Thursday, October 22, 2015

Response to a friend on how he feels by the word feminism

Sometimes acknowledging that a thing is distracting is the best way to let it stop distracting you. The word is distracting to you, but you have a choice about whether it remains distracting.

I see these things as a pendulum. And as a sense of perspective.

On the pendulum front it is that in order for things to truly get to a place of equality that means the middle of the bell curve needs to be at 50/50. Which to me means that the easiest way to approximate that is that for every space that is purely patriarchal there needs to be a space that is purely matriarchal and similar proportions of spaces at levels of skew less intense but not 50/50. Until we get that the society is patriarchal. I think that when I've seen this achieved in micro scale it is when the pendulum of power at a local level shifts from one side to the other back and forth until it lands in the middle. We have a society that is so patriarchal that I don't think it will ever be allowed to swing far enough towards feminism that there can be a correction towards the middle. And so in that context I think that something that is "against patriarchy" being called "feminism" to mean the eventual goal of being equal makes sense.

This brings me to perspective. As a white person I've been working very hard to understand what it means to be white and how that has impacted my perspective. I only really see how toxic and skewed my perspective is on this front when I hang out with several people of color at the same time or with a person of color who feels safe enough to call me all my bullshit or call society on its bullshit in my presence. Many of their complaints can be felt on a few levels. On the first level a white person who is stuck in that perspective can either say "Of course but this should be true for everyone." or they can say "I don't see this as a big deal." When I am able to delve into the level of toxicity of how the power ascribed to whiteness has seeped down to the core of this society I can actually feel the harm that the latter seemingly minor things cause and I can understand how truly ridiculous it is the contradictions involved in the white discourse among the major things. Unfortunately I still find it incredibly difficult to express that understanding and even to hold onto it as I leave the presence of my friends of color. One training I went to called it the water we all swim in. And we swim in so much sludge and have for so long that we don't even see it.

Side joke so that makes sense: An old fish swims by some younger fish and says "how's the water today?" and the younger fish ask "what's water?" Sometimes things are so infused that we can't even see them without real effort. 

I feel the same thing about feminism. The patriarchy is the same way and it is very difficult to see it at the deeper level. The things you expressed for your views that make you a feminist could be at one of two levels. If they are at the obvious level it is likely that you can't understand how anyone feels differently and why this is even still a conversation we need to be having. If it were at a deeper level I think the word feminism would make more sense.

I believe there is a combat. Not between individuals but between ideologies. It happens along the gender line and it happens along the race line and it happens along the socio-economic line. The socio-economic one is the one that I feel has done the best job of stating the fight as I've seen it. "They only call it class warfare when we fight back." This can be applied to all the power structures. When we call it "race wars" it is when people of color get pushed by the bullshit to the point where they feel there is no other option. I think that feminism is the same way and why you feel somewhat attacked.

I also believe that it is not a dichotomy but a spectrum. I see the toxic water kinda being like those airport sidewalks. And the direction they go is the defaults of power. So in the absence of other actions we head towards patriarchy, white power, and a strong believe that the people with money all earned what they have and the poor are lazy. (among other things) When we start realizing that we are on a moving platform in society and that we are heading the wrong direction the first step is to turn around. The next step is to notice that we are moving away from the goal. And the final step is to start moving in the right direction.

Moving in the right direction though may not be enough if the rate of the moving sidewalk is faster than the rate of walking. Not only might we not get there or even stay put we might still be moving in the wrong direction. It can be super frustrating to be judged by your negative progress on this moving sidewalk, especially when you are actively moving in the opposite direction. But there will be people that do that because unless we get people to not just turn around and start moving and start putting in real movement nothing will change.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Personal Reflection on Racial Bias through the Book "The Ear, The Eye and The Arm"

Recently I read the book The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer. It is children's literature but it holds up well for adults as well. There are children who go out for adventure, learn about the world, become stronger in the process, and it is just all in all awesome.

What I want to talk about, though, is my personal struggle and experience through the book. This book is set in Zimbabwe. It very clearly delineates the people of English descent, so it should be a trivial matter for me to conceptualize correctly the racial images of the characters of this book.

The truth is that it was not a trivial matter at all. I didn't even recognize the problem until I was half way done with the book. I was visualizing all of the characters as white. This is ridiculous, and illustrates how messed up the subconscious can be. In order to make the characters more understandable to me, I visualized them as white. I was horrified when I realized that that is what I had been doing.

