Category Archives: Politics and philosophy

Panhandling: What Exactly is the Problem?

I have lived in very high panhandling zones, but I admit to not understanding the beef with it. If there are crimes of subsistence (squatting, stealing food) the problem is hunger and lack of shelter — and those are not problems I face, but problems the homeless face.  If the panhandlers harass, then the problem is harassment; if the panhandlers are assaultive, the problem is assault – and so on.  Assault and harassment (etc.) are the problems I experience personally, and I can usually avoid them or remedy them easily.   I am not sure how panhandling itself is a problem.  So far as I can tell, no one forces passersby to donate, but if they did, see “harassment”.

So are we talking about a problem I have?  Or am I trying to solve the problems faced by the homeless?   If the problem I have is homelessness generally, or drug abuse generally, then I can act on the system in ways I think will resolve those issues.  Homelessness and drug abuse in specific individuals, and particular classes of people, are problems individual persons within those groups face.

I feel a personal conviction to help people deal with their problems, if they want to accept my help and want to change their lives.  But if I have a problem with the way individual homeless people are managing their homelessness, or the way addicted people are handling their substance use, that is bullshit.

Me, in my comfy apartment, indulging in my own vices of choice, backseat driving a person who knows far better than I do what the consequences of those choices will be.  I imagine it might make a homeless person feel the way I do when my mother chides me for blowing as much money as I do on high-speed internet when my taxes have provided me with a public library card at no charge.  My mother believes that you don’t need web access, for example, to get a job that pays a living wage — that you can accomplish this by walking in off the street, using a pencil to complete a paper job application, and impressing the business owner with your earnest assertion that “any job I don’t know how to do, I can learn.”  The last time this got her a job was 1982, and she worked there until her rotator cuffs gave out and they fired her, almost three decades later.

I adore Maman, but she does not understand my lived experience.  She does not trust me to know what the fuck I am talking about when I try to explain.  She does not accept that I know my needs and resources better than she does.  But most importantly, she does not know that it is technically none of her goddamned business, and that she has no right to judge me.  She can indulge in freestyle social criticism all she wants, but she has no right to demand an explanation from me.  It is operating on incomplete data to make assumptions about my choices and then judge me based on those assumptions. (It’s also rude as hell, but that is a matter of manners, not morals.)

Analogy always fails in the end, but to take this a step further:  what if I ask her for money?  Must I spend it according to her terms?  The answer is that it depends on the agreement.  She might be more likely to lend me money if I justify need and swear that I have no other money to use to that end.  But say she were to give me money — out of the kindness of her heart, because it is my birthday, or whatever.  Do I have to spend it the way she wants me to?  Can I buy gin with it, even if my mother deplores alcohol?  Can I use it to pay for an abortion, even if my mother believes it is murder?  Is it my money, after she gives it to me, or is it still hers?

Again let me point out that she was not compelled in any way to throw me cash. Do I get to use it as I please, or not?

You can care about a person and still have unreasonable expectations and poor personal boundaries, of course, but let’s be honest: most of us in these United States were raised with the Puritan heritage of societal judgment of others rather than a sense of respect for others.  Respecting others does not mean assuming they have the ability and the inclination to make perfect choices or even “good enough” choices; it only means that you don’t get to judge or decide for others, just as they don’t get to judge or decide for you.  I’ve been asked, “How would you feel if you gave a buck to a guy who used it to buy drugs and died of an overdose?  Or would you just wash your hands of him and say it’s not your responsibility, that you’re not your brother’s keeper?”

First, I assure you that I feel sad.  People die of society’s choices and treatment all the time, and their own personal choices and behavior.  I’m sad for middle class functional alcoholics who did their best to keep up with the Joneses as they were taught.  I’m sad for rich old reptiles forever chasing money, because they loved their Daddies and their Daddies loved the dollar.   I’m sad for desperate Mormon housewives whose lips would never touch liquor but who have huge benzo addictions to match their ulcers.  I’m sad for everyone who hurts.  Am I their keeper, too?  I feel sad that people die of neglect, of diseases caused and worsened by drugs of abuse, and by exposure to the elements.  Depriving them of charity is not preventing their death by overdose, any more than my not buying them a cheeseburger is preventing their death by arteriosclerosis.

Don’t think I’m blind to the fallout in society.  But if a person gets all het up by homeless people scrounging for change and charity, making the streets dirty, and daring to expose us Good Folk to their addiction…but doesn’t get the same “we must make good choices for them since they cannot be trusted to make the choices we want them to make on their own” feelings about other groups harming society and the world at large (middle class consumption filling landfills, carnivores and coal and consumerism destroying the environment, the One Percenters living off slavery, the government bleeding dry the populace to accrue wealth and power to those who already have an excess – on and on)… then there is a disproportionate attention and blame given to a vulnerable population who is arguably the least able and/or resourced to change things — including themselves.

If far more harm is done by people who have the bottom layers of Maslow’s pyramid squared away, why is so much ire disproportionately directed away from the wealthy, the secure, the educated, the people with enough power and influence to do real harm?  You can despise all those groups, but who is most likely to suffer?  The homeless.  If you need to change something, change the system.  If you don’t feel the urge to give, don’t.  It’s that easy.  But if you are going to judge someone’s personal choices (or unpleasant necessities), maybe start with people who harm others, people acting from greed rather than need, people who are in a position to fight back.

Because homeless people get addicted for the same reasons other people do:  looking for escape from fear and burdens; looking to self-medicate pain; looking to relieve stress; looking to self-medicate mental illness (diagnosed or undiagnosed); looking to feel good for one goddamn hour for a change.  So let’s not judge them for having the same problems we do (to a much greater degree) or for handling it in much the same way.  That includes panhandling – and if you think people with resources don’t panhandle, allow me to introduce you to GoFundMe and Indiegogo and other crowdsourcing applications.

From people who are irritated by panhandlers, what I hear is that they are disturbed by the subsection of panhandlers who (a) seem to have other alternatives and/or (b) make any degree of money at it.  It offends their sense of rightness.

