All About the Bass, Not So Much About the Patriarchy

I like this song and it’s video.  Really like it.  The sound is catchy, bouncy, and pleasingly retro.  The video is bright, diversely cast, and the over-the-top doll-house theme is appealingly funny.  The overall message of the song, “Every inch of you is perfect, from the bottom to the top,” is obviously a positive message for everyone to hear, especially the girls and young women who are presumably the target audience for any new young pop star.  I think this song, and it’s rocket to popularity, are great signs for our culture’s progressing along in the conversation about self-image, women’s voices, and the variety of body types shown in pop culture.

But, this song and video are hardly without fault.  Maybe, a lot of fault.  When I first heard this song I flinched at the lines, “You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll,” and, “Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that…”  It’s great that Ms. Trainor feels great about her body, but it doesn’t seem fair to feel great by bringing others down.  Isn’t this part of the whole problem Ms. Trainor is taking exception to?  Thin-shaming isn’t any better than fat-shaming, though perhaps it is a little less common.  Maybe leaving any kind of body-shaming out of a song about embracing your body would be for the best?

The other thing about those lines that I didn’t like, that’s a little more hidden and insidious?  They are, on one level, about not-skinny people shaming skinny people – yikes.  But it’s also about women shaming and body-policing other women – super-yikes.  As the great Ms. Albright taught us, there certainly is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.  And throwing around the tired phrase, “skinny bitch” is certainly not helping anyone.  Not every woman has to be in every other woman’s corner every single day – we’re just people with ups and downs, opinions and disagreements, good days and bad.  However, putting the phrase, “stick figure, silicone Barbie doll,” an incredibly offensive, delegitimizing, anti-woman phrase, to incessantly ear-wormy music?  That’s a feminist foul. Or, maybe just foul.

A friend of mine on FB noted that as much as he personally liked the song he didn’t plan on letting his kids listen to it, and it wasn’t for the reasons I outlined above.  Rather, what irked him were the lines, ostensibly advice being delivered by a mom, “Yeah my mama she told me don’t worry about your size / She says, ‘Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.’ ”  He disliked the notion that girls should be overly concerned about their bodies just so that they could have bodies that would be pleasing to boys rather than for themselves.  That’s is indeed the seemingly literal meaning of these lines and I suspect it’s the only message that many young people would be able to parse from these lines.  But I don’t actually think that’s the message Ms. Trainor means to be sending, or indeed is sending, with this music video.  If that’s the essential story behind this video could it ever have had the incredible resonance among women as it’s enjoyed?  I’ve seen it quite a bit on my newsfeed, shared by folks who love strong, independent, happy ideals for women.  Let me explain why I think these lines, and some other truly problematic lines, are part of a larger, rosier picture.

The whole video’s theme is fairly juvenile.  There is a childhood bedroom, a doll-house, balloons, a tea party, pink-bike riding, and even dancers frozen with bent arms, karate-chop hands, and starchily coiffed hair – the perfect caricature of Mattel dolls.  There’s even a floral headband, a riff off of childhood’s daisy-chain crowns if I ever saw one.  Ms. Trainor and her video girlfriends are alternately dressed in pastel Pleasantville-style clothes and brightly colored mini-dresses, the 1950’s being our culture’s idiom for our collective childhood experience and the 1960’s for our collective adolescence.  I think this video is based squarely in that dreaded “tween” time, the developmental grey area between childhood and the later teen years.  This is where imagination, play, and still-sought parental advice are the only tools kids have to help them navigate the increasingly more grown-up questions they face like:

“What kind of person am I?”

“What kind of world do I live in?”

“Am I someone that is likeable?”

“Will I have a boy/girlfriend someday?”

If you can bear to do it, try to remember being that age, 12 or 13.  Your level of worry about social acceptance, was it pretty chill and low or was it numbingly, terrifyingly high?  I’m guessing it was astronomically high – it certainly was for me.  Young teens are very, very worried about how other people, especially their peers, perceive them.  This worry can certainly have some unhealthy consequences if it gets out of hand, but it seems that by itself it’s just a regular step on the way to developing into a healthy adult.  Young teens worry that their peers won’t accept them as friends or as potential romantic partners for a whole host of reasons.  They worry a lot about being liked, about being cool or at least, being normal.

That’s the worry that I imagine the song’s mom speaking to.  “Don’t worry about your size…Boys like a little more booty to hold at night” would be an outrageously inappropriate thing to say to a six year-old, who shouldn’t be worried at all about her body (except perhaps how she can get it to climb trees better or when her scraped knees will heal) and will only be confused by the innuendo.  It’s also inappropriate to say to a 26-year old, who’s old enough to make up her mind about her own body and what she’d like to look like and about any partners who might or might not pass judgement on her.  But a young woman, without experience or wisdom of her own yet, but needing to start making decisions about her dating life?  Maybe some good mom-advice is exactly what’s useful.

It might do a teen, of any gender, a lot of good to be told the very true truths that fashion magazines lie (“workin’ that Photoshop”), that different people find different body types attractive (the oft repeated “more booty” line), and that people who can’t respect them for who they are aren’t worth their time (“So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along”).  Those things are empowering messages and not always obvious to kids (or adults!).  Teens don’t walk out into the dating/relationship world having all the facts straight already.  Telling them the truth when it’s useful and appropriate isn’t overly sexualizing children or taking their power from them.  It’s just one of the ways they have to learn about this particular world.  It’s a complicated world and teens need whatever help they get.

It wouldn’t be empowering or positive if the song’s mom said, “Don’t worry about being chunky, your butt’s pretty attractive, you’re still sexually marketable and therefore have worth.”  Scraped down to plain lyrics, I understand why some people hear this message in All About the Bass.  It’s a message unfortunately echoed in the first verses lines,

But I can shake it, shake it
Like I’m supposed to do
‘Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
And all the right junk in all the right places

These lines set up a normative body that is “right” and what’s “supposed” to be for women.  And that body is most definitely sexualized with a “boom boom” (what!?) that “all the boys* chase.” People hear, “I’m built right, with a nice butt, that’s valuable to boys, exactly as it ought to be.”  And that’s hard to argue with on one level, it’s right there.  And indeed, that is a frustratingly essentialist and limiting sentiment. You are as valuable as your butt.  Your butt is as valuable as the boys that chase it.  Blergh.  That is awful.

But here’s how I choose to read these lyrics, and the song as a whole.  I say “choose” because like any other piece of media I recognize this song has many fair understandings some of which may cause people to come to vastly different decisions about how to interact with it.  I choose hear a young woman, caught in the weird years between playing with dolls and going to prom, gathering the collected wisdom of her life so far: storybook morals (“Every inch of you is perfect…”), pop culture (“I’m bringing booty back”), and parental advice (“Yeah my mama she told me…”),and turning it into her own words and her own moral-of-the-story, “I’m all about the bass.”  Her version isn’t perfect or without clunky bits, but what would we expect that out of a young teen?  The point is that out of that sometimes-a-mess reasoning she came out with the right idea, that she herself likes herself just as she is.  She is all about the bass**.  All about it!  She says it 32 times.  I counted.  That is clearly the overwhelming message of the song.  This growing and discovering young woman, she is growing and discovering she likes her curvy self, just as it is.  Full stop.

