Sex and Gender (An Urban White Straight Male’s Perspective)

January 30, 2013 at 2:41 pm (Uncategorized)

First, let me say that I am totally unqualified to talk about this subject. Second, let me say that I am 100% qualified to talk about this subject. Why is that? Well, I am not particularly familiar with literature or research on this topic, and I come from a position of privilege. I am also a human person, so what I say and think and do is mine to decide.

I’ve been having this imaginary conversation in my head today with a potential employer. It all started in an interview when I was asked what I prefer to be addressed as–he/she/neither/something else. This was the first question after pleasantries, and I was somewhat taken aback. Not because it is not an excellent/relevant question; it is. I was taken aback because no one had ever asked me that question before.

To understand why this is had an effect on me is to go back into my formative preteen/teen years. Growing up, I found that I loved a lot of things perceived as “feminine” like musical theatre and choir. I also love football and sports, but people don’t tease you about the things you’re supposed to do. They tease you about perceived flaws, which for boys is appearing too feminine. I never saw myself that way, but I was acutely aware that plenty of people had perceptions of me that leaned in that direction.

I myself buy into that culture at times–I have called men derogatory names that deal with various parts of the female anatomy. You don’t think about what you’re doing when you do it. You just are saying things to be funny, or to tease. When you’re with a bunch of your bros evenings can often become a sophomoric farce. I never meant any harm by it, and I’m as much of a feminist as anyone, but when you think about what leads you to say those things in the first place, one realizes that they are helping to perpetuate a culture in which all people are created equal (but some are more equal than others).

We’re making progress towards a more inclusive society. I haven’t used gay as a slur in a decade, and none of my friends do either. I actively get after people who do call people gay or fag as a derogatory statement. We still have a long way to go in many arenas.

The problem is that many times we say things we have been socially conditioned to say, or make jokes we believe are funny, and the line is blurry between what is acceptable and what is not. There is a grey area and I think we have to understand what the intent is. If a friend of mine tells me to get out of my pajamas and “stop being a little bitch” and come hang out, is he/she trying to insult anyone? I would argue they are not. In a perfect world we would begin to move away from slurs that have any connotation to a group of people and make up nonsense words to describe the same things. “Jordan, stop being such a flibbertyjibbit and get your ass to the bar,” or something like that. I think the important thing is to try to educate people and know that they cannot undo years of culture yelling in their ears at once. I would prefer that we look at people’s hearts and try to understand where they are coming from as individuals before we judge them based on one errant encounter. You can color me guilty of not always doing that myself.

Back to the interview. In that moment of questioning I was sitting there dumbstruck for a moment because no one had ever asked me that question before. What did I prefer to be called? I had literally never thought about it. I didn’t think about it then, either. I blurted out something along the lines of “you can call me whatever you want.” She just smiled at me and said that she would circle the “he” option.

After thinking about it more, I realize that it is kind of strange that to be white, to be straight, and to be male is the default option for a few reasons. White people are not the majority on the planet (though they are in the US for the time being–and will continue to be a plurality through my lifetime at least, and you can argue that in the NW there are an overwhelming number of Caucasians present). There are more women than men on the planet. I guess it all comes down to power. Traditionally it is vested in men, specifically those who are white, straight, and Christian. Being three of those things I am sitting on a whole bunch of advantages that I either do not or cannot see on a daily basis.

I guess what strikes me is that it is really hard to see if you have this weight of centuries of culture and society behind you–to notice the advantages you get. I’m not saying that I cannot conceptualize the idea, but I don’t see it happening in my everyday life. I see myself as a guy who is trying to make his place in the world just like everyone else. When you’re trying to do that it is easy to ignore the broad view of history. I don’t blame people for doing it, but I think a lot of my more conservative friends and family are operating from a viewpoint that ignores exactly those advantages. There are real, measurable disadvantages to belonging to any minority group, or to being a woman. In practice we are not always living up to the ideals we ostensibly believe in. I have a lot of friends who are gay/lesbian/bi/trans, and they face unique challenges that I have not ever nor will I ever have to face.

I guess what I’m driving at here is that people deserve love and compassion because they are people. You can ignore biology and fit facts to support your narrow worldview, but that doesn’t make facts less the objective truth. If you feel like certain groups are getting special treatment, it is probably because they literally have had to point out recently (or are still in the process of pointing out) that they are EQUAL and deserve to be treated as such. Pointing out a desire for equality is not the same as wanting special treatment. I also am of the opinion that certain groups have been oppressed for so long that you have to work towards helping pull people up.

