the words “good” and “bad” lost all meaning? How can any of us be held responsible for being bad, or given credit for being good, if all we are is conscienceless computer programs easily corrupted by a traumatic childhood? If we have no free will to begin with, how can evil even BE evil, and how can good even be good? If we’re broken irrevocably when we’re damaged, and we’re all damaged eventually in some way or the other, then how can anyone be a better person. How can anyone ever be redeemed or forgiven? 

It seems a toxic message, or at the very least, a confusing one. And yet we the viewers are downing works of fiction containing this messaging one after the other just like we’re eating a can of Pringles or something.  

We live in a time of Internet mobs running amok. I personally find Internet mobs deeply troubling even when I agree with their overall premise. Because Internet mobs invariably compress the actions of complicated and flawed humans – humans who get tired and sick and angry and sad and impulsive and drunk and have PMS sometimes speaking from extensive personal experience – into a single moment in time. Rather than grant even the slightest credit for the many wonderful things a person done and who they are 99.99% of the time, Internet mobs punish a person for an impulsive action (often undertaken at a personal low point) in perpetuity, in every arena of their life. People who have successfully worked for companies for years get fired for Tweets that took them 10 seconds to write. People lose their livelihoods over offhand remarks that a particular of group of people don’t happen to agree with even if the majority of everyone else doesn’t have a problem with it.

And while this may be me looking for patterns in chaos as I am wont to do, I’m wondering if our steady diet of highly refined fiction has anything to do with it.  Maybe we’ve seen one too many Jokers turned from a person to a monster in one fell traumatic swoop and we’ve seen too many Flanders who are only good because they’re warped, to believe in redemption and forgiveness any more. Maybe we’re looking around us and not seeing human beings with free will who made a mistake and can make different choices in the future. Maybe we’re looking around and seeing the Joker in each other, forever broken, permanently warped, our faces stretched in identical horrible grins. The second a Flanders falls, even if s/he’s been a Flanders every second of every hour of every minute of every day up till then, we cannot take a chance on forgiving, on waiting to see if they’ll be redeemed. They need to be either stuck into Arkham or run out of town on a rail. Because once you go black, you never go back.

Here’s the part of my piece where if I was following the mindset of “Save The Cat” I would unfurl some grand plan to solve this problem I just totally made up. So what would I do about it, anyway?  I would do precisely nothin’. I’d not do a thing. You can’t unring a bell. Marshall McLuhan, I ain’t. Not every problem needs a solution. I’m sure people’s brains were affected in unexpected ways when the Internet was invented and TV was invented and radio and dime store novels and Shakespeare plays and this chain runs all the way back to the first cave paintings probably. Technology affects people in many ways, some of which are negative, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace it.

But I do think it’s something worth thinking about.  

We’re doing an experiment, trying something that’s never been done before in history.  We’re immersing ourselves in massive amounts of fiction from birth till death.  Not challenging, thoughtful, wise fiction, either. We’re lying on the couch, wallowing in our own crapulence, stuffing our faces with lazy, cheap, white flour fiction. It seems within the realm of possible to me that it could have a psychological impact. Can I change it, no, and I wouldn’t try, but it seems worthy of consideration, and maybe even a little pushback against those who see every person they meet as a potential Joker.

Personally, I prefer to define myself by my successes, not by my traumas and my failures. I screw up, I get screwed over, but I pick myself up and start all over again, a little wiser for the experience. That’s part of being human instead of a fictional character. We try our best and get it wrong a lot, but there’s always room for improvement.

Our story arc is messy, there are no neat and pretty bows that our lives are tied into at the end of the story. But this is true for everyone.  So lower the bar, expect imperfection, disperse the mob, and quit seeing people as either flawless paragons of virtue or irredeemably fallen villains. Life is not a tv show and it’s not a comic book.

Frankenbeto

Frankenbeto

Beto announced his intention to run for president finally after a lot of coy teasing.

It was pretty hilarious, not gonna lie.  That guy cracks me up (Beto, not Jimmy Fallon). Like, everything about Beto from his insane supporters to his goofy behavior to the media’s overenthusiastic reaction to him seems tailor made to tickle my funny bone. Everything. Him supposedly looking like a sexy Kennedy and thus being a desirable candidate for that reason alone, the fake Hispanic vibe, the furry costumes, the guitar strumming, the skateboarding, the cryptic interviews.  You have to be dead inside or completely consumed by dogma not to find it all funny.

I admit I’ve had some good fun at Beto’s expense over the past couple days.

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I think the funniest thing of all is how much leftists hate him.  And not even the Chapo-type of leftist who hates everyone, I mean the regular leftist on the street.  They flat out despise Beto.  Many leftists are seemingly shocked by his continued existence, as if he was brewed in a lab by Debbie Wasserman Schultz and after failing to defeat Cruz, a portal would open and suck this Manic Pixie Dream Boy back to wherever it was he came from.  It’s intolerable that he’s still hanging around entertaining the notion of spoiling their Bernie-scented dreams.

