Category Archives: Society

Today on Sexist Morning Radio: Dating Games and Double Standards

This morning on my five minute commute to work, I caught part of a segment on my local morning radio show.  They were talking about relationships, dating, and the games “women” play.  (Granted, they may have talked about games “men” play too and I just missed that part.)  The part of the segment that I caught involved them talking to a female caller who talked about how she broke up with this guy and when he started dating some “hot chick,” she turned around and started dating his cousin, apparently with the purpose of making said ex jealous. She also commented that the guy still wants her back, despite it being five years later.  One of the hosts (Duffy, I believe — it usually seems to be Duffy) called her actions evil and suggested she’s just keeping him around to make her feel better about herself.

Evil?  Really?  Now granted, I would not date someone in an attempt to make a third party — even an ex — jealous.  Nor would I necessarily brag about an ex who still has feelings for me. I’d either take that ex back or encourage them to move on with my life.  I’m not big on games.  I’m also not big on calling such actions, evil though.

I’m also not big on acting as if — as the host does — that these kinds of games is something that all women engage in.  I know several women who wouldn’t do such things.  They’re much more interested in finding men (or other women) they like who also like them and enjoy each others’ company.  When it comes to exes (or other guys there’s not a mutual connection with), they’re much more inclined to cut them loose than play such games.  Tarring all women as such game players is both inaccurate and sexist.

I’m also not big on acting as if only women engage in these sorts of games, either.  Truth be told, I know guys who engage in such games, and other games.  Some guys go by the attitude that they have to “treat a women like shit” in order gain and keep her interest.  Guys are just as capable of such nonsense, and some of them engage in it regularly.

But you know what?  We don’t treat men who play games the same way.  A morning radio host isn’t likely to call such a guy or his action evil.  That’s because we live in a society where we still view guys playing such games as “men being men.”  We ignore it.  We permit it.  Hell, we even celebrate it and make televisions shows glorifying it.

I’m not a fan of games.  I prefer to treat dating and relationships as something much more direct and honest[1].  But I also prefer to be honest and note that a lot of people do this and that it’s not limited to a particular gender or other class.  Nor do I want to support or even ignore a double standard where such games are condemned when played by one group but praised when played by another.

Note:
[1]  And there’s a whole separate rant I or someone else could go into about how society tends to frown on women who are so direct and honest when it comes to relationships and their expectations, which often serves to push them towards such games.

Entitled Assholes Online: Policing Emotions and Behavior

My previous installment of “Entitled Assholes Online” involved threats involved threats of physical violence.  While this installment will be devoid of such threats, I promise that it will not be any less manipulative, nor will it be lacking in its own awfulness.

By way of background, a few months ago, I posted the following ad online:

I’m a 38 year old computer professional looking to talk and connect with guys who are mature, funny, interesting, and personable. I tend to be the shy guy who is a total treasure and keeps a person in stitches once I get to know them enough to feel comfortable around them. I’d love to meet someone who enjoys movies, dining out, conversations that range anywhere from silly to deeply serious, and just having a good time. Someone who also believes in romance would be a good thing as well.

Drop me an email and lets see if we can relate.

I didn’t really expect it to get many, if any replies.  I posted it to a site that is notorious for hookup ads.  But I figured there was the lonely section that was clearly marked “romance, NO HOOKUPS” and there was nothing to lose by giving it a shot.

This is the first message I got from one guy:

I’m 225 6ft and 6in cock.
It is so hard to meet a nice guy to connect with. I’ve almost given up.  Looking for a good good friend.
Let’s talk.  Please send some kind of pic.

Attached to this message was FOUR PICTURES (or four copies of the same picture, I’m not sure which) of said cock.  And we’re not talking about this kind of cock, either:

rooster-j.jpg
I was flabbergasted and reviewed my ad, wondering what I said that would give any indication that this was the kind of reply I wanted.  After reassuring myself that I had made it pretty clear I was looking for romance and a chance to get to know a guy and just not what he was hiding in his pants, I sent a reply:

Wow.  Four pictures of your penis, but none of your face.  You told me how tall and how heavy you are, but not your name.  You say you’re looking to connect, yet you’ve told me nothing that might help us find a point of common interest.

I think it’s safe to say you responded to the wrong craigslist ad.  Your actions make it pretty evident to me that we’re looking for different things.

I figured that would be the end of it, but I got a reply from the guy:

Yea I know sorry.  It’s hard to figure this out.  I’m not really ok with sharing face pic right away.  It’s ok.  Never mind.  Just trying to connect with someone.  🙂

Okay, I could get that he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing a face picture right off the bat, though it did leave me wondering if he was another closet case.  I figured he responded, so I’d offer some admittedly unsolicited advice:

Bit of helpful advice then:  When answering an ad that talks about romance and never mentions sex, try starting with, “Hi, my name is ___.  My hobbies and interests include _____.”  Go from there.

If you’re just looking for sex – and that’s how your email came across – then don’t respond to ads that talk about romance and never mention sex.  Instead, respond to ads that have titles like “looking to get fucked tonight” or “nsa fun.”

