Tag Archives: feminism

Shoot First, Ask Questions Never: The Great Massacre Epidemic

I started writing this piece just one week ago, when the news broke all over social media that there had been another college campus shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. I was heart-sick and overwhelmed, unable to articulate my feelings and ideas into coherence. I jotted down what I could, determined to come back to this piece later, when everything had calmed down some.

It did not.
It did not.

This morning I woke up to two news banners on my iPhone: One dead in campus shooting in Arizona. Developing: Texas University on lock-down after shots fired.

Again. It’s happened again.

I guess I’m just not like the numbed masses of American citizens who see these headlines and shrug: Oh, well, another one of those darn shootings. I care. I care about the people who have been robbed of their lives, I care about their families and friends who will now have to suffer unmentionable grief, and I care about the precedent that our society is establishing for future generations.

Future generations like my daughter.

My daughter is going to grow up in a world where one mass shooting can or will occur every week, and our politicians will say things like, “Crises happen.” She’s going to grow up to believe that this is how people are — cruel, jaded, and dangerous. I’m going to kiss her every morning and send her off to school, knowing that there is a possibility, however slim, that I will never see her again.

Some might say, “Well, that could be true in any case. Even in a perfect world, accidents happen.”

BUT THESE MASSACRES ARE NOT ACCIDENTS.

These are not accidents. And if we allow this to continue, then we are all responsible.


We need to start having the uncomfortable conversations that we have been avoiding en masse:

This epidemic — and that is the word we need to start using, because this is absolutely a national health crisis — isn’t just about mental illness. It isn’t just about lackadaisical weapons laws. It isn’t just about a society that has become numb to violence. It really isn’t about any of the things that mass media has been telling you it’s about.

It is high time we as a society come to grips with the fact that it is anger that causes violence, not mental illness, not guns, not exposure to video games and gratuitous violence. Other scapegoats need not apply. Let’s just look at some facts:

This profile is familiar because we’ve seen it before. The two killers of 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999? Eighteen and 17-years-old. Male. The murderer of 20 children and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012? Twenty years-old. Male. The shooter who killed six people in near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus in 2014? Twenty-two years old. Male. The perpetrators of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting in June 2015, the Aurora, Colorado shooting in 2012 and the Tuscon, Arizona shooting in 2011? All men under the age of 30. The list goes on.

The perpetrators of these crimes are not disenfranchised minorities like the population of American sufferers of mental illness. These shooters are in fact at the highest run of the social privilege ladder — white, cisgender males in the prime of their youth. Perhaps they do suffer from a mental illness, but so do tens of thousands of other Americans, people who are more likely to kill themselves than ever harm another human being. So what exactly causes a a group of men to completely rupture and evacuate their humanity? As mentioned by Cliff Leek in the above quoted article: these individuals, who were born into a society that granted them untold privilege based on their race and gender, are rapidly being taken down a peg by an increasing shift to a more egalitarian society. Simply put, these men seem to have just lost it once having to confront demands that they check their own privilege. Is it so surprising that after raising generation after generation of boys to believe that their manhood is tenuous and revocable based on how much or how little they assert themselves, that some young men have started to crack under that strain?

It’s time that we stopped pretending that toxic masculinity isn’t a thing, and start doing better by our men and our boys. They deserve better. We all do.

Toxic masculinity. It sounds like such a made-up buzz word. But it really is a thing, and a driving force behind this epidemic that we are all struggling to understand. We teach our boys, either directly or indirectly, that they have the right to power and status, and that power and status basically boils down to how many women they fuck, how much stuff they have, and how much ass they can kick. Then we teach them that if they don’t prescribe to this particular formula for success, they are wimps, pussies, or nancy-boys. Not only is our definition of masculinity so narrow as to exclude all but the most lumber-jacking of fellows, but it also excludes any conceits to compassion, emotion, or altruism. We’re raising our boys to be fucking sociopaths and whipping them when they break. If I were a dude, I’d be pissed as hell.

These shooters were pissed as hell. But for all the wrong reasons and at all the wrong people.

They were broken people, and we broke them. Not because girls refused to date them, or because they didn’t get the respect they deserved, but because we set them up to fail by teaching them that they had a right to take what they wanted with no recompense. We taught them that they must lash out, or else be forever condemned to sadness and isolation. Perhaps we have no right to be surprised, then, that these men sought to take their power back by force. That is precisely what we told them they must do.

image

Not acceptable.

