Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sex and the City and the Feminist

I have to admit, I was pretty excited when Sex and the City first premiered on TBS. It was smart, funny, engaging, honest, and finally voiced women's sexual and dating concerns in a realistic way. At the time I was also a budding feminist, and felt that somehow, there was something about the show that made life a little bit better for women.

After I grew up and got My Women's Studies Degree, I realized that Sex and the City isn't exactly a beacon of hope for the feminist movement. It plays upon viewers' lingering racism and consumerism, and definitely isn't very radical or anything. However, I'm not one to complain about something just because it hasn't yet achieved perfection, and in general, I think that Sex and the City is really great for women.

One thing that always got me about Sex and the City was the surprising vehemence with which my male friends always proclaimed its inviability. Not only do men not like the show, they "hate" it. They think it's "stupid, "meaningless," worthy of a condescending chuckle and an eye roll. This reaction became even more pronounced when the Sex and the City movie approached its May 2008 release date. I was surprised to find most of the reviews downplaying its significance, and casting it aside as a piece of theatrical filth.

After reading the early reviews of the movie, I entered the movie theater with trepidation on opening night, expecting to see the hollow shell of the show I once loved. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the movie was actually pretty good. It was just as relevant, engaging, and hilarious as the television show - even more so, in my opinion.

Which brings me to my point. I usually hate most movies, especially ones targeted at women, because they are so infantile and insulting. The Sex and the City movie is no great work, but it isn't just a shallow, vapid concoction either. In my opinion, society's rejection of Sex and the City is a rejection of womanhood itself. When I'm arguing with someone about whether the show is good or not, I'm not really talking about the show, and neither are they. I'm talking about women's right to gather with their friends, respond emotionally to breakups, articulate their thoughts by writing, and have those things depicted on a television show without it being brushed aside as petty and meaningless.

Sure, Sex and the City can be annoying and counter-productive, but so can most male-gendered programs. No one complains about blatant consumerism when it's celebrated in the latest Bond film, but Heaven forbid that the Sex and the City feature one scene where Carrie discusses buying shoes. You don't have to like Sex and the City, but why would you hate it? Hating something insinuates that you not only dislike something, but that you also feel strongly enough about it to officially take a public stand against it. Why do people always seem to hate Sex and the City, but just dislike anything gendered male?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dawn Breaks Like a Bull Through the Hall

I just returned from a trip to Green Bay to see my grandparents. It was supposed to be a vacation, but that didn't really happen. What happened is that we arrived to find my 84-year-old grandfather struggling for his life. It all started a year ago when he got pneumonia. The infection never really left, and he's had a number of problems since then, including a collapsed lung and kidney infection.

Usually, our annual trips to Grandma's house are filled with barbeques, golfing trips, movies, and shopping. This year, we all stood by as Grandma attempted to convince Grandpa to eat just one cookie. Drink just one cup of coffee. Get out of bed for an hour. Brush his hair. He couldn't hear much of anything, and had pretty much lost his memory.

I watched as Grandma brushed his hair for him so that he could be in a picture with us. I felt the way that she loved him through 60 years of children and dinner and vacations together. I turned my head to let my tears fall privately, so as not to upset anyone. Our family continued to perform the usual behaviors, watching TV and chatting about the weather, while constantly trying to bear the weight of Grandpa's lingering illness.

In private, I could not stop sobbing. My 14-year-old brother hugged me and said that it would be alright. My mom came into the room and asked my brother if he wanted to talk about anything. Little did she know that I, the older, more mature sibling, was the one in distress, struggling to make sense of it all.

The worst thing about the trip is that I couldn't understand why. Why does Grandpa have to go through this? After 84 years of life, he is reduced to laying in bed and struggling to breathe. Eventually, I realized that no matter how much I mourn the situation, it won't help his condition. We all want to take his pain away, and take his death on ourselves. But that's just not possible. Everyone is responsible for dealing with their own death in their own way, and making sense of the life they lived. Grandpa doesn't want us to feel sorry for him, because he doesn't feel sorry for himself. He isn't scared or sad or depressed. He just wants to get on with things and make it to Heaven. And I have to let him.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thunderstorm Running

Last night, I had my first experience with running during a thunderstorm. I had only been out for a few minutes when I heard the familiar crack of thunder come from above, after which I looked up to see the gritty clouds begin to part ceremoniously. As sheets of rain began to fall on my tightly pony-tailed head, at first I felt a bit annoyed, but I quickly found it to be incredibly refreshing and rejuvenating. It was like back in elementary school, when I would go outside during a thunderstorm to play in the rain. After a few minutes of running, my shoes were soaked enough to allow me to stomp through gigantic puddles with no noticeable difference in wetness, so I greedily took advantage this freedom by jumping in any nearby mudhole I could find.

