That Pig is a She! Normality of normative maleness

March 22, 2017

My daughter, Cozy, is now 2 years and 7 months old. (I will not say she’s “31 months old.” I won’t.) Seven months ago she had a few words, in English and Spanish. Now she’s having full conversations and saying things like, “Dad, I want the vanilla yogurt” and “Let’s go up Montjuïc!” (Montjuïc is a steep hill in Barcelona and my nickname for the ungodly steep hill on our street.) While I was writing this, she said, “Daddy, you have a booger on your pants. Oh, no. It’s Honey Bunches!” (her favorite cereal). Then she ate it. She is a linguistic sponge. “What’s this? What’s this?” She can’t learn words fast enough.

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The feminist sociologist in me is reminded how language shapes our perceptions of the world. When little boys are told, “Don’t cry like a girl,” there are a bunch of negative messages packed into one little phrase. When I announce the arrival of the “mailman,” it means a “mailwoman” is something odd. (About 40% of letter carriers are female. Ours is named Anthony.) A big issue in language is normative maleness, something I’ve already written about. Male as norm.

One of the most obvious ways this plays out is the language binary around jobs. Actor and actress. Waiter and waitress. Poet and poetress. The female as less. I’ve tried to banish these gendered terms from my vocabulary. Meryl Streep is an actor, Mr. Trump. She’s not an actress. Not in this house. Cozy will hear enough about the “female as less” outside our home. Here, let the message be clear. Now, Dad’s gotta do some laundry.

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This concept was pioneered by French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir in her groundbreaking 1949 book, The Second Sex. Our general discussion of “mankind” is gendered. When we discuss people, we mean “men” with women as the exception. “There is an absolute human type, the masculine… Thus humanity is male,” de Beauvoir wrote. In academics, when it’s time to talk about gender, that’s often code for female stuff, as if men don’t have gender. (There’s a gang of us that specialize on research on masculinity as gender performance.) This filters into our everyday language. If we don’t know for sure that someone (or something) is female, we just assume that they are male. If somebody reads this he’ll learn about normative maleness. (See what I did there?)

This goes all the way to animals. We assume dogs, birds, and squirrels are all male. “Look at that squirrel in the tree. He must be looking for his nuts.” I grew up around horses, so you kinda know the sex of that one, but don’t ask me to tell you whether that sewer rat is male or female. And we all do this. Even radical feminists like me. Normative maleness has been so wired into my brain, I blurt out “he’s” without even thinking about it. We had a mouse in our bedroom this winter. My wife said, “You gotta kill him!” I didn’t even think to say, “Maybe it’s a her!”

How is hearing all these “he’s” impacting my word-sponge daughter? Is she learning that male is the norm and female is “weird”? The thought stops me in my tracks. It’s not a little thing. IT IS NOT A LITTLE THING. There is a massive ripple effect of hearing this little thing over and over again. Think about how both boys and girls process this repeated message about devaluing the feminine. “He” is normal. “She” is not. Seriously, think about it.

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Cozy and I went to Oregon Zoo this week and I tried to be mindful of this messed-up norm. I made a point of using feminine pronouns more than male ones. “Look at that hippo and how big her teeth are.” “That penguin looks like she’s doing a dance.” “Don’t bother that cougar. I think she’s taking a nap.” (OK, the last one was a lady on a bench.) Her main goal of the day the day was to commune with the flamingos but my main goal of the day was to normalize the feminine. We were looking at a parrot and I asked her if she thought it (I almost said, “he”) was a boy or girl. And she said “boy.” When I asked why she said, “Because he’s silly.” So I don’t know if I achieved my goal or not. It was a pretty silly parrot.

I had a professor at Emory who would switch pronouns each term. Fall semester he would use male pronouns and Spring semester he would use female pronouns. Nobody said anything during the fall class (or noticed it), but they guys really got upset in the spring. It was a brilliant way to make an important point. What were those male students so angry about? That they are also co-eds?

There’s a 50/50 chance that animal your looking at or that person you don’t know is a female. If saying “he or she” seems like too much damn work, why not just say “she” to make up for all the years you’ve said, “he.”  I just hope that if someone reads this, she’ll think about the infinite power of language.

Dad Love 10: We become gendered.

February 17, 2017

It seems like just seconds ago I was writing about Cozy turning two. We were on our sweltering Mexican island preparing for a birthday adventure in the Yucatan jungle. Now we’re in freezing damp Portland and this child seems like a completely different being. Those six months have been a tsunami of evolution. While the  whole country seems to have devolved, Cozy has become a person and also, dammit, a girl. She’s down for the cause, this girl. She marched in the Women’s March and met the mayor at the Portland United Against Hate rally. Have you met Cozy V. Blazak yet? The mayor has.

