BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Archive for the ‘Stratification’

Work Less. We Need You.

May 23, 2017 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification, Work

It seems like everyone I know is in one of two situations. Either they are un(der)employed and trying to figure out how to get some hours/money to survive or they are working far too many hours and trying to figure out how to fit any kind of a life into a workday.

I used to work appallingly long hours. It started because I was severely underpaid and had little choice. But it continued because I had internalized the idea of a “hard worker” being a good thing. I succumbed to the expectation that people are supposed to fit their life around their work, rather than the other way around. I also wanted independence. Work seemed like a better route to independence than housewife, the only other option on offer.

There were some rewards for all that “hard work” and long hours. It might almost make you believe in the pull yourself up by your bootstraps nonsense. Of course, not everyone can do it. While I was getting raises and promotions for being “indispensable,” my coworker was struggling just to get to the office on time. She was a single mother who lived in a part of Liberty City where the buses, when they were working at all, only ran Monday through Friday during rush hour. Ostensibly my raises and promotion were a result of all those long hours. But the reality is that requiring long hours to “get ahead” is a way of privileging certain people without seeming to.

Even a forty hour week is too much. It worked o.k. for my father, when I was small.  He was able to work full time, still have a social life, and participate in his community. But that is because he had a stay at home wife, a support staff in his office, a periodic housekeeper, and various babysitters for us kids. In other words, he had a cadre of women doing much of the work for him. Once his business was crushed by the big box stores, life changed. No more stay at home wife. No more support staff. The community participation stopped. He had a stroke and was never really able to work full time again.

So if you are feeling like you are somehow failing, if you think you need some self-help bullshit about how to manage your time better, you don’t. There is nothing wrong with you. The reason we have so many exhausted, sick people hanging by one last nerve is not that we are all inadequate. It is that the grind is killing us.

When I entered the nonprofit world things got even trickier. Suddenly, it isn’t that you are giving all your life hours to make an owner even richer. It is that you are dedicated to a cause. When the people you are ostensibly helping seem even worse off than you, how can you justify cutting them off?

Ironically, one of the first nonprofits I worked for was an organization in California that helped people who were caring for someone with a brain impairment. I worked long hours. I was tired, stressed, and cranky. I spent zero time trying to be a part of the community. I didn’t treat people the way they should be treated. While I was supposedly helping caregivers, I had a life which would not have allowed me to do any caregiving. So how was that really helping anyone?

What I have come to see is that the more we work at our jobs, the worse off we are as a society. Our work structure is designed to provide cover for continuing discrimination and inequality. It is designed to prevent us from being able to participate in the life of our communities. It relies on a cadre of women – disproportionately poor women of color – whose struggles are mostly invisible. It is exploitation that we are all complicit in, whether you hire someone to clean your house or are so busy that you need to rely on the poverty wage workers who make your fast food. I began to understand what Nancy Fraser refers to as a “crisis of care.”

Between the need for increased working hours and the cutback in public services, the financialized capitalist regime is systematically depleting our capacities for sustaining social bonds. This form of capitalism is stretching our “caring” energies to the breaking point. This “crisis of care” should be understood structurally. By no means contingent or accidental, it is the expression, under current conditions, of a tendency to social-reproductive crisis that is inherent in capitalist society, but that takes an especially acute form in the present regime of financialized capitalism.

In short, Capitalism cares only about production and marginalizes the relationship building and care that our lives actually depend on. If our communities are falling apart, it is because the time we need to nurture the relationships that make communities strong is being stolen from us. I don’t see how we will resolve any other problem unless we can tackle this one.

Clearly, this is a systemic issue that will require collective action. But one of the first steps has to be reprogramming our own thinking and pushing back on the theft of our time and well-being.

It is not easy to break the cycle. It might even be a little terrifying. We have been programmed our whole lives to believe that one false move will land us on the streets. The reality is that some people really are in such a precarious position that they have little room to push. But that isn’t true for all of us. And the more collective hours we can recover, the more time we will have to do things to open space for the people who don’t have it now.

A good start is to push back against all the voices, including the ones in the back of our heads, which tell us to judge people for not being hard working enough. Push back when people start every conversation by asking what a person does for a living. Don’t work overtime if you can afford not to. Find ways to decrease your material needs or alternate ways to meet those needs. Refuse to get on emails outside of work hours. Take every minute of your vacation (if you are lucky enough to have it).

Thank people who actually take off when they are sick. Support paid sick days for everyone. Applaud publicly those who prioritize their family and community in actions and not just words. Call out anyone who criticizes people who actually have their priorities straight. Build a support system that makes risking your job a little less scary. Be there for others so that they can take risks too. Be the one who helps those trying to live without wage labor, not the Petty Crocker who resents anyone that isn’t working as much as they are.

When you have a moment of guilt or fear, think about how this system is designed to make it impossible to have a reasonable life. Think about all the people who could benefit from a drastic shift in culture and expectations. Ask why, if you leave work early or get on Facebook at your desk, employers say that you are stealing time. Yet it is totally accepted that an employer expects you to be on email 24/7, schedules meetings during lunch hour, or takes advantage of lax overtime exemption laws to make people work late for free.  Get pissed. Remember that you aren’t just pushing back for yourself. Remember that time is not money, time is life. They are stealing your life.

No matter how you earn your living, you aren’t doing anyone any favors by abandoning your loved ones, community, and health to the organization. No person can work 40 hours a week or more, support their loved ones in the way they deserve, be an active member of a community, be aware of what is going on in the world, be conscious about the systems they support, take care of themselves, create beautiful things, and find time for the joy that makes life worth living. Too many of us are sacrificing all the most important things on the altar of work. We need to look at our lives differently. Or as Fraser puts it

“The idea that you could build a society that assumes every adult is a person with primary care responsibilities, community engagements, and social commitments. That’s not utopian. It’s a vision based on what human life is really like.”

You can (and should) read the whole interview here.

I Believe You

October 27, 2011 By: Mel Category: Stratification

Image of black women hearing harassmentA recent post over on Womanist Musings reminded me of something I have been meaning to write about. The post is essentially about how white, radical feminists are blind to other womens’ realities. They declare the world to be one way, based on their experiences, and expect all people to act accordingly.