But my dudes, you created Beto.  Beto wouldn’t be a thing without the mindset of the left for the past 3 decades.  The celeb-worshiping, juvenile-shenanigan-loving, childhood-never-leaving, cool-mongering, sex-drugs-and-rocknroll-celebrating, hipster-bearded-dudebro-embracing left has brought Presidential Candidate Beto O’Rourke into being as surely as if they’d conjured him with an incantation from one of those Harry Potter books they love so well.  Betoamericus Presicandidatus!

Hate Beto?  You MADE Beto!

Maybe you, dear reader, have no recollection of where this slow slide into Idiocracy began but I do. It started on the Arsenio Hall Show.  Then-candidate Bill Clinton gamely chatted up Arsenio (who was at that time the epitome of cool which is in and of itself weird and hilarious) he played the sax, he smoked pot but didn’t inhale, he was a horny guy who talked funny and liked bewbs but no biggie because we Democrats weren’t a bunch of stuck up fuddy duddies like those damn Republicans were.  I mean Bush didn’t even like BROCCOLI, WTF how stodgy and old fashioned is that?

And you know what, Bill Clinton probably became president because of it.  

Arsenio Hall, America’s forgotten kingmaker.  WHOOPWHOOPWHOOPWHOOP

I will admit something, though.  Even I, who was a pretty hardcore liberal at that time and actually voted for Bill Clinton, felt there was something unseemly about it all.  Even though I was young and dumb myself, I didn’t LIKE it that Bill Clinton had played the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show.  It embarrassed me. I thought, even back then I thought, that it was stupid and immature and really meant to appeal to the dumbest of the dumb (who would pretty much all be Rhodes scholars compared to the dumbest of the dumb, 2019 version) and I had a sinking feeling that it was the beginning of the end of presidential dignity.

I wasn’t wrong.

Remember this?

 

And this?

Or maybe this?

This?

How about this?

There is not enough cringe in my entire body to cover the cringe deficit that these videos induced within me.

This type of stuff is NOT PRESIDENTIAL.  Donald Trump may not be presidential (srsly) but in his way he’s really just kind of following in the footsteps of Obama humping a disco ball.  Donald Trump’s supporters (some of them) are thugs and hooligans but Hillary’s MOST FAMOUS AND POWERFUL supporters made Sensual Pantsuit Anthem – and they released it right before the election THINKING IT WOULD HELP HER CHANCES.

Madness.

Somewhere along the way, even as Republicans ceded the moral high ground and accepted their role as “Permanent Bad Guy” in the Kabuki theater the Democrats and Republicans have been putting on for the benefit of the American voter, the Democrats accepted their role as “Stupid Idealistic Teenagers” and permanently ceded the maturity high ground to Republicans.  Democrats seem like the adult equivalent of Lori Loughlin’s stupid spoiled daughter compared to the Republicans. Sure, the Republicans may be evil racist reactionaries, but the Democrats are perpetual 16 year olds, with everything that entails. Hillary Clinton herself acts so petty and immature and lacking in self-control regularly it is flabbergasting to me that anyone still thinks she would have been a good president.  She wouldn’t even have been a good hall monitor.  That chick is a born narc.

Democrats are juvenile delinquents shouting “You just don’t understand me” at their stern Republican parents, while they flick their overgrown hair out of their tear-filled eyes and don their leather jacket so they can sneak outside and BMX to the old quarry where the kegger is going on.

Y’all may sputter and bluster and decry the very concept, but deep down you know it’s true.  The ONLY Democratic candidate in recent memory that consistently behaved like a grownup, John Kerry, got his ass handed to him.  And perhaps most chillingly, thinking back on it, even the REPUBLICANS that seemed mature, sensible, diligent – all of them lost.  Our presidents have been Bill Clinton (childish buffoon), George W (childish buffoon) Barack Obama (not THAT immature per se but compared with elder statesman John McCain, childish buffoon) and Donald Trump (megachildish megabuffoon).  And let’s be honest here, even Ronald Reagan was a little buffoonish sometimes.

The last two grownup presidents we had were ineffectual one-termers.  The one before that quit in humiliation. Then LBJ AND JFK.

Jesus.

You gotta go all the way back to Ike to get a solid adult president.

What the fuck is WRONG with us, America?

Using this metric I’m calling it.  Beto O Rourke is gonna be the next president of the United States because he’s so fucking undignified he makes Donald Trump look all classy and professional in comparison, kind of like Batman’s butler Alfred, just to couch that in terms that most of you can comprehend. 

And his supporters…yeah.

But wait.

We gotta get back to the reason the left hates Beto and has been ragging on him so hard this week (or longer, in some cases) because it’s important.

Setting aside questions of record and personal beliefs that only wonky assholes like me care about, if you’re a leftist, you probably feel that you can’t have Beto as a candidate because you guys kept talking up Hillary’s experience and Beto has no experience.  You may worry you’ll look like huge hypocrites just like you looked like huge hypocrites for making coolness and youth into your brand and then giving voters Hillary who had neither.  Furthermore you may worry that you’ll look like the hugest hypocrites of all time FIRST making youth and cool your brand THEN chucking that in favor of experience because Hillary had experience and THEN chucking experience and going back to emphasizing coolness and youth instead.

And you’d be right about that.