I took some time away from reading, just sitting there, thinking about the characters. I tried to recontextualize them in my head. Meditate on more accurate pictures of who they really were. Interestingly as well, I did not have a hard time conceptualizing the characters with body deformities. I probably under estimated She Elephant's size, but the detectives were deformed, which is how they got their names. I had no problem thinking about Arm's long arms when his character came to the page. Part of that might have been the fact that the name gave me a clue but to have no problem at all with it and find race so paralyzing felt revealing to me.

As I continued through the book. I tried really hard to keep race in mind, just so that I would visualize the characters correctly. It was actually very difficult. I had to stop myself frequently to recontextualize the characters and the story. This isn't for lack of writing skill either. I knew the whole time that the story was in Africa. There are frequent reminders of the culture, climate, and other aspects of the area.

I guess for me this post is about coming clean and reflecting on this challenge. I don't really want or need to talk to others about this. To burden others with my story, especially when they have to deal with the realities of people of color not being taken seriously on a daily basis. What I walked away form the book with, among other things actually related to the story, was that if I am working this hard and struggling this much and still failing, our society is seriously messed up in this regard. Many have called me a social justice warrior. I go out of my way to try to understand different people's experiences, to try to check my privilege and stop being an asshat. I am already deeply disturbed by the racial disparities in society. I put a lot of energy into this and have for years. And I was defeated by the exercise of visualizing african protagonist children as black in a children's book. Reflecting on this I feel like I've been climbing down a cliff to understand the depths and I just got a glimpse of the distance down this cliff. Just enough of a glimpse to know that it is impossibly deeper than I can possibly imagine.

In other news, for this article I had to look up the author's name because I suck at that. And I ran across her blog and a blog post about the book and why it can't become a movie. I'm just going to put that here:

Anyway, this isn't the best writing I've ever done, but I'm sick and this has been bugging me for a while and I just wanted to put this out there and come clean about it. I am definitely adding this book to the list of books to come back to every few years. I'll probably seek out more work by this author as well.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Stop Bullying Elizabeth Warren

It seems everywhere I turn in the realm of progressive politics I am exhorted to join the mass of folks pressuring Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, to run for president in 2016. I have a lot of respect for Senator Warren and if she wanted to run I would likely support her. She has stated repeatedly however that she is not running. It is severely disrespectful to continue badgering her on this point for several reasons.

Bullying Senator Elizabeth Warren disrespects her current power and goals. A quick scan through her wikipedia page reveals she has always cared about policies that effect ordinary Americans, particularly policies around finances and financial reform. This focus makes her attractive to the average person as a candidate for president but the average person doesn't know what the president does or what Senator Warren does on a day-to-day basis.

Senator Warren is on the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Within that she is on the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development, the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, and the Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance, and Investment. She knows what she cares about. She knows where her power lies. She has more power to change the things that she cares about where she's at than she would ever have as president. If you like her policy concerns, trust her to serve where she has the greatest power to fight for those concerns.

Bullying Senator Elizabeth Warren disrespects her judgement of her strengths and weaknesses. The office of the president is a very diverse job. Senator Warren, while very good at what she does, has not been a politician very long. During that time she has been very focused on the issues that she understands the best and that she is most passionate about. Do we know anything about how she would be in the other aspects of the presidency though. Do we have any idea what her foreign policy choices would be? She gets a lot of attention for her strengths but if she doesn't think she knows enough to take on the full responsibility of the presidency, I trust her judgment on that.

Bullying Senator Elizabeth Warren disrespects her choice on whether she wants to deal with the misogyny that will come from being the first female president. I don't know whether this concern is among the reasons why she doesn't want to run but I do know that racial tension has been on the rise under Obama. Part of this is because there are some folk who are angry there is a black man in the white house. Part of this is because there are some folk that think that because we have a black president that racism is dead and they don't need to worry about it any more. Part of it is because racism is still very much alive and Obama can't address these issues himself without losing political power he'd rather devote to other things. I don't see any reason why the same won't be true when we get our first female president. Issues affecting women will be things that either she would have to shy away from, or she would have to spend too much energy and political capital to make any headway on. As a woman, I'm not looking forward to this. Being president is hard enough. I will not bully someone with institutional disadvantage to put themselves in this position, though I will support them if they want to run and I believe they'll do a good job.

Bullying Senator Elizabeth Warren disrespects the power of the word "no." She is a grown woman who can make her own choices. I'm very uncomfortable with the fact that so many "progressives" are not taking "no" for an answer. This is coercive and disrespects her agency. Is this the message you want to tell your daughters. She may have ideas of what she wants to do but none of that really matters because people will pester her and pester her to do something else unceasingly.

