Altruism and the Patriarchy

eleanor-roosevelt-2“If anyone were to ask me what I want out of life I would say- the opportunity for doing something useful, for in no other way, I am convinced, can true happiness be attained.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

It is taken as a given in our society that the highest good is the transcendence of selfish desires and the service of others. Our paragon on virtue is Mother Teresa, who lived in poverty in order to dedicate her life to work in service of the poor (and pushing her religion, but we overlook that). Selfishness is generally considered the worst of all sins. Heroes sacrifice themselves to save their loved ones. Villains say “greed is good.” Our dominant religion is centered around the story of a man sacrificing himself for the good of mankind. The greatest evil is an angel who selfishly sought to exalt himself above god.

Above all, we are told that shallow, selfish desires lead to life devoid of meaning:

Baumeister and his colleagues would agree that the pursuit of meaning is what makes human beings uniquely human. By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves — by devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking” — we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.

The relationship between meaning and happiness was the subject of a recent study. In the study, researchers surveyed 397 adults about how happy their lives were, and how meaningful. The terms were not defined, which allowed each study participant to interpret them as they wished.

The study found, rather unequivocally, that a meaningful life is not a happy life. The study gave the lie to the Roosevelt quote above, and found that when we put our own desires aside and focus on helping others, we end up less happy. This finding reinforces the previous finding that having children does not make people happy. The study found that “meaning” is actually largely achieved through trauma and misery.

Emily Esfahani Smith at The Atlantic, through some bizarre reasoning, spun this finding as proof that people should focus more on living meaningful lives and less on being happy. Smith’s article is heavy-handed in its suggestion that everyone would be better off to pursue meaningful lives through sacrifice, not “mere happiness.”

Smith’s position is not only diametrically opposed to my ethical position that the most ethical decision is often the one that makes the decision-maker happy, but it also reinforces the cultural status quo outlined above, where righteousness is only found in the service of others.

So, according to the conventional wisdom, which Smith reinforces, the way to be a good person is to sacrifice what you want in favor of devoting your life to the service of others. Individual desires don’t matter. What matters is the service of others. Anything else is shallow and selfish.

This is a problem because one of the patriarchy’s main tools of oppression is its ability to convince women that their desires don’t matter. In addition to the “everyone should serve others” meme pervading our culture, there is a complementary meme that says “women should be subservient to men.”

That dominant religion I mentioned earlier? Its scriptures explicitly instruct women to be subservient to men. Women’s reproductive rights are continuously under assault because women’s needs aren’t seen as important. Women’s sexual autonomy is constantly under attack because women’s desires are seen as less important than men’s. The male gaze is constantly catered to. The vast majority of our leaders, from CEO’s to elected officials, are men.

There are thousands of other examples of how the message is sent every day, that women’s desires don’t matter, and that they should be happy in subservient roles. Implicit in this message is the message to men that our desires ARE important, and that we should get what we want. We are told to “be a man,” and to stand up for ourselves. We are taught to be confident and even violent in pursuit of our own happiness.

So men end up receiving two conflicting messages: one is that our individual desires don’t matter, and that we should serve others, but another that we should get what we want and be aggressive and tenacious in pursuing it. Receiving both messages gives men options about how to balance our own individual desires vs. the desires of others, and generally facilitates healthy decision-making. It’s not the best system, of course, but it does have some flexibility. Generally, men are permitted by our society to display a wide range of selfish and altruistic behavior and still be considered acceptable.

Women have no such luck. Because there is no countervailing message, women ONLY get the message that being subservient is virtuous. On one hand, they are told to be subservient to everyone. On the other hand, they are told to be subservient to men. There is no message (except a small-but-growing message from the feminist movement) that what they want as individuals matters.

So it’s no secret why the vast majority of rapists are men, women end up doing most of the housework and child-rearing, women ask for raises far less than men, and men generally make fewer sacrifices than women.

So when I see an article like Smith’s, which denigrates and demonizes the pursuit of individual happiness as “selfish” and “shallow,” I see it for what it is: an oppressive tool of the patriarchy. I think there’s a place for encouraging altruism in our culture, but not at the expense of individual happiness, and not in a way that suggests that anyone trying to make themselves happy is a bad person. People can take the pursuit of individual happiness too far, but the answer is balance. People should be encouraged to balance their individual desires against those of others (or, even better, shown how their individual goals can be served by helping others). Rather than be taught, as they are now, that everyone happiness matters except theirs, people should be encouraged to view everyone’s happiness (including their own) as equally important. People should not be told that the only way to live a good life is to sacrifice what they want. People will listen, and most of those people will be women.

This is the main reason I push back so hard against the dominant cultural idea that virtue is found only in sacrifice. I’ve seen first-hand the devastating effects that such ideas can have, particularly on women. As a staunch advocate of Ask Culture, creating space for people to voice their desires is a top priority for me. And step one of that process is encouraging people to value their desires.

Home Improvement Makes Me Happy

I suppose this post doesn’t really have much to do with the general themes of this blog, but whatever.  This has to do with improving the house that all the writers of this blog live in, so, um, it’s totally relevant.

Yesterday I took on the unpleasant project of removing the urine-soaked carpet in the back room of our house and replaced it with new, stench-free vinyl tile! Seriously, the puppy is adorable and often hilarious, but it’s like she’s having a personal pee party everyday all day and, while we are all apparently invited, we are not in attendance willingly.

I began the project by myself initially by starting to lift the carpet and yank it off the floor. There were staples and other pointy sharp things, but the most terrible part was the wave of eye-burning odor I was hit with as I progressed.

It was at this moment that I learned that there is something that is the opposite of aromatherapy.  Aroma-torture?  Aroma-needling-and-nagging? The cloud of putrid aroma instantly stressed me out, made me sad, and had me spiraling in a negative feedback loop of epic proportions. I was questioning various life decisions that brought me to this juncture and was honestly afraid that “Urine-Soaked Carpet Maven” was going to be the value I represented to everyone.