Even more so, if you’re a leftist, you may worry you cannot have Beto as a candidate because he’s a hugely phony inauthentic poseur whose image was obvs created by a focus group and you’ve hung your budenovkas on being anti-poseur, pro-genuine, anti-shill.  You may worry you’ll look like huge hypocrites just like you looked like huge hypocrites for making the uberposeur ultraphony corporate shill (and BTW CHEATER) Hillary Clinton your candidate after being so vocally anti-poseur/phony/shill.  And again, you may worry that you can’t claim to believe in something fiercely, then chuck it totally, then believe it fiercely again and expect people aside from your most dedicated core voters to take that seriously.

And again, I’d say, you’re right about that too.

Democrat friends, you’re fucked.   Unless you have an Oprah-shaped rabbit up your hat, say hello to President Beto and make your peace with confirming every negative thing that every Democratic Party critic both right and left ever said about you.

Honestly, whatever though.  It doesn’t matter.  You may as well go with Beto.  I’m pretty sure that your movement is rotten from stem to stern anyway.  So lost as you are wandering in your own hypocrisy waiting for someone to give you a map that has a more definitive set of directions than “Hope” and “Change” written on it, you are apparently somehow even capable of ignoring the unignorable sexual peccadilloes of Bill Clinton (including a close relationship with probably-evil Jeffrey Epstein) and Hillary’s associations with chronic perv Harvey Weinstein and a lot of other stuff besides while pretending that #metoo was really going to change anything at all.  

Leftists, your hypocrisy has grown so great it’s like, seriously, meta, to couch that in terms that most of you can understand.  Your hypocrisy has attained self-awareness and that’s very ironic since none of you seem to have any self-awareness whatsoever.

Beto is your cross to bear, he may as well bear your standard.  

O’Rourke is your Frankenstein, Democrats.  You built him piece by piece out of bits of other candidates and icons and cool people and now you’re taking a step back and looking at this patchwork monster blinking confusedly at you and wondering why he’s lurching around speaking strings of words that are barely intelligible, wondering why the scars of his utter inauthenticity are so noticeable, wondering why he seems so much more like an immature manipulative dick rather than a president.

It’s because you can’t create what you don’t value.  Democrats, you haven’t valued anything beyond cool for so long that you done wrung out your sponge.  You squeezed it dry.  There’s nothing left and you can’t get blood from a turnip.  Your candidates are mean, crooked, pervy, immoral, greedy, disrespectful, selfish, self-absorbed, racist, sexist, and phony but that’s because you didn’t actually care about any of that stuff.  You only cared about “cool”. Well, you reap what you sow, and what you sowed all those years ago back in 1972 when a baby named Robert Francis O’Rourke was born, was the seeds of Beto. A guitar-strumming, bar-hopping, drunk-driving superentitled douchebag who’s about to fuck up all your little plans and serve up more of the same when what you really truly wanted was something completely different.    

Good luck with that.

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In which I spectacularly fail programming

In which I spectacularly fail programming

I went to read HuffPo the other day and I read the following headline: Jimmy Kimmel PIcks the Perfect Punishment for Sarah Hucka-BS Sanders

He said she should be sent to live in a Jo-Ann’s Fabric Store for the rest of her life.

My knee jerk reaction was that I thought they meant “perfect punishment” in a totally different way.  I thought for a second Oh gosh, that IS the perfect punishment!  Inside a Jo-Ann’s for the rest of my life!  That would be AWESOME! And then I spent several more seconds envisioning this wonderful Basil E. Frankweiler type situation only with way more crafts.

It was a nice several more seconds.

Then it started to dawn on me – Kimmel.  Sanders. HuffPo. Wait a minute. Is association with Jo-Ann’s Fabrics meant to be some kind of an insult or something?

Among people I know, Jo-Ann’s has a so-so reputation.  While they do have lots of products I would love to give a good home to, it is kind of a zoo.  Jo-Ann’s Fabrics is disorganized, does not have the greatest customer service, and they totally do a lot of irritating crap with coupons (srsly enough with the coupons already) but I really don’t think any of those issues Jimmy Kimmel or his viewers would be well versed in.  

The more I thought about it, the more it started to seem like some kind of misogynistic humor or something.

If you go into a Jo-Ann’s Fabrics, fact is, there are not a lot of dudes there.  When I want to go to Jo-Ann’s my husband stays in the car at least until he has to come in and drag me out forcibly before I buy even more fat quarters for my fat quarter collection.  (I’m kidding, he doesn’t drag me out forcibly, he just looks at me disapprovingly till I drag myself out, desperately trying to resist the temptation to grab a few more fat quarters as I go.)

I would go so far as to call Jo-Ann’s a man-free zone.  It’s like a safe space. I have never been groped in a Jo-Ann’s fabrics.

So can someone explain why it’s cool to curse a powerful woman to live in Jo-Ann’s Fabrics?  Is it that fabric crafts are somehow beneath a successful woman and thus a craft store is an ideal place to doom a successful woman to?  Is it that Sarah Sanders proven herself too dummm to be allowed out into the world and thus she needs to be sequestered back into her pink sparkly rocking chair for some baby-booting knitting (which Kimmel apparently and wrongfully assumes is easy to do and requires no mental acuity)??  What is it? Please explain, using small words so my glue-stick-fume addled female brain can comprehend u.