With this I'm going to sign off. This issue has made me angry enough that I just needed to get my thoughts out in a place where I can just post a link whenever I see this bullying behavior and be done with it. Feel free to share your own thoughts about this in the comments.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How Starting Interactions Based on Difference is Problematic: A Reflection

You all probably know that I think a lot about privilege and oppression. You probably also know that I think a lot about harassment and intrusions on space. Lately, due to personal experiences, I've been thinking a lot about the sub-conscious nature of these intrusions and their relation to systems of privilege and oppression. So this post will be mostly story time and reflections and we think about how we interact with strangers and why we make the choices we make.

Recently I injured my back and then my foot in rapid succession. The result was that I was walking with a walking boot and crutches and often awkwardly. As a point of reference I tend to dress in a way to be as un-noticeable and/or standoff-ish as possible because I find comments from strangers to be highly unpleasant. This new and obvious difference changed everything though. Because I was now different I was stared at all the time. Additionally strangers felt the need to come up and talk to me about my health and my injury and how I got it. One man walked all the way across an empty field to talk to me about it, while I was sitting by a lake listening to a podcast with earbuds in. All of this seemed very strange to me.

Around this same time, I went home for my nephew's birthday. As a point of reference he is an 11-year-old white male in a relatively conservative small town with a relatively homogeneous population. He and I have a relationship of going for walks and I didn't want to let him down due to my foot so we walked to the extent I was able. What I found interesting was the comfort he felt in taking up auditory space while out on the walk. As an example, he yelled across a busy street at a man complimenting him on his dog. None of his outbursts were intended to be disrespectful, but they made me very uncomfortable and I didn't really know what to do.

It was very eye-opening to see this experience and try to understand it from the perspective of my nephew. He is lonely and wants to connect with his community. I know this because when we go out to eat he tends to know the waitress' name and talk with her as though she is a family friend. He likes to make connections with people but he doesn't necessarily know how or when and he doesn't know that sometimes people don't have that same reciprocal interest.

I realized that in many of the cases of people breaking through and engaging with me about my injury, it was coming from this same core value. A sense of connection. A sense of warding away loneliness. It is a part of humanity that I don't really value or understand but it is widespread enough that it should be considered as a thing that exists. Unfortunately it also has a very dark side to it.

The first thing to note is that when people approached me, I might have been the only person they approached so they didn't see it as a big deal. It was just a single interaction. It isn't like they go up to everyone they meet and pester everyone with questions or whatever. It was just a single time of trying to interact. The problem with that though is they singled me out based on a difference that they felt they could comment on. This results in a disproportionate amount of attention going to me while injured than me while uninjured. The average person will significantly fewer of these interactions. Perhaps if they were evenly distributed it wouldn't be so bad... but they aren't.

In reality people don't roll a die to determine who they will talk to. They talk to someone that they can think of something to say to. This means that there will be some display of a similarity or difference or something that they can comment on. This will result in certain populations getting a disproportionate amount of attention.

At the moment we are still only focused on the folk who are doing this with the best of intentions. The result however is that people with disabilities, people with children, people who are especially attractive or unattractive, and minorities are likely to have way more interactions of this sort than the average person. This constitutes way more of a person's social energy and time than the average person would think that it would when they embark on this intrusion.

The real dark side comes though when you combine that with the systems of privilege and oppression. The sense that women are public property. The sense that parents need advice. The sense that people in religious dress are oppressed. The sense that people of size need advice. All of the senses of racism that run rampant through our culture that I can't even begin to elaborate on and not completely change the topic of this post. And on and on through all of the other societal issues that exist. These issues mean that what would otherwise be just a statistically greater annoyance than average now gains the random possibility that someone is being ignorantly offensive or actively hostile to the mix of other intrusions.

It is these many layers put together that make me so passionate about the topics of street harassment and the concept of space. I still have a lot to work on myself with the space aspect. A big part of that is that due to my autism, I spent way too much time growing up not taking up enough space. Understanding myself and the gifts I can bring to situations really gave me the confidence to start being more truly present. The problem was then that I took up too much space. Space management is something that we all can work on. Making sure that quiet voices are heard. Making sure that we are authentically present but also only taking up our share of the current space.

What do you think?

Are you someone who talks to random strangers? What sorts of interactions do you have? Who do you tend to start these interactions with? Do you notice a pattern?

Do people interact with you or leave you alone? Do you like it that way or wish it was different?

