Ethically Speaking: Practicing What You Preach

For almost a year now I have dedicated the vast majority of my time and energy to three things: classes, work, and my thesis. I dedicated myself so thoroughly to these three things that anything else seemed like an annoying distraction. I poured everything that I had, and much that I didn’t, into these goals. Far-off goals became my life. As I result, I became inadequate.

Framing is an interesting thing. It is not hyperbole to say that the professor of one of the classes I took changed my life when she said that rape did not exist until the 1970s. She stated that rape as an act of forced sexual contact had previously existed, but that it was not “rape” until special interest groups and other such moral entrepreneurs and so-called experts made rape a public cause that demanded attention. The Second Wave of feminism in the U.S.A. gave urgency and agency to women’s voices, albeit differentially, and when women’s voices emerged, they framed gendered, sexual violence as the epidemic it was and still continues to be.

Framing moved rape from a property crime to a crime against autonomy.

Framing moved me from feeling capable to feeling inadequate.

 

I thought I’d be happier when I quit my job. I hadn’t been anywhere near happy there for nearly a year. Simply put, it was the hardest parts of both an office and a customer service job, and it took a great toll.

Simultaneously, I was learning about the humiliations of the academic hierarchy. For the first time since middle school, the quality of my academic work was challenged, not based on previous work I had done—not based on anything, save my perceived ethnicity, as far as I can tell. And, I felt as if there was nothing I could do. I watched and said nothing as my thesis transformed into something I dreaded.

I would come home from work, tired and wrung out. On weekends I would read about rape—not theoretical works that inspire me, make me think, challenge me to realize solutions, but awful, terrible, personal stories that do nothing but make me cry and rage at my own impotence.

This has been my life.

 

It has taken until now for me to finally realize how complicit I have been in all this. I did what I thought I was supposed to be doing. I tried to keep my head down, tried to do what everyone told me, tried to will myself out of existence.

I will not be writing the thesis I have attempted to work on for almost a year. I never wrote it because it was never mine to write.

“Why quit when you are so close to graduating with honors?” seemed to be the soundtrack of my life all last academic year.

There is a simple answer that has been with me all along.

 

Years ago I had a group interview for a salesclerk job at The Body Shop. In the interview, the manager explained that all female employees must wear five pieces of make-up while working. I asked if the male employees had the same mandate. The manager looked at me as if I were joking and gave me a flat, “No.” Then she asked, “Do you have a problem with that?”

I smiled and said with all the sincerity and naïveté of a young, inexperienced person, “Just a moral-ethical problem, you know.” Needless to say, I was not called back.

 

I don’t think people choose to study inequality because they think it will make them popular or successful. Certainly I had no such delusions when I decided to study gender and sociology. What drove me first to gender studies and then to sociology was the pressing sense of need. The need for people in privileged positions to hear those that society tends to willfully ignore or demonize.

The whole experience of attempting to write this thesis has left me feeling devalued because of what I study, discriminated against because of how I don’t look, and used. I cannot and will not write the thesis I hardly conjured.

The study of inequality has stripped me bare. The experience of inequality has reinforced the only constant tool at my disposal: my ethics.

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A Personal Aside: Thoughts About Adoption, Kitchen Edition

As I anxiously watch steam billow from the covered pot that houses a late breakfast I suddenly realize that there is so much more at stake here than a morning meal.

Our little apartment kitchen has felt revolutionized as of late because of the sudden and extensive use being impressed upon it. It does not escape my notice that I sometimes flee into the kitchen to escape thoughts and theories and calculations when they become too heavy to hold. It does not escape my notice that, in turning to the kitchen, I turn into conventional femininity—often making food that I have no intention of eating myself, but that I feel others will enjoy. When I turn towards the kitchen, I turn towards my own troubled history with food—not the troubled history that is partner to eating disorders, but rather, my own seemingly unique past that simply does not like to eat. I sometimes wonder, “Does anyone else feel this way?”

 

At night I must be somehow occupied in order to fall asleep. I listen to audio books or music or the sound of my own breathing. If I don’t listen to something I stay awake thinking of that woman worlds away who gave birth to me once.

