Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Day Late And A Horse Short

I had a birthday. I'm thirty-five years old. The year that I was born, Chinese New Year began the day before my birthday, making me narrowly a sheep. Sheep, apparently are sensitive, creative unrealistic dreamers, if somewhat nervous and most comfortable in their own imaginations. They're not very organized and can care too much about looks, but aren't very materialistic. Horses however, are intense, need incessant activity, and have a nomadic nature. They're good with people, but have a hard time committing to friends and lovers. Sounds exhausting. I'm glad I timed my entry into the world carefully.

I'm not big on birthdays, simply because like a true sheep/ introvert I don't like to be the center of attention. Just the thought of a big party makes me tired.

We have a tradition of really good birthday breakfasts. C. usually gets bacon on his, like the one time of the year, while I like baked beans, a throwback to my days of living in the UK. This year C. actually upped the ante by cooking me Thai noodle soup the night before, because weeks before I'd mentioned (and promptly forgotten) that I'd like that. Not only that, but he actually got me presents, which goes totally against our custom. I got (packed in excessively large containers) a chocolate bar, an alarm clock and a memory card for my new camera.

One of the things I don't like about birthdays, or holidays in general, is that there's all this expectation that they have to somehow have to be amazing, memorable, magical. That's what I call a recipe for disappointment. Expectations.  The sooner one learns to let go of those, the better. In exchange though, you often end up with unexpected adventures and surprises...

This year, for instance, we were gonna go camping, but that fell through. Then we were going to camp out under the stars in our backyard. That didn't work out either. So, then I figured a walk would be plenty. What do ya know, it rained like crazy all day...

Was I disappointed? A little. Did I get over it? Very fast.

Instead, we hang out in bed, ate late, puttered around, snuggled cats, read books, worked, talked to loved ones (One my demands for the day was that I didn't have to touch the phone, but I always pick up when Mali calls.)...

I did my Tarot for the year, with very interesting results. My re-occurring cards lining up next to each other, with other old friends and new acquaintances circling up in encouragement and warning. Overall, it was a really intense, good reading and I needed a stiff old-lady-drink afterwards.

Yup, nothing takes the edge off focusing your energies like some "moonshine", whiskey and tea. Heading out to dinner through New Moon dark woods, I had no idea of how much cake and how many more amazing presents there would still be in store. I was just happy to be out in the trees, cats in-tow,  heading towards the warmly lit windows of friends. The best gifts there are. 

There seems to be whirlwind of magical energy around right now, pushing us inevitably forward, a force of nature. Everything seems to be pointing to the same direction, of jumping, taking off, moving, going along with the strong current. Things are changing and evolving fast right now. People all around me are going in their chosen directions, new friends are appearing from all sides, opportunities keep popping up. It's a little intimidating, but exciting too.

Still, this birthday was a much needed respite, a one-day-vacation. A good excuse to take a breath.

Guess what card I drew that morning?

Now it's back to grindstones, the drawing boards, the hot irons in need of striking.

How do you like to (un)celebrate your special days? And what's your Chinese Zodiac sign? I'd really like to learn more about the dragons, sheep and horses, myself...

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Hidden Place

The first one was a raspberry thicket across the street from my house, or maybe the turn-of-the-century staircase that wound down the hill my cousin lived on...

Then, as I gained more and more independence, the empty lot next to the building I took ballet at, the all-but abandoned observatory on a hill, an old yew tree behind my mother's workplace, the cemetery with the old-growth pines and tombstones from the civil war...

I smoked my first cigarette in the woods behind the power-plant two streets down from my house. I spent most of the miserable summer and fall between sixth and seventh grade reading and staring into space in the crook of that yew tree. In the cemetery I smoked many more cigarettes and picked out odd, old-fashioned names from the headstones. (For most of my life before I moved here, I'd lived shockingly close to one cemetery or another. That's probably a whole post in an of itself...)

You could see the whole town from the concrete steps of that observatory, where once, many years before, when I was just a little girl, an astronomer boyfriend of one of my mom's friends showed us Halley's comet on the telescope.