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Don’t Call My Baby Fat

Look, I get it, all right? I have cute aggression, too. I can’t resist those chubby thighs, those chunky cheeks, the little Michelin tire rolls ‘round ankles, bellies, and wrists.  I mean, let’s just face it: skinny babies just aren’t as cute as the rollie-pollie kind.

GAAAAHHHH!
GAAAAHHHH!

But so help me God, if one more person calls my baby a “chunky monkey”, or squeals with joy  while pinching her delicious little rolls between their forefinger and thumb, I’m going to lose it. God bless my girl friend who heard this from me recently after telling me she, “loved Moira’s chunk.” “Don’t call her that!” I said, a little snappily. My girl friend was chagrined, but listened kindly as I tried to dismantle my aversion and explain my reaction. Yes, Moira is chubby. She is rounded in all of the delightful ways a healthy young child should be. And unfortunately, I am a product of a society that equates “chubby” with “fat” and tells us that fat is just about the worst thing a person can be, so I’m a little sensitive to comments about my child’s looks. Until “fat” ceases to be synonymous with “lazy”, “unhealthy”, and “frumpy”; until “fat” is no longer antonymic with words like “beautiful”, “healthy”, and “attractive” — don’t call my baby fat. In fact, why not praise her for all other salient reasons for which she ought to be praised, rather than her looks? Her intelligence, her kindness, her joyfullness, her curiosity? Praise her being, not her body! But, that’s another blog post.


Before Moira was born, I made a pact with myself that she was going to grow up different than I did. That promise entailed a great many things, but chief among them were the lessons I learned about food, body image, and self-esteem. After I learned I was having a girl, I began to anticipate what an immense responsibility I would have in addition to being this child’s mother — I was going to be responsible for stewarding this perfect little girl through a world that would gladly strip her down to flesh and bones, both metaphorically and in body, to meet their idealized and unrealistic standards. I was going to have to fight for her right to be and do everything that made her heart feel right, damned what the world thought, because who is going to teach a girl how to be a healthy, happy woman, except her mother? Since she was born over 18 months ago, I’ve been increasingly defensive about my daughter’s body. It began with the acknowledgment of my own insecurities and a solemn promise to never share them with Moira. I can directly trace my own insecurities back to observations of my own mother, who would constantly poke, prod, and abuse herself for her plump physique. I recognize that if I don’t learn to put a cork in it (or, better, actually start loving myself), I’ll be hurting my daughter. As far back as I can remember, I was concerned about body image.  I distinctly recall being no more than seven years old (SEVEN!) and sucking my tummy in as I walked past boys in the supermarket because I wanted to seem appealing to them. But why? Where did I learn that behavior, those values? Yes, I was rounder, less lithe, than the other girls in my grade school, but I definitely wasn’t obese by any stretch of the imagination. So tell me how my self-image became so tarnished? My mother, I think, failed to realize how her example would affect me. Every time she talked down to herself, admired another woman’s thin athletic build while simultaneously degrading her own, I listened and incorporated her perspectives into my own world view. Every time she went on a crash diet, eschewing meals for “milkshakes” and killing herself on a Stairmaster for hours into the evening, I watched and I learned. When she would criticize herself in photos and compare her thighs to my grandmother’s while sighing mournfully, every time she took me with her to shop for clothes and berated herself in the dressing room, I logged it away for later use against myself.

Mothers, you are your daughter’s first mirror. She will look at you and see herself. If you tell her that what she sees in that mirror is ugly, no amount of praise or compliments will prevent her from tearing herself down.
Mothers, you are your daughter’s first mirror. She will look at you and see herself. If you tell her that what she sees in that mirror is ugly, no amount of praise will reestablish her ability to love herself.