I’m being a bit hyperbolic of course, but I definitely had a mini-meltdown and cried for a while. Jessie found me staring helplessly at the pile of offending textile on the floor with a tear stained face.

Jessie often has a way of finding me when I’m having one of these moments. Last year when we rented a little house in the mountains for Wes’ birthday, I managed to forget my meds for the weekend. I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, but by the last day I was truly not in my right mind. At one point, I was vacuuming various rooms while in full throttle weeping mode. I feel like a weeping woman vacuuming is the perfect embodiment of the 1950’s. Jessie found me though and calmed me down. She did the same thing yesterday. She’s pretty awesome.

After that, I was talking with Jessie, Wes, and Amber and we came up with the thought that it was the pee that threw me off my rocker. Then I got to thinking that the permeating aroma of decomposing waste had likely been making me generally less happy and calm for days.

I pulled it together and went off to brunch with everyone and when we got back, Jessie helped me roll up the carpet and underlayment and get it outside. It was gross, but freeing to get that awful stuff out of the house. I then cleaned the floor underneath with Nature’s Miracle, followed by some heavy duty floor cleaner I got from the tile aisle, and then I put a sealer/primer down so that rogue pee molecules could not escape from the wood. Then I put down the vinyl tile, covered the gaps with trim, and the back room looks fabulous AND (most importantly) the stench is gone. I spent a while back there just breathing happily.

As it turns out, while there are other offending spots in the house (all of which are on my list to fix with various cleaning and floor coverings), the back room was supplying the bulk of the stink to the whole house. By fixing that, the rest of the house was remarkably not awful in the smell department.

As you can tell, I am quite proud of myself. Wes took me out for dinner and drinks to celebrate the floor project. All in all, with shopping for supplies included, the whole project took about 6 hours to complete and cost us about $200. About $50 of that was made up of tools that we will use again and again, and some supplies that I didn’t use much of and can use next time (since this project is a big one). And it looks like this:

Back Room Floor

Pretty neat, huh??? The improvement is amazing. With the stench gone, I am way less angry to be home. It’s also much easier to clean (since the puppy is still being a jerk about ONLY going outside), which is a plus. The next project is the stairs! This is much bigger and more annoying project (I think) but it will be awesome when it’s done. After that, laminate flooring in the living room. Then? Who knows???

Adventures in Therapy: New and Improved

I went to Lowes today at lunch to scope out floor replacement options to continue work on undoing the pee-havoc that the puppy has wreaked on our various carpets. My initial solution was going to be self-adhesive carpet tiles. That’s still something I’m going to do on the stairs, but I have to order them online and if I know one thing about myself is that there are certain types of things I almost always do on a whim. When I decide that I want to do something in certain categories, I want to be able to go to a business and get the materials/services needed. For instance, a few weeks ago I decided I wanted to cut my hair short, so I went to a Hair Cuttery on the way home and had it chopped off. I have gotten sudden impulses to paint murals on our walls at home and…so I do. In the context of this particular home improvement project, I found nice looking vinyl self-adhesive tiles that are readily available in abundant quantity at the store, along with all the tools and shit I might need right there in the aisle next to them. Solution found, and I’ll be working on that this week in the room where that kind of solution is appropriate. HOT DAMN.

As I wandered around the store, and then subsequently as I walked outside towards my car, I was suddenly aware of how calm and generally “fine” I was feeling. I remarked to myself that this feeling of general calmness and okayness was what I have grown to expect from myself. It is my new normal. I then realized that it has been 3 years since I began my Great Journey to Mental Health: Extreme Makeover Edition, 2 years since beginning the search for a therapist and going on Zoloft, 1 year since winning the epic wages increase battle of 2013, 8 months since ending a relationship that was not doing anyone (especially me) any favors, and about 4 months since some other rather unfortunate stuff happened resulting in the end of a friendship I cared deeply about. In hindsight though, everyone is better off with the way things turned out. Sometimes people and lives are not compatible and it’s important to find that out earlier rather than later.

I honestly never believed that this general feeling of personal wellbeing, of calm, of Fine would be normal for me. Sure, I’m still on Zoloft but Zoloft (and other meds) didn’t do all the work required for me to get here. Zoloft is a tool for wellness and one that I still use and need for balance. There’s no shame in it. I’ve worn glasses every day of my life for the last 20 years because my eyes don’t work properly without them. The chemicals in my body are imbalanced, so I do what I need to in order to correct that and lead a happier, more productive, highly satisfying life.

But before and since medication, I have done an immense amount of work on myself to find the person I want to be hiding underneath. The biggest change I have experienced is that the things that are important to me have shifted. It used to be that being well-liked, or more to the point, having no one be upset with me, was pretty much my main social goal. This backfired, like, all the time in terms of people treating me well and my getting anything I wanted or needed. But I did achieve the goal of no one having an issue with me. In my younger mind, this meant that I would never be voted off the island. But that’s because I was the most obedient mule around and I would work tirelessly to pull that water wheel…or whatever it is you would need a mule for on an island. Pulling a cart full of coconuts? I’m mixing my metaphors I think. The point is I figured that if I was indispensable as a friend (through the services I would do for them), no one would leave me in the lurch! It was a substitute for actual trust in people.

The problem was that I was constantly being left in the lurch because I wasn’t communicating anything accept acquiescence. I was selfless in the fact that I never, ever put myself first for anything but it wasn’t altruistic. I got a sense of security from it.

I am still a helpful person but I have learned to pay more attention to what is a reasonable thing for me to be asked to do. This might seem like a small step, but I wasn’t doing this AT ALL before. And the scenarios in which I have to do this range from the mundane (“Come pick me up at a location 10 miles out of your way even though I can totes take the train”) to the fantastic (“Lie to me about your feelings…better yet, don’t talk to me about your feelings”). Both types of scenario are things that I have said no to and life is better for doing so. Saying no when you honestly want to say no is better for everyone in the long run. If there is backlash, it can be weathered knowing that ultimately this is the system working. Holding your wellness and happiness as central goals is better for those who love you and those who don’t.