My closest friends and I would sit on the concrete steps in the eternal twilight of summer and talk about how badly we wanted to leave that Podunk shit-hole of a town behind. We'd plan our whole lives out, drinking disgusting, sweet wine. We ran through the scraggly meadow behind it, tipsy with the possibility of the future as much as the alcohol, making flower head-wreaths and taking photos*. In August, when the nights began to get dark, we'd watch the vague orange glow of the town trying to overpower the all-encompassing darkness of the far North. We'd close our eyes and listen to the crickets in the field, our backs pressed against the warm concrete, and imagine ourselves in some more exotic location, on the edge of some jungle in South America...

What these places, and many that came after them, have in common, is that they are all places I use to go to at a particular time in my life to be alone, or at peace, to dream, or to get away.

Most of them did not have clearly marked entrances, nor were they riddled with paths and deer trails, but they weren't exactly secret either. Hidden in plain sight, unloved by others maybe, but certainly not exclusively mine.

These days I'm less likely to hang out in cemeteries and empty lots, but as scenic as beloved places and beaches known to but a few, may be, their purpose is the same, to disappear, to dream of different things, to focus, to direct attention inward and outward at the same time...

This is the same windy cliffside C. and I took our meeting to a couple weeks ago. Right now its our go-to place, because he hasn't been able to hike very far at all these days.

Since we moved down here, it has become a special destination for us.

On any given day in the winter, we usually don't run into another living soul on our walk, save for the birds of pray in the sky.

It's been foggy here for the last week, a kind of San Francisco fog that burns out in the afternoon.

There's a quiet that comes with foggy weather, the muffling of all sounds and a stillness that seems a little other-worldly.

The droplets of water cling to everything without braking delicate structures the way rain does. On foggy days, there are suddenly gray cobwebs clinging to every shrub, exposed and visible.

Maybe this place is not so much a place, but a state of mind one enters. Just like that observatory, the cemetery, the abandoned lot, this point is somewhere we go to waste time, rather than spend it, a respite, a space to be present without an agenda. Somewhere to be your real self.

If the observatory was a gateway to the stars, the pivot point of my dreams for my future, or  the cemetery was a place where my child's mind could connect to the past, to the then unimaginable idea that someday I'd no longer exist on this planet, this place is a wild place. A piece of the wild universe that we sometimes need to remember to tap into amidst our busy lives as humans.

The most important thing each of these "hidden" places has done for me, is to inspire new ideas; answer questions I didn't even know I had.

To go them is always to come back with something I didn't exactly expect to find.

Do you have a "hidden" place?

ps. Thank you so much for all your amazing comments to my last post. I will be replying to all of them in the next few days.

*(Interesting. Zero visual evolution in twenty-odd years.)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why I'm a radical feminist...and so are you

A long time ago, when we were still in the negotiating stage of our relationship, C. and I had a conversation about men and women's roles in...well, the world. In the course of this conversation he said something along the lines of "the feminists kinda screwed us all over, because you used to able to support a family on a single person's salary and now both people pretty much have to work".

I remember being absolutely livid at this remark, having to remind myself that we had been brought up in very different environments and cultures, that even the most lovely and enlightened men often don't understand how society appears to women and how casual remarks like that can instantly cut to the bone of your very identity.

But mostly I was livid because I couldn't exactly argue with the gist of his point.
Except, of course, it wasn't just the feminists who screwed us over.


There's a couple of prevailing myths about feminism in our society. One is that feminism is a thing of the past, something that already happened. That it's as archaic as smoking indoors, a quaint thing people, possibly our parents, possibly Susan B. Anthony , did when they were young.

Another is that we no longer need feminism. That since its main aims have gloriously been accomplished, we ought to just roll up our sleeves and get to work already, instead of whining and burn bras, or whatever it is that feminists do.

Speaking of which,  there also seems to be a notion that feminism's fixed aims have something to do with hating men, not wearing lingerie, an abundance of body hair, and disliking stay-at-home-mothers. It is partly from these misconceptions that C.'s offhand comment came from, and while his argument has some merit (hence its infuriating quality),  it is the aim of this post to show that these notions are complete, unadulterated...bullshit.