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I’ve been lecturing about gender socialization since the George HW Bush Administration (Remember him?), so I know you don’t raise kids in a vacuum. You can’t create your kid like an art project. Society sneaks in on the corners (and on the Disney Channel), but I was a little surprised how quickly my genderless baby became a full-fledged girly girl. I’ve written about her princess thing. The other day I was fixing something and asked her to hand me a long screwdriver. She correctly grabbed the flathead and I thought, “That’s my kid.” And then she raised it up in the air and proclaimed, “Elena of Avalor!”

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This two-and-a-half-year-old is infinitely fascinating. She loves to do the “woos” at the right places of “I Am the Walrus” and tell you the names of her friends in daycare. “The guys, Josie, Amelia….” As soon as she gets to “school,” she goes straight to work making art, just like her mama. She likes to jump off of things (“Daddy, watch this!”) and play hide and seek. And if you ask her what she wants to eat, it’s either mac & cheese, candy, or “ice cream chips.” Most of the time we can figure out what’s she’s trying to tell us and she gets frustrated when we can’t. All this happened is a space of six months. Boom.

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We are quickly leaving the phase when we can pick out her clothes. For me that was about sixth grade. I learned this lesson when I tried to put on the Falcons sweatshirt for Super Bowl Sunday that my dad bought her a year ago. Nope. She wanted to wear her Minnie Mouse dress. Sorry Grandpa. It’s either gotta have Minnie on it, be pink, or be a skirt. I didn’t even know they made skirts for toddlers, now I’m searching target.com for anything she might like. The girl stuff is like a magnet to her. It’s not like either of her parents wear pink. (Well, I do have this flouncy number from my New Romantic days.)

It makes me think of some of my LGBTQ friends who have said that they didn’t have that same experience. Little girls who never wanted dolls and little boys who wanted to wear skirts. It’s a great window into the nature/nurture debate about gender and sexual orientation. I don’t know if Cozy is gonna be a lesbian, but if she is, she’s gonna be a lipstick lesbian with the best skirt collection in town. Just a hunch.

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For now, I’m just loving this phase. I still spend too much time watching her sleep but I also will have endless fun doing puzzles, coloring, or teaching her how men do laundry and lay on the floor to listen to John Coltrane records. She pretends she has a trumpet and plays along. I guess she’s more of a Miles Davis.

She’s deeply empathic (“What’s wrong, Daddy?”) so she must know I’m more in love with her every passing day. I wonder if she knows that people respond to her in a totally unique way, like she’s a shaman onboard the Good Ship Lollipop. The world feels like a better place because she’s in it. I hope she uses this power she has in a meaningful way. How old do you have to be to run for mayor?

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Dad Love 9: I Become Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

Hey, hey, hey, it’s fat shaming!

Feb. 9, 2017

Let’s be honest, this is a blog. It’s not an academic research journal. It’s not Time Magazine. It’s my personal weekly spiel, so it’s both my take on things big and small and a refection of my own evolution as a woke humanoid. If there are some fools that want to hold something I did or said in the 1980s over me, let them. That person was. Even the cells in his body are long gone. If I share my journey, maybe others (perhaps you, my beloved reader) will reflect on theirs. We are on a path, trying not to be dragged backwards by the trolls tweeting at our heels. The key is intense self-reflection. Sometimes you don’t like what you see.

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Some of the big ticket items of oppression come through pretty clearly for the people that are ready to see them and the impact on their world; racism, sexism, homophobia, even Islamophobia. People might even be able to make it from there to discussions of white privilege, intersectionality, and queer identities. But start talking about fat people and things fall apart quickly. “But…. But… But…” Suddenly there are lots of reasons not to practice empathy. It’s still safe to look down on the large.

I’ve been one of those people. Like Donald Trump, I’ve been on three sides of a two sided issue. Obviously, America (and Donald Trump) has a weight problem. I noticed it when I lived in Europe. You could pick out the Americans in any crowd by their waist size. According to the CDC, 36.5% of Americans are obese. Those folks suffer all kinds of medical woes, including early deaths and their health issues are a part of are swelling health care costs that get folded into our insurance premiums. In 2008, the CDC pegged the medical cost of obesity at $147 billion. So it’s right to get angry at fatties, right?

If anyone knows this anger it’s a heavy person. And that’s the problem. The sociological causes of hight obesity rates is one discussion (as well as what is defined as “obesity”). How we treat heavy people is another discussion. And why there should be anything close to a “perfect” weight is a third. I’m going to ignore the first discussion, and only say that scones are not supposed to be the size of your head, to focus on the other two.