I’ve learned a lot about what I want, what I need, and what I’m worth to myself. It’s still a struggle to express those things and sometimes I falter. But the underlying change in focus is there. I have a lot more to say about that and the things I have learned and am always trying to act upon, but for now I celebrate this peace time after so much war.

Tonight, Wes and I are going to have a few drinks at the Franklin Institute and learn about the science of gross stuff (Happy Halloween!). The Science After Hours series has been so much fun and is pretty much the best idea ever. I have always loved the Franklin Institute and the fact that they are making kids in adult bodies events after the work day is so very cool.

The rest of the week will be spent working, celebrating 10 years of employed bliss at my company’s Employee Appreciation Dinner (I’m totally getting a mug. I just know it), knitting a hat (my first project with double points needles…gasp!), coloring drawings, and replacing urine soaked carpet. I definitely did not save the best for last in that list.

So life is good overall. The happiness baseline is at a good place. The sinusoidal nature of the human experience notwithstanding, I am satisfied with the amplitudes of the highs and the lows. As for the frequency of the waves, well, that’s getting longer and more mellow all the time.

OK, that was just a pretentious metaphor. What am I even talking about here? Am I failing at mule AND math metaphors? Look, my point is, I’m doing well and I’m happy being me. What a novel concept!

Much Obliged, Madam

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure.

Now, before you go thinking that you’re going to need me to talk me of a ledge or something, I don’t mean for that to sound like such a bad thing. I spend a lot of time thinking about success too, but we have to think about our failures in order to sow new success, yes? And I have also learned that much success is not a one time thing, but rather a state of existence that needs to be maintained.

Success and happiness are the same in this way (and are pretty interrelated, obviously). To me, success is a part of happiness. It is a necessary part for everyone, I think. It’s just that the definition of success is different for different people.

So yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about failure recently. Part of this contemplation has included thoughts on friends I have lost, or more to the point, friends who have lost me. There were communications failures. There were failures to vet properly and there were red flags ignored. But whatever, that’s life, right?

What I’ve been thinking about more these days is my inability to fulfill obligations to myself. I don’t even want to call them obligations. I have great trouble making my own personal goals, desires, and needs a priority in my own life. It is pretty much an automatic habit I have to deprioritize mine when there’s someone else I could spend my energy on.

This isn’t a new realization and anyone who knows me well is all like, “No duh”. It’s true that in the last several years, I have learned how to prioritize myself more and I have gained the confidence to speak my mind and demand decent treatment. But I did that to improve the quality of my relationships. This is important to do, most certainly, but it has a component that is for other people, not just myself.

The frustrating thing for me is that I just won’t put the same kind of value onto things that benefit me almost solely. The two biggest examples are eating right and exercising regularly.

I know the truth already: There is a way of eating that makes me feel a lot better both emotionally and physically. I don’t have allergies or intolerances (I don’t think), but a more “paleo” diet makes me function better and feel healthier. Exercising regularly makes me feel more confident and healthy and does away with any body image issues I might have. If I did both, I would feel incredible.

You would think that with that evidence, it would be easy to prioritize these things for myself. What would prioritizing things like this look like? An early morning yoga class a couple times a week, stopping at the gym on the way home from work, a Pilates class once a week, walks/jogs on the weekends. It would look like meal planning for the week and shopping for what I need for those meals. It would mean not using the time after work stopping at the grocery store or at Home Depot or a million other places, instead of working out. It would mean more “make ahead” meals that would allow me to throw it together in the morning and have it start cooking while I’m out doing things for myself. It would mean cooking even when I don’t feel like it. It would mean scheduling workouts like they are things I can’t miss (like work). It would mean not worrying so much about everyone else’s preferences and let them fulfill those on their own.

It would be me taking an interest truly in my own wellbeing. This sounds really simple but I am currently just not wired that way. But it’s a circuit worth getting.

These things take a lot of time (as in time to exercise and time for preparing healthy meals) and definitely a lot of energy. These things also take clear communication to others. Like, if I’m going to make meals that don’t include starches and other things that make me drag and feel lousy, then all I need to do is communicate what I am making and people who want more can add what they want for themselves. Part of my problem is always trying to anticipate what other people want and feeling obligated to accommodate them, even if it means compromising my own goals.

The bottom line is that I need to see the value in working as hard for myself as I do for other people. I honestly don’t know how to do that. How do I hold myself accountable to myself? Clearly, I still don’t know quite how to value myself without external validation. I am assuming that this is a skill I can learn. I know I can always work harder, but at some point I’m going to need to work smarter too.

Good thing I have therapy on Monday!

Self-Interested Feminism

Recently, Emma Watson delivered a speech at the UN pleading for men to get more involved in the cause of feminism:

Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.

Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.

I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

There has been some pushback to this idea. Many people feel that men should support feminism out of a sense of altruism. Anne Thériault had this to say at Feminspire:

Rape culture is something that men should care about not because it might affect them, but because it affects anyone at all. Men should care about women’s safety, full stop, without having the concept somehow relate back to them. Everyone should care about everyone else’s well-being – that’s what good people are supposed to do.

I find altruism of that variety unreliable at best, illusory at worst. Either way, I feel that the most ethical things to do is often to prioritize our own well-being over that of others. There is nothing unethical about trying to make ourselves happy, so long as we are not doing disproportionate harm. Nobody has to be a hero. We are not morally required to work to change society, even if we acknowledge that society is unjust.

As much as I’d like to claim otherwise, I’m not a feminist because I care deeply about all of my fellow humans. I’m a feminist out of self-interest. I’m a feminist because my personal goals align with the goals of the feminist movement. And I think that most men, if they rationally examined the situation, would agree. Patriarchy, rape culture, and male privilege suck for everyone.

