Archive for fear

Why Saying “I’m Not a Feminist” is NEVER an Okay Thing To Do

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2014 by KarenElizabeth

There are a lot of misconceptions about feminism in the world.

There are many different reasons for this, of course.  Feminism is a complicated topic.  It’s hard to look at approximately 50% of the world’s population — women of all races, all nationalities, all ages, all sexual orientations, all income brackets, all political affiliations, all education levels, etc — and define a simple, clear message that everyone can agree upon.  Especially since the advent of 3rd wave feminism, there are countless splinter and “niche” groups working under the greater feminist umbrella, and often working directly at cross-purposes to one another, or talking about completely different topics.  In an age where information is readily accessed with the click of a mouse, we’re faced with an overwhelming glut of information regarding feminism, and very little of it is concise or clear or speaks with a single voice representing all of us.

But when it’s stripped back to the bare essentials, feminism *does* have one simple, easily expressed goal:  gender equality, and the elimination of sexism.  We disagree (sometimes vehemently) on how best to *achieve* that goal, of course, but the goal remains the same for all.  And when you strip it back to that — when you say, “gender equality” instead of “feminism” — there are very few people who’ll argue against it.

And this is why the way we express ourselves about feminism, and the way we self-identify, needs to see some serious change.

If you believe that sexism is a bad thing, and that a person’s gender does not determine their worth, then you’re a feminist.  You may not agree with *every* feminist group (no one does — there are simply too many of them out there) — but you’re a feminist, of some description.  That’s all there is to it.  Saying “I’m not a feminist”, then, is a lie — and worse, it’s hurting feminists (and people) everywhere.

When most people say “I’m not a feminist”, it’s because they’re misguided about what feminism means.  They’ve bought in to a harmful stereotype — the man-hating, (often) lesbian, radical feminist who burns bras, thinks men should be slaves, and considers all penetrative sex to be rape.  This is a stereotype that was created by (and has been largely perpetuated by) the oppressing class, as a way of discrediting the perfectly logical claim that women are people and should be treated as such.  It’s a caricature, designed to make feminists look laughable and ridiculous and unfeminine, and unsexy, and unlovable, and criminal.  So when you characterize all feminists this way, it’s no different than characterizing all Scots as “cheap”, or all Irishmen as “drunks”.  You’re buying in to a bigoted stereotype, rather than learning about the individual people.

And when you buy in to that bigoted stereotype, and say “I’m not a feminist”, you’re also lumping yourself in with the people who actually ARE bigots.  You’re aligning yourself with the people who believe that women’s rights should be taken away so we can go back to the “good old days”.  You’re aligning yourself with sexual predators and rapists who don’t want their victims to have rights or be treated as people.  You’re aligning yourself with the Taliban who shot Malala Yousafzai in the head for wanting an education.

Do you really want to be on the same side as those people?

I’m not saying that you should blindly help any cause that identifies itself as “feminist”.  There’s no “supreme guiding council of feminist elders”, and no peer-review process, to determine the validity of any particular group’s claim to feminism.  There are plenty of self-identified “feminist” groups out there who have views that may not, in fact, be particularly helpful ones.  There are radfem groups who call themselves feminist but believe in the subjugation of men (I happen to strongly dispute their use of the term “feminist”, since by definition any group that advocates sexism is not, in fact, feminist — but that’s an issue that’s still considered up for debate in the broader feminist community).  There are feminist groups who are anti-choice, or who align themselves with religious organizations, or who are sex-worker exclusionary, or trans-exclusionary, or classist/racist/etc in their aims, and I disagree vehemently with all of those things.  And there are many feminist groups advocating for very specific, niche causes that may or may not be relevant to a particular person’s life — for example, a group dedicated to eliminating sexism in the medical profession might have a very good point, but not be relevant to me personally, as I’m an arts worker, not a doctor (dammit, Jim!).  So just calling yourself “feminist” doesn’t make you right, and it’s still important to research the motivations and background of any group you’re looking to join up with or support.

One of the biggest groups who commonly say “I’m not a feminist” are, unfortunately, men.  They’ll say, “I believe in women’s rights and equality, but I can’t be a feminist ’cause I’m a guy”.  And that’s just ridiculously misguided.  Not only is it perfectly possible for a guy to believe in gender equality (thus making him a feminist), it’s supremely important for people who are NOT women, who are NOT a part of the oppressed class, to take up the banner of feminism and make a conscious choice to support feminist aims.  Because it’s the oppressing class (in this case, males) who has the majority of the power — and thus, it’s males who have the most power to change things.  It’s been proven time and again that it’s easier for men (and especially white men) to get top positions at most jobs — they’re the bosses, the ones in charge of salaries, the ones in charge of hiring, and the ones in charge of policy.  They’re the majority of the politicians.  They’re the educators at universities.  They’re the police and the lawyers and the judges who enforce and influence the laws.  So if they’re working with feminist aims in mind (ie, a CEO who implements fair hiring policies, or a politician who fights for women’s reproductive rights), they’re in a position to do much more to help the cause than almost anyone else would be capable of.  They’re the ones who, by and large, have the ability to tip the scales and start the workings of a fair society.