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It’s no shocker that we want women to look like “girls.” I mean, just ask why we demand that women shave their armpits. What’s the function? You can look like a pre-pubescent girl maybe into your early twenties if you work at it. But after that, it’s a losing battle. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! And there are several industries to help you out.

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In the early 1990s, I religiously assigned Naomi Wolf’s first book, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. College women were suffering from record reports of eating disorders and American women were dying from botched liposuction surgeries and it just seemed like the right book at the right time to put in front of female and male people. It’s based on the staple of gender socialization that boys are raised to be judged on their actions and girls are raised to be judged solely on their looks. I’m certainly going to write more about this complex issue, but their is one easy way to fit it into this topic; the perfect 10.

Is your butt too round or too flat? Are your boobs too big or too small? Are you too short or too tall? What about your nose? And how is your skin? While these questions might impact males, they define females very worth from an early age. There is a narrow window where each characteristic is in the acceptable beauty zone. But there are a hundred moving parts (Maybe your ass is fine but your knees are knobby) and it’s a constantly shifting matrix (Is the thigh gap in or out this season?). It’s enough to cause a girl to lose her mind and that’s the point, according to Wolf. Drive females crazy with anxiety and keep them away from the thrones of power.

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The women in Trump’s beauty contests are held up as the “ideal,” but they all look very similar in their proportions. A gold medal swimmer, like Missy Franklin, wouldn’t have the body to compete for the Miss USA crown. Neither would comedian Amy Schumer for that matter. How dare they not at least try to be a Trump 10? “It makes me so angry. Amy Schumer would be so hot if she lost like a hundred pounds.” Every woman should do everything possible to make it to TEN and if they don’t there’s something wrong with them. Maybe they’re “lesbians.” (Because any female who doesn’t rank her evaluation by men’s gaze first and foremost must not like men. Right, bros?)

Forget the fact that even the “perfect” women don’t actually look like that. Can we get some non-airbrushed pictures of Ivanka Trump up in here? I bet even supermodel Gigi Hadid has parts of her body she hates. Self-hate is the goal of the beauty myth. It’s not what you’ve accomplished in life, it’s how the guys rank your hotness. And after about age 21, it’s a losing battle. Better fit Botox into your budget.

Add the majority of women who are not a size zero into that anger at the imperfect. Here is the genesis of fat shaming. “How dare you be fat? What’s wrong with you? I have to look at you!” So it’s not about the issues of the looker, but the issues of the looked upon. Sociologists call this attribution theory. We can make up a whole story about people we define as somehow deficient. “I bet she goes all in for Venti Caramel Frappucinos.” Fat people are lazy, gross, ugly, selfish (and, oddly, self-hating), unhealthy, but, hey, they’re funny as hell.

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This topic reared its ugly head after last month’s Women’s March. I saw a meme that tried to make a joke that Trump got a bunch of large ladies to do some walking. Because 1) feminists are fat, 2) liberals are fat, and 3) hot skinny chicks would never waste their time marching when they could be getting their boyfriends buckets of fried chicken before the big game. Let’s put aside the reality of who is heavier, liberals or conservatives (here’s a link) or if your are more likely to see an abundance of plus-sized women at a NASCAR event, and focus on the message. Women who stand up for their rights are fat and any women who is not this week’s definition of a “10” is to be devalued. Those fat, hairy lesbian feminists are barely people, let alone women. Right, bros?

The emotional impact on the women we love

Devaluation and dehumanization are the most accessible tools of oppression. Calling a grown black man a “boy,” or a person with disabilities a “retard,” or a woman a “bitch.” It’s all the same. The perpetrator might say, “It’s just a word. Lighten up!” But to the recipient there is a cumulative effect that is emotionally and psychologically devastating. The constant message that you are “less than” erodes a person’s self-worth. Plenty of research backs this up. Just ask a fat person. I did. There are women in my circle that have struggled with their weight and, being an ethnographer (and someone who has probably made a few fat jokes in his life), I wanted to shut up and just listen. What does it feel like to be shamed because of your weight? I got so many responses, I just had to sit with them for a while. Some had me in tears. And some said they were in tears while they wrote their answers to me.

Many were first fat-shamed by their mothers and then by other women, showing how these values become internalized, like one group of slaves being used to keep watch over another group of slaves. Some became fat after the birth of their children or injuries, and for some the shame was there as long as they could remember. Some were body-shamed for being “too thin,” but continually felt fat. All were people I cared about. Suddenly I wanted to write a book on the topic. But for now, listen to some of their truth.

