quick hit: compassion and critical thinking ≠ Big Brother

“History is written by the winners” – non-attributed

Growing up in America we are taught to believe in the Rightness and Goodness of the Meritocracy – that people who have good things and a life of comfort earned it all on their own efforts. Please note, people that have things relatively good tend to trumpet this loudest.  People who have things harder, well, sometimes they have a different perspective. We the privileged often don’t like to hear that perspective.

I believe one’s gut reaction to the “winners” quote above depends on one’s worldview.  Some people might see the quote as purely observational shorthand – that is, recorded historical accounts are told and reified by certain groups while others’ equally valid experiences are suppressed. Some believe the quote to be morally prescriptive in a Darwinian fashion: that is, a “winner” is someone who’s dominated others for their own goals, and – yay, the world is their oyster as it should be (this is sort of the sports analogy interpretation)!

Here’s what I believe: in being a “winner” one is essentially in a position of privilege (no matter how we got there); when I find I am a “winner” I must then look carefully around at how I have prevailed – and who hasn’t, and how to help them if they should want it.  It should go without saying to any who read here that I believe it is my responsibility – given I have relative privilege, good fortune, and personal success – to take steps to care for the “losers”, the down-trodden, those who are being marginalized, eclipsed, abused, oppressed. There are many, many paths of responsibility and stewardship; imagination and exposure continue to illuminate more still.

Some measures are small.  Today in a Yahoo group I made the tangential request those in the discussion pool refrain from using the words “crazy” or “lame”. Here is my clarification post (after I asked and was granted permission to post links):*

My intention wasn’t to police anyone and obviously I don’t have that power anyway (I’m not a mod). I am active in reading blogs authored by people with disabilities and the topic of abelist conversation comes up quite a bit.

For those who are interested, here are a few readings that convinced me to stop using those terms as pejoratives (“adult” language in the links):

“The Transcontinental Disability Choir: What is Ableist Language and Why Should You Care?” at bitchmagazine

“Guest Post from RMJ: Ableist Word Profile: Crazy” from Feminists With Disabilities/FWD

“Why Not to Use the Word Lame: I Think I”‘m Starting to Get It” at Alas! A Blog

I still accidentally say “lame” and “crazy” myself but am working hard to use other effective and less offensive words. Fortunately the English language has many!

This is also a fun read that comes up usually when someone calls out language as being problematic, and the resultant typical objections that often ensue: http://www.derailingfordummies.com/

The moderator immediately accused me of – guess what? Censorship. Yes – the moderator accused me of this. Very rich indeed.

Now of all the toothless arguments people knee-jerk with when their behavior is identified as being aligned with oppressive tactics, cries of “censorship”, accusations of being “the thought police”, and sneers of “PC” probably bother me the most; like an unholy Trinity of Ass they share the same roots of fear and an immediate assumption of bad faith.

I mean really, Censorship? “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Here is some 101: “online interaction and free speech” at finally feminism101). “Thought police” is particularly fartsy-bloated with the same tooting self-important drama-horn as the C-word; as if by maintaining a moderated blog or objecting to a word, phrase, or worldview that is offensive or incorrect or bigoted the blog author/objector is suddenly in the POSITION OF ALLTIME INTERNETTY POWER and now has CONTROL OVER ALL TEH BRAINWAYVES / ORWELLIAN TELESCREENS.

PC? Please. I teenaged through Bill Clinton’s Presidential tenancy and the attendant revival of sensitivity/PC language and I can tell you the backlash started so quickly it almost preceded it (which to me is a barometer that people loooooove their bigotries). There hasn’t been a whiff of PC that hasn’t been, like El Niño (this paragraph is very USian 90s), simultaneously and fervently blamed for Everything Bad including Ruining America and also, Now We Can’t Have Jokes.

Back to the Yahoo group response: at current count there have been five responses to my request – very familiar responses to those versed in corners of the social justice online sphere. On the positive side, the original poster who’d used the term “crazy” apologized for using it and said she understood why the word was problematic (classy! and – more later). The remaining four responses have been skeptical and/or hostile and for their brevity have still nailed a surprising number of the squares in Bingo for Derailing – including “You’re being oversensitive”, “You’re being overly-intellectual”, and “Words have power only if you give them power”/the reclamation argument (the “power” sentence is an actual quote from one of today’s Yahoo messages – this person also said, “words hold no inherant ability to hurt”). If the discussion doesn’t die quickly I predict soon I will get, “you’re nitpicking a minor/trivial issue” / “Don’t you have more important things to think about?” But hey, I hope I’m wrong.