And that’s the emotional powerhouse behind the love for this song.

That emotional wallop is why I’m will to engage in some pretty heavy criticism of this music, but still scan the radio looking for it.  There is practically no music out there that’s immune from some criticism (Itsy-Bitsy Spider, maybe?), but it’s worth our time and energy to engage our minds and values in judging what we take in from the world around us.  Criticism is a way to mitigate the bad parts of media, to recognize, name, and call out bad actors and wrong beliefs for being hurtful.  I do it not only so that media is less damaging to me but so that I can find it more enjoyable.  My friend on FB might consider this simple justification for a great tune – a sentiment I understand, it’s how I feel when anyone has anything even vaguely positive to say about the rape-apologist song Blurred Lines.   But I don’t, I find it a useful way to manage living with the world as it currently is, where even the best and most progressive media outlets are tainted with sexism, racism, and xenophobia (and queerphobia, and resentment of the poor, and victim-blaming, and violence and, and, and….).  However, I recognize that there is a lot of terrible junk out there and we’ve all got different ways of filtering what gets to us (and any kids!) and we’re going to come to different decisions about individual media items.  So while I used my friend’s thoughts as a jumping off point to discuss this song’s vices and virtues, which I think I see differently from him, I’m not suggesting he’s wrong to determine that this is out of bounds for his kids.  The patriarchy is awful and if this is a step he sees is important to take to protect his kids from it – great.  I am pro-kid and anti-patriarchy everyday of the week.

I was also inspired to write this post by reading this by Samantha at Defeating the Dragons where she writes about Taylor Swift’s new music video for Shake It Off and it’s multiple issues with racist stereotypes and cultural appropriations.  The article is very good, even if I don’t agree with every single point. It is also kind of sad, because without the racism this music video would be pretty amazing.  Yes, I just said a very qualified something nice about Taylor Swift.  And it’s on the internet so it’s forever.  The things I do for this blog.

*This is also a very cis/heteronormative song – All the boys are interested in this girl? I doubt it.  If this song is meant to be generalized to all body-conscious girls, why only addresses how boys might feel about “a little more booty,” and not what other girls or genderqueer people might think?  Plenty of girls are worrying themselves over girls and genderqueer  people right now in middle schools all over this great nation.  Possible not-straining-to-sound-inclusive-but-magically-is: “Folks like a little more booty…”.  It scans the same!  The queer oversight is funny, because in the video the only people to even take notice of any women’s bottoms are other women.  There’s even butt-grabbing by a woman!  Though, to be fair, she does look terrified when she does it (why is that a terrifying act?) and does not give the impression of being especially attracted to this particular lady-butt.

**I also LOVE the metaphor of depth of sound for size/curviness.  There are so few ways to talk about size and weight, even when using euphemisms (sometimes especially when using euphemisms) that stay away from labeling one end of the size spectrum as good and the other as bad.  But bass/treble is totally value-neutral and yet clear in it’s meaning.  It’s a rich and creative metaphor and I think our idiom is the better for it’s creation. Personally, I also think that deeper voices are quite attractive for women, I think women who sing as tenors (which is usually annotated along a bass line) are pretty awesome.

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Hello, World!

PRIDE

PRIDE

Six months ago I wrote a post about losing my faith in God.  That post took me seven years to be able to write.  And although I had intended on it being just part of my reentry into blogging I found it nearly impossible to follow that post up with anything else.  Everything felt trite and empty of compelling energy.  Because as important as it was for me to write about my deconversion I was really writing a totally different post in a sort of code.  I was half way through the post myself before I saw it.  I was really writing this post.  I needed this story to be heard but didn’t have the courage to tell it.

Perhaps we only have a few stories we tell ourselves about our lives and our experiences, no matter how diverse, always cling to these few patterns.  This is one of my stories: I am always leaving home for a journey I am not happy about, am ill-prepared for and without any idea of the end goal.  It’s certainly not a unique story; it is, in fact, archetypal.  I wrote that last post about leaving my home in Christianity, faith, and God and going on a journey into the unknown dark beyond faith.  This post is about leaving the home of my identity as a straight person and leaving on a journey into the unknown spectrum of queerdom.  I still don’t really know where I’m going but now my car has a bi-pride magnet on it.

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IMG_6581

Your Author, aged tiny. It would be another 15 years or so until I even learned the word “bisexual.” What if it had been that long until I learned the words, “American,” or “Catholic” or “woman”?

None of the people I’ve come out to personally have expressed surprise when I’ve told them, cryptically, I’m afraid, “I’m not straight.”* I think, that it has been a matter of politeness rather than a case of “we all knew dear.” But still, I found the lack of surprise surprising.  Because, damn it, I was surprised.

I wasn’t someone who knew from childhood that I was somehow different from my peers.  I wandered along the straight and narrow – dating, falling in love, marrying – without genuinely questioning my actual orientation.  Until one day a woman laughed – I blinked -and the world I knew came apart.  That straight and narrow path had led me right off a cliff, and like Wile E. Coyote, I briefly stood there groundless and confused but aloft and with a remarkable new perspective.   At that one moment I knew for a fact I wasn’t straight, that it wasn’t going to be a secret I could keep forever, but that ultimately everything would work out ok.  The change in perspective was instantaneous, complete, and it struck a chord of authenticity in me that had been silent for far too long.

Then, a la Looney Tunes, gravity kicked in and I began a long fall.  I forgot everything that had been so clear just moments before.  What I call the “Oh-shit” cascade began.  One terrible thought thudded into another, crowding out reason.

Oh shit, what if I’m not straight?

Oh shit, but I’m married.

Oh shit, what if my husband finds out I’m not straight?

Oh shit, what if he thinks I’ve been lying?

Oh shit, have I been lying?

Oh shit, I don’t even know anything.

Oh shit, what if this freaks my friends out?

Oh shit, shit, shit, here’s this thing out of no where and it’s made me a liar to my spouse and my friends and myself and if it ever gets out I’ll be alone forever.  Shit.

This is where, at the grown-up age of my late twenties, I locked myself in a bathroom.  I held onto the walls more for psychological stability than physical and ran the taps to cover the conspicuous lack of normal bathroom noises.  I tried to come up with some excuse for why my day had suddenly taken such a crazy turn: I must be mistaken, overtired, or some other bizarre excuse I thought up for why all of a sudden questioning my orientation seemed 100% legitimate and extremely urgent.  I thought a few good night’s rests would solve my problem, or maybe more vitamin D in my diet, or maybe just ignoring it altogether would work.  “That’s the ticket!” I thought, “Don’t talk to anyone, or think about it further and it will all disappear like a bad dream.”