Is being associated with female-ity bad?  Are the traditional accoutrements that come with a pair of X chromosomes meant to be humiliating somehow?  Ironically, I recall Sarah Sanders taking some heat over allegedly not baking a pie that she actually did bake in the past, so it would appear to me that women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t – criticized ruthlessly for not being Harriet Homemaker and yet at the same time, insulted with the prospect that they might enjoy doing things that have historically been female pursuits.   T’would appear that traditionally female pursuits are used as a taunt against strong women, one way or the other. 

All this reminded me of Wonder Woman again.  Some of you may recall I took a fair bit of heat for my Wonder Women essay, in which I suggested that maybe, just maybe it was ok, even feminist, to embrace and celebrate some behavior historically considered stereotypically female (or at least not hold it in active disdain).  Maybe, just maybe, we could see some traditional female qualities as positives instead of buying completely into the notion that the only way for women to be “empowered” was by embracing the very worst stereotypically male behavior.  

Most of the criticism I received for my Wonder Women piece was along this line:  “It would be nice if you could come out of your cultural preconceptions a bit.”  Come out of my cultural preconceptions to agree with my critics, I guess is what that means.  For they are surely right, their position is well thought out and thoroughly considered, while I, on the other hand, could not possibly have thoroughly considered opinions since my opinions are not identical to theirs.  If I disagree with them, that means I must have cultural preconceptions. Because no woman in her right mind could ever independently weigh the evidence and draw an unusual conclusion. Just gotsta be cultural preconceptions.

I find it so amusing when people respond to what they (wrongfully) perceive as sexism, with sexism.

That’s really what the takeaway of all this is, isn’t it??  Whenever a woman – particularly a seemingly traditional woman in appearance and/or thought – draws an unexpected or unpopular conclusion, it’s widely and immediately assumed that she has cultural preconceptions of some sort.   Traditional women are perceived to be incapable of thinking for themselves because if they could think for themselves surely they’d form the exact same opinion everyone else has. When that doesn’t happen, when a woman expresses an unexpected opinion, welp, it just has to be cultural preconceptions. Apparently everyone in the whole wide world except for traditional women have opinions deserving of respect and consideration, while traditional women and the things they like and value – like Jo-Ann’s Fabrics – are jokes, throwaway lines that make no sense and that people don’t even laugh at.

So Jimmy Kimmel thinks it’s ok to banish Sarah Sanders to Jo-Ann’s Fabrics because Sarah Sanders is a traditional woman and Jo-Ann’s is a traditional woman thing so they deserve each other.  Being a traditional woman like Sarah Sanders or Michelle Duggar is pretty much one of the worst things a person can be according to some people, many of whom self-ID as “feminist”. That’s why it’s ok for feminists and feminist allies to refer to Michelle Duggar’s vagina as a “clown car” – which is literally one of the most sexist, vulgar things I’ve ever heard and that little punchline was EVERYWHERE for a couple years.   Her body, her choice, except when she makes a choice with her body that people don’t like, I guess. Then she’s a joke.

The political and philosophical views of traditional women are constantly painted as signs of weakness of character and a simple mind.  Allegedly based upon cultural preconceptions and internalized misogyny, these opinions are thus inherently inferior to the opinions of everyone else and should be immediately disregarded.  That is why whenever a traditional woman dares to enter the public sphere to express an opinion that is outside the norm the response is invariably “Knit a sock, you brainwashed bitch.” Because pegging a woman as being in any way traditional is meant as an insult, implying that traditional women don’t know their own minds, are stupid brainwashed ninnies qualified for nothing but doing cutesy crafts (many of which are actually quite difficult and require high amounts of knowledge and skill.  I’d like to see Kimmel knit a fucking sock. Socks are tough.)

Brief aside – Now, I know that someone is going to wax poetic about how terrible Sarah Sanders is how anything is justified where she’s concerned, and I’ll just say right now, save your breath.  This isn’t about Sarah Sanders and her many unforgivable sins. This is about Jimmy Kimmel’s response to Sarah Sanders and why even in our controversy-lovin’ society it was uncontroversial despite it being grossly sexist, and how our larger culture constantly devalues and belittles traditional women.

But first let’s talk about my “cultural preconceptions” that everyone seems to assume I must have.

There is literally no traditional female in my family.  My great-grandmother owned an entire city block with several stores in it.  She had 6 daughters and every one of them worked at the store starting practically at their birth during the 19-teens and twenties.  Both my grandmothers were college graduates. One of them worked outside the home for her entire life. My mother and stepmother were highly respected career women with Master’s Degrees.  My stepfather was a nurse and he did the dishes and cooked and changed diapers just as often as my mom did. There were few gender stereotypes promoted by my parents; in fact, quite the opposite.  

From the second I was born it was expected that I would excel at school and sports and that I would go on to have a very impressive career.  My parents pushed me towards excellence in every public arena. No one ever told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl; I was told instead that I had to do everything because I COULD.  My dad expected me to be a scientist and an athlete and often suggested I go into the military. He bought me a Commodore 64 when they first came out and encouraged me to learn programming. My mom expected me to be valedictorian and class president and to be in every club at school.  She drove me to karate lessons and Women in Science weekends.