I am open to hearing more about the problems people have with panhandling.  It’s just been my experience that the root arguments, once the superficial BS has been lovingly peeled away, amount to, “It’s not fair that I have to work when all they have to do is beg.  I have to work, so they should have to work.”  For it was written, by Coolio and by a disputed author in the second epistle to the Thessalonians:  “(T)his we commanded you: that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”  It’s one of the classic Christian arguments against welfare of any kind, since pauperism and penury were considered to be immoral states and poor people were not in a state of grace.  When social workers fought to decriminalize destitution, many Christians disagreed.  But if trying to subsist as a homeless person is made illegal again, how are they to live?

Losing your home (if you ever had one) does not give you a heart of gold, a farmer’s work ethic, and Lifetime Network backstory of being a plucky saint who had a run of bad luck.

The individuals that I have met who were physically able but who declined opportunities for work included those who were confident in their panhandling skills but terrified of meeting “normal” demands to perform.  After having to live like an animal (and being treated like a stray dog by society,) not everyone has the confidence and dignity to step outside the place they feel a degree of confidence or mastery.  Somehow we accept that truth if the story is an ugly duckling who learns she is foreign royalty — however will I learn the ways of my betters? — but we reject it when a person who has no place to shower and no appropriate clothing and no goddamned toothbrush is scared (or angered) by the prospect of trying to fit in with people who sneered at her on the street the day before.  The tasks of passing for normal once you have endured more than a couple of weeks of having to shit and sleep in full sight of strangers can be daunting.  Some people would rather stick with what they know instead of further damaging their shredded self-esteem.  Some folks still have a defiant bravado, still have a lot of “fuck you” left in them — a lot don’t.

The experience of homelessness is one of invisibility and humiliation and danger, and the longer the trauma goes on, the harder it is to leave the war zone.  Most of the homeless people I’ve known have been assaulted on multiple occasions, had to steal or prostitute themselves for money, have suffered horrible intestinal and UT infections due to eating spoiled food and having no reliable hygiene, and had permanent losses in health or cognitive ability due to malnutrition, dehydration, and lack of treatment for other conditions including hypertension and thyroid imbalance.  Even those with no history of mental illness suffer depression, acute stress disorder, and PTSD secondary to living on the street.  Not to mention esteem and identity issues secondary to having been ridiculed and scorned and beaten and ignored.  This taught them how to regard themselves.  I can’t blame them for not feeling able, and I can’t blame them for occasionally saying “fuck you” — if you’ve learned to fight the hand that beats you, you’ll occasionally bite the hand that is trying to feed you.

(And some folks never entered the workforce.  If you have problems with attention and are not bright enough to compensate, you won’t be able to hold down the sort of boring and repetitive job that would get you into the workforce.  If you have a sensory disorder and are not bright enough to compensate, you will not be able to tolerate the low-level noisy / hot / smelly / nasty-textured demands of low-level jobs that would provide security.  If you are a kid who is kicked out as a minor for being gay / pregnant / whatever, chances are good you will develop a history of drug use and/or misdemeanor arrests before you are even legally old enough to work — so good luck getting into Harvard, or whatever else it takes to get a job these days.)

But back to our feelings about the role of substance use and addiction in homelessness.  Some folks have substance use habits that make them homeless; others pick it up after life changes that couldn’t be handled. But we’re not talking about how the homeless feel about drugs, or whether they are entitled to experience the same stages of change with regard to addiction and recovery that people with homes and jobs are entitled to.  I’m talking about people having opinions about drug use in other people — specifically, homeless people.

I wish I could create a flow chart to help people parse out how they actually feel about substance abuse and people with addictions, since again, the feelings that come out are usually strong, but you have to wade through All The Disclaimers; the layers of How I Think I Should Feel; and the list of Societally Approved Acknowledgements Because Everyone Has Problems I’m Sure.

Whatever.  Once you get past the lawyer’s page, some of the assertively expressed opinions I’ve heard again and again include:

“Sure, I drink like a fish – but I work for my money and buy my own booze, so I don’t have a problem.”  (Functional addiction is okay, but if I became homeless, I’d magically become a teetotaler.)

“Sure, I use prescription medication to cope – probably a little too much – but I have a really hard job and all these personal issues.  My meds keep me going.  But I take only prescribed medication under a doctor’s supervision – I don’t do street drugs.”  (Because you have worries, but homeless people have no worries.  They also don’t have full access to insurance, to authorized and empathetic prescribers, and to quality mental health care.  All homeless people are, one incorrectly assumes, eligible for Medicaid, and therefore are in possession of a sufficient degree of security and subsistence to be able to engage in insight-oriented treatment, which cannot occur in a traumatizing environment, and which is typically required to get Mommy’s Little Helper – or get into rehab.)

“I don’t blame the homeless for being homeless – but I’m not going to support drug addiction.”  (Sure, fine.  No one is saying you have to give. Just keep walking.  Or if you feel comfortable acknowledging a human being who has addressed you in a non-threatening way, do so.)

“I offered to buy a bum a sandwich and he told me to fuck off.  They don’t want food, just drugs.”  (Don’t pretend that homeless addicts have never bought a sandwich or a cup of coffee with panhandled cash.  But he didn’t ask you for food, he asked you for money.  If you don’t want to give money, fine.  If you really want to feed the homeless, walk up and offer homeless people food or restaurant vouchers.  But if your attempt at charity is conditional, and clearly denies agency to the recipient, particularly in a sneering way – “I would give you money but I don’t believe you can be trusted to spend it properly – i.e., in a way I personally approve” – then you are a patronizing asshole, and patronizing assholes don’t get told to Fuck Off nearly so often as would do them good.  Take that candid feedback to heart.)

But the most honest of the statements I hear regularly:

“They’re icky.”

“ They smell horrible.”

“I said no to one and he got mad at me – what the fuck!”

“ They just make me really uncomfortable.”

“I sat next to one on the bus and he had clearly shit himself some time ago – he had that cooked-in dirt all over him — I had to get up and move.”

“That dude was tweaking so hard he had pigeon feathers stuffed in his ears and was talking to people who weren’t there,” (insert other positive or negative symptoms of schizophrenia, et cetera.)

To compare, the most recent chronically homeless client I’ve worked with presented as exactly fitting the profiles mentioned above.  A lot of staff hated this person because this person was prone to impulsive aggression, wanted LOTS of drugs RIGHT NOW, had to be coaxed to eat or wash or change clothes, and stood too close when speaking.  Just another tweaker.  Don’t bother setting up services; you know that person will just walk out and go looking for drugs again.