Another group that commonly denies feminism is people of colour.  This is a more problematic issue — people of colour are already a part of an oppressed class, whether they are female or male or anything in-between.  They’re already fighting for fair wages, fair representation, and fair application of the law.  And many feminist groups are, unfortunately, very whitewashed.  Because it’s white people who have traditionally had more education & wealth, it’s white women who largely spearheaded the early feminist movements, and it’s white women who have remained at the forefront.  Many feminist groups are blatantly racist (or at least racially insensitive), and when you bring religion into the equation (people of colour are traditionally more attached to their faith, for a variety of reasons not worth going into here), it gets even more difficult — many feminist groups actively attack religious organizations, without regard to the people who worship that particular god, and this can be a massive turn-off for otherwise pro-gender-equality types.  And because feminism has historically been white, it’s difficult for people of colour to break that barrier — too many, already exhausted from spending a lifetime being oppressed for the colour of their skin, walk into a feminist meeting only to see a sea of white faces and no one who looks remotely like themselves, and they feel automatically excluded.  It’s hard to blame people for feeling that way.  In the end, though, we’ll never be able to make feminism more POC-friendly without having some people of colour standing in those rooms.  Some are going to have to break down those barriers, and walk into those rooms full of white faces, and decide they’re going to stay.  And those of us who *are* white need to recognize this difficulty, and welcome such people with open arms, so that more of them will feel comfortable saying “I’m a feminist”.

What I find, personally, the most painful, are those women who believe that identifying as feminist will make them seem unattractive.  They’re victims of fear — fear of being hated, fear of being spurned, fear of being alone.  These are the people who media depictions of feminists are directly attacking, and directly oppressing.  I just want to take those women and say, “It’s okay! What they said on TV was a lie — you can be a feminist and still be beautiful, and feminine, and a stay-at-home-mom, and people will still love you”.  And they tell me that they’re “not as strong” as I am, or that they “don’t belong”.  And that’s so wrong, because you don’t have to be an exception — or an exceptional person — to be a feminist.  You just have to believe in equality.

In most media depictions, it’s the loudest and most strident voices who get the most airtime.  These are the people who are easy to pick out of a crowd, and they give entertainment and good sound bites.  They’re also the people who are easiest to ridicule and discredit.  So we need more of the “normal” people, the ones with perfectly rational and moderate views (the ones that the majority of us espouse) to stand up and say clearly, “I’m a feminist”.  We need to drown out those radical voices, and get voices of reason to be standing at the forefront.  Because until we can “normalize” feminism, it’s never going to be fully successful.

And it really should be perfectly “normal” to believe that all people should have equal rights, right?

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Public Tragedies and How to Move Forwards: the Sandy Hook Shooting

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2012 by KarenElizabeth

Like most everyone else, I’ve been reading the news the last few days with a mix of shock and horror and deep sadness as the details of exactly what happened at Sandy Hook elementary school emerge, and the public responses to the event occur.

There are some terribly hard questions to be asked when tragic events like this take place.  Why did it happen?  Why did no one see it coming?  Who is at fault, and what could we have done differently?  In the midst of grief and shock and horror, we have a tendency to point fingers and assign blame, desperate to have it be someone’s fault.  Because if there’s not a clear, easily-defined reason for the tragedy, then we don’t know when or where or how or why it might happen again, which is (of course) the most terrifying thing of all.  The unknown.  The fact that if there’s no one directly at fault, there might be nothing we can do.  And then we might be the ones at fault.  Terrifying.  So we point fingers, assign blame, aim to punish the “guilty” and the “wicked” for the salving of our own consciences.