I. The Patriarchy Hurts Men Too

This is not actually my most important reason, but it is a reason. This point has been so well documented that it’s nearly self-evident. Here is Katie McDonough at Salon:

Women and girls make up the majority of victims of sexual violence, but a culture that straight up says that teenage boys can’t be raped makes it almost impossible for male survivors to come forward. Destructive ideas about sexual male entitlement are at the heart of rape culture and the reason that so many women and girls are victimized in their lifetimes, but they also feed into this idea that men always want sex, which makes men who have been victims of rape question whether or not what happened to them even counts as a crime. It took a really, really long time for this to even become a crime. These same norms also encourage men to have really warped relationships to desire and sexual satisfaction. This stuff hurts women the most because of the violence it engenders, but it hurts men, too.

The ridiculousness of rape culture is to the point where we actually have articles with titles like “Can Boys Be ‘Coerced’ Into Sex?” Spoiler: they can. Here is Charlie Glickman:

One of the primary reasons that boys and men gay bash and bully queers is that they need to perform masculinity in order to show the world that they’re in the Box. And since very few guys can always be in the Box for their entire lives, the trick is to act like you are in order to cover for any lapses. In effect, the performance of masculinity requires constant vigilance to make sure that nobody sees any missteps. Since the logic of the box is an either/or, you’re either all the way in or you’re all the way out.

"a good captain needs abilities like boldness, daring and a good velour uniform"

“a good captain needs abilities like boldness, daring and a good velour uniform”

Glickman’s article, which I encourage you to read, discusses how masculinity is a performance that men must keep up at all times, or else they’re not real men. This form of toxic masculinity proclaims that men are violent, unemotional, and aggressive, or else they are weak and womanly.

Men’s Rights Activists, though deeply confused about the causes, also tend to notice the ways in which patriarchy hurts men. What they tend not to realize is that these things that they label as “female privilege” are actually benevolent sexism, stem from exactly the same places as women’s oppression, and that reverse sexism is really just a necessary result of ordinary sexism.

Concerns like those noted above have been a problem for me as far back as I can remember. One of my most vivid memories of elementary school is the experience of being terrified to tell my best friend that he was my best friend, because that would be “gay” or something. I never told him, and throughout my young childhood, I was always insecure about how much he liked me because I was too afraid to talk about it with him.

Patriarchy harms men in general, and me personally. I struggle against the need to perform my masculinity daily, and feminism is the only movement that supports me at all in that struggle.

II. Patriarchy Makes People Awful

In Part I, I reviewed several of the ways that patriarchy hurts men. Many of those same forces encourage men to be terrible people. The need to perform masculinity encourages men to be aggressive, violent, competitive, and unemotional. This naturally hurts men who don’t conform to their prescribed gender role, but it also hurts everyone else, who are forced to deal with a bunch of men who either are, or who are pretending to be, aggressive, violent, competitive, and unemotional. The fact that most men effectively perform masculinity is the primary reason why I dislike most men, and have trouble forming male friendships. Would you like someone who fits the above description of masculinity? I wouldn’t.

Patriarchy also teaches women to behave in ways that I don’t like. Harriet J from Fugitivus has a good list of the problematic ways in which patriarchy encourages women to behave:

  • it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed (“mean bitch”)
  • it is not okay to appear distraught or emotional (“crazy bitch”)
  • it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others (“stuck-up bitch”)
  • it is not okay to refuse to agree with somebody, over and over and over again (“angry bitch”)
  • it is not okay to have (or express) conflicted, fluid, or experimental feelings about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your desires, and your needs (“bitch got daddy issues”)
  • it is not okay to use your physical strength (if you have it) to set physical boundaries (“dyke bitch”)
  • it is not okay to raise your voice (“shrill bitch”)
  • it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you (“mean dyke/frigid bitch”)

The result of all this conditioning means that women are overwhelmingly encouraged to resort to Guess Culture, subtlety, and indirect communication. I hate that style of (non) communication, and I hate that our patriarchal culture punishes women who communicate directly. In our efforts to move toward Ask Culture and encouraging direct communication, patriarchy is our enemy.

III. Feminism Means Better Sex

Just today, Miri Mogilevsky posted about how feminism can make you better in bed. The whole post is great, but here is a relevant quote:

Of course, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. But if you do want to do it, you should never have to feel guilty or abnormal just because your desires don’t conform to gender roles. Sex is a lot more fun when you don’t have to measure yourself against invisible, constantly-shifting standards like “Real Man” or “Real Woman.”

I also favor sexual promiscuity, and think that people should be having all the sex they want to have without fear of stigma or judgment. Patriarchy opposes this goal, and feminism supports it:

In a time when nonheterosexuality is close to losing the status of ‘alternative,’ transgender people have scored Medicare coverage for gender-confirming surgeries, Fifty Shades of Grey has made it clear that kinky desires are as mainstream as it gets, and open relationships are more visible than ever, there is one sexual lifestyle that remains imbued with stigma: unbridled promiscuity. Accepting promiscuity—having lots of (mostly) casual sex with lots of different people—as a valid lifestyle choice is perhaps the final frontier in creating a sex-positive, open-minded, sexually tolerant society.

Dan Fincke, of Camels with Hammers, also argues in favor of what he calls the Sexual Utopia:

By sexual utopians I mean anyone who wants us to get as close as is reasonable to a world of maximal guilt free sexual pleasure with no irrational hang ups or needlessly burdensome restrictions. People who dream of the day when we can indulge more freely in positive sexual experiences, unencumbered by arbitrary moralisms. Nudity is natural and good. It’s aesthetically pleasurable and not even always sexually. We should celebrate the beauty of the human form rather than hide it. Everyone should love and have sex with whomever consensually wants to have sex with them. Alternative sexual orientations and genders should be celebrated, not merely tolerated. Kink that doesn’t harm anyone shouldn’t be seen as immoral. Whatever floats your boat so long as no one gets hurt. People should be able to negotiate the terms of their own relationships rather than have adultery defined in some absolute way that forbids any sexual openness among committed people. Friendships can incorporate a dimension of sexual enjoyment apart from romantic commitments. Even entire friendships can be all about two people’s enjoyment of having sex with each other if that’s what they enjoy. Young people should be empowered to make wise sexual choices instead of repressed with abstinence-only fear-mongering. And there should be no stigmas about making or consuming porn or engaging in prostitution or patronizing a prostitute, etc., so long as everyone involved is treated respectfully and is kept healthy. And, of course, if you’re asexual or a celibate or abstinent or a strict lifelong monogamist, etc., then that’s okay too!