I'm kinda working on a theory that if the well-meaning portion of this has to do with people being lonely, if there is some sort of way we can make these potentially positive interactions more evenly distributed. I'd be interested in hearing any thoughts you have on this front as well.

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Line in the Sand against Fat Shaming

"Smoking is ALWAYS unhealthy and it involves a substance that theoretically could be completely removed from the person's life. It also harms other people besides the person doing the activity.

Eating is something that EVERYONE must do in order to survive and doing so harms no one except for potentially the person doing the eating."

I started writing this response to a Facebook friend who had posted a picture with the following words:

"Tell a smoker that smoking is unhealthy and no one bats an eye. Tell a fat person that being fat is unhealthy and everybody loses their minds."

It seemed to me that I was not losing my mind, but rather that I was thinking remarkably clearly and synthesizing much of the information that I have gained in my life. It seemed like now was the time to bring it all together into a post that would articulate all my ideas on the matter. It came out better than I expected so I decided to make it a writing project, clean it up, and post it here.

Physical manifestation of weight is not always an indicator of health, though it is one indicator for medical professionals to look at. Average people think they know what is going on by looking at a person but in reality they have no idea unless they are close with the person or have studied it for a decade.

Many people would think that my partner is obese. The truth is that the way he carries his muscles makes him look that way. You wouldn't want to get in a fight with him however. It would feel like fighting a bear. I know about him because I am close. I see what he eats, I see the workouts he does, and I've seen the raw power. That wouldn't stop people from judging him for eating a doughnut in public. That doesn't stop him from getting a complex thinking that anything that Americans eat too much of in general are issues he has himself. He has made himself unwell before by inadvertently cutting too much salt or too much cholesterol.
Bodies are diverse, why can't we accept that?

In some industries and contexts the person on the far right would be seen as overweight. In most contexts the person on the far left would get comments or glares for what she eats in public.

Evidence is still out on the harms of fat. It is a question for scientific debate and research it is not a topic for hounding average citizens that aren't harming anyone besides maybe themselves.   

"Relative to normal weight, both obesity (all grades) and grades 2 and 3 obesity were associated with significantly higher all-cause mortality. Grade 1 obesity overall was not associated with higher mortality, and overweight was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality. The use of predefined standard BMI groupings can facilitate between-study comparisons."

As a translation, this means that people who are "overweight" are actually more likely to survive. People who are "grade 1 obese" are equally likely to survive. The only people who have statistically increased chance of mortality are those in grade 2 and 3 obesity.

Additionally, in the cases where being obese is to an extent and style that does cause health problems, there also needs to be psychological research work done to figure out how to best help these people. Like I said it is different from smoking because a person who smokes could just stop the activity altogether and not die. I believe this difference is the cause of the phenomenon discussed in this article on the effects of fat shaming.

In the society we live in right now most of us have big problems that are too big to face alone. In order to feel good about ourselves we judge others and this needs to stop. We need to start seeing everyone's struggles as interconnected. In a country with insufficient health care, combined with increased economic stress, commuting stress, and demands on our time in a go-go-go world, it is no surprise that our population is not healthy in a large variety of ways. The thing is that people who have a problem tend to know they have a problem. They tend to know how much it is hurting them. Pointing this out does no one any good.

Solutions would be helpful if we had them. The truth is though that we don't have them for many of these issues. Obesity for instance. We can't even agree on what health is, much less talk about healthy sustainable ways to approach it. Many of the ideas that people have had in this regard end up being harmful and I think that obese people have a right to seem skeptical when your plan seems either to be quackery, unbalanced, or not accessible to the necessities of our modern life. That skepticism can actually be good for them as many have been harmed by these methods or inconsistent pursuit of tactics that are inconsistent with their required lived experience. 

At the end of the day, unless you are the person's doctor and are willing to put in the time to get the background of their lifestyle and set up something that will work for them, you are not doing anyone any favors. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

It seems pretty logical to me: if you don't pay for things, you can't have them.  If you don't pay for your bridges to be maintained, they eventually fall apart.  If you vote for lower taxes every time the opportunity comes up, the amount of money that your community has to provide critical infrastructure decreases.

If you vote against all your transportation levies, your area will no longer be able to provide good support for transportation.  The number of bus routes that your community can feasibly support goes down and your service will degrade.