I figured that would be enough to make it clear that he really should either revise his approach or stick to ads that were more geared toward casual sex and anonymous anyway.

He replied:

IC.  Ok thanks.  Good point.  Well that’s why I responded to the add.  I do want romance and not just sex.  I need a guy I can hang out with and play golf or basketball with.  But I do want sex…  I just now it’s not all about sex.  :). Well Im am also married and need discretion.  Anyway….

FYI,  you sound univiting and angry.  Did mean to set ya off.  Just sayin…

At this point, I was livid.  Note that it took him three emails before he admitted that not only is he closeted, but he’s married.  So he’s looking for someone to sneak around with behind his wife’s back.  I saw nothing in my ad (go read it again) that suggested I was interested in being some married man’s dirty little secret.  Quite frankly, I pretty much find “Gee, thanks for letting me fuck you, now I got to get back to my wife” the antithesis of romance.  Others are free to disagree, of course.

And that bit about “sounding uninviting and angry”?  Pure manipulative and entitled bullshit.  (And agin, I suspect this is something my female readers could write entire dissertations on and lecture me on for hours.)  Did he really expect me to be grateful for any attention from him or any other guy?  Was I supposed to simply bend over for whoever expressed interest?  It sure seemed that way.  I shot off my final message, deciding it was time to remind him that he’s not the only one that has expectations, wants, and needs:

Ah, so you’re looking for a friend wirh benefits that you can hang out with and have sex with before going back to your wife.

Did you see the part where I said I was looking for romance?  Have you considered what I want at all?  Have you considered how your current situation runs contrary to what I said I’m looking for right up front?  Because it sure doesn’t look like it from where I’m sitting.

If I seem angry, it’s because I am angry.  Frankly, I think it’s an understandable emotional response, given how you approached me compared to what I said I was looking for.  Wouldn’t you agree?

And if I seem uninviting, it’s because your every action so far has left me finding you an unlikely prospect in terms of what *I’m* looking for.

He got in the last word:

Right.  Friends with benefits.  But friends can be romantic too.  Anyway.  I see we are not a fit.  Thanks and good luck.  🙂

Now, I don’t know.  Maybe some people do act romantically toward friends.  That’s just not my experience.  And quite frankly, this guy hadn’t shown any indication that he was capable of romance or even understood romance as I understand it.  Like I said, I don’t find it romantic to get all sexed up and then abandoned for the wife.  (And that’s really not cool for the wife either.)

I’ll also note that he didn’t even acknowledge my question about whether he thought my anger was understandable.  Once again, he demonstrated that he didn’t want to even consider my point of view or my needs.  He simply wants someone to give him what he wants and feel satisfied with whatever — if anything — he feels like giving in return.

And I loved how he mentioned that he saw weren’t a good fit.  Gee, I’m pretty sure I said that five messages earlier in the exchange.

Entitled Assholes Online: The Fake Favor

I’ve been quiet for some time now.  I can’t promise I’ll be back regularly at this point.  However, I wanted to take a moment so share something with you as an introduction to a series I’ve been mulling over.

I spend a significant amount of time online with various activities:  blogging, online dating, social networking sites, and just tooling around having a good time.  Over the past few months (actually, it’s been the past few years, but I’m focusing on a more recent window of history) I’ve dealt with all kinds of guys who wanted something out of me (hint:  it’s usually some form of sex) and feeling entitled toward me.  Talking it over with a friend, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at some of these men, their mentalities, and the behavior it encourages them to engage in.  Part of this is because, the more I look around and talk to women, it’s very similar — though not nearly as common — as a lot of the bullshit that women have to put up with, too.  So I thought it would be interesting to do this to expose and combat some men’s sense of entitlement in general and how ugly it can get, and hopefully encourage a bit more empathy for women who deal with this thing all the time.  (Hint:  If you’re the kind of person who thinks I as a guy shouldn’t have to put up with this bullshit but think nothing of it if a woman is given the same treatment because “that’s just the way things work,” uh-oh!)

I didn’t move on this for a couple months.  However, I had the perfect exchange earlier this week that convinced me it’s the perfect introductory material for this post.  To give a bit of background, I recently joined a social networking website that caters to people who are into or curious about kink.  Through it, I found a local group which maintains an online presence and discussion groups on the site.  I introduced myself in their main discussion group  indicating that I was hoping to attend their next public social function and wanted to know if there was anything I needed to do, such as give advanced notice.  I got a handful of warm welcomes and people told me that no advance notice was necessary and they looked forward to seeing me.  All very pleasant.

Then a few hours later, I got the following message from an older man:

not gay but if you wanted someone to go with I’ll gladly come with you. But and not gay married , but I do enjoy man head every once in a while, and no my wife don’t know, and I don’t want her or anyone else to either.