How do we get there? Feminism:

Only in a culture where women aren’t punished for sexuality, aren’t commodified and treated like objects to be traded, and don’t see men trying to sexually exploit them around every corner will they be empowered to choose sexual utopia. But so long as rapes are excused and so long as sexual exploitation of their images is dismissed as irrelevant (and only theft is acknowledged as a real harm) and so long as their feelings about sex are going to be disregarded in moral calculations involving them, they have every right to become protective and restrictive. Women will and should only expose themselves to more risks of sexual openness when men prove more responsible not to regularly exploit them, dismiss their feelings, and blame them for all the consequences.

Smashing the patriarchy, dismantling rape culture, and doing away with male privilege are the only ways that I can think of to encourage people to feel safe having the sex that they want to have. And when people are having the sex they want to have (and not the sex they don’t want to have) that makes sex better for everyone except people who want to have sex that doesn’t involve enthusiastic consent, and I do not think the desires of such people should be taken into account.

IV. Male Privilege Is Not Worth The Cost

Mia McKenzie, of Black Girl Dangerous, feels that telling men to be feminists out of self-interest is disingenuous, because it ignores the ways that men actually benefit from a patriarchal culture. Her list of benefits:

1 out of every 5 American women has reported experiencing rape in her lifetime. For American men, it’s 1 in 71.

White (cis-gender) American women earn 78% of what their white male counterparts earn. Black (cis-gender) American women earn 89% of what their Black male counterparts earn and 64% of what their white male counterparts earn. Latina (cis-gender) women earn 89% of what their Latino male counterparts earn and 53% of what their white male counterparts earn.

Only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women.

Of course, the gender pay gap exists everywhere in the world, including the UK. And so does rape.

For starters, the only arguably zero-sum benefit listed is the one about CEO’s, and I certainly wouldn’t be upset if we had more gender balance in our CEO’s. I’m not planning on being a Fortune 500 CEO, so increasing equality in that sense wouldn’t harm me in any way that I can see. The gender pay gap is not zero-sum at all. Equal pay doesn’t require that men’s pay be reduced, it requires that women’s pay be increased. The assumption that monetary gains for women would come out of men’s paychecks doesn’t seem obvious to me, especially when corporate profits are rising at the same time wages are falling. While there might be some balancing effects by which employers pay men less in order to pay women more, there are plenty of other sources for that money to come from, most notably from corporate profits.

Statistics about rape are definitely not zero-sum. The fact that one in five women has been raped is not an advantage to non-rapist men in any way! There is definitely no need to increase men being raped in order to decrease women being raped. If suddenly, only one in 71 women experienced rape in their lifetimes, I think most men would be happy about the reduced numbers. Certainly, being a man means that I experience the privilege of being much less likely to be raped (or cat-called, or harassed, etc.), but that’s not a benefit I lose by dismantling the patriarchy.

Sometimes, I do receive benefits that come at the expense of women. When I’m applying for a job or a promotion (or elected office), I’m favored over female competitors. When I want to make my voice heard, it’s easier for me to do so over competing female voices. Patriarchy makes it easier for me to convince women to do what I want. I probably got more attention from teachers as a child than my female classmates. But I would gladly give up those advantages in exchange for the advantages of an egalitarian society that I’ve outlined above. Most other manifestations of male privilege can be equalized by expanding male privilege to women, not by denying it to men.

V. Conclusion

The feminist movement, as it currently exists, has some serious issues. Those issues may be serious enough for reasonable people to abandon the movement altogether. It is not my intention to argue here that people should all go out and donate to mainstream feminist nonprofits or read mainstream feminist writings (thought I can’t say those are bad ideas). My intention is simply to argue that a more egalitarian society will help all genders, including men, and that creating a more egalitarian society is the explicit goal of the feminist movement. Reasonable people can disagree on tactics, but I feel that the majority of men should be able to agree that the patriarchy should be smashed, rape culture dismantled, and male privilege be destroyed where necessary and expanded, where possible, to include all genders. These are the goals of feminism, and I feel that men have compelling, self-interested reasons to support them.

Pumpkin Everything and Giant Piles of Leaves

Often when I tell people that I was born in California, they always ask “why on Earth did you leave?!?” Well, firstly, it wasn’t remotely my decision since I was 15 months old when my parents, sister, and I packed up and moved over to Philadelphia. Secondly, my parents were sick of Southern California and its barely changing seasons.

Yep, my parents’ main reason for wanting to come to the middle of the East Coast was so that we could actually experience the joy that is the axial tilt of the Earth and I, for one, am quite happy that they wanted that!

I love living in a place that has four distinct seasons. I love each season for different reasons and my favorite parts of the year are the transitions from one season to the next. We are currently in my favorite of the transitions – summer to autumn.

snoopy_autumn

My favorite thing about summer is the lovely amount of light we get and how long the days are. Waking up and coming home in sunlight each work day makes every day feel like the possibilities are endless and I look forward to that every year, especially after losing the light for several months. Of course, I like a certain amount of heat to go with that light so that I can partake in all the outdoor stuff I like (beaches, rivers, and dining al fresco) but I am more susceptible to heat related illness seemingly (though that has gotten a lot better since I started paying special attention to my water consumption and not staying outside in the dog days for long periods of time).

But this time of year, when it is cold enough to grab a cuddly cardigan in the morning to head to work, and when sunset is earlier and the evening commute is bathed in golden welcoming light…I tend to be filled with a calmness and pleasantness that accompany days well spent, work well done, and the promise of relaxing under fuzzy blankets on comfy couches with perhaps a cup of favorite tea.

