Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Feminist Manifesto Part 1: The Word “Feminism”

 Feminism to me is not, never has been, and never will be about elevating women above men or about denigrating or degrading men in any way. I don’t know a single feminist who would define their experience of/with feminism in that way or who would ever actually want such a thing. I know feminists who have trouble trusting men because of what society has taught them about men and how they should relate to/fear them or worse, because their personal experience has taught them men should be feared first and only trusted once they have proven themselves trustworthy (see Shrodingers Rapist). This is the hardly the same thing as being a femi-nazi man-hater, despite how often people insist that being a feminist means being a femi-nazi man-hater. What this mistrust is is an artifact of our troubled society and really, despite this, many of the feminists I know love men. Like, really seriously love men.

I happen to have an uneasy relationship to men, both because of experiences I have had with men and what society has taught me about my place in it and about how I should expect men to treat me (one of my early sex-ed classes in middle school involved a lecture to the female students informing them that they should assume all men are rapists. The teacher proceeded to teach us how to not be raped, putting all accountability for any potential attack on our ability to fend it off or prevent the attack even happening rather than on the attacker for making the choice to attack. This is reinforced on a daily basis by attitudes like “boys will be boys” and “she was asking for it”). Despite this, I also happen to love men. Many of my friends are men, and most of my best friends are men. I also quite enjoy loving men romantically…and sexually.

So no. Feminism has never been and never will be about putting down men and raising up women. It’s about achieving equality between the sexes – and it also happens to be about so much more than that. It’s also about achieving equality for people of all races, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities and disabilities…and so much more.

It’s about equality for all human beings. It’s about ensuring basic rights for all human beings. Plain and simple.

So why call it feminism? At this point I want to say that I truly hope that you are familiar with Joss Whedon’s speech on the word feminism and the controversy that ensued. Calling into question our language and why we use it and if we can use it better is very important. Language is communication, and the words we choose to use can convey values and expectations and can and often do shape the world we live in. Consider the way the words “gay,” “fag,” and “dyke” are used as insults, and how this shapes and reinforces perceptions and ideas about homosexuals. Joss was absolutely right to call into question the word feminism and ask if there is a better way to express all that is encompassed in the word. He was right to challenge us to think critically about the word and why we use it.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments similar to his about why the word “feminism” may be hindering rather than helping: it suggests the priority of the concerns of the feminine over other concerns. I recently encountered a friend of mine who is herself an incredibly strong individual as well as incredibly smart perpetuating this idea that feminism can’t and shouldn’t be supported because it inherently puts down men. Trying to challenge this idea and press instead the idea that such an understanding of feminism is innately flawed and ignores real feminist goals and values as expressed by the majority of self-proclaimed feminists, she conceded that I wasn’t like those other feminists, but that they are out there and they’re ruining the whole thing for everybody. Yeah, those people totally exist, and yeah, they’re dicks. But they’re not the ones perpetuating this idea. In reality they’re a relatively quiet minority – at least as far as my experience goes. I’ve never met a man-hating femi-nazi.

Rather, it’s people who misunderstand what the word “feminism” represents who are ruining it. It was frustrating, to say the least, to encounter a very intelligent woman buying into this gross misunderstanding and misrepresentation of feminism – and not be able to see past that misunderstanding and misrepresentation or see how perpetuating it is harmful. It was frustrating to see that perpetuation at work, and see how it had already done plenty of work on someone I have such respect for.

Despite the confusion the word seems to tow along with it, I stick with feminism. After listening to Joss Whedon’s speech and reading the many criticisms that arose in its wake, I decided that feminism is, in fact, the word I want to use. It is far more encompassing than issues pertaining only to women, but because the movement has its roots in suffrage, one of the earliest movements to focus specifically on women’s issues (albeit a rather limited idea of what “women’s” issues were or are) and because to this day it does still have a strong focus on how imbalanced power dynamics between the sexes negatively affects society (and everyone included therein, not just women) but especially with an eye to the way in which women have been historically denigrated and with an aim to alter the ways in which that practice continues…yeah, I want to stick with the word feminism. It just makes sense to me to use this word for a movement and ideal which, though it has grown to encompass much more, originates with and still to a great degree focuses on women’s issues.

Not only because women’s issues specifically was the root of the movement but because a lot of women have suffered and even died in the name of this movement, all over the world. To retain the word “feminism,” to me, is to honor the sacrifices others have made which have helped to shape my world in a positive way. To discard the word would feel disrespectful. Maybe that’s a silly way of thinking about it, but it’s somewhat in my nature to want to pay homage to those who paved the way. And so I shall.