It is infuriating when people erase or deny your life experience and feelings.

The most frustrating thing about my mother is that she will never concede to having done anything wrong – ever. She has her version of events and that is all there is. My sister and I could stand in front of her with video and forty two eyewitnesses – including Honest Abe, Gandhi, and Moses – and she still would not veer from her version of events.

My mother and I have a tenuous relationship based on occasional emails and a visit every four or five years. My sister hasn’t spoken to her since 1999. It is impossible to have a good relationship with someone who denies your reality. It is impossible to work with someone who remains willfully ignorant in order to protect themselves from the fact that they are not perfect.

We all see the world through the lens of our own experience. But that doesn’t mean that we dismiss all other experiences. When somebody tells you that they experience the world differently, your response should not be, “That is not how I experience the world and therefore you are wrong.”  Your response should be, “I believe you. Now how is it that we can experience life so differently?”

There is a growing campaign out there against street harassment. And I must confess to you that I have been snarky and dismissive of it at times. The only people I feel harassed by on the street are those adolescent activists hired by Greenpeace and HRC. (No I am not going to stop and listen to your spiel or give you money, especially not you HRC.)

When I saw this video of Emily May, Executive Director of Hollaback!, I was just annoyed. To me it sounded like she wants the whole world to be like the little town she grew up in. When she talked about wanting everyone to be able to say hi to each other without feeling threatened, I thought she was describing some provincial, waspy universe of horror.

Still, I kept reading things and talking to my friends about it. It soon became clear to me that other people are experiencing street harassment much differently than I am. It isn’t just our interpretations. It isn’t their imaginations. They are getting harassed more and more threateningly.

A while back, there was an article in the Washingtonian. It was one of those feel good stories about a downtrodden boy trying to make good.  When he was on the streets, the boy

learned the rules of street life:  Never put your hands on a white woman.  Never hit a young girl.  Never shoot a kid.  Never steal from your own family.

If he did all that, he was told, he’d stay alive.

I don’t think those instructions were about moral judgment.  They were more a judgment on what crimes people would pay attention to and which ones wouldn’t be pursued. Some women are targets in ways that some of us are not.

Native American women are twice as likely to get raped. Hundreds of First Nations women have gone missing with hardly any effort to find out what happened. Even after a decade of tireless activists bringing the Juarez femicides into the international spotlight, the murders of those women are still not being properly investigated.  But you can bet your ass that if some young, middle class, blond girl goes missing her face will be a fixture on the 24 hour news cycle.

There’s a hierarchy out there, and the further down it you are, the more danger you are in. To quote criminologist Steven Egger,

The greatest similarity I found among all serial killers, not just the killers of prostitutes, is the vulnerability of the victim. In almost all cases, we’re talking about a victim who is available, who is from a powerless group of society and who tends not to have a lot of prestige.

So is it really a big surprise that I don’t experience the streets the same as other people? Of course, I don’t. Race, class, and age all factor in with how free people feel to interact with me or to try and intimidate me. There is a power relationship there. Few are going to harass someone who they perceive to have power over them in some way – whether that is the physical power to kick their ass or the power of being the kind of victim that cops are likely to pay attention to.

So, women, I believe you. I believe that street harassment is reducing your quality of life, that the constant reminder of those power relations grinds down on you, that it is important to you to make it stop. And I support you.

I don’t understand your experiences exactly. I’m unlikely to make this an issue that I devote a lot of my time and energies to. And I definitely cannot support criminalizing the behavior and adding to the hideous issues we have with the prison industrial complex. But you will get no more snarkiness and eye rolling from me. And I’ll be keeping my eye out for you on the streets.

You would be amazed how different the world can look if you are just willing to believe people. And if you can’t even be bothered to do that, then you have a lot of nerve expecting people to have anything to do with you.

P.S. The image above comes from this post about Street Harassment of Black Women

Whose Fault Is It?

June 23, 2011 By: Mel Category: Sex, Stratification

The Dilbert guy is being hateful and thick again. He wrote a post on the recent spate of men caught “tweeting, raping, cheating” and had this to say.

The part that interests me is that society is organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable. In other words, men are born as round pegs in a society full of square holes. Whose fault is that? Do you blame the baby who didn’t ask to be born male?

According to him, if not for society’s (read women’s) controls on them, men would all be “unrestrained horny animals.” In his world it is women against men. If men get to be their true selves, then women lose.

It is hard to even know how to begin responding to all the wrong that permeates his post. Let’s start with conflating tweeting pics of your dick with rape. Far as I know, the women who received pics of Weiner’s weiner were not complaining about it. I have no idea if he and his wife are monogamous. I don’t know what they consider cheating if they are. It’s really none of my business. What I do know is that Weiner’s behavior and DSK raping a maid are not even slightly comparable.

I seriously doubt that Adams believes that tweeting pics and rape are the same thing. But he does seem to think that both those things fall into a range of “natural” male behavior. Clearly, if it were up to men, you would all be sitting around fires, eating raw meat, and taking the pussy like Pepe.  Right?

I am so tired of the people who make all men out to be rapists. Even if you believe that men want sex more than women, that doesn’t mean that all men would rape if it were not for the minuscule chance that they might go to jail for a couple years. It doesn’t mean that men can’t understand that women are people and that coercing people into doing things they don’t want to do is wrong. It doesn’t mean that men can’t understand that, just because you want to do something, it doesn’t mean you are entitled to do it. Men are human too, you know.

Besides, rape is not about sex, at least not just about sex. People rape because they can get away with it. They rape the weak. They rape to exert their power. They rape to punish. They rape to defile. To colonize. To scar.

Of course, I don’t actually believe that men want sex more than women. At least, I don’t think it is that simple. First of all, gender is not so neat. According to that crazy lefty magazine The Economist, “at least 1.7% of people are born with one of several dozen possible intersexual conditions.” So how are we supposed to make blanket statements about gender? Where do gay people fit into his little male vs. female world? And how are we supposed to separate out what is attributable to innate tendencies and what is attributable to all the head trips put on us and our sexuality?