But all this rapid-fire blame-flinging (some of it blatantly self-serving, some just misguided and being hurled out of fear and ignorance) does little to help the situation, either.  We can rail against violent video games just because of a suggestion that the shooter might have enjoyed the odd LAN party.  We can rail against the NRA because the shooter lived in a home where guns were owned.  We can rail against the shooter himself for being “troubled”, or his mother for raising him wrong.  We can rail against the mental health care system for not “fixing” the shooter.  We can rail against feminists and pro-choice activists for “denying God” and allowing evil to take place in the world.  We can rail against the police for not showing up faster, the school for not being locked down in an armored and guarded complex, or the victims for not learning to duck.  None of it helps.  What has taken place is in the past, and what we now need to do is face up to it like mature, rational people, and find ways of moving forwards and addressing what has occurred.  Instead we get mired down in yelling at each other, in blaming one group or another, instead of asking “what can I do to help?”

First of all, you can stop sensationalizing and romanticizing murder.  Like the quote in the above image says, you’re just planting the seeds for another attention-starved person to plan a copycat killing, without honouring the dead or those who are suffering right now.  Don’t focus on the killer, focus on the victims.  Focus on efforts to help the bereaved families, to rebuild a shattered community.  Focus on ways to help your own community and family deal with what has happened.  Focus on love, and the heroes who gave their lives to save the lives of others, and all of the positive things that have been done and are being done.  Focus on remembering the names of the victims.

Do not insert yourself into the tragedy.  Do not make this, somehow, about you and your struggles.  It isn’t the time.

Be loving.  Share with other people.  Include other people in your grief, rather than hiding away from the world.  Because if you include other people, if you talk and communicate and share and give and love?  You’re creating a support network that can help victims and protect from further harm.

Resist the temptation to point fingers and blame. No matter what your personal feelings on issues like gun control, this is not the time to air your personal grievances.  There are others with deeper griefs just now.  This isn’t to say that we can’t use this event as a lens through which to view issues like gun control, mental health care, security measures in schools, and the like — it’s important to analyze and dissect things from a political perspective — but when you do so, separate it from the emotionally charged language of the tragedy.  Focus on facts, statistics, numbers:  things that are quantifiable.  Avoid speculation and unsubstantiated rumours.  The more logic that we can bring to bear on the situation, the better and more well-founded our conclusions will be.

This is a logical time for people to be questioning gun control regulations and whether there need to be changes made.  This is a logical time for people to be looking at whether the shooter could have been helped by a differently organized mental health care system.  This is a logical time for people to be looking at how security in public schools is equipped (or not equipped) to deal with these sorts of events.  We should be talking about these things, and many others.  But no one has an absolute answer that will “fix” the problem, and anyone shouting that they do is just pushing an agenda.  There hasn’t been enough time to assimilate all of the information and dissect it carefully & thoroughly.

Be as logical as you can be.  Because irrational, emotional responses?  Those only cause more harm, in more far-reaching ways that you can possibly imagine.

 

I remember when Columbine happened.  I was in the 6th grade, and I was what was defined as a “troubled” kid.  I had few friends, was considered “antisocial” by my teachers.  I dressed differently from other kids, listened to loud music, and yes, I owned a long trenchcoat-style jacket.  In the weeks and months following, I had everyone from fellow students to teachers to my own mother express concerns that I might be “just like those Columbine shooters”.  I was treated like a dangerous menace, a ticking time bomb, because of the media hype surrounding how the Columbine shooters wore trenchcoats and listened to metal and were outcasts without many friends.

The media hype surrounding that event almost drove me to suicide, because I was so afraid of what might be “wrong” with me.  I’d been profiled as a killer, lumped in with people who’d done something so awful that my mind couldn’t even totally comprehend it.  And I still feel a lot of that same anxiety as an adult, when I see murders blamed on people’s mental health issues or their turbulent relationships with their mothers or their introverted natures.

 

It took me years to realize that people’s reactions to that event, and to me in its aftermath, were the product of fear.  They wanted, desperately, to have some sort of control over an event that had seemed utterly unfathomable right up until the moment when it occurred.  They grasped at straws, seeking to connect the dots in any possible way, hoping to protect themselves and instead furthering a witch-hunt that unfairly categorized not only me, but thousands of other kids like me, as dangerous and scary.  And instead of reaching out to people like me, instead of making us feel more included, more loved, less like outcasts in the first place?  They drove us further away.  The people who made me feel so awful, so worthless, were not asking “what can I do?”  They were asking, “who’s fault is this?” and pointing blame at the people like me.

Don’t let that happen.  Don’t give in to that temptation.  Live with love, not with fear, and see how much farther that will take you.

Fears, Phobias, and Uncomfortable Situations

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , on May 21, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

As some of you may already be aware, I’m facing the reality of having to move house a second time after just having arrived in a new apartment a few weeks ago.  The reason that my landlords have given for needing to break the lease is that they’re having allergy issues with my cat (allergies being one of the very few legal reasons that a lease can be broken without any wrong having been done).  I have my suspicions about their true motives, but it’s just suspicions at this point, and really not worth discussing in a public place like a blog.  Whether their motives are true or not, the reality is that I have an unexpected move on my hands.