It was the “Free To Be You and Me” generation and everyone knew that girls could do anything boys could do.  My parents, my teachers, the people on the TV all told me so.

It was awful.  

Having all these people in my face telling me “You can do this!  You can do that!” wasn’t empowering, it was paralyzing. An eight year old or a 12 year old or a 15 year old does not want to have a life plan foisted upon them whereby they will become an astronaut or maybe president someday.  A kid may want to daydream about something like that sometimes but it’s the rare and driven person who manages to get there and it’s generally not by way of goals that they set as a small child. All I knew was that the world expected things from me that I felt in no way equipped to give and it had nothing to do with my gender, it was my inadequacy.

It never occurred to me that it was perhaps the expectations that were awry, not that anything was truly lacking with me.  

At the same time, the things I was interested in, that I gravitated to naturally – girly things – everyone acted like I was voluntarily drinking hemlock or something.  My femininity became my secret shame. I had to do it all undercover. I sneaked a tattered copy of Dr. Spock off the family bookshelf and read it cover to cover. I secretly taught myself to sew and embroider alone in my room when I was supposed to be doing homework.  I bought makeup and nail polish and pretty underwear with whatever money I could scrounge together. I got perms and read romance novels and wore lip gloss and obsessed over boys.  And the first chance I had, I got married and started having children because that was what I WANTED. That was what I was drawn to and what feels natural to me to this very day.

Even though I didn’t ever ONLY want those things, even though I’ve done many other interesting and amazing things in my life and excelled at them, the things that some would assume were results of my “cultural programming” (that I never actually received) are of the utmost importance to my happiness and well-being.

The fundamental problem in my life has never been my “cultural programming”.  My cultural programming has only ever been that women not only can, but should, go out and take the world by the balls and squeeze till it gives up whatever it is you want.  My cultural programming has also been that girls shouldn’t want things that are in any way female, that it is beneath us, and only by turning away from stereotypical female pursuits and becoming small and rather angry men with boobs can we truly come into our own.  

My cultural programming told me lies about the history of the world and women’s place in it because women have always wielded a lot of power and done stunningly courageous and historically important things. Believe it or not, I HAVE come out of my cultural programming and that is why I think the way that I do.  I just don’t agree with you, that’s all. I like Jo-Ann Fabrics and I didn’t think Wonder Woman was feminist and I drew those conclusions after I logically and dispassionately weighed the input I receive from the world around me and not because my daddy told me I was a pretty pretty princess.  Cause he never told me that in my whole entire life.

It simply doesn’t make any sense to me that the only way I can find my way as a “woman” is by rejecting the customs, traditions, and values (be they cultural or innate, who gives a shit, doesn’t matter) that women have shared for millennia, trying instead to behave exactly like a man – adopting even the BAD parts of male behavior.  I don’t see how it is in any way freeing or empowering for women when self-styled feminists belittle and devalue real live actual women and the things that many of them enjoy, such as reading romance novels and going to Jo-Ann’s Fabrics. Even though my cultural programming involved a good deal of everyone around me doing exactly that, I refuse to sit silently by while Jimmy Kimmel or the majority of people who reviewed the movie Wonder Woman do.

When I look back at my life it feels a little like I had to discover and then battle to express my gender identity.  I don’t intend to equate my experience with what any trans person has gone through, not at all, but I do feel I’ve experienced some mild and minor version of the same.   As a child I felt that I was not allowed to express my femininity. I had my hair cut and wore boy clothes and indeed was often mistaken for a boy. I was made to play sports against my will, I was pushed into highly technical classes that I didn’t want to take and were actually much too difficult for me because my parents and teachers couldn’t let go of the dream that they had for me rather than seeing the person I actually was. 

It took me decades before I could fully start to embrace my gender identity, that’s how much I had internalized my real cultural programming. I was 30 before I realized could grow my hair out if I wanted to, that I could wear skirts every damn day if I wanted to, that I could mince and flirt and simper if I so desired, and that I could be and do whatever I wanted to. Even if that meant I wanted to be a woman.  And once I realized that, I never looked back, and for the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin.

Despite my unremitting and inexcusable chronic girliness, as an adult, I grew into enjoying athletics, particularly weightlifting and kickboxing.  I became a scientist and started a website that thousands of people from around the world visit to get my opinion on having babies of their own. That still wasn’t enough so I became a writer too and I toss myself into the public sphere every day without (much) fear to share my very often highly unusual opinions and thoughts with the world.  Being a traditional woman didn’t stop me from doing any of those things. Not one iota. I did and do these things every day while still raising five children, wearing a skirt and usually far too much makeup, and occasionally visiting JoAnn’s Fabrics stores for craft supplies.

Sarah Sanders has to have about the toughest freaking job on Planet Earth.  Can you imagine doing Sarah Sanders’ job? I wouldn’t want it. She was raised in a conservative Christian home and probably had more than her fair share of intense cultural programming yet somehow despite that she managed to go to hold a very powerful job. In fact, pretty much all the strong and powerful women who were born before 1960 or so – Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Michelle Obama, Oprah, Gloria Steinem – all of them raised in a world that probably featured some fairly patriarchal shit.  So don’t give me this line where if we don’t tell girls that girly stuff sucks, that femininity is weakness, and the only way they can navigate life is by forgoing the joy that is Jo-Ann’s Fabrics and becoming a small and angry man with boobs, that they’ll live happily ever after.