Knowing the person’s story since birth, from records prior to the initial homelessness and drug abuse, gave me more empathy.  Given the person’s drug-induced cognitive impairment, I might know more about TP’s history than TP remembers at this point. TP had come from an ostensibly good home, but one filled with physical and emotional abuse behind closed doors.  TP had been raised in a religion that believes there is no such thing as mental illness and that TP only needed prayer to get better.  TP got married and had a child — but spouse took child and fled when TPs symptoms got high.  TP was left penniless, homeless, depressed and brokenhearted, not trusting psychiatry, impaired by mental illness, and learning to rely on street drugs — but still young and healthy.  After being assaulted in a homeless shelter, TP could not abide sleeping in a room full of other people — it couldn’t be safe.  This led to isolation on the streets, stealing food, prostitution, jail time, and health problems including STDs galore, Hep C, renal failure from dehydration, and permanent cognitive impairment from being beaten and from living on booze and pills.  TP’s life was a direct line from a childhood trauma to the street.  But I’d give TP a buck any day.  It might go to a sandwich, or it might go for a hit.  Either way, it might keep TP from having to steal, or blowing a john.  Or getting sneered at by someone who has all the things TP lost.

So.  As much as circumstances are against some people at birth, and even those born to much may lose it and fall, there is no child on the playground who dreams of being a homeless addict.  There is no young adult who has a broad variety of options and selects homelessness and addiction as the preferred future life to build.  There is no mature adult possessed of judicial capacity and under no duress who calmly and thoughtfully declines a life of health and safety in favor of danger, discomfort, and misery.

You may not have compassion for people who are homeless and addicted.  You might feel certain that if you had a change in circumstances (due to external situations beyond your control, of course, and not any poor choices of your own) that you would perform better.  You might well be correct.  But not everyone has your confidence, your training, your health, your mental acuity, and your long history of having done well enough to feel confident you can attain that state once more.  Don’t look at all your assets and say, “If I can do it, anyone can!” – you  might be blind to how much you have going for you.  And you sure as hell have no clue what That Person was up against.

The Christians are Wearing Me Out

Sorry, Coach.  I have tried and tried to come to common ground with my former flock, and time and time again, they have made me regret it.  They get to say whatever they feel:  that God either acts or permits action; that God is Great and is In Charge; that anything not done by God is allowed by God.

They are literally on the topic of personal crime — violence against vulnerable others — and talking about how God allows it.  For Reasons.

And *I* am the bad guy for simply saying that anyone who could stop violence against the vulnerable, and does not stop it, is terrible, horrible, no-good, and definitely not worth worship.  For some reason God gets worshiped despite behavior you would not accept from an antisocial thug.

Many people I love are believers.  I used to be one myself.  When I did believe in God, it cut me *to the bone* to know that my God — the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent — saw what was happening to my early-grade-school-self and did nothing.  I broke up with God over that.  But I am unable and unwilling to break up with my family…despite the fact that they know all this and worship Him anyway.  It’s as if His need to be worshiped is more important than a child’s pain.  In their understanding of the universe, He watched what was happening to me and did nothing.  I do not give two shits what His ineffable rationale might have been; it could not possibly be good enough.

And if it sounds selfish for me to say that:  think, thou, on a neighbor kid…a grandma…your dad, your mom, your favorite person in the world…watching a child get assaulted…and staying glued to the peephole without intervening, without calling for help, without lifting a finger.  Would it not change your view of that person?  If so, why does it not change your view of your God?

And if it does not change your view of that person, why do you think that person’s inaction was okay?  Serious answers only, people.  Trusting that someone had a good enough reason, if you’re an adult, means you have an idea of what that reason might look like.  And if you are going to try to explain how an omnipotent being had to allow a child to get hurt for some reason, you don’t understand what “omnipotent” means.

Life taught me that people get to mistreat me with impunity, so I don’t ask that you explain why bad things happened to me.  Just explain why it happened to the other kids.  Why they deserved it.  Or why you worship someone who believes in harming kids who *don’t* deserve it.

Pinterest Commenters: Yeesh

The most repinned post on any of my Pinterest boards is an infographic on the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It’s also the one with the most comment-conversations by far.  Normally I don’t engage in comment battles — if I have something I absolutely must contribute, I usually shut off notifications of further comments — but when it’s my post (my board, my thought, my backyard) I will keep ploughing ahead.  I also reserve the right to have the last word, under the Get Your Own Damned Blog ruling of 2002 (cf. Twisty Faster).

A summary of interactions:

1.  “Other people have the right not to want gay marriage”:  yes, and they are free to express that opinion.  My adding that it should include the explicit right never to marry seemed to heal the breach.  Verdict:  fist bumps.

2.  Random frothing from a lady who conflated the declaration with “not working for what you get” and determining that it’s “BS” because the US Constitution only guarantees the PURSUIT of happiness, not free abortions, and PS you probly are for gun control: explaining the difference between the US and the UN, that the US Constitution doesn’t apply worldwide, that I am pro-gun, and that thinking a blob of cells should have more rights than the woman pumping them full of blood, etc., etc.  (When their rebuttals are limited to 500 characters, anti-choice folks don’t get to indulge their rant-over-facts technique to end conversations and pretend they won the argument.)  Verdict: random frother tires of presenting balloons for my pin; bails.

3.  Anti-PC snark stating that if you can’t be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., then there is no freedom of speech:  sorry, wrong number, since you have the freedom to be as bigoted as you want, but free speech doesn’t imply freedom from repercussion.  Everyone is free to have an opinion; whining because your opinion is disgusting doesn’t take away your right to speak it.  Verdict:  sincere offer to explain why it is logical to be intolerant of intolerance and still be tolerant was met with silence.  (I hope she works out the math and comes back; I was looking forward to that.)