You know, a grown-up sized version of this costume wouldn't be inappropriate for PRIDE, huh?

Your Author, 8.  You know, a grown-up sized version of this costume wouldn’t be inappropriate for PRIDE, huh?

Ah, nope.

It couldn’t be wished or willed away.  It couldn’t be ignored into oblivion either.  But I promised myself that I would go to my grave before I ever told another soul about not being straight (I hadn’t yet gotten out the LGBTQ p-touch and made myself a label yet, all I knew was that “straight” was no longer cutting it).  I’m surely not the first or last to try those remedies for an inconvenient self-revelation.  What I could do was make myself miserable, anxious, and isolated by refusing to share this fact about myself that I was seriously stressing over with anybody.  I could manage to pick fights with my spouse and other friends because I was incredibly wound up and convinced everybody could tell what was wrong with me but didn’t want to talk about it because it was too embarrassing/terrible/shameful.  I could lose sleep.  I could cry in my car.  I could see all the bad things I feared would happen if I allowed this disruptive non-straightness even an inch into my life happening anyway.  Happening even as I worked so hard to quash it.

To the grave.  To the grave.  To the grave.

That was my depressing, defeating, limiting, harassing mantra.

To the grave.

In quiet moments that called for self-revelation I’d press my lips together as if to physically stop words from coming out of my mouth, turn around and leave the room.

To the grave.

The phrase tolled through my head as I had conversations with friends and kept me from seeking the encouragement and advice I needed.

To the grave.

I’d think about it in the dark at night.  I’d gone another day without saying anything; I was one day closer to my goal.

To-

It was at once numbing and consuming in it’s repetitiveness.

The-

I walked to its morbid waltz-like beat, chewed to it, breathed to it.

Grave-

I could imagine my secret buried in my heart, my hands folded over a dead chest holding the secret in, buried under feet of dirt, but still I could see that secret rising ghost-like and haunting.  If taking my secret to the grave wasn’t far enough to hide it, how much further could I take it?  I felt incredibly defeated.

I didn’t have the distance to see it at the time, but it is obvious now that it was the deception that was toxic and not queerness.  What use was the secret if I was going to suffer everything I feared if I were out?  Might as well be hung for the ewe as for the lamb. I had lasted two months in the closet.  What I was supposed to take to my grave I tearily and haltingly confided to my husband on Christmas Eve.  And he took the news in the most perfectly loving, perfectly supportive, perfectly perfect way.  Then he asked me if I was going to say I was pregnant next; I assured him that was definitely not the direction of this conversation.  With a minute’s reflection he was more at peace with my revelation than I was.  I went from terrified to grateful.  What a Christmas present!

All I wanted from my confessional coming out was for my marriage not to end, for my husband not to think I was a terrible, gross liar whom he was sorry to have married.  It was a low bar, to be sure, and I was pretty sure the two of us could clear it.  What I was aiming for a mix of toleration and forgetfulness.  I wanted to be loved in spite of being bi.  My husband did much better; he aimed much higher.  He wasn’t intimidated by the seriousness of my revelation or the dourness with which I delivered it.  Nor did he believe it was something either of us could just forget about.  He didn’t love me in spite of who I am, but because of who I am.

Your author, 6 (ish?), and most definitely keeping it real in polka dots.  I'm still real.

Your author, 6 (ish?), and most definitely keeping it real in polka dots. I’m still real.

My story turns on his supportive response.  I finally had a confidant and a shoulder to cry on – much better than sniffling alone leaning against the steering wheel of my car.  I had felt so cut off at the time of the “Oh-shit” cascade: cut off from my spouse because of the seeming impediment of my orientation, cut off from my family and friends by the closet I suddenly found myself in, cut off from the greater queer support networks by the fear that more than a quarter century of straight-identification disqualified me from even walking in the door, cut off from myself by this sudden, traumatic break with my previous sense of identity.  Now it was time to rebuild these bridges.

To integrate bisexuality into my own sense of myself was not simple.  The fears and anxieties that had piled up for months mixed with all the internalized bias from my upbringing in a Catholic home.  But the remarkable sense of authenticity that I felt by identifying as bi was more powerful than my fear.  Every time that I hit a wall and got discouraged, wishing I could just “go back” to my old identity I could see how ill-fitting it really was, like trying to wear a pair of shoes two sizes too small.  It was like for my whole life I had been getting around by jumping on one foot and I had finally put down my other foot.   Identifying as straight, jumping on one foot, worked – kind of – but was exhausting.  Going back would be like picking up that foot again – too tiring a thought to even contemplate.  Two feet please!  I like men and women, people who are like my own gender and who are not like my own gender.  Knowing this made my friendships made more sense.  It made my childhood and adolescence make more sense.  I might not have realized I was queer as a kid, but it’s pretty clear to me now that’s pretty likely what I was. The sense of genuineness, and how good being genuine feels, slowly won over the negativity swirling from both inside and outside of me.

My first forays out of the closet were extremely hesitant, more like chucking some hangers and socks out at people and seeing what happened.  I told my most liberal, already-out-themselves friends.  They were not shocked. They were not appalled.  They asked me a question I found so incredible I had them repeat it,

“So, what do you want to do now?”

Your Author, a little south of 2, I wasn't gross or scary then, I'm not gross or scary now.  I admit though, I might be a tad less adorable than my baby-self in an Easter dress and hat with a bunny.

Your Author, a little south of 2, I wasn’t gross or scary then, I’m not gross or scary now. I admit though, I might be a tad less adorable than my baby-self in an Easter dress and hat with a bunny.

I didn’t have to be at the mercy of my orientation happening to me.  I could make decisions.  And it was okay for those decisions to be about what was best for me.  I could come out to everyone I knew! Or, I never had to tell another person.  I could get involved in local queer groups and be politically active for LGBTQ rights or I could decide that being bi, while an interesting thing to know about myself, didn’t affect my day to day life so it could be set aside.  But I could choose.  What a wonderful feeling!  I had felt forced to be miserable, but I could definitely choose to be happy.  So I did.

I wanted to be happy and I did not want to leave my bisexuality in the closet.  I chose to come out to some friends and family, though the process was slow and kind of awkward.  A lot of people thought I was maybe trying to say I was pregnant, or maybe had a terminal disease.  But, once I was clear about what news I was actually delivering, no one freaked out like I was afraid they would.  I joined my school’s LGBTQ group and was pleased to find that no one demanded some kind of notarized queer credentials upon entering the meeting room (or since).  I went to my first Pride parade and stuck the rainbow magnets on my car.