In addition to all that awesomeness, autumn brings PA Ren Faire season which means costumes, pirates, giant turkey legs, and mead! Also, Mount Hope winery sells one of my favorite red wines, so it’s time to stock up a little!  I also want to visit pumpkin patches and go on a hay ride and sip apple cider while picking out the perfect ginormous squash.

squash boat

I have no choice but to name the above photo “Squash-Buckling”.  Shut up.  I know I’m fired.

And Halloween.  But, like, I don’t even need to go on about why that rules.

I even love the winter. While I don’t so much love the darkness, I actually quite enjoy bundling up to go outside and I enjoy finding coffee shops to get the occasional hot chocolate or peppermint mocha in. I like getting one of those drinks and wandering around in festively decorated parts of town. While I’m pretty much over Christmas in a lot of ways, I love lights and glitter and the way Rittenhouse Square gets transformed into a magical pocket in the center of the city.

Last year I, like many people, was taken by surprise by the “real winter” we ended up having. I didn’t have the proper apparel at all and for some reason kept avoiding investing in anything. So, I was epically cold a lot, trying to piece together proper warmth from random things I would find in the house. This year I am shopping for a warm, vintage inspired winter coat and I’m going to get some fuzzy lined water proof winter boots…and leather gloves…and a soft warm hat! Yes, I’ve become all girly and wish to look cute AND be warm.

fuzzy hat

I bought a couple of dresses on Modcloth yesterday and will be investing in more sweater tights because cuteness waits for no person!

I used to fear seasonal affective disorder, but that hasn’t been much of a problem since getting treatment for depression and anxiety in general, and also because I tend to fill my evenings with things that are not light dependent. I do a lot of art now and often I work on my pieces at night, regardless of season. Also, now that I have upped my Vitamin D levels, I have more energy regardless of sunlight. So, I’m feeling pretty happy now and expect to keep it up over the autumn and winter months.

Things are good. I feel like healing has been happening without me quite noticing. Now that it’s a little bit chilly at times and Halloween is on its way, I find that I am feeling inspired to decorate for the season (inspiration that has mostly eluded me for the last couple of years). I’m also inspired to fix things up around the house and do projects that I haven’t be able to muster the amount of care required to do up until now.

I also totally gave up on the Whole30 out of sheer boredom and the fact that me and ridiculous amounts of restriction really don’t get along. The thing was that I committed to trying it as an experiment, but I hadn’t actually bought into the whole philosophy. A lot of it I suspected was kind of bullshit…certainly bullshit if one is making blanket statements about what EVERYONE should be eating. I pretty much confirmed in 18 days what I already knew about my body and what makes it function best. Hooray and give me a piece of cheese.

It’s truly wonderful to feel the darkness lifting even though the days are getting shorter. I couldn’t ask for more wonderful people in my life. I couldn’t ask for a lovelier home. I couldn’t ask for a better job and career. I couldn’t ask for anything more because this is the life I want, with the people I love, and with the future full of possibility and promise.

Now…if we could just get the puppy to stop crapping on the floor, life would be damn near perfect!

Stardust

D’awwwwwww!

Whole30 Day 17: I Drank Some Wine and it was Delicious

Ok, I admit it.  I went 16 full days without “cheating” at all on this Whole30 thing but then some personal BS occurred and I was going out to see a Fringe Festival show and all I wanted in the world was some damn red wine.  So I had some.

Do I look at this as a failure? I mean, yeah, but I don’t really care.  I look at it as doing the Whole30 imperfectly and since I’m doing this for no one else but myself, I get to make the rules.  Does this mean that I’m going to be boozing it up for the next 13 days? Of course not.  It would probably shock you to know that I had a cube of cheese a few days ago too because I was starving and had to go grocery shopping yet again and had nothing to eat.  Impressively, I don’t feel like my progress was destroyed.

I sound super defensive, don’t I? I think it’s because someone was like “now you have to start all over” and I am saying, “Nah, not going to do that.”  If you read the article on the Whole30 website it goes through a bunch of reasons why you have to and then it says the most important one, “But hey, you’re an adult and can do whatever you want to do.” Yup.  I’m pretty much with Cartman on this one:

cartman

So, this is the supposed Tiger Blood week of the challenge and, as with all the other parts of the timeline, my experience is lining up pretty well.  I generally have more energy, am sleeping much better, and waking up in a more alert, clear state.  Of course, the wine from yesterday changed those things for today but that is not a new experience for me.

The hardest thing about this way of eating, and why I will not really keep up to this degree after the 30 days is the constant need to go grocery shopping.   I have been going shopping every 4 days and buying a lot of stuff each time.  When you’re eating fresh food all the time without a lot of filler starches and grains, you eat a lot more and instead of produce rotting in the crisper, you are simply always out of produce!  I also eat larger portions of meat.  And while there’s nothing inherently bad about that ,these things combined with cooking with every part of the coconut makes for a hefty grocery bill every time.

Eating this way costs a lot in money and it costs a whole lot in time.  I feel like a lot of my free time is spent purchasing food, chopping food, and cooking food.  And while I enjoy cooking, it is difficult to keep up the energy when you are also working a full time job and doing some house remodeling and keeping the house clean and chasing after a puppy.  It’s not that I don’t have the time (or at least, it’s not that I can’t make time to do it), but I question how much of my time I wish to spend doing this.

I understand that the answer is planning planning planning, however, to make enough food for the rest of the week I feel like I would have to give my entire weekend to the kitchen. I already give a large part of my weekend to house upkeep and food. To spend every free minute making large pots of things to hopefully last the week just isn’t something I want to do. This challenge has shown me a lot about how I value my time.

The good side of this is that I have spent significantly less on eating out, simply because eating out is a pain in the ass with such a restrictive diet. Because eating out money is my personal money and grocery money is a shared pot, it feels like I’m saving a lot. But since I’m spending more on groceries (over the amount we actually budget for), I’m not actually. But it’s nice to have some money left over when I get paid. I like the feeling of living within my means. In this case, though, it’s pretty much an illusion because of the grocery aspect, I guess, but I always feel accomplished when I cook/make the majority of my week’s food.

