Friday, June 24, 2016

Strange things can happen..

...when you decide to go poking around into notions of socially constructed phenomena such as identities. This can get really weird really fast because these areas deal with thinking about how we build our notions of who we are and how we are.

What you say? I'm just me and that's who I am.

Not so fast...you being you didn't just "happen"...nor did me being me...or anyone else for that matter. Who I am or who I believe myself to be came about as a result of a negotiation (an ongoing negotiation that continues throughout the lifespan) between our inner experiential world and that big bad outer world that we all swim in. How we think we are versus how the world out there tells us we have to be (in order to be considered acceptable or ok or "normal"). You didn't think all that stuff just "happened" did you?

By negotiation I mean stuff inside us encountering stuff outside of us and our figuring out how to navigate and exist and balance our inner desires and preferences and conceptualizations with the outer pressures and conceptualizations that we're all subjected to.

For instance, a couple of the clusters of stuff we all encounter in U.S. culture comes to us via those ways of being that have to do with which racial identity we're assigned and which gender identity we're assigned. Those are pretty much handed to us and we (generally) don't have much choice in the matter. What we have to figure out is how to reconcile them (somehow) with how we feel or perceive ourselves to be and with how to operate in the world in such a way that we can, sort of, be ourselves within those gender and racial roles that we're stuck with.

I'm mostly wrestling with gender identity here...not that other aspects of being (race, for instance) aren't powerful and always present...but here I'm sort of ignoring (because I'm not smart enough to try to think about all of it all at the same time, but all of it at the same time is how it happens) other elements and focusing on gender role or identity.

If you don't think you're handed a gender role and pretty much forced (by forced I mean that if you try to ignore that role or violate that role you will face some fearsome consequences) to adhere to it then...if you're gendered as a male...try this experiment. Go buy yourself some dresses and/or skirts and...changing nothing else about yourself...start trying to wear those articles of clothing and go through your daily routines out there in the world...like going to work and such. Watch what happens...I betcha you'll find all kinds of pressures being applied to you to knock it off. Folks will probably start behaving very differently around you and they are also likely to dramatically change their perceptions of you...mostly not for the better either. You might lose your job, your friends...heck...you might have physical violence directed toward you. People get really really excited about this stuff...some to the point of being willing to harm you if you make them too nervous or upset their expectations. 

We all get messages about how to "perform" our gender identity/role from birth onward...all the time and in all kinds of ways. And...often (probably always in some way or other) there is a mixture of race and gender messages directed towards us. Here's one graphic I found that theoretically is "universal" in terms of a message about being a "real" man but it actually is racial too. Why is it racial...well...some groups of folks don't generally have as much body hair (Native Americans for instance) as others but this graphic implies being a "real" man means having lots of facial hair.


See what I mean? The fact is I have little facial hair and absolutely no chest hair...which means I'm not a "real" man...right? According to the message in the graphic I'm not a "real" man. To me, that's silly. But...silly or not...stuff like this is astonishingly powerful and consequential. If you don't believe me, and your gender role is male...go ahead and try the experiment I mentioned before and see what happens. Actually...don't...because you might get hurt and I wouldn't want that to happen. Do a thought experiment instead...imagine wearing a skirt and imagine the reactions you might get. That's safer.

I've been thinking about all this stuff for some time now...actually I've been thinking about the gender stuff for a long time. Partially because of what I did professionally...back when I was doing professional stuff. I did psychotherapy for a long time and I quickly realized that you really can't do psychotherapy very well if you buy into the "real" man crap very strongly because "real" men are expected to be rather stupid about emotions and feelings and such. And...you are not going to be very skilled at psychotherapy if you're ignorant about feelings.

One of my first encounters with this awareness was having it pointed out to me that men have a much harder time learning the skills of psychotherapy than do women...because...women are much more familiar with and much more practiced at dealing with feelings than are men.

Guys have much more to learn...initially anyway...than do women. It isn't that guys can't learn the necessary skills...it's just that they have to make much bigger and more encompassing changes than do women mainly because of the messages they've gotten about what/how to be a "real" man. Men often have to learn to adjust/modify their notions about gender identity in addition to learning new skills in order to become a half-way competent psychotherapist...women much less often have to adjust their gender identity notions when learning these skills.