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I was a size 6 until at age 40 I had another baby and then 2 years of surgeries. I am an 18 now. The people who hurt me are actually acquaintances and old friends that haven’t seen you in a while. I’m sure they aren’t trying to hurt me, but when someone says something like oh my god what happened to you? Or you’ve gotten so big I wouldn’t have known you. I have literally stopped being social over this I am terrified of being in public and someone saying something like that even if they don’t mean it to hurt me. Randy, I was a size 6 until at age 40 I had another baby and then 2 years of surgeries. I am an 18 now. I have literally stopped being social over this I am terrified of being in public and someone saying something like that even if they don’t mean it to hurt me. (S)

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Before my 48th birthday my mother announced with a huge sense of glee that she knew what she was going to give me for my birthday. I said, “What?” She said, “Liposuction.” To be honest, I’m about 15lbs over the weight I should be. (C)

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“If you could see yourself from behind, you’d shoot yourself”….My mother to me at 13 years old. 25 years of therapy later, and 2 Master’s in Mental Health…here I am living that moment. (A)

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I am told I look better than a 25 year old and I am 45, but when I look in the mirror I see an overweight, blob of laziness. I try to challenge my thoughts of myself but when I continuously get praised for my physique I cannot help but hang on to it. I don’t agree with what others see but I know I do not see my body how it is so I trust that others do. Its like being in prison and I am unable to break free from it. (M1)

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I can’t imagine living in a world where I actually feel good about my body. I watched some clip of an athletic, slim woman walking on a beach in a bikini and thought “I can’t imagine putting on a bikini and walking on the beach. What would that be like? What would it be like to walk so confidently, openly, unafraid that you’ll be trolled or insulted, content in yourself?” (M2)

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When I was younger, I was always on the heavier side. I dealt with bullies my entire life calling me “fat” and saying just awful things. From the age of 7 on. My own father used to fat shame me and say awful things. “If you would get your fat ass out of the refrigerator, maybe you’d be able to finally listen to me!” I always struggled with being heavy. My thighs always touched, my ass was always bigger and I got boobs earlier than all the other girls. One second, a guy would call me a “slut” for having big boobs and then next, I would be called a “cow” because I was big. (C2)

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This is just a tiny slice of what I received. Women who work in the media got it in email and Facebook comment form and women who stayed at home got it from the family members who loved them. The body shaming came from friends and strangers because everyone has permission to comment on a woman’s body and where it is in relation to Trump’s 10.

While there is a parallel narrative of men who are fat shamed, men have the privilege of plugging into the patriarchal power structure. When I was a kid, many overweight boys found refuge on the football team. It’s surely a struggle for larger men in the competitive GQ work world, but there are infinite messages that still tell them they are their accomplishments, not their belt size. You can even become president!

There is a ton of research on this subject I could cite but the message I got was how many women I know suffer in silence. Heartbreaking silence. The internet is on fire with fat shaming “humor,” but we tolerate the suffering of people we love. Why?

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Can I be a part of the solution? I’ve certainly made comments about the obesity issue that were cloaked in concern about health issues (and insurance premium rates). But I have to wonder if I’ve avoided relationships out of fear of fatness. I’ve always been pretty slim (even when I played high school football) and been dedicated to healthy diet and exercise. I know I’ve thought of heavy people as not caring about those things. In many cases, it’s the exact opposite – they care and engage more. The fat = sick assumption is hugely problematic. It’s so much more complex than that. But stereotyping is so much easier than wading into the complexity. (Just ask a Trump fan about Mexicans and Muslims.) And liberals are just as guilty. Spend some time on the People of Wal-Mart website for a good dose of liberal fat and class-shaming.

It doesn’t do any good to tell a fat person they are fat. They know, believe me. In fact, it’s likely to have the opposite effect. It’s not like someone hears a comment and thinks, “Oh, shit, I might be obese. I’m going to cut carbs out of my diet today!” These are life long struggles, fueled, at least in part, by the belief that there is some perfect body size that will get you back into the “fully human” category.

Think of the human potential that has been lost because of the impact of that shame, of people who hide their talents because of one category of evaluation. And think of people  who just gave up on their own health because it is impossible (impossible) to ever truly reach this socially constructed ideal of perfection. And think of the woman who really deserves some Ben & Jerry’s and the simple joy a mouthful of ice-cream can bring, standing in the check-out line next to air-brushed magazine cover models, diet books, and the National Enquirer beach bodies issue with the teaser, “Whose disgusting fat ass is this?”