The most commonly iterated response was the token/backup trot-out, or what I sometimes think of as the “black friend” defense meant to entirely shut down conversation: “I have a friend / brother / such-and-such in this marginalized group and they don’t find this offensive” etc etc. So therefore: I will not read the articles or listen openly to your points. Therefore: I will ignore the fact that marginalized groups sometimes internalize oppressive and damaging narratives and strategies (reading the above link re: “reclamation” helps explain the so-called “double-standard” on who is “allowed” to use what language). Therefore: I do not care how many other people/scholars/researchers/writers/bloggers have objections and have worked to elucidate others on why they do – my tokenized example puts me above any reproach. This would be a laughable defense if it wasn’t also a very typical response to anti-oppression work and therefore, a bit sobering if not frustrating.

I have no evidence whatsoever a single soul who responded on Yahoo read my provided links, and that’s a shame. I posted them precisely because they were good, well-written, and better formed than anything I could have done. I’ve been exposed many times to the defense of pejorative use of words associated with marginalized groups: “retard”, “gay” (Wanda Sykes – I love it!), “crazy”, “lame”, “pansy”, “spaz”, “moron”, “pussy”,”woman” (yes! This is often used as an insult!), “faggot”, and “idiot” (um, I really could go on and on); objecting to these words and offering up arguments against their casual use is my prerogative and is not done for fun nor whimsy. I further add nor is it my contention those who use these words are Monsters and I am A Thoroughly Enlightened One (please; I only recently got right re: “crazy”; if you search my near decade-long blog you’re sure to see my ass in many minorly humiliating ways). To those who are uncomfortable with being challenged and/or embarrassed, I feel you. I’d offer this tasty tidbit from the Shapely Prose comment policy:

If someone gets pissy at you for using the word “retarded” for instance, that doesn”‘t mean they think you”‘re an evil person who hates developmentally disabled people OR that they”‘re hysterical, overreacting thought police. It means there are people around here who find that word hurtful, and we”‘re a lot more interested in protecting their feelings than your god-given right not to think of a better word.

Believe me; I’ve made my share of comments and been called out; it stings, I know, and I fully expect it to happen again! Being allowed to say anything I want without being challenged is not an inalienable human right; in the glass-half-full analysis of this I would posit that listening openly and self-educating are some of the more breathtaking and beautiful aspects of human responsibilities if we are in the position to do so.

Speaking up is hard. It often isn’t welcome, as any of my dedicated readers will know by now. This isn’t because the world is full of assholes (or at least I refuse to believe this); it’s because many people don’t like having their worldviews challenged; they often respond with a counter-offense (no matter how respectfully, I’ve discovered, one puts forth an objection).

But there are good reasons and positive results from objecting to a harmful status quo; a few touching anecdotes came my way from a father who tweets me today in recognition of these problematic words. “The one that makes me cringe the most is ‘that’s retarded’ and this was before I had a son with a mental disability.” He continues: “Now that I do have a son with autism I hear the ‘R’word and it sounds like it’s coming out of megaphone.”

Yeah. And thank you for sharing. He sends me the link to his blog where he writes about his son; I put it in my feed reader.

And then there’s this: some people truly can pick themselves up, brush themselves off, and thank you for the assistance. The very first comment in response to the FWD ableist word profile linked above is from Sarah, who simply writes, “I”‘ve been guilty of this. How embarrassing! Thank you so much for posting.”

Now that? That gives me hope.

* Incidentally? I would appreciate it if you do not re-tweet, IM, email, or share this article unless you first read through the four links provided in my cited Yahoo message; I typically do not write using linked articles (hence “quick hit”) and these are good ones.

Mentioned/Further Reading:

Meritocracy at en.wikipedia.org

The quote, “History is written by the winners” discussed at the snopes message board.

“Teaspoons 101: I Am Not the Thought Police” at Shakesville.

“Ableist Word Profile: Why I write about ableist language” A great 101 on a way to think about abelist language and the study therein at FWD.

“Being White” by Louis C.K. (trigger warning: rape metaphor)

“Touching Strangers: Making Friends of ‘Others'” at humaneeducation.org, sponsored and authored by Zoe Weil

“What ‘So Ghetto’ Really Means” by Tami Harris at change.org; those who’ve used “ghetto” against white neighborhoods might want to zap to my comment re: growing up in then-largely-white-but-working-class Hoquiam.

Tangentially and finally, because I had nowhere else to post this – someone in rebuttal to my points in the Yahoo discussion offered up this page: “Your guide to living life in the U.S.”. I kind of don’t have words as this does not seem to be a parody.

guest post: we’re coming to eat your CHILDREN!

Jasie, author

Turns out this headless fattie has a head. And a brain. Heart, mind, passion.