There are probably many more reasons for my low self-esteem and my lifetime struggles with weight. I wasn’t raised to be a healthy eater. I wasn’t raised to be especially active. I had a negative self-image from very early on, but as I got a little older and started to fill out in ways that weren’t considered healthy, I was subjected to a lot of criticism, both at home and at school. I don’t recall my pediatrician ever commenting that I was overweight, but I remember my parents scolding me for what I ate, and when, and how much. Our home was emotionally fraught and sometimes violent, and I began eating as a way to self-soothe. I would binge eat and hide it from my parents, and they would become effusively angry when they busted me (Tip: if your child is an emotional-eater, there are way better ways to confront that issue than shaming them about it. See “opposite of intended effect”.) Somehow, it never occurred to them to change their own habits in order to set an example for me to follow.  People aren’t born thinking that being fat is a bad thing — we have to be taught to hate ourselves or each other, and I definitely was. I was taught by two adults who didn’t much care for their own bodies how to hate my own. I don’t think they ever considered how their well-intentioned criticism, or their own self-hatred, would influence me. I’m a parent now, and I keep my mother and father’s example close to my heart. Not because I want to follow it, but because I want to avoid it. All of the wrong decisions my parents made, and all of the wrong decisions I later made for myself, I’m using those lessons to concentrate on making the right choices for M. Still, people allow their distorted perceptions of beauty and health standards color their view of our family and even our parenting choices. Yeah, I’m fat — does that mean that my daughter will be, too? No, of course not. I suspect that many people look at me and assume that a.) I’m unhealthy, lazy, irresponsible, etc., and b.) assume that I will graft my flaws on to my daughter. However, nothing could be farther from the truth: my husband and I make very careful, conscientious decisions regarding food and activity choices in order to set her up for life-long health. Note: health, not thinness, because we’ve got our priorities straight. Does she still eat pizza? Sometimes. (“My monkey, my circus”, remember?) You see, I don’t want to take all that I’ve learned about being healthy and run to the other end of the spectrum, counting calories and obsessing over what goes into our bodies. In the end, that attitude would defeat the purpose of what I’m trying to achieve: raising a healthy, intelligent girl who is able to appreciate all things are best in moderation. Regardless of the size of her dress or the number on the scale, she will know that she is beautiful, valuable, and important, even if she does keep her chunky-monkey rolls all the way into adulthood. Eff your beauty standards — those thunder thighs are a family legacy. And we are gorgeous.

Mean Girls

“Women are such catty bitches!” I said to my friend, completely exasperated. She laughed and I laughed, and we both understood — there is no animosity between you and I, but get a group of females together in any greater number, and shit just hits the fan.

Why can’t we all just get along?

I am not, nor have I ever been, especially popular. I don’t have a raving social life. I am very good at maintaining close friendships, but awkward when in a group. I’ve never been a member of a clique, though it wasn’t for lack of trying in my adolescent years. There was a time when I so desperately wanted to fit in. Typically, people join groups that align with their personal interests, finding kindred spirits among the other members, but I’ve never had success in that way. Maybe I was an ASL student, a writer, a pagan — but whenever I tried to assimilate into an established group of those individuals, I still found myself feeling like an outsider.

Instead, I excelled at close, personal ties with other outsiders. Maybe we’re weird, but at least we can be weird together, we would say. I felt I had my niche. If I couldn’t be popular, at least I knew who my real friends were. I waited patiently for college and for my grown-up life to start. Adulthood, they promised, would be different.

They lied.

It has been ten years since high school, but I still feel like I’m surrounded by mean girls. Girls who view each other as competition, rather than colleagues; potential threats rather than potential sisters. Contrary to what our Mommas told us, it doesn’t always get better — bullying and social aggression is still prevalent throughout adulthood. To add insult to injury, bullying in adulthood is most commonly seen in females against other females. WAY TO GO GIRLS! While we were talking about women’s rights and equal treatment, we forgot to confront the idea that internalized hatred influences how we treat each other.

One might think that those same mean girls from school just grew up and continued to be mean, but studies suggest that this isn’t necessarily the case. Often times, it is the former victim of the schoolyard bully who grows up to utilize relational aggression in order to exert power over her peers. Prolonged feelings of powerlessness awaken the primal need to establish one’s self as an aggressor in order to regain power and control. Perhaps this is one of the underlying reasons that adult women are observed to indulge in more bullying behavior than men. (Because if anybody knows what prolonged loss of self-agency feels like, it us. Right ladies?)

