Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hit Me Baby One More Time: Should Women Ever Throw the First Punch?

So I have this fantasy.

Some Hollister-wearing know-it-all will be running his mouth about what a raging b*tch I am, blah blah blah. Naturally I’ll be up in his face, dishing it right back to him, when I’ll realize that I should be the bigger person. So I’ll back off and walk away….and then he’ll say something that crosses the line. I’m not sure what, but it’s my fantasy so it will happen.

Then bigger person be damned. My vengeance, and fists, will rain down on this poor unsuspecting man like Tyson on steroids. Hell hath no fury like a woman who has 26 years of pent up angst running through her feminist veins. Three of my friends will have to hold me back. One of them will be screaming, “He isn’t worth it!!” while another one will be flagging down a car. They’ll push me in the car (which will be challenging as I’ll still be flailing about wildly) screaming, “Get her out of here!”

Obviously said Hollister-wearing boy will be left crying uncontrollably in the fetal position on the sidewalk as his friends point and laugh.

Whenever I imagine this scenario I can’t help but smile. Why does the idea of hitting a guy make me so blissfully happy?

Women are passionate creatures. Have you ever seen two women fist-fight? It doesn’t happen very often, because 9 times out of 10 that fight will end up with someone in the emergency room. True cat-fights are like Haley’s comet; they only come around once in a while and you better look quick or you‘ll miss one hell of a show.

Fortunately this type of girl-on-girl throw-down is predictable in nature and you can be certain it will be over one of two things; a boy we like, or a boy that makes us angry.

Unfortunately our passionate nature is difficult to control and therefore our rage is never limited to same-sex altercations. If a boy we like becomes a boy that makes us angry, our rage is easily redirected to the responsible party.

Obviously we could be the bigger person and walk away, which is what happens 99% of the time. Even though we are angry, hurt, and/or betrayed we realize that deep down we are better off, and that getting even would take time and energy that would be better spent on finding someone new and deserving of our company.

That other 1% of the time...we want to get even. Really even. Ruin his life even. Leave him physically maimed or permanently diseased even. In these situations, is it ever ok to get physical? Slap him? Throw a drink in his face? Throw yourself at him like Tyson on steroids?

I would argue that yes, on extremely rare occasions, it is ok. Sure, violence is not the answer, but the validation that a woman gets from physically expressing her anger might just be worth the loss in karma that results. I have never been prouder to be a woman than when I found out Elin Nordegren tried to beat Tiger Woods to death with his own gold-plated golf clubs.

The important thing to consider is that if you start it, you better be willing to finish it. Women, be warned; don’t throw the first punch unless you are fully prepared for him to punch back. Every man, heck every person, has the right to defend themselves. Chivalry will always be superseded by fight or flight instincts, and no one is going to think he is an abusive monster for trying to avoid a heavy beating by fighting back.

Now I am not planning to go out and get in a fist-fight with every annoying boy I meet (totally impractical for one thing…there are far too many of them). But one day, should the situation call for it, I might not be the bigger person. Don’t worry, he’ll deserve it.

And trust me…it will be one hell of a show.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

To Forgive or Not Forgive: That Is the Christian Question

Forgiveness is a heavy topic but one that is often at the heart of women’s issues (and one that comes up repeatedly in my work as a rape crisis counselor) and therefore one I feel compelled to discuss in an open and uncensored way. Consider this a warning that I may broach subjects that are uncomfortable but I think it is essential for women to understand how they define forgiveness and under what circumstances they can and will forgive. If you continue reading I hope you will do so with an open heart and an open mind, understanding that this is an uncomfortable topic for me as well as it makes up the basis for my “crisis of faith” as I call it (which has been a lifelong thing…are they supposed to be this long?)

Also note that in this particular discussion I will be referencing Christian theology as Christianity is the religion I associate with. However other theological perspectives (Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam) may be applicable as well.

Sometimes women’s rights and Christianity collide head-on and the outcome isn’t pretty. We have all heard a story at one point or another of pastors who covered up cases of child abuse, convinced wives to go back to their abusive husbands, or expelled an openly gay or transgender woman from their church. In these environments women are taught to forgive and forget, often to their own physical/mental/emotional detriment.

I feel that overall I am a very forgiving person. Basically if someone does something bad (“bad” is a relative term but I am thinking of the obvious lie, cheat, or steal situations) , realizes they did something bad (feels remorse) and then takes action to reconcile with those who have been wronged (demonstrates that remorse) I will forgive them. However this does not mean I will excuse their actions, continue to associate with them, or ignore the moral obligation I have to make sure they do not hurt someone else.

