Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It Comes and Goes

The ability/desire/will to write, that is. It clearly went for quite a while, and I'm not totally sure if it's back yet. I certainly have read plenty of things that made me want to vent, but that venting has been done in other venues lately (Twitter, IMs, at home with the cat, etc). I think also that writing about Big Serious Political stuff is just overwhelming, and at this point in my life, writing about mundane shit from my own life is more doable.

Following that, I'm less inclined to keep things anonymous, if only so my few friends can read my ramblings if they choose. I never really cared about anonymity anyway, it was just what you do, right? Eh. I'm not special :)

For now, I'm just really looking forward to a long weekend and a day-long visit with my parents on Thanksgiving. I don't get to see them as often as I'd like, due to living an hour apart and me having no car. I'm not loving this super cold weather, but...I suppose there's not much to be done for that. There are certain reasons why it's worse this winter, which I may get into at another time. But it's not pleasant these days, that's for sure.

Let's end on a happy note with this nice live performance of Young Americans by my dear David Bowie:

Monday, May 17, 2010

With Liberty and Objectification For All!

Let me begin by stating that I completely detest beauty pageants. I'm sure that comes as no surprise, what with the word "feminism" up in yonder header, but I feel the need and desire to say it (er, type it). I'm sure plenty of douchebags would say I only feel that way because I wouldn't win a beauty contest. It's true, I'm no supermodel. I'm quite short, I'm...well, many people call me thin but I definitely don't have a swimsuit model's body, I don't have skin that would be compared to rose petals or whatthefuckever, etc etc. But it really has nothing to do with it, because frankly, I harbor no desire to be even more objectified than I already am.

No, beauty pageants rankle me because it is the most blatant example of what society expects from women (be pretty, be thin, make us want to fuck you, and only speak to say sweet little platitudes) and in fact actually encourages and practices rating women on how well they match up to those standards, like the high-school walkways lined with jocks shouting out your numeric fuckability. Pageants are an acting-out of the thought processes of the patriarchy, a warning to feminists that this is still our reality no matter how many women's studies classes there are, and a reassurance to non-feminists that it really IS okay to want nothing out of a woman than a Playboy-body and minimal opinions. To quote Jay Smooth (from this video of last year):
This whole ritual just seems so out of place to me in 2009. It feels like watching a Renaissance Faire. My Twitter friends pointed out that beauty pageants are a leading source of scholarship money for young women, which is something, but I mean, if that scholarship's coming along with such crazy messages about how women are supposed to be valued, that's kind of like "We're pulling you up as a reward for letting us push you down". Do you really come out ahead at the end of that?
I sure don't think you do, especially considering that giving out college scholarships based on looks is even more ridiculous and appalling than giving them out based on athletic ability. I'm not saying that any and all women who participate in pageants are morons, not at all. I'm sure some of them are quite smart. But they should be given scholarships based on their smarts, not their looks, because unless you've got only super pervy douchey professors, your pearly whites and perky boobs are not going to get you a degree. It's a sad commentary on our world that women are far more likely to be rewarded for being pretty than for being intelligent. But hey, the dudez can't wack off to intelligence, can they?

ALL OF THAT BEING SAID I admit to being a little...pleased? intrigued? something like that...about the newest Miss USA, Rima Fakih of Michigan. Fakih is an Arab-American and Muslim woman. Now, she's beautiful, of course, and most sane people wouldn't bat an eye over the thought of a woman of Arab descent winning a pageant. But never doubt the insanity of the right wing! Oh, they are mighty upset - it's affirmative action, she's a fucking terrorist, it's all PC identity politics blarg blarg!! At that first link, you find Daniel Pipes fretting over the fact that six Muslim women over the past five years in three countries (US, Britain and France) have won pageants. OMG A FUCKING TAKEOVER. Except, not. Unless you are a complete xenophobic fundie nutjob. I'm sure Kathryn Jean Lopez is wondering if white Christian women are even allowed to win pageants anymore.

Those reactions were to be expected, in the sense that I have come to expect the absolute worst, most repulsive, most appalling reactions from the right over pretty much anything and everything. They're so emotional! But come now, this should be a time to celebrate! Obviously they were right - we are totally post-racial and feminism is so unnecessary now. Yes, Arab and/or Muslim women - you too can now be completely objectified in this land of dreams! Your bodies can also be judged based on a ridiculous impossible standard that .005% of the population actually matches and that even fewer could possibly achieve! Your daughters can also stare at the TV, having massive realizations that unless they look JUST LIKE THAT they are totally unworthy of attention or affection or kindness, because duh!