Maybe I can attribute my newfound sense of adventure to a writing gig I secured with the trail race database Backcountry Runner, or maybe it's because I've been slowly consuming all of my fiance's back issues of Outside magazine in the past few days. I've also been spending my evenings planning our mountain-adventure honeymoon to Ouray, Colorado. Or, maybe it's just been so friggin hot around here lately that a crisp summer rainstorm comes as a welcome break to my sweaty, greasy skin cells. Yeah, that's probably it.

At the end of the run, I returned home to my fiance, who was busy working away at the computer. He turned to me and said, "When it started raining, I hopped in the car to come find you, but you looked pretty happy jogging out on that old maintenance road. So I just turned around and came home."

Ah, the joys of being a runner.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Feminist Bride

I got engaged last month to The Man of My Dreams, and have since been working on planning a June 2009 wedding. However, I never expected the large volume of traditional dudely dominance issues that I would encounter along the way. No matter how hard I try, the ceremony always seems to be reduced to some kind of enraging woman-ownership festival designed to celebrate my willing entrance into a life of servitude and imprisonment. What's a feminist writer to do? Here are some of the situations I've encountered thus far.

1) Creepy patriarchal ministers. I'm Taoist and my fiance is Catholic, so we're going to have a nondenominational Christian ceremony. The only thing I'm worried about is being married by one of those eerie old-school reverends that turns your ceremony into an opportunity to advertise for the inherent submissiveness of wives. No thanks, bucko! I've circumvented this issue by securing a female minister to marry us, and I'm planning on discussing my beliefs with her before the ceremony to ensure there are no sneaky allusions to female slavery included in the service.

2) Snippets from women-hating literature. Wedding ceremonies always seem to include readings from the paramount canon of misogynist literature, the Bible. My fiance wanted to have some Bible verses featured in the ceremony readings, and he assured me that they wouldn't have anything to do with how much women suck. I felt a little bad about it, but I had to veto the idea on principle. It would be like a Christian allowing readings from The Satanic Verses in their wedding. Luckily, the fiance seems to understand and is fine with including women-friendly readings from The Prophet instead.

3) The concept of "giving me away." My father, the family patriarch who apparently currently owns me, is supposed to "give" me to my husband, who will subsequently become my new owner. WTF? I'm not sure what I can do about this one, though. It seems like it's important to my dad.

4) People telling me how to plan my wedding. Okay, I know that everyone gives you their 2 cents about your wedding whether you're a man or a woman, but as an independent and headstrong feminist, I take special offense to it. People, and especially family members, seem to get so caught up in all the material aspects of the wedding ("What?! You have to have centerpieces!!"), when I'm trying my hardest to make it about celebrating love and happiness. The world will NOT come to an end if we don't serve a three-course dinner, so get over it everyone.

5) Bridal garb. According to tradition, I'm supposed to wear a veil over my face, and a 20-pound white contraption that isn't in the least bit comfortable, in order to symbolize my virginity and purity. The jig is up people, I'm crazy about sex and have absolutely no interest in hiding that fact. Now get that crap away from me!

As you can see, I'm doing my best to keep the evil forces of oppression at bay. I think our wedding should be a reflection of the true nature of our relationship, which is completely equal and free of dominance, instead of adhering to annoying women-hating traditions. Websites like Offbeat Bride have been a great help, as have the support of my various married female friends who have endured all this crap already. Now keep your bias off my gender, society!

Monday, July 7, 2008


I happened to stumble across an interesting site the other day called Idiocentrism. What is idiocentrism, you ask? It is a

version of generalism. Because no one can know everything, generalist knowledge is inevitably partial, contextual, particularist, perspectivist, and idiocentric. ("What is Idiocentrism?")

