Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Personal Is Political

Ok, well, I’ve been holed up in this alphabet apartment for the better part of this week, putting the finishing touches on my thesis. My advisor gave me some pretty intense edits, pushed me rul’ hard. I think I pushed back. In fact, I was sort of annoyed and over this whole process, and I think I let that anger motivate me. In any case, the point is I feel pretty great, pretty capable, pretty powerful.

Powerful. What an important word. I stumbled across a quote during my edits that really captured something I’ve been feeling a lot lately. The first part I was able to use in my paper, and I’m going to share that with you first. It’s an explanation of the phrase ‘The Personal is Political’, a phrase which basically encompasses why I sit at this computer and write this blog. The quote is by my scholarly idol, Bettina Aptheker, from her memoir Intimate Politics:

… when I was growing up, issues such as rape, sexual harassment (for which there was no language), sexual abuse of children, domestic violence, reproductive rights (referred to only as abortion), childbirth (assumed to be best left in the hands of the doctor), childcare (needed only by women who were derelict in their maternal duties), and sexuality (even between men and women) were spoken of in the hushed tones of shame and guilt. All were considered personal issues having absolutely nothing to do with politics. These issues became political as a result of the women’s movement… we came to understand that the personal is political- or, more precisely, that the personal reveals the political.

~ Aptheker

I believe really strongly that gender issues flow through our lives in really complex, sometimes unrecognizable ways. Especially in personal relationships, which is why I’m so often writing about that. And issues of power and intimacy are political, as Aptheker describes above, and we should try to recognize them in our day to day relations in order to better understand how we are working as part of a system. For women, in large and small ways, this can be scary, as this next quote touches on.

However, for women and children, especially girls, relations of power are often enacted in moments of intimacy, when we are the most vulnerable, in our families, with our parents or lovers, when we should experience the greatest sense of safety. Relations of power between women and men are likewise enacted in public places, when we are at work, or walking the streets, or riding public transportation. These instances also can take on an intimate quality because we experience them as a violation of personal space, or violence against our own person. What I am describing are widely shared experiences affecting the lives of millions of women virtually everywhere in the word…

~ Aptheker

This passage hit a nerve in me, because lately I have had a few encounters with men, strangers, that were unsettling. I find that guys, without a second thought, are apt to touch women without invitation. Especially in a nighttime setting, especially if its dimly lit and a crowd creates a buffer. I have also met people who assume that I will want, automatically, to hang out with them. I suppose this is based on ego, on their success in life in general. But success in life doesn’t mean you’ve put the work in to know me, and when I’m not immediately compliant I get accused of having trust issues. But men forget how unbalanced power can be in these situations. Physically, emotionally, culturally. It is all too easy to make a person feel small, especially when gender dynamics support it. Body language, invasion of personal space, pushy or aggressive language, these are all tools that can have a really detrimental effect if you’re not careful. I think even guys with good intentions can cross those lines without realizing it.

Ok well I suppose this post is really at the heart of why I write this thing. If you are out and about, and find yourself creeped out or feeling violated by a guy, this is not a unique experience and it’s not just your personal emotion. You are actually experiencing a shared phenomenon, and performing in a dynamic that other women have already performed. The degrees of violence and danger vary, as do the specific details. But if you can recognize this commonality, maybe you will feel better about pushing back, speaking up, leaving, or whatever appropriate response you come up with, instead of allowing yourself to feel small or defeated. I find that, when I remember how gender dynamics are working and how I’m not alone, it’s much easy to bite back.

(Side note: typing in ‘the personal is political’ to google images is pretty hilarious. Obama and Beyonce both make random appearances, as do Hermoine and Bristol Palin. Lots of buttons. Who knew?)

Dis-Continuity

The definition of continuity, from Merrium Webster:

1) uninterrupted connection, succession or union

2) uninterrupted duration or continuation especially without essential change

I really like the idea of continuity. It feels comforting. When things can stay the same for awhile, at least a few things or maybe even just a couple details. And I think that lately I have been experiencing a distinct lack of continuity, in all aspects of my life. It occurred to me recently that perhaps this problem is not unique. Then it occurred to me that of course its not unique. In fact, its a distinctly modern problem.

Let me clarify. I don’t mean that people in the past did not feel a lack of continuity. That’s what Fiddler on the Roof is about (duh.) But there has been a huge change in how quickly this happens. In todays world, its normal to move around more often, leave your home town, communicate in an ever growing number or digital ways. I have lived in 4 apartments in 5 years (not counting dorms) since I’ve lived in New York. I certainly don’t live in my hometown, and this creates all sorts of interesting relationships. You have your home friends, the kids who knew you before you could drive and while you applied to college. And then you have your college friends or your job friends, the people you interact with in this life, this pseudo (or very) adult part of your life. And your home friends will never really interact with you this way, and the newer ones will never know that adolescent person you used to be. And neither one is really better, they are just different. And of course you miss your old friends, and try to keep in touch even though usually you get further immeshed in the new place and new routine.