Because it just isn’t true.

 

 

little lessons on the prairie

little lessons on the prairie

So I’ve been rereading my favorite books from childhood, the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I started reading the first few with my children and then I got caught up, so I’m finishing the series.

You may recall that due to some racist elements in her work,the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award bestowed for excellence in children’s literature given by the ALSC (Association for Library Service to children) had its name changed to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.   https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/25/us/laura-ingalls-wilder-book-award-trnd/index.html    

Personally, I think it’s fine that this has happened.  It’s just a silly award. Name it whatever you want, I guess.  But I sure do despise this tendency to remove anyone even the least little bit historically problematic from polite society.  Because regardless of what the ALSC say – that they aren’t calling for her books to be banned, that this isn’t censorship – she’s gone.  Outta here. And she’s not coming back any time soon. Given the current social atmosphere, removing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from this award (and the controversy it triggered) is really effectively banning her books.  Parents will stop buying them and kids will stop reading them. I would not be at all surprised if Wilder disappears from schools everywhere over the next few years.

And that, I’m not ok with.  The Little House books were of critical importance to me as a child.  They were my best friends when I had no one and nothing else, they molded me in ways I probably couldn’t even begin to unpack.   To attack the Little House books as racist, to eliminate them from the pantheon of great children’s literature as somehow harmful to children, is in my opinion a mistake.  While it is obvious that a few elements of the books are gross and wrong, there is still great value in them – indeed, even in the gross and wrong parts – and it would be a shame to see children denied the experience of reading them.

Here’s a Vox piece that does a pretty good job of illustrating why I still see a lot to love even in the unsavory parts of Little House, while somehow simultaneously missing the entire point. https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/6/26/17502346/laura-ingalls-wilder-award-little-house-books-racism    The author agrees that there is something valuable to be gleaned even from the darker parts of Little House, believing just as I do that reading them forces people to acknowledge the darker side of the pioneer mythos, but then goes on to fail to learn the biggest lesson of all.  She writes (as Laura would say, in a childish hand) “Pioneers used a prejudice against Indians to steal their land, and this was racism.”

The author of this piece claims that prejudice was some sort of calculated strategy that people were actively adopting – that the pioneer’s fear and hatred was caused by racism instead of the other way around.  Oh, those pioneers.  They had a silly prejudice, those big goofy gooses, and the reason they had that prejudice was obviously because they wanted to steal the Indians’ land!   The author asserts that their prejudice was completely baseless and was spun from thin air to justify their own bad behavior.  Pioneers like Ma Ingalls could certainly never have had some legitimate reasons to fear, even hate Native Americans (reasons that felt fully legitimate to HER, I mean).  Right? But whenever you put two groups of people whose members are actively killing one another, of course there will be fear and hate. The reverse is certainly true and none of us blame Native Americans for fearing and hating whites.  

Now, we may look back at history with our modern sensibilities and theorize that the pioneers never should have been there, should never have stolen the Natives’ land, and that the tribes were entirely justified in fighting back against these invaders.  And we’d be entirely correct in doing so.  But the fact was the pioneers were there, in that place and time, whether they should have been or not. They wanted to live just like you and I want to live and regardless of what we believe with the benefit of a century of hindsight, they believed they were entitled to be there.  Not only did they feel entitled, it is only natural to have bad feelings towards people who you fear might kill you at any point in time. If any one of us had been put in that same situation, we would have felt the same. Racism is not an excuse people conjure up to justify bad behavior. It is not an affectation or a pretense.  Racism is a mindset people develop when their backs are up against the wall.  We are all subject to the tendency. The seeds for racism are with us all and we’re no better than those who came before us.  We just have the luxury of living in the modern world where we have less to fear.

It is a natural characteristic of humankind to hate and fear those who we perceive as other from us, even more natural to hate and fear those we perceive to be our enemies.  It doesn’t make it right, but it is natural. It is in human nature to behave that way. ALL of our human nature. Bad people, good people, me, you, Gandhi, Hitler and Pa Ingalls himself.  From this wellspring of human nature that we all share, racism and lots of other nasty isms and sins are born, and we are all subject to it. Racism is not something that occurs in a passionless vacuum, it’s not a dry, calculated political tactic people choose to justify bad behavior.  No one makes an informed and rational decision to embrace racism to explain away taking land or resources from another. Racists feel fully entitled to their racism, that’s why it’s so hard to overcome. People have reasons for all their isms that they think are sound and that is why these isms are so damn dangerous – we feel like our isms are right, noble, good, and supported by hard cold facts that those people, whoever those people are, are just not like us.

That is the real lesson of the objectionable parts of the Little House books.  It is that prejudice can be something that afflicts people like you and me, people who aren’t bad people, who are in fact good people, but who are products of a particular place and time and if we had been in that place and time we would have been and thought and felt and acted the exact same way.  We are not any more evolved than Ma Ingalls, nary a one of us. (BTW, in the Little House books, Ma’s fear of Indians is painted as old-fashioned, even irrational; both Laura and Pa are portrayed as far more enlightened where Indians are concerned.)  We are simply lucky enough to live in a place and time where we know better and have other options. To say that prejudice was an active choice that Laura Ingalls Wilder and the other pioneers made, is putting the cart before the horse and the chicken before the egg.  