Though this is “Tiger Blood” time, I have to admit that I am not feeling all that much “better” than when I’m generally being mindful of what I eat the rest of the time under less restriction. Yes, I am feeling energetic and I’m not experiencing all kinds of blood sugar crashes, but this is not a new thing for me. Whenever I watch my sugar intake and eat way more fruits and veggies, I feel better. I am lucky in that I don’t have any allergies or food sensitivities. I also feel way better in general since I started taking a vitamin D supplement, so it’s hard to say if the diet is doing anything majorly different or if I was just really deficient in vitamin D. I’m leaning toward the latter, combined with the knowledge that lower amounts of processed foods is a generally good idea for me health and happiness-wise.

The next part is a little TMI, so scroll past if you are squicked out by discussion of female biological processes.

One very bizarre thing that occurred was that I got my period way early. This is particularly strange because I am on the pill, so bleeding occurs like clockwork 3 days after ending a pack. But I did some reading and am thinking that the whole phytoestrogen thing is not a total load of hooey. Soy is packed with isoflavones, which are touted for various positive things (especially the easy source of protein) but they also mimic estrogen in the body. They don’t do the job of estrogen as well as estrogen, but they like to hang out on estrogen receptors. Apparently, most grains contain a bunch of these things too. So seemingly, when I cut out all grains and all soy, my body saw this as a significant enough of a hormone level drop to trigger bleeding. As I just finished a pack today, I wonder if that means I’m going to be bleeding for two weeks straight. Great…but kind of interesting and little bit disturbing.

So 13 days to go. I likely will not be wavering again in my Whole30 resolve, ‘cause 13 days ain’t no thang. I am certainly enjoying learning some new recipes and agree that eating this much produce is a good thing, but honestly, pasta is a requirement for a busy person with so much awesome going on. I look forward to having it back as an option!

The Importance of Affirmative Verbal Consent

For the past few weeks, the internet has been debating California’s new law which requires aid-receiving universities to adopt an “affirmative consent” standard in disciplinary hearings. Predictably, there have been many objections, claiming that asking for consent will “ruin the moment” or that we’re criminalizing normal sex. Charlie Glickman wrote an excellent response to such concerns:

The thing is, I understand where some of these fears are coming from. Leaving aside the folks who are actual rapists… changing the rules of the game is scary. We live in a culture that teaches and shames us into bad sexual communication. We shame men who don’t want to have sex within a narrow range of acceptable activities. We shame women who express their desires or want sex more than we think they should. (And slut-shaming enables rape.) We’ve created a performance model of sex, in which people copy what they see in porn because they don’t know any better. I’ve worked with a lot of people who are miserable because they’re performing sex rather than enjoying it. So when we talk about shifting what sexual consent means, even when it’s for the better, we’re stirring up a lot of pain, triggers, shame, and trauma.

One thing we need to move through this is a more clear idea of what “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” looks like. It’s a great phrase for a legal document, but unless you get turned on by that sort of thing, it’s a rather dry concept. As a sex & relationship coach, I want to see something that you could actually put into practice in the bedroom.

Glickman asked people for example of what nonverbal consent looks like on his Facebook page. Here are the highlights:

  • Looking me in the eye and giving me a hand signal that says ‘come towards me’
  • When I guide someones hands and place them on my body nodding yes.
  • I think that the only real test of affirmative consent is when the other person takes initiative of her or his own accord–without prompting or pressure. Without stopping and waiting for that initiative, there is just too much room for misunderstanding, especially with a newish partner. 

For example, when offering a kiss, coming close enough almost to make contact but not quite, and waiting for a partner to bridge the gap–or not–communicates both my desire to act and my desire to be met, without words.

 If there is hesitation, then I know that more verbal conversation is in order, and that’s good. It saves much grief all around.
  • Reciprocation. Guiding hands. Asking about preferences. (Is this ok? Faster? Slower? How is this?) Taking initiative, responding in like, exploring your body with their hands, etc.

Look for things about the hook up that your partner seems apprehensive about, such as stiffening up, pulling or leaning away, or generally letting you do all the work –pretty good indicator that you are with someone who isn’t into it and probably cannot tell you or is scared shitless to tell you.
  • Gripping, grabbing, pulling me closer, reaching for kisses, initiating position changes, following after a touch when it stops or moves, nuzzling, smooching whatever part is near enough, and playing with my hair are all signs of active, engaged enthusiasm for me.

Glickman followed up that list with a warning:

I really like this list because it shows some of the many ways that we can show someone that we’re actively enjoying a sexual experience. Of course, there’s always the chance that someone is performing rather than actually expressing their pleasure. Non-verbal communication can be faked, especially if someone feels pressured into it. Plus, it lacks bandwidth and it’s ambiguous since two different people might have very different ideas about what any of these things might mean.

That’s why non-verbal consent can only be relied on when you already know your partner and how they respond. Until you have that foundation, due diligence suggests making verbal communication your standard. It’s unfortunately easy to do something that you genuinely believe your partner is enjoying and then find out later that they didn’t. I’ve been on both sides of that and it’s no fun.

In his article linked above, Glickman proposed a “due diligence” standard for consent, which includes things like checking in routinely, asking a partner what they want you to do, and having a discussion regarding safer sex concerns. Glickman explained the need for due diligence:

I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve had sexual partners who didn’t tell me that what we were doing wasn’t comfortable for them. Some of them told me afterward, and unfortunately, there have probably been others who didn’t. I’ve also been the one who wasn’t able to speak up and tell my partner that I wanted something different, or that I wanted to stop. I know what it’s like to feel like my partner assaulted me, even as I recognize that they had no idea at the time. I know what it’s like to not say no and feel violated, and I know what it’s like to find out later that someone felt that way about an experience we had. Both sides of that are pretty awful.