Okay, at first glance, this may seem like a friendly invitation and a cool idea.  After all, the idea of having someone to pal around with at an event where I don’t know anyone is very appealing to me.  If one of my friends made such an offer, I’d jump at it.  Under other circumstances — that is, if the rest of what I have to say about this message didn’t happen to be true — then I might have accepted.  The thing is, this isn’t a friend.  It’s a total stranger.  Offering to do me a favor by giving me some company on my way to a new social experience.  That strikes me as potentially awkward.

But as the message continues, it becomes pretty clear that he’s not really offering me a favor at all.  After all, it’s pretty clear that he’s looking for a blowjob on the side in exchange for this favor.  Sure, some people might argue that he never said he wants me to blow him.  But let’s be honest, if you’re not looking for me to give you head, why mention that you like the occasional blow-job from the occasional man at all. So now there are strings that are attached to this great favor he’s supposedly offering me.

And the strings get even more complicated after that.  He makes it clear that he’s married and that he doesn’t want her or anyone else to know he fools around with guys.  So now if I accept his “generous favor,” not only is it presumed I’ll likely blow him, but I’m required to remain quiet about it and never tell a soul.  In effect, I have to submit to becoming his dirty little secret.  Suddenly, this favor that I never asked for seems more about him getting what he wants, and he’s not even willing to do me the courtesy of admitting to that.

This lack of honesty isn’t surprising mind you.  Remember that he just admitted that he had a wife, that he enjoys fooling around with men behind her back, and is likely looking to do so with me.  There’s not a single thing about that which I find honest.  This lack of honesty is increased when I check his profile, which says he’s single.  So apparently, he’s also lying to everyone online about his marital status.

So here we have a guy who has — at best — a strained relationship with the truth and is pretending to do me a favor while trying to get something out of me in reality.  He’s shown no indication that he cares what I want at this point and has made it clear that what he wants is paramount and Not To Be Ignored.  At this point, I’m thinking there’s only one appropriate response to his “offer.”  I decided to go with a more civil version of it instead:

No thanks.

I would have thought that this would have been the end of the conversation.  But he decided to follow up with me.

okay not a problem and meant no disrespect if that’s how you rook it

Again, at first glance this reply seemed nice enough.  Then I got thinking about that second bit about him meaning no disrespect versus “how I took it.”  It’s the whole “intent isn’t magic” argument in a nutshell.

I don’t care what the guy meant, I find everything about his “offer” and the circumstances surrounding it disrespectful to everyone even remotely involved.  I find his choice to suggest I have sex with him in his first message disrespectful.  I find all the rules and conditions he wants to place on things after assuming I might be interested in having sex with him disrespectful.  I find the fact that he’s seeking to fool around on his wife — who I’m guessing believes she has been promised and therefore can expect total monogamy — to be disrespectful to her.  I find the fact he’s claiming to be single on the site — a site that welcomes and embraces openly poly people, no less — to be another act of disrespect, both toward his wife and toward everyone he’s conversing with at the site.  So for someone who doesn’t “mean” any disrespect, he’s managed to dish out an incredible mountain of it, as far as I’m concerned.

Plus, there’s the fact that he gets the idea that I might find his offer somehow disrespectful, otherwise he wouldn’t be telling me he didn’t “mean” it.  Now a more decent person might actually turn around and say, “Hey, did you find this disrespectful?  If so, could you explain why?”  (Then again, a troll trying to convince me I was wrong might do the same.)  Such a person might try to understand why someone might find what he did disrespectful.  But not this guy. This guy doesn’t care why I might find him disrespectful.  He’s convinced himself that how I feel doesn’t matter.  He just doesn’t want to be accused of being disrespectful.

If you’re sitting there thinking, “That’s pretty disrespectful in itself,” pat yourself on the back.

I also got the impression he wanted me to reassure him that oh no, I didn’t find what he said disrespectful at all.  In other words, he not only doesn’t care how I actually feel, he expects me to tailor my feelings for his comfort and convenience.  Um…no.

I spent a few minutes pondering if I really wanted to get into all of the above with the guy.  I eventually decided against it.  At this point, I just wanted to end the conversation.  So I sent a very short message:

Bye.

And that’s when the fecal matter hit the mechanical air circulator.  Apparently, dude didn’t like being dismissed without reassurances that his behavior was a-okay.  I got this back:

now when I do go to the social I’m gonna point you out as being a ass , as I said I didn’t mean any disrespect to you and I said I’m sorry , but that racist ass attitude you wow be accepted this is a place where people get together make friend communicate laugh joke have fun, and people like you will not be welcome . I’ll remember to point you out ! and thabks

Well, alrighty then!  So much for not meaning any disrespect.  Dude decided he didn’t like being dismissed — as if he was entitled to my continuing attention — so he decided to make threats and accusations.

First of all, note that contrary to his current statement, he never actually said he was sorry for anything.  He simply said that he hoped I didn’t think him disrespectful since he didn’t “mean” to be.  That is not an apology, though I understand that we live in a  society where this sort of thing is increasingly presented as an apology.