Speaking of, another terribly racist book I read and adored as a child was The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald.   It’s set in Washington State where I grew up; in fact I later married a man who grew up on the rather strangely named “The Egg and I Road”, across the street from the location of the farm in the book.  (Ma and Pa Kettle, iconic characters that you may not know originated from The Egg and I, were real people – whose descendants now run an organic dairy farm in the same location they lived during the events of the book).  After I read The Egg and I for the first time, my stepmother told me that a family friend hated the book because he was Makah and the Makah were excoriated in the book.  And it’s true, they are; but I hadn’t even noticed that part. It was shocking to realize that something I had not even paid attention to, that had not even registered with me, had hurt someone I knew.  It was an early and valuable lesson that not everyone views things from the same perspective, a lesson I never would have received if I had not been allowed to read the book. If my stepmother – a children’s librarian herself, actually – had stepped in and taken the book from me when she saw it in my hand or removed it from the shelf so I never even knew it existed, I’d never have had to look my own privilege in the face at such a young age.

I recently reread The Egg and I as an adult.  The descriptions of the Coastal Native Americans in the book are indeed awful.  But I was surprised to discover that there was context to the racism. It wasn’t even remotely cut and dry problematic as people make this book out to be.  MacDonald was clearly demonstrating how badly the coastal tribes had been affected by the disruption of their culture in a way that preachier, more goody-two-shoes stories do not.  The Native Americans depicted in The Egg and I were not noble savages; they were not the depersonalized heroic stereotypes we have come to expect from modern fare.  The characters in the book – all of them – have serious, severe character flaws, and in the case of the the Native Americans, those flaws are directly caused by what white people did to them.  Being driven from their homes and their way of life caused a breakdown of their social fabric to such extent that they were destroyed by it. This reality is not skirted, it’s looked dead in the face and fully reflected upon.  It’s a valuable lesson that shouldn’t be whitewashed from history.

At the time the book was set, Betty MacDonald was a nineteen year old girl who found herself in a truly terrible situation.  She makes light of things because The Egg and I is meant to be humorous, but her life was incredibly rough (soon after, she divorced her husband and walked several miles through the forest carrying an infant and a toddler to escape).  Recall that Laura Ingalls Wilder was also a young girl in a very precarious, even brutal situation – it is no exaggeration to say that the Ingalls family could have died at any time and nearly do on several occasions  My point is not that being young or having a difficult life justifies racist viewpoints, not at all. My point is that you can plunk down any 19 year old person into a rotten place and time and they will sometimes form opinions that we older and wiser people who have every benefit of modernity would not.  Just like Ma Ingalls. It is human nature to have prejudices and to not always rise above them, and it’s a simple fact that as life gets harder, the easier it is to succumb to our darker instincts. We ignore this reality at our own peril. By pretending that racism is an active choice perpetrated by irredeemably evil people because we never read any source material in which we see the casual, accidental racism of otherwise good people, we never have to face the truth that we have that tendency within us just as our ancestors did.  

Even if we remove all problematic accounts from our worldview and replace them with politically correct and sanitized literature, we will never remove this tendency from human nature.  Humans are a set of behaviors and one of those behaviors involves making snap judgments about others based on their most obvious external features and then sticking with those snap judgments even when you’re proven wrong about them.  Betty MacDonald herself understood this. It you ever read her books, which are mostly wonderful and should be read more widely than they are, a good part of them is her judging other people from various walks of life in a lighthearted, not-uncharitable way, while being simultaneously judged by them.  “Ha-ha!” MacDonald seems to be saying, “Isn’t it funny how people are, look at how small-minded we can be sometimes, and don’t we all feel perfectly justified in our small-mindedness?”) By setting herself up as victim and villain, she reveals just how silly and wrong it is to judge others and how arbitrary our criteria really are.  The everyday racism in MacDonald’s books is not only historically accurate, but is actually a great takedown of the entire concept of racism because it does it from the inside out, revealing it as being just as silly as a person judging someone on the stylishness of their wardrobe.  Betty MacDonald’s books, despite their flaws – indeed, in no small part because of them – are scathing critiques of the human animal. And we would miss that perspective if we tossed her books on the dustheap due to a kneejerk definition of what is offensive.

Avoiding the reality of our racist past makes it easier to compartmentalize racism as being something that other people do.  Bad people. Evil. People whose minds cannot ever be understood because they are fundamentally different than us. Certainly not people who could be otherwise worthy of admiration.  Racism has become our original sin and we don’t want to wrestle with the notion that we are all guilty. Refusing to even consider the stories of those who came before us simply means that we are that much less likely to recognize similar tendencies within ourselves.  If we judge racists as demons – even racists that lived decades or centuries ago and were products of a vastly different environment – we immediately find ourselves innocent because we are not demons. But prejudice is a human quality whether we want to admit that or not.  When the rubber hits the road and the — hits the fan, we WILL put ourselves and our own above everyone else. We will slit throats and take scalps and give out smallpox-laden blankets and congratulate ourselves on doing God’s work because only demons can be evil. Reading Little House and The Egg and I can inoculate us because we have learned as children that even good people with pure hearts and noble intentions can think ugly thoughts and do bad things and feel fully justified in having done them.  They can do these things without even realizing that they were wrong.