That being said, I often get into discussions with devout Christians about forgiveness of others and why it is necessary for spiritual growth. In order to solidify my theological perspective on this topic I have been struggling to answer some difficult questions:

Forgiveness supposedly does not excuse or condone the behavior…what exactly does it do then?
My understanding is that Christians should forgive anyone anything (with the exception of the “unforgivable sin”…if you understand what this is PLEASE spread the word because no one I have spoken to has a clue) an infinite number of times, regardless of whether they are remorseful or repentant. This differs from Jewish doctrine which dictates that remorse and repentance must be present before forgiveness can be granted.

How many times can we forgive someone without enabling repeat offenses?
Christians should forgive an infinite number of times. How in the world does that not enable repeat offenses? In other words, how many times will Christians allow others to hurt innocent people before stepping in and demanding something? (Justice? Repentance? Some miniscule expression of remorse?)

Does forgiveness really bring healing to those who have been wronged?
Forgiveness is meant to bring healing to whose who have been wronged. How? People can let their bad feelings about something done to them go without forgiving the actual person. In actuality doesn’t forgiveness invalidate the fact that they HAVE been wronged? Women often spend their entire lives convincing themselves that yes, they DO deserve to be treated well. I don’t think it is conducive to healing if they are forced to forgive someone who has taken that value away from them. Shouldn’t they be able to hold on to something that validates the hurt that was done to them, especially if that person has shown no remorse for their actions?

If God is infinitely forgiving, why is it also our responsibility to forgive?
If an individual hurts us intentionally and shows no remorse, why is it not acceptable for us to refuse forgiveness and leave that task to God?

Is it possible to forgive if you can’t forget?
Does forgiving allow others to forget, leaving the wronged party to bare the burden of remembering alone? Is it a cop-out for others, a way for people to not take responsibility and deal with the actual existence of misdeeds in the world? Are some people just too lazy for justice?

I recently read a Jewish viewpoint on forgiveness that said, “Whoever is merciful to the cruel will end by being indifferent to the innocent.” I could not agree more. I absolutely shudder to think of what kind of person I would be now if I had “forgiven” those who have wronged me. I’d probably be in a verbally and physically abusive relationship, plagued with feelings of guilt and self-loathing. Forgiveness creates apathy.

If you forgive everyone everything, nothing seems wrong anymore.

Perhaps we should consider whether there are those who benefit from non-forgiveness just as there are those who benefit from forgiveness. Perhaps for some people it is the denial of forgiveness that fuels their obligation to protect the innocent, the “widows and orphans” as it were. Because how can we demonstrate love for widows and orphans if we are constantly invalidating their pain with the suggestion that they forgive those who have severely wronged them?

For example…years back a woman was raped, beaten and left for dead in Central Park NY by a gang of young men. While in prison a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church visited them to tell them, “God loves you.”

Aha. All you have to do to get a personal visit from a cardinal is rape and beat someone. I certainly hope that the woman who was attacked knew that God loved her too, as the cardinal didn’t find it necessary to visit her and tell her that. I bet that woman would have liked to hear that since God’s love probably seemed notably absent.

I am glad God loves these men…that way I don’t have to.

I could never show genuine compassion for these men because I think it is impossible to forgive someone who wrongs you severely, with intention, (and often enjoyment) and shows no remorse (and/or are proud of what they have done). Forgiveness can not be given if it is not asked for. In the few cases where I have refused to forgive someone, these have been the circumstances. Yet I am still challenged. I hear things like, “have grace” or “show mercy” or “people make mistakes.” Yes, people make mistakes.

But I wonder…what would inspire me to fight for what is right if I did not also understand that which is unforgivable?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Do I Have To? Understanding the Difference Between Obligation and Random Acts of Kindness

After posting the Good Housekeeping advertisement a few weeks ago I couldn’t stop thinking about some of the guidelines…and how they didn’t seem all that bad. For example, “Be happy to see him.” The alternative being you are unhappy to see him which I don’t think will go over well in the long term, so pretty sound advice that.

The ad only sounds so ridiculous because of the not-so-subtle sense of obligation that is implied in these “suggestions.” Perhaps if these were labeled as such we could write them off as infantile chauvinist fantasies and laugh about it. But they’re not advertised as suggestions, they’re advertised as rules….and only bad wives break the rules. All of a sudden you have to satisfy a checklist of do’s and don’ts to be considered a loving spouse, and that is a disturbing (not to mention terribly limiting and boring) concept to say the least.

Here are some other not-so-bad suggestions the ad makes: Have dinner ready. Greet him with a warm smile. Listen to him. Don’t greet him with complaints and problems. I would like these things. You would probably like these things. If I had a husband I would assume that he would also like these things.

Women (and men) often express their love for another person in these way but there’s a distinction that has to be made; we should be doing these things for someone because we want to and not because we feel obligated by a formulaic gender role.