4.  Crypto-pseudo-Libertarian coyly asserting that it can’t be a “right” if it places a burden upon others: delicious fun spanking the monkey ass of someone who cherishes license more than liberty and thinks public health is an unnecessary luxury that poor folks don’t deserve.  No inherent rights?  I agree!  It’s shorthand for the idea that no one person or group inherently deserves less respect or fair treatment than any other individual or group.  No burden upon others?  Easy!  The word “burden” can mean any responsibility, no matter how slight, as well as mean a problematic responsibility that exhausts resources.  A main purpose of society is to do useful things the individual can’t; putting a slight burden on everyone for a significantly useful common purpose (roads, schools, and — whisper it — public health) is not the oppressive type of burden but an obligation that does good for all and harm to none — like a “Good Sam” road rule.  Verdict:   NOT TODAY, SATAN!

5.  Fastidiously polite Saudi man thinks that democracy isn’t All That, that Westerners have a distorted notion of royalty, that a king who owns a country should not have to bend to the will of the people any more than a shop owner should consult the factory schlubs on how to run his business; and that people who have different ways should just be left alone because “they are happy the way they are”.  Agreed that democracy has major problems and that the US has “No More Kings” printed on its DNA from its history with England (and secretly longs to indulge its shameful urge to adore royalty in filial piety).  That said, a nation is its people, unownable, and it is shameful and unjust to govern without consent of the governed.  PS:  “leave them alone, they are happy the way they are” has been used to justify non-interference with all manner of abuse, from domestic violence (“she’d leave if she didn’t like it; it’s not our business to interfere”) to slavery (“look at how happy they were back then, with all their meals and things provided”), so use that idea with care here in the West.  Verdict:  royal subject still thinks kings are awesome if they treat their people well yet does not mind that kings are not obliged to be awesome.

What next, seriously?  I did not expect one do-gooder infographic to inspire so much resistance.  How many Americans think individual freedoms are actually a horrible idea and highly suspect?  I get the Saudi guy, who is a paragon of intersectional privilege, but garden variety poor Americans?  To paraphrase Professor Kirke, what ARE they teaching in schools these days?

More shock: a teenager has snapped again.

Guys, I can’t even.  I *can’t*.

When I was a teenager, there was, for want of a better word, an epidemic of suicides at my high school.  Oh, the shock!  Those poor young people, their whole lives ahead of them!  On and on, the weeping and wailing…with the dark pioneer countryfolk suspicion all around that anyone who can’t handle the cocoon of high school would never have lasted in The Real World where Life is Real Hard.

(The rural identity where I am from, at the place where the northern plains meet the northern Rockies, can be simplified to “the cowards never started and the weak died along the way”.  A lot of adults felt sadness but no pity for kids that weak, because they remember that, at the same age, they were about to be shipped off to Vietnam or Korea or France or Belgium — folks where I’m from live a long piece — or that they were about to spend long war years scratching it alone with little ones.  What in hell makes people give up before the real battle begins?)

Well, I was in high school, and I knew.  I could have told them, but they didn’t ask. And it was before the internet, so my voice went as far as my journal and my loved ones.  Lest ye forget:

Small children have to face small challenges successfully or they will not be prepared for the larger challenges they will face as larger children.  Mastery of those small things will give them confidence to tackle bigger things.  If they are not afforded small challenges, their stunted problem solving abilities will sabotage their ability to care for themselves as adults.

If they do not learn to tolerate distress when they are little, they will not be able to tolerate distress when they are big.  And they will have more powerful expressions of that intolerable distress.

When I was a kid, I learned how to build a fire, manage a fire, extinguish a fire, and what to do if the fire went out of control.  My next sibling was taught that matches are dangerous and never to touch them.  Who is safer?  Who is more confident?  Who is better protected from this hazard and better prepared to face it?  The kid who has been guided, taught, supervised, and exposed to consequences.

Well, guess what?  Social situations are no different.  Anyone who thinks kids don’t need manners doesn’t understand that, among other things, good manners give a kid tools to maintain poise and self-mastery when in uncertain social waters.  Train your kids, test your kids, support your kids. Don’t shield them from awkward or challenging situations, or from difference in peers, or from threats.  Better a kid should face those challenges under a loving wing as a little one than after age 12 or so, when peers have more weight than parents.

I am sad for those quiet kids who grew up in the deep country who couldn’t handle switching from a school of ten kids in eight grades to a three-year county high school with 1500 kids.  I am sad for the Queen Bees of the country schools who turned into little fish in a large pond.  I am sad for kids like me, who turned to voracious overachievers in the struggle to stay afloat, tying our personal value to grades.  Because we were the kids who punished ourselves by not eating for three days when there was an A- paper instead of an A; we were the kids who begged for plastic surgery at age 14; we were the kids who kept the car running in the garage when the folks were at the Elks for the evening and never woke up the next day.  We matter just as much as the kid who took a gun to school.  But if that kid had stayed home and simply taken himself out, the act would have been too common to care.

Venn Diagram: Sluts and Feminists and Feminist Sluts

Separate intro problem for contrast:  powerful women who think “feminist” is a dirty word. 

On one hand, we have the Susan Sarandon / Madonna contingent who like Wendy Wasserstein’s preference for the term “humanist” instead of “feminist”.  This term sounds more inclusive, is ungendered, and is congruent with my own feminism, which is against all oppression, not only the oppression of women.  While I respect their choice, it has the flavor of white privilege and echoes the problem of being “color blind” to race.  “I don’t see people as having color” = “I don’t have to acknowledge the problems faced by people of color”.  “Rather than fighting against women’s problems, I fight against humanity’s problems” seems to equal, “Women and girls face no special problems in this world,” — a laughable fiction.  The more empowering non-feminist feminist term might be Alice Walker’s identification as a womanist.

Weak tea, ladies.

On the other hand, we have conservatives such as Michele Bachmann and Michelle Gellar, who are happy to have privileges hard-won by self-identified feminists (college degrees, the right to vote, the right to equal opportunity employment, etc.,) but would never stand with the women who fought for their rights.  “OOH ICKY, heck no, I would never call myself a feminist!  It’s so pushy and aggressive and doesn’t acknowledge the importance of men”, usually in God’s Plan.  (These women are my sisters but lordy, they are trapped in their thinking.)  The “lite” version are people like Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry, who don’t seem to know anything about feminism.  Believing women can be strong and still wanting to play traditional gender roles in their personal relationships have zero-nil-nit-swabo-nada-nothing to do with feminism, but someone apparently told them they couldn’t be feminists and let their dates buy them dinner.

To quote Handy from “The Tick”: READ A BOOK!