As Holly so eloquently put it in her post a while back, men should be encouraging sluttiness. Instead we get a lot of bullshit about the kind of girl you marry and the kind of girl you don’t. Instead we get ridiculous calculations about how many dates you have to go on before you can jump the guy you want and not have him disappear because you were too easy. (Really ladies, why the hell would you want a guy who thinks like that anyway?) That doesn’t even begin to look at all the women who are suffering through really bad sex.

And let me just add one more glaring omission. A major source of all our sexual dysfunction and head trips is religion. When was the last time you saw women running a major religion? As I have written about before, the Catholic Church (arguably the most influential religious institution ever) specifically formed in opposition to women. If you are pissed about the sorry lack of good sex in the world, why not take aim at the pope? He is more responsible than any woman.

Let me not go on and on about that. You have heard it all before. I’m bringing this up with you because I got into a twittersation with my friend @jeremy6d about the post. He thought that Adams was getting at the same thing that Marty Klein was getting at in that post I shared with you on Tuesday. I had a hard time seeing that. Where Klein was talking about sexual dysfunction for everyone, Adams was blaming women.

But if i try to set aside Adams obvious dislike of women. If I can manage to set aside his feeling that men have no respect for other human beings. If I can manage to set aside his strict construction of gender. If I can manage to set aside his total lack of power analysis. If I can manage to set aside his “domestication of males” theory (as Jeremy so perfectly worded it).  Is there anything else there?

Perhaps.

I believe that Adams feels stifled by social controls. I believe it because I feel that way. I have felt that way since I was a tween. But where Adams can only see his own feelings and has decided to blame women for his unhappiness, I recognize that social control is coming at us from all directions. It comes from parents, schools, churches, government, media…everything.

While those that have more power have to take more responsibility for how fucked up our society is, we all are part of this society. We all create this society together. That means that we all have to take responsibility for our role in perpetuating the systems, institutions, and beliefs that keep us in our little boxes. It means we need to do our part to reformulate society in a way that isn’t so damned oppressive for all of us. It means recognizing that it isn’t a zero sum game, that our liberations are connected.

So Adams, and people like him, need to pull their head out of their ass. I imagine it’s damned hard to see or hear clearly from in there. And it is probably stinky as hell. No wonder he is so cranky.

But Who Would Do ___ ?

May 26, 2011 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Stratification, Work

One thing that really seems to throw people for a loop, when I talk about a world without rulers, is how we would decide who does what. The really interesting thing about that question is what it says about life today. By asking that question, you are pretty much admitting that

1. People spend most of their time doing shit they don’t want to do

2. All the shittiest work is done by people who have no better options

If you defend the status quo, you are defending a system which forces people to waste much of their lives. And you defend a system that absolutely must constrain our options in order to make sure that there will always be someone desperate enough to do the really shitty work.

There are some cultural beliefs that we are fed in order to justify this system. One cultural belief is that self-sacrifice is to be applauded. Well, self-sacrifice is not all it is cracked up to be. I’m not saying that life is all fairies and unicorns. I don’t think that the whole world will be able to lay around on beaches all day smoking pot and trying to keep the sand out of our beers. (Although more time to do that would be lovely.) And I appreciate those people who have spent their lives sacrificing themselves for their family and community. I also think it is a fucking tragedy that they had to do it.

For instance, I worked with a woman who had three jobs cleaning hotel rooms. She was a Haitian immigrant without a whole lot of options. Her life was spent cleaning up after people, most of whom treated her like shit. I respected her and the sacrifices she made in order to give her kids a chance for better life. But I think it is a tragedy that she had to make those sacrifices.

Meanwhile, other people that I have worked with have never had to clean up after themselves, much less anyone else. There are people who get paid to sit around reading journals and opinionating. They are often surrounded by “support staff” who clean up after them, file their papers, answer their phones, and generally make sure that they can spend most of their time doing what interests them. (And that goes for at home as well, where the support staff are called “wife” or “housekeeper.”)

The difference between the hotel maid and the researcher is usually an accident of birth, one which has largely predetermined how many options they will have in life. Sometimes an individual overcomes the odds. Sometimes an individual screws up every advantage they have been given. But we do not all start off in the same place. We do not all have the same expectations or options.

I think that sucks. I think it is a waste of talent. I think it makes people miserable. And I don’t think it is necessary.

All people should be able to pursue whatever interests them. Luckily for us, people have all different interests. I don’t like playing in the dirt. My parents used to punish me by making me pull weeds. They ruined me for gardening forever. But lots of people love growing things. So they would. So far so good.

What if there are some things that nobody wants to do? In some cases, those things just wouldn’t get done. If nobody out there thinks that knowing how to make a slinky is the coolest thing in the world, then the world will have to live without the joy of a slinky.  That makes me a little sad, but not sad enough to learn how to make a slinky.*

What if there are things that take huge sacrifices to learn? What if people need to go to school for years? Who would do that? Have you ever seen the sacrifices that people make to become ballerinas? What about people who go to med school and then go work in some rural village and get paid in chickens? There are some seriously dedicated people out there. A better question would be, how many obsessive geniuses have had to abandon their passion in order to do droll jobs to pay the rent?

But what about the icky tasks? Who would pick up the garbage? There will undoubtedly be tasks that everybody wants to be done but nobody wants to do. And those tasks will need to be split up somehow. In my office, everybody takes turns doing the dishes. It is sometimes a friggin disaster, to be sure. But we muddle through o.k. Perhaps this task could be accomplished more efficiently otherwise, but sometimes it is o.k. to compromise efficiency for fairness.

And the really great thing is that people would no longer spend time doing inane things just because one person with power got a bug up their ass. I cannot tell you how many reports and projects I have completed only to see them filed away in some bosses drawer, never to be looked at again. In a fairer system, that boss would be just another worker. And they would have to convince us that their project was worthwhile or do it themselves.