He goes on to accuse me of having a racist attitude.  I’m not sure why he would come to that conclusion.  At this point, I had no idea what race he was.  For all I knew he was white.  The accusation of racism just seems to be tacked on here as something he’s hoping will cow me into accepting his sense of entitlement.

To take a moment to go on a tangent, I think this is particularly troublesome in that it only serves to provide noise people can then use to ignore actual criticisms of racism.  Racism — especially in the form of racial bias and privilege — are very real and troubling things in our world, and things I admit that I’m not immune to.  To be frank, I grew up in a predominantly white area of the country.  In my combined junior high and senior high school of roughly five hundred students, I can only recall seeing three students who weren’t white.  There are many issues that are either unique to non-white people or affect them disproportionately more than they do white people, and I’m unfamiliar with and likely even unaware of them in many ways.  So I have no doubt that there are times that I say or do things that may be racially insensitive and even contribute to systemic racism. Those are things that people should legitimately call me out on when they see me do it.  I don’t want to see those callouts become silenced or go ignored because of some dude who raises the specter of racism just to try and score points against me in an argument.  (And I certainly won’t ignore such callouts!)

I think what also gets me is that I’m open to having my privilege and problematic behavior exposed, even when I feel initially defensive or uncomfortable as a result.  So his apparent attempt to use such an accusation to get me to react in a certain way seems counterproductive to me.

The whole message, in fact, is a way to get me to react in a certain way.  He threatens to ruin my reputation and paint me as a rude and racist person because I didn’t act the way he wanted me to.  So not only has he still not given up on the idea that he’s entitled to dictate how I respond to him, but he feels entitled to resort to extreme manipulation if I resist his dictates.  But remember, he’s meant no disrespect this whole time.

I’ll also note at this point that this is where I suspect I have an advantage over a woman who finds herself in a similar situation.  Men are granted more freedom in society’s mind when it comes to how we respond to others.  As a man, most people are probably going to allow me a certain amount of incivility and briskness.  A woman in this situation, on the other hand, is more likely to be told that she should have been more polite, gentle, and even “lady-like” in turning the guy down.  Personally, I disagree vehemently, but there is a lot of pressure on women to be “nice.”

One thing my friends — not to mention former friends — know about me is that I don’t like threats.  I don’t like being manipulated.  At this point, I decided that politely declining and abruptly ending the conversation were no longer sufficient responses.  So I let him know exactly what I thought of his threats:

Sure thing. And when confronted, I’ll gladly whip out my phone and share this conversation with whoever confronts me. They’ll see that you approached me and potentially propositioned me for oral sex behind your wife’s back. I’ll then show them your profile where you falsely claim to be single. Tell me, how does the group feel about liars?

Note that I didn’t respond to accusations of rudeness or racism.  I simply let him know that if he showed up and tried to ruin my name and if anyone took his accusations seriously and decided to confront or even ask me about it[1], I figured I’d simply let the exchange speak for itself.  If they thought me rude, I would accept that.  But I was pretty sure that they’d take more issue with the level of dishonesty and the threat to make trouble on his part.

I guess dude agreed with me, since he immediately changed tactics:

then U can also show them later after my friends wait for you and beat the shit out you and I don’t give a fuck that you show them that, u still have your ass kick, I only ask you a question, you got rude so I DON’T GIVE A FUCK I’LL STILL KICK YOUR ASS ME AND MY BUDS , now shot that

Since I made it clear that threats to ruin my reputation weren’t going to work, dude decides to go with threats of violence.  This isn’t surprising.  There seems to be a strong undercurrent in our society that encourages and permits men to resort to threats of violence and even actual violence when things don’t go there way.  This guy is simply following through with that.

Again, I will note that this is where I think I have an advantage over women.  Even as a gay man — because gay men do face threatened and actual violence — the idea of someone committing violence against me is not as big and real an issue for me as it is for a lot of women.  This is actually only the second such threat I’ve ever personally received, whereas I know women who receive such threats on a  regular basis.

At this point, I decided to quit responding to dude.  My personal take is that when it comes to getting threatened, it’s time to walk away.  I shared the conversation with a few people, who encouraged me to contact the group holding the social I plan to attend, as the group may have had other problems with the same guy.  So I sent off a message to one of the board members that had responded to my public posting.

In the meantime, Dude decided he couldn’t let things go at threatening to form a mob and beat me.  His next message was pretty unremarkable:

lmao@u

I’m not sure what exactly he’s laughing at me for.  Is he laughing at the thought of me lying beaten and bloody someplace?  Or does he think I’m actually scared at this point?  Apparently, after a few more moments, he realized that he might have crossed a line (without “meaning to,” I’m sure) and could have gotten himself in trouble.  I get the following:

hey they can close this page I don’t give a fuck because I always can open another, and bam there u go I see you again bitch!

Apparently, he realized that he could conceivably get banned by the site for threatening another user.  But he wanted to make sure that this wouldn’t stop him from harassing me.  He’ll stalk me as long as he wants to.