So, yes, it is possible to accidentally assault someone, in the sense that we can do something that we didn’t realize they didn’t want to do. When that happens, we need to hold onto the fact that an injury happened AND the fact that we didn’t intend it. Those are equally important, although I find that healing works best when the fact of the injury gets attention first. And having said all that, it’s also important to be honest with ourselves about whether we’ve actually done enough to qualify as due diligence. We need to have the self-awareness and honor to be able to acknowledge when we could have done more. We need to be able to be honest with ourselves and our partners about whether we really did the best that we could.

I can personally attest to the need for a due diligence standard, because under Charlie’s definition, I have accidentally assaulted someone. Around a year ago, I had a first date with someone. For privacy reasons, I won’t be going into too much detail, but I was in a situation where I believed that the sexual activity in which we were engaging was enthusiastically consented to. I was wrong, and it was my fault. I made the mistake, as Charlie specifically warned against, of relying on nonverbal communication. I didn’t do my due diligence. I didn’t ask for verbal consent. I didn’t pay close enough attention to my partner’s hesitation. I didn’t have a safer sex discussion beforehand. I didn’t ask her what she wanted to do. I just saw that she was actively participating and assumed that meant she was enthusiastic about what we were doing. I also didn’t communicate my own desires about where I wanted to set boundaries (and, as a result, things went further than I wanted). I let my own fear of rejection and insecurity distract me from the importance of communication and establishing unequivocal consent. I forgot that women are taught that their needs don’t matter. I forgot to move in the direction of greatest courage. Through my negligence, I hurt someone who deserved nothing but love and care.

Afterward, I took her friendly and flirty interactions with me as a sign that she had enjoyed herself. I didn’t find out how she felt until over nine months later, when her boyfriend told me. I was, and am, deeply sorry and ashamed of my actions. I urge everyone reading to take heed of my mistakes and commit to a Due Diligence standard for all sexual (or quasi-sexual) partners in the future.

While I don’t think I would be disciplined under the new California law for this situation, the law was never meant to establish best practices, only minimum disciplinary standards. I think Charlie’s Due Diligence standard is a much better model of enthusiastic consent. I’ve been employing Charlie’s standard ever since, and I can promise everyone, it does nothing to ruin the mood. If anything, it makes sex more fun and less nerve-wracking. When people are explicit about what they want and what they don’t, there is no fear of accidentally crossing any boundaries, and it makes the entire experience lower-pressure for everyone. Also, talking about what you want to do with someone can be really hot. Just saying.

I’m glad that California’s new law has gotten people talking about this. It’s an important discussion to have. I hope that the national conversation that we’re having will help move us in the direction of consent culture. I hope that discussing this out in the open will inspire more people to commit to a Due Diligence standard, rather than just “no means no.

Like the New Logo? Hire the Designer!

Alex Gabriel, the designer of the Living Within Reason logo and blog header, is having a serious financial crisis. If you like his work talk to him about your design or editing needs. I can attest that his design skills are top-notch, and he is a joy to work with. I encourage anyone with design needs to consider hiring Alex.

Whole30 Day 7: The Dog Days Are Almost Over

Hello! I have successfully stuck to the Whole30 challenge for 7 days and I think I’m about out of the “Oh my goodness, body, I know, you want sugar…you’re just going to have to enjoy this damn pineapple, OK?!?” stage of things.  Other than some physical blechness and a few days of irritability and stress, I have adjusted to this way of eating pretty readily and I’m enjoying it.  As it turns out, this timeline is really accurate.  I definitely had some moments on day 4 where I thought I was going to resort to screaming , stomping, and possibly throwing things.  I managed to not do that and ate a banana instead.

Years ago, I did a stint of the Atkins diet with Wes and it was a nightmare the first time because we were just replacing things we like with weird alternate versions of them that contain fake sugar and alternate ingredients, none of which contained any nutritional value.  I got really stupid one day and remembered that I hadn’t had, like, any sugar in a week and my brain was turning into a glucose zombie. “Glucossssse…GLUCOSSSSE”.  I ate a candy bar and was able to read words again.  The second time we tried it, I went the vegetables and meat route (no substitutions for bread or candy or whatever), and kept my blood sugar even with cheese (seemingly).  Still, on Atkins, you have to stay away from most fruit in order to keep your carbs at a ridiculously low level.

I am enjoying this because it’s not a weight loss plan.  It’s a nutrition plan and while fruit is still high in sugar content, it’s not banned.  It’s just not number one on the list of things you should be eating.  Veggies are number one, meat/eggs/nuts are number two, and fruit is number 3.  And what I’ve learned is that this isn’t quite as restricting as I thought.

Granted, it makes going out to eat sort of useless.  Wes and I are actually enjoying that because we are spending way less money.  I never budget properly for eating out and always spend way more than I think I’m going to.  So this challenge has had that added benefit.

I am enjoying this because it’s inspiring me to try new things.  I’m not a picky eater, but I am not necessarily motivated all the time to try something new from the produce department.  I went to find recipes and have been having a grand old time cooking with things like lemongrass and fresh ginger and Thai green curry.  These are flavors that I enjoy in restaurants, but have never really done anything with at home and I love having a reason to branch out.  It is especially inspiring in the slow cooker arena, since most of my Crockpot cookbooks have fifteen different recipes for beef stew and not a ton of variety. 

One of the more entertaining things is that coconut is apparently the wonder plant in this world.  In my kitchen, I currently have coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut vinegar, and “coconut aminos”.  Coconut aminos is sort of like soy sauce and is actually pretty tasty and useful.  It has been fun learning how to use different things and how to bring out more flavors.

So yes, I think things are going well.  I’m still a little headachey, but my ibuprofen consumption has decreased.  I think my brain is stabilizing and working more efficiently now.  I haven’t been going nuts about little things and I totally don’t feel like stabbing anyone in the face. So wins all around.

So I might start feeling amazing in a day or two.  I will keep you posted!