Welcome to the wonderful world of the USian patriarchy, ladies. You won't like it here, but it's okay - your feelings won't matter anyway. Love it or hate it, they don't care. Just don't get fat...or opinionated...or smart...or independent...or old...or anything.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Is it either be gay or be Jewish?"

Feministe has a beautiful and poignant guest post from Vivien Orbach-Smith, an adjunct professor of journalism at NYU, on a fourth-year rabinnical student named Molly Gabriella Kane and a recent speech she gave as her "senior sermon". Kane spoke about the relationship between homosexuality and Reform Judaism, a relationship which has been both progressive and tumultuous. Reform Judaism is certainly more socially liberal than Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, and also than many other organized religions. But that does not mean non-heterosexuals have always been fully welcomed with open arms, and there are certainly many members of the religion who will direct you to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 should you mention gay rights and equality. Kane, a lesbian, spoke powerfully and personally on the need to move away from old fears and traditional convictions, not just to tolerance or acceptance but to liberation.

I imagine a time in the future.
Where the floods of intolerance and homophobia have abated.
We are somewhere over the rainbow.

In a time where the laws of
our land reflect a just society.
A society that has put an end to
humiliation and unhappiness.
In this future there are no labels
like gay, straight, bisexual, queer.
You don’t have to “come out” to anyone.
Who you date, who you sleep with, and who you
want to marry doesn’t matter.
No one group is more normal than the next.

This reality need not have to be so far off.

After all what is normal anyways?
Typical, regular, ordinary…
Not one of us fits these adjectives.
We are all unique and our sexual identities exist across a spectrum.

The passage of laws should not be about making
gay people be like straight people.
Rather, it should be about accepting difference.
When the law understands people for who they are,
people can live as their fullest selves.

I imagine liberation as both achieving equal rights
and experiencing the freedom
to assert your own (personal) identity
in the larger society.
It is the sweetness of being able to live without restraint.

The whole speech, as well as Orbach-Smith's introduction to it, which includes some important and interesting back-story on this movement, is absolutely well-worth the read.

For my part, as a bisexual Reform Jew, it was at once heartbreaking and inspiring. I am not very observant, and for me the religion has always been much more about the cultural ties to my heritage and community. It has always been meaningful to me to identify as Jewish, not just because it is proof of survival in the face of near-elimination and widespread virulent hatred, but because I admire and am proud of many of the ideals of Reform Judaism: the focus on giving back to your community in whatever ways you are able, on social justice and civil rights, on acceptance of all no matter our differences - all of this speaks very clearly to who I am and who I wish to be. I may be in a relationship with a man now, but my sexuality still is what it is (which happens to include, besides being bi, also being thoroughly disinterested in being a mother).

So the continued condemnation of queer Jews by some in the Reform branch has always been painful because to me, this is NOT what our religion is about. Sure, I've read those Leviticus passages, but Reform Jews are not fundamentalists. These words were written long ago, and by men, men who were not perfect and men who lived in a time when so little was known about our world and how it works. It always seemed clear to me that the reason for condemning homosexual relations was that the concept of procreation, of planting seed and bearing fruit, was so front and center that any sexual relationship which did not lead to offspring must have been viewed as contrary to the survival of the species. If men lay with men and do not produce heirs, what will happen to us as a people?

Obviously, it was not a threat - in a time of population-overload woes, to worry about not enough babies being born seems silly - but I do not necessarily condemn people back then for thinking as they did, what with the limited scientific knowledge they had. Rather, my disappointment and contempt is saved for those who still share that way of thinking, and who have twisted worries about the multitudes dying out into hatred for anyone or anything that is not completely and blatantly heterosexual. Concern with survival has become disgust toward differences.

My own beliefs, my own vision of God, tell me that perhaps Leviticus and its supporters, both past and present, have it backwards - perhaps, in order to save the planet from collapsing under our too-abundant feet, God purposely wanted some of us to desire non-procreative relationships. Perhaps, to try to make possible a home for everyone, God purposely wanted some of us to take in the unwanted children of others rather than to create our own. Perhaps, to allow some of us (including yours truly) to focus on other ways of giving back, God purposely wanted some of us to be uninterested in exercising our reproductive functions. (Of course, there are those who want to bear children and physically cannot, and my heart goes out to them, though they are generally not heaped with the same scorn as are those of us who can have children and wish not to.) Perhaps gays, lesbians, queers, asexuals, the child-free...perhaps we are not going against one purpose but rather supporting another purpose.