(On that mythical third hand, the gripping hand, the stunted mental tentacle, we have people such as Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative party monster who worked hard to kill the Equal Rights Amendment — how unAmerican to want civil equality! — and is kept hidden in the GOP attic because she is two things the party hates in women:  smart and ugly.  Fox Republic likes women who are pretty and stupid.  While Mrs. Schlafly is a roaring hypocrite, being an educated divorcee who has had an abortion who fights to keep other women from having the opportunities she enjoyed, she is not stupid.  Evil, yes; stupid, no.)

Look at all the people who are not feminists!

Who DOES identify as feminist?  (And perhaps should not?)

Certain dudes.  I live in the Pacific Northwest, which is home to a lot of passive aggression hiding behind non-confrontation and masquerading as good manners.  There are a lot of guys here who seem sweet and friendly and positive and supportive and nurturing, but only because they have been socialized to appear that way.  In relationships, they are sneering, demanding, angry, resentful babies when faced with the most minimal life demands, but in public, they are sleek and smooth and good little boys.  Oh, these middle class folks and their love of appearances!  Part of this is calling themselves feminists. They might be the dudes of random hygiene and baby dreds, or they might be the neckties at Tektronix who smoke dope on the weekends.  Either way, when you scratch their feminism, you get “hey, I never said we were monogamous just because we’ve lived together for six years; you’re a feminist, you shouldn’t be trying to chain me down”, and a wife who also works full time but does almost all the chores, childcare, and shopping.  Her last name is hyphenated; his is not.

Certain women.  As tepid as the Katy Perrys and Kelly Clarksons, but just this side of the divide.  “Well, sure, I’m a feminist.  I mean, I guess.  I wouldn’t NOT be a feminist.  But I do shave my legs and wear makeup and stuff.  And I’m straight (not that there is anything wrong with NOT being straight).  And my husband, he’s a feminist too, at least he calls himself one.  But, yeah, my husband always drives and stuff.  He gets carsick if he’s not the driver, which I get, because that happens to me too.”  She’s married to the guy at Tektronix.  And she feels in control of her life because she chose to knuckle under.  Real strength lies in flexibility, right?  It’s the sort of flexibility that allows her to cleave unto her husband’s interests (the beer she does not like, the sports she never played, the hobby she tries hard to share) but not mind, not really, that he has never made an effort to see what she sees in the things that thrill her.  Her early married life involves convincing herself she’s not a doormat and that her husband’s boots aren’t that muddy, anyway.  Common life paths:  being traded in for a younger model when the paterfamilias hits man-o-pause; slowly growing a spine and holding her own (so long as she doesn’t leave Nice Village, because that would mean giving up her Nice House and moving to Divorcetown); and/or eroding into a conservative out of isolation from youth and fear of change.

(Aside:  aging so often leads to an unhealthy preoccupation with self, really a tunnel vision focusing on self, that people celebrate as “finally becoming independent” and “taking control of my life” and all kinds of other self-petting BS.  A lifetime of social skills are slowly replaced by selfishness and a demanding nature and an I’m-too-old-to-give-a-shit-you-can’t-make-me attitude.  It is possible to cultivate wisdom, patience, grace, and a generous heart; I’m not saying these folks aren’t out there.  But the voice of the zeitgeist for the next generations is one of a petty egomaniac.)

Yeah, but what about the sluts?  You promised us sluts!

And sluts you shall have, my pretties.  But first, let me say that the word “slut” is used here as a social type and should not be construed as an insult.  Mentally substitute “Bad Girl” or “Libertine” or whatever, so long as there is an implication of visibility, aggressive sexuality, and extroversion in non-mainstream ways.  This is not a meaningful identifier.  As a label, it’s about as value-descriptive as a sticker that says HI MY NAME IS:_____.

Since you don’t know me, let me add that I have nothing against wild styles, wild behavior, or any degree of promiscuity.  I know you can sleep with a passel of folks and still be as sacred in your person as the Virgin Mary, still be as sweet and good-hearted as Snow White.  Nor do I have anything against women who dress and comport themselves like two-peso whores, strictly because those whores can be wonderful people too, and clothes themselves do not possess, impart, or deny morality.   You can have a dirty mind and work your body like a rubber ball and still have a solid-gold character (as explained in the Song of Saint Rizzo, the Book of Grease, Act IV).

What is in your underwear, and what you do with it, does not make you a person of moral refinement OR moral depravity.  Period. This is part of my feminism: that virginity is a social construct, that most moral codes are keys to the commodification of women and girls, that the double standard for men works against both men and women, and that men are also deeply harmed by patriarcho-religious BS.  We’re all victims here.  That said:  the problems of men and women are not equal.  Men have more physical power and more socioeconomic power.  While males are more prone to stunted emotional expression and a twisted sense of entitlement, females are more prone to being victims of violence, loss of franchise, physical disfigurement, and other, harsher penalties.

One of those penalties is for sexual freedom.  The main argument for mutilating the genitals of girls at puberty, in the many countries where it occurs, is to deprive females of sexual pleasure.  Whether that pleasure is undeserved, or makes them rival men, or whatever, the ultimate problem is that it is a threat to the social dominance of men.  It keeps women “pure” (a purity that men don’t seem to need), whether that is to make them good mothers, to atone for the sin of Eve, or to keep them submissive to the proper authority of men and worthy of wifehood.  Consider issues of clothing modesty, social judgment, the blaming of rape victims by other women, and other typical problems in Western culture.  American government traditions were begun by Puritans in the northeast, and eventually our nation’s capitol was raised in this center.  Those values were adopted wholesale and passed down through law and culture.  And they stink.

Burlesque artists, dominatrices, sex workers, strippers, “artist’s models”, and feminism.

The goods at last!  Recently an article by Lizzie Crocker at The Daily Beast presented Karley Sciortino as a case and asked if she was the new face of feminism.  Karley Sciortino has a blog called “Slutever”, which involves sexually provocative activities and sly commentary; she is not my concern here.  My concern is the question: is she the new face of feminism?  The answer is an easy “no”, for me.  My comment on the post:

“Being free to behave as you wish is the result of feminism, not an act in support of it, in my opinion.  There are many types of feminism.  Mine has very little in common with hers — so little that it’s impossible to compare them.  But the word still has some meaning, and calling yourself a feminist when you encourage the worst problem women face doesn’t work.  I fully support her right to express herself and present herself as she wishes.  But is it a specifically feminist act to cater to the oppressor?  Not so much, no.

