On What’s “Out There”

This past week I had the pleasure of encountering the poet Will Alexander. I saw him speak and read some of his work and was able to ask of him a few questions about his take on writing and about where his poetry comes from.

Will Alexander from citylights.com

Alexander’s work is a bit tough to place at points. It gives off the distinct feeling that there is a crucial ideological point, something that seems to remain always beyond one’s grasp which he is trying to convey. In his talk, Alexander referred to the power of language as something seemingly innate, that specific words have resonance for him, that there exists a power in language that cannot easily be understood but may be primarily experienced.

This is an example of Alexander’s work, a poem called “Coping Prana”. In it you may see what I mean, that his use of language in its own surreal way seems to try to break free from language semantically to explore the power of sound and critique the way our denotations and connotations with words can help or hinder our feelings on a work.

I think it’s important to get a dose of something as seemingly disorienting as this now and again. His work has made me think I may have to do more poetry posts. It’s important to encounter works like this because it makes us question the way we view language and the way we come to terms with the power of it. Sometimes drastic examples of the surreal or the seemingly indecipherable remind us that sometimes what we may feel from a piece is just as real as what knowledge we may glean from it. This poetry is revolutionary in that it asks of the reader to rid themselves temporarily of the conventions of Western thought, of the demand for narrative or the constraints of theory. I’d ask that it be read aloud for a full experience. This work is unflinching lingual rejoice and just begs us to join it.

Freedom for all, freedom from all!
No Blogs, No Masters


Deconstructing the ‘War on Men’

As this is something that has been making the rounds lately, I felt it could be a good exercise in demonstrating how to encounter something that seems like it is intended to provoke outrage. For today’s post I will be providing a moment by moment breakdown of how a male feminist reacts to the Fox News opinion post, “The War on Men“.

Problem One:

“Believe it or not, modern women want to get married. Trouble is, men don’t.”

Ah, opinion pieces. Welcome to the world of sweeping generalizations. But okay, i’ll bite, you did make a claim backed by ‘research’ (link not provided) that indicated that fewer men aged 18-34 claim that having a successful marriage is “the most important thing in their life” (though, honestly, a drop from 35% down to 29% doesn’t seem terribly surprising or alarming to me). I’d like to know what the study indicated was more important to both demographics but, as said before, no link is provided to further explore the ‘research’.

Problem Two:

I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a subculture of men who’ve told me, in no uncertain terms, that they’re never getting married. When I ask them why, the answer is always the same.

Women aren’t women anymore.

So this ‘subculture of men’…what do they mean by women aren’t ‘women’ anymore? They clearly aren’t speaking literally, because that wouldn’t make basic logical sense. So what they appear to be referring to is that the perception of what a woman’s “place” is has apparently changed and they find it unattractive or off-putting. So the question then becomes ‘who are these men’?
This ‘subculture’ Venker writes of are operating from a patriarchal thought-base of origin to define what ‘womanhood’ means, that an increase in women ascending to positions of power or seeking out higher-education is not ‘ladylike’. Is that true? Why is seeking to better oneself a gender-exclusive concept? The answer is: it isn’t.
Problem Three:

In a nutshell, women are angry. They’re also defensive, though often unknowingly. That’s because they’ve been raised to think of men as the enemy.

Where to begin? First, I don’t believe that women have been raised to think of men as ‘the enemy’. This is a classic misalignment of feminism (more of those by Venker to come) as a movement against men as opposed to fighting a system that promotes gender inequality. Second, why would women be ‘angry’ and feel the need to be ‘defensive’? Perhaps because patriarchal culture demands that women remain subservient to men…perhaps because feminism was a catalyst to inspire women to demand equality between genders, to be outraged by their state of inequality and defend their right to live the lives they want to, not the lives patriarchy tells them to?

Problem Four:

Armed with this new attitude, women pushed men off their pedestal (women had their own pedestal, but feminists convinced them otherwise)

Go on. Tell us about the pedestals. No? Another unclear generalization? Okay, if you say so.
I’d really like to know what Venker is referring to. Is the pedestal the one where women were told they must be content to submit to and rely on men and make themselves marriageable? The one where a woman’s place was to be trapped in the home? What did feminists convince them of that seems so odious to Venker other than the possibility and existence of a life outside of that, a life of independence?

Problem Five:

It is precisely this dynamic – women good/men bad – that has destroyed the relationship between the sexes. Yet somehow, men are still to blame when love goes awry. Heck, men have been to blame since feminists first took to the streets in the 1970s.