There generally are, at this very point in time in the "first world", considered to be three waves of feminism. However in the last few years there's been much rumbling that indicates a fourth wave may be coming ashore even as I write this. It's about damn time.

It bears noting that there are other eras and emphasis of feminism in cultures and societies elsewhere, and that as always, a lot of facts that are up interpretation and debate.

Much of the first two waves of feminism had to do with what exactly society defined as women's work and whether women's physical and mental abilities were equal to men.

The part of C's statement that does have merit, is that the very act of women becoming breadwinners simply commercialized their previous role as homemakers and therefore directly, as well as indadvertedly, raised the cost of living for the American family. With the "housewife-ly conveniences" of the fifties already in place, working women went from cooking to warming, baking to buying, from cleaning and doing chores to increased dependance on expensive appliances to help speed these tasks up, tasks which, by the way,  are still mostly performed by women after their workday.

As often happens in a society who's systems seem designed to make people behave in a certain uniform manner, it could be said that women's liberation simply turned into an another form of subjugation.

Here's the point where many women might disagree with me. Where my mother would have twenty or thirty-odd years ago vehemently and aggressively, disagreed with me. "I'm not oppressed." she might have said "My mother could not choose a profession, could not support herself, did not have her own money. I could do any job I wanted. I don't have to be an indentured house-slave to a husband and children. I can sleep with anyone I like and not marry them. I can sleep with anyone and not chance becoming pregnant. I can be a parent and have a career."

All of which is true. Framed in this narrow way, it could be said that second wave liberal feminism is an almost unmitigated success. One could even argue that its existing kinks: pay inequality, sexism, rape-culture, the glass ceiling, are just residual effects, problems being ironed out, slowly, but surely.

No woman in their right mind would have argued against those advances in the 60s and 70s. Every small step forward was, after all that, a step in our long, sure-footed ascent towards equality. The real trouble is that these hard-won "advances" are actually just former male privileges. In fact, we as a society have for decades (if not centuries and millennia) been teaching women that they can only be successful if they behave the way men have . That in order to thrive, we must embrace the system that previously oppressed us.

What's significant to me about both 1st and 2nd wave feminism though, is that neither of them actually did much to shift our society's core values. We just let women in to partake to those values.

In many ways second wave feminism succeeded so well, that the movement "worked itself out of a job". It radicalized women just enough to push through the most pressing social reforms required, to fix the most glaring injustices in our social structure. Once that initial push was over, the same women who a decade earlier had taken to the streets to protest the inelasticity of their place in society, were tucked away in the workplace, simply too busy trying to climb the corporate ladder, manage having a family and a career, and making ends meet to continue bettering society.

We went to work, literally, integrating ourselves fully into the society as it was, and in no time at all it was business as usual. The eighties rolled around and there certainly was a sense of  "I saw the best minds of the my generation destroyed by promises of power-suits and Cosmopolitans". Feminism became a dirty word, unless there was a "post", in front of it. We were clearly moving up in the world; from the office to the board room, from the sidelines to the center court, from the kitchen to the House of Representatives. And this, of course, was only the beginning...

Except that instead of our culture being flooded with women in powerful positions, changing our politics, putting out their distinctive experience on how we want to shape our world, hammering out those remaining problems with how our societies fail them (among other groups of people), we've seen...well, very little.

Instead of handing women a previously untold amount of power, the dominant paradigm seems to have simply harnessed women's power for its own purposes.

                                    Smiliest flower girls ever?
I would argue that where we are now, is not that different from where we were before "women's libbers".

In the workplaces our grandmothers could only dream of, women are told to "lean in", and "to prioritize", that they can have it all and if they don't have it all, they're just not trying hard enough.

Time and time again we have seen the "behave like men, or get out" logic used to explain why women do not seem to thrive in certain fields, or professions. It is given as a reason women don't make up half the senators, half the CEOs, half the highly-regarded Hollywood directors.

We've created new low-paying, undervalued jobs to make a profit from replacing the work homemakers used to do, most often filled guessed it, women.