And if you are reading this, I chose to be out to you.  Yay!

Happy coming outs are all alike; every unhappy coming out is unhappy in its own way (with thanks to Leo).  Every person who comes out has to deal with both.  Happiness in living in their own truth and reducing the stigma of the LBGTQ community and unhappiness in the potential breakdown of important relationships.  But being out means being free.  It means not having to lie or hedge the truth.  It means simplicity, authenticity, and genuineness.   Being out is a big sigh of relief.

Being out means identifying with the LGBTQ community as a member and not only as an ally, having skin in the game. I am very happy that being out is a way that I can combat the bizarrely prevalent bi-phobic ideas that bisexuality is fake, gross, scary, or is about being confused or undecided. I am real. I am not scary or gross. I am not confused or undecided. I am definitely bisexual. Being out also helps combat bi-erasure. Did anyone of you assume that because I am a woman and am married to a man that I must be straight? Well, I’m not blaming you, because I did too! But straightness is just not something that can be assumed. Nor can people in same-gender relationships be assumed to be gay or lesbian unless they identify that way. Bisexuality is the** invisible, forgotten, but ever-present possibility. I think that bisexuality still makes non-bi people uncomfortable the way that gay and lesbian folk used to make straight people uncomfortable and that’s why the largest segment of the LGBT community remains largely unacknowledged.

Your Author, 2, Here I am getting Make-Believe shit done.  I am not indecisive.

Your Author, 2, Here I am getting Make-Believe shit done. I am not indecisive.

It means I might become a polarizing subject for some friends and family members.  I hope it doesn’t.  Being bi hasn’t changed how I feel about my family and friends; I don’t love them one iota less because of it.  Why would I?  I’m really hoping it doesn’t change anyone’s feelings about me.  But I know it’s a possibility that it will.

Sadly, I know this is especially true when it comes to people I know from the churches I used to belong to.  Certainly not all Christians nor all Christian denominations believe ugly, false-witness bearing things about the LGBTQ community, but some Christians seem to be trying to outdo each other in cruelty.   One of the hardest things for me to accept when I first started coming to terms with my own bisexuality was the enormous, queer-shaped stumbling block that I saw developing between me and my old church. I love them so much and I fear the sharp shape their rejection might take.  As at peace with myself as I might be I still don’t know how deep and wide that chasm of their fear and exclusion might be.

It’s not like I ever thought I could really go back to the church, considering my atheistically backslidden ways, but I could pretend.  That pretending was very comforting.  But my bisexuality, from the beginning, seemed different from my atheism and more permanent.  Atheism is a difference of opinion, it lives in the mind, it is changeable.  Atheism describes my lack of belief in divinity but it isn’t really about me, just my thoughts and opinions.  If people can refrain from name-calling then I’m happy to playfully spar on religious/theological topics all day and it’s no skin off my nose.  My bisexuality is a fact; it is not negotiable.  It’s part of my heart and body and it isn’t really up for discussion.  It’s a heavier and more important thing on my part and I’m afraid for the church it is a more disconcerting and partisan subject.  I’ll be waiting on their reaction for a while, uncomfortably.  I am holding on to hope though, that like the humanizing-through-early-childhood-adorableness I attempted in this post, my church families will look at me and say, “Oh? That’s a queer person? She’s not some scary other! She made bookmarks for the hymnals.”  And that, I hope, hope, hope, can lead people to rethinking their less-than-loving views or emboldening them in their loving views on LGBTQ people.

Thank you for reading – I genuinely hope my story has been worth something to you.  Telling it has been worth a lot to me.  Hopefully I can get back to the kind of blogging I love – anger-trolling and Henry antics.  I mean, that’s what the internet is for, right?

I swear, when I first heard this song my blood went cold.  I was convinced the chorus went, “…Come out to me, come out to me now!”  But I was not ready yet.  So here you go Charli 10/60 (40/10?), now I’m out to you too.

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*Isn’t that a funny way to put it? It’s obviously not straight-forward (ha-ha?). Was it a fear of the word bisexual? A minimization of the truth? As in, “I’m not straight, but I’m also not a lima bean.  So what?”

**Or, ‘a’ possibility, if you like.  I’m using “bisexuality” in its umbrella meaning here, to stand in for any non-monosexual orientation of which there are several.

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Losing Faith

MaryI was twenty one when I realized I no longer believed in God.

It was the summer between my junior and senior year of college.  I was living in a tiny, hot one room apartment with my fiance.  I remember feeling like there was no where to go get away from my thoughts and feelings that weighed me down like the terrible Maryland mugginess.  I read War and Peace that summer, sitting in the tub full of cool water, and I cried along with each character’s tragedy and joy.

The realization itself itself had been so seemingly tiny, a little addendum of internal monologue attached to an eyeroll.  A particularly lubricious church-planter speaking at an event, everyone nodding politely, and I think to myself, “Why am I putting up with this?  I don’t even believe in this.”  I remember sitting at the picnic table, frozen in my fear, trying not to cry into my potato salad.  That was it.

People talk about being argued into or out of believing in God.  They talk about abandoning belief because of the inconvenience of it’s moral strictures or, conversely, about only believing as a crutch to lean on in difficult times.  But I found that both my belief and my unbelief were events that seemed out of my control.  Instead, they were the culmination of many external factors.  My only active participation was in the response to these realizations.

When I was young I was incredibly embarrassed to talk about God or my faith.  I hated even reading aloud in my religious education classes knowing that I’d have to pronounce words like, “sacrament” and “Jesus” audibly.  Everyone could hear how I felt about those things by how I pronounced them, I could just tell, and I was horribly uncomfortable.  I was taught that feeling uncomfortable talking about God was sinful, as it showed shame.  I was taught that feeling embarrassed when discussing your faith was unloving, because it showed you were uninterested in the eternal fate of those around you.  These lessons always confused me.  The stronger I felt about my faith the less I wanted to casually share it.  It was too valuable and too tender to expose so wantonly.  My faith was a treasure, a pearl of great price, and I kept it guarded closely.

My religious instructors would have been better off had they used the word, “introvert,” instead of, “ashamed” to describe me.  I didn’t self-reveal about anything important or personal.  Self-revelation has always felt so dangerous, like every admission was a weapon put into someone else’s hands.

Without God it felt like my world had collapsed.  It felt like there was an unending earthquake going on, that every time I went to put my foot down, I wouldn’t know where it would fall.  I couldn’t figure out how to be me, or how to be any of the things be I needed to be (friend, sister, fiancee, student).  I hurt in a way that I didn’t know how to say, so I mostly didn’t say it.  Silenced pain and confusion doesn’t go away though, it makes itself heard through other avenues, I started getting sick in all these strange ways.

