I don’t watch Game of Thrones. Whenever anyone asks me about it or it comes up in conversation, I tell them “I can’t handle sexual violence.” This is true. I don’t watch or read or listen to things with sexual violence in them. Because they keep me up at night when I’m alone ruminating over them and because when my friends are around to listen I have full tail mental emotional breakdowns about them. Not just because I feel personally threatened by depictions of sexual violence (I do.), but also because they’re often presented in ways that are not transformative and only serve to perpetuate (not critique or deconstruct or interrupt) our cultural glorification and acceptance of, or apathy towards, sexual violence. As someone who has only ever had over-the-top-consensual sexual experiences, I often doubt my own authority to speak out on this topic, but I’ll speak anyway, and I think it’s important that I do. In a weird perfect storm of interactions, this topic has been on my mind a lot the last few weeks, and just today it was announced that the Fifty Shades of Fucking Terrible will premiere on Valentine’s Day 2015 and its absurdly rape-porn-y trailer was released; so, yeah, I’m worked up about it and I’m gonna rail against it now. At the bar earlier this week, a couple of friends and I talked this topic out quite a bit. We talked about how it’s important to resist pop culture products that depict sexual violence, because those depictions are so often rape-porn-y and work to glorify sexual violence. And because we have enough REAL LIFE examples of these crimes against women (and men) that we would do well to work within the terrible reality of sexual violence and rape than to pile on fictional depictions of it. We also acknowledged the viewpoint (held by lots of women we know and respect) that pop culture depictions of sexual violence help to make the reality of sexual violence more apparent to people who might not see or acknowledge its presence in our day to day lives. Or that pop culture depictions of sexual violence might do some kind of healing work for victims of sexual violence. I acknowledge those viewpoints and respect them. And I do think there are some transformative depictions of rape and of sexual violence in pop culture products. Happy to talk about those transformative depictions with anyone whose interested. But my argument is: you need a conglomeration of all these viewpoints in order to create change. People who are willing to work within the system to change the system and people who are standing outside the system saying “ABSOLUTELY NOT AND HERE’S WHY.” People who are willing to encounter depictions of sexual violence and talk with others about them in ways that are transformative and people who refuse to watch them at all and will talk with others about why that is. The risk being that, there are also others who will watch depictions of sexual violence and not interpret those depictions as transformative and will not engage with conversations about them at all. The risk being that, depictions of sexual violence will continue to glorify rather than interrupt the terrible reality and prevalence of sexual violence in our day to day lives. Don’t be these people. If you’re a person who is willing to watch or hear or read depictions of sexual violence, please do so in ways that are transformative. Think. Make Decisions. Is the thing I just encountered glorifying sexual violence? Then I will not choose to encounter it again, and I will tell others why I think it is a glorification of sexual violence. Is the thing I just encountered doing some sort of transformative work? Will it help others to see our dangerous culture of apathy towards sexual violence? Then I’ll talk with others about it and why I think it’s transformative. Will the thing I just encountered potentially offer some sort of healing to victims of sexual violence? Then I will talk about it and why I think it might be healing in some way. Again, we need a multitude of viewpoints and a variety of action to create change on this pervasive, scary, dangerous, terrible issue. But please, please, please develop a viewpoint and take some action. Don’t be apathetic. And on that note, I will say again:
Re-blogging a couple posts that I wrote for a course blog last year.
My earliest childhood memory is waking up to the sound of my mother’s fingers racing across her keyboard. She was two rooms away and my door was closed, but I could still sense her fervor as she tried to meet the morning’s deadline (I didn’t realize at the time her deadline was something like “get this done before the kids wake up”). For much of my early childhood and elementary school years my mother worked from home as a typist transcribing legal documents for a law firm in our hometown. Every morning on our way to school we would stop by the law office to drop off the transcripts from the day before and pick up the next set of audio tapes to be transcribed. Even though by the time I was hearing her fervent fingers on the keyboard she had long switched over to an actual computer, when I read our assignment description I knew that I wanted to interview my mom about using a typewriter. Again: I hear “type” I think “mom”.
The most important things I learned from my interview with my mom are: 1) How shockingly little I know about what her life was like before I arrived on the scene 2) typing, according to my mother’s experiences, is a woman’s world and 3) the “technological revolution” is a lot more complex and recursive than I naively assumed it to be at the start of our interview.