I grew up in a "post-feminist" society. One who's advances, cultural and political, would make the National Organization For Women faint with delight: universal paid maternity leave, abortion no longer on the political table and free for all (if you want to argue with me about abortion, you're more than welcome to, just read this first) female prime ministers and a president, more than 40% percent of parliamentary representatives are women,  monthly allowance for every child a family has...
Not to mention things like free education and free healthcare that greatly benefit women.

My mother, as previously mentioned, was one of those work-loving feminist activists and from an early age I knew the basic tenets of second wave liberal feminism. All through my childhood, she still worked tirelessly at fine-tuning the system, demanding pay-equality as the union representative at her work place, writing letters and arguing fiercely.Yet as I entered my teens, it became painfully apparent that her brand of feminism didn't address the concerns and questions I had as a teenage girl in the 90s. The uniform Scandinavian idea that everyone worked, played, behaved the same, equal way, seemed stifling to me. Our cultural idea egalitarianism too tightly tied into the homogeneousness of the culture (white, middle-class, Lutheran), that we were all the same, that men and women ostensibly, were the same. And that though seemingly we were treated equal, there were narrow expectations into which we had to fit. Intuitively, more than rationally, I knew that whether it was how my eight-grade best friend wanted to play hockey with the boys and was ridiculed for that, to how there were never any girls in any of the punk bands we went to see, that this somehow, was a feminist issue.

Which is when I discovered my own brand of feminism. Or rather, I discovered that I could have one.

Cigarette girl, Governor's Isl'd [i.e., Island]  (LOC)

The 90s of course, is roughly where the beginnings of third wave feminism are dated. This wave began first in the form of simply realizing that there was still a lot the second wave had not addressed. Third-wave feminism also has some of its beginnings in the DIY culture of 90s, the now distant echoes of Riot Girrrl, making zines, being irreverent to the boy-worshiping of rock 'n roll and figuring out ones own rules for sex and love and art. It also stems from a wider understanding that second wave feminism does not properly address the added discrimination that women of color, different social classes, or sexual orientations outside the norm have to deal with.

My own feminist awakening came particularly in discovering that there were no viable role models when it came to being the kind of girl/ woman I wanted to become.

In my early and mid-twenties I was what I would call "A Virgin Suicides"-feminist, hell-bent on the idea that one could be into typically feminine shit and still be a feminist and that, in fact, reclaiming our frilly dresses, wistful romanticism and wild passion and bringing them to the forefront of Western culture was the way for us to enter the mainstream. It's nice to see that the slow infiltration of women in the arts, that began in the late 90s and early the oughts, has paid off in the current boom of women in popular culture, the proliferation of girl bands, woman-centric film and TV, and of course, online content. All of which appears to be doing its slow, surreptitious work at shifting attitudes.

However, it's my opinion that being able to watch "Girls" on prime time television, is not quite enough.

The reason why third wave feminism is so difficult to define, is that unlike the first two waves, this movement has no single unifying purpose behind its rise, only that vague sense of unease with where second wave feminism had left us, a frustration of the slow progress we've been making and an outrage with the constant backsliding when it comes to even the most basic rights of girls and women. You don't really meet a lot of women who when asked would state: "I'm a third wave feminist." Because of the broadness of the issues and the demographics involved, third wave feminism encompasses a lot of smaller definitions of feminism.

The emphasis of third-wave feminism certainly reflects the battles won by second wave feminism, but its aims and goals were/ are more focused on the idea that individual women need individual expression for their feminist needs, within the wider framework of feminist thought.

Which is where radical feminism comes in. For me at least. Now, radical feminism as an actual historical movement, is somewhat a thing of the past, its ideology having peaked in the late 60s, early 70s. Its widespread misuse to describe any seemingly "extreme" feminist thought is understandable, because certainly a lot of pretty politically "out-there" people have applied the moniker to themselves (Think feminists who oppose transsexuals...eye-roll. "Liberation for all! Except these people." Wtf?). However in the wider context of third (and fourth?) wave feminism, the term totally makes sense.