With extreme reluctance, and after great prodding, I started talking.  Some people were simply supportive, the kind of people who offer hugs and mugs of tea and an ear to listen. Some people tried to convince me, with the best of intentions, of the error of my way.  These conversations were very painful, they plied me with Bible verses and personal stories of doubt and conversion.  I wanted very much for them to convince me, but I also knew, absolutely, that they would not.  And some people took the news of my disbelief very badly indeed.  I wanted solace and understanding, but found disappointment and rejection.  Sometimes I didn’t tell someone about my own disbelief, but I heard them talk about atheists or other unbelievers, and I grew afraid to tell them how I had stepped out of the warm light of the great cloud of witnesses and into dark of the unknown beyond.

I had revealed my lack of faith in small, but growing concentric circles of friendship and safety.  I had felt so much relief knowing that I was understood and loved by those around me, even if I was a godless heathen now.  When I hit the wall of hostility I stopped talking.  I stopped finding relief.  I was lucky enough that I had a wide enough circle of support that I gradually healed.  The mysterious illnesses cleared up.  The earth started holding still.

Nearly eight years have passed since I lost my faith, and it’s no longer really a secret.  There are people I’ve never articulated my atheism to, but if they asked me, I’d be honest.       The loss of my faith isn’t the defining feature of my day to day life anymore and I’ve rebuilt my understanding of myself and my relationship to others without the mediator of Christianity.  My faith has become a historical artifact associated with dates and places and people, but no longer a living thing that I guard and nurture.  I can talk about it now because it isn’t personal.

But there are always things that do remain personal.  There are things that I find hard to talk about now and things that I will find hard to talk about in the future.  It’s a hard lesson for me to learn: that I need to be willing to be honest about my interior life with the people around me.  My supportive friends and family are what buoyed me up when I was sinking so fast under the heavy burden of my secret faithlessness.  I’ve also tried to become more gentle and supportive of my self-revelation-phobic friend’s tender spots.  You’d think that introverts would be great at treating other introverts exactly as they like to be treated, right?  Nope, we gotta learn just like our enthusiastically extroverted sisters and brothers.  I’m learning both lessons, slowly, and as much in the open as possible.

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Poems to Read to the Very Young Proto-New Yorkers

Poems to Read to the Very Young  When I was quite young my family had a copy of this book Poems to Read to the Very Young, where the poems were selected by Josette Frank and the timeless illustrations provided by Eloise Wilkin.  I loved it.  I often demanded that poems from it be read to me.  I poured over the sweet, idyllic illustrations.  When I was seven or eight our copy of the book was destroyed by my grandma’s dog.  For two decades I’ve looked for a replacement at used book shops and garage sales –  the book itself is many decades out of print.  I found this copy in a local Mennonite “Book Shed.”  When I bought it I had tears welling up in my eyes.  

Bird Talk – Aileen Fisher

“Think…” said the robin,

“Think…” said the jay,

Sitting in the garden,

Talking one day.

“Think about the people-

the way they grow:

they don’t have feathers

at all, you know.

“They don’t eat beetles,

they don’t grow wings,

they don’t like sitting

on wires and things.

“Think!” said the robin.

“Think!” said the jay.

“Aren’t people funny

to be that way?”

That was the first poem I ever memorized.  I knew it by heart before I could read.  I like to think that in that humorous poem are the seeds of learning to love literature and poetry, to accept other people who are different from me and mine own, and of course – bird watching.

Looking through Poems I’ve felt that much of the book was weirdly prescient for my adult life.  In this illustration there is what appears to be a Johnnie chair, just on the child’s right.IMG_0570 For non-Johnnie readers here’s the Johnnie chair I mean:

(Doesn’t this picture just make you hungry for bagels, pasta and marinara sauce, and rum raisin ice cream eaten with a fork?)

Once  I had a chance to look through Poems as an adult I noticed that the landscape and architecture of the illustrations seemed oddly familiar too.  It didn’t match up to the city and suburbs that I grew up in, which had their heyday in the early and mid twentieth century.  These scenes were notably more pastoral and definitely older.  Many of the homes depicted were the big, wooden farmhouses that are now my neighbors here in the Finger Lakes.  There are picture windows, big porches, wooden floors – all of which is clearly evident in the housing stock in the little towns and neighborhoods all throughout upstate.  The landscapes matched this area too – lots of depictions of children in cold weather with bare trees in the background, soft rolling forests, seagulls shown in pictures without the sea.   This was the picture that made me stop and decide to find out where exactly Eloise Wilkins was from.  Because this picture isn’t just kind of similar to upstate, it’s like some beautiful childlike encapsulation of it.IMG_0571 A quick google reveals that indeed, Eloise Wilkins is from Rochester, NY.  I find this makes Poems even dearer to me now.  As a child I learned to love and cherish the land that I would one day come to live in.  I didn’t grow up here in upstate, I didn’t have my formative years spent down in this dirt or listening to this wind or tumbling over this grass.  But I do have the next best thing: these perfect, distilled images of childhood strung like pearls in my heart that I can always return to when I feel the need to really belong to this land.

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One Must Have a Mind of Winter

You might have noticed.  It’s been kind of a rough winter.

Lots of snow.  Super duper cold.  Even the hardiest, most wool and silk and thinsulate prepared of us have been stuck inside for long stretches.  But a few weekends ago the temperatures soared into the above freezing ranges.  We sprang from our stygian lairs!

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This is the lower portion of Taughannock Falls, clogged and roiling with snowmelt and snowpack.  Walking up to the creek was an iffy affair, it was a little hard to tell where the solid bank ended and the rapidly receding mini-glaciers began.  The noise was stunning.  The sheer amount of water flowing outpaced any flow I had seen before and it was being forced through an exceptionally smaller creek bed then normal.

 IMG_0387Further up the creek the water slows down, it flows more broadly and shallowly.  You could watch hunks of ice being slowly rolled or bobbed down the creek, occasionally getting stuck on a submerged rock or shallow place.  The far edge of the bend in the creek is littered with the stuck mini icebergs; each helps describe the curve of the change in the depth of the creek.

IMG_0405 Shallow water isn’t the only place for a free floating creek-sicle to get stuck.  This trio got stranded on adjacent rocks and were lofted above the water as the water level fell.  They reminded me of nothing more than the three wise men on camel back.  Don’t they look as if they are going some where?

IMG_0401 And here is Taughannock Falls itself.  Friends, if you have a chance to see this falls, or another just as snowmelt starts, do it.  We often go to Taughannock but this was by far the most impressive it has ever been.  Huge ice chunks could be seen coming over the top of the falls then disappeared into the several stories high pile of snow and icy debris  cratered where the deep well of the waterfall usually flows.  Half the flow from the fall seemed to be blasted into mist which began to coat you 100 yards out.  The gorge roared with sound that just kept falling back in on itself from the high echo-y walls.  It was very loud, but it wasn’t painful or anxiety-producing.