My mother told me that she learned to type in eleventh and twelfth grade on a typewriter for a business course where students also learned shorthand but mostly just sat in rows each day and typed away preparing for timed tests every Friday. She continued: “So in our twelfth grade year we had a typing contest for the whole school and I was the fastest typer in the entire school […] I can type 120 words a minute with no mistakes”
My mother can type 120 WPM?! This didn’t mean much to me when she first said it, but I looked it up and as it turns out an average typing speed is 40 WPM. 100 WPM with no errors is considered a high speed. Working at speeds like 120 WPM with no mistakes earns you a spot in the “advanced typist” category. Go Mom!
In addition to gaining this more detailed picture of my mother as a teenager, I also realized throughout our interview that the typist’s world is a world of women. My mother told me “I just remember typing ‘the brown fox jumped over the whatever’ over and over again and I liked typing. And for whatever reason I wanted to type really well to make money, and my mother was a legal secretary so I pretty much set my sights on that. And back then they made a lot of money.” I had no idea that my grandmother had been a legal secretary or that she was my mother’s inspiration for pursuing that career herself. This kind of passing down of a very specialized literacy between generations of women echoes for me aspects of Patricia Crain’s argument in which the figure of the mother is very much caught up in the process of printing and imprinting. The alphabet acquires a medium, a body through the mother, and the child is meant to be seen and listening. In these cases taken from my mother’s life, my grandmother first was imprinting while my mother was listening until at some point my mother began imprinting and I became the listener.
Another role model my mother mentioned with reverence was her business teacher who encouraged her to partake in the school-wide and then the county-wide typing contest: “I guess there was a county wide test and I went with my business class teacher. Her name was Genevieve Farmer, and I’ll never forget her. She was awesome. And I went with her to the contest and they were giving the instructions to everyone, and you were supposed to flip that paper over and get it into the typewriter. And I immediately said it was over. A lot of the people next to me went to the other side and I just sat back and watched and I just marveled.” My mother’s inspiration and her mentor for pursuing typing were both women. Additionally, she found her job as a typist in order to stay home with me and my brother and sister when we were young. My mother’s acquisition of typewriter-literacy and then of computer-literacy were very much motivated by her identity as a daughter and then as a mother.
My mother’s recollections of her experiences with the typewriter brought us right up into present day, where I realized I had grossly oversimplified the development of writing and digital technologies as a linear, step by step process. When I asked my mother if she preferred or missed the typewriter in any way, she surprised me with “Enough so that I have one at my desk at work, and I use it occasionally.” I had assumed typewriters had become fossilized oddities that sat unused in abandon storage spaces or obscure museums. But, my mom has shown me that her continued use of the typewriter is not only nostalgic but functional as well. In her current profession as a legal secretary “sometimes there’s legal documents that you can’t do on a computer. The ABA, American Bar Association, still has certain forms that we have to put in the typewriter to fill out. They’re like 98 percent there. But there are one or two court documents that have to be on the typewriter.” Can you imagine? I had no idea! The American Bar Association still has documents they have not put into digital format.
At first I thought there must be a way to do these things on a computer, but my mother just hasn’t figured them out yet or is choosing to rely on the typewriter out of familiarity. She proved me wrong: “How do you explain this one, our company has a certain program to do envelopes on the computer. But I find it easier to do on a typewriter so a lot of times I’ll just use a typewriter for that. So what it is we have a predetermined format, it puts it on all four, and I might only need one label so I put it in the typewriter so that I don’t ruin four labels I don’t need.” My mom not only understands this computer technology, she understands it so well that she has learned to anticipate its flaws and chooses to use a typewriter as the more efficient means of writing technology when producing mailing labels. Picture it: she has a typewriter and a computer station sitting side by side at her desk and sometimes uses both for different purposes in a single day. Writing technologies of the past are in fact alive and well and being used in conjunction with more advanced, more recent writing technologies.
We ended our interview on a note of nostalgia. In response to the same question of preferring or missing a typewriter, my mother also said: “Yeah, it’s great because all the attorneys yell out. That’s one thing that’s weird, they miss the sound of the typewriter going fast. The clicks of it. When I’m standing there typing labels they always freak out like ‘oh I remember that.’ They like it when I use the typewriter.”
Earlier this week I cried at a bluegrass festival. *Pause for a second while no one is astonished.* I cry in public a lot. Most often because of something beautiful I’m seeing or reading or in this case hearing. The Crane Wives opened the festival, and I’ve been listening to them for the past few weeks while I slog through the toughest part of a tough semester, and their music is beautiful. So here is the perfect storm that facilitated my most recent public display of emotion.