Fortunately for me, I haven’t heard from him in over 24 hours.  Apparently, he got tired of stalking me already?  Again, I suspect I’m very lucky in this respect.

Note:

[1] To quote Jayne Cobb, “I smell a lot of ‘if’ coming off this plan.”

The more I think about men’s issues, the more I want to promote feminism

Patriarchy sucks for a lot of people.  Some of those people are men.  After all, patriarchy seeks to establish some sort of code on what it means to be a man and enforce it.  That means that if some man — I’ll use myself as an example — don’t meet that code, we are deemed “not man enough” and are often ridiculed and mistreated by the patriarchy’s many enforcers.

According to the patriarchy, my “manhood” is open for debate because:

  • I am terrible at sports.
  • I tend to be very sensitive an emotional.
  • I like various “girly” things.
  • I like kissing other men, not to mention doing other things with them.

Being teased or having my “manhood” questioned isn’t fun.  Like I said, not being a sufficiently sanctioned “real man” in the patriarchy sucks.

But you know what sucks even more in the patriarchy?  Being a woman.  This is because women are the real targets of the patriarchy.[1]  The whole reason that the patriarchy wants to define what it means to be a “real man” is to set men apart from women, demonstrate that they’re extra-special, and thereby justify and maintain male superiority, male privilege, and male dominance.

Patriarchy’s mistreatment of me is a side effect of its real objectives, which is to wage war on women.  To put it more bluntly, I’m nothing more than collateral damage.[2]  Furthermore, while I may be hurt by patriarchy, I also benefit from it and the privileges being male grants me:

  • It’s highly unlikely that my accomplishments will be overlooked or diminished by men who are more interested in how big my breasts are or how good I am in bed.
  • I don’t have to be nearly as worried about whether the man who strikes up a conversation with me at the coffee shop will rape me because he thinks he’s entitle to any man he decides to be friendly toward.
  • Not many people will be inclined to assume that I can’t possibly be an engineer, a firefighter, a doctor, or a soldier simply because I’m a man.[3]

I don’t bring this up to diminish the fact that I and other men are hurt by the patriarchy.  I do, however, want to put the harm done to us into the proper context, because I feel that context recommends the best response I and other men can make.

If we are collateral damage in the patriarchy’s war on women, then I think it’s time to start allying ourselves with the women in that war.  After all, if we’re all being hurt by the patriarchy, it’s time we all start fighting against that same patriarchy.  And that’s why I’m for promoting feminism and feminists.

This is where I think it’s important to understand that as men hurt by the patriarchy, we’re collateral damage rather than the actual targets, our role in this fight is also secondary.  I strongly believe we need to follow the women’s lead in this fight.  As I said in my previous entry, we can’t make this all about us, even though we will benefit in the process.[4]  But we need to be willing to set aside our egos and our desire to take the center stage — reasserting that same male privilege that the patriarchy already grants us[5] — and work as supporters and allies.

Notes:
[1] Actually, I suspect that trans* people of all types also qualify as real targets as well.  After all, whereas I might question the gender policing that the patriarchy uses to enforce male superiority and dominance, trans* people reject it thoroughly and completely by having the “gall” to refuse to “stick with their rightly assigned gender.”

[2] Not that this makes me or other man any less injured.

[3] People might assume that I can’t do some of those things because I personally am lacking in some way as an individual.  They’d be right.  But there’s a difference between that and assuming women can’t do those same things because they’re the same.  I’m a man, so I get to be an individual.

[4] And despite what some may think or claim, many feminists want us men to benefit from feminism.  I’ve heard far more women talk about how patriarchy hurts men than I’ve heard men talk about it.

[5] And that’s the thing.  It seems like a lot of men who are hurt by the patriarchy aren’t ready to give up the ways in which the patriarchy still serves them.  They want to be able to “like girly things” — to pick an example — yet still maintain some sort of special status over women.  Fighting the patriarchy doesn’t work like that though.  You fight it all or you ca’t really fight it at all.

If I’m going to be an ally, it can’t be about me

Some time ago, I had a friend who liked to be “helpful.”  He loved to do nice things for others.  He loved talking about all the nice things he did for other people.  It got annoying rather quickly.

Mind you, there’s nothing annoying about helping other people.  In fact, such expressions of altruism, hospitality, and compassion are something I personally value greatly — and think everyone should value greatly.

There’s also nothing inherently wrong with sharing stories where one helps another.  It’s often a good way of raising awareness of the problems and needs of others.  If my friend Becky mentions in passing that she gave our mutual friend Ralph some extra grocery money, I might respond by saying that I didn’t realize Ralph was strapped for cash and ask if he’s okay.  I might even contact Ralph and ask him if there’s anything else he needs.

No, the problem with my friend’s behavior was that he was bragging.  What’s more, it quickly became clear that his intentions were not so much to help others but to draw attention to himself in that “look at what a great guy I am” sort of way.  In time, I began wondering if he cared about the people he helped at all beyond a way to show off what a great guy he was.