The litmus test for feminism in general has for a long time been "If you think women are people, then you're a feminist." Similarly, the most succinct metaphor for radical feminism I've ever seen was published in Bitch Magazine a few years ago: "Second wave feminists just want a piece of the pie. Radical feminists want a totally different pie." I actually wish it had said that they want to bake a totally different pie, but hey, you wouldn't want to paint women as some kind of pie-baking homemakers, right?
But what do they mean by "a totally different pie", you might be asking?

Now, liberal feminism would have you believe that the only way for us to advance is conquer and devour arenas previously thought to be exclusively the realm of men. 

To a degree, I find this accurate. Only through representation can we set about changing prevailing attitudes. We need political, artistic and cultural agency. To start with. And we do need to make up fifty-percent of a lot of different fields to do this.

The core thought of radical feminism goes much further than this though. It argues that we actually need to completely reassess and overhaul many of the fields we consider important in our society. And that women's issues relate to a wider framework of other societal malaise. 

The feminists of my mom's generation, truly believed that in order to achieve this "equality", we had to prove that we could be as good as men at whatever our society valued, regardless of the inherit merit of the actual thing we were trying to achieve.

For example, radial feminism would argue that instead of simply cheering on say, a female banking executive as a great example of what women can achieve, we should look at whether being a banking executive who doesn't help poor women not to lose their homes, or a CEO who's company discriminates against female employees, is actually something that anyone should aspire to. Whether it be female boxing champions, Hillary Clinton's run to be the first woman president of the United States, or half the generals in the US army being women, radical feminism looks at the wider consequences of what's typically considered "women's advancement in society".

It is the credo of second wave feminism if that if some woman, somewhere wants to be the captain of a nuclear submarine, run Goldman Sachs, or play in a men's pro-football team, that is our battle.

However the question radical feminists ask everyday is: How is it feminism for women to get to participate in a system that oppresses other people?

                           Children at Raja Yoga Academy, Point Loma  (LOC)
It's not. Or if it is, only in the narrowest definition of the word.

In our quest for liberation, many of us have become confused about what exactly is it that we're trying to get liberated from. Our roles in a post-second-wave-feminist society maybe different than before, but they are as narrow as ever. Our society implies that the experience of being a woman is somehow singular, not plural. That a woman can only be a limited amount of things and have a limited range of experiences at a time and most importantly, that a woman is only successful in this society when she conforms to its patriarchal norms and mores (Aren't ya proud of me for getting this far in a post about feminism before I used the P-word?).

That we can vote for one of two male candidates, or marry whomever we want, or fuck whomever we want, or buy a pharmaceutical product that may or may not mess with our endocrine system, go to work when our kids are little, or smoke, or wear what we like, is that really all the agency we want?

It is the thought of modern radical feminism, that instead of trying to get through the glass ceiling, we might just want to admit that the building had faulty design, raze it to the ground and built a different one.

Whether we like it or not, we continue to live in a society that constantly devalues the female experience and encourages women to pursue the accepted modes of behavior, built-in at a time when we were still mostly relegated to the kitchens, parlors and brothels.

Not only that, but this singularity of female experience in our culture, pits women against each other in trying to validate their own experience of the world.

In our culture where there is a constant, and often unfavorable comparison of one woman's experience to another's. Married women against single, working moms against stay-at-home, mothers against child-free women, large against thin, poor against wealthy, Christian against Muslim, Republican against Democrat; women with different morals, religious beliefs, biological sexes, styles of dress, sexual orientation, appearances, races, are constantly, both overtly, and subtly, pitted against each other in our media, education system and government institutions .

For instance, the origins of the "mommy wars" that have been in the forefront of conversation about the female experience of mothering in the last decade, stem from this very same rift. Personally, I feel like  this phenomenon should be called "the mommy warcrimes", because there's so much judgement and guilt around this issue, most of it inflicted on women by other women.

It always mildly annoys me when people say things like "there's never been a better time to be a woman" because it takes such a myopic view of history and geography. Sure, we are in many ways much more enfranchised than women of fifty, or a hundred years ago, for the reasons my mother would have been sure to point out. In terms of most human societies for a very long time, this is a better time than ever to be a woman in the "developed" world.