The falls were mesmerizing.  Entrancing.  Awesome.

We stayed until our coats began to get soaked through.

It was a less cold day, but not exactly a scorcher.  And we still had one more errand.  To a vineyard.  To see how harvest was coming.  Yes, in March.

IMG_0421 Yes, this is how an unharvested block of grapes looks like in March.  It isn’t pretty.  No leaves, lots of mud.  Everything is wound in birdnetting in an attempt at keeping the hungry avians at bay.  There is a nice change from fall harvest season though, no wasps.  That is a positive note not to be quickly discounted.

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These grapes weren’t left here by accident and then whoopsie someone picks them in March and tries to sneak that in without anyone noticing.  These are ice wine grapes left to freeze on the vine to concentrate all their grapey goodness into a viscous, delicious syrup to make a delicious, syrupy wine from.  We went around tasting the frozen grapes a few days before their anticipated harvest date to make sure they tasted as delicious as they looked.  Thank our lucky stars, they tasted much better than they looked – which was kind of like the zombies of the produce aisle.

IMG_0432 But an extra three months of sunshine fell on these grapes, putting them a season ahead of their peers.  I anticipate you’ll taste every sunny ray in the bottle.

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The Habit of Lent

Growing up in a moderately observant Catholic home meant that every spring brought around a new observance of a very old tradition, the period of fasting and general abstention of Lent in spiritual preparation for Easter.  This usually involved a lot of additional haranguing of elementary aged children to please choose fish sticks instead of burgers at lunch on Fridays, because obviously all of salvation rests on what picky nine year-olds choose to go with their milk and tater tots.  Additionally, as a Catholic child, you were supposed to give up something that you enjoyed very much and that maybe you enjoyed in a guilty way.  You couldn’t give up homework, no matter how hard some of my peers tried to make that one work.  Chocolate, pizza, candy, t.v., and video games were common things classmates claimed to have given up for the forty days of the fast*.  “What are you giving up?” was a question that could be asked of you by pretty much anyone in my community growing up and it wouldn’t have seemed weird or prying (nor would it need explanation or context).  Family, classmates, and people at church all wanted to know how terrible you had set up your Lent to be.  You were absolutely expected to have an answer.  None of this, “I haven’t thought about it,” or, “I’m just doing the regular no-meat thing.”  That would get you an admonishment, even from a near stranger.

The reasons behind Lent were very poorly explained to me as a child.  I sort of worked my way to this general understanding: it was a pretty crummy time for Jesus, so it’s only fair that it’s a pretty crummy time for  you too.  I hated fish sticks, so I figured I was doing my due diligence.  It was a very simplistic understanding of Lent.

But as I grew older and integrated other faith traditions into my life (though I never would have used that phrase to describe it), my understanding of the season grew.  My Presbyterian Church put a lot more focus on building good habits during that time rather than necessarily breaking bad ones.  There was lots of encouragement to read the Bible and pray daily, and almost always there would be new groups that met to study some kind of devotional book during those six weeks.  The time had a studious, committed air to it.  A young child in the Presbyterian Church may have gotten this sense of Lent: Jesus had a pretty crummy time, so you owe it to him to pay attention and understand exactly how crummy.

I jived so much better with a season given to books than to fish sticks.  I really hate fish sticks.

But even at the Presbyterian Church, I always gave something up for Lent.  For one thing, there were still plenty of people who would ask me and I knew I still needed an answer.  “But I’m Presbyterian now,” wasn’t going to be an excuse for some people, it was going to be another accusation.  But more importantly, it was just what I did.  I had a long habit of Lent.  Late winter rolls around, long after I’ve already forgotten about my New Year’s Resolutions, and I start getting itchy to do something to prove I’m in charge of the direction of my life. I hanker after something hard and secret to do.  It used to be challenges that I understood to sort of force God’s hand, a kind of bargaining where I set all the rules.  Eventually it evolved into challenges that I adopted to force my own hand.

For a few years out of my faith, practicing some kind of Lenten forbearance felt right.  I enjoyed the connection to my past and to my family and it never hurts to have some outside structure to help you build or break a habit.  I usually used these times to nurture the introverted part of me better.  I would carve out time to journal or go for walks or do artwork.  Nothing groundbreaking, but easy habits that get neglected because watching youtube videos is so much easier and addicting.  But after a few years of not attending a church it became strange to say I had a Lenten practice.  It became strange to even say it to myself.  Why was this time any different from another?  Why would you put an end date on good practices?  Why burden basic self-care with such religious overtones?

Now I’m not sure what to do with my Lenten habit.  I still have my Shrove Tuesday spidey sense.  I can feel it sneaking up on the calendar.  I’ll certainly celebrate Fat Tuesday, I mean, obviously, right?  Who can deny the wonder of a day dedicated to pancakes and doughnuts?  But what will Wednesday bring?

The past few years I’ve watched Lent go past without any outward observance.  It became too strange to observe myself.  The experience was a lot like visiting my high school after I graduated.  The first couple times I went back it was great, I knew most people and got to visit my old stomping grounds.  Then I went back once and didn’t know any of the students at all and only some of the teachers.  I knew the building – all the rooms and doors and hallways – but emotionally and socially it was like a blank slate.  Lent became like that.  I know how Lent works, when it begins and ends and all the rules it follows but all the meaning had drained out somehow.  I can see what Lent used to mean in the past tense for me, but I can’t make it mean anything in the present tense.  In the past it was a kind of power, a kind of wind that moved me.  Now it is a kind of puppet and I move it instead.  Instead of the outward observance of fish sticks there is only an inward observance of yearning and disappointment.  I miss Lent and it’s a new thing to add to the list of things I miss about belonging to the church.

*BTW, those forty days don’t include Sundays, which at least in the Catholic Church, are always considered Feast Days.  So, technically, you could enjoy all those things on Sunday and not break your fast.  But this argument never seemed to get me very far with my religious instructors.  I saw it as an excellent application of my canon knowledge; they saw it as cheating.  It’s probably fair to say it was both.

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Getting Into Things

Henry is just 14 pounds.  Big-ish for a cat, but small for a tornado of troublemaking.  Henry likes to get himself into, shall we say, situations.

Often, those situations involve bags.

Grocery store bags are his absolute favorite.  He starts licking them from the safety of the outside, but eventually works his way all the way in, always, it seems, through the handles.  Often we must rescue him from his impromptu superman capes.

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While we’ve theorized that he suffers from a chronic BPA deficiency that leads him to lick all these soft plastics, he’s not immune from the siren song of the reusable bag either.

 

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Even though he attacks these differently, as a hiding place rather than as a nutritional supplement, he still ends up getting stuck through the handles.  Henry the bag cat is always needing rescued from the very bags he loves so much.