I don’t want to have children; I’ve known this about myself since I was 14 and have solidified it into a certainty over the past twelve years. Marriage is still a question mark in my mind. Maybe it’s an adventure I’d be willing to embark on, maybe it’s not. I’m in no hurry to find out. In spite of these less than traditional views of marriage and family, I am still a very relationship-y person. Add to this already complicated mix a key ingredient: relationships in graduate school are challenging if not impossible to maintain well.
So, in addition to weird societal pressures that complicate my life decisions (or what looks to most people like a lack of life decisions), I often struggle with asking myself: if I don’t want to get married or have children, then what’s with all this relationship-y stuff? Why do I intertwine my life so closely with another person’s life when I have no ultimate end goal in mind? Rather than being discouraged by these questions and uncertainties when they insist on pushing in, I like to live in them for awhile, give them their due diligence. “The unexamined life is not worth living” or some other viral internet quote. JK, apparently that’s a quote from Socrates; he can stay.
I also feel like because I don’t want to have a family/children I should want to be a kind of heavy hitter academic, leader in my field type. But I’m not sure that that life’s for me either. I do want to have a vocation, not just a job or a career. I want to love the thing I do and be happy in doing it. But, I don’t want my life to be a constant performance, like I imagine that kind of intense job-only, career-mindedness would be. And these tensions lead to an intensifying of my already thriving impostor syndrome. Again, rather than be discouraged, I try to live in these uncertainties for awhile. And music helps.
I’m terrible at birthdays. I always forget them, especially yours. Is it the 18th, the 27th, or the 28th? I never seem to know. I do remember one birthday of yours in particular, though. I think it was your 21st or maybe your 25th, and I was a young teen. I know you arrived at our old house late in the night in a limo full of your friends. We said hello and chatted for a while until you flitted away to chat with others. Then, a few minutes later, I heard you lean in close to Mom and say “Is Aubrey awake? I don’t want her to see me like this…” Hahaha. I chuckled then and now. I loved it. I soaked it all up. It was delightful for me to see you let loose and have so much fun.
It’s weird to have a sister that’s 9ish years older than I am. For a long time it was like having another Mom, especially because in some ways you were more disciplined and more strict with me than our actual Mom (not a difficult task to accomplish with such laid back hippie parents as ours). But even as my sister-mom, when I was obnoxious and young and you were coming of age and always wise beyond your years, you guided me by your example. In middle school, I wrote a speech. It was supposed to be about someone who inspired me. I remember being one of the few in my small class who did not write about a celebrity or a famous person in history. I wrote about my sister.
Nowadays, I like to joke with people about how my sister is vastly different from me and infinitely better than I am (both true. inside and out she’s better than I am). I catalogue your many achievements: marathons, triathlons, nursing degrees, years of hard and emotionally draining work, selfless end-of-life care for so many of our relatives. I would not be where I am today– new town, new school, new job–if I had not seen you pick up and remake everything anew so many times in your life, whenever a certain place and time had run its course and you were ready for a new adventure; an indescribably courageous task when you consider that our entire family lives within a forty mile radius of itself.
I sometimes wonder if you know how it hurts me to see you hurt, and then I feel how willing you are to grieve with me and so ready to build me back up whenever I am in pain, and I know you must know these feelings are mutual between us.
So maybe you will always be my sister-mother. Maybe you will always be there nurturing me and guiding me. But alongside your sister-mother duties, now you are also my sister-friend. Now we can choose to talk and laugh and play. Now we can take adventures together!! Now I can tell you that I love you, not just because you are my sister and I have to. Now I can tell you that I love you because I know you and choose to love you as one of my closest friends. Because I do love you. And, of course, I miss you. I miss you and I love you, Meagan.
Being a feminist is hard sometimes. Particularly, I’ve been troubled lately with instances of discrimination and distinguishing between whole institutions or single individuals who happen to participate in those institutions. For example, I love CrossFit and I know the specific crossfit boxes where I’ve worked as places that are welcoming and empowering for their female members and distinguish between skill levels of each member rather than gender distinctions. Coach Glassman (CF founder) has been outspoken about the important roles women have played in the founding and expansion of CF, but his demeanor is at times chauvinist and flat out offensive. In addition to this confusion at the official institutional level, ignorant individual CF bloggers and owners and athletes alike joke about how a hot woman receptionist can set you apart from other local CF gyms. Or they make shirts that say stupid essentializing shit like “real women do burpees” or not even clever and just obnoxious bro-ed out nonsense like “cheat on your girlfriend not your workout” or “WODslut: I give it up for the WOD.” These things trouble me because I’m wondering how we counteract or respond to this kind of ignorance or discrimination depending on the different potential sources (institutions or individuals). Also, these a-hole individuals could be alienating women and potentially deterring them from trying or joining CF, a community and activity I have known to be incredibly empowering.