If you vote against all your educational levies, your area will not be able to provide materials that schools require, such as new textbooks, technical equipment, or pay for additional teachers when there is growth in the area.  Your extra-curricular programs such as music and art will get cut because they aren't central to the mission of teaching math and english.  Maybe you have enough money to provide support for these extra items for your children but the quality of your community as a whole will degrade because the children on average will lose opportunities to learn and grow.  It is not financially prudent to do these items individually, as they are more economical to provide in appropriately subdivided groups.  It is simple economics that you spend less raw money as a community if you take care of your children in groups together.

You can complain that the government is not using your tax money efficiently.  Please, do.  Help them find ways to use it more efficiently.  I'm sure that they would welcome any input you have on using the funds more effectively if it actually results in better service on less funds. But complaining about corruption and fixing the corruption are two different things. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem, after all.

Members of the transportation department have a pretty good incentive to use your tax money wisely.  While some parts of the government may indeed be unlikely to get seriously cut for mismanagement, transportation departments that don't provide service that their communities value will lose funding. These people have plenty of motivation to use your money wisely, to keep the bus drivers and maintainers and road workers from getting laid off.  If you as a community decide not to fund public transportation or reduce funding, all these people lose their jobs.  So questioning their capitalist motivations and accusing them of relying on cushy government jobs is not going to get you very far.

None of us could get to work the jobs we do without some sort of transportion department.  It isn't reasonable to expect a modern society to provide the quality of life we enjoy without the ability to deliver goods and people beyond walking distance. Mass transportation is required to allow us to have all the things we take for granted every day, such as toilet paper and cereal and shoes.  We have to pay for road building and maintenance in order to make our society run.

So before you complain about your taxes, please consider that you wouldn't even have your job to pay your taxes without the society you live in providing the critical infrastructure necessary for your job to even exist.  And if this isn't true for you because you live in a commune and make your own shoes and milk and card sheep for wool and so forth - if you're reading this article on the internet, the internet itself wouldn't exist without community infrastructure.

Perhaps some day communities will be able to be truly self-sufficient with solar power and we can all move to a futuristic Star Trek world where things just work and everyone can survive without paying in to a central organization to manage infrastructure for the whole society, but we're not there yet and pretending we are because we want to believe that is the way it ought to be isn't going to keep our schools funded and our bridges from crashing down around us.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Vaccination is NOT Eugenics

I saw a post on the internet today that left me completely incensed.

Here it is.

Bill Gates is not in favor of eugenics, and his efforts to promote vaccine use also have nothing to do with eugenics. This is tin hat talk initiated by people who are either afraid of things they don't understand, or want to blame for the problems of the world on people who have the wealth and power to make vaccines possible.

Vaccines save lives and have improved the quality of life in the US over the last century by massive amounts, which is why Gates promotes them to 3rd world countries. Improving the quality of people's lives has a direct effect on the happiness and stability of citizen's lives, which in turn leads to better and more responsible family planning, which leads to an end result of less population growth. That is what he is going for with this statement, and interpreting it as anything else is purely malicious. Five minutes of research are sufficient to debunk this notion.

Here is some explanation of how he feels about vaccines.

It is wrong-headed to claim that people who promote vaccines are trying to _kill_ people, and it is maliciously incorrect. Vaccines have nothing to do with eugenics. They directly correlate with improved quality of life for children and adults around the globe.

If we truly are concerned about the safety of vaccines, we should be fully funding the FDA and sending in oversight teams to promote the safe development of all vaccines. Instead, we waste our time spitting on the morality of people who invest in the development of a technology whose sole point is to make lives better. I'm ashamed of the internet today.

The end result of a WAR ON VACCINES is NO VACCINES. Is that really what anyone wants? A return to a time when diseases rampaged because we had no defenses? Where your innate genetic defenses, or the fact that you happened to live with COWS leads to your survival, and people around you dying?

So stop the war on vaccines. If you don't think that our current vaccines are safe, clamor loudly to your senators and representatives for safe research! But you don't get to say (or imply) "ALL VACCINES ARE EVIL" or "PEOPLE WHO FUND VACCINATION HAVE EVIL MOTIVES" if the end result of "NO VACCINES" is a result you aren't willing to live with.

As far as I can tell, the anti-vaccination crowd has put scientific researchers into an impossible situation. Anti-vaccination literature says that vaccines cause all sorts of harms that there is absolutely no scientific research to support. All the positive research done by scientists is thrown out the window because of anecdotal evidence that is completely unverifiable. No court of law would grant a conviction on the kind of evidence that these people are putting out. If you don't like vaccination, put your science on, and do some quantitative research. Numbers or GTFO.