Not only is moving house an unpleasant situation (nothing disrupts the comfortable feeling of “home” like putting everything into boxes and carting it off to a new place where it doesn’t fit like it did before), but this move is particularly disturbing to me because it’s not something that I chose or planned.  Granted, I’ve been given more than 60 days notice to figure this all out, but it’s still a wrench thrown into the gears of my life, and I’m not (nor have ever been) a fan of surprises.  At heart I’m still the same little kid who got home on her 8th birthday to find a surprise party waiting, and ran crying to her room because it was unexpected and unwanted.  Even good surprises freak me out to some degree; bad surprises just mess me right up.  Call me a control freak if you will, but I like knowing what to expect from any given situation.

That having been said, I am attempting to keep some perspective on the matter.  And in the grand scheme of things, an unexpected move is not such a terrifying ordeal.  It’s an uncomfortable situation, certainly, but one that still has its defined limits and rules.  Despite my impending need to move, I am still the tenant in this space for now: until I find another space, I can still consider this place “home” and expect it to be safe and secure (if not exactly comfortable and well-organized).  And by August at the latest (hopefully sooner), I’ll have a new place to call “home” and all of this will be securely behind me.  There are still some fears, of course (what if I have trouble finding another place?  What if anything happens to disrupt my tenuous financial position?  What if the new landlords throw another curveball in my direction and disrupt things even more?), but these fears are only hypothetical situations at this point: Shroedinger’s monsters in the closet, unformed and only half-real until you open the door and see whether they’re actually there or not.  Except in fleeting moments of depression, I can put such fears aside to be dealt with only if and when they prove to be reality.

While discussing my impending move with a coworker today, I was asked whether I have a phobia of moving.  I don’t — I’m not considering totally irrational options in order to avoid doing it, nor is it inspiring me to panic attacks — but I found it to be a question worth considering.  I really, really dislike moving, but I wouldn’t even put it to the category of hate.  I don’t think that I fear it, even though I do have fears about some of the associated possibilities.  But what makes a thing phobia-worthy?  Why is it that I shriek and dive for cover when a pigeon flaps its wings too close to me (damn ornithophobia), and have experienced panic attacks from getting lost on public transit?  By the same token, why isn’t this situation totally freaking me right the hell out?  It has all the hallmarks of something that should overload my system: an unpleasant surprise, a taking away of my personal space, the potential of financial burdens, and even the unpleasant necessity of going into unknown spaces and meeting unknown people during the process of apartment hunting.  It’s a situation where I feel as though I have made a mistake (and I do really, really dislike being wrong), because I’d thought that these new landlords seemed like nice, understanding, friendly people, and now they’re kicking me out, which kinda proves my assessment wrong.  All of that should be combining to leave me a physical and emotional wreck, but somehow it seems that after the initial shock had worn off and I’d gotten a good night’s sleep, I was able to accept the idea and deal with it in a perfectly rational manner.

So really, what makes a phobia?  What pushes a fear into that next level of intolerability?  I suspect that the difference lies in how these fears and phobias are wired into our brains.  Phobias, I suspect, are more hard-wired:  less rational and more directly connected to the nervous system.  When a bird flaps past, I don’t think about and recognize the object of my fear before reacting: I just react (often in a rather extreme manner that my friends and family members find hilarious).  I’ve even been known to mistake other flying shapes or flapping objects for birds, only to laugh at myself when I realize my mistake and my heart rate begins to slow down from “utter terror” to “approaching normal”.  The reaction is instantaneous, but once the immediacy of the phobic moment has passed, I quickly return to my usual self.  Conversely, when an unexpected situation arises, I have time to think about it.  In fact, the more I think about such an unexpected situation, the more panicked I’m likely to become about it.  But rational thought has the chance to intervene, tempering the reaction and allowing me to maintain some semblance of normalcy (at least for a while — it can eventually get to be overwhelming, leading to things like panicking and needing to get off the bus until I can figure out how to un-lose myself).

I have to admit, I’m curious how all of this fits into a “nature/nurture” model of human brain development.  Is my phobia of birds a hard-wired thing, perhaps inborn, or maybe related to an unremembered early childhood experience of birds being terrifying?  Conversely, is my dislike of the unexpected a reaction learned from years of hard lessons in unexpected things being unpleasant?  Or is it, too, an inborn tendency?

Ah, neuroscience.  I’ll have to look this up at a time when it’s not 1:30 in the morning.