Will that make it harder for me, the straight white guy? Probably. All that frustration is, though, is a taste of not being on top. We don’t get to play the game of life on easy mode while everyone else is forced to play on the hard setting. Let’s all just try to get to normal.

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Fragments

January 28, 2013 at 1:12 pm (Uncategorized)

I think what I really enjoy about listening to music are those moments when you hear the music and it feels like you are deep in thought, but your mind is empty. Literally all you are doing is listening to the music. I’m not usually quite so in the moment, but I imagine if I could feel like that all the time I would be a pretty peaceful person.

Blogging is weird. It’s this mix of personal but (for me, at least) not TOO personal, something you do for yourself but also for the world, a mix of your writings that you are sometimes proud of, sometimes critical. I like to just let the words flow–which lets me write at all in the first place, but diminishes the quality of my writing. The compromise I make with myself to keep on writing somewhat consistently.

The more I do it, the more I think karaoke is one of my more favorite things to do. Lots of fun to sing and to hear others put their voices out there. Plus people have usually been drinking so they say nice things. Karaoke last Saturday was pleasant on that level but also to meet new people and just hang out. That’s something I haven’t done much of since getting home but it has been a goal. I would anticipate more karaoke in the future–won’t complain about that.

The weirdest things can bring up the most random memories. You ever find something casting you back to a person or place you haven’t thought about in years? Maybe it’s just a part of being back in Camas after spending 5 years hardly at home.

 

“To be bitter is to attribute intent and personality to the formless, infinite, unchanging and unchangeable void. We drift on a chartless, resistless sea. Let us sing when we can, and forget the rest..”   ―H.P. Lovecraft

 

“I am pretty embroiled in moving on and moving forward with music.” —Andy Summers

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January 25, 2013 at 11:14 am (Uncategorized)

I feel that spending the morning with chai tea and pizza is a fairly accurate edible representation of my being. It’s been one of those lazier mornings where your alarm goes off at 7:15 and you decide to just snooze until 8:30 or so. Not the worst (there are days I have just shut off the alarm and slept until whenever I felt like) but when you are trying to form better habits for yourself sleep-wise it leaves something to be desired.

I had a job interview yesterday–pretty excited about that. I would be able to work in politics and really help a lot of great causes while learning more about the industry. I hope it works out; I’ll have an answer in a week or so. I’m a little nervous too, simply for the fact that you don’t always get job opportunities where you know that you’re going to love what you do and be able to put your passions toward your work. I know I’d do a great job at whatever I am asked to do work-wise because I believe in working hard and getting things done, but doing something that drives you is really special. Out of my hands now, so I will just have to try to not think about it too much for the next while.

Not too many deep thoughts this morning, but here’s a quote I like:

“Being on the tightrope is living; everything else is waiting.”
– Karl Wallenda

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Words, words, words

January 23, 2013 at 10:09 am (Uncategorized)

“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” –C.S. Lewis

 

It is no secret to those who know me that I adore the English language with all its subtleties and double meanings. English may not have the depth to always express complex emotions concisely, but the fact that it has zero compulsion about stealing from other languages means that if a word is needed it can be found. Puns are especially appealing to me. For whatever reason I find excellent wordplay to be the cleverest form of humor.

Language is such an interesting subject–we talk and talk and rarely think about why we say what we say or how we say it. Thoughtless speech can cut us to our cores, where a well placed word or two can brighten our entire perspective on life. Something that I was taught early on doing theatre and that has stuck with me is the concept of speaking only when you can improve on silence. The idea is that you should have motivation for the words you say on stage; you aren’t saying them just to say them but because you have an objective through those words–whether you are seeking love, to compel, or anything else. It’s a variation on what your mother told you growing up–if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I believe that everything you say should have an element of constructiveness in it–saying things merely to be cruel is a terrible use of words–but I might replace nice with necessary. Say the things that you need to say. I think that oftentimes we do not, and it gets us into all kinds of trouble. Choosing the correct words at the correct times can be quite difficult. It’s a process, but a worthwhile one I would argue.