This was posted today at my friend Jasie’s blog, By The Seat Of Our Pants. It’s what we might call an excellent dish of 101 with awesomeness on the side. Please go to the original article at Jasie’s site if you’d like to join the discussion.

Seriously?  In my opinion if you are serious about human rights and not espousing and supporting the opinions of a myriad of Haters (plenty of people will give articles like this a skim-over but will not in fact be serious about these things), you’ll read this essay and the links Jasie provides.  Bookmark the article and come back to it.  It will still be here for you.  Promise.

And thanks, Jasie.  Well done.

OMGOBESITY epidemic – We’re coming to eat your children!

Except… we’re not. We’re totally not. Fat people have no secret agenda to “make the rest of society fat”. Those of us involved in the Fat Acceptance Movement don’t have any hidden ulterior motive to try and assimilate you into FATNESS. Because it simply doesn’t work that way. Scientists and dietitians and creators of weight loss and diet programs have not found a safe and effective way to permanently turn fat people into thin people. Alternately, there is no proven way to take a thin person and make them permanently fat. So don’t lose sleep over it.

I know that for some of my readers, this post is going to come off eye-rollingly 101, but I don’t touch on the subject of fatness and Health At Every Size all that often outside of my FATshion outfit posts, so I really would like to go there.

These truths we hold to be self evident:

  • You cannot claim to know anything about my health just by looking at my size. No, I am not riding the fast train towards Diabetes, I do not have high blood pressure, my knees are doing just fine supporting my weight, and I have never once had a doctor express concern that I may develop any of those conditions. I don’t have a family history of diabetes, and while, yes, there has been hypertension in my family history, I have personally found that avoiding stress and getting enough sleep and exercise has kept high BP at bay.
  • You cannot tell anything about my diet or activity level just by looking at my fat body. I have known many thin people who are sedentary and many fat people who are avid joggers, swimmers, tennis enthusiasts, ultimate frisbee players, belly dancers, hikers, and yes, fitness instructors. Fat people don’t inherently avoid exercise or stuff their faces full of twinkies all day. I have known fat vegans, vegetarians, locavores, omnivores, and eat whatever is around-vores. The same goes for people who happen to inhabit thinner bodies. Plainly put – people are unique and different from eachother. This includes our bodies.
  • If you are a person who used to be fat and has lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off for over 5 years, congratulations – you are either a unique and special snowflake, or the higher weight you used to be was NOT your bodies natural set-point. Our bodies do have a natural weight-range that they settle into, based on many factors. These include, but are not limited to: genetics, environment, whether your body has birthed children or not, lifestyle and career, metabolism, access to fresh air and pure food, income and socioeconomic status… the list goes on. I have maintained the weight I am at for awhile now because that is the weight my body settled at. Sometimes I eat quite healthily, sometimes I forget to eat regularly, sometimes I eat large amounts of calorie-dense foods because they are delicious and pleasurable. My exercise level also fluctuates depending on my mood, the weather, my amount of free-time to participate in athletic activities, etc. Through all of those fluctuations, my weight remains steady between 225 and 230 lbs. I am between 5’2″ and 5’3″, this weight puts me into the “morbidly obese” category. Many people have certain connotations associated with the term “morbidly obese” and from what I have seen, they don’t include a body like mine that enjoys physical activity, home-cooked meals and good health.

  • Headless fatties who are portrayed in the media to illustrate the “obesity epidemic/crisis” are people. They DO have heads… and names and personalities and families and lives and are whole people. Please remember this when spouting off about “personal responsibility” and how all those OBESE people are costing YOU money because of their assumed ill-health and grossness. Thankyouverymuch.
  • My health and my body is not public property. It is no one’s business but my own. The fact that I put myself out there and publicly give details about my life is MY choice. I don’t owe it to anyone to be the “good fatty” who does everything right and is still *gasp*… FAT. I don’t owe it to anyone to be visible and upfront and honest about my health. It is MY choice.
  • With that said – I do think that the governing body of our country has a responsibility to provide decent health care and resources for its citizens. I support universal health care and am 100% for whole foods being served in schools, people getting off the couch and out into the fresh air, advocating cooking at home with wholesome ingredients, fresh seasonal produce being available to people of all races, income-levels, and sizes. All too often I see these ideas trotted out under the guise of “fighting obesity”, though, and that saddens me to no end. So many well-meaning people who truly want better health for all, whose hearts are very much in the right place are putting their focus on the wrong thing and/or are getting dangerously close to suggesting that a portion of the population is somehow “wrong” for existing the way they currently are. Those are some mighty dangerous waters we’re swimming in. Michelle Obama, Jaime Oliver, Michael Pollan, Lenore Skenazy – please, please, please stop focusing on eradicating fat in our nations children (and everyone in general). It’s not going to happen and it shouldn’t be expected to happen. We’re on the same page in so many ways, but when I see headlines that read “Is It OK to be Fat?” or “Obesity Killing Millions” it’s hard not to get a little worked up and a little defensive… See what I’m saying?
  • By eschewing the diet & weight-loss mentality I have not “given up” or chosen to just be FAT FAT FAT. I have simply decided to do what’s best for my sanity and my health by leaving behind disordered eating practices and unrealistic “goals”. I don’t owe it to you or my mother or society at large to fit into some arbitrary little niche of what is acceptable. I’m listening to my internal voice and harnessing my power and strength to buck a system that IS NOT WORKING.