What's become much more apparent to me about this "man" stuff over the past couple of years as I've wrestled with living vegan and with struggling with the implicit racial biases that my culture has taught me is that...much akin to how "whiteness" has mostly to do with being oppressive so does "man" stuff have to do mostly with being oppressive. What a bunch of crap...jeez.

Consider this graphic. Agree with that?


Sounds pretty snazzy, eh? Five years ago I probably would have seen this and thought...hey...good stuff. Now...not so much. Think about it...It's all very well if you're a member of a dominant or powerful group and there's little risk associated with your being honest and straightforward...but...what if you're not a member of a dominant group. What if, for example, you were Jewish and living in Germany in 1943...would you run out and tell the Gestapo that you were Jewish? Because you're being a "real" man and you are being honest and you don't want to be a "coward"?

I really had never connected all this "honesty" stuff with oppression but it actually has a tremendous amount to do with who has power and who doesn't. It seems to be that the more social power you possess then the fewer negatives there potentially are for being "honest". Maybe it has almost nothing to do with being a "man" but has much more to do with power. Hmmm.

That statement in the graphic...which is presenting itself as a universal sort of thing is actually profoundly influenced by context...by identity...by assignment to a  racial group and by what's going on in the context of the society that someone lives in than it has to do with a "universal" truth. 

If a situation is that you will be killed if you're honest but you might live if you are deceitful...and (let's say) your deceit harms no one...then you're a "coward" if you lie? Gimme a break...that's deplorably simple minded and shallow...and seriously misleading. 

Don't misunderstand...I suspect honesty is probably a good thing...I value it...but...the consequences for engaging in honesty are thoroughly intertwined with your social identity and with your society and what is going on in that society at a particular time. Any thoughts about "honesty" that ignores those factors and just holds out "honesty" as a universal sort of value that applies to everyone (or "real" men) the same way, in all circumstances and at all times, is sort of goofy. It's much more complex and convoluted than the graphic suggests.

What does being a "real" man have to do with being vegan? Based on my own experience both personally and online...it's my impression that women who live vegan far outnumber men who are vegan. By a big amount...my guess would be at least 5 women are vegan for every 1 man who is vegan. Presuming that ratio is semi-accurate...why the big difference? Think about some of the messages that we get about how to be a "real" man...you're supposed to be tough, strong, stupid about feelings, willing to ignore others in order to get what you want and on and on and on.

Read Carol Adams book to learn more about the weird mixing that our culture engages in regarding being vegan and sexual identity.

Being vegan is very much intertwined with many of the messages that we get about how to be a "real" man...and most of those messages about being "real" men ooch us in the direction of not living vegan.

This social construction stuff is a heck of a lot more complex than you might think. I'm glimpsing, somewhat, that maybe most, if not all, of these socially constructed positions and identities have much more to do with power than they have to do with any "difference".

I've just touched on a few aspects of it here...you can think about your own experiences of how you've navigated your sexual identity and I suspect you'll quickly see that there's very little of it that's straight forward and uncomplicated...and you might notice that it has much more to do with power than you've previously thought.

Note: I've written as if there are only two sexual identities...that's what our culture tells us anyway...I'm quite aware that's false...the gender binary stuff is part of the wacky way oppressive cultures work. I know it's much more complicated than the way I've presented it here so please excuse my omissions and/or failures at being accurate. This stuff is very very complex.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

I will miss him.

He was unfailingly pleasant and polite...always welcoming to humans and also courteous and gentle with his bond mate and brother Speckles.

Walter J. was one of the first bunnies I became acquainted with when I started visiting Heartland Rabbit Rescue on a regular basis...that's been around 7 years now...so I'd known Walter for a long time.

He died some days back and I miss him. He was a very special bunny (as they all are) and he was one of those kind of Earthlings that just made you smile when you saw him.

Baby Walter J.

Jeannie, the director of Heartland, posted this picture of a young Walter J. on her facebook page and it shows a little of (as well as a photo can) the essence of this beautiful and special bunny.  Mother Earth is lessened by his loss...bye Walter J.

I miss you and thank you for having been here and for being you.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Voting with women of color...

is a modest change that I can and will make. It is so simple and so obvious that I'm still rather flummoxed at my failure to consider it before now.