I want to write more about this issue, but for now I want to just say we are all fully human with a right to be here. It doesn’t matter what your size is. But we need to hear the stories because anyone who cares about a person who is suffering should care about why they are suffering. Things are changing. People don’t care as much about beauty pageants as they used to (Sorry, Trump.) Real people have stretch marks and bounce around on the scale and have days when they feel like not leaving the house. We’re probably more ready for the Rosie O’Donnells (Trump’s “fat pig”) and the Alicia Machados (Trump’s “Miss Piggy”) of the world than the Ivankas and Melanias, but there’s room for all to exist without being placed under our microscope of evaluation. Your ass is fine.

To be continued.

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Watching the Wheels turns 2 and can use the potty!

November 23, 2016

Well, when they say “time flies,” they really mean it. Two years ago, Cozy was an infant, Andrea was off to work at Planned Parenthood, I was enjoying my parental leave from Portland State University and the country seemed in good hands. Now, Andrea is working at a great law firm, Cozy’s hanging with her posse at daycare, I’m looking to return to academia and the country is about to be handed to a buffoon who wants to use the White House to build his anemic hotel empire. A lot has changed since I started this blog.

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I’ve had a productive year as a writer. My second short story was published in an amazing collection called A Journey of Words, forever linking the words “ants” and “Uranus.” Most significantly, my new novel, The Dream Police, is out and currently being read by actual people. The first few reviews on Amazon are wonderful. It couldn’t have happened without the amazing support I got on Kickstarter. As if in a dream, when people asked, “What do you do?” I’d just say – writer.

The real great leap forward has been Cozy and her brain. Like last year, we celebrated her birthday on Isla Mujeres in Mexico. She turned two and her verbal skills just went though the roof! We went from a limited vocabulary (in both English and Spanish) to full sentences in a flash. Her brain is connecting concepts and linking them at lightning speed. Instead of “hat,” it’s now “Cozy’s hat” or “Mama’s hat.” Possessives! That’s huge! Pretty soon she will be jamming on verb tenses. It’s an exciting thing to watch evolve.

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I think any new parent will tell you, one of the best parts of this phase is that the kid can tell you want they need. When she was a screaming baby, we’d wonder, “Is she okay or does she just need a boob?” Now she can say, “Tummy hurt” and “Where is it?” (Which usually refers to Rocco, her beloved pet rock.) It’s liberating to be able to have actual conversations with this former-baby.

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She’s off to daycare now a few days a week and loves going to “school.” She puts on her little backpack and heads off for a day of art projects, Spanish lessons, and walks around the neighborhood, including past “the big castle” (aka St. Andrew’s church). When she gets home she goes to her books. “I’m reading!” she exclaims. My nerd in training. Have I mentioned her love of The Beatles yet? Just ask her to sing, “Hey Jude.”

This blog has been a great place to explore her development and the development of the world she is inheriting. I’ve tried to keep the focus on issues related to gender and feminism, but my work is also about racism and the abuses of power, so how could I not discuss Trump, Black Lives Matter, and yoga pants? The blog has had over 400,000 visits. The pieces on Trump have been most popular but my blog on breast feeding dads continues to get creepy viewers by the score.

There is definitely a parallel between Watching the Wheels and Cozy Blazak. Both can walk on their own and are learning to talk in world where it’s not given that we’ll just get what what we want. How will liberals advance in the Un-united States of Trumpland? How will a little girl grow up safe in a country where voters elevated the symbol of rape culture to the highest office in the land? There will be plenty to write about in the next year as we guide our daughter through this backward moment in out history.

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The biggest change this past year has been in me and my desire to get back to work. Andrea and I were in New Orleans last week for the annual conference of the American Society of Criminology. I was reunited with my colleagues who do research on hate crimes and terrorism. It was a reminder of how important my scholarly work is, especially now as we see hate crimes on the increase. I was just on a program on Al Jazeera discussing the climate of hate in Trumpland. It was a tap on the shoulder, reminding me that I am a global voice on this issue. I’m incredibly proud of how The Dream Police turned out but it’s time to get back into the trenches.

So come along for a ride on this 2-year-old toddler of a blog. You KNOW there’s some good stuff coming. At least before Trump shuts down the free media.

Happy Thanksgiving!

How Donald Trump makes me a better feminist

September 28, 2016

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I had a really great “a-ha” moment in my intro sociology class my freshman year at Oxford College. Professor McQuaide was discussing a classroom study that found that young male students will raise their hands to answer questions they have no idea the answer to while young female students, who know the answer, will remain quiet. Girls are supposed to be seen and not heard, pretty, not smart. I remember relating to it because in school I was a junior Arnold Horshack (Google him, kids) leaping out of my chair just to control the room with whatever sound would come out of my mouth. “Oh! Oh! Oh! I know!” Even if I didn’t.