But what about tasks that come with power? Doesn’t specialized knowledge give someone a certain amount of power? Yes. Sometimes it does. I have told many a nonprofit boss that they should really, actually look at the books once in a while, because I could be robbing them blind. There is a certain power in having that knowledge. Some things should not be in the hand of just one person. In accounting, we have a segregation of duties that is designed to catch mistakes or fraud. Certain types of tasks may be important enough to design those kinds of controls. With other things, it may suffice to simply have backup people, or cross-training as the biz peeps call it. Those individuals don’t have to be at different levels. They can be equals.

Wont some people be doing tasks that are more useful? Maybe. But isn’t usefulness somewhat subjective? It is true that some tasks deal more directly with basic human needs, like growing food, but maybe the person tinkering in their garage will come up with an invention that unexpectedly makes growing food easier. Besides, some of those seemingly unnecessary things are what we live for. Food keeps me alive, but I don’t know how much I would like my life without music,literature, and sex toys.

What about status? Won’t doctors always have more status than people who make sex toys? Not for me! Seriously though, status is also subjective. What confers status in a community of artists is not the same as what confers status in a community of farmers. As human beings, each of us will undoubtedly value some human contributions more than others. We just have to recognize that not everyone will agree with our opinion. And so long as my low opinion of your work does not come with my having power to restrict your life, it isn’t really a problem.

What about rewards? Don’t some people work harder than others? Shouldn’t they be rewarded for that? Isn’t it demotivating when you work hard and other people don’t? Yes. Maybe. And sometimes. Some people do work harder than others. But those people who slack at the job they hate might work their asses off doing something they love. People may want to get appreciation for extra effort. But people are motivated by lots of things besides fear and money. Fear and money are actually really crappy motivators.

I could start talking about gift economies or maybe some of the interesting things that parecon has to say about division of labor. But I will leave those discussions for another day. The essential thing is not the details of how work will be split up or how people will receive what they need to survive, but the principles which we should be looking at when we are deciding how to do things. We should always be aiming for more freedom, options, opportunities, fairness, information, and creativity. We should always be aiming for less constraints, power imbalances, secrets, and mind numbing bureaucracy.

To some extent, what I am talking about is a huge change in thinking. We need to stop ourselves from automatically reverting to authority when we should be focused on process and organization. And there are certainly skills that we could all use more of – better communication and conflict resolution being two of the most important. But much of what I am saying here is widely known and talked about in business.

Read management books and they will tell you how customer service is related to employee empowerment. They will tell you how monetary rewards only motivate employees for a short time. You’ll read about the benefits of cross-training and autonomy. Some businesses even institute policies based on these principles –  to an extent. But the people in charge of the policies are always constrained by their need to justify and preserve the privileges that they enjoy within the current hierarchies. So they can never take things to their logical conclusion.

When you talk about a more just system, people will pose all sorts of problems that they want you to solve. These are always problems that are not really solved now. In fact, they quite often aren’t problems to be solved at all. They are tensions to be managed. There are always tensions between pursuing your interests and taking care of your responsibilities. There are always tensions where people have different priorities. We will always have to be vigilant that specialized knowledge doesn’t lead to power over others. But those tensions can be managed much more fairly.

_______________

* I now have this song stuck in my head. Damnit

Why Slutwalk?

May 19, 2011 By: Mel Category: Core, Sex, Stratification

One morning, when I was in eighth grade, I got dressed for school and went outside to wait for my father to drive me. I was wearing a long knit skirt, sweater, and some boots. My outfit would have met the requirements for an orthodox family temple outing. But when my father walked out the door and saw me, he told me I looked like a slut. I was devastated. More than that, I was baffled.

You have to understand that, when I was a kid, my father and I were as close as two people could be. There was nobody on earth that I would rather have spent time with. My father wasn’t some uber-conservative, misogynist douchebag. He was the guy who always made me feel like my opinion was important.  He was the one who made me believe that there was nothing I could not do.

There was nothing slutty about what I was wearing (if you believe in that sort of thing). It wasn’t about that. And at some level I knew that. But I still didn’t quite get what the hell was going on. All I knew was that my father’s attitude toward me changed. In fact, all men’s and women’s attitudes toward me changed. One day I was playing with barbies and the next day grown men on the street were trying to fuck me. The really mindboggling part was that somehow their desire was my fault. Somehow that made me dirty and wrong. There was some kind of code that I was missing.

One of my friends at the time had the misfortune of having huge boobs. She would spend hours in a store trying to find exactly the right t-shirt. If it was too big, she would look fat. If it was too tight or the neck was too low, then she would look like a slut. In the hours that she spent trying to find a shirt that fell just perfectly on the spectrum between fat slob and dirty whore, she could have written a novel.

It really didn’t matter if my friend found that perfectly chaste t-shirt. Because if something had happened to her, it would still have been her fault. If she was wearing a t-shirt, someone would say she should have been wearing a turtleneck. If she was wearing a turtleneck, someone would say that she should have been wearing a hijab. If she was wearing a hijab, someone would say the attack was due to some errant hair.

The idea that girls and women are in some way responsible for other people’s action, for the sometimes truly awful things that people want to do to them, is pervasive. It is so pervasive that, when an eleven year old girl was gang raped, the first reaction was to examine her actions.  Really? Is there something that an eleven year old can do to bring something like that on herself? What kind of society even lets that thought pass through their heads?

My teen-aged reaction to this bullshit (and a whole lot of other bullshit) was a big, punk rock Fuck You. I was not reading Betty Friedan. I did not have deep thoughts about how all of my personal mini-tragedies fit into a larger context. I knew that it hurt. I knew that trying to conform to social expectations would make me lose my fucking mind. I knew that, if I wanted to survive my teen years, I was going to have to give everyone the finger.

So I did. It didn’t always work out. Sometimes I did some really self destructive shit. I spent way to much time acting in opposition to things and to people.  I did not understand that, when you are acting in opposition to people, you are still letting them define you. But it was the road I needed to take.

I’m boring you with this tween years confessional because a couple of people have inquired about my participation in the upcoming DC Slutwalk. For those of you who have been on Mars for the last few weeks, there was an incident in Toronto that set off a firestorm.