There are many biblical passages that are not adhered to by even the most devout fundamentalist. (Considering all the cotton-poly blends out there, it sure seems like Leviticus 19:19 ain't being heeded very well, for one.) The world changes, people change, societies change...beliefs can also change. Your faith is not invalidated by evolving; rather, it is made stronger by being a living thing, by being able to adapt to the newness around it and not remaining shackled to a time and a world which no longer exists. Reform Judaism is supposed to be about love and justice and a progressive worldview. It cannot be thus and also be exclusionary. To quote Molly Kane, "For we are all one people created betzelem Elohim, in the image of God."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy Birthday(s), Bard

It's a weekend for celebration of the birthdays of William Shakespeare. (His actual birthday is not known with certainty; he was baptized on April 26, 1564, and his birthday is generally observed on April 23, so I feel like labeling this a holiday weekend and recognizing the four-day stretch as his "birthdays".)

There's nothing new under the sun that I could say about Shakespeare. His life has been thoroughly - as much as possible, considering how little is actually known - summarized, analyzed, picked apart and re-synthesized. I became enamored of his works before I was old enough to really understand them, although Romeo and Juliet was the first one I read, at 14, and I think any teenager can grasp the sentiments there. (OMGZ I love you sooooo much and I'm totes gonna KILL MYSELF AND DIE if I can't be with you, waahhhh!!! Ah, high school.) While I may have been an English major, I'm no scholar and don't have much interest in a mini-dissertation on a subject that's been dissertationed like nobody's business. Just don't come up in here with that "He didn't write the plays" bullshit or I'll chase you around with a bullhorn, yelling refutations and accusations of classism until your eardrums burst and you collapse in a heap, at which point I will scrawl "ANTI-STRATFORDIAN" on your body with a quill pen.

In lieu of a lengthy pseudo-essay, I'd rather simply include one of my favorite passages, from Act III, Scene II of The Winter's Tale. Queen Hermione has been thrown in prison by her husband King Leontes, who publicly accused her of infidelity and declared that the child she was carrying was not his. Here she is brought before him and the court and defends herself against these charges, as well as claims that she aided in the escape of Polixenes, the man she is accused of having an affair with, and that she conspired to kill her husband with Camillo, a man the king had ordered to poison Polixenes.

Leontes: Read the indictment.

Officer: [Reads] Hermione, queen to the worthy
Leontes, king of Sicilia, thou art here accused
and arraigned of high treason, in committing
adultery with Polixenes, king of Bohemia, and
conspiring with Camillo to take away the life
of our sovereign lord the king, the royal hus-
band: the pretence whereof being by circum-
stances partly laid open, thou, Hermione,
contrary to the faith and allegiance of a true
subject, didst counsel and aid them, for their
better safety, to fly away by night.

Hermione: Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say "not guilty." Mine integrity
Being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it,
Be so received. But thus: if powers divine
Behold our human actions, as they do,
I doubt not then but innocence shall make
False accusation blush and tyranny
Tremble at patience. You, my lord, best know,
Who least will seem to do so, my past life
Hath been as continent, as chaste, as true,
As I am now unhappy; which is more
Than history can pattern, though devised
And play'd to take spectators. For behold me
A fellow of the royal bed, which owe
A moiety of the throne, a great king's daughter,
The mother to a hopeful prince, here standing
To prate and talk for life and honour 'fore
Who please to come and hear. For life, I prize it
As I weigh grief, which I would spare: for honour,
'Tis a derivative from me to mine,
And only that I stand for. I appeal
To your own conscience, sir, before Polixenes
Came to your court, how I was in your grace,
How merited to be so; since he came,
With what encounter so uncurrent I
Have strain'd to appear thus: if one jot beyond
The bound of honour, or in act or will
That way inclining, harden'd be the hearts
Of all that hear me, and my near'st of kin
Cry fie upon my grave!

Leontes: I ne'er heard yet
That any of these bolder vices wanted
Less impudence to gainsay what they did
Than to perform it first.

Hermione: That's true enough;
Though 'tis a saying, sir, not due to me.

Leontes: You will not own it.

Hermione: More than mistress of
Which comes to me in name of fault, I must not
At all acknowledge. For Polixenes
With whom I am accused, I do confess
I loved him as in honour he required,
With such a kind of love as might become
A lady like me, with a love even such,
So and no other, as yourself commanded:
Which not to have done I think had been in me
Both disobedience and ingratitude
To you and toward your friend, whose love had spoke,
Even since it could speak, from an infant, freely
That it was yours. Now, for conspiracy,
I know now how it tastes; though it be dish'd
For me to try how: all I know if it
Is that Camillo was an honest man;
And why he left your court, the gods themselves
Wotting no more than I, are ignorant.