For example, I hardly ever cook. Not because I don’t enjoy it but because I only know how to cook three things and they all require cheese and heavy cream. One simply can not live off of a steady diet of cheese and cream so cooking has become a sporadic occasion . That being said, if I wanted to do something really nice for someone, make some effort to show that I cared, cooking a nice dinner might be a good option.

Another example: one of my best friends always opens the door for me. I have to admit that at first it was annoying because he would often have to jump in front to manage it (my hips take up about ¾ the width of an average door…thanks biology). Eventually I got used to it. We have been friends eight years now and he still does it every single time.

Why? I am sure that after eight years he has no doubt in his mind that I am capable of opening a door. He certainly isn’t trying to impress me so he can get in my pants later. And while he is extremely polite and respectful he is far from the conservative southern gentleman who thinks it is his masculine duty to open the door for every woman he sees.

About two years into our friendship I finally asked him. He said he does it because it is his way of showing affection for me. He knows that I don’t expect it and that makes it even better. Even though I can open my own door he wants to do something that will make me happy and this is one way he can do that.

And he’s right. It does make me happy. I feel like a lady and that’s something I don’t feel very often.

So here’s the downside to doing things because you feel obligated; a sense of obligation is based on a sense of order and fairness, which means a part of you while always be expecting something in return. The great thing about a selfless act is that you are doing it because you want to, because you can, and because you don’t need them to return the favor. All the pressure is suddenly off.

Do nice things for someone because you want to show them you are thinking about them? Do nice things for someone because you know they will appreciate it? Forget the grand gestures and think of random acts of kindness that you know will make the other person happy?

Pretty sound advice that.

Suggested Reading:
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
I looked at every relationship in my life differently after reading this book. Chapman describes the five most common ways we show love for one another (spouses, friends, family) and how we can use that knowledge to show our love in ways that others will appreciate.

If You Are Feeling Magnanimous Today

I value the concept that actions speak louder than words but because of geography, life commitments, and financial means our ability to act may be limited at times. Here are some easy ways you can support causes you believe in by “doing” something as easy as clicking a button.

If you support the national campaign to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and want to help flood Congress with a ton of e-mails that will hopefully annoy them enough to do something about it, click here.

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If you think requiring a sexual assault survivor to pay for her own rape kit to be processed for evidence is barbaric click here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Your Daily Dose of Vintage Sexism

This advertisement appeared in a 1955 issue of Good Housekeeping. Click the image to enlarge. And remember, a good wife always knows her place.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Somebody's Watching You: Can Movies Make Stalking Romantic?

It is always refreshing to watch a movie that, armed with a dedicated cast and miniscule budget, reinvents a genre. Marianna Palka’s directorial debut Good Dick is one such movie. The title is misleading because while it does include its fair share of adult content, the movie is most importantly an authentic and hopeful film that challenges all the predictable romantic comedy stereotypes.

The basic plot is this; a “man” (he is never named in the film) who works in a video rental store becomes interested in a troubled “woman” who comes in every day to rent erotic videos. He gets her address from the rental directory and begins an incredibly bizarre courtship, one that involves him attempting to win her affections while slowly becoming a permanent part of her life.

What makes this movie so fascinating is the dynamic between the lead characters, played by Marianna Palka and Jason Ritter (who are also a couple off-camera). Their interaction is both heartwarming and heartbreaking to watch. The “man” does everything he can to win the “woman’s” trust despite the fact that she continually ignores or rejects him. Most of the time she is blatantly abusive. The fact that he sticks around, living amidst a constant strain of belittling insults, borders on masochist (in one of the more comic moments of the film, Ritter's character ends a heated argument by nonchalantly stating, "I love you. This fight is over.").

Yet stick around he does. He visits her at her apartment, starts spending the night, and eventually moves in with her. At which point you have to ask yourself…when did stalking become an acceptable form of courtship? I then realized that some of my other favorite movies also involve stalking. The follow-you-home-and-watch-you-through-your-window kind of stalking. For example:

Bed of Roses. A florist sees a woman crying in her window and follows her to work the next morning. Surely he wants to strangle her and wear her skin as a coat….no, he just wants to show her his elaborate rooftop garden.

50 First Dates. A marine biologist falls in love with a woman who suffers from short-term memory loss so he memorizes her schedule and “accidentally” runs into her every day…because come on, is it really stalking if she can’t remember it?

Untamed Heart. A shy busboy follows a waitress home every night to make sure she makes it there safely. Oh yeah, and he also climbs into her room and watches her sleep…isn’t breaking and entering cute?