“You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here,” the officer said, according to Hoffman. “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Women in Toronto got pissed. They decided to give that cop, and all the others like him, a big punk rock Fuck You. So the slutwalk was born. And women all over the world have been marching – sometimes scantily clad, sometimes not. Tiara will march marched with a sign that says said,

This is what I wore when I was raped. I still did not ask for it

I think Katherine Feeney and Suzanne Moore were a bit like me as kids. They get the riot grrl attitude behind the slutwalks. But lots of other people don’t like the slutwalks at all. Some people just don’t get the in your face fuckyouedness. Some people think that victim blaming really isn’t a problem anymore. Some think the word “slut” can’t be reclaimed. Some say the slutwalkers are just ruining things for real feminists. There are those who say it is too feminist and those who say it is not feminist enough. Some people think that it isn’t very sophisticated, only showing one side of the madonna/whore dichotomy. Still others say it is racist.

Every day that I open my blog reader there are more articles on the slutwalks. And I was going to respond to the criticisms. I was going to write about how some people just don’t get the attitude. I was going to write about how things don’t always have to be so fucking intellectual. I was going to write about how I thought some of the criticisms were valid. But then I thought….Meh.

The truth is that I am going to participate in the slutwalk because my inner fifteen year old thinks it is …like….totally….fucking… awesome. That’s it. I’m not going to intellectualize it or make excuses for its shortcomings. I’m not going to pretend that it is inclusive or that it is going to solve anything. I don’t believe that suddenly everyone is going to understand how debilitating it can be to be on the receiving end of that hate.

One thing that is certain is that we are talking about this issue in a huge way. I think that is a good thing. I wish that there had been a big public discussion like this when I was a teen. Maybe it would have helped me. Maybe I would have put two and two together a little sooner. Maybe I would have seen how scared shitless and emotionally ill-equipped my father was. Maybe he and I would have found a way to heal our relationship before he died, because we would have understood that what was going on between us was much bigger than just us.

Or maybe not. All I know is that me and my inner fifteen year old are going to put on a completely inappropriate outfit and give a big, cathartic Fuck You to a lot of clueless people. And it is going to feel good.

Clarity Through Microcosm

March 31, 2011 By: Mel Category: Politics, Stratification, Work

I used to work for a hotel in Miami called the SeaView. It was owned by stockholders who had condos in the building. In a crunch, some of the condos were rented out. But generally only the parts of the building that were purely hotel rooms were for the public. The interesting part is who the stockholders were.

The penthouse was owned by Dwayne Andreas. At the time, Andreas was chairman of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). That would be the food, feed, and fuel company that The Informant worked for. It was Dwayne’s kid that was found guilty of price fixing. And it is ADM that that hears that ka-ching every time congress votes for more ethanol subsidies.

ADM got to price fix and collect all those subsidies because Andreas gave huge wads of cash and other nifty gifts (like cheap condos) to politicians (Democrats and Republicans alike). This bipartisanship was evident in the hotel. We had both Republicans and Democrats who were stockholders there. Bob Dole was one. Business and media were well represented among the owners too. David Brinkley had a pad. So did the Hoovers and the Duponts.

Some of the stockholders got occasional shit for being extra cozy with Andreas. New York Magazine wrote about Bob Dole’s Sugar Daddy. And Brinkley got heat for becoming an ADM pitchman. But mostly nobody really knew who Andreas was. Nobody ever called to inquire about the high profile visitors to the hotel. Nobody protested outside. We had no need for anything more than one very sleepy security guard at night. I watched Andreas, Dole, and Brinkley take off unmolested to go eat at The Palm and decide our fates.

And while the rich white dudes of business, government, and media were out schmoozing; the rest of us held down the fort at the hotel. The nicer jobs – management, office staff, front desk, supervisors – tended to be held by Asians, Light Latinos, and Europeans. The housekeepers were Haitian women. As a front desk person, I was allowed to walk in the front door. The Haitian housekeepers had to use a back door.

Dwayne Andreas had a private jet and his own personal pilot. There were cars and drivers, of course. Management and office staff drove to work. The cars ranged from Mercedes to clunkers. I took the bus, but since I lived on the beach it only took me 30 or 45 minutes to get home. The housekeepers I worked with at night also took the bus. But they had three buses and a sometimes two hour commute home. Bad enough on its own, but a lot worse when you consider that they had to have other jobs to barely get by.

What got me thinking about all of this was a post over at Eye of the Storm.  It describes how Chuck Schumer was overheard briefing all the other senators on what they should say when their media conference call started.  It was the commentary about these powerful people being told exactly what talking points they had to parrot out to the media that brought back the SeaView.

I was working there in 2000 when the election fiasco occurred. Gore’s people stayed there for a while. Then Bob Dole swooped in to do media while the Republicans arranged the election for Dubya. The party used to fax Dole’s talking points to our hotel office. I got a kick out of reading them. But I got an even bigger kick out of seeing how much control the party had over someone who was once a skip away from the presidency.

I always thought that hotel would make a great book or documentary. Every strata of society was represented. All the relationships and machinations were blatantly obvious. It is hard to hold the illusion that government, media, and corporations have separate interests when they just went out for steaks and share the same pool boy. You can’t really believe that Democrats and Republicans are much different when none had any qualms living in a place where the people who cleaned their shit couldn’t walk in the front door. And you can’t believe that elections mean much when someone as high up as Dole could basically be replaced by a very talented and congenial talking bird.

To All the Marriage Pushers

March 04, 2011 By: Mel Category: Politics, Sex, Stratification

If I have to read one more article on how a group of people must somehow be damaged because they aren’t in a 1950s nuclear family, I am going to spit nails.

Kay S. Hymowitz has a piece in the Wall Street Journal where she complains that men in their twenties “hang out in…a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.”  Poor Hymowitz and her fellow women can’t find a husband and breed.  All the guys are playing video games, fucking around in bands, smoking pot, or watching porn and comedy central.