It is discouraging to find that childhood torment can follow you into adulthood. After all, shouldn’t we have grown out of this juvenile behavior? Perhaps not, as evolutionary psychologists have long since established that bullying behaviors can be biologically advantageous, despite the fact that they are also socially damaging to the community. We know that bullying is ubiquitous among all cultures on earth, and while the behaviors of our ancestors are shrouded by the passing of time, we can easily observe bullying behaviors in other non-human primates. It seems that we are hard-wired to be suspicious and untrustworthy of any perceived threats to our resources, and unfortunately, our primal instincts aren’t equipped to differentiate between friend or foe. It’s just part of the human condition.

Our drive to dominate one another is inborn and subconscious, but from a moral standpoint, our society has pretty much unanimously agreed that bullying, ostracism, and engaging in social hierarchies is wrong. Then why do we continue to engage in these behaviors? In some cases, it is because the group dynamic favors the action. In having developed a sense of morality, human beings as individuals are able to justify their most primal behaviors as necessary to ensure the safety or success of the group as a whole. As psychologist Christoper Boehm points out, “we learned to gang up not just against our superiors but against individuals who we feel are so deviant that they deserve to be treated as outsiders.” Even though we know that different isn’t bad, our minds trick us into rationalizing our prejudices so we can act on them, guilt free.

It’s awful, though, isn’t it? All right, so bullying goes way back, and it once paid off in former contexts, and it is a self-propagating social disease, causing it’s victims to become aggressors themselves — but, really, can’t we just agree to stamp out that impulsive lizard-brain bullshit and be good? Perhaps, but it will take more than an after-school special to drive this one home. In media, the female aggressor, or the Iron Lady, is a trope that is highly celebrated and played out in film, television, and books. Movies like the Devil Wears Prada indicate that in order to be a successful business woman, one must be manipulative and conniving, ready to sacrifice relationships toward the end goal of dominating the workplace hierarchy. Does this mean that sisterhood is dead? Not necessarily. But the misconception of “assertiveness” being achieved through “bitchyness” ought to be shown the door.

All signs point toward mindfulness as the key to solving unnecessary aggression. We must all rely on our higher functioning minds to lead us with compassion and morality when the primal need to aggressively assert oneself arises. We must also, as a society, come to the agreement that bullying behavior isn’t acceptable, neither in childhood nor in adulthood. The current movement toward making our schools and other learning institutions “Bully-Free Zones” is a start, but we also need to face the truth about adult aggressors. Bullying is not a uniquely adolescent problem and it needs to be addressed accordingly. According to a 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, thirty-five percent of adults report being bullied in the workplace. Such a hostile environment increases the likelihood of depression, anxiety, and is naturally counterproductive to the success of the group. And yet it continues, ultimately because we allow it to.

I’m one of those idealistic freaks who would like to remake the world in her image (perhaps this is another reason why I’ve always been a bit unpopular…). For as long as I can remember, my relationships with people have been contingent on the “you either really like me, or you really don’t” principle, but I, just like most people, would prefer to be taken as I am and judged on my merits rather than my faults. (Or better yet, not judged at all.) In aiming to treat other people how I want to be treated (your Momma really did have that right), I have a fairly laissez faire attitude with people — you are what you are, and that’s fine by me. I will take you as you come.

Granted, you can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time. You aren’t going to be friends with everyone you meet, but you can sure as hell make up your mind to be civil. And if you’re one of those people who have engaged in divisive, bullying behavior — particularly if you’re a women waging social war on other women — it needs to stop. See the bigger picture: how can we change the things that are wrong with the world, if we continue to be a part of the problem?

Women can be misogynists, too.

In the wake of the shooting in Isla Vista, a conversation entered the mainstream media about the idea of male entitlement and the associated societal structures that breed this sort of mentality. Rape culture. Ingrained misogyny. Got me thinking, where else do I observe the abuse of dominance? It’s not just in the minds of the “friend-zoned” or out-and-out woman-haters. It’s in all of us. It’s everywhere. And women contribute, too.

In particular, it occurred to me that there is a fundamental conflict between what women say and what we do. For example, there are scores of books and movies dedicated to the average American woman’s notion of romance. You could call it “girl porn”, as seen in the film Don Jon: Men like to watch people getting it on, but women? Women like romantic comedies, romantic dramas, harlequin romance novels, Disney-style fairytales. (Parenthetically, it should be noted that OF COURSE there are females that enjoy pornography. But I’m going to wager a guess that most women go for the “romance porn” stuff.)