In her essay “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read” (do read this, it’s excellent https://www.iss.k12.nc.us/cms/lib/NC01000579/Centricity/Domain/2839/I%20Know%20Why%20the%20Caged%20Bird%20Cannot%20Read.pdf) the literary critic Francine Prose dares to criticize the sacred…and as Prose describes it, “treacly”…tome To Kill a Mockingbird on precisely these grounds – that in Mockingbird, the complicated legacy of America’s racist heritage is reduced to nothing but a good guys vs. bad guys trope.  “Students are informed that literature is principally a vehicle for soporific moral blather,” Prose explains. Certainly Atticus Finch is portrayed by the author, writing from the perspective of a 9 year old daughter, as everything a father should be.  “An exercise in wish-fulfillment and self-congratulation…the comfortable certainty that the reader would NEVER harbor the racist attitudes espoused by the lowlifes in the novel,” Prose continues. Yet Pa Ingalls is also portrayed by the author (his own daughter, who is around 9 years old during much of Little House) as everything a father should be.  He whipped his daughter with a switch and was in a minstrel show.   What does that MEAN? Surely it means something; something very important, something that deserves serious consideration.

I certainly would never want any child to read anything that makes them uncomfortable.  I don’t like it at all that our dear family friend was offended by The Egg and I.  I’m sure some are screaming at their computers your lessons shouldn’t come at the expense of the feelings of others and that all this is probably white privilege but we will never overcome our racist heritage if we don’t learn these lessons.  We’ll be doomed to live it out again and again and again in a thousand different forms until we accept the reality that prejudice is in our human nature and that we are all subject to it.  Reading fiction allows us to safely try on the lives of another person, to see things from their flawed perspective, to more fully understand their motivations, both good and bad.

This is actually one of the main purposes of literature – allowing us to deeply delve into the life and mind of another.  Prose writes: “One reason we read writers from other times and cultures is to confront alternatives – of feeling and sensibility, of history and psyche, of information and ideas.”   By reading widely, even or perhaps especially tales in which people at times did questionable, even repellent things, things that I would hope that I myself would never do, I have gained greatly in understanding, in sympathy, in compassion and tolerance.  By reading widely I have been forced to confront choices and decisions that I will hopefully never be faced with. Should we ban Sophie’s Choice because the main character chooses her son’s life over her daughter’s?  Should we ban 1984 because Winston betrays Julia?  Should we ban Crime and Punishment because Raskolnikov commits murder?   Romeo and Juliet because Juliet was too young to be married?  Or The Joy Luck Club because a character abandons her twin daughters alongside a road in wartime?

Literature should be complicated.  It should present flawed, realistic characters who are products of their time and place and force us to seriously consider their point of view.  In the years since Francine Prose wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read, the first draft of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was found and published under the name Go Set a Watchman.  In this version of the story, Atticus is a more complicated, flawed character; a man more representative of the time and place in which he lived.  Of Go Set a Watchman, the writer Ursula K. LeGuin wrote, “Harper Lee was a good writer.  She wrote a lovable, greatly beloved book. But this earlier one, for all its faults, asks some of the hard questions To Kill a Mockingbird evades.”  Hard questions are good.  Children – indeed, all of us – should be exposed to hard questions that lack easy answers.  But fans of Mockingbird were outraged by the morally complex version of Atticus – Atticus could NOT have flaws, he was ATTICUS.  They couldn’t accept that he might have been a flawed man. One family, in an act of self-indulgence I consider borderline child abuse, even changed their toddler son’s name because of it. https://people.com/books/parents-change-son-atticus-name-after-go-set-a-watchman-controversy/

Reading things like this, I think we NEED Little House now more than ever.  I feel like our society is plagued with moral absolutism that is manifesting itself as a nasty Puritanical streak.  We have removed our consciences and replaced them with groupthink just like poor little Atticus’ parents took his name away from him and changed it to Luke.  As Prose described the state of children’s literature over a decade ago, “…the gross oversimplification…values imagination and empathy less than the ability to make quick and irreversible judgements, to entertain and maintain simplistic immovable opinions about guilt and innocence, about the possibilities of human nature.  Less comfortable with the gray areas than with sharply delineated black and white, he or she can work in groups and operate under consensus and has a resultant, residual distrust for the eccentric, the idiosyncratic, the annoyingly…individual.”

It sounds as if she’s describing America 2018.  

We NEED children to be exposed to ideas that make us adults uncomfortable, that appear to raise issues we’d rather not discuss, that reveal that humanity has endured through many different systems of ethics and values and that at every point in time, what “everyone” thought seemed self-evident, correct, and proper to them at the time.  

And we need it very soon.  If you haven’t read your children the Little House books or haven’t read them yourself, try them.  There are a lot of wonderful things contained in their pages.  Even in the less wonderful things, you may find value.

Happy Thanksgiving.