But this kind of thinking breeds complacency about our current issues, and is willfully ignorant of the fact that outside the Western Nations, where most women in the world in fact reside, little has changed since the days of the suffragettes, and that furthermore, our "liberation" may actually be contributing to oppression of women in other parts of globe.

It ignores also the fact that while ostensibly, white, straight, cis women have certain rights, they may not extend to women of other races, classes, or sexual orientations/ identities. That women are not some homogenous group of human beings, but that our needs and problems are diverse, and need to addressed as such.  We're also not a minority, given that we make up slightly more than 50% of the planet's population, and the fact that we are oppressed, should give us some indication of how much work there is to be done before we can become truly egalitarian society.

Furthermore, every advance we do have, has been granted to us because our mothers and grandmothers and hundreds of thousands of other women (and men) demanded them, radicalized and organized. A lot of women who do identify as feminists, still balk at the "radical" label, as thought it alone pushed you over to the dreaded territory of bra-burning and man-hating.
If this is the case for you. Let me ask you this: You think Emmeline Pankhurst was a middling feminist?  (Note that the word wasn't wide-spread at this time-women's rights was more commonly used. But this is a thought-excercise.) You think Lucretia Mott was? You think Harriet Tubman, or Sojourner Truth, or Susan B. Anthony would have called themselves so-so feminists ? No. Because being an advocate of women's right in their time was considered radical. And frankly, not that much has changed in the intervening two hundred years.

In the title of this post I have called you, dear reader, a radical feminist. Was I trying to be provocative? Yes.  Because I hoped that perhaps I could get you to read this, possibly the longest blog-post I've ever written. Really, by all means, figure out yourself what kind of feminist you actually want to be. Because...
                                     Woman with a child of upper class. St. Croix, the Danish West Indies

To be perfectly honest with you, whenever a woman tells me they are not a feminist, I am extremely tempted to ask them to hand over their right to vote, wear pants, go to work, make legal decisions on their own, have the custody of their children, their right to personal property and any other right that was won for them by the thousands of suffragettes and feminists of yore.  

And frankly, I'm sick and tired of people, especially women, misusing the term "radical feminist" to imply that you hate men and sex, just as I'm tired of women who's statements about feminism contain the infamous "but".  As in "I'm a feminist but..." or "I'm not a femisnist, but..." 

Feminism is like the entire female experience. There's no single kind. There's your kind of feminism, there's my kind feminism, there's my mom's kind of feminism. There's there's cultural feminism, there's mothering feminism, sex-positive feminism, eco-feminism, trans-feminism.

Heck, you could even be a fourth wave feminist!

Maybe you have never encountered sexual harassment, sexism,  felt your that our culture is oppressive, or belittling to your experience, or how you view yourself,  had other women stepping over you to get to somewhere where you should both be going together? If so, consider yourself lucky. Then ask yourself what are the odds that you'll get to live the rest of your life without having some of these things happen to you. Then ask yourself if you care whether these things have happened to your friends, your relatives, your co-workers, whether they'll happen to your daughter, or your son's future partner. If not, I'm sorry I wasted your time, you obviously have not need for feminism and I was wrong to imply you might be a radical feminist.

However, let's revise:

Think that women are people? Congratulations, you are now a feminist! Think that there's something wrong with how our society treats and views mothers, teenage girls, ambitious women, women of color, grandmothers, trans-women, undocumented immigrant women, homemakers? Congratulations! You might just be a radical feminist!

Welcome to the battle sister, we have much work ahead.
                              Portrait of a young woman, ca. 1856-1900.

Now that you've made it here, I'm curious. Questions, comments, counter arguments? Oh and check out this fancy-pants disclaimer.

Still interested in further reading?

Bitch Magazine
Ms. Magazine
Everything You've Always Wanted To Know About Feminism But Were Afraid To Ask


Ps. Though I talk in this post exclusively to you, the reader, as a woman, I want to acknowledge that yes men, too can and should be radical feminists. I'm' in the process of converting my husband to one.