“It’s true that my wave of feminists tends to see sexually aggressive / open females as heading back to the pedestal/gutter binary we fought to destroy.  Her generation is free to behave in a hypersexual way, but honestly, women have always been free to do that because men were in power, and men enjoyed it.  Men still are and men still do and still keep women in the binary cage because of it.  It’s challenging to support behavior that feeds the beast, you know?”

I have had friends in all the categories of the section header, and most of them consider themselves feminists.  Dressing provocatively, twerking and twirling, selling your services — all that and more — do not prevent you from wanting or deserving social equality.  And I fully acknowledge that no feminist has to conform to my wave of feminism, which was (sometimes stupidly) preoccupied with gaining the respect of the oppressor.  (It’s not stupid when you are convincing those in power to share it; that’s being smart for the cause.) Part of that respect involved continuing to conform to a the Modern Puritan Establishment standard, for some people; burning bras, but wearing turtlenecks, even if what we wanted was to go barechested in the summer heat, as men do.  And for others, it meant taking advantage of new-won sexual freedom by engaging in more sex than we really wanted, or with people we didn’t really like, to exert our power to do so — it’s hard to say “no” when you’ve only just won the right to say “yes” — but we had yet to learn that we had the power to say “no”, too.  It was a hard time if you were not a libertine, but a good time if you were ready to fight for your rights.

You can march to the White House in glitter paint and pasties, but if you are not marching, you are not the face of feminism.  The new generation does not have a goddamned clue what it was like to have to wear skirts to work, get sent home for not wearing a slip or pantyhose, lose custody of children for dating after a divorce, be refused the right to divorce without proof of infidelity, or have no legal recourse after blatant sexual harassment on the job, and a thousand other atrocities.  That’s part of what allows them to think feminism is a dirty word.  But while feminism has earned women the freedom to dress as they will and not bow to the desire to earn the pseudo-respect of Decent People™, it’s not a feminist act to conform to the expectations mainstream society has for Sluts while asking for nothing better.

Most of the body workers I know either live solely in society’s gutter or they maintain rigorous separation of identities so that they don’t lose their day jobs.  Living in the closet is not a feminist act.  But feminism one day might get you out of the closet.  Stripping, strutting, and selling it are fine.  But they aren’t feminist acts.  If you’d like to merge your worlds, work for social justice.  Take a stand and come out of the slut closet.  But do not assume that showing the world your cooch is a blow for justice.  It might make you feel in control of your body, and that is a wonderful thing.  But is it knocking down stereotypes, opening doors to insight, helping mainstream society learn (or demanding that they acknowledge) that women have value beyond what they keep in their panties?  No.  It is not.

 

 

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye, Debating Young Earth Creationism versus Evolution

There is a huge mistake debating this topic:  it implies that there are two equally valid sides.  It implies that there is a debate that can elevate understanding.  We need to fight back against the Michele Bachmanns of the world, and the Texas textbook conspirators, but we must not proceed from the position that there are two sides here.  There is science, and there are fairy tales.

Let me add that I respect the right of any individual to believe as he will.  If you have a deep inner conviction that there are ghosts or gods or gnomes in the garden, I will defend your right to do so.  But you don’t get to teach it in schools or dismiss the work of scholars based on your feelings.  (NB:  vintage, poorly edited fanfic such as the Bible is not valid support for those feelings.)

The nub of the gist:  there is no point debating faith versus science because there is no overlap.  Faith is of the heart and science is of the brain.  If you fall in love with the meth addict who runs the Tilt-O-Whirl and bring him home to your folks, they will say he’s dangerous because he uses hard drugs and is just passing through town.  You will scream that they don’t know him like you know him, and that it doesn’t matter anyway because you luuuuurve him.

And you would both be right.  But either way, in six months you’re going to be living in a van and pumping gas until the baby comes, because chances are good you don’t believe in contraception or abortion, and your parents endorse those opinions but won’t keep a sinner under their roof.

AFFRONT: the gripe so large it deserved its own post.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  if I ever got knuckle tattoos, which is less likely than winning the lottery I don’t play, they would read C-A-P-S   L-O-C-K.

My winner of all things irksome right now:  POMPOUS INDIGNATION AND HORRIFIED MORAL AFFRONT.

This one is special to me because three of my exes specialized in it.  But overexposure to it permanently altered my immune system and lowered my tolerance for it.  In the ex-husband, it manifested as I AM SHOCKED AND APPALLED THAT YOU WOULD EVEN THINK SUCH A THING.  Picture him drawing himself up to his full 74 inches in height, eyes widening, chin receding into his neck as he recoiled in horror, no different from a proper matron in a Victorian drawing room.  In the long-term boyfriend it took the tone of YOU HAVE ASSAULTED MY UPRIGHT MORALS AND OFFENDED ME DEEPLY, MADAME!  This ass was a 66 inch tall pile of jutting jaw and flared nostrils, ready to challenge someone to a duel on the spot.  In the deeply manipulative sometime girlfriend it was closer to WELL!  I NEVER!, and while she always tuned it to the audience, the root was deeply self-entitled narcissism of the DAR / Scarlett O’Hara variety.

Folks who display this attitude are prone to calling out others but rarely check their own bullshit.

There’s another kind I know too well but would never date:  the inane ingenue.  With them I try to be compassionate, because the sincere ones have a rigid standard for their own behavior and either grew up without compassion or never learned that human frailty is not the end of the world.  But it’s hard, since after a lengthy high-toned rant about the moral failures of others, the sincere ones tend to boo-hoo about how everyone is so cruel and hypocritical.  No, honey, you have that exactly backward:  you are expecting generosity from people who have received only judgment from you.  You’ll be fine once you learn to cut yourself some slack and extend the same courtesy to others.  But the one who dishes out harshness and expects worshipful respect if not candy coated adoration (HOW DID WE NOT SEE THAT YOU WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG? PLEASE FORGIVE US FOR NOT RECOGNIZING YOUR MORAL SUPERIORITY EARLIER!  PROMISE YOU’LL BE MY MORAL GUIDE FOREVER) is the sort of ass who gets abandoned by even close friends until the next step in growing up occurs.

Of course, not everyone is earnest and naive.  For most I think it’s just an idealized self-image, an exalted and tender amour propre.  I would say my ex-husband’s case was most self-damaging.  Even though he was the nicest guy of the three, his view of the world was skewed by his protective cloud of huffing and puffing, maladaptive defenses against his shame at failure.  Don’t torture yourself, amigo — just try harder.  You’ll need to protect yourself less when you are confident that you have done everything you could do, and have not conned yourself into thinking it was your best work when you simply quit after getting tired, chickening out, or losing your nerve.  You never got support and encouragement growing up and your batteries get drained fast.  Sometimes the critics are right, and listening to them can help you — especially if the topic is too painful for you to consider.   Wherever you are, I hope you are being honest with yourself and doing better in life.

The long-term boyfriend was very different.  He had two layers:  the first was conscious cover for his chronic cheating (“your suspicion hurts me and implies that YOU are the one who is cheating since you are trying to deflect the focus from yourself; I will now proceed to make this all about you.”)  The second layer was his core self, which had lofty, deeply felt values at odds with his own actions, but a perception of himself based on the values rather than the deeds.  Being publicly called on those actions was deeply upsetting to his core self, and he avoided that pain by blaming his girlfriends or distracting himself with a new side piece — anything to feel good about himself.  He was completely toxic to females as a young man but he got his act together through work with a professional friend.  I’m glad for him and relieved for women at large and generally hopeful for us all.  If he can improve himself, miracles are possible.  Good on ‘im.

As for the sometime girlfriend, who knows?  Any display of emotion on her part might have been to manipulate others or as normal-person camouflage (see The Mask of Sanity by Cleckley) or something else, but it was always purposeful.  Her affront was sometimes the only thing about her that seemed honest, but again — who knows?  You can’t trust a liar.  She was mercurial and calculating and damaging to anyone close to her — but she was also always witty, funny, passionate, and game for the ballroom or the pool room.  I miss her company and our extemporaneous sister act.  But she is (by self admission) the person least likely to change herself or accept the criticism of others.  In her terms, “who listens to the lowing of cattle?”

The problems begin when you despise the cattle for being what they are, but expect their adoration anyway.  It wouldn’t hurt to see yourself as others see you, *especially* even when the image is unflattering.  It’s the only way you find out that your dress is tucked into the back of your pantyhose.  If you don’t accept criticism from your friends, your adversaries are the only ones you can trust.

SOCIAL WORK AGAIN

For the first time ever, I had a bad dream about my adored husband dying.  Normally I would never mention such a thing, being just superstitious enough to want those words kept out of the universe’s ears, so let me move on by saying that the point of this sad dream was that social work saved my life.  It gave me a support system, it gave me clients who needed me to show up for work, it gave me positive feedback and visible successes as a trail of breadcrumbs back to life – even though it was a life without my heart or self.  I never stopped being sad in this dream; never had a life of my own again.  All I did was throw myself into my work so I wouldn’t have to go home to the Honey-less house.

Thing next:  though I grew up in a home that emphasized self-sufficiency, my single working mother tried to hone discernment in her boy-crazy daughter (me) by teaching me to judge men, in part, by how they treat subordinates, behave toward the weak, and care for dependents.  On a date, how does he treat the server?  Does he big-dog other men, especially men of short stature or men perceived as socially less-than?  Is he dismissive of women who aren’t beautiful or young?  Does he mimic or mock people with disabilities or impairments?  Does he describe himself as a cat-hater, or hater of anything?  Basically, if this man esteems himself for being higher on the pyramid than other people, he is just a bully looking for an excuse.  Chances are good he doesn’t kowtow to those higher up the pyramid than he is, but he expects it from those lower.  Sign of a hypocrite and a scoundrel.

From a social work perspective, why can’t we judge a society the same way?  This does not clash with my bootstrappy childhood because even though we never depended on other people to help us up, we were deeply committed to helping out people who needed it, be they strangers or neighbors.  You work hard and plan well for yourself, but we all know that Mother Nature can wipe you out in a single day, a single moment, and you could be the one in need.  Users and abusers go to the end of the line or out the door – their kids don’t, mind you – but if you don’t give help, you don’t get help.  Again, why not judge society this way?   How do we treat our widows and orphans, our physically and mentally frail, our marginalized populations?  How do we treat the animals in zoos and factory farms?  How do we treat the children in our schools and streets?  How do we treat the populations we control, such as the jailed, the institutionalized, and the military?

Consider the high number of people with moderate mental illness who end up in jail because they can’t afford the treatment or meds that keep them functional, and end up shoplifting or squatting in order to obtain food and shelter and clothing – basic survival needs.  Life on the streets is not safe or healthy.  Neither is life in jails and prisons.  But incarceration offers food, clothing, shelter, medical treatment, and a life out of the elements.  It’s cheaper to provide services outside of prison, and it’s fundamentally wrong to imprison people for crimes committed only for the purpose of survival, but that is not how we run things.

I love the United States and I am proud to be an American.  Individualist culture is my preference.  But individualism is defined by the divisions between people rather than ties that bind them, and it is a mistake as a society to let individuals fall into the cracks.  I have too much pride to enjoy living in a country where fat rich people can be chauffeured past starving homeless children.  This indecency is un-American to me.  We should care for our own.  If people are looked down on for living in slum tenements, but the people who collect their rent are not looked down upon as well, something is radically wrong.

As with individuals, society must be judged by how it treats its weakest members and those in its control.

Emotions: We All Have Them

To quote (or misquote) Neil Gaiman on Twitter:

Warning:  contains Me.

My first semester of grad school is wrapping up (I should be working on at least one of my last two final papers right now.)  My husband has been unemployed for five months, I have been unemployed for two years, and money is tight.  There is no medical insurance, and despair is setting in.  There are other things, lots of them, but this is enough to support my statement that I can not afford emotional excess right now.  I’m not prone to emotional excess normally, but much less so at the moment.

I have made a huge mistake, and that is trying to engage with internet-only or past-local friends on the topic of guns in the aftermath of the Lanza shootings.  These friends fall, with only a few exceptions, in two solid categories:  gun nuts and anti-gun nuts.  I am a pro-gun leftie who thinks banning all private ownership of guns is extreme, unnecessary, and probably impossible.  I also think that unrestricted, unregulated access to all forms of ordnance is extreme, unsafe, and irresponsible.