a little bit of related reading/viewing for you:

i am literally some bovine person just going through the motions! or: it’s called 101, people

Harmless and delicious? WRONG! You are looking at my PRISON!

Dear reader, today was kind of a cranky day. Like, first? I was bothered by this post at Sociological Images, a blog I love very much, where today someone claimed – in part of a larger point about prescribed gender roles – that cooking was drudgery. You know, taking care of oneself by selecting and preparing food – what an onerous chore! Why should anyone even have to bother?

So why should I care about this one, measly little word in a sea of internet talk-out-the-ass-ness?

Here’s the thing: I read feminist blogs. And I love them (mostly).  And this “housework and kid care is so borrrring!” stuff that asses itself into some (note I said some) feminist discussion?

I get it, I really do. Allow me a summation if you haven’t devoted yourself to the conversation so far. First off, there is a tremendous disparity when it comes to men and women living together; women do a lot more of the domestic work that needs to get done to little respect, status, acclaim, or pay.  If you aren’t aware of this you’re uninformed – it remains to you to decide if this is (however subtly) deliberate on your part.  If you’re aware and you’re not really doing much about it. Um.  Perhaps you shouldn’t be reading here.

But let’s say for arguments sake you’re aware that yes, in heterosexual partnerships the laydeez end up doing more of the kid care, the housework, and the “invisible” errands (like tracking everyone’s schedule, making dentist appointments, knowing where the shot records are kept, keeping track of shoe sizes, shopping for clothes and groceries and, and, and… you get it).  Those of us bent on egalitarian treatment want this to change.  And part of that is we want our families and our media to quit socializing girls and women to take care of everyone else while any attendant menfolk reap the benefits of this invisible but in large part necessary work.  To housework-dissing feminists’ view, housework is de facto “less than” and women deserve a piece of the whatever pie really matters – status, money, acclaim, astronaut jobs (Note: I’m not addressing housework-dissing anti-feminists here. Another post, perhaps).

And of course, I understand this. Make no mistake: women are still pressured to and expected to juggle career, good looks, a hot body, environmental stewardship, solid and healthy friendships, volunteer work, wifedom and motherhood, and run a smooth household.  Penalties for flagging in these pursuits can be severe.  Just-minded women and men are bucking the concept that these goals should be mandatory for women (especially those married to or partnered with a man).  Where I differ from some feminist perspective is I refuse to denigrate those things that are, traditionally, female or femme. After all, the denigration of the female is part of the problem – hello wage gap for instance.

So: picking on the work of self- and household-care using pejoratives and diminishing language to describe it? What a win!  (I am totally typing sarcastically!) Funny thing: I cook a lot, and I clean the house and wash clothes and stuff, and I don’t get paid nor much externally-afforded status for the ins-and-outs of, you know, regular life, all functions to varying degree necessary and normal in Being and enjoying the wonder of our existence (it is only modern convenience and privilege that allows us to opt out).  Perhaps you can take a moment to imagine how I feel – after seven years out of paid work – when my sister-laydeez then heap insult on injury by telling me what I do is so farking mindless and boring! What a way to make sure to never recognize the efforts, integrity, expressive life, and personhood of those who’ve chosen the path! (and who, P.S., baked those fabulous cookies your co-worker brought in that you took two of at break time).

Because, hello, and I literally can’t believe I have to say this, but cooking and cleaning really is work that, you know, has to be done, notice I’m not specifying any particular standard but, hey, it really is a fact of life. It’s not like you can opt out of eating (for very long at least), so show some respect for whoever did the cooking. Also, hello again, if we want men to do their part in heterosexual partnership maybe we should quit disparaging the whole business?