That’s how I felt about the first Clinton-Trump debate.

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There are plenty of things to pick apart about Trump’s bizarre showing. I worked in the music business long enough to recognize a coked-up money guy. They blamed things on “bad microphones” as well. But the thing that struck me was his constant interruptions of his debate opponent – 51 times by one count. Trump was like a jacked-up Kanye West who thought the stage belonged to him alone. You can think what you want about Hillary Clinton, but I’m guessing a whole hell of a lot of women identified with her for those 90 minutes. A clueless guy rambling nonsense, in love with the sound of his own voice, over an experienced knowledgeable woman who as learned to defer to the man. It happens in classrooms, bedrooms and boardrooms every day.

I’ll leave it to the pundits and addiction specialists to translate Trump’s incoherent word salad. He’s convinced he won the debate and I’m sure he thinks he did. (Cocaine is a powerful drug.) I just want to reflect on how we men talk to and about women.

The first is the dismissive way we “let” “girls” into “our” conversations. We set the rules of the game and if they don’t follow them they are “incapable” on one hand or “ball-busting bitches” on the other. Or, in the case of Trump’s treatment of Alicia Machado, “Miss Piggies.” Women have a narrow margin of acceptance in a man’s world. Hillary Clinton had to smile but not too much. Be prepared but not overly scripted. Research shows that we are more likely to refer to women by their first names (or “Honey” or “Sweet Cheeks”) and give them less time to express themselves because their opinions are valued less. This has certainly been the case when discussing “male” issues like national defense and the economy. “Math is tough,” as Talking Barbie once said. Trump is an overweight 70-year-old man but Clinton was described by watchers as a “grandma.” The double standard lives!

The second is the way we erase females from the conversation. I’ve written about normative maleness in this blog. Like white is the default position, male is the “norm.” You have cabdrivers and lady cabdrivers. (Cue Prince song.) I’m still explaining to people that Cozy is a girl. (Although I secretly enjoy when old codgers call her “Young man.”) Unless it’s a cheerleading squad or one of Trump’s creepy pool parties, the female is an anomaly, like an alien, and must be treated with suspicion. Right, fellas?

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The big thing is how we don’t actually listen to women. (“Did you say something, honey?”) Our body language and lack of eye-contact reflect this and every single woman knows what I’m talking about. But men like to pretend that women are from Venus and unless they have some magic Manslater to translate what the bitch means it’s just not worth the effort. Right, fellas?

How many heterosexual relationships have gone down in flames because the female partner felt like she was not heard? Studies show that the most successful marriages are the ones where couples act like they are teammates on the same side, facing issues together. Lots of guys like to claim they married their “best friend” but then tune her out when it’s convenient. That’s not how it works. I’d love to be Melania Trump’s therapist when Donald has moved on to model-wife #4. “He only talked at me, never with me. And he was always sniffing.”

And it’s not about listening to gossip or how the CenturyLink remote won’t work. It’s about listening to women’s journey through a still very sexist world and trying to be the best ally possible.

I write this because, like Donald Trump, I have a lot of work to do on this issue. I’ve come a long way since my first marriage, which ended with my wife saying, “You listen to your friends better than you listen to me.” I still struggle with the eye contact issue but it’s important to my partner so it’s important to me. I’m a feminist but I was socialized as a male and that means I have a lot of extra baggage to get rid off. Thank you, Donald Trump, for reminding me. You make me what to be a better man. My daughter and wife will appreciate it.

It might not be fair to characterize Trump as a coked-up bully who disregards the opinions of women and is not even interested in women who are not “10’s.” Maybe it’s not the coke. He has said he’s never done drugs and we all know Donald Trump never lies. Maybe that’s just him.

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The Princess Problem

Sept. 15, 2016

As a dad and a feminist, I don’t really know what to make of this princess thing. It’s a huge industry. (It would be ironic if it was just a “cottage” industry.) I didn’t notice it until I became a parent, but there a princesses freaking everywhere!  Want to take you daughter on a “Disney Princess Cruise?” Your son probably will skip that one for a roll in the mud. But there is a pushback against the “princess narrative,” so I’m trying to figure out how to fit my daughter into it and still keep a smile on her face.

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I know that I never played “prince” as a little boy and all the storybook princesses I knew just waited around to be rescued by Prince Charming. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your damn hair!” One might guess the Brothers Grimm didn’t know many bad-ass chicas who could escape the castle on their own. Or maybe stories of heroines just didn’t sell in the early 1800s. The Nazis really loved those Grimm fairy tales, so that should tell you something.