Words really are special things–they create perception, and are the physical and aural forms of the thoughts in our minds. Words have power. There are Native Americans who believe that the world must be sung into being every morning; the correct words must be said every day for the sun to continue rising and the world to continue being. The idea isn’t limited to Native Americans, though. John 1:1–“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

People conceived to have ideas, way back in the reaches of time. Those ideas were formless, existing in the mind. Eventually those ideas became symbols and words. Words have power because ideas have power. The word is with and is god. Our thoughts and words are expressions of our shared humanity, and that is beautiful. I don’t know if the world truly has to be sung into existence each morning, but in a way we do it ourselves regardless.

 

“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.” -The Buddha

 
 

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The Friend Zone (A Zone for Friends)

January 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm (Uncategorized)

Artist of the Day: The Low Anthem. Specifically the title track off of “Oh My God Charlie Darwin.” Cannot stop listening to it.

Today’s post is about the friend zone, which will hereby be referred to as the FZ. I have to admit that this post has its inspiration in a post I saw on Buzzfeed–which I admit with some shame not because I mind taking inspiration from other sources but because it requires me to share that I do browse Buzzfeed with an occasional frequency.

Anyway, the FZ is a situation whereby one person (generally male) has romantic interest in another person (generally female) but the interest is not reciprocated. Hence being relegated to the status of friend with no prospect of romantic involvement later.

One might wonder what the big deal is–I think almost all of us at some point have had a romantic interest in another person which was unrequited. The problem is that this FZ paradigm is accompanied by the idea that nice guys always get FZ’d, and that women only want to date jerks. The mindset of these guys is “I’ve done everything right, been so nice/supportive/caring/etc, why doesn’t she want to be with me?” There is, in fact, a large internet subculture devoted to this idea.

This idea is rather repulsive because it assumes that women (or men, for that matter) owe you something for you being a caring human being. All of these guys complaining how much time they have spent being sweet, listening to a woman’s problems, and being a shoulder to lean on aren’t “nice guys” at all. You’re just an asshole pretending to be nice so that you can get in a girl’s pants. I think what these guys in the FZ are really upset about is that they are poor manipulators. Guess what? I don’t feel sorry for you at all.

You can either be someone’s friend, or not. Friendship does not come with conditions or obligations. If you are attracted to someone and they don’t share the feeling, it isn’t their fault or yours. People can’t help their feelings. The thing I don’t understand is why you would want to date someone you didn’t think you could just be friends with–isn’t that the point, that you think someone is a cool enough person that you want to kick the heat up a notch? I am not super close with all of my ex-girlfriends, but I remain on friendly terms with all of them in large part because I think they are all excellent people. Romantic feelings might not be there anymore, but just because I don’t feel like spending my life with them does not diminish who they are in any way. I guess that’s mostly what I am so perturbed about with this FZ idea. It’s just another form of misogyny–women are prizes to be had, not a person to connect and enjoy with. 

I have plenty of female friends who are lovely women that I have zero desire to enter into a relationship with, and my time spent with them is no different than spending time with my male friends. Well, that isn’t quite true, because I find women often have a different perspective on the world than I do. I enjoy that different perspective because it forces me to reevaluate when I am coming at issues from. It’s the same reason I enjoy having conservative friends. When you stop looking around the world and critically examining other views is when your mind starts to stagnate. That’s what great about having friends of all different stripes–real friends, not people you’re pretending to be friends with in order to get a prize. To be in the FZ is like 99% of your interactions with the people around you.

Stop trying so hard to have a romantic relationship and focus on cultivating the other relationships in your life. I try to stay connected with the people I care about–text them, send them funny/interesting links, fb messages, games of words with friends–and I can say that none of that is motivated by getting laid. If I am into/attracted to someone, I will say something, and see what happens. I would rather have a great friendship evolve into something romantic than trying to force romance where it is not.

I guess my point is that if you see yourself as a nice guy that finishes last, examine what your goals really are. Are you genuinely interested in this person, or are you merely attached to the idea of them? If they don’t reciprocate your attraction, did you just like them because of what they looked like, or do you enjoy their company and can maintain a friendship? It is possible to think your friends are attractive and not care to do anything about it, I promise.

This kind of thinking is easier when you make an honest effort to care about people, to see the good in them, to love them as human people with flaws and dreams and goals, who are not so different from you. I come back to this theme a lot, but I think there is much to be said for just being a caring human being. Jesus said that there were two really important things in life: Loving God above all else, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Now, I am skeptical of God as anything more than an abstract concept, but what could be more powerful than loving your neighbor as you? With that simple concept you could end all wars and divisiveness. We all struggle, with ourselves, our faith, relationships–but we are not alone. The human experience is unique to all of us and yet shared by all of us too.