So irritating, really. And here’s the hurtful thing: it’s not one person every now and then who tosses out this kind of diminishment: it’s a subtle but seemingly endless drumbeat – by loads of those with (male) privilege, sure, but including, sadly, should-be-savvier feminists whom I otherwise love and respect in every way.  So: thanks for that.  Heck, we haven’t had a breather from “Women’s work is lesser work” since the 20th century at least*, so why should feminists give us one? (Seriously! I can’t stop with the sarcasm! And yes, I know this indicates a deficiency of me as a writer!).

I hate the de-statusing (NOT A REAL WORD) of any job or vocation – period. I remember as a child hearing jokes about janitors and how crummy and menial and kind of creepy/sketchy they were.  You probably don’t remember janitor jokes because: your dad wasn’t a janitor!  Ta-da! At the time it was confusing because I knew my father was a hard worker who chose jobs he respected and did well at them.  The diminishment of his profession and personhood didn’t match with the man I knew.  Now I’m wishing I would have loudly stopped the Haters in their tracks: “Shut up. My father is a janitor. Polish the floors yourself if you think he’s so unnecessary.”

I can’t go back and defend my father post-humorously to a handful of elementary-school children, but I can sound my horn in defense of my work today.  I’m proud of my work.  It has value.  My work is caring for other people – not just the ones I partnered with and gave birth to but also the neighborhood children, the working mother and father whose kids need a sleepover, the friend who’s sick, the husband who’s “real” work means he can’t get away for personal errands during the day, the cancer patient who is cheered by my loaf of homebaked bread. These are all real examples from my last week.

Thich Nhat Hanh – who’s been on my mind and in my blog lately – has written a couple dozen amazing books.  If I may be permitted (and yes I may), I’d like to relate a deeply meaningful passage from my book Anger: Wisdom For Cooling the Flames (warning: be careful not to get reader’s whiplash in the difference between Thich Nhat Hanh’s literary tone and my own):

About fifteen years ago, an American Buddhist scholar visited me while I was in the United States.  She said, “Dear teacher, you write such beautiful poems.  You spend a lot of time growing lettuce and doing things like that.  Why don’t you use your time to write more poetry?” She had read somewhere that I enjoy growing vegetables, taking care of cucumber and lettuce.  She was thinking pragmatically and suggested that I should not waste my time working in the garden but should use it to write poems.

I replied, “My dear friend, if I did not grow lettuce, I could not write the poems I write.” This is the truth.  If you don’t live in concentration, in mindfulness, if you don’t live every moment of your daily life deeply, then you cannot write.  You can’t produce anything valuable to offer to others.

A poem is a flower you offer to people.  A compassionate look, a smile, an act filled with loving-kindess is also a flower that blooms on the tree of mindfulness and concentration.  Even though you don’t think about the poem while cooking lunch for your family, the poem is being written.  When I write a short story, a novel, or a play, it maky take one week or several weeks to vinish.  But the story or the novel is always there.  In the same way, although you are not thinking about the letter you will write to your beloved one, the letter is being written, deep down in your concsiousness.

You cannot just sit there and write the story or the novel.  You have to do other things as well.  You drink tea, cook breakfast, wash your clothes, water the vegetables.  The time spent doing these things is extremely important.  You have to do them well.  You have to put one hundred percent of yourself in to the act of cooking, watering the vegetable garden, of dish washing. You just enjoy whatever you are doing, and you do it deeply.  This is very important for your story, your letter, or anything else you want to produce.

Enlightenment is not separate from washing dishes or growing lettuce.  To learn how to live each moment of our daily life in deep mindfulness and concentration is the practice.  The conception and unfolding of a piece of art take place exactly in these moments of our daily life.  The time when you begin to write down the music or the poems is only the time of delivering the baby.  The baby has to be in you already in order for you to deliver it.  But if the baby is not in you, even if you sit for hours and hours at your desk, there’s nothing to deliver, and you cannot produce anything.  Your insight, your compassion, and your ability to write in a way that will move the other person’s heart are flowers that bloom on the tree of your practice.  We should make good use of every moment of our daily life in order to allow this insight and compassion to bloom.

Thich Nhat Hanh is eighty-four years old this year.  He has never partnered with a woman nor had his own children to care for, yet he sees as deeply into our common lives as anyone could.  His words ring of truth and are like clear, cool water after the ugly thoughts that swirl in my head and the passions that grip my heart when I see my life’s work so repeatedly devalued.

And this passage – the truths this teacher relates here – are in large part why, even though living in a world that so often devalues women’s work, I don’t consider cleaning, or chopping carrots or searing garlic, or putting a bandaid on the knee of my child a worthless enterprise.  Even if some of the men and women I want to stand with and fight alongside, do.


“Little Girls Wear Whisks” at Sociological Images

* Good Housekeeping’s Good Wife Guide, 1955