The Brothers Grimm published Cinderella in 1812 so you’d think 204 years later this princess thing would be played out, right? Au contraire mon frère, it’s bigger than ever. Just take a trip to the “pink” isle at any toy store or the Help Wanted ads at Disneyland. “Help wanted: An anorexic girl to dress as Sleeping Beauty and smile for 8 hours a day in the Anaheim sun. Previous princess threw herself under a pumpkin.”

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This gets a mention because suddenly one of my daughter’s precious vocabulary words is “princess.” I was hoping “theoretician” would come first, or even “OBG/GYN.” But there it is. “Princess!” with a squeal of delight. She has a CD from the Disney TV show Sofia the First and the good thing is that she learned how to work the CD player in her room so she could play it. (It’s playing as I write this and Cozy is dancing in her Minnie Mouse dress.) The bad news is these are the lyrics:

There are many things princesses do

Like hosting balls and dancing too

Or Wearing gowns of pink and blue

That’s what we like to do

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There are many things that princes like

Jousting polo and taking hikes

Suits of armour with lots of spikes

That’s what we really like

We do princess things

And we do princely things

And no-one crosses in between

We stick with our routine

Not very gender queer. To be fair, Sofia believes that anything can be a “princess thing,” but it’s an uphill battle, not a given that she’s already liberated from her princess routine.

The princess tales seem to fall into two categories, one is the girl born into royalty but the more common version is the peasant girl who is “lucky” enough to be launched into royalty. What’s better than being rich? And they are all hyper-heteronormative. How many little girls grew up singing, “Someday My Prince Will Come,” from Snow White, thinking the story ends when he (or a reasonable facsimile of Prince Charming) shows up. The fairy tale leaves out the part that after the “happily ever after” part when he’s banging the milkmaid and won’t even think about letting his “queen” take night classes at the kingdom’s community college.

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Little girls seem to think the life of a princess is all peach pudding and party dresses. Bud Light pitch girl Amy Schumer has a brilliant skit about the reality of the medieval princess forced into arranged marriages with cousins so she can get busy birthing male heirs to the throne. Every girl should see it before asking for a princess party for her next birthday.

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Earlier this week, Andrea and I were at the Disney Studios in Burbank visiting a good friend and pretending that Hollywood was ready for us. We stopped by the employee store to pick up some Minnie Mouse swag for Cozy. (It’s just too cute when she says, “Minnie Moush.”) When I saw all the princess dresses from all the Disney films I could just imagine our daughter exploding in screams. I resisted the urge to buy her a Belle dress and bought her an Incredible Hulk t-shirt instead. (Disney owns Marvel now.) But I know what she would really want.

Let me say Disney princesses have come a long way since Snow White. There are princesses of every shade these days, including Elena, the Latina princess. And Merida, from Brave, isn’t exactly a damsel in distress and didn’t even have a romance with a brutish boy. But if you survey the list of Disney princesses, they pretty much are all teenage girls who are awarded with a dominant male at the end of the tale. They are less passive than Sleeping Beauty but their goal is still to end up like a Mrs. Trump.  I’m going to encourage Cozy to avoid all that. The princesses tale is exactly what not to wish for.

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We’re not raising a demure princess in this house, looking for her Beast. She’s not a kitten who needs to be rescued from a tree. (As Ani DiFranco once sang, “Don’t you think every kitten figures out how to get down, whether or not you ever show up?”) If she wants to live in a palace, she can invent an app or something. But she can pretend to be whoever she wants to be. Who are we going to be today, Cozy? Ariel or Harriet Tubman? Oh, Princess Leia? We’re good.

 

Feministing in Havana

14 August 2016

Going to Cuba was a lot easier than I thought it would be. My second major at Emory in the Reagan ‘80s was “International Studies” with a focus on Soviet and Latin American politics, Cuba being the connection. My mother was there as a bobby-soxed teenager in 1959 and flew out Havana the day Castro took the city. The one paper my she saved from her college days was about Kruschev and the Cuban Missile Crisis. So Cuba has always seemed completely off-limits to me. But if Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house, I can see Cuba from my balcony here on Isla Mujeres. Actually, it’s just over the horizon. If I had a frisbee and a good south-eastern trade wind, I could probably land it inside a cell in Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. government is still actively creating terrorists. So why not just go?

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That’s what Andrea and I did. On a mad impulse we bought tickets to go. On Tuesday I went scuba-diving and on Wednesday I was on a Cubana Airlines flight over the water from Cancun to Havana. Barely an hour in the air and we were there with our hastily prepared visas and access to the world’s last “socialist paradise.” (Your Nikes are made in Vietnam and your iPhone is made in China, so they are disqualified and nobody is claiming North Korea as anything but an Orwellian nightmare.) Off to the land with no internet, leaving our wi’s and fi’s behind.

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There’s so much to write about the experience. We were there as the country was getting ready for Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday. I can’t believe the guy has been there my entire life. His brother, Raul Castro, has somewhat normalized relations with the U.S. and since Obama eased the embargo, you can feel the Starbucks shops just lining up to come in and change the nation overnight. Ask anyone from a small-town what Wal-Mart has done to America. Havana had plenty of construction cranes and the new hotels were coming. I’m sure the names “Hilton” and “Trump” will become part of the new oceanfront skyline. (Although nobody seemed to know who Donald Trump was. God bless them.)

It reminded me of my first trip to Czechoslovakia in 1991, right when the country opened its doors to the west. The people and infrastructure in Prague had no idea how to handle the rush of tourists who wanted to come and look around. There were no hotels or restaurants and capitalist entrepreneurialism was a foreign language. We stayed in people’s homes and ate whatever we could find in beer halls. When I returned in 1992, all that had changed. Western money flooded the “Paris of the East,” and there were billboards proclaiming (in English), “There are now four McDonalds in Praha!”

So we’ll see if Brother Raul lets that happen to his island. I have feeling it’ll look a lot different next time we go back. We stayed in a wonderful casa in the center of the city that might be a Quality Inn this time next year.

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But I thought I’d write a little but about gender on the streets of Havana. Cuba has been known for being on the vanguard of gender equality issues for a long time. Women, like Celia Sånchez, were at the forefront of the revolution in 1959, fighting alongside Fidel and Che. The Federation of Cuban Women was formed shortly after that. Half of the judges and justices in Cuba are female, over a third of the parliament is female and 62% of university students are female. There are great feminist Cuban rappers, like Krudas Cubensi and Obsession and 31 Cuban women are competing in the Rio Olympics.  (Watch for Yorgelis Rodríguez in the heptathlon finals.) Unlike in the United States, gender equality is a part of the Cuban constitution. “The state guarantees women the same opportunities and possibilities as men in order to achieve woman’s full participation in the development of the country.”

So it must be a great place to be a woman, right?

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Andrea and I were walking around our little neighborhood on Friday morning, just behind the Cuban capital building and some guy, seeing her, angrily shouted out to his friend, “She got fucked by the French!” He probably thought I was French and what was this brown girl doing with a white guy. It was in Spanish so I totally missed it but Andrea was visibly upset. After a similar comment she felt abused enough to return to our room and just hang out, away from the catcalls. She was shaken as the daily war on women followed her all the way to a communist outpost that supposedly outlawed sexism before I was even born.

Cuba is an incredibly diverse place, from dark Afro-Caribbean to Europeans (and probably some Hemingway descendants). Andrea, who would be punishingly sexy in a medieval suit of armor, noticed the comments were coming from men of color and asked me why that was. I assured her that white men were not free from the same behavior but there might be some good feminist explanations of the race-gender interaction.

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I took a moment to play professor and tackle it from three of the many feminist perspectives. Liberal feminists would argue that black Cuban men have be raised with a different relationship to women than white Cuban men which may be more vocally aggressive and seeing a Latin woman with a white man viewed as a betrayal of an ethnic subcultural value. Marxist feminists would say that even in allegedly communist society, poor people still exist and are alienated and poor black Cubans are alienated the most. (Stats back up that black Cubans have the lowest paid jobs.) So Marxist Feminists would argue the one place those men have power in a patriarchal world is over women. (Stats also show black women in Cuba experience more domestic violence.) Finally, radical feminists argue that patriarchy will rear its ugly head in spite of popular values of gender equality, finding any way possible to subordinate females, either through institutional means (less pay) or old-fashioned scare tactics. So on our little block, mostly populated by men who were poor and dark-skinned, it was the catcall.

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I don’t know if this discussion was of any value to my wife. The conversation became one of how do we get men to raise their sons right so our daughter won’t routinely experience the same harassment. We both absolutely loved our brief time in Cuba and want to return as soon as possible, before Starbucks and Wal-Mart (and future bankrupt Trump casinos) erase a nation frozen in revolutionary amber.

There’s a great line about Cuba – “Cuba got three things right: education, health care, and baseball.  And it got three things wrong: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” The food can be pretty bland. I would say it’s been wrong on lots of human rights issues as well (although the last ten yeas have seen massive improvements for the lesbian, gay, and transgender populations). But all the socialist good will hasn’t stopped men from being dicks. I have to side with the radical feminists on this one. You can get rid of capitalism, but until you get rid of patriarchy it’s the same old shit. Cuba libre.

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