Again, feminism is misaligned as ‘man-hating/blaming’ and is not described adequately as a movement to liberate women from being forced into gender roles. Also, what is she referring to when she says “Yet somehow, men are still to blame when love goes awry”? Is she trying to say that this is some kind of universal phenomenon against men? I think the case is that when ‘love goes awry’ it is generally whoever is actually at fault that gets blamed, regardless of gender. Furthermore, dysfunction in a relationship is not necessarily even a one-sided thing. So i’m not sure what Venker is trying to say there…
Problem Six:

But what if the dearth of good men, and ongoing battle of the sexes, is – hold on to your seats – women’s fault?

You’ll never hear that in the media.

Why does Fox News always talk about the media being biased to the left but claims that their viewership is the highest? Does Fox not consider themselves a part of the media?

Problem Seven:

All the articles and books (and television programs, for that matter) put women front and center, while men and children sit in the back seat. But after decades of browbeating the American male, men are tired. Tired of being told there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. Tired of being told that if women aren’t happy, it’s men’s fault.
I’m really not sure what articles, books, and television programs Venker is watching. Not to mention the enormous can of worms that is female objectification and the male gaze which Venker quietly sidesteps.
Furthermore, the ‘something wrong’ isn’t with men, it’s with patriarchy.
Problem Eight:
It has also undermined their ability to become self-sufficient in the hopes of someday supporting a family. Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them.
I find the use of the word ‘love’ when Venker clearly means ‘control’ or ‘dominate’ offensive. Aligning ‘love’ in terms of competition in the business or academic world is  distraction from the real issue. Why is love being discussed here in these terms? Venker is positing that women have no place in contributing to society past being romantic objects for men to love. She is echoing the old patriarchal argument of women being objects to be won, owned, put in the home. Venker’s gender essentialist ideas of what it means to be both a woman and a man are insulting.
Problem Nine:
Feminism serves men very well: they can have sex at hello and even live with their girlfriends with no responsibilities whatsoever.
Just because feminism says a woman can make the decision for herself if she wants to have sex or not doesn’t mean that all feminists ‘have sex at hello’. This is the same idiotic logic that Rush Limbaugh was using to denounce Sandra Fluke and try to distract from the legitimacy of her argument by ‘slut-shaming’ her. Also, if you’re a man living with your girlfriend and you have ‘no responsibilities whatsoever’, then you’re probably not part of an equal/balanced partnership (which is feminism’s true aim that Venker misunderstands).
Problem Ten:
It’s the women who lose. Not only are they saddled with the consequences of sex, by dismissing male nature they’re forever seeking a balanced life. The fact is, women need men’s linear career goals – they need men to pick up the slack at the office – in order to live the balanced life they seek.
Again, more gender essentialism. Women don’t “need men to pick up the slack”…The aim should be a balanced partnership that lives outside of gender roles. Let women and men work out their own arrangements. Forcing people into those positions is pointless and restrictive.
Problem Eleven:
Fortunately, there is good news: women have the power to turn everything around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop telling people that being a man or woman predetermines them for anything? Why does Venker believe we have to rely on this antiquated sexist ideology to make balanced working partnerships? Cooperation in a relationship should exist beyond traditional gender roles.
Huh. Only eleven ideological problems from a Fox News piece that was 17 paragraphs long. That may be a record.
This article was one of the most distasteful and regressive pieces i’ve read lately. Seriously though, can we just stop with all of this divisiveness, all of this trying to uphold outdated notions of what it means to be a man or a woman and just work together and respect one another?  Please?
Freedom for all, freedom from all!
No Blogs, No Masters

On Gender and the New Generation

Apologies for the break in writing, holidays and travel overtook me somewhat.

On the note of holidays, I was recently glad to hear of yet another push in Sweden towards gender equality and the abolition of gender stereotypes. After apparently receiving some complaints about gender stereotypical advertisements in toy catalogs, one company in Sweden has put out a catalog that reverses traditional gender stereotypes to encourage younger generations not to feel contained within the outdated limits of masculine and feminine ‘traditional interests’ (eg. young girls with dolls and boys with toy guns).

Contrast this with the response a young girl was given as she called out a gender bias in Hasbro’s game “Guess Who”. Instead of giving a roundabout answer and trying to cover their bases without actually changing/doing anything progressive, the response that the company responsible for the catalog (Top Toy) gave was to admit an inequality, take responsibility, and make a progressive move.