Don’t feel too bad, dudes.  Tracy McMillan, has been married three times and so styles herself some sort of expert on what is wrong with those loser women who haven’t even managed to get married once.  According to her, women are shallow, selfish, slutty, lying bitches who don’t spend enough time acting like a doting mama to their men. And if you are a black woman who isn’t married, well then your lack of a mate is headline news and asshats like Steve Harvey make money telling you all the ways you should change yourself in order to attract a charmer such as himself. (I just threw up a little.)

Why is it that people are so fixated on marriage?  Why is it so fucking important to them that they will excoriate anyone who doesn’t hop right onto the marriage bandwagon? (Why the hell is our tax money going to try to make poor people get married?)

Usually, marriage pushers say some crap about marriage being the foundation of society. Horseshit. Marriage as a monogamous death pact has not been the foundation of society. The foundation of society has always been much bigger than the fragile nuclear family.  If marriage has historically been the foundation of anything, it is privilege, hierarchy, sexism, and the accumulation of property.  The kind of marriage we are familiar with is an ownership arrangement.*

If you really want to get to the heart of why people are so marriage obsessed, you must read the conservatives on the subject. Here I actually appreciate them. Most people pretend that they want you to change your entire self for your own good. They tell you it is what you really want. They tell you it is about love. At least some conservatives are honest.

Sam Schulman says that marriage is about controlling sexuality, especially women’s sexuality.  And we can’t possibly let the gays marry, cause gay marriage has nothing to do with controlling who people can fuck. It’s like telling everyone they can go out and fuck willy nilly.  We can’t have that. And my god, didn’t you realize that,

Even in modern romantic marriages, a groom becomes the hunting or business partner of his father-in-law and a member of his clubs; a bride becomes an ally of her mother-in-law in controlling her husband.

How the hell are two gays supposed to navigate those all important elite and gender specific roles? I mean all our parents hunt and belong to a club right? (Seriously, you should read his piece.  You can’t make that shit up.)

These people piss me off so much. They want you to revere an institution that gives them privileges. They want you to modify yourself to serve their needs. They want you to give up looking for something real so that you can be as miserable as they are. They want to stuff you into the same tiny box they have stuffed themselves into.  They want you to have the opposite of love.

Love is not about putting people into boxes, making them into something that suits you. As James Baldwin put so perfectly, “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” These people are telling you to put on more masks, to be as phony and miserable and deluded as they are. And for what? So rich people can have a system for property inheritance? So selfish people can delineate which tiny group of people they have to care about in life? So men can delude themselves into thinking that there is some virginal housekeeper waiting to take care of him who will never, ever want to fuck anyone else?

To hell with that.

Guess what? Not every girl has that Disneyland princess fantasy that McMillan and the rest claim we do.  As Violet so eloquently put it, some women listen to all that crap and think “Yes, I’d like to put a ring on it. The kind attached to a ball gag.” And here is another crazy fact for you. Men are actually human beings with feelings and not just walking hornbots. No, it is true.  I swear. It is possible to be a man and actually want something more than sex or money from people. I know, I could hardly believe it either.

I have no intention of getting married. I knew that by about the age of fifteen. It doesn’t make me damaged. It makes me someone who actually thinks about things before doing them. I have no idea if my fourteen-plus year relationship will last another four years or fourteen years or forty years. I do know that I love my video game and guitar playing, pot smoking, porn and comedy central watching bfriend. And I have no intention of telling him to “grow up” and fit into some Ozzie and Harriet idea of what a man is supposed to be. And I know that he loves me, not despite the fact that I am angry and raunchy and thoroughly undomesticated, but because of it.

So to all you marriage pushers who want the rest of us to sacrifice our happiness on the alter of your delusion – I know you hate to see people be honest about who they are, despite the harsh social consequences people like you met out for not conforming.  It must remind you of your own phoniness, unhappiness and mediocrity. I kind of feel sorry for you, but mostly I just want to tell you to suck it.

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*  If you have never read Stephanie Coontz’s book, Marriage A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, I would highly recommend it.

On Jewish “Success”

February 18, 2011 By: Mel Category: Religion, Stratification

It’s hard to have a reasonable conversation about the apparent “success” of the Jewish community. For one thing, we Jews have an understandably defensive gut reaction to accusations of success.  And they are often accusations.  To quote the Illinois Holocaust Museum,

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis augmented this (Middle Ages idea of Jews as Jesus killers and userers) with a 19th century myth that emerged as a backlash to European Jewry’s emancipation and consequent involvement in and numerous contributions to European cultural, social, economic and political life in numbers disproportionate to its numeric presence in the general population. This myth stressed the existence of a “secret” Jewish plot to dominate the world through economic and political control.

So when people start saying that Jews have a lot of money or control the media, the hairs start raising on the backs of our necks.

But that doesn’t mean we can deny the statistics.  Jews in America are better off than other groups.  Only Hindus come close to having as many people making over $100,000 a year.  Forbes 100 richest people included 30 Jews.  That’s a third of the top 100 for a group that makes up less than 2% of the population.  And while FAIR has thoroughly debunked the whole Jews own the media bullshit, there are a lot of Jews who work in media.  In 2009, the Atlantic came out with a list of the top 50 bloggers.  By my count, 27 of the 50 bloggers are Jewish.  That’s more than half.  That’s a hell of a lot.*

When confronted with Jewish “success” (and I put that in quotes because I don’t believe getting on the Forbes list is something to be proud of), many people will tell you that it is because our culture values education or because Jewish people take care of each other.  The implication being, of course, that less “successful” minorities don’t look out for one another or value education.

It is complete bullshit, of course.

How do you measure how much a culture values education?  How do you measure whether it is that they value education or simply don’t question the socialization?  How do you know it is not that another culture faces more obstacles to obtaining an eduction?  Besides, are only those people who have alphabet soup at the end of their name deserving of a living wage?

And isn’t it convenient how the education narrative conveniently ignores all the radical Jews who protested, picketed, boycotted, and otherwise scrapped in the streets?  Isn’t it convenient how that narrative ignores that Jews in America aren’t a target of the authorities like other minorities are, or like they themselves were in other places and other times.  It’s a lot easier to “take care of your own” when the prison industrial complex isn’t breathing down your neck.  How many Jewish women do you know who had to take in their incarcerated relatives kids?