Bags aren’t the only thing that draws Henry’s unwanted attention.  Any project that you’ve begun to devote time or energy to inevitably becomes intensely interesting to Henry.  He wants to watch the T.V. shows you’re watching.  He can’t keep his paws off a keyboard that you’re working at.  He wants to hang out with you in the bathroom so badly that he’ll cry and paw at the door until even the most modest person will finally relent to his insistence.

Henry can only be sated by being 100% involved in your current activity.

I’m crocheting a blanket, does he want to chase the yarn ball like a typical cat?  No, he wants to be draped in attention:

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Are you doing the most boring of household chores, like putting away dishes?  Henry doesn’t care, he still wants you to notice him.  There’s a rule in our house that no cabinet door can be left open for more than 4 or 5 seconds, just long enough to get or put back what’s necessary.  Or else you get this:

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And this is a good scenario.  In this picture Henry has turned himself around and is on a shelf without any breakable china.  But when he’s stuck in a cabinet head-first, penned in on either side by mugs and glasses, suddenly freaking out and grabbing on to everything as you try to pull him out backwards and knocking crockery out at you at the same time you are trying to rescue him?  Just remember to close the cabinet doors when you’re done with them.

But how can we stay mad at a face that stares back at us around that adorable pink nose and those perfectly guileless eyes?  We can’t.  So, I guess we’ll keep rescuing Henry from bags and lavishing inordinate amounts of attention on him.  There are worse fates in life.

 

 

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My Vision Of Feminism, or, Why I Don’t Shave My Legs But Do Wear Mascara

I wear make-up almost everyday.  And not just the bare bones basics of sunscreen and zit-coverer (but I do wear sunscreen everyday, and so should you!)

I mean I choose between a dozen of eyeshadow colors (all shiny, warm neutrals if you’re interested) and apply two or three colors.  I choose an eyeliner, either a brown pencil or a copper crayon and decide how to apply it that day (thin line, smudgy, thick, or continuing beyond the lid).  Then I put on mascara – lots of it.  I really do put on as much mascara as my poor eyelashes will hold without bothering my contacts.  I brush on some rosy pink blush and I’m done!

I’ve always skipped any lipstick/gloss for a variety of reasons, even though I’ve always loved the bold, retro, fifties look that my grandma continues to rock.  When I’ve worn lipstick I’ve never liked the shock of color right in the middle of my face (and why wear it unless you’re going to wear a bright color?).  I also constantly mussed it up and needed to reapply it.  I’d keep doing silly things like eating, or drinking, or fidgeting with my mouth or just generally failing to be a perfectly still plastic doll.  I’m also totally grossed out by the idea of how many tubes of lipstick and pots of lipgloss that the average American lipstick-wearer EATS in their lifetime (which is apparently not six pounds, but any more than practically none is gross anyway).  Bonnie Bell is tasty, but it is not lunch. I am strongly in the camp of using nice-quality (with sunscreen!) lip balm when you actually need lip balm and just leaving your poor lips alone the rest of the time. Because you love them for god’s sake.

I often accompany this thoughtful look (chosen to compliment my green eyes and to not clash with my blue under eye-bags) with the decided hippy-dippy look of unshaven legs. Which really, should just be called, “legs.”  But when you say it like that it sounds so much less, well, exciting and indicative of my strong take on feminist matters.  I gave shaving up for good this past spring when when I began lamenting the end of our six-month long winter because it meant addressing this annoying chore.  And that’s just outright madness.  Nothing should stop spring from being a pure joy around here.  So I figured I could either continue to suffer under this ridiculous (to me) cultural restraint or not.  So baby, my leg hairs are free and long.  And you know what?  They actually became a lot less noticeable once they hit the eight-month mark.  When the hairs are as long as they are going to get they lay flat and smooth and just sort of softly disappear.  My legs don’t feel baby-bottom smooth, but they’re not prickly, they don’t look gorilla’s legs, and they’re no grosser than arms with hair.

So why do you care about my morning beauty routine and the hirsuteness of my limbs?  Because many of the same cultural forces that tell women to wear make-up tell them to shave their legs (and to do it at least every 48 hours or be a gross monster).  Conversely, some people who honestly want wonderful freeing things for women tell them to never ever wear make-up or ever dare to remove a hair from their body and to start loving herself exactly the way she is.  Both of these instructions are flawed!  Why do women need to be told how to be women properly?  By simply existing women are successful at being women!  I wear make-up because I like it and I don’t shave my legs because I don’t like it.  Though these are just silly, external, and cosmetic decisions I get to make them all on my own, without half of society chiming into offer their own misogynistic opinion.  Wouldn’t it be great if that same principle were applied to the other decisions women make in their live?  If women could make desicions about reproductive health, sexual preference, career paths, motherhood, or even how they dressed in the morning without everybody and their mother having an opinion about it and feeling the need to voice it?

There isn’t one path to equality.  Some women will choose to wear make-up, some will choose to not wear make-up.  There isn’t a woman who fulfills some feminist ideal.  Some women will choose to be stay at home moms for a few years, some for many years, some for just a few weeks.  Some women will choose to never become moms.  There is no form of the feminist.  Some women find a sharp blazer fits them best, some women a bikini, and some a flowy Earth Mother dress.  If feminism ever does it’s job, if we ever get to a place where we don’t need it anymore, then the world will be filled with women who are free to make all life’s choices and to face the consequences like men.  Men (at least white, heteronormative men) are judged by the motivations that led to their actions and the consequences that flowed from them rather than how hot they looked performing said action.

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My Favorite Pyrotechnic Failure

For two summers during college I was a camp counselor for a Christian sports day camp in my city.  Mostly this camp consisted of teaching city-kids how to fire a bow and arrow and to do the backstroke, encouraging them to just try the high jump please, singing silly songs, and putting out the thousand little fires that fifty elementary school kids can start in one day. And this was done in 90 degree heat.  Most days were exhausting.  But one day for every two week camp there was the dreaded, and exceptionally exhausting, overnight trip.  You take all those same elementary school kids, stuff them with hot dogs and marshmallows, exhaust them with capture the flag, and just hope that no smart alec decides to tell scary stories so that you’re up comforting a scared-witless nine year-old at three in the morning.

But how can you roast those hot dogs and marshmallows without a bonfire?  Overnight trips would be really, really boring without a bonfire.  Oh, and did I mention that even though we are dealing with elementary aged children that the trips are gendered segregated?  The boys and girls go on different days, which while ridiculously and rather insultingly over-cautious from a “purity” point of view, does have the practical benefit of relieving half the counseling staff to bring coffee and collegial encouragement to their co-workers.  Once, when I, along with the other female counselors, showed up for moral support at the boys overnight, I noticed that their bonfire was in pretty sad shape.  The counselors had obviously had pretty big hopes, the pit was piled high, teepee fashion, with all kinds of branches, but the fire was too small to reach them.  It was pretty obviously not going to be the fire they wanted.  The campers were downcast.  Their marshmallows were not going to get toasted.