Don’t be a “nice guy,” be a nice person. Because you deserve it, and so does everyone you meet. Change the world a little bit every day and see the great things that you can create. Put the world in your own personal friend zone, and don’t differentiate between friends and strangers. Listen to Jesus, to the Buddha, to so many of the great people and philosophers of all ages. I am willing to bet that if you do that you will a) stop caring so much about the idea of romance vs. friend zone, and b)Love will find you, because YOU are loving.

 

“Friendship involves many things, but above all, the power of going out of one’s self and appreciating what is noble and loving in another.” -Thomas Hughes

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January 22, 2013 at 1:09 pm (Uncategorized)

A whirlwind trip to Moscow was just what the doctor ordered. Well, in a metaphorical sense at least–in terms of physical health I doubt any doctors would have approved of my intake of food and alcohol. Psychologically, though, it was just what I needed. It helps that I was able to go to bed early last night and sleep in late–I do not envy my friends who had to go back to school. I would have been just fine with having to go to work, but hopefully this interview I have on Thursday will give me the opportunity to experience that particular dilemma.

I am tired but recharged–thank you to everyone who made those 36 hours so enjoyable.

I have my first concert with my new choirs on Saturday–I am a little nervous but there’s only so much variation in going somewhere and singing something, so I am fairly confident I’ll be able to handle whatever the situation is.

In sadder news, my heart goes out to the Vandal family and the families of the students who passed away over the past week. I didn’t know any of them personally, but I am certain that I know people affected–Moscow is small enough to have one degree of separation between any two people. I hope that their friends and family can find eventual comfort and that they all rest in peace.

 

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On a Clear Night

January 19, 2013 at 5:31 pm (Uncategorized)

All packed up and ready to rock and roll over to Moscow in a few hours for the night ride over with James. We’d probably have left earlier, but he has a gig until 9:30–definitely what you would call a whirlwind trip with us coming back Monday.

Artist of the day (maybe last couple days): Missy Higgins.

I was thinking today about loyalty and what it means to be loyal to people, to your principles, to yourself. I would consider myself a pretty loyal person to my friends and acquaintances–I am the sort of person who is willing to go to the bat for just about anyone if I think they deserve it regardless of how well I know them.

As I see it, there are more or less two ways of dealing with people in this world: you can respect them until they give you a reason not to, or you can withhold your respect until they give you a reason for you to offer it. I would place myself in the former category, and I think it a better system, though I know plenty who would argue the latter. I think a lot of my worldview comes from how I was raised–my parents trusted me explicitly unless I gave them a reason not to, and the number of times I broke their trust was minimal. I know plenty of people whose parents, growing up, would put in place arbitrary rules regarding when they could do things, and how often, without any good reason. That isn’t to say I don’t think children need limits; they do. It’s simply a reflection that without an explanation of why something is required people have a tendency to see rules as infringements on their freedom.

You can extend that to a macro level as well–people need clear reasons why they need to wait to buy a gun, why they have to pay X amount of taxes, and why they can’t always do everything they want when they want to. Then people need to participate in democracy, and weigh in whether they think the restrictions are reasonable or not. That’s how it should work, anyway. It does not always.

There are plenty of other policy and procedural issues to tackle–gridlock, obstructionism, partisanship, etc, but a lack of a clear understanding of the facts certainly isn’t helping things along.

 

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” -John Adams

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Be Ok

January 18, 2013 at 11:19 am (Uncategorized)

So I’m listening to Pandora the other day and an ad comes on telling me that I need to learn how to speak to women, and that for some sort of low cost I can take classes or get a video or something that will teach me this “important skill.” I put the words important skill in quotation marks because I think talking to people is an important skill, and I find it a little bit ridiculous that you need to find a way to talk to women. I mean, just talk to them. Talk to everybody–and realize that half of talking is listening. I think the problem with a certain subset of men is that they feel pressure to be impressive or charming, and they see a woman and create this fiction in their minds that if they were somehow different, they could be with her. The fact of the matter is, though, that you only will find happiness with someone if you be yourself. People will either like you or not, but at least that way if you find a date or a girlfriend or a fling or whatever you’ll know that the attraction is authentic. I myself have no desire to put forth the effort to create a separate persona to attract other people–I am trying to be authentically me, and that’s more than enough work.