Nobody knows I am Jewish unless I tell them.  People might not like Jews, but I’m a lot more likely to get past a prejudice.  More importantly, while Jews weren’t always considered white, most of us are white now – at least, white enough.  And if you don’t believe that privilege has anything to do with who gets to be a “success,” if you think that it is all hard work and commitment to education, let me ask you something.  Why is that entire list of Jewish gazillionares on Forbes all white men?  Maybe you can brush off the white part. There aren’t that many Black, Latino, Arab, or Asian Jews in the U.S.  But last I checked, about half of us are women.  Are women somehow immune to these supposed cultural proclivities that make Jews so “successful?”

So why am I writing this?

One of the bloggers I follow has now twice been accused of antisemitism.  Once, she was accused for daring to include a Jewish category in a post where she breaks down minority representation in the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans.  And now recently she was accused of antisemitism for calling out the hypocrisy of Dan Snyder suing City Paper for a picture that supposedly depicts a prejudiced stereotype – when he owns the fucking REDSKINS!

And that really pisses me off.

It isn’t just that the accusers are wrong, or that people shouldn’t spew knee jerk accusations.  It isn’t even about how those accusations can shut off conversations.  Ultimately this is not really about Jewishness.  It is about privilege, white supremacy, male supremacy, the illusion of equal opportunity, and the American mythology that weaves it all together.

Jewish success fits in nicely with America’s ideas about itself.  Here you have an immigrant group who came here fleeing persecution.  And while they faced prejudice, they were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

What’s more, America’s embracing of Jews is in direct opposition to the Nazis – the enemy of all enemies. World War II was the good war, the war used to justify all other wars.  And despite the fact that many Americans supported the Nazis, despite the fact that the U.S. didn’t even max out its immigration quotas in the war years, we like to think of ourselves as the anti-Nazi.  We are the saviors of the Jews and of the world.

So this Jewish success narrative buttresses all our myths about heroic Americans, good wars, equal opportunity and all that crap.  It is a minority mythology that does not challenge white supremacy or male supremacy.  In fact, it actually provides cover for it. We Jews are used as a silent indictment of other groups, as cover for people who don’t want to change the power structures and hierarchies that privilege them.

Our inability to discuss Jewish “success” is an inability to challenge the hierarchies, prejudices, and myths that need to be challenged.  I don’t want to provide cover for white supremacists.  I don’t want to provide cover for greedy bastards who use accusations of antisemitism to deflect from their douchebaggery.

That doesn’t mean that antisemitism isn’t alive and well.  (I’ve seen Glenn Beck’s list of Jews who have ruined the world.)  It means that we have to be honest about the fact that this supposed “success” is really just a measure of how thoroughly a person has bought into and benefited from the American lies.

_____________________________

*Even more common than a Jewish background was attendance at Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, or University of Chicago.  At least 30 of the 50 attended one or more of those schools.

Feminism or the Highway?

December 02, 2010 By: Mel Category: Stratification

Is feminism the only banner under which people can fight patriarchy, or better yet, kyriarchy?*

Is any act performed with the goal of ending gender oppression automatically feminist? Even if the people doing it don’t identify with feminism?  Even if feminism has consistently slapped them in the face?

I’ve been asked to explain why I don’t identify as feminist and I think I need to start with trying to answer those questions.  Because it seems to me that many feminists think that feminism is the only path to confronting oppression. That belief (I would say arrogance) is one of the primary reasons that I do not identify as feminist.

If feminism is the only path to confronting oppression, then what about Womanism? Are we to erase the experiences of black women who have very consciously chosen not to identify with feminism?  What about other marginalized people who have, after much consideration, chosen not to use the feminist label?

Read Women and Social Movements in Latin America and you will find a very ambivalent relationship between women’s movements and feminism.  Sometimes women don’t call themselves feminists because they see it as a movement of privileged white women. Sometimes, like in the case of the Bentia Galeana Women’s Council in Mexico, they don’t adopt the term because they cant come to any consensus about what feminism means.

Who can blame them for not being able to figure out what it means?  Some people say feminism is just about equality between the sexes.  Others say that it is about crushing patriarchy. Still others say that it is about confronting all forms of oppression.  There is liberal feminism, eco-feminism, radical feminism, anarcha-feminism, black feminism, Marxist feminism, sex positive feminism, and even conservative feminism (a la Ms. Palin). And the fights between the different feminists – who all have ideas about what is essential to feminism – are as bad as the fights between Anarchists and Marxists.  Or Anarcho-capitalists and Anarcho-communists.  Or…  You get the picture.

Now if you believe, as I do, that there are ways to fight oppression outside of the feminist label then the question becomes, does that label provide any added value?  Is it meaningful to me?  When I asked that question, the answer I came up with was no.  On the contrary. I think that when you adopt a label or belief system, you have to be willing to own up to all the things done in the name of that label.  And I am not prepared to accept the baggage of feminism.  I’ve got my hands full with anarchism.  Thank you very much.

If you want to read about the baggage of feminism, there are plenty of people who have written about it.  Read Jessica Valenti on gender essentialism.  Read Kimberle Crenshaw and Eve Ensler on feminists who ignored Hilary Clinton’s politics and supported her simply because she didn’t have a penis.  Read Monica Roberts on the long history of feminist transphobia.  Read about the battles between feminists and womanists.  Read about the experiences of sex workers:

we’re having to deal with the tremendous harms and human rights violations that have been done in the name of “feminism,” perpetrated against us to prove some theoretical point. When I started to work on the street in Montreal in 2001, for example, a number of feminist groups decided that they were going to go on the anti-prostitution rampage, and allied with right-wing people and religious groups to do so, which is not a strange combination. We have seen it in the United States when the powerful alliance between right-wing Christian groups, religious fundamentalists, and a number of mainstream feminist groups [cooperated] to pass aid restrictions to limit HIV funding to sex workers groups, at a tremendous cost to sex workers lives all over the world.

Now I know that some of you are thinking – Sure feminism has problems, but you should get in there and help fix it.

Why should I?