My mistake is being emotionally ragged, needing all the positive vibes I can get, and taking a chance on playing the calm, respectful devil’s advocate to both camps.

It turns out that gun nuts don’t want to be reminded that individuals don’t get to own bazookas and grenade launchers and cannons, and the Bill of Rights hasn’t withered because of it.  Banning assault rifles will not be a material abrogation of their right to bear arms.  They do not want to hear that urban environments are made volatile and dangerous by guns, and that many urban owners are scared folks with no safety training and no target practice.  They do not want to acknowledge that gun shows, private transactions, and gun theft are real problems.  They do not want to require mandatory safety training or proof of current training to purchase guns, nor do they want to put revocation of rights on the table for irresponsible gun use.  They also do not want to hear that the NRA is hurting the cause of responsible ownership by its extreme positions, or that they need to try to understand the anti-gun crowd rather than dismiss them all as ignorant reactionaries.  A lot of them are ignorant, but no one is educated by derisiveness.  Teach them.  Show them better if you can.  If you can’t, check yourself.

It also turns out that anti-gun nuts refuse to acknowledge that there is such a thing as responsible gun ownership, or circumstantially appropriate gun use for self-defense. They don’t want to hear that most gun owners have trouble-free experiences.  They don’t want to hear that there is no psych test that can screen out potentially dangerous people.  (Most so-called “crazy” people are harmless, or harm only themselves; most so-called “sane” people with no history of problems are the ones who snap under certain kinds of pressure; and anyone can game a psych eval with high face validity anyway.  It’s true.)  They don’t want to hear that all the regulations and restrictions being discussed might be great ideas (some are not), but none would have prevented what happened.  Reducing damage is possible, and it’s important that we pursue that.  (My insurance-worker past goes to the bone, and I’m all about risk management.)  But thinking, for example, that a gun safe can defeat an intelligent 20 year old with unlimited time and access to the safe is not rational.  They didn’t want to hear it.

I told them about growing up in the deep country where all of us used guns and no one got hurt, and they said that nobody hunts anymore.

I described having people try to break in, thinking deep country people who had no neighbors within earshot and no cops for many miles would not be able to stop them, and how the sound of a shotgun being shucked (and, once, a warning shot being fired) got them to move on when turning the yard lights on didn’t; they said it never happens.

I told them of my single working mom opening a gas depot on a trucking road at 3 a.m. and keeping her .22 handy until the other folks arrived; half were shocked that she didn’t either shoot herself or someone else, and the other half said she never needed it so she shouldn’t have had it.  (We keep a First Aid kit in the car, too, and we’ve never needed it, either.)

I told them about being out with a girlfriend (in the days of our young hotness) and having a group of guys making noise like they wanted to mess with us.  When they walked our way, making ugly noises, she opened the trunk of her car and displayed (not brandished) a high-powered handgun; they departed.  I was told, “You should have just driven away.  They would have just taken your gun away and used it against you — that’s how it happens.” Only if you are not willing to shoot before they get within arm’s reach, and that was not the case.  “No way were you going to shoot someone!”

Well, what about all the still-dark mornings at the bus stop?  What about all the crummy neighborhoods I’ve lived in?  What do I do if a guy, or more than one guy, wants to mess with me?  How do I outrun a van?  Sneering is all I got, and I really didn’t need it at the time.  I don’t expect my personal anecdotes to change anyone’s mind, but I thought that people would at least understand how a person they get along with otherwise might find guns useful.  Instead, I was told to ignore my personal experiences because irresponsible gun owners exist and plus, statistics.

This aspect of the hooraw is particularly hard for me, since I cleave hard Left.  Openmindedness, inclusiveness, and respect for difference is what it’s all about.  But lately, I’m getting derided and dismissed.  Contempt and sneering are  no fun.  They certainly don’t make me think, “Wow, I’m being sneered at!  They must be right and I must be wrong!”

This is like the conversations between steak lovers and morally indignant vegans.  The carnivores who chant “top of the food chain” at the top of their lungs are stupid to ignore issues of sustainability, animal welfare, or ethical slaughter.  The vegans who dismiss all consumers of animal products as murderous cannibals are stating that anyone who doesn’t already feel the way they do are cretinous savages incapable of reason and unworthy of persuasion.  There is no thought that someone else might be reasoned with, on either side.  Certainly there no attempt to get inside the other guy’s head and figure out why he feels the way he does — and certainly no acknowledgment that hey, if I had been in your shoes, I might feel the same way.  Scornful, simplistic rejections are so much easier than admitting the other guy might have a point.  Then we’ll actually have to THINK THIS THROUGH.

It’s so much easier to feel than to think.

I know this horrible shooting has everyone feeling emotional, and people need to work out their feelings.  But there is a difference between ventilating feelings (an unburdening that leads to relief and improved perspective), and narcissistic emotional indulgence (which gets you all worked up as you follow the emotional spiral toward hysteria.)  I’m seeing the latter on both sides, and it’s wearing me out.

 

The PC Movement

There is a great if horrifying post on elder rape today over at the Daily Beast, and as always, there are horrifying comments.  Like that judge in Arizona who found a cop guilty of sexual assault, but chided the victim for having gone to a bar (“if you hadn’t been there, it never would have happened”) and said that she hoped the victim “learned something from all this,” there are a large number of commenters who are loudly disagreeing with the statement that “rape isn’t about sex, it’s about violence.”

Jaw on the floor, I read comment after comment saying that this statement is untrue, that it’s just “feminist dogma”, that it’s not rape if it’s not violent and forcible, that sometimes, yeah, it IS about sex.

Doesn’t that make you wonder about the “dating history” of a person who would say such a thing?

And then the inevitable bitching and moaning about the PC movement.

Well, guess what, sports fans?  We never would have needed a PC movement if it hadn’t been for ignorant jerks who might loudly vaunt Good Old-Fashioned Family Values, but behave and speak in a thoroughly ungentlemanly fashion, denigrating people for their differences and choosing rapists over their victims.

So every time a feminist irks you, keep in mind that the dittoheads of the world are to blame.

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