I thought of this friend as I got involved in a conversation over at Fannie’s Room regarding those people who wish to be seen as, to paraphrase Fannie, heroic allies of women or racial minorities (or QUILTBAG people or any other marginalized group) for the simplest and most basic things while they ignore subtler, more complex, and equally important (not to mention more common) manifestations of marginalization.

While I certainly agreed with the point Fannie was making, I took it one step further:

You know, I never really got this mentality.  I have no desire to be a “heroic feminist ally.”  Quite frankly, doing so would strike me as making being a feminist ally all about me.  (Do I really need to spell out why this is problematic?)  Personally, I’d much prefer feminists give me an honest critique of where I do well and where I need to improve.

I want to expand on that point.  When a person is acting as an ally to others, it’s not about them, and it’s inappropriate and rude to make it about them.  People who wish to be an ally — whether it’s an ally to women, QUILTBAG people, racial minorities, or some other group — need to understand this fact quite clearly.  Without doing so, one isn’t much of an ally.

On those occasions that I write about feminist issues as a man — or should I ever right about trans* issues as a cisgender man or racial issues as a white man — I don’t do so in order to gain praise.  I do so to help out women (or trans* people or people of other races), and I believe I wholeheartedly have a duty to do my best to help them.  Part of helping them means not drawing attention to or accolades for myself in the process.

That’s why of all the blog posts I’ve ever written, the blog posts I write about women are probably the ones I think hardest about and fret the most over.  It’s easy for me to write one about gay male sexuality, Pagan spirituality, or my past experiences as a fundamentalist.  I’m intimately familiar with those subjects on a personal level.  When I write about issues that affect women, I’m writing about someone else’s experiences and struggles as an outsider.  That calls for great care and attention, because it’s not about me at all.

And that’s the way it should be.

A book on Pagan minorities.

The other day, Steve Hayes brought the book, “Shades of Faith:  Minority Voices in Paganism” to my attention.  As I’ve been highly interested in the intersectionality between various minority groups, discovering a book that discusses minority people within my own religious community came as a terrific boon.

In her introduction, editor Crystal Blanton describes her own experience as a Black[1] Wiccan High Priestess thus:

I am accustomed to being who I am among those who are different.  I am also accustomed to seeing the world a little differently because my experiences in the world are different.  I am used to being the one that people have turned to when they wanted to ask a question about cultures outside of their own.  This has become a part of what I recognize as a gift the Gods have graced me with; and like the pattern of my life, I have found a path to purpose in being the minority within the minority.

Ms. Blanton acknowledges that some minority people within Paganism have felt alienated within the Pagan community, and I hope that some of the essays within this analogy will provide examples of such experiences.  I am hoping that as a Pagan community builder, I can find ways in which to make my own community more inclusive by discovering needs and issues that I may not have considered before.  After all, I agree with Ms. Blanton’s assessment of how a diversity of voices only strengthens us:

The voice of differences add in an element of harmony to the collective voices of any path or movement.  We are in the human and social movement of spiritual understanding; Black, White, Hispanic, Native or other.  Together we harmonize on a frequency that is powerful enough to manifest divinity on earth and bring spiritual rest to so much collective suffering and pain.  I am honored to be the black key on the piano.


Note:

[1]  This is the description that Ms. Blanton chose for herself.  As such, I felt it fitting to use her own terminology.

Raised Right: False Equivalence

Trigger Warning:  Brief mentions of homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, and rape culture.

There’s a lot of good material to discuss in chapter seven of “Raised Right:  How I Untangled my Faith from Politics” by Alisa Harris.  However, for today’s post, I want to focus on the following statement, made toward the end of the chapter:

Our gayness, blackness, whiteness, femaleness are not parts of a complete identity but our whole identity, elevated from an accident of birth to a political credo.  We become misshapen when all the spiritual and intellectual parts of our identity become merely political.

There have been a number of instances in the book so far where Ms. Harris has offered some wonderful and self-reflective insights into her experiences with conservative Christianity, only to incorrectly — in my opinion at least — projects those insights onto liberals, feminists, QUILTBAG people, and others.  As this particular instance is especially egregious in my mind, I want to take the time to draw attention to it.

There may be some truth, at least in some instances, to Ms. Harris’s suggestion that one’s race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or some other aspect of one’s life that tends to take central stage, possibly to the exclusion of others.  As a gay man, I am particularly fond of the following line spoken by John Mahoney’s character in “The Broken Hearts Club:”

Sometimes I wonder what you boys would do if you weren’t gay. You’d have no identity. It was easy when you couldn’t talk about it. Now it’s all you talk about. You talk about it so much that you forget about all the other things that you are.

However, I think it’s important to understand why this is often the case, which Timothy Olyphant’s character in the same movie explains so well.  To paraphrase[1], he suggests that a lot of gay guys tend to spend so much time hiding, denying, and even trying to change who they are that when they finally come to accept their orientation, they feel like they “have a lot of catching up to do.”