Basically, it is one guy's version of academic methodology, created from the idea that modern academic studies have become flawed in their attempts at specialization. University fields are focused on exclusion and fragmentation, while generalism is focused on integrating a diverse knowledge base into a series of theories and hypotheses.

During my time at the University, I always despised how every paper I wrote was supposed to be about One Thing. Academic papers, as they currently stand, are structured by stating one main introductory hypothesis, and then supporting that idea with a series of proofs. However, my papers never followed this structure, because they were drawn from so many different sources. This always served to confuse my professors. Examples of my subject matter:

  • Vegetarianism as Love
  • Running as a Form of Zen Buddhist Meditation
  • Feminism Within the Soto Sect of Zen Buddhism
  • Bisexuality in America: The Search for Identification

I always thought that I was just really bad at organizing my thoughts. But the real problem was that I saw everything as interrelated, and so I couldn't reduce my topics down to one main line of reasoning. This is similar to Alan Watts' theory of polarization, in which he suggests that "opposites" are not truly opposite, they are just different poles of the same thing. For example, "good" and "bad" are not entities of their own, they are simply points along a continuation of "goodness." Therefore, "good" is just "gooder" than "bad," and vice versa.

Another problem I encountered as a result of my generalist philosophy was having my papers universally misunderstood. For example, I was working on a double major in Women's Studies and Religious Studies, and assumptions that were taken for granted in the Women's Studies field were considered false in the Religious Studies department. Therefore, a paper such as "Feminism Within the Soto Sect of Zen Buddhism" would be praised as traditional methodology by my Women's Studies professors, and criticized as radical idealism by my Religious Studies professors.

How can there be different truths within what is supposed to be one overarching truth? How can something be Wrong in one academic course and Right in another? This is the problem with University specialization. I think we need to go back to more generalist philosophy and be more accepting of scholars that refuse to limit themselves to irrelevant categories.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Stuff White People Do

A huge portion of my Women's Studies degree consisted of examining racial issues, and I thank God that it was. I'd like to make some sort of statement connecting my lack of racial knowledge to my time spent growing up in a small town in Iowa, but that would imply that if I lived in a larger city, I would have been educated about such matters. Obviously, racism in all its various forms is an American (and global) issue that blinds everyone equally due to its pervasiveness, and that's why it's still such a problem.

Learning about race and sociology at the University completely changed how I view the world. Obviously, I still participate in the benefits of white privilege, because all white people get those whether they want them or not (which, by the way, is an important thing for all whites to recognize, lest we run around with the attitude of "I'm not racist, so therefore solving racism is about changing those other racist people"). But the thing that really gets under my skin is when people assume that racism is a dormant problem that is either already solved, or an issue that we can't do anything to change. The blog Stuff White People Do looks at the effects of white privilege from the point of view of a white dude named Macon D, in order to help people understand the ways in which they're participating in the continuation of racism.

Examples of stuff white people do:

I also found it interesting that Macon D states that his goal in producing the blog is to write explicitly about whiteness. He says that

I’ve noticed, for instance, that when I ask white individuals to talk about whiteness, about what their being white means for them, they usually have very little to say, and they eventually end up talking about non-white people instead. White Americans are usually unaccustomed to talking directly about their own whiteness, and when asked to do so, they often shift to discussing it in relation to other races, and then end up talking almost exclusively about those other people instead. ("sit quietly in movie theaters - part two")

Personally, I think the reason that the reason white scholars try to stay away from examinations of whiteness is because they don't want to appear to be reducing the discussion to a white viewpoint. As in, "even though minorities have endured centuries of enslavement and abuse, racism is really all about white people in the end." But if white people are racist, and especially if they are unknowingly so, doesn't the solution to the problem lie in getting them to recognize their behavior as racist, and then encouraging them to change it? It seems to me that instead of white people "learning" to "accept" minorities, racism should be dealt with by demonstrating to whites that they are the ones that are flawed, because they buy into the idea that minorities are "different" in the first place.

Blogs such as Stuff White People Do are so instrumental in drawing attention to the blatant privilege present in our society today. It's good to see that readers are getting all riled up in the Comments section of the posts, because it gives me hope that perhaps there are still some individuals out there who are engaged in an ongoing discussion about racism and classism, and are committed to making a change.