In these books and films we see male characters who are often disrespectful of a woman’s right to her own body, tending to act forcefully, or even aggressively, to assert their male right to female attention. These characters are written as Alpha-males, dominant over their women and their environment — they know what they want, they feel entitled to it, they are persistent, and they get it. Alternately, we have the “wounded soul” male — a person whose whole life experience has been so fraught that we can hardly blame him for being so flawed. We read Twilight (crazy obsessive stalker) and 50 Shades of Grey (emotionally unstable man-child who is borderline abusive, but has a heart of gold) and we swoon over these damaged male characters who treat their women poorly and possessively. Somehow, the lonely, needing quality gives these fictional men the right to exhibit aggressively toxic masculinity, particularly in their pursuit of the female protagonist. The stalking, the jealous rage, the single-minded focus of the male’s attention on the female — our culture has conditioned us to believe that these stunts are romantic. And we just eat that shit up. Men see that, see the hypocrisy in it, and come to the conclusion that all women a.) don’t really know what they want, b.) are sending mixed messages/being manipulative, and c.) that this crap:

This is what women want.
This is what women want.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read them all. I like them. They’re my guilty little pleasure. Some romance novels are actually very well-written and well-balanced, depicting not an over-hyped ideal, but a realistic struggle that we can all relate to. In a genre largely written for women by women, there is a tremendous opportunity to extol the virtues of sexual equality. But even when it comes to less delicately written erotica, I enjoy getting lost in the romance, the intrigue — mentally substituting the weak female protagonist for myself (because that’s exactly what these books are for), and embarking on a whirlwind romantic flight of fancy.

But then I stop. I put the book down. And I think about how I would never, ever, EVER accept that kind of treatment from my partner in real life. I think it’s time to own up to the truth: that, unfortunately, my partaking of this form of media is complicit acceptance ingrained misogyny. And that it is a bit hypocritical.

Women can, and sometimes do, send mixed messages. But it isn’t because we’re emotionally manipulative or cunning. We’re taught that clear, explicit messages of arousal or consent are unromantic. That being assertive is slutty. That you have to wait for the man to make the move. A woman that propositions a man is a slut, but women who are selective or discerning when selecting a sexual partner are prudish and condescending. Those words in bold? I don’t want to be any of those things, but it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” proposition. I know a lot of women who feel the same way.

I think it’s time that we all start taking responsibility for the ways in which our culture has altered our consciousness on sexual norms. For women, that means coming to grips with the fact that we are literally buying into patriarchy — not just by spending money on “romance porn”, but also spending billions of dollars every year on attempts to embody a standard of beauty that is unrealistic and psychologically, economically, and politically damaging.

Truthfully, I like getting dolled-up. I do my hair and make-up like a 1950’s pin-up model, not to attract male attention, but because it makes me feel good about myself and gives me confidence. But lest I forget that I am a product of my culture and my environment, I have to ask myself, how much of what I like is because I really like it and how much is because I’ve been conditioned to like it?

Girls grow up in a world where we are taught that our primary (if not our only) commodity is our beauty. While it’s not necessarily taboo to be an intelligent, articulate, or independent girl, it’s not so often praised either. I, for one, clearly remember feeling the need at eight years old to suck in my tummy when passing boys in the supermarket, but I didn’t begin pride myself on my smarts until I was in my 20’s. And that wasn’t because I was raised by misogynists (I wasn’t) or because I grew up in an environment that devalued educational accomplishments (I didn’t). It’s because even at that young age, I understood that my worth as a human being was inextricably bound to my appearance, so I had better make it good.

Women and men alike need to come together in the spirit of finding balance and establishing equality — first by confronting our previously unacknowledged hypocrisies and universally accepted “truths”, and then by making a commitment to change them. In the last few weeks I’ve heard a lot of people say “feminist” like it’s a dirty word, I think because there is a common misconception that being a feminist means “a women who hates men“. To assume such a thing is to miss the point entirely, and ultimately, to doom the fight by misdirecting the conversation (once again) towards hate and extremism. It’s about equality — and if that’s what we want, ladies and gents, then we all need to come to terms with the ways in which we directly or inadvertently add to the imbalance.