I am a good counselor.  I do not like to see downcast campers.  I am also an excellent bonfire builder.  So I set to work.  I removed all the extraneous wood (lots of it green anyway) and reworked the basic structure of the fire into a lean-to, getting the biggest logs situated as a base to create coals and reflect heat back into the center of the stack.  I hand-fed it kindling and blew the coals up into flame. Once that was going I restacked the acceptable branches back into the traditional bonfire shape.  Soon it was big and blazing and the campers were no longer downcast.  Toasted marshmallows after all!  Success!

Apparently, not everyone felt that I had been such a big success.  The very next day at our counselor’s meeting the director pulled me aside.  He said that the male counselors had felt very put out by my “rescuing” of the bonfire.  That they had felt shamed in front of their campers.

I asked if the boys were still trying to make the fire work when I came by, if I hadn’t given them enough time to finish.

No, the director said, they had pretty much given up.

Had some of the campers overheard what I said to the counselors – the friendly teasing, “Not one of you is a Boy Scout?” or, “What would you do without us girls around?”

No, the campers hadn’t overheard anything they might have misunderstood.

I didn’t understand.  Didn’t they want the fire?  Isn’t that why they started building it in the first place?  Why did finishing it upset them?  A lot of the wood they had to work with was wet or green, it was raining that very evening.  It was a tough night to build a fire, but I’m really, really good at bonfires.  There’s no shame in being less good at something than  someone who’s really gifted.

Yeah, you’re obviously good at building bonfires, the director hesitated a bit, but you’re still a girl.*

But. You’re. Still. A. Girl.

Because I was a girl, the fact that I was better at something that is traditionally read as male gendered I had shamed the male counselors by besting them at it.  Apparently it’s really only a question of,  “Does the person who just bested me have a uterus or a prostate?” that really matters when you’re asking yourself how ashamed you should be.

This is stupid.  This is mightily and appallingly stupid.  Don’t be like these guys and let someone’s gender force you into feeling threatened by their abilities.  Don’t be like my director who let these counselor’s personal insecurities convince him into shaming me for being great at my job and for having the nerve to parlay a skill at an entirely appropriate time and place.

Guys, I am really good at catching things on fire.  Please don’t be intimidated by that.  Don’t decide you don’t ever want to hang out with me.  Instead, why don’t we catch stuff on fire together?  Doesn’t that sound like a lot more fun?  That is what feminism is all about, catching stuff on fire together!  I’ve got matches and plenty of junk mail to burn, so let’s go.

*That, by the way, was from a director who was otherwise a really cool guy.  Seriously.  I’d be his friend today if we ran in the same circles.  It really goes to show how incredibly pernicious patriarchal attitudes can be.  If he’d thought about it, thought about how stupid and mean a thing it really was to say, he never in a million years would have said it.  But saying stupid and mean things to women has become so rote and normal that it doesn’t even jar us.

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“Evolution of the Swimsuit” Tells Us, “Don’t Show Your Belly Button Or Men Will Mistake You For a Screwdriver”

I’ve seen this video pop up a bunch on my Facebook Newsfeed, I’m guessing you have too.  Some of my Facebook friends have really loved this video, some have been quite dismayed by it.  I’m no fan.  It falls into that same category of videos that purports to be empowering women to own and appreciate their bodies, but really continues to tell women that their body is either only as good as it relates to the perfect white, thin, young idealized body of modern fashion or that their body is a kind of public property.  That Dove video that told women, “You’re not as ugly as you think you are!” falls into that category too.

It’s a slick video by a very intelligent and well-spoken woman (who played a Power Ranger?  I will try to not hold that against her) and honestly, the bathing suits she eventually shows off from her own line are adorable.  But that just makes it more insidious.  This isn’t some overwrought, Evangelical-language laden, Bible-based appeal to women to cover up those dangerous bodies of theirs that will be blown off by young women.  Instead it is presented as almost entirely secular (just one little, “in his image and likeness” snuck in at the tail end) and is extremely modern and hip (I’m sure I’ve seen that last bathing suit in a Buzzfeed article titled 29 Striped Bathing Suits You Need To Own Right Now-DIY It!).  But the message is the same.  Your body isn’t primarily yours, but rather it exists in the perpetual and persistent male gaze.

This male gaze is eternal (maybe it’s god’s?), unconquerable, and unquestionable.  Don’t even bother trying to fight it or change it.  Men are not to be chided for their participation in the male gaze, but you will be chided for falling under it.  The male gaze is an insurmountable obstacle.  Imagine yourself back in Victorian times where necklines went all the way to the chin, sleeves always met gloves, and dresses left only enough clearance from the floor to keep women from perpetually tripping.  That was some modesty folks.  Capital “M” modesty.  But you know what they had to do?  Put floor length tablecloths on all the tables because society was seized with panic that the delicately turned wooden table legs would be too much of a turn-on for men.  Seriously.  That was the solution.  Not to ask themselves, “What is wrong with a person who would be turned on by a piece of furniture?”  So basically, in this scenario, in 2013, women are furniture.  Yay, progress.

When Ms. Rey cites the Princeton study that suggests that some men are part-time sociopaths who use the amount of clothing a woman is wearing to decide if she is a human being with thoughts, feelings, and motivations I get mad.  I get mad because Ms. Rey isn’t mad.  She isn’t mad at those men who are waltzing around objectifyng women. She doesn’t even suggest that their behavior is wrong!  She just takes the opportunity to make a snide remark about the bikini’s power to, “shut down’s a man’s ability to see her as a person, but rather as an object.”  That is crazy-talk.  Can you imagine what the world would be like if that were true?  “Sorry ma’am, I didn’t mean to cause offense by groping you, but that bikini of yours made me forget you were a human person invested with rights and dignities and protected by laws and I mistook you instead for a thing to be used at my own discretion for my own pleasure.”  Yeah right, buddy.

And all those men who confuse women with household tools?  They’re tools.  Why doesn’t Ms. Rey call them such?  Why instead does she make this women’s problem?  Objectifying women is pretty obviously men’s problem primarily, and the cultural that created those men secondarily (I will accept arguments that switch the order of those two things, I will not accept arguments that insert women’s clothing choices into this problem).  This is rape culture.  This woman is preaching rape culture as body-honoring, God-honoring, modesty.  This is atrocious.  This masquerade should be offensive to women (it’s your fault that men forget that you’re a person), to men (it’s biologically impossible for you to remember that women in bikinis are people), and especially to Christians (God endorses those things I’ve said about women and men).  Please don’t back Ms. Rey up just because she has designed some cute bathing suits and, from fifty years out, has continued to shame that poor, blue, woman in the yellow polka dot bikini.

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