Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Making Amends (I hope) or a Public Apology

I am a proud, arrogant, stubborn person. Especially when I feel threatened. Last night, I went into a rampage on Twitter against my ex-husband and his new wife who were behaving in a way that I felt threatened my relationship with my kids. I called the two of them juvenile, stupid and weak. I roared about getting a lawyer if they thought they could just step in and tell me that I no longer had say over my children's lives. I went on a particularly vicious rampage against the new wife, who frankly has been engaging in some power play with my kids. I refuse to apologize for all the terrible things I said about her except for one. I called her short and fat. And for that, I am deeply sorry. I'm not even so much deeply sorry about how it might affect her feelings should she ever see it. I've tried to maintain compassion for her through these little power battles but since she continues to refuse to talk to me (she's never once talked to me. It's not like I've done or said something up to this point that has made her mad. She just won't talk to me), I've decided to quit seeing her point of view and build her into whatever kind of monster my imagination desires. Suck it, chica.

The reason I'm so sorry for that comment is because it was so entirely uncalled for. I had this brought home to me when one of my dear friends sent me a tweet telling me that as a short and fat person, she was no longer following me on Twitter. I realized at that moment that I've internalized the privilege that comes with being thin. I've internalized the messages that tell me that as a tall, thin person, I'm automatically better than someone with a different body type. For me, my comment about that woman's height and weight are equivalent to racist, sexist or religionist (?) comments about someone's skin color, gender or faith. I recently read this post on The Exponent blog and found myself whining about how hard it was to be thin. After my friend's comment to me last night on Twitter, I find that my whining about my body type makes me no better than the white, Christian male who whines about how discriminated against he is.

And the thing is, I should know better. In theory, I have no use for the current beauty culture and the way it idealizes only one body type. I cheer quietly to myself when I see plus-size or just different sized models in feminist magazines. I was at a friend's house just a few weeks ago getting angry at my friends for putting down fat people and refusing to date them. And then I go off and say something to the effect of someone being inferior to me based on appearance alone. My father is six three and weighs around 170 lbs. My mother was almost my height and was thinner than me for the majority of her life. I came into my body type entirely by chance. I have no right to lord it over others.

This particular friend that I've offended has done countless good to me. She's had me in her home, fed me, given me rides when my car broke down, taken me out of town for fun trips and simply been someone I could rail with on all my little soapbox subjects. And yet I managed to betray her entirely. And not just her, but others of my friends who aren't tall and thin like me but have been just as kind and giving. How did I dismiss their worthiness so off-handedly?

I have no excuse. All I can offer as an apology is that I gained some self-awareness from my friend's comment on Twitter. I won't do it again. This will be something I'll be thinking about for a good while. How do I eradicate the feelings of superiority I didn't even realize I had? How do I internalize the concepts that I argue for outwardly but obviously hadn't accepted inwardly? How do I ever make this up to this friend and any of my other friends who saw that comment and were also hurt by it?

Once again, I'm deeply sorry to any of my readers or friends who saw or were told about my behavior. I love all of you so much. You've all been so kind to me with no expectation of return. I'm going to work to change my views on these things. Allow me now to beg for your forgiveness.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sexual control, consent, responsibility

Since I have a contracts final in two days, I'm doing the obviously responsible thing and putting off studying to write a blog post about rape. We'd been talking about rape in my criminal law class even before all the drama about Julian Assange went down. So in a morbidly fortuitous way, I'd already been thinking about what rape means in our culture when he was arrested.

True to my lazy ways, rather than go research rape history, I'm going to outline how I've understood rape and leave that open for criticism in the comments. I'm still learning, so if y'all know something I don't, feel free to point me in the right direction.

From the way I understand it, rape was originally about theft, not sex. If a man forced a woman to have sex with her, that was only a problem if he wasn't married to her. Society saw that sex as a theft from the man that the woman actually belonged to. We didn't always recognize marital rape as a valid crime because rape wasn't about the woman originally. It was about a commodity being stolen. As time progressed and women became more fully human under the law (thank you, feminism!), we finally started seeing rape as a means of control or domination over women. It still wasn't about sex. It was about a man overpowering a woman and making her submit to him. It was about him seeing her body as something that he was entitled to. It was about her not having any sexual autonomy. We're finally getting to a point where we're acknowledging as a society that rape isn't about what a woman is wearing or where she's walking at night. Rape is generally about control--which is why we're also realizing as a society that rape is most common in relationships where the woman knows her attacker. Men use rape or sexual to keep women in a place of submission.

And now here we are at a place in history where women have more sexual autonomy than they've ever had before. Condoms are relatively easily accessible (I know they should be even more so if we're serious about preventing unwanted pregnancy, but that's for another post), birth control, at least for most middle class women, is still relatively accessible and while we have a long way to go on sexual education, enough awareness about disease prevention is arising so that most women and men are talking about these things and deciding what kinds of protection they want to use (hmmm. I'm realizing I could be projecting my own experience on to society at large here. Is that sentence naive?).

Which brings me to what I want to discuss. Again, before the Julian Assange drama, we were talking about rape in my criminal law class. We discussed rape history. We discussed consent. We discussed force as an element of rape and whether it should even have to be an element in rape. Legislatures are finally recognizing that some women don't resist because it would further endanger them. They're also recognizing that sometimes women are "forced" to have sex by more than just brute force. Maybe they're manipulated. Maybe they're shamed. But we're slowly realizing as a society that sex without consent can happen even without being beaten to the ground.

And this is where we get into the gray area. This is where I start getting confused and this is why I'm writing this post. We discussed a hypothetical where a man is potentially convicted of rape because he lied about wearing a condom. The woman had consented to have sex with him as long as he wore a condom. After the sex, she found out he hadn't worn one and so she filed a rape charge. I have to say, this makes me extremely uncomfortable. While I'm not going to say this happens all the time, it does happen that a woman will lie to a man about being on birth control. Has she raped him?

I'm all about a woman having a say in how sex goes down for her (heh). And I've been in situations where I felt like my body was being co-opted for someone else's purposes. I've been made to feel dirty and owned by a sexual partner (not this one, but that's also a post for another day). And it messed with me. It gave me issues about my body, control, trust, sexuality, etc. So I can't imagine the emotional trauma that must come from an actual rape.

And yet... I realize that I also have to take responsibility for my sexuality. I'm a big girl. I've never had sex and been unaware as to whether or not a condom was present. I've had condoms break in the middle of sex before (aren't y'all just thrilled at how much information I give you? Sorry. I feel like we gotta say these things out loud for them to get better). And I would hope that if I told a partner, "hey. the condom broke. you gotta pull out" or if the partner said, "oh, shit. the condom broke" and then i said, "ok. then pull out" he would. But if he didn't... I'm not sure it qualifies as rape. Is it wrong? ABSOLUTELY. You gotta stop when someone says stop. Jerk yourself off. Maybe ask her if she'll do it (and be willing to reciprocate. I mean, really guys? This shit is not all about you). But get out when she says get out.

But is that situation going to cause the same amount of emotional trauma that a more manipulative and/or forceful situation is going to cause a woman? Is a guy who keeps going after the condom breaks working under the same "i'm entitled to her" mentality as an uncle who molests his niece? Or is he like, "oh, shit. but i'm almost done!" I mean, no one likes a buzz kill, cock block, interrupted orgasm, however you want to call it. Are we really going to tell women that they're not responsible at all for checking whether the condom is in place before they actually start having sex? Is that helping women to tell them that they're entitled to sexual autonomy but still not capable of taking some responsibility in what we're trying to reform into a mutual relationship between mature adults?

Lastly, I want to clarify that I know I wasn't in the room for the Assange events. I have no idea what those women went through. My questions stem mainly from the hypothetical we discussed in class that seems to be very similar to the Assange mess. I'm also not trying to blame those women for anything. They're certainly entitled to have sex with whomever they want and to insist on condom use. But my questions above are sincere. I really want to understand this issue more. I want an honest dialogue (seriously, chrome? we're not spelling that with "ue" on the end anymore. sigh). So please, discuss.

UPDATED: Just wanted to throw in this delightful video on consent :) You know, lighten things up a bit.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Subjective Experience, Dogma and Community

As my four, maybe six, readers know, I attend the Unitarian Universalist church here in Idaho Falls. We're an eclectic group. Some of us are Budhist, some are pantheistic, some are pagan, some worship Norse gods and goddesses, some are agnostic, some are atheist (me, me, me!), some are new agey, and some I haven't talked to or figured out yet. But as I've said before, we disagree about where we come from, what we're doing here on earth, and where we'll go after we die. Put us in a room together to vote on anything from our seven principles to whether UUs should adopt a stance on war and peace, and we'll argue, cajole, debate, and get loud. But again, as I've mentioned in previous posts, we manage to make a loving, committed community in spite of these differences. What we generally have in common is our desire for social justice, peace, egalitarianism and deeper understanding of different circumstances. What's even more amazing is we manage to get things done both in our congregation and in the community at large.

What each of us brings to the community is our own subjective experience. Some of us have felt things or seen things or heard things that make us feel like there is some kind of higher power out there watching us. Some of us have never had any kind of experience like that. Some of us may have had these types of experiences, but written them off as emotional responses to beauty, fear, guilt, whatever. But we respect each others' subjective experiences. While most UUs hold very few things sacred, our subjective experiences are one of the things we do.

We also use different language to describe these experiences. Some people use words like revelation, blessings or spirit. Some use words like dream, gifts or connection. But each of us understands that these experiences, regardless of how biological or not they are, are meaningful to us. These experiences help us cope with the difficult elements of life. These experiences give us strength and healing. And for those of us who don't have these types of experiences, perhaps we scratch our head, but accept that the people we're talking with are sincere in their belief and entirely accepting of our own lack of belief.

And this brings me to dogma. I'm not writing this post to convince everyone to become UU. I'm done being a missionary. I will proselytize no more forever. I'm simply using my UU congregation as a microcosm to look at a broader issue I've seen in my larger community lately. Some of my close friends (one of whom even attends the UU congregation here on occasion) have been speaking out against religion and religious language in all its forms. They've been calling out religious liberals for their "irrational langauge," their "adherence to superstition", or their belief in "magic". Just today I was using the phrase, "kool-aide drinkers" in reference to people who accepted their respective faith without question. So I understand the ease of reductive language. But in the case of larger societal discourse, I find it unhelpful. I worry that we atheists are beginning to formulate our own dogma and display intollerance similar to the kind we criticize so vehemently in some religious sects.

I'm not saying that blind adherence to any ideal is a good thing. I'll continue to criticize religious sects or leaders who I feel are harming their members or certain groups of society. I'm not calling for a cessation in criticism, only for an examination of our own prejudices. I know many faithful, believing Christians and hippie, happy pagans who share my ideals of equality for women, the right to choose, equality for gay and lesbian citizens and tolerance and acceptance of beliefs that are different from but do not threaten their own or others' ways of life.

The source for their commitment to equality is their understanding of Jesus' teachings or their understanding of their place in nature just as the source for my commitment to equality is the realization that this life is all I've got and so I should try to make the most of it for myself and others. But ultimately, we're working toward the same goals. Why would I want to alienate myself from these kind, compassionate and motivated people simply because they hold a belief that I find baseless? Is their belief threatening me? No. Are they insistent that I accept their belief? No.

I understand that religion can be harmful. Boy do I understand. The religion of my childhood and adolescence caused me so much pain as I got older and realized that my goals in life conflicted with those prescribed for me by that religion. I'll be honest and say that I feel the higher-ups in many religions do take pains to control their membership with fear and guilt. But I'll also acknowledge that this is not everyone's experience of religion. For some, religion is nothing but a net positive. Religion has spoken to them and prodded them along the path of sharing and love.

So I guess what I'm arguing for is less dogma from either side. Call for questioning of assumptions. Call for questioning of authority. But don't stomp on someone's motivation for causes that you feel strongly about. Where religious liberals are concerned, we must search for common ground rather than getting hung up on differences in motivation. Even if everyone became Christian or pagan or atheistic, we'd still disagree about things. Why not work more on practicing a society who accepts and thrives on those differences (again, as long as those differences aren't harming people or groups) rather than one that insists on such strict conformity?

Friday, April 2, 2010

On Grace

Amazing Grace is probably my most favorite song of all time. I have lots of favorite songs that are favorites for different reasons, but I always come back to Amazing Grace when I need comfort or need to unwind from stressful situations. Recently, this song has become something of a meditation for me that I will play and sing over and over again when I need to clear my mind.

I've often wondered about my fascination with this song. It's one of the few gospel songs I've maintained a liking for since leaving Christianity behind. Ironically, it was never in Mormon hymnbooks when I was growing up, and while this is somewhat beside the point, I remember feeling somewhat guilty that I liked a non-approved hymn so thoroughly. At any rate, my love for the hymn now stems from a combination of what I feel is a beautiful, versatile melody and from my need to internalize the song in ways that are meaningful to me even in my atheism.

I was discussing atheist spirituality with a friend about a month ago. As usual, he was much more on the ball about writing a post, but finally, here is my own addition to the discussion, albeit slightly more focused on one concept.

I hesitate to explain too much of my former, Mormon views about grace, mostly because I don't want to bog down this post. But I feel a little background would be helpful. Mormons believe grace will save you after you have tried your hardest to be a righteous person and, according to some interpretations I've heard, gone through the temple and received your endowment. As a Mormon, I was always led to believe that other brands of Christianity depended too much on grace for salvation. I was under the impression that other Christians could be horrible people if they wanted to but because of their concept of grace could still receive salvation if they had had their own revelatory experience of being saved or born again. Shortly before my exit from Mormonism, I learned about the concept of grace being something like a boost to help you to God since as a mortal, your efforts to be perfect would ultimately fall short.

It's that last definition that I've co-opted and tinkered with for my own use in how I try to deal with my fellow humans. The guiding principle of my life right now is accepting the ambiguity that is life. We humans are never going to get everything right. How many of us have done something with the best of intentions, only to watch ourselves cause a loved one pain when we were sure we'd be helping them? One could argue for the goodness of our action from our intentions or for the inadequacy of our action from the pain it caused our loved one. But really, the situation is ambiguous. You can't really pin down how bad or good it was. All you're left with is the reality of the pain caused and the regret at having failed someone. For me, this is where grace comes in.

Grace as I currently define it is my own acknowledgment, acceptance of and forgiveness for mine and others' shortcomings. It's that boost I offer to myself and others when I know the disappointment we've caused each other was unintentional.

This definition fits in making Amazing Grace a good metaphor for my life. The thought that my loved ones will forgive me for my foibles, "how sweet the sound." And while I have no hope of an afterlife, I do hope that this concept of grace will save me in a more practical way by allowing me to see the good intentions of others.

Even the line, "twas Grace that taught my heart to fear," holds some truth for me in that leaving Christianity and Mormonism left me painfully aware of my shortcomings and the relative fruitlessness of my efforts. But this definition gives me hope that if I extend grace to others, I'll be the recipient of their own grace when I fall short of their expectations.

I don't really know what questions I have for this post. I'm interested in hearing your own thoughts about spirituality or the lack there of, in criticisms you might have of my definition/use or of your own thoughts on the subject. Please discuss :)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Getting Rich

I want more money. I realize that's rather an ungrateful thing to say given that my income still puts me in the top seven percent of wage earners world wide. But it's true none the less. I want more money. Given my current situation, I'm always teetering on the edge of financial disaster. I mean, I pay my rent, my childcare, my bills, every month. I feed my kids, though perhaps not as healthily as I'd like to. Thankfully they get most of their meals at daycare each day, and they're able to provide a more balanced diet than I am. I'm able to get a few extras here and there. I can buy an album of music I like from time to time. Every once in awhile I'm able to buy myself or my kids some new clothes or shoes. But if one of us gets seriously hurt or ill, or in the case of my youngest, needs more medication for existing conditions, then I'm pretty much screwed.

But that's not the only reason I want more money. I feel powerless. I admit that ideally, there are some things I'd like to be able to buy without hesitation: music, art from friends, and admittedly new clothes from time to time (although I'm really not that big a clothes horse. I keep all the clothes I own in my closet, and it's not even crowded). I don't need much more out of life than these things. I don't mind small houses; I eventually hope to live and work somewhere where I won't need a car for daily transportation. I don't want to get rich so I can accumulate more stuff (except for where the music, art etc. comes in). But I do want more money so that I have more freedom and don't spend a lot of my time worrying about what happens if something disastrous happens.

Perhaps the last reason I want more money is that I'm tired of not being able to help out. When the earthquake struck Haiti, when the hurricane struck New Orleans, when the tsunami hit India, I wasn't able to give really anything to the organizations over there providing aide. I did contribute a little. Don't get me wrong, I realize that if I can afford a new album here or there I can also afford to give some money to charity. And I try to make sacrifices in my personal wants when I feel like someone else needs my money more immediately. But I'd like to do both some day. I'd like to be able to surround myself with the beautiful things in life as well as help others have those things.

Those of you who know me in real life know that I'm making a move toward hopefully improving my financial situation (I have to be vague as I don't want this getting to my employers yet). But am I being naive? Does more earning ability automatically make one greedy? Am I going to forget this desire to live small and simply and compassionately when I'm bringing home a bigger pay check? Also, for my readers who may still be working toward being settled in, what do you hope for once you feel like you've reached a point of financial stability? For those of you who feel relatively well established, what do you enjoy in life? What are your concerns now?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I want to talk about hair. The hair on my head, the hair under my arms, the hair on my legs and the hair "down there" (read that phrase in a Vogue magazine one time and liked it. Dunno why).

I'm recently learning to love the hair on my head. As you can tell from my profile pic, I'm a brunette. What may not be quite as obvious, is that it's also curly. Not kinky curly, not wavy, but an odd mixture of curls and waves that have a mind of their own. Now, the color of my hair has never bothered me. I'm not one to get highlights or colors put in my hair. I've done it before and liked it, but it seems impractical given my budget and time constraints. But as I said, recently I've learned how to take care of my hair and what products keep it in some semblance of order (or artful disorder, as the case may be). So it's longer than it's been in years, and I'm generally satisfied with how it looks.

I'm really not sure what the hair under my arms looks like. I started shaving it when I was about 14 (I was a late bloomer. I'm sure it's earlier for a lot of women). So all I know about it is that it's dark and gets stubbly after a couple of days without meeting my razor. However, since becoming familiar with Amanda "Fucking" Palmer and her brazen ways, I'm considering changing that. It's not that I mind shaving. Many, many men shave their faces or at least parts of their faces everyday. This isn't necessarily an issue I'm spending a lot of feminist energy on. But I'm tired of shaving under my arms. I'm not entirely certain whether I will or not, but watching a woman like AFP be successful and confident and beautiful all the while having hairy pits... Well, why not? It'd save me that much more time in the mornings (I am not a morning person. I get up in *just* enough time to shower and get my ass out the door).

Now for the hair on my legs. Honestly? I like my legs to be bald. I like the way they feel when I rub them up against each other and they're all smooth. And I like how even cotton sheets feel like satin after I've shaved. So chances are, I'm gonna keep shaving them. I didn't start shaving them til I was in my mid teens. I simply didn't want to mess with it. But if I recall correctly, my leg hair, while dark, is rather fine. So I think I could probably go without shaving them. But I'm not gonna. 'Cause I like it :)

While I like my legs to be bald, I do not like bald pussy. These words by Eve Ensler (in the first chapter of her Vagina Monologues) were incredibly comforting to me, "You have to love hair in order to love the vagina. You can't pick the parts you want." And yet, most underclothing and bathing suit styles nowadays insist that women should be completely bald, except for their heads. Well, sorry. I ain't buyin' it. I mean, I do buy bathing suits and panties. But I don't buy the idea that I should have to be bald. Not down there. However, as I said earlier, I haven't been expending a lot of feminist energy on this. I'll be quite frank, I do some maintenance down there. I mean, folks trim and shave the hair on their heads and faces (or legs and armpits). So I don't see it as being far fetched to do the same to pubic hair. But I refuse to shave it or wax it into non-existence.

Ultimately what I'm saying is that from here on out, my hair will be about me. About what I'm comfortable with, enjoy etc. I'm tired of it being about a larger cultural beauty standard. AFP tweeted this today, "hopefully ... we'll change the cultural beauty & shaving standard this year." And that's what I hope for as well. I have enough things to worry about. I'm tired of this being one of them.

How about my few readers (bless your enduring, "omg, here Lessie goes again, and we're reading anyway" hearts)? How do you all feel about your hair? All of it? Do you like your hair long? Short? Do you like smooth legs or a more natural look? Are you a wild and bushy type down there? Or do you like a hairless look (cause seriously, I really don't care either way)? Do any of these things bother you? Worry you? I wanna hear.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sorting Memories

So my ex moved to a new apartment this weekend and found a few boxes of my things that had inadvertently gone to him when we split. Living in a shoebox as I do, I've been going through the boxes all day long so I can get them out of my livingroom as quickly as possible. It's been a trying day.

At this point in my life, I still see my marriage as something that I failed miserably at. I went through the boxes and found receipts and pamphlets from the several get-rich-quick and personal business opportunities that A and I invested in. We literally dumped thousands of dollars on Mary Kay cosmetics, ACN phone company, real estate investment companies and financial advisers. I winced each time I pulled out an item we had put so much hope and expectancy into and that had ultimately only caused us to lose more money. I'm not saying these businesses have never been successful for some, but my ex and I had to learn the hard way at least three different times to figure out that we're just not good at sales. What's worse, each of these ventures caused all kinds of friction in our marriage as we would blame the other one for wasting so much money and time on something that we knew they weren't going to succeed at.

Other boxes are full of cards and letters. Some of them from well-wishers when we got married, some of them to and from each other when we were dating or first married. Some of them from my mom. But most all of them painful reminders of a me that I don't really even remember. I look back on the time that those letters recall as one of doubt and fear. I don't remember the happy, love-smitten, spiritual giant that they describe. It's kept me wondering all day which was more authentic, the person all those cards and letters are talking to or the person that I remember?

Still other boxes are full of baby blankets that people made for our oldest son when he was born. I assume I received these simply because my ex didn't want to have to store them anymore. Still, they bring back ambivalent times. The months leading up to, during and after T's birth are some of the most painful and dark in my recent memory. They exposed a side of my ex that I hadn't known existed up to that point. The happy puppies and teddy bears on the blue and yellow backgrounds just seem flat and burdensome now.

So I guess ultimately what I'm asking is, what do I do with all this stuff? I have such limited space. My little apartment is already bursting at the seams with papers and pictures that the boys bring home from school and daycare. There's not a lot of room for much more. But at the same time, I'm reluctant to get rid of everything in those boxes. As painful as the memories are, they were a real part of my life, and I feel a need to hang on to some of it. Suggestions for sorting through all this mess would be great. How do you decide which memories to keep and which ones to toss?