Sweden also has published a children’s book titled Kivi & Monsterhund that uses a new gender-neutral pronoun, ‘hen’, in place of traditional masculine or feminine pronouns to teach children about the use of language and the need for such a word.
Bravo, Sweden, on small but important steps to embracing diversity. The US could take a lesson from you there.

It seems especially important that these developments are being tailored to children. The sad fact is that many adults who are full of bias/prejudice over matters such as gender equality, diversity in sexual orientation, or gender expression are awfully set in their ways. By making this information accessible to a younger generation we can counteract, to an extent, if they are inundated with bigotry from an adult influence in hopes of raising a more tolerant generation. It doesn’t hurt to try and change the mind of someone who is stubborn in their ignorance but it is certainly not easy. You’re never too old (or young) to learn to respect others.
Freedom for all, freedom from all!
No Blogs, No Masters

On Identification and Self-Celebration

A while back I was asked to take a look at a specific directional off-shoot of punk music, to examine the subgenre of Queercore and how it relates to the radical self.
To be honest, I’m surprised it took me this long to post about it.

The mission statement of Queercore is not so foreign to that of any other punk philosophy, that it embraces the liberation of the mind and of the self from societal restrictions put in place by ‘normative’ systematic pressures in an effort to illustrate the diversity of human experience and subvert the marginalization of anyone who doesn’t fit into a system of prejudicial oppression. Queercore is to LGBTQ rights what RiotGrrrl is to feminism—each is the megaphone by which those of us who are dissatisfied with living in a society that excludes our experiences and perceptions are able to shout our objections and be heard.

In time with the celebration of Trans* Week, I feel it’s especially important to discuss radical self-awareness in terms of perception of the self through the lens of gender and sexuality. It’s something I think about and personally struggle with often.
To come out in terms of gendered/sexualized ‘difference’ is a wonderful step forward in self-awareness and the path to true ownership of the self. I often take for granted a major part of self-awareness that exists in self-celebration. Too often there are those who say that the act of identification “isn’t a big deal” or that they wish others wouldn’t “throw their sexuality in everyone’s face”. This is, at its root, a product of privilege for those who have been told that they fit into categories of normalcy, who have their sexuality and self-identification toted as the standard to which others must aspire. Part of me agrees that sexuality shouldn’t be a ‘big deal’ but, rather than in a narrowing fashion, that the wide variance in the spectrum of consensual human sexuality and gender expression should be something culturally accepted and celebrated.

That is why I love the spirit of Queercore bands that not only point out the illegitimacy of heteronormative power but also channel their outrage into a stance of opposition that is ultimately celebratory of themselves and their communities. Prideful positivity is always exponentially more powerful emotionally than the forces of repressiveness. The fight for equality against dehumanizing prejudicial hate is inherently logically sound especially in regards to the current discussion of LGBTQ rights.

Queercore however, like punk in general, still seems heavily male-centric to me. It’s important to remember that even subcultures can be plagued by unequal balances of power and voice (part of this too may be a closeting issue). What it is evidence of, overall, is that we must embrace and accept others for the ways they may be similar or different from us and value their experiences and voices as much as we value our own. Only through acceptance of diversity may we be able to truly enjoy its benefits.
[EDIT: LastFM has a Queercore tag that is a good source for finding some more diversity in the genre! There are a few bands fronted by women in the mix on that list worth checking out. Also, there’s a Queercore subreddit…thanks Jhon!]

To come to terms with what we truly feel in ourselves, to admit our difference and know that it is beautiful, is a step towards real harmony. I applaud those who take ownership of themselves and seek to always explore, understand, and accept more of who they are.

It’s your identity. Stand up for yourself.

Freedom for all, Freedom from all!
No Blogs, No Masters

PS If you know of any Queercore bands, give them visibility and press! Post links to their music in the comments!

Stickin’ it to the Man

Earlier today I read an article with a clearly provocative title for those of us who make an effort to both study the use of language and be socially conscious that was written in regard to a recent Taylor Swift interview. It includes one member of my list of cringe-worthy phrases (the top spot of that list, for those of you curious, belongs to ‘man up’). What bothers me isn’t Swift as a person—in fact, I understand her sentiment and believe she’s correct insomuch as that there needs to be a sense of balance in any relationship—but I do feel she is doing a disservice to herself when she feigns ignorance about her place as a female role-model or when she incorrectly paints feminism as being “guys versus girls”. What bothers me most is how it is still totally normalized in culture to think about relationships in gendered notions of who ‘wears the pants’; that intimate partnerships are still being seen as an expression of masculinity being inherently dominant and femininity being inherently subservient.