Obviously not all people who qualify as feminist under my definition like to use that word. I know several feminists who agreed whole-heartedly with Joss, and who like to use different labels for their social and political leanings than I do, and that’s fine. It’s not my place to give other people labels or define their experiences or socio-political stances (I just prefer it if they don’t tear down feminism as a whole and as a movement simply because they misinterpret the word or don’t quite agree with it). What I want to do in this series of blogs is to detail what feminism means to me. It hardly applies to anyone else, unless someone else finds themselves agreeing with every point I make in which case rock on sister/brother/however you identify you lovely being. But in a way that is the problem with feminism – or really any socio-political movement which is, by nature, defined by the individual who claims the label.

It was an article on the degree to which there are so many different kinds of feminism and figuring out what is “right” and what is “wrong” and where one variety of feminism ends and another begins which inspired me to write this (if I could find the article, I would link it to you. There are so many articles and blogs of this variety, however, that I’ve been unable to track down this one specifically.) In that article a woman was quoted as saying she wanted to see feminists writing manifestos, trying to form these definitions, and my brain said “Challenge accepted” so here I am – with more to come in the future.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

To Take a Pilgrimage Part 1

I don’t know much about the art of the pilgrimage, or the history for that matter. Let’s sum up my knowledge of the pilgrimage, actually, I promise it won’t take long:

1) I know that a pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the pillars of Islam, and a requirement of all those who are able.
2) I know that Chaucer once wrote a series of stories about Christian pilgrims, so I assume it used to be a thing for Christians as well, though I don’t know the history of Christian pilgrimages, where one would go or why. I don’t think it’s a thing anymore, or at least not a common one – I can’t remember hearing of a Christian going on a pilgrimage in the modern day.
3) There’s a rumor that back in the day high-born families from Norse villages and towns would periodically take a trip to the temple at Uppsala for a great sacrifice. I don’t know if this technically constitutes a pilgrimage, but it feels like it counts.

There you go. That’s all I know. So it tends to be an activity of a spiritual nature and often involves some deal of traveling. But I guess it isn’t necessarily a spiritual or religious experience – one could totally take a secular pilgrimage to a place of emotional or intellectual value to them. Say a botany student takes a pilgrimage to the Linnaeus Botanical Gardens, for example, or a neo-hippie takes a pilgrimage to the site of Woodstock. I think the important thing is that one is undertaking a journey to visit a site of great personal importance.

In many ways my travel to Sweden is a pilgrimage. In other ways I’m not sure it quite constitutes that because I’m living here, now. An extended pilgrimage, perhaps? In any case, as I’ve written about before my journey here was far more spiritual than scholastic for me, and in fact the scholastic aspect of my trip is something of a means to an end (though an amazingly awesome one that I wouldn’t trade for anything, not even guaranteed fame and fortune as a New York Times best-selling author). But in a way the pilgrimage part of the journey is over, and it’s become something else.

That said, there are still many other pilgrimages I could take. I have officially started off on another “mini” pilgrimage contained within the greater journey of my time in Sweden: I am traveling to Gosforth in Cumbria (in the UK) to visit the only known/surviving image of Sigyn contemporary to the Viking era. It dates to the first half of the tenth century, quite late in the Viking era, in an area that was settled by Scandinavian folk in the ninth through tenth centuries. The cross stands in a churchyard in Gosforth, a clear mix of pagan and Christian myths and ideologies – something which is quite common to find in rune stones from this late Viking period throughout Scandinavia, as well.

It’s called the Gosforth Cross for a reason: it is quite literally a giant cross, a stone pillar topped with a stone Celtic cross (a cross within or combined with a circle). The cross is, obviously and unequivocally, a Christian symbol yet the length of the pillar is engraved with images of figures from Norse mythology – including the only known image of Sigyn from the Viking age. She is depicted there (as she is depicted in almost every image of her to be made since) holding a bowl above bound Loki’s head to capture the venom dripping from the snake above him.

There are other pagan images on the stone as well, including the gods Heimdallr and Thor as well as Fenrir and Jormungandr. It will be a pleasure to be able to stand at this cross and look upon these images as well, but mostly I am going to look upon the image of Sigyn.

What will I do once I get there? I honestly haven’t the faintest idea. Like I said, I don’t know how these pilgrimage things go. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do really. So I suppose I will find out when I get there. In the mean time I’ll be seeing other amazing places along the way: as I’m writing this I’m sitting in the guest room of a friend from high school who just so happened to find herself living in Sweden as well and several years before I did (to be very technical about this, I’m sitting on Mila The Adorable Puppy’s bed) and soon I will be seeing Copenhagen, Berlin, and Amsterdam for the first time. I will get to see the van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, which is almost a pilgrimage all its own (unfortunately I couldn’t find a way to make going to the van Gogh House in Zundert a thing – that truly would have been a pilgrimage all its own) and I’ll also get to see the Anne Frank House (again, another incredibly experience – albeit it a very different kind of incredible experience). I’ll see London (though briefly) and after I leave Cumbria I’ll see Edinburgh, where I may end up spending a month taking a creative writing program this summer (big maybe, but an awesome one).

The thing about this trip is that it’s proving challenging. I’ve never taken a trip like this before, let alone planned one, and I’m having some rather intense glitches. But I’m trying to make myself believe that it will work out, trying to make myself free-fall in a way. It will be okay. I’ll find a way.

Even without the glitches, however, this trip is still just as terrifying as leaving for Sweden was. Like I said, I’ve never done anything like this before. I could simply have flown into Glasgow or Edinburgh and taken a train to Cumbria – it would have been simpler, less frightening, and cheaper. But I also wouldn’t have seen as much and I honestly feel like it would have been less rewarding. I suspect pilgrimages aren’t supposed to be as easy as simply buying a plane ticket, anyway – you are supposed to be challenged, I think. You are supposed to come away from the experience having learned something new about yourself, having grown and strengthened yourself. The best way to do that? Sometimes it’s just to let yourself free-fall and make yourself trust that you’ll know what to do.

That is my suspicion anyway. Like I said, I know nothing about this pilgrimage thing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Waiting for Inspiration is Bullshit.

 I am being a SUPER procrastinator because for SOME UNKNOWN REASON I don’t currently want to write the story I want to write, even though I know exactly what to write (which is really quite rare) and I’m just being a real butt about it. In the past few hours I’ve only written a little over one page, and – like I said before – not because I don’t know what to write. But because I don’t feel like making an effort.

Writing this is far less effort. This doesn’t require choosing exactly the right word to describe the way that character said that thing and it doesn’t require navigating what elements are necessary to the plot/character arc/setting development/whathaveyou and what is something I just want to write because or EVEN WORSE what is something that I want to write because deep down inside I just want to be preachy. Stories are not the place for preachy. So I gotta not do that shit. But it can be so tempting.

Anyway – this is far easier than doing those things, and all of the other things that happens when you’re trying to construct an interesting story with good characters. This is just vomiting my thoughts on my keyboard. That’s about it. That’s why blogging is relatively simple. Well…okay, I guess it’s simple if you’re not, like, trying to move worlds and stuff. And sometimes I want to move worlds but right now moving worlds requires effort and you know how I feel about effort? I want to poop on it. That’s how I feel about it.

But anyhoozles. So I thought, “You know…if I’m going to procrastinate at writing this story, I should probably do something somewhat more productive than catching up on vlogbrothers or watching old Markipliervideos or scrolling endlessly through all the facebook posts I’ve already scrolled endlessly through about five times before, hoping there will be something new and interesting. There won’t. But hey, I can write a blog with relatively little effort, right? I could go to bed but I’m not gonna, and that’s another story entirely.

The story I’m going to tell you today is this: waiting for inspiration is bullshit.

It’s true, it really is. Honestly, if writers actually just sat around waiting to be struck by the lightning of inspiration or to be seduced by the muses then we would end up doing exactly what I’ve been doing tonight (read: spending way too much time on YouTube). And you know, the same is true for any art form: I’ve had the great pleasure to work with a number of artists at this point, and none of them can afford to dally about while waiting for inspiration to show up. They’ve gotta be turning out paintings to fill their etsy shops and making new fancies for galleries. The same goes for musicians: they’ve gotta get new material to record and perform on stage. We all love their old classics, but we all also want something new. Same goes for writers. I mean, I fucking love The Name of the Wind but I’m poised at the edge of my seat waiting for Patrick Rothfuss to release Doors of Stone (and I can’t wait until I get a chance to read The Slow Regard of Silent Things – how have I not read this yet?!). Moral of the story: if you’re even half-way serious about making a living on your art, you have to turn out more products. Inspiration isn’t great for turning out new products.

So don’t wait for inspiration. Make your own goddamn inspiration. Think of a story you would like to read, and then sit down and crank it out. If you’re wanting to make a living on your art, then your art has to be work. Of course if you love your art then you get to do this cool thing where you love your work, but it’s still work. You can dally for a while, and you should. By all means, watch that movie you’ve been meaning to watch that just came out in Redbox. Finally read that book your friend gave you last year for Christmas. Watch the latest vlogbrothers video. Let your brain juices stew for a bit. But know that when you’ve let the brain juices stew, it’s time to sit your ass down and get to work, inspiration be damned.

Because if you want to be a writer, and if you’re serious enough about it to regard it as work, to actually sit your ass down and shout “Inspiration be damned!!” then start beating the shit out of your keyboard with your ferocious little fingers…then you have stories to tell, and you should tell them, goddamn it. So do it – just make yourself do it. Push yourself into the story, and you’ll find the rhythm. It’s waiting for you to work through those first trying pages to find it, and once you’ve reached it, you’re gonna be golden.

That said. Maybe I should take my own goddamn advice.

Thank you, Patrick Rothfuss. I knew I'd leeched this from somewhere.

So to the handful of you who’ll end up reading this: thank you so much for taking the time. I appreciate you so much. And your face. I appreciate your face.

See y’all.