Some time back, one of the people I follow on twitter made the following comment, “Answering a situation of male exclusivity with female exclusivity is almost like celebrating your marginalization instead of fighting it.”  I suspect that it may have been in response to my talking about a conference for anti-authoritarian women.  (The conference was inspired by the sausage fest of an event that Libertopia was clearly going to be).

I never actually responded, but if I had I would have said the same basic thing I say to people who think I should help fix feminism.  I would rather build something that reflects my values.  I don’t have any desire or obligation to spend my precious time fixing your shit.  I have other shit I’d rather be fixing.  What’s more, are we really going to ask the most marginalized people to go in and fix feminism?  Are you going to tell a trans woman, who is in the line of fire every time she steps out of her house, to get closer to the shooter?  Who the hell are any of us to ask that?

While we are on the subject of responses to my non-feminism, let me tackle a few more things that will inevitably come up.

No.  I have not been brainwashed by the anti-feminist culture.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  I have been surrounded my whole life by feminists.  I once worked for the former president of the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women.  I would get waaaaay less shit if I would just cave and call myself a feminist.  My opinions on feminism do not come from listening to its detractors, they come from witnessing the actions of its proponents.

Which brings me to a more valid criticism, that I am judging feminism by liberal feminists. Well, yes.  I am.  Most of the feminists I have known in my life are liberal feminists who do not question the power structure, but merely want more women at the top of it.  It is true that anarcha-feminists do not fall into the same traps as liberals, but most feminists are not anarchists.  The idea that I should judge feminism by the margins is absurd.  Usually, we talk about how movements shouldn’t be judged by the extremes, but with feminists I’m supposed to turn that on its head and not judge the movement by the mushy center?

Truth be told, I thought about identifying as anarcha-feminist for half a second.  But it just didn’t make any sense.  If feminism is defined as being against all forms of oppression, then adding feminist to anarchist just seems redundant.  If it is about being against patriarchy and gender oppression, then it would seem to preference one type of oppression over another.  Cindy Milstein, at a recent event in Baltimore, described it in less negative terms. She said that the anarcho-adjectives symbolized not preference, but passion.  That’s fine.  If you are extra passionate about injustice related to gender oppression, more power to you. But I am not.  I may identify more when I hear about the injustices and abuses faced by women, but I am not more passionate about doing something about those injustices than I am about injustices due to race or class or disability or anything else.

None of this means that I am anti-feminist.  I can appreciate the accomplishments of feminists without being a feminist.  Just like I can appreciate the accomplishments of the Southern Christian Leadership Council without being a Christian.  I can appreciate feminist writings, philosophy and discourse without being a feminist.  Just like I can appreciate the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh or John Paul Sartre without being a Buddhist or an existentialist.

I get that identifying as feminist is meaningful to many people.  And if you want to inundate me with suggested reading that you think will change my mind about the whole thing, knock yourself out.  I keep an open mind.  Just don’t be so arrogant as to think that, because it holds such meaning for you, the rest of us have to agree or we are BAD.  Don’t forget that the movement you are so attached to has shit on a lot of people along the way. And don’t continue that tradition by disrespecting all the amazing women out there who are confronting oppression without the feminist label.

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* Since I posted this I have been enlightened on some of the more troubling aspects of the term kyriarchy.  You can read a very good post about it here (HT @QueerCoup).  I’m usually more careful with my language.  Had I done more 101, I might not have used the term.

That said, I don’t think it effects the crux of my arguments and I still stand by all the rest of it.

Are all Johns (and Janes) the Same?

November 18, 2010 By: Mel Category: Sex, Stratification

Last Tuesday I linked to an article that really bugged me, but I hadn’t quite put my finger on all the reasons why.  It was about a brothel for women that is opening in New Zealand.  The author of the article was predicting that the brothel would be a failure because women “have to be paid to have sex with strangers.”

At first I thought what was bothering me about the article was that same old tired trope about women wanting relationships while men just want to get off.  There is no way to know for sure what women would or would not want if we lived in a society where women having sex with multiple partners (or any kind of sex) didn’t come with such massive social disapproval.  There is no way to know for sure what men would or would not want if we lived in a society that didn’t hold up James Bond as their emblem for promiscuous, manly virility.

Even in our present culture, surveys show that the number of sexual partners that men have and women have aren’t very far off.  And in some of the surveys, where the numbers are farther apart, the respondents who reported high numbers admitted to lying.  Not to mention all the societies that have had much different ideas about sex. Jesuit missionaries from France were shocked by the sexual freedom that Montagnais-Naskapi Indian women had.*

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that wasn’t what was really bugging me about the article. What was bugging me was the portrait this woman was painting of who would go to a prostitute and why.  She didn’t go so far as to claim that every guy who goes to a prostitute is some emotionally stunted pervert who just wants to get off without having to treat the other party like a human being (as so many people do).  But she did infer that the only reason someone would go to a prostitute was because they wanted to have anonymous sex with strangers.  And she implied that they prefered that anonymous sex to other options that they had.   But what were the other options?

Mike Jones is the gay male escort who outed Ted Haggard.  He wrote a book about his life called I Had to Say Something.  In it, he describes some of his experiences with clients.  He wrote about a client who had diabetes and lost both of his legs, about a client who was ninety and just wanted someone to touch him, about clients who were filled with shame because they lived in a society where their desires – for men, for cross-dressing – were considered vile.  In other words, a lot of his clients were people who had serious challenges to having sexual relationships. Surely it isn’t only men that face those challenges.  Should they be ashamed? Vilified? Criminalized? Abstinent?

There is something really disturbing to me about someone who refuses to see whole groups of people as human. And that goes for people who may be participating in something that is problematic in a lot of ways.  There are serious issues related to the sex industry – trafficking, violence, economic exploitation – but the people who vilify all the Johns and victimize all the sex workers are being just as dehumanizing as they claim the people in the industry are.

Isn’t it possible to understand that human beings have complex reasons for the things that they do?  Isn’t it possible to recognize the humanity of people who do things that you may not agree with, while still being honest about how they may be contributing to a problematic system?  Can’t we hold two thoughts in our head at the same time?

* From Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage