Archive for December, 2013

December 19, 2013

Breaking the Silence

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

One of the worst things about coming home is seeing and hearing just how ignorant the people around me are when it comes to offensive and prejudiced language. Since coming home on Friday, I think I’ve heard at least a dozen racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or heterosexist comments made in regular conversation.

These aren’t blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or heterosexist people either. These are my friends and loved ones — people who are incredibly intelligent, loving, and compassionate. That’s why it saddens me so deeply to hear offensive language, stereotypes, and slurs being tossed around with no regard for people’s feelings or well-being. These people have the capacity to speak without offending. I don’t understand why, in the grand catalog of humor, someone would need to stoop so low to make jokes that target, objectify, and ridicule an entire group of people. They should know better…

Being basically the only minority I know in my group of friends (and the only semi-liberal queer feminist in my family), the burden kind of falls on me to speak up. Not saying it should be that way, but that’s how it always seems to end up, isn’t it? Naturally, I’m forced to be the representative of every oppressed, targeted, marginalized social group ever. I’m getting a pretty good idea of how Atlas felt. But, if I don’t do anything about what’s happening, nobody will. Everyone around me is completely content with the current social standards (though, I’d assume that this is the default setting for those in the favored majority).

It looks like I have plenty of work to do as a bystander. It might not make me many friends, but I’m through giving others my silent consent. In the past, my speaking out against offensive language with my friends and family has resulted in people resenting me, so I’m expecting the same kind of backlash moving forward. Around here, people treat “political correctness” like a dirty word. That mentality is part of the problem and really stunts my efforts to affect change where I live (it was much easier back in Portland, OR). People hear one word about social change and they just start to tune you out. It’s a good thing I have the rare gift of persistence.

If people really want to shoot the messenger, I don’t mind biting the bullet. What’s important to me is that people begin to think critically about what they say and how it affects the people around them. People have gotten way too comfortable using offensive language around me and I’m done sitting silently while they make my skin crawl and my ears burn. It’s time we started holding each other accountable for our words and actions. And that’s precisely what I’m going to start doing.

Prepare yourself, Utah. I’m comin’ for ya.

December 11, 2013

Emasculating Men: A Fiction Packaged as Fact

No, we’re not talking about castration. If that’s what you’re here for, I’m sorry to disappoint you. This is about the other definition for emasculate:

emas·cu·late  transitive verb \i-ˈmas-kyə-ˌlāt\
: to make (a man) feel less masculine : to deprive (a man) of his male strength, role, etc.
: to make (something) weaker or less effective

Despite how many of us women were raised, it’s not our job to make accommodations in our lives for the male ego. I see it time and time again, where an otherwise powerful and independent woman feels this pang of obligation to let a man do something for her that she could very well do on her own. 

You see women feign weakness so that a man can open a bottle for her. Women walk slower so that men can get to the door first. Women resist the knee-jerk reaction to reach for the bill at dinner. You even see women pretending to be more drunk than they actually are so that men can feel like they have more self-control. But why? Why would anyone put so much effort into something as silly as this? When I ask men what they think about this practice, even they are stunned. “Why would you want to make yourself look like an idiot?” 

We do it because we’ve been taught to. Because many of us have been conditioned since childhood to give men opportunities to feel superior to women. We’ve been taught how to constantly look like we’re in need of assistance. Somewhere down the line, it was decided for us that in order for a man to feel normal (AKA to feel “like a man”), he needs to always have something to hold over a woman. Strength, power, influence, money. And we, as women, have been told that if you treat a man with the respect that his male role entitles him to, then he will in turn be gracious enough to use his strength, power, influence, and money to your benefit. 

Essentially, women have been taught to do one thing over another (far easier) thing, for fear of emasculating her male counterpart.

This reminds me of an interesting conversation I once had with my father. I was probably only seventeen at the time and we were at a family friend’s house to watch a boxing match. My family – including my father, mother, younger sister, and partner – were all in attendance. My partner and I were talking to some friends and I brought up an anecdote about my partner getting really, really scared during a horror movie. Everyone laughed and enjoyed the story. But moments later, my father approached me and asked to speak to me in private.

We moved away from the group and my father said to me, “You can’t do that.” When I asked him what he was referring to, he said, “You can’t tell everyone that he was scared and you weren’t. Do you know how emasculating that is for a man? You need to apologize.” 

I looked at my partner from across the room and he seemed perfectly fine to me, smiling and laughing away with our friends. He didn’t seem betrayed or embarrassed, so I was confused as to why my father was so concerned.

Later that week, I brought it up with my partner. I asked him if I made him feel embarrassed when I told that story and he said no. He said it was funny and if the tables had been turned, he would have told the same story about me. “We pick on each other because we love each other. That’s just what we do,” he said. 

That was a really defining moment in my life. And without really meaning to, my father changed the entire dynamic of our father-daughter relationship. Because in that moment, I felt that he put protecting the social construction of masculinity and the role of the man over the contentment and happiness of his daughter. He essentially drew a line in the sand, saying, “These are the things you cannot do if you want to be a good woman for your partner,” and dared me to cross it. 

The fact of the matter is that there is no one-size-fits-all for interactions between men and women. There is no single right way to do things. If your significant other wants to pay for your dinner and you want them to pay for your dinner, that’s great. As long as the two of you agree that that’s the way you want to handle the situation, then it works for you! And that’s awesome!

But you should never feel like you have to sacrifice your authenticity to accommodate for someone else’s feel-goods. Whoever decided that was okay was – in my opinion – an idiot. In a truly great relationship – romantic or otherwise – both parties should feel like they contribute equally to the success of the relationship. If one person constantly needs to feel superior to the other, that should be a big red flag that something needs fixing.