Maybe I’m getting away from the original point (and maybe I just feel a little insulted being typecast as someone who cannot talk to women just because I happen to be listening to my indie singer-songwriter radio). Some people have difficulty finding the self confidence to put themselves out there, it is true. I don’t know if I have any magic advice other than to put yourself out there if you like someone. The worst that can happen is that you get rejected, and then you’re not any worse off than you were before. I would also advise just having friends of both genders–it’s easy to talk to your friends, and for those who are a little phobic of talking to the other gender being used to doing it in a consequence-free environment might be helpful. I am admittedly a people person, but I love my male friends and female friends because they allow me to be fully me. This is a bit of a stereotype, but IN GENERAL my female friends are easier to talk with about emotions, things that are troubling me, musical theatre, etc. With my guy friends it’s easier to bro out, watch sports, and occasionally let myself be a 22 year old male and do stupid things (within reason, mostly).

I can (and do) sometimes bro out with my female friends and talk about feelings with my guy friends. The rhythms of our interactions for the most part tend to fall into what is already culturally prescribed, however. I don’t think that is a bad thing–I think that’s just how it is. I don’t have an expectation that everyone needs to be like that, but I have a firm belief that being open to differences means also not being afraid to know that you fall into cultural patterns at times. It’s a matter of the examined life. Just be aware of what you’re doing, and try to do as little harm as possible.

Being a straight white male confers plenty of societal advantages, but it also blinds you in a lot of ways when you try to see those advantages–because they don’t always show up in your day to day life. That’s why you have to make sure that you think things through when you say something you believe to be a harmless joke, or when you are thinking about societal protections for minorities. It’s easy to be critical of affirmative action when you’re working hard and trying to pull your weight, but as a white male you by definition cannot understand what it’s like to be discriminated against. You’re also trying to climb the stairs, but there is no weight tied to you as you go up them. If you’ve never had the weight, you can only conceptualize it–you can’t ever truly know. I don’t say this to excuse the stupid things white men say (nor to say that white men have a monopoly on stupid) but to instead say that we should all adopt a Rawlsian veil of ignorance when we think about these things.

 

“Many of our most serious conflicts are conflicts within ourselves. Those who suppose their judgements are always consistent are unreflective or dogmatic.”
―John Rawls

 

“The perspective of eternity is not a perspective from a certain place beyond the world, nor the point of view of a transcendent being; rather it is a certain form of thought and feeling that rational persons can adopt within the world. And having done so, they can, whatever their generation, bring together into one scheme all individual perspectives and arrive together at regulative principles that can be affirmed by everyone as he lives by them, each from his own standpoint. Purity of heart, if one could attain it, would be to see clearly and to act with grace and self-command from this point of view.”
―John Rawls

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Any Day Now

January 17, 2013 at 10:31 pm (Uncategorized)

Yesterday was the first day since the new year that I haven’t published a post. In my defense I did write a little bit, but it was a) fairly terrible and b) only like a paragraph so I will save that fraction of a thought and perhaps incorporate it into a later blog post.

I just want to say without getting into a rant about it (because it makes me furious) if you post about the Sandy Hook Massacre being a hoax you are a terrible human being and lend credence to people who are harassing innocent children, hurting families, and heroic community members.

My train of thought has been completely derailed by the prospect of coming back to Moscow (briefly, very briefly) so I’ll just say I’m excited about that. I am also excited about a job interview I have scheduled for a week from today. Progress! In some small ways at least.

I think I write better in the mornings, cup of coffee in hand and brain warming up to experience a new day. So this will be all for now.

 

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Titles are Optional

January 15, 2013 at 6:13 pm (Uncategorized)

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.” – Robert Frost

 

I think one of the most fascinating things to learn about myself as I continue to get older is that I am never quite as smart as I thought I was. It’s not that I don’t think that I am a bright individual, but I think for many of us we believe that we are several standard deviations above the mean, and it isn’t so. I do believe that many of us spend our lives choosing to be the easiest version of ourselves–we don’t always strive to be the best selves we can be. I don’t mean any one particular definition of “best,” and I certainly am not referring to monetary or professional success. I refer instead to the people we can be as people. How you act, think, and live.

For many people the inspiration comes from God, or Jesus (we can discuss their respective sameness/difference another time), but for me it simply comes from a desire to find the truth. As in what is true, not Truth with a capital T, because that is a much more vexing question. Who is the “true” me? It’s a question that you can only partially answer, because people change. You are not the same person day to day, hour to hour, not completely, anyