Accepting My Flaws

This seems like an odd way to start a post about romantic fiction, but I hope you’ll see where I’m going with it. So, you know when you have a crush on someone, and every time you see them, you get really nervous that you’re going to make a fool of yourself or have something in your teeth?

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced such a sensation, and if you’re not reading this, I’m not sure how you’re still paying attention.

Why do you suppose most romantic fiction focuses on the first blush of fascination between two people? Well, one would expect that to be the most exciting part of a relationship. You may ask why, and even if you already know why, I’m still going to break this down for you.

We see a story told from the perspective of one party, most often in first person, and this main character is just like us! Super relatable and super flawed and they have a crush on someone. And we see that person through the protagonist’s eyes – oh, he’s so perfect! oh, she’s so beautiful! We know, logically, the protagonist is looking through rose-colored glasses and their crush definitely has flaws, but since the protagonist doesn’t see them, neither do we.

They dance around each other for a period of time, before finally revealing that they love each other and we all celebrate a happily ever after. That’s the part of the story we all know and love. In recent years, we decided that this was a trite way to end a story and storytellers had to add more padding to the end of it to appease our sense of realism, but we all know the truth. The romance is the best part.

We love to watch some flawed person – just like us – get the attention and love of a person who may not be perfect, but is definitely out of the protagonist’s league. We want to be them in those moments, being their complete awkward self and getting the girl or guy of their dreams. We imagine a world in which we could be loved and known so completely and fully. The fiction is so easy; just be yourself and be loved, cherished, and cared for, no strings attached, no expectations.

But in real life, the person we’re thirsting for wants the same thing and they have flaws just like us, so the fantasy falls apart rather quickly once the two of you get to know each other on more than just a superficial level. That’s when you come to the realization that you have to be their dream come true just as much as you’re expecting them to be yours.

It’s hard to be someone else’s dream, and we fail every day, but – and this is really my point here – if we don’t try to be the best version of ourselves, loving that person for all that they are, and not just for the weak image of them we first saw when we met them, then they can never be the best version of themselves for us. Kind of an all or nothing deal here.

Perhaps what I’m really getting at is our cultural obsession with the fantasy, and how much that gets in the way of the messy reality of loving a flawed person every day. You have to give to receive, is what I’m saying. The “happily ever after” is an ongoing uphill battle and you can’t be lazy. Don’t expect your partner to do the hard work of loving you and all your issues if you aren’t willing to do the same in return. In the real world, you have to earn the “happily ever after” if it’s going to last.

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Build Upon the Rock

Do you know what I find odd? The pervasive expectation of fear and persecution in the American church. It fascinates me, because it doesn’t belong there. Particularly as someone who spent 16 years of my life outside of the church, I can’t understand it at all.

When I was a kid, my elementary school had a Halloween festival every year. But one year, we had to change the name to the Fall festival because the PTA didn’t want to associate a school event with Halloween – a pagan festival. I guess just in case the devil himself might think he would be welcome at a Halloween festival but not a Fall festival. We did all the same things, the cake walk, the pumpkin carving, the costumes, even the haunted house! So, what was the point of changing the name of the festival? We all knew what it really was.

In junior high and high school, if you were white and middle class, everyone just assumed you were a Christian. We even had a Fellowship of Christian Athletes in a public school system. Totally acceptable. Everyone called our winter break a Christmas break, students, teachers, administrators – everyone. The major Christian holiday of the year fell right in the middle of our winter break. What if you were Jewish and wanted to celebrate Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur? You had to ask for the day off – which you were entitled to have, but no Christian student ever had to ask for a day off from school to celebrate a religious holiday.

I went to a Christian college, where everyone knew the right answers. If you died today would you go to heaven? Yep. How do you know? Because the blood of Jesus covers my sins. Boom, aced it.

Does everyone mean the words they sing at chapel? Did everyone who shows up in the dining hall dressed for church actually go to church? What does it mean to believe in Jesus at a Christian university? What do you give up for the sake of Christ when the university culture is predominantly Christian?

When I prepared to go to Austin for graduate school, my church warned me about the dangers of attending a secular university. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before, and if you’ve been a young person attending an evangelical church in the US, you’ve probably heard the same thing. The warnings about the “secular culture” and the “worldly temptations” which could “damage your faith.”

I sensed almost an expectation that my faith would be irrevocably harmed and possibly lost in the dangerous world of the secular university. Step back for a moment and consider this: you raise a child in a church environment, send them to Sunday school (back in the day), send them to Vacation Bible School in the summer, teach them the basic tenets of your faith and then send them out to college where you tell them that the temptations they face will be enough to crush the very seeds of faith that you have spent their whole lives cultivating.

Do you know what happened when I came to Austin? I found a community of Christians who had a faith that was build upon the rock. They valued their beliefs because they had to defend them, not just to their non-Christian friends, but to themselves. They found that being surrounded by a culture that did not assume they were Christian caused them to specifically define what they believed and why. They did this for themselves, so they would know where they found their identity and meaning and worth. So when their belief was challenged, they would not be shaken because their faith was build on the rock of Christ.

Now, maybe you know better than to buy into it, but if you look around at the majority of Christian culture here in America, you find a lot of fear. Fear of sending your kids to public school where they might learn that the earth is a few billion years old. What about the book of Genesis? What will that do to their faith?

Fear that your children might learn about sex in a classroom where they are also taught that birth control and condoms can help prevent pregnancy. But won’t that encourage them to have sex? It’s a slippery slope…

Fear that exposure to the biological sciences or a philosophy class, or a liberal roommate, or a Muslim classmate might cause your child to question what they have been taught. God forbid they have to think critically about their faith! What if their beliefs are challenged?

Fear that your Muslim neighbor might be a sleeper agent. Fear that your gay neighbor has some kind of “agenda.” Fear that giving more freedoms to your neighbor who is different from you might take freedoms away from you.

Why is this fear so prevalent in mainstream American Christianity? Don’t we know that perfect love casts out all fear? Don’t we remember that when we build our house on the rock it cannot be shaken by storms or torn down by tempests? Have we forgotten that our faith should be refined by fire, like precious metals?

I have found that my greatest challenges have come not from an outside force, not from a secular idea or from a non-Christian friend, but from my own heart. My faith can only be as strong as I have built it and if it wavers, it’s because I have not maintained it. The “enemy,” as it were, is inside me.

Your enemy is probably also inside of you, and all the insulation that you build up against the secular culture, your neighbors, your co-workers – whoever and whatever you have designated as the enemy in your life – it won’t protect you from the one and only one able to truly challenge your faith.

You.

It’s That Time Again

It’s that time again. Seems to come around more quickly these days. Everyone posts their “thoughts and prayers” and how “love is the answer” and most of all how “let’s not rush to judgment and take away someone’s second amendment rights.” Same old words, slightly different tune. You know what it’s really like? That scene in Clue where they wander from room to room and just look at all the bodies, and they don’t react at all. That’s us, right now.

 

There’s been some lovely, heartwarming things that have happened since that night, such as the massive line of blood donors, and the rush of love and support – not to mention some practical suggestions for real assistance that we can all provide to the victims and families, even if we’re not in Orlando. Great stuff. But the truest thing I’ve seen today was a tweet -I know, such a millennial thing to say, but read it.

 

And it’s true. There’s nothing safer than the second amendment. No matter how many times this happens, or how many other countries manage to cope with a society in which fewer people carry guns, and therefore quite logically, fewer people die from gun violence, nothing will ever change. I’ve read some pretty crazy justifications for this – some presidential candidates have blamed it on the president. That’s bullshit, and I think you know it, Candidate-who-shall-not-be-named. I even read a comment saying that the drive to reassess gun control is a plot by ISIS to make it easier for them to attack us. Not kidding. Someone used their fingers to type that out and post it. I can’t fathom the kind of delusion you would need to be suffering in order to seriously believe that.

 

We need no help from outside forces to destroy our own citizens, and we keep proving it to ourselves every time this happens. Any national enemies we have can just sit back and watch as we mow down our own citizens and gawp about in confusion at how to stop this from happening again.

 

Not sure if you’re aware of this, but here in the great state of Texas, you can basically walk in, point at a handgun, say, “I want that one,” and you can walk out of the store a proud gun owner. As someone pointed out, it’s more difficult to buy nasal decongestant than a handgun.

 

The witless douchebag who committed the atrocity in Orlando was not only a domestic abuser, but had until recently been on an FBI watchlist for terrorist activity. Bearing this in mind, however, even if he had still been on the watchlist, under our current system, this would not have prevented him from buying a gun. So in essence, our gun laws are failing to protect us from the not inconceivable possibility of an actual terrorist legally purchasing an assault rifle.

 

I would also mention that the Candidate-who-shall-not-be-named is calling not for a gun law overhaul, but a ban on foreign visitors. Might I point out that the Orlando shooter was born in the US, so he was in fact, an American citizen?

 

Perhaps xenophobia is not the answer.

 

It’s almost as though every time this happens, it should be more and more obvious what needs to happen, but we’re purposefully refusing to see the one solution that really would prevent this from happening as often. Not even the murder of schoolchildren could change the status quo. Not the senseless murder of innocent, unarmed church worshippers, nor the murder of college students, nor will this most recent and most deadly murder of innocent people at Latin night at an LGBTQA club. Odds are, the status quo will remain unchanged. The politicos will continue to bluster and people will continue to give blood, funds, emotional support, and of course, knee-jerk defenses of the second amendment.

 

We will continue to ignore lessons from other countries – like the Dunblane tragedy in the UK where 16 kindergartners were killed, along with their teacher. Or the shooting spree in Port Arthur, Tasmania, which left 35 dead. Both incidents spurred the UK and Australia to drastically change gun laws, removing them entirely from private hands. Behold, gun violence has decreased.

 

Conversely, there are examples like Venezuela, where measures to control gun ownership has only resulted in increased gang activity and roughly 24,000 murders in 2014. Or Mexico, where it is possible, albeit difficult to own a gun. Consequently, many law-abiding citizens have obtained illegal guns to protect themselves from the increasingly influential criminal element in their country. I understand people want to prevent that from happening here, however, I think there’s an element to the situations in Venezuela and Mexico that should also be considered.

 

Bear in mind that a vast number of illegal guns in Mexico and other parts of Latin America come from the US civilian market. Something like 70 percent of the weapons confiscated by Mexican law enforcement since 2007 came from US manufacturers. The story is much the same in the domestic illegal gun trade. Most illegal firearms in the US are purchased through straw purchase sales or through Federal Firearms Licensees, who may be tempted by the profits involved in gun trafficking.

 

Draw your own conclusions from that, but it seems apparent to me how to fix more than one issue, here.

 

Look, we’re not trying to take your guns away, just enact some kind of reasonable background check or restriction on who can purchase high powered assault rifles – the types of guns that kill people quickly and for which there is no other purpose. And most of you support background checks, according to several survey data, so why not give it a go? We don’t have to be like Australia or Britain, or Germany, or Japan, but we can do better than this.

 

Don’t let’s have this conversation again when another 50 unarmed people are senselessly gunned down in public while minding their own business.

 
If you want to claim that guns don’t kill people, that’s fine, but you know as well as I do that they sure do make it more efficient.

Why haven’t I heard from you?

An interesting thing is going down on my Facebook feed this past week, and probably on the feeds of many other people. I heard it described as “the Confederacy is having a war with a Skittles factory” and that would be pretty accurate. I’ve mostly stayed away from posting anything about current events, partially because I don’t know what else can be said that hasn’t already been said by someone much more qualified than me.

But I noticed an interesting trend in the types of people who were posting certain kinds of content– I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, and it has probably occurred to you as well, assuming you have friends from many different social circles. Let me spell it out for you, in case it’s not totally clear where I’m going with this. Most of the articles and posts in support of displaying the Confederate flag as well as vague posts about how we need to “pray for our troubled nation” (like we don’t all know what you mean, c’mon, now) came from white Christians.

There’s a type of article, though, that was posted almost solely by black people, and they were articles about the string of church burnings that have happened following the shooting at Emmanuel AME church in South Carolina. Since then, 5 black churches have been burned this week alone, and at least 3 of these have been attributed to arson. Who is talking about this? Who is outraged about it? Well, from the evidence on my Facebook feed (so a limited sample, I’m not very popular) pretty much just black people.

I gotta say, it’s pretty telling of the condition of our society when white Christian folk care more — as in, they get more outraged and preachy about — the law of the land finally allowing same-sex marriage than they do regarding what appears to be an arsonist who is specifically targeting black churches. It would be easy to conclude that white Christians by and large do not care about their black brethren. That they are not stirred to action by the injustices faced by the black community and that even the obvious and ongoing crime of black churches being torched by racist person(s) unknown doesn’t seem to spur the kind of outcry that same-sex marriage has done.

Already, I’ve seen praise of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s letter encouraging state agencies to basically ignore the SCOTUS ruling. Check out the rest of the articles on that website, by the way, it’s a real piece of work. And it looks like some state officials are already jumping right in. Look, you must realize that no law can force a church or religious group to marry people if they feel it to be against their beliefs. No one is questioning the 1st amendment, but to use your own personal beliefs to deny people a civil right that is granted to them by federal law — that’s a different matter entirely. If your job is, for example, county clerk, you shouldn’t go abusing the 1st amendment in order to violate the civil rights of gay people.

These kinds of actions absolutely do not reflect the gospel of Christ. It’s sickening to see that people who proclaim their belief in Christ would look favorably on the abuse of religion described in the paragraphs above, but for some reason these same people choose to remain silent on the extremely real struggles of the black church in this country.

I don’t know if we’ve made any progress at all in the 8 years of having a black president, but what I have seen is heightened racial tensions. Maybe someday we will actually be able to reap some positive benefit from this, like an actual dialog about race relations and systemic racism. At the moment, all we have are gestures, and they are increasingly unsatisfying. I doubt anything will improve, though, if white folks can’t stop getting distracted by smoke and mirrors — issues that don’t really matter, the imagined “injustice” and “persecution” of people who have always been privileged.

The privileged class has influence, and nothing can change without properly leveraged influence. Unfortunately, the privileged class often chooses to go and fight paper tigers while others are left to fight actual battles in silence and darkness. So then, white Christians, why haven’t we heard much about the issues that really matter?

America, I Ragequit.

Two days ago this happened —> click here to review.

Seriously, police? Again? Goddammit stop shooting unarmed black people! How hard is it to not kill unarmed people? And even with the video evidence people are asking if this guy is going to be convicted. Only in America can this be a real question.  Only here can you see evidence of wrongdoing before your eyes and know there’s a good chance someone will explain it away in the courtroom so a murderer (cause that’s what it is– murder) will walk free.

How this can keep happening is mind-blowing. Is an unarmed person of color so threatening that they should be fatally shot by officers of the law, who are, I might add, armed with various non-lethal weapons, any of which might be used effectively by a trained person–like a police officer– to successfully subdue an unarmed person.

The officer in question claimed that the victim tried to grab one of these non-lethal weapons– his stun gun; although, that’s not visible in the video, which I’m sure we have all seen by now.  I don’t know, maybe the guy did grab for it, but by the time the officer had his gun out and was shooting away, the victim was running away. Running. Away.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve never found an unarmed person actively running away from me to be particularly threatening. And I’m a tiny little woman, so it’s more than a bit dubious for an armed, trained, fairly strong looking man to “feel threatened” by an unarmed guy who is running in the opposite direction.

Given the recent uproar and conflict over the eyewitness accounts of the Michael Brown murder, we’re fortunate to have that fuzzy video recording, despite the apparent unreliability of video footage to in any way improve the odds of murder convictions (see Eric Garner). And thus far, the police have not arrested the person who filmed the recording, which is nice of them. And so far, it still seems legal to videotape police in the line of duty, though an ill-timed legislative move by a representative in Texas may change that for some of us.

Here’s the maddening thing: we have heard about so many of these fatal shootings of unarmed black people and yet they still keep happening. What do we need to do to prevent this from being something of a reoccurring news phenomenon?

How can we convince an increasingly militarized police force to not open fire on a completely unmilitarized civilian population, and more crucially, how can we convince them that unarmed minorities don’t pose a credible threat? It’s no stretch of the imagination to believe that had the civil rights movement of the 60’s occurred in today’s society, we would see numerous accounts of police opening fire on crowds of unarmed, peaceful protesters.

What if every police officer was required to spend at least a half hour in honest conversation with someone of a different race and socioeconomic background each day? Could they learn to humanize the people they are trained to serve and protect? Could it lessen the systemic racism that seems to pervade our justice system if every officer was able to view black civilians as people? Would these types of occurrences be as common?

I have no idea, but something must be done. The problem isn’t improving with our awareness of it and will likely only continue to worsen as we inevitably forget Walter Scott and Michael Brown, and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice…. and the ones we have already forgotten.

Open Letter to Folks I Overheard at the Bus Stop

“If you’re a temp at 30 something must have gone wrong in your life…”

I couldn’t help but overhear you and I’m sure you have no idea that I work for the same company as you do. Only I’m a temp. And I’m 30.

It probably hasn’t occurred to you that there would be a number of pretty good reasons for one’s career to not be where they would like it to be at a certain age, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that something had “gone wrong.” Not everyone makes it through college knowing exactly what they want to do or where they want to go. And sometimes even when they think they do, they realize later they were wrong.

Sometimes they spend years preparing for a particular career path only to realize that path was wrong for them. Maybe it doesn’t satisfy them as they thought it would, or maybe there aren’t enough employment opportunities in that field, so they realize a shift is preferable to certain long-term career misery.

Sometimes having spent all those years preparing for a specific occupation leaves one’s resume looking a little… sparse and specialized. And not tailored to any other job but the one they thought they wanted.

But now, looking for another job in a new job market, they might find their qualifications are not sufficient to meet the requirements of currently available jobs. And that’s the entry level jobs, so what can they do?

Be a temp. Get experience in other areas in hopes that maybe some random temp job will lead to an opportunity for a full-time, desirable, real job. Hope that somewhere they will find something their now useless education makes them qualified to do, or get enough experience at some new skill to apply for one of those entry level jobs. Slog away at menial tasks at the bottom of the ladder with a crowd of younger competitors in hopes that one of these will lead somewhere worthwhile. Have a million different temporary jobs in a variety of work environments to find the one that suits them best.

So no, maybe nothing has “gone wrong.” Maybe that 30 year old temp has a less linear career path than you. That’s OK. They’re taking the scenic route.

Romance Shmomance

Recently on Facebook, a little eCard was making the rounds– I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it caught my eye and I thought it was pretty clever.

 

See it here.

 

I “liked” it, reposted it, and then thought critically for a moment. It’s true. Romeo and Juliet isn’t really all that great of a story. It’s not an epic romance with a captivating plot and real cathartic emotion. It’s a pair of teenagers whose families go batshit because they’re dating and in the end, 6 people are dead.

 

Thing is, it’s so well-written, it’s lasted for ages on stage and screen, beloved by Shakespeare fans and romantics for generations. No one really complains about the transparency of the “romance” or how silly it seems in a modern context for a three-day dalliance between a pair of lovesick teenagers to derail the daily lives of 2 whole families and completely end the continued existence of 6 whole people. It has more going for it than the romance alone, which really is the saving grace of the whole thing.

 

It’s got a generations long family feud with participants whose mafia-like devotion to it drive the climax. The story isn’t only about the romance, it’s also about the more interesting conflict between two families that causes them to kill each other.

 

But the romance, shallow though it is, is poetically written, so we can forgive it of its silliness.

 

There are other romances that are equally, if not more silly; for example, there’s Helen of Troy, whose beauty caused a massive war. She’s the face that launched a thousand ships, and killed thousands more men in battle.

 

Again, like Shakespeare, Homer was adept at manipulating words into spectacular configurations which hid the overall ridiculous nature of the Helen of Troy myth. Think about it: it’s a lady so pretty, she accidentally causes a massive war because she had a slight case of Stockholm syndrome. It’s mad.

 

And on the other side of the coin, we have travesties of art, like Twilight (a favorite punching bag of mine) and the first 3 episodes of the Star Wars saga.

 

Episodes 1-3 are particularly terrible specimens of bad romantic fiction. I think a friend of mine put it best when he said that between the two of them, Padme and Anakin manage to destroy the republican government of an entire galaxy and set up a genocidal dictatorship– all in the course of a couple decades.

 

Even compared with our other 2 wacky examples, this is pretty extreme.

And dammit George Lucas, if the script weren’t so terribly constructed, and the dialog so clunky, the horribleness of the plot might not be so transparent; but alas, your writing skills are not as good as those of the George Lucas who wrote the scripts for Episodes 4-6.

 

It could indeed be our next great romantic tragedy, but for the fact that our buddy George was actually writing the script as the films were in the process of being filmed. I’m not kidding. If you watch the behind-the-scenes stuff, you’ll see him say to Hayden Christensen that he hasn’t finished writing the scene that they’re about to film. But not to worry! He’ll be writing it this weekend.

 

Really?

 

That’s terrible. That’s university student levels of procrastination, and the results are about as well-written as a frat boy’s term paper, written after a Sunday to Monday all-nighter after a house party on Saturday.

 

The saddest part of this is that the original Star Wars script is a treasure trove of literary tropes and characters. High school English teachers have been known to use the Star Wars trilogy, Episodes 4-6 as a tool to teach character archetypes because it has so many of them and they play out so well. Like clockwork. If only George had hired himself some decent writers, ya know, like the kind of writer he was back in 1977.

 

Why are the first 3 episodes so different?

 

Why, in those intervening years, did his skills change so much? Or does he simply not care as much about the Star Wars universe? Or maybe it just took so much longer to make movies in the late 1970s and early 1980s that he could write the script as he went and still have plenty of time to craft the story?

 

Or perhaps the truth is somewhat more insidious.

 

What if the real George Lucas died years ago, murdered brutally by a crazy fan…

 

And what if that fan took his place– the ultimate cosplay– BEING George Lucas!

 

Swept up in the dream, he believes that he can live out the ultimate Star Wars fantasy, creating episodes 1-3 and putting them on the big screen. But alas, his deficiencies are exposed! His writing is talentless and banal; his characters are wooden and his plot convoluted. He falls short of the original shining glory of episodes 4-6, the Holy Grail of Star Wars fandom.

 

We only wish this were the truth. Unfortunately, the man who created the original magic is still living, barely hanging on, cashing in on his masterpiece and living as a corporate drone. Now, they’re making episode 7. I don’t have high hopes. All I ask is that it not be as bad as episodes

1-3. What are the odds it will be worse?

Well, at least we still have Shakespeare.

It’s Ladies’ Night! Not really…

Lately I’ve been watching quite a few documentaries, and not surprisingly, what stands out to me the most are the stories about women. And appropriately, this is International Women’s Day!

    The first documentary I dug into on Netflix today was Miss Representation, which explores the inherent patriarchy in the media. I wasn’t necessarily surprised about the pervasiveness of sexist and objectifying portrayals of women– everyone knows about that. What was surprising was the fact that it’s not getting better. Try, if you will, and count the number of female protagonists whose action is not driven by a man in some way, or whose story arc does not somehow involve finding love and (re)discovering her feminine side..

There’s not many, right?

    Worse still is when you learn that our entire social structure and cultural gender bias is almost entirely created and enforced by a media campaign that was started after the end of WWII. During the war, women went into the workforce in droves. When the war ended, they did not want to go back home– they liked working! Something like 80% of them didn’t want to leave work. But alas, the men returning from war wanted to put their women back in the kitchen, so America’s new-fangled mass media tool, the television came to the rescue.

    Advertisements and TV shows were created by newly created networks that glamorized the image of the woman at home. They focused on how pretty she looked and how perfect her home was– all because she was there to take care of it. As time has advanced forward, we see that this image of the happy housewife at home has become warped and used against women to keep them from achieving success.

    To this day, if a woman is in the public eye, the focus is on what she looks like instead of what she says. Journalists ask her how she can balance being a wife and mother with her career– why don’t they ask men how they balance being a husband and father with their careers? Women are described in terms of beauty and attitude rather than intellect, skill and expertise.

    Entertainment and news media are equally to blame for this– it’s seen in equal measure in both. And then popular culture imitates it like a bunch of monkeys. Take for example, the shitstorm that takes place on the internet every time Feminist Frequency posts a video. My YouTube feed is filled with response videos that often fail to address any of the actual content of her videos, instead focusing on how she looks and what kinds of degrading things they would like to do to her. If you watch one of her videos and make the mistake of viewing the comments section, you’ll find much of the same sort of thing, only badly spelled and usually in all caps.

    Ironically, this type of response kinda proves that many of her arguments regarding gender norms are, in fact, correct.

    Inbred sexism has spread across our society like a plague. If you look at the world of politics, you’ll find that the US is far behind in gender equality–China, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among others, have all had a female head of state. The 2010 election was the first time that women haven’t made gains in congress since 1979. And there weren’t that many women in congress to begin with. This could explain the sudden rise in absurd laws regarding women’s health. There just aren’t enough women around to sit these men down and explain to them how the female reproductive system works– with diagrams.

    And the political commentary surrounding female politicians is vastly focused on what they look like, how they dress, how they act, etc., rather than what their views are, or what they have done during their term.

Weirdly enough, much of this commentary comes from female journalists, who are in turn judged by television producers and the public based on these same criteria. And the public (you and I) will then judge our female neighbors and ourselves based on what we look like, how we dress and act. It’s a vicious cycle.

    Our societal gender constructions haven’t just hurt women, though. I recently watched a short video that has been circulating Facebook for a couple of weeks. It’s kind of a flipside of the Miss Representation film, and it talks about how harmful the American version of masculinity is and how it has harmed young men and boys.

    Turns out, being told to “be a man” and encouraged to hide emotions and present a facade to the world is actually pretty harmful to the psyche of a human being– male or female. Boys with behavioral problems in school are often struggling to express their emotions while simultaneously hiding behind a mask. Men in America have significantly fewer friends than women, even though they crave and need the support of friendship just as much. Culturally, it seems that men are constantly forced to prove their manliness and any infraction– crying, liking fluffy bunnies, things of that nature– can result in the loss of something called a “man card.”

    I don’t have a “woman card.” It seems that women are women no matter what they do, wear, say, or achieve.

    What if we could all just be who we are? What if a man could express emotion and have friends and a woman could be president and earn $1 for every dollar her equally qualified male colleague earns? Would that be so terrible? What if the term President or Lead Pastor could belong equally to a woman or a man and no one raises hell about it? Would it crack the foundation of our society?

    So I think today is a great opportunity to have a Come to Jesus moment as a society. I think the suggestion made at the end of Miss Representation is a great one– recognize the power of the consumer. If we stop watching and buying into the harmful portrayals of women that we see on TV and in movies, the producers and television executives have to change it. If we stop voting for politicians who don’t support the rights of women to have the same general freedoms as men, our political parties will have to change their rhetoric. We have to be courageous enough to say that the way things are isn’t the way that they should be– and then act to make changes happen.

Indiana Jones and the Damsel in Distress

A couple of weeks ago, my fiance and I went to see the Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark quote-along at the Alamo Drafthouse. If you haven’t been there for a quote-along or sing-along, you should go. It’s awesome. (Free advertising, Alamo. You’re welcome.)

It’s been a while since I’ve seen this particular movie, and I’ve always thought Karen Allen was the best Indiana Jones companion. A viewpoint that must be shared by enough people for her to be dug from obscurity and pushed back into a co-starring role with Harrison Ford in an ill-fated Indiana Jones sequel which will not be mentioned further here. There are no aliens in the Indiana Jones universe, and that’s all there is to say about it.

For some reason, I had never thought about Karen Allen’s character in an in-depth way before, but it must have been fresh in my mind that day. This time, as I watched the film, I realized that as cool as Marion Ravenwood is, she still falls prey to the dreaded Damsel in Distress trope time and time again.

There she is, in her bar, queen of her own world, drinking a big guy under the table. Indiana Jones walks in and she has the ace in her sleeve. She has all the power in their relationship at this moment, because she has something that he needs and she doesn’t owe him anything so it’s his job to convince her to cooperate. Good! She’s in charge of her own situation. Right up until the Nazis walk into the bar.

Then circumstances are entirely out of her control, and she’s about to be tortured by a sadistic Nazi interrogator. The Damsel in Distress fairy strikes again! Luckily, Jones, who had left the bar by this point, returns in the nick of time to save her. Good thing he has every hero’s inbuilt ability to know when the Damsel needs rescuing so that he can sweep in and take care of business.

It seems like every time Marion has the opportunity to be the resourceful and independent woman that she should be, something unexpected occurs to send her back into D in D status.

For example: When Marion and Indy are attacked while roaming the marketplace, Marion is unceremoniously tossed into a hay-filled cart by Indy. She doesn’t stay there, but decides to jump into the fray. She knocks a couple of guys out before she’s forced to hide in the most obvious place conceivable–a giant basket. Really? Is that the best you can do, Marion? I don’t think so.

Of course, she’s discovered and carried off by the villains, but not before leading Indy on a wild goose chase through the streets as she screams his name ineffectually from her basket-y prison, which, I hasten to add, would be pretty easy to topple over and escape from if she moved around a bit more.

Or what about the plane scene? As cool as it may be that she hops right in that plane and beats down a Nazi pilot, then uses the resources around her to help Indy fight off the incoming crowd of Nazis, she still gets stuck in the plane as flaming gasoline pools around it, and Indy still has to rescue her at the last minute.

Throughout the film, she’s totally damsel-ized by Jones, Belloq, Katanga, and the Nazis. They all refer to her as “the girl” and generally treat her as a possession, bandied about from possessor to possessor. Rene wants her because she’s one more thing that he would be taking from Jones. The Nazis see her first as a source of information on Jones and then as a placating gift to Belloq. Jones and Katanga fall into the trap of calling her “the girl” too, nevermind that they are trying to save her, by refraining from using her name, they remove her personhood from her. Why doesn’t she get to determine where she will go and with whom?

She’s objectified by more than just the removal of her name, but also the removal of her clothing. Belloq asks her to change into a pretty white dress– later Katanga gives her another lovely white gown. Always with the white gown; we’re not being subtle here with the color symbolism. Marion is “pure” and “innocent” in her borrowed white dresses. Her own clothing is taken from her and replaced by men, who choose to give her the type of clothing they think she should be wearing. Pants are exchanged for gauzy lace and satin dresses.

Perfect damsel-wear. Down to the pretty little high heels.

It’s not that she’s unable to help herself, clearly she has been able to take care of herself in the years after her father died, and she’s absolutely willing to jump into the fray and help Jones instead of sitting there uselessly on the sidelines. The problem is, every time she tries to help herself or Jones, it somehow backfires. What are we trying to say here? Is she inherently incapable of helping him or of taking care of herself?

Her involvement with Jones and his adventures seems to shove her into damselhood; simply the fact of her moving into his world causes her independence and individuality to fade away until she becomes a generic D in D. It’s as though the screenwriter wanted to make a brave and independent female character, but was afraid that she would not be able to fit into the type of action hero vehicle Spielberg and Lucas were creating. So her personality seems at odds with the character archetype she’s been pigeonholed into.

She strives to be the kind of character we, as the audience, imagine her to be, while still operating within the D in D box. It’s particularly unfortunate when you realize that once Marion Ravenwood’s damseled status is revealed, the most powerful female character in the Indiana Jones universe becomes Elsa Schneider the Nazi scholar from The Last Crusade.

Elsa succeeds in turning the damsel trope on its ear, as she successfully plays the damsel, all the while remaining in control of herself and the situation. She manages to fool both the Jones men and they unwittingly help her to locate the resting place of the Holy Grail. She’s beautiful, intelligent and ambitious, but unfortunately, her ambition is her downfall. Her intense desire to possess the Grail consumes her, and she’s not willing to let it go, even when faced with the choice of saving her own life versus saving the Grail.

Certainly, Elsa is the less sympathetic character between the two women, but she is definitely the most powerful female character in the Indiana Jones trilogy. (What fourth movie? There is no fourth movie. Hush.)

The biggest problem is that powerful female characters like Elsa are more often cast in the role of the villain. The immediate examples which leap to mind come, sadly, from Disney. Just about every female villain I can think of could be considered by our modern society standard a strong and independent character.

Think of Snow White’s evil stepmother, ruling a kingdom alone after Snow White’s parents have presumably died of natural causes. Sure, she’s entirely consumed with her appearance, and at first she entrusts the valuable task of killing her stepdaughter to a clearly incompetent woodsman, but at last she learns it is always best to take matters into her own hands. First things first, she transforms her physical appearance, becoming a hag. Because of course a beautiful queen cannot commit a murder. Her outside must reflect her inside. Her vanity momentarily set aside, she’s ready to make a plan of action.

Unfortunately, her method of killing Snow White is vastly different from her original plan of having the woodsman cut out her heart. The queen won’t be that gruesome, instead choosing to poison her– traditionally poison is a woman’s weapon. It’s sly and passive, requiring more cleverness than brute strength.

So, she’s not too badass; just badass enough for a 1937 Disney movie. And let’s not forget that she is chased down by a bunch of men, who, I must add, do not cause her death. In her efforts to gain the advantage over them, she climbs to higher ground, and tries to crush her pursuers with a boulder, but is foiled by an act of God when lightning strikes the ground she’s standing on, and she falls to her death.

No one is directly responsible for her death–except possibly her. Just like Elsa, the wicked queen’s own desires and ambitions are the cause of her demise. Interesting message we’re sending here, guys.

Or what about Cruella De Vil? She’s in charge of 2 whole henchmen and a massively disorganized plan to make a dogskin coat, but even so, she’s the boss. Jasper and Horace may not respect her at all, but they grudgingly follow most of her orders. Sadly, she succumbs to hysterical madness, yet another common downside to female villainy.

Dare I mention Maleficent? Or what about Mother Gothel? Or Lady Tremaine? Or even Ursula the Sea Witch? All of these characters are independent and clever, relying on their own wits and abilities to defeat the patriarchy around them and make a living on their own, without any man to stand behind. They are all eventually defeated, though, because the heroine is sweet, kind, and innocent enough to get a man to rescue her, reestablishing the status quo.

In fact, the only non-villainous female Disney characters that immediately leap to mind as strong characters who successfully win on their own wits and abilities are Mulan and the Frozen princesses. Frozen has done a particularly good job in escaping the damsel in distress trope, but that’s a post for another day.

Returning to our original Indiana Jones topic, I’m not sure that our current action movies have actually evolved beyond this, to be honest, and I don’t really know what to make of this. It’s disappointing, for sure, but Hollywood seems to be slowly moving away from the Damsel in Distress. And when I say slow, I mean at an evolutionary pace. Like how long did it take for the T-rex to become a chicken?

Yeah, that slow.

I think we may be able to help the process along a bit, but in order for that to happen, we have to start talking more about the problem, demanding a change in our movie fare. And we have started doing that– let’s keep talking.

Welcome to Futility!

Hello and welcome to Exercises in Futility! This blog is an evolutionary spur from my first blog, Land of the Midnight Baking. I’m continuing both blogs, but while Midnight Baking stays in the food realm, Exercises in Futility will consist of essays and reviews.

As I wrote posts for Midnight Baking, I found that I had stuff to say about more than just food. Now I have a place to put all of those words about non-food-related topics. I really don’t know what this blog will be, so I guess we will all just have to wait and see.

I’m awash in wedding planning at the moment. Up to my ears in price charts, all-inclusive packages, and lace. It’s kind of overwhelming.

How can I justify spending upwards of $8,000 for one evening? How can I spend anything like $600 on a dress that I will only wear once? How can I pay more that I would spend on a year’s worth of rent on a venue I can only use for 6 hours? How can I spend 2 weeks’ worth of grocery money on a single cake? Or a year’s worth of grocery money on a single meal?

I really don’t know. It’s difficult for me to spend $9.99 on a book from Kindle. I’m having a hard time with wedding planning, but likely not for the same reason many brides do. Weddings seem so wasteful to me. It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught to even consider having one.

Yet, I still want one. Ever since I started looking at wedding stuff, I’ve wondered what my centerpieces would look like, what my photos would look like, what flowers would be in my bouquet, how many bridesmaids I would have and what kinds of dresses they would wear. I can’t deny my entirely selfish curiosity to find out what a wedding would look like if I planned it.

Often, it makes me horribly guilty with privilege to know that I can afford to create something like this–even for a wedding of 100 people, it’s going to cost a pretty penny. I really don’t know if I can take pleasure any part of the wedding planning process because the cost bothers me so much.

If I can stop to enjoy the process more, it may actually begin to seem worth the trouble, but at the moment I’m not convinced that this whole wedding thing will be an experience I look back on with fond memories of time–and apparently most importantly, money–well spent.