What this is at its base is a problem of cultural perceptions of sex and gender roles that points back as far as early Athens—maybe further. Theorist David Halperin in the essay “Sex Before Sexuality: Pederasty, Politics, and Power in Classical Athens” writes, “even the verb aphrodisiazein, meaning ‘to have sex’ or ‘to take active sexual pleasure,’ is carefully differentiated into an active and a passive form”. He goes on to explain how the act of having sex was considered the kind of thing one does to another person rather than with them. In this way relationships, especially when it comes to sex, have historically been incorrectly labeled in terms of dominance skewed toward a patriarchal system. Halperin continues, “the partner who puts his or her body at the service of another’s pleasure is deemed ‘passive’—read ‘penetrated’…Sexual penetration, and sexual ‘activity’ in general, are, in other words, thematized as domination: The relation between the ‘active’ and the ‘passive’ sexual partner is thought of as the same kind of relation as that obtaining between social superior and social inferior”. Through this historical lens we begin to see the bias emerge, how our culture’s antiquated notions and use of sex as an act of power over another is, often times, belittling. One need only browse any porn site that allows users to upload videos for affirmation of this, how the titles of the clips detail how the receptive actors get their faces, genitals, and asses ‘pounded’, ‘destroyed’, or just plain ‘fucked hard’. Furthermore, these sites tend to portray male submission as merely a kind of fetish; that a female in a dominating or active/penetrative role in regards to a male recipient must also embody a ‘masculine attitude’ put in practice as a threat of violence, that females in positions of sexual ‘power’ are ultimately sadistic and, still, catering to a created male fantasy wherein a woman assumes a position of power that, although unspoken, is meant to be understood to really be reserved for men as it can be found in the majority of male aggressiveness in the other clips presented.

What this fetishization of females in sexual power denies is that heterosexual men are capable of taking pleasure in the role of penetrative recipient, that they need not be shamed and abused by a woman in leather to have a positive anal sexual experience. Even a basic understanding of Freudian ideas on sexuality will reveal that the body, regardless of gender, is full of erotic hotspots including the anus. So why go on pretending and denying? The guilt rests on the shoulders of heterosexism, a system which, alongside patriarchy, has demanded categorization and simplification of society even at the detriment and marginalization of masses of people within its confines. The fear of losing their place of power is one of the defining characteristics of these two systems. What they’ve done to protect themselves is to claim normalcy through self-fulfilling tautology; to reject mutuality and ingrain the fear of being labeled ‘unnatural’ in anyone who participates in or agrees ideologically with something outside of the cultural boundaries they have created.

While Swift herself may not even be aware of her role in this larger ploy for power in a gender-dynamic, she embodies here the product of these oppressive systems and their means of perpetuation, that the mainstream would rather champion a young naïve girl who is perceived as harmless to the power-structures of oppression, who misrepresents or dismisses the ideas set down by legitimate social critiques like feminism, than restructure the popular dynamics of intimacy and human relation for the good of the people at large. To her credit, Swift does espouse that relationships are “the ultimate collaboration,” but admits that when she feel too much power on her side in a relationship, “[she starts] to feel uncomfortable and then [they] break up.” It’s also important to distinguish that mutuality of respect is not a strictly sexual thing, as Swift was not directly addressing sexuality in her interview, but it cannot go ignored that patriarchy and heterosexism use sex as a display of dominance and power as a major indicator of disrespect which should not be quietly tolerated.

It is time to stop helping build the walls that these systems trap us with by claiming blindness to the power of language and to recognize that true intimacy is a partnership of respect that is entirely and unquestionably equal across gender lines and as a practice of basic human decency.

Freedom for all, freedom from all!
No Blogs, No Masters

A Silent Win for Opportunity

Last night, Barack Obama was elected to a second term as president of the US. While I may not agree totally with his platform I’m certainly glad he got in over Romney who I believe would have been a very regressive step for the country. And while I’m glad for Obama supporters, I’m even happier about an unspoken possibility Obama’s second term opens up for those who don’t care for a two party system.

It’s admittedly early to be thinking about the 2016 election (perhaps not for sore Republicans) but I believe that this election was a crucial point in popular American politics. There was a prevalence this election of voters who cast their ballot for either the left or the right unenthusiastically, not because they mostly agreed with the policies of the candidate they voted for but rather simply because he was not “the other guy”. What this shows is that Americans felt largely that their ideal candidate didn’t exist, that they would simply have to vote based on the lesser of two evils and hope they made the right choice. Obama’s second term means that in the 2016 election, both Democrats and Republicans will have to offer up entirely new candidates to run for office. Should Americans find them both unsatisfactory again it’s quite possible that, with the proper campaigning and demand for visibility, a third-party candidate could emerge popularly in the run for the office.

While third-party candidates got only a small percent of the overall popular vote this election, they should not be ignored. If the rules of the CPD (Commission on Presidential Debates) had not been geared to exclude third party candidates that generally do not receive media coverage from left-leaning and right-leaning networks or beg at the feet of corporate sponsors for campaign money, third-party candidates would have been given the chance to challenge the two prominent voices and could gain popularity amongst the public. Should those loyal to the two-party system become even more polarized and disenfranchised than they were in this election, should the next Democratic and Republican candidates be more leftist and right-wing respectively and less centrist, it is entirely possible that a third-party candidate who aims centrist and seeks to cooperate across political borders would gain popular attention so long as they are proactive about campaigning. I’d like to see a third party that is more rational and cooperative emerge to finally bridge the growing gap between those in government who are more concerned with scoring points for their side rather than actually solving problems.

It’s all admittedly a future issue but one can dream, can’t they? In the mean time, I’m crossing my fingers that the Obama Administration will, in its second term, be able to work toward this cooperation that I spoke of and be able to do the work that I laid out for an outsider. I wish them all luck and good judgement.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Freedom for all, freedom from all!
No Blogs, No Masters

ps. sorry, I had to post this too

On Panic and Patience

For anyone who wasn’t in the position I was in last week (as in anyone who did not lose power for a handful of days) I was unable to post as I normally would have. Thankfully, things have been slowly getting back to ‘normal’ for me and my neighbors in New Jersey and the surrounding areas hit by the hurricane, but still there are those without heat, water,

Photo by mike609 (Creative Commons) from atvn.org

or electricity. While I’m admittedly sick of how Sandy and its aftermath was seemingly the only thing capable of being discussed during those long hours my family and I spent around a fireplace, I know it is a conversation well worth having for a number of reasons.

The damage done to homes and families was undoubtedly tragic, and I don’t mean to understate that. But what continues to prove upsetting is the way in which the aftermath is worsened when people get more agitated, more desperate to return to the comforts equated with normalcy in a first-world nation. Paranoia over gasoline availability in the tri-state area has gotten so bad that recently a man was accused of pulling a gun on another motorist after cutting ahead in line to fill his tank. The day after the storm was at its worst I was in a grocery store completely torn apart by panicked patrons. I can understand the urge to react to an emergency situation irrationally during the haze of the actual crisis itself but I’m disappointed that tensions are mounting still to the extent that they are. Hot coffee, hot showers, internet access, a full tank of gas whenever we want one…these are not things necessary to our survival. We should not be fighting with one another when we are inconvenienced by not having them. In the midst of hearsay over rumored lootings and town-wide isolationist conspiracies, those of us with little to go on but faith in our fellow women and men are increasingly discouraged to hear that individuals are so concerned by goods and services of convenience that they’d be willing to harm innocent others to get to them.

Are we really that dependent on these small comforts that a few days without them turn us murderous? Do we need another disaster to show us that we shouldn’t have to rely so heavily on modern conveniences? To that same end, do we really need a crisis like this to show us that our dependency on oil to the extent we do is not a good idea—that we should forgo drilling into and hollowing out our land and instead develop cleaner and more efficient forms of power, to break out of a system that pits our environment against us?

One thing natural disasters like this teach us is that where man may think ourselves powerful, that we may believe we have control and dominion over the land and our surroundings, that we are ultimately part of an environment that we must cooperate with—just as we should seek to cooperate with one another—to keep the environment balanced. The product of man’s attempt to dominate nature (and, by extension, other humans) is clearly resonant in this sense of entitlement to comforts at the expense of others, in those who would rather climb over others who have fallen instead of trying to lift them and push forward together.

Yes, I’ll admit to being momentarily upset about the little things. But sometimes all we can do is to move forward and keep others moving. Some of the most difficult emotions to be consistently mindful of when you’re in the middle of something like this are patience and empathy. They are also the most important. We cannot let selfishness win, especially not in our weaker moments. Even simple encouragement of these things is a way to help others. Sometimes it’s what we need most.

Freedom for all, freedom from all!
No Blogs, No Masters