Another important issue I’ve been trying to navigate is woman on woman or girl on girl judgments and prejudices. I’ve noticed some real tensions between women in a lot of the pop culture-y places and things I frequent. How can we constructively or conscientiously critique our lives or other women’s lives without betraying or defaming one another and without perpetuating stereotypical depictions of women as hen-pecking, nagging, bitchy, jealous blah blah blah? I know that I too can be incredibly (at times unfairly) judgmental of other women. For example, I feel a little bit disappointed that Liz Lemon sells out, gets married, and has a kid at the end of 30Rock. I also find it hilarious that in one episode Liz Lemon lumps stay-at-home-moms into one of her many tirades against idiocy (and I kind of agree that that particular life decision sounds horrible to me). But in reality, I’ve known, respected, and loved several women who have been stay at home moms. Similarly, I love the Tumblr website myfriendsaremarried (and I’m just 25 and drunk) [the parenthetical tagline is my favorite part], but I recognize that its daily installments probably unfairly discriminate against women who choose to (or simply happen to) marry young. I’ve also recently discovered a burgeoning set of online blogposts and articles that debate the feminist or antifeminist qualities of Taylor Swift’s career (a blog post for another day); this set of posts opens up another important seeming inconsistency in feminist discourses: one woman’s role model is another woman’s perpetuation of patriarchy.
The underlying issue here is that I refuse to endorse a wholly relativist approach; I want to place value judgments, and I want to see and participate in a critical discourse that places meaningful value judgments on different representations of womanhood and on real life women and their lifestyle choices. So how do feminist discourses allow us to place value judgments without attacking one another or without misplacing blame on individuals or institutions?
In light of insipid anti-feminist bullshit like this here Fox News article, I will be starting a sporadic series of posts in which I celebrate the women I love and who have inspired me. Mostly, this is my excuse to talk about Beyonce as often as possible. Any other suggestions for inspiring women to be featured in the series are encouraged and welcomed!
First up: Queen B herself. Just try to watch this video and not become a feminist. You can’t do it because it’s impossible. Why do I love her? Well, did you watch that “Run the World Girls” video? She’s a beautiful, sexy, strong, successful woman. And she’s not a hot mess like so many other successful women today are (see Kim Kardashian). Beyonce is crazy famous, but her life isn’t an open book. Her work and general demeanor actually do make her a role model for young women and girls, a cliche but an important one.
So this whole Beyonce “Run the World Girls” phenomenon takes us to a sticky, slippery place in women’s history (vagina pun intended): the move from third wave feminism to “post-feminism.” Maybe not shockingly, I’m going to fall into the camp of people who view post-feminism as a reaction to and therefore an extension of feminism. Like post-modernism or post-process theories, post feminism takes the values and methods of its predecessors for granted but those values and methods are still present, though altered in meaningful ways for new and changing cultural contexts. Feminism (with its values in equal rights and opportunities for women) is still going strong, even if it is “post.” Maybe I should revise that last sentence to: Feminisms (with their values in equal rights and opportunities for women) are still going strong, even if they are “post”?
Beyonce and post-feminism personal story: In a seminar in post-modern literature I took during my Master’s program, my professor basically tried to argue that even after decades of feminist, post-colonial, multicultural theories, critical pedagogy and lots of other not-just-white-male academic pursuits, women, minorities, and other marginalized groups had made little to no socio-political-cultural progress. His argument was basically that those fields had been for the most part insular. Their effects had reached no one but those people already working within those fields. His evidence for the insular non-effects of these fields of study and action was that for the most part white men are still the rulers and major decision makers of the world. And he asked the question: “But really, who runs the world?” and I said: GIRLS!
This moment matters to me. It matters to me that I felt I could contradict my white male professor and use pop culture to do so. The opportunity and willingness to resist and challenge a person of traditionally bestowed authority that happened for me in that moment shows me that progress and change for marginalized groups and people has happened and is happening. It matters to me that being a ruler or being a major decision maker or being a person granted traditional forms of socio-political-cultural power is not the only way to make change or challenge the unjust status quo. Change does not have to occur top-down. Thank God. (Get it?). So this is why I love Beyonce. Because she encourages girls to “run the world” and (if you watch that video) running the world doesn’t have to look like the way men have been doing it (or have been thinking they’ve been doing it) for centuries.
But seriously, watch that video. PS: I love Beyonce so much that I even forgive her for stealing my baby name.