I think we can expand on that sentiment by considering the way in which people are marginalized, repressed, and dehumanized for being gay, female, trans* or a racial minority.  Whether we look at racism, transphobia, homophobia, or misogyny, the message that many in our society — and the system itself — sends to many such people is clear:  “You are not fully human because of who you are.”

When someone’s basic humanity is constantly[2] diminished, challenged, and denied because of some aspect of zirself then it is perfectly reasonable that defending zir humanity from those attacks, which means focusing on that aspect of zirself.  For women, racial minorities, and QUILTBAG people, defending their rights and devoting significant amounts of time is a matter of self-respect and even survival.  Comparing the amount of time that such marginalized people spend on those endeavors to the endeavors of the conservative political efforts — efforts that often translate to the continuing marginalization of other people, is dubious at best.

I am thankful that Ms. Harris has rethought many of her previously held positions and untangled her faith from her politics.  However, when it comes to considering the plight of marginalized people and how they choose to handle that plight, I think she needs to think things through a bit more.

Notes:
[1]  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an exact quote online.

[2]  And the constant presence of such othering of various groups is something that people who do not belong to those groups[3] often miss.

[3]  And this is true among the various marginalized groups, even.  For example, I’m constantly amazed at just how pervasive the rape culture and other forms of misogyny is as I read feminist blogs.  Being gay does not automatically sensitize me to the struggles others face.

Raised Right: Slogans vs. Reality

In chapter six of “Raised Right:  How I Untangled My Faith From Politics,” Alisa Harris describes her initial support of the Iraq War and how she came to question her faith in that war and her stance on war in general.  She describes one experience that served as a catalyst for the re-evaluation process:

But one day I popped in my grandmother’s big-band cassette tape and heard a song that pricked me with uneasiness.  A gunner fell and the sky pilot set aside his Bible and took up the gunner’s gun, singing, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, and we’ll all stay free.”

I hit Fast Forward, scrambling the buoyant trumpets and brassy tune. it was all right to portray the long-suffering nobility of soldiers writing letters to their sweethearts and thinking of home or even the soldiers fretting about their girls sitting under the apple trees with other men.  But with this song I could see the gunner lying in pieces and the sky pilot using the phrase we all toss so casually — “Well, praise the Lord” — before he used the ammunition to rip a hole in a human being.

Prior to the above passage, Harris had described romantic notions of war and acknowledged in hindsight that they had been truly romantic.  However, this song struck her with a more bloody reality.  What seems to strike her however, is not only this bloody reality, but the casual way in which it is talked about and almost taken lightly by the flippant — at least as used in this context — phrase “Praise the Lord.”  She repeats her astonishment about such flippancy of a line uttered by Gary Cooper’s character in Sergeant York compares killing German soldiers in World War II to “shootin’ turkeys.”

As Harris faced the realities of war and the thought that war involves killing people — something generally condemned by the Christian god — she finds such casual talk about it to be troubling.  This forces her to consult with other people, both people in her lives and the great minds of people she respects as she grapples with this tough decision.

It’s this grappling with tough questions and the openness to being discomforted by such easy comments that interests me most in this chapter, because it’s something I think is too often lacking in conservative evangelical circles.[1]  Flippant phrases intended to simplify complex topics and therefore discourage uncomfortable thoughts over them are far too common.  They allow those who hear and repeat them to pass over a topic quite quickly and state a position without thinking abut the full implications of that position — especially for other people.

It’s only when those simplified phrases are shown in contrast to the much messier reality they seek to gloss over that such phrase’s flippancy becomes uncomfortably obvious.  Granted, not everyone responds to that discomfort as well as Harris did.  Rather than digging for deeper answers, some will simply dig their heels in harder and even become hostile to anyone who attempts to show them the deeper complexity of the topic and the horrible insensitivity of such simple catch-phrases.

In time, they might be able to cover up the discomfort again and stop thinking about the reality.  But one might hope that more such moments of discomfort might crop up, continuing to afflict the comfortable until they seek to comfort the afflicted.

Notes:
[1]  In fairness to the conservative evangelical Christians, it’s lacking in plenty of other circles as well, including some of the circles I belong to.

Let there be equality, and let it begin with me

As I’ve considered thinking about Wednesday’s post about the way various women are portrayed in the book “Destiny,” I started wondering what I had hoped to accomplish with the post.  After all, it’s not like I expect future authors of the Rogue Angel series to read my post and try to improve the series’ portrayal of women.  I simply don’t have that level of influence.

In many ways, I think I was engaging in a bit of navel-gazing, though I consider it much-needed navel-gazing.  You see, I’ve never picked up a book and given much thought to how many female characters there were, how those characters interacted, how they were portrayed, or what other notions about women were being reinforced — implicitly or explicitly.

Having spent many months learning more about feminist thought and how society perceives and treats women from fantastic bloggers like Personal Failure, Fannie, Ana, and Mmy, I felt it would be a good exercise to step back, try to see past my own privilege, and consider my reading material in a different light.  In effect, I was seeking to become a better ally to women.

I must say, it was an enlightening experience.  In the course of seeking to recall the book and write a post about it, I found a number of problematic themes to write about — more than I even originally expected to find.  These are things that I would have overlooked normally.  Or if I had noticed them at all, I would have shrugged them off as minor things, rationalizing that with such a powerful, independent woman like Annja as the main character, such things couldn’t possibly matter.  The kickass woman made everything alright, right?

Well, no, I don’t think so.  Positive and negative portrayals of women — or any marginalized group, for that matter — are not mutually exclusive, and the tendency to ignore the latter when the former is present only allows the negative ones to flourish in the culture.  So learning to spot these problematic themes is important.

I think for me, the best example of my normal oversight of this sort of thing came from when I went to write the post and could not remember any women in the story other than Annja.  I had originally boldly declared that the book failed the Bechdel test on that grounds alone.

And yet, as I mined the book for quotes and details for my posts, I ran into two other women in the story.  One woman (Maria) I had forgotten completely.  The other woman (the unnamed server), my brain had surreptitiously rewritten as a man, demonstrating that I’m still perfectly capable of assuming that a man is the default human.  That was not a comfortable realization, let me tell you.  I find myself wondering how many other women in the story I have invisibilized simply by forgetting about them or remaking them into men in my mind.

It would be easy to blame the culture and say that I only did these things because it’s the way my upbringing and experiences have conditioned me to think and behave.  While that’s certainly true, I think that’s a terrible excuse.  After all, I am a part of that society and my actions contribute to the same conditioning of other people unless I do something about it.  And ultimately, I am the one person in the world I have control over.

So writing the post has further awakened me to something about the society and myself that I don’t like.  So now I’m looking to change things by changing myself.  I am currently in the process of reading “Solomon’s Jar,” the second book in the Rogue Angel series, and I’m choosing to read it more mindfully.  I am looking out for female characters so that I can remember them.  I’m looking for problematic themes while reading them, rather than thinking about them after the fact.  I’m keeping an eye out for whatever messages the book might try to send me.  It’ll be interesting to see what I have to say about the next book and my reaction to it.

If I can raise one or two other reader’s awareness, that’ll be a bonus.

Raised Right: Patriotism and Idolatry

Rather than moving on to chapter six of Alisa Harris’s book, “Raised Right:  How I Untangled my Faith from Politics,” I’ve decided to remain in chapter five.  In last Monday’s post, I mainly focused on Harris’s attention on repentance (for others) and the need for Divine wrath to bring it about.  This week, I want to look at the underlying motivation for this desire for nation-wide repentance, which Harris also covers.

Ultimately, when 9/11 struck, the conservative Christians like Harris were hoping for a return to God by the whole nation.  The idea here is that they want to reclaim America’s place as the great Christian nation it was intended to be.[1]  To them, they want to create the great Christian America, which they assume will be the apple of God’s eye, much like Israel was the apple of God’s eye throughout the New Testament.[2]  So pulling down the separation of Church and State and pushing the supremacy of their version of Christianity is essential to establishing their version of God’s kingdom.

Years ago, I wrote on another (now defunct) blog that I felt that American evangelical’s desires to remake America into a Christian Nation struck me as a modern day golden calf.  In their efforts to bring this about, they have ignored the teachings of Christ and the methods for Kingdom-building that he and his apostles promoted throughout the New Testament.  It seems that in this regard, I have found a kindred spirit in Alisa Harris.  Harris even notes that this particular idolatry isn’t new:

Before American democracy became the form of government Christians favored, medieval Christians believed God favored the right of a king to rule over his people, protecting them in return for their allegiance and service.  The Puritan founder of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, didn’t believe we were all equals but that “God Almighty” had made “some … rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, other mean and in subjection.  He and his fellow leaders thought a truly godly commonwealth should drive out Quakers, Catholics, Baptists, dissenters, questioners. … Christians today say the Bible endorses capitalism; Christians two hundred years ago said it endorsed the divine right of kings.  Both missed the point, which is that the Bible is neither an eighteenth- nor a twenty-first-century policy textbook.  It endorses neither the fiefdom nor the global superpower.  America is not a “uniquely Christian” nation, and it never was.

That last statement touches upon the biggest condemnation of the Religious Right’s idolization of America:  They forget that there are other Christians and Christian majorities in the world.  They forget that the Christians in India or Egypt trying to live godly lives deserve as much dignity and respect as their American counterparts.  In focusing on the Great Christian Nation, it seems to me that many American evangelicals have put themselves above their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

Notes:
[1]  Of course, this whole idea is based on the faulty claims of people like David Barton, who seek to prove that America was founded with the intention of making it a Christian nation at all, and particularly the brand of Christianity the Religious Right endorses.

[2]  This is one of the bizarre thing about the relationship between American evangelicals and Israel.  On the one hand, American evangelicals talk about Israel’s status as “God’s chosen people.”  Yet, on the other hand, they see themselves as Israel’s replacement in that official capacity.