Apparently one person’s creepy is my adorable. Blind romanticism and willful suspension of disbelief only got me so far before I had a “WTF???” moment of enlightenment. In reality I am fairly certain these women would have reacted much less favorably than they did in these movies, responses ranging from concerned to terrified.

Now my friend says ‘it’s only stalking if you don’t like the guy.’ True, but I think this explanation is too simplistic and one that gives the concept of initial attraction way too much credit. The female characters in Good Dick and 50 First Dates certainly didn’t like the male characters initially but over time they became interested. Time that was entirely facilitated by stalking.

‘It’s only stalking if he’s not a nice guy’ may be more accurate? These guys are sweet, caring, and most importantly harmless. At times they may be shy or awkward but serial killers they are not. But I believe the romance of it all has more to do with the dedication of these particular male characters and what that says about their masculinity. When asked by Chris Wilkinson of Eye for Film whether Ritter’s character was justified in his actions, Palka responded:

“What makes his character a hero is that he is very consistent. He has a very quiet strength and a real patience, which is an interesting thing to include in an illustration of masculinity.”

The women in these films have some deeply rooted issues. Whether it’s a history of abuse or a physical brain disorder they have some understandable difficulties trusting people. The fact that these men end up stalking the object of their affection may seem over the top but it may also be the only way to prove to these women that they aren’t going anywhere. Actions speak louder than words, especially when 90% of the population is relationship ADD. These guys are real people who see other real people, people who are different but deserve to be loved, and they are patient enough to stick around and prove it to them.

Gentle, patient, dedicated, and consistent is a far cry from the traditional masculine image of powerful, confrontational, and charismatic. Some may read “gentle and patient” as “pushover” but that is not the case. These men are confident even if in some cases it is a subdued confidence. After all, you have to be confident to be a stalker don‘t you? What would be the point if you didn’t honestly believe that you were charming enough to win them over if you just hang around them long enough?

This form of courtship is not a new concept. Chivalry, still frequently referenced as the model for polite male behavior, was built around unhealthy and unrealistic obsessions. A chivalrous knight defined his masculinity by dedicating his entire existence to a worthy lady of status. This poor man would write sonnets, fight battles, and possibly even die defending the honor of some woman that in all likelihood he would never even meet. This level of dedication seems unnecessary. If I am going to die defending the honor of a man he better buy me dinner first.

Stalking is also unnecessary and certainly not the romantic standard I would hold someone to, but I wouldn’t mind seeing that level of dedication and patience more often. Just remember, its all fun and games until someone gets a restraining order.

Read the entire Eye for Film interview with Marianna Palka and Jason Ritter here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pool Hall Revolution

There is a bar in Savannah that offers free pool on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I decided to make this part of my weekly routine. I grew up with a pool table in my house and my Dad taught me to play at a young age. My Dad loved three things; pool, cards, and bowling. He passed away when I was 19 and since I was a hopeless bowler and found cards to be too complicated, pool became the legacy I was left with. Instead of passing on the torch he passed on his custom-made pool cue with pearl inlay.

So every Tuesday is now date night with B&B Billiards. At first I’d like to think I blend in pretty well but when I start racking up at a free table its as if every man in the room feels a disturbance in the force.

Competent with a pool cue she is.

Or is she? When a girl plays pool in an establishment primarily frequented by pool players, they are going to size up her game. I could care less what these guys think about my game but it’s still intimidating. Is this how a man using a public restroom feels?

Fortunately unlike a public restroom (sorry guys) this is a pass or fail test and you only have to be slightly better than horrible to pass. While I may not be an excellent pool player I’m not a shitty one either. Lucky for me being not-too-shitty seems to carry a lot of weight as the men appear confused, intrigued, and admiring…simultaneously. Is this how a Christian youth group leader in a gay pride parade feels? I am not trying to start a revolution and I have nothing to prove but sometimes it feels good to show that I'm not afraid to play with the boys.

Also it’s no surprise that I enjoy playing a game where I can bend over provocatively, handle a long stick and repeatedly bust balls all night long. You could drown in that kind of sexual symbolism.

So where does that leave me? The Madonna/Whore complex enters new and interesting territory when you add some competition to the mix. On the one hand I am being respected and admired for my mastery of the game; on the other hand I am unintentionally flaunting my sexuality with the help of some not-so-subtle body positions and object metaphors. I am literally the ball buster and the tease, at the same time. Even Houdini couldn’t pull that off.

Maybe this is what third-wave feminism should look like.

In summary, the man who invented this game was very sexually frustrated and the secret to being a badass bombshell is to be slightly better than horrible at playing pool. If you can get through a game without completely embarrassing yourself you’ll have it made. If you can’t manage that then rest assured; there will always be a guy out there who is man enough to let you win.

And if you find one who is man enough to NOT let you win please let me know, because I’m still looking for him. :)