Maybe the obviousness of it exemplifies the way invisibility works because it certainly...now anyway...seems incredibly apparent to me. I've never seen it presented anywhere else...maybe it was and I missed it...but it seems incredibly important...and easy...and way under publicized as a path for white men who are anti-racist and anti-misogynist. 

This little graphic I saw perfectly illustrates a fact that has been obvious to me for a long long time and that I've struggled with and worried over how to counter it.

Yup...the figure on the far right drives most of the human caused harm and horror that afflicts mother Earth. And...I'm one of the group represented by that figure.

What can I do to counter some of this awful truth?

Well...I can do the work necessary to determine who or what women of color support in any election and make sure I cast my vote in accordance with their wishes.

Zip zoop...in one act I opt out of using my vote to support white privilege and male privilege.

I realize this is a small thing...and I realize that at times it might be problematic (for instance the preferences of women of color might run counter to what I perceive to be the best stance for Earthings who aren't human beings) but...all in all...this seems to me to be an obvious...and just...thing to do. It sure beats the heck out of not doing this.

Why didn't I think of this before now? Jeez.

One sad and almost funny thing happened when I shared this notion in a facebook group I belong to that's ostensibly devoted to countering racism. A male (I think he's racialized as white...but I'm not certain) saw my suggestion and told me that if I really understood white supremacy and misogyny then I wouldn't need any poll to tell me what women of color preferred...I would just "know" and that polls were oppressive and misleading anyway.

Look...one thing I've become thoroughly convinced of over the past couple of years is that we're all subjected to relentless social conditioning that supports both white supremacy and male supremacy (as well as human supremacy) and that stuff is incredibly effective at screwing up perceptions and understandings and comprehensions. At least it has played hell with mine. So...I don't trust my own judgement in many situations...especially those involving race and sex...hence my desire to look at some external reference like a poll or something.

His assertion that polls are flawed is likely true in many instances...but...my judgement is just as suspect and also and probably more so. I've seen many polls where the preferences of women of color have run counter to the preferences of the majority...especially they have often run counter to the preferences of white people...therefore...I will use them (because I don't have anything better) as a proxy for my judgement.

I refuse to fall into the trap of thinking I "know" what women of color prefer.

I fear that the man who pooh poohed my idea of using polls is way over estimating the excellence of his judgement if he thinks he "knows" what women of color prefer in an election (notwithstanding his racial uniform). I fear he is obliviously asserting male privilege that's he's been relentlessly socialized to support. 

He's not a woman of color nor am I and it seems really really dubious that a man "knowing" what women of color prefer where that knowing runs counter to what a (reputable) poll suggests is (to me anyway) an exercise of male privilege via the absurd meme of "I know what women want" of "I know what's best for women". I don't have that kind of perceptiveness and I am fairly sure he doesn't either. Maybe he does...if so more power to him but I definitely do not so I will look to informational sources outside of myself.

Obviously aligning my vote with women of color is only one thing I can do to counter or resist oppression...there's lots more for me to do...but...it's a step in the direction of lending support to those who are oppressed...and...as far as I can see it does not recreate oppression elsewhere. Good stuff.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Recreating oppression

I've become aware that one of the major factors that perpetuates the operation of oppression in societies is how incredibly often well intentioned people who believe they are advocating for an oppressed group...will...inadvertently or carelessly or obliviously (or un somethingly)  engage in activities that are harmful or oppressive to some other group. The various campaigns that PETA has engaged in over the years is an obvious example of this narrow obliviousness of caring or of comprehension.


I've been guilty (and probably will be again in the future, sigh) of this sort of warped lack of comprehension...it almost appears as if we believe that if our intentions and/or goals are good or desirable or "pure" then somehow whatever path we take to move toward those ends is automatically exempt from being harmful or dubious or undesirable.

If my intentions or goals are pure or good...then I can do no wrong in pursuit of them. When I write it out...it looks goofy as hell...but...all you have to do is look around and see instances of this type flawed detachment driving behavior occurring all over the place both currently and historically

Come to think of it...that sort of disconnect between saying and doing may be a core foundational organizing principle of this nation. We are taught to go into a reverential swoon at the words "All men are created equal" while ignoring that these words were written and promoted by white men who were diligently engaged in murdering and stealing land from the original human inhabitants of the North American continent and also engaging in the practices of human enslavement. While their words were inspiring...their behavior was appalling.

They seemed to have good intentions and goals...so...let's just ignore their actual behavior.

Here's one source that documents that 41 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence enslaved human beings...not to mention their support of and participation in an ongoing war of conquest and theft against the original human inhabitants of this continent. 

That's almost 75% of those who avowed that "all men are created equal" were saying this while enslaving human beings. And yet...we're taught to almost deify these white men...these "founding fathers"...we're taught to revere people based on what they say....not what they do. That's our "heritage". 

I've written in various posts in this blog about my adventures in trying to advocate for veganism without being disrespectful or oppressive toward other beings. I've personally experienced the blowback that can occur when triggering white anxieties about "goodness". Instead of struggling to comprehend what was happening, some "good" white vegans summarily dismissed me from a vegan group.

White fragility is a very real and powerful dynamic that pervades U.S. culture. And...when it's triggered...really ugly things can happen. (A philosophy professor, Cori Wong, suggested that maybe there's an epistemology of ignorance associated with each system (or "ism") of oppression. I think she might be right and I suspect there is also a "fragility" syndrome associated with each system of oppression. Much more work needs to be done in enhancing understanding about these sorts of phenomena.)


It almost seems like we sort of believe that pursuing "good" in one area means it's impossible for us to behave horridly in pursuit of that "good". And...any suggestion that our pursuit of a "good" might be being done badly or poorly is occasion for outrage and indignation instead of a signal for time to do lots of thinking and contemplating. Here in the U.S. we seem (white people anyway) to be firmly committed to talking one way and behaving in another way.

This whole weirdness of recreating oppression while endeavoring to interrupt it deeply perplexes me. Not that I think there's some mythical place or way of being wherein someone can exist in pure "innocence" or anything...but...jeez. Way way too often efforts to prevent or interrupt or reduce oppression magically morphs into recreating oppression in some other form or fashion. Ought not our goal to be stop or resist oppression without engaging in oppression against other victims?

Maybe we have big problems doing that not by accident but rather because we're carefully taught to be unaware of this sort of process?

So very often the recreation of oppression is absolutely unnecessary and avoidable...with some (sometimes easy but sometimes difficult) thought and consideration. But...that fact seems invisible to us. 

For those of us who've been immersed in the 'white' viewpoint and have benefited from that set of systemic operations...struggling to opt out of it can be difficult and challenging...but...it is also true that clarity of comprehension often entails much effort and difficulty no matter what the task or goal might be.

Here's one set of observations that seem very important if I'm interested in opposing harm without recreating harm. I have some thoughts about the main principle involved here (those with power not having the standing to indicate what's not oppressive) that I'll elaborate more on in another post.
These observations seem pretty straight forward...but...they reference a way of understanding oppression that I had never thought seriously and deeply about. In retrospect...and...part of the reason I had never thought about it was because my culture absolutely doesn't encourage me to pay attention to these factors.

In fact, my culture tends to punish anyone who tries to implement these sorts of ways of comprehending and behaving. Demonizing and/or blaming the victim(s) of oppression seems to be a core feature of American society...especially if interrupting and/or ameliorating that oppression entails a re-evaluation of what's considered to be "normal". Wikipedia's entry on victim blaming contains this assertion:  "Victim blaming is common around the world, especially in cultures where it is socially acceptable and advised to treat certain groups of people as lesser."

Note that "socially acceptable and advised" is just another way of saying "normal". Victim blaming is common in cultures where some groups are viewed as "lesser"...and...where other groups are viewed as dominant or "superior".

If I slap your face...I'm not the one who get's to decide whether the slap hurt you or not...that's your call...not mine. Jeez. That's not hard to understand but I have to admit...depressingly...that looking at things from that viewpoint simply eluded me way way too often. The breadth of my obliviousness staggers me at times. 

When I look at the kind of messaging that goes on in U.S. society...I realize that we are definitely not taught to think that way...at all. Indeed...we are encouraged to believe if we say the right words...and/or belong to a dominant group...then if our behavior is deplorable or atrocious it should be ignored and/or defended.

What kind of bizarre crap is that?