I wonder if she could answer my call, “Does anyone else feel this way?”

 

I think that I have been rebirthed over and over since that time, so many years ago. Birth often seems to mandate death, and I sometimes feel haunted by the shells of my existence. What to do with these things? What to do with these castaway feelings, besides drive to Pacific coast and set them adrift hoping against hope that some might find a home.

 

It is a small triumph when I pull the bowl of egg pudding/custard out of the steaming pot. I know that I cannot eat my way closer to the woman who is not there. Still, I count it as a success because, in making this simple dish, I have become more corporeal, have moved closer to the person I am learning to be.

Grounded for Life: What Happens When There Is No Escapism

Act One of last week’s episode of This American Life was a story of Andy, a then 15-year-old young man, who ran away from home with the idea that he would live with his idol, science fiction writer Piers Anthony. It is a rather charming story about risk-taking, reality, and other such life lessons. Near the end of the act, Piers Anthony reflects on his own difficult adolescence, and the importance of escape, “People talk, you know, they sneer at escapism. Well, there are those of us who need it.”

 

I have taken to cooking every weekend. “Cooking” is not the right term. What I love about the process of cooking is the prep-work. I enjoy boiling, measuring, mixing, feeling as if I am making things. The actual “cooking” part of the process is an inconvenience I try to pass off if I can, because what I really love more than anything, is all the cutting.

We recently bought a mandolin, but I continue to julienne by hand because it requires my complete attention.

 

I have also begun to meditate. It helps me ward off all the things I should have done, could have done, need to do that push out all of the things I want.

These are the things I do to escape. I am painfully aware that my escape mechanisms only ground me in the present even more, but this is what I feel left with now.

 

The recent hubbub in the video gaming community about sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment have been a long time coming, but it has been bittersweet, which is why I have avoided writing about it even though it has stayed in my psyche like a burr in a shoe.

Yesterday a friend sent along this BBC radio program about misogyny in the gaming community. It is a succinct summation of what’s going on and what’s been going on to women who dare to play online (components of) video games. Two words: horrific and abusive. Misogyny and racism mingle to create hostile environments for female gamers simply because they are women.

[Note: sexism within the community has been the target of attention, not racism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, classism, etc., and how they relate to society as a whole, which is why I have not been overly eager to write about the discussion going on]

This is nothing more than the policing of strict, binary gender roles—no different than rape myths that promise women safety if they monogamously couple with a bigger, more powerful man, only wear “modest” clothes, never use any intoxicants, never leave the home, and other such nonsense that generally makes living (forget enjoying life) near-impossible.

Further, some have defended misogynist attacks against female gamers with assertions that gaming has always had a component of trash talking (and that racist, misogynist threats of rape are talking trash and not, you know, racist, misogynist threats against a person’s bodily integrity), implying that women are simply too sensitive, but also too independent (venturing into a sphere that is historically largely male). One gamer on the BBC program went so far as to suggest women shouldn’t be surprised at being the targets of verbal attacks, and that they ought not to play video games if they don’t want to be subject to sexual hate speech.

 

And, that’s where we get to escapism.

I used to play video games. I used to read comic books. I used to devour fiction indiscriminately. I used to go to movies that only seemed tangentially interesting.

That all has stopped in increments. There have been catalysts for every section of my interests as they began to shut down. In 2009, I walked out of a movie in which a woman was beaten and humiliated until she urinated on herself and had to be carried about by a man. When I asked for my money back from the theater, I was told that I should have expected the violence because the movie was rated R. I am not so naïve as to think there will be no violence in a rated R movie, but I don’t understand why it was only the woman who was violently degraded while the men were depicted as dying in a shower of bullets and bravado.

Essentially, the message I got was, “What else did you expect? That the female characters be treated as the males?”

I felt that the only way I could really protest was to just not give these major corporations my time or money.

 

I am one of those who needs escapism. The truths I deal in are messy and impossible to swallow. They keep me up, trying to figure out how to get at the root of it—trying to figure out if there is a way to get at the root to kill it.

I need to escape desperately, but lately I feel that all I have are vegetables and fruits and a cutting board and kitchen knives and the possibility of making something worthwhile.