And what about this new routine? Sometimes I marvel at how different I feel from the girl I once was. Because life is moving so quickly, and sometimes you have to do things you don’t really want and give things up that you never thought you would. Sometimes this happens in one big tragic moment, sometimes things just fade away. I sometimes look around, look at my schedule and my reflection and my apartment, and I wonder how I even got here.

I’m not sure what to do about this, this fragmented feeling. I know that my parents don’t have this exact feeling, or at least they didn’t at my age. I want to figure out how to slow down the stuff I can slow down, how to make sure I don’t give up things I truly want to keep. I want to be able to remember who I am. Because when you start to get mixed up about that its really hard to stay positive when the economy is bullshit and work/school is stressful and people are unreliable and the world is such a hot filthy mess. And we’ve gotta try and stay positive. Not only for the good vibes, but because otherwise your new friends will get annoyed with you and no one will listen to the crazy theories about modern life you’re constantly espousing. Or something like that.

This is Too Good

So first, let’s laugh. Seriously, I’ve watched like like half a dozen times. For the record, this post is gonna be more frivolous than serious. (Ok I am really annoyed that I can’t embed this, but its VERY worth opening the extra window I promise.)

VIDEO STEVE COLBERT HILARIOUS

Colbert just hits the nail on the head. Women’s health issues are categorically denied importance. It’s really only been a little over 50 years that they tested drugs on both sexes, figuring that testing on men was good enough. And Viagra was the fasted approved drug by the FDA ever. And of course no one has a problem covering that under health insurance. As if boners are the most important problem doctors have to consider. Barf. For some women, their yearly gyno visit isn’t covered because it’s considered a specialist. And of course Freud blamed the uterus for everything from hysteria to insomnia. But I digress.

Colbert’s performance here is flawless and brilliant. Obviously providing birth control will not mean that everyone starts orgies in the street. And if you don’t wanna pay for abortions or support welfare for large families, THEN WHAT IS YOUR PLAN??? Sex is not simple and it’s not wrong, and people must have options. My absolute favorite moment is the T-Rex arms. Go watch it again. The truth is, women have been using birth control for centuries, it has just always been primitive and unreliable. And the issue is severely gendered given the nature of motherhood which is incontestable vs. fatherhood which is always in question. I already resent having to carry the burden of birth control with my internal hormone system while boys get to take it on and off. And then I mean breast pumps, how can you not support breast pumps? If your stance is that you want people (or at least some people) to be fruitful and multiply, how can you object to helping those babies get fed? I’m baffled.

Now, that woman at the end I could just slap. The lack of empathy and sisterhood is truly nauseating. To compare abuse counseling to a mani/pedi is unforgivable. To deny the next generations access to safe sex is selfish, and to me it illustrates how fucked up our leadership system is. Because this is really not a question of morals. Birth control is something that even adults in monogamous hetero relationships need, not just people having “bad sex.” The people who oppose this are obviously not thinking logically and they aren’t thinking about the needs of the people. They are thinking along strict ideological lines with no flexibility and no logical rules, and this is no way to govern. It’s silly and irresponsible, not to mention mean, pushy and severely irritating.

Ok well, I’m gonna watch that video again because he just nails it. If you’d like to read up on my previous thoughts on birth control, here are some posts you may enjoy:

Will.I.Ain’t (Jerk!)

Wrap it up and Keep it Clean

Follow up! The Emphasis on Safe Sex Continues…

Spooning!

Ok, let’s jump right back in.

Black and white, basic spooning example

I want to talk about spooning, which if you don’t know is when two people lay on their sides, facing the same way, so one person is in front (little spoon) and one person behind holding the other (big spoon.) Spooning is by far my fave way to cuddle. Recently I was having a lighthearted discussion with a cuddle partner about spooning, because this position (like most sex roles) is gendered. Usually, girls are the little spoon. We both agreed that sometimes its nice to switch it up. I like being the big spoon because I like the idea of holding someone else, and I also happen to think that shoulders are really sexy so I like looking at them. And then he agreed that sometimes its nice to feel like one is being cuddled rather than doing the cuddling.

Art-sy spooning

This convo I think illustrates how pervasive all this stuff is. A person, no matter who, will from time to time feel vulnerable and in need of support. Sometimes you just want to feel held, like someone has their arm around you and wants to take care of you. Why would that only be true for girls? And why wouldn’t girls want to give support sometimes?

AAAAHHHHHHH! SPOONING PUPPIES!!!

I guess this seems pretty trivial, but if you can’t get what you need from spooning, can you really express what you need in other areas? And if, on the whole, men are afraid to be vulnerable and take the little spoon position, aren’t their much larger implications for their lives and relationships? I’ve been watching a lot of Mad Men (Seas 4 on DVD is the bomb dot com), and Don Draper is always making me think about masculinity and how men have to keep up their manliness. This character is seriously afraid of letting people in, telling people too much, relying on others and being seen as weak. But no man is an island and everyone needs support in moments of crisis. I think, when spooning, its ok to switch and even more ok to ask for whichever position you prefer in that moment. Small considerations and requests like that can certainly reverb into larger, more important conversations.

(For the record, right now I need to be little spooning. Preferably while watching Don Draper strive to be a better man, but more on Mad Men later…)

This is Don Draper. He is NOT spooning :/