Leontes: You knew of his departure, as you know
What you have underta'en to do in 's absence.

Hermione: Sir,
You speak a language that I understand not:
My life stands in the level of your dreams.
Which I'll lay down.

Leontes: Your actions are my dreams;
You had a bastard by Polixenes,
And I but dream'd it. As you were past all shame, --
Those of your fact are so -- so past all truth:
Which to deny concerns more than avails; for as
Thy brat hath been cast out, like to itself,
No father owning it, -- which is, indeed,
More criminal in thee than it, -- so thou
Shalt feel our justice, in whose easiest passage
Look for no less than death.

Hermione: Sir, spare your threats:
The bug which you would fright me with I seek.
To me can life be no commodity:
The crown and comfort of my life, your favour,
I do give lost; for I do feel it gone,
But know not how it went. My second joy
And first-fruits of my body, from his presence
I am barr'd, like on infectious. My third comfort,
Starr'd most unluckily, is from my breast,
The innocent milk in it most innocent mouth,
Haled out to murder: myself on every post
Proclaim'd a strumpet: with immodest hatred
The child-bed privilege denied, which 'longs
To women of all fashion; lastly, hurried
Here to this place, i' the open air, before
I have got strength of limit. Now, my liege,
Tell me what blessings I have here alive
That I should fear to die? Therefore proceed.
But yet hear this; mistake me not; no life,
I prize it not a straw, but for mine honour,
Which I would free, if I shall be condemn'd
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else
But what your jealousies awake, I tell you
'Tis rigour and not law. Your honours all,
I so refer me to the oracle:
Apollo be my judge!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Champions of the Championship!

It's about time for a soccer post, and what a good time it is...for Newcastle fans! Having already secured promotion back to the Premier League a couple of weeks ago, there was still the hope of maximum reward for their great run this season in the Championship - winning the title.

Done and done! Newcastle needed only a point today but got three in their 2-0 win over Plymouth Argyle (which saw Plymouth get dropped down to League One) to secure the title with two matches to go. As a member of the Toon Army, I'm totally exuberant, although I'm sure the men and women over Tyneside are celebrating just a wee bit harder - partially since, you know, they are probably ingesting alcohol...lots and lots of alcohol, but also because they've been with the team for much longer than I have.

I only became a soccer fan (and Newcastle fan) about 5 or 6 years ago, so perhaps the sting of relegation last May didn't hit me quite as hard as it did the folks who have grown up with the team. Oh, but it sucked, trust me. That Newcastle was even near the drop zone was maddening enough. But it came down to the last match and all they needed was a point out of it. They were battling with Hull City for the last safe spot and had a better goal differential - that single point would have tied them with Hull and the Tigers would have been the ones to drop with their GD of -25 compared to ours of -19. A 0-0 result with Aston Villa would have been plenty. But the game ended 1-0 Villa, and that one goal? An own goal. A motherfucking own goal by Damien Duff (aka GOD DAMN FUCKING DUFF as he became known between me and a friend).

So relegated they were, which is frustrating in another way for U.S. footie fans since even Fox Soccer Channel doesn't show any European games from outside the top leagues. I followed along by watching the Fox Soccer Report highlights, by staring at match trackers screaming "UPDATE DAMN IT" in my head, and by reading as many UK match reports as I could find and attempt to understand (break the duck? zuh?). Even without seeing the games, it's still been exciting and refreshing to see Newcastle really dominate the Championship. Sure, it's not the same level of competition as the Prem, but that's not the only reason they've done so well - they've just been playing very good football. In August, new manager Chris Hughton took a team that was something of a mess, especially after the mass exodus of talent in summer of '09, and got a revival going immediately. Over 44 matches, they've scored 87 goals and only allowed 33, just 11 of which were allowed at home where they are currently unbeaten. Today's win makes seven straight and puts them at 29-11-4 and two points shy of the triple-digit mark - should they hit that with the last two matches, they'll be only the fifth Championship side to do so.

Granted, there is the worry that they will get the crap kicked out of them next season by the big sides, but I'm expectant that with a few additions to round out the roster and with the continued strength and confidence of the squad, they'll hold their own well enough. (Don't hate - I'm not expecting them to be lifting a trophy next May...but who's to say they won't make it to Europa? And that would be fine with me!) Coming back after only a single season out, with their first major trophy since 1993 in tow, should do well to keep them fired up. I'm sure the fans will be, if their storming-the-pitch celebration is any indication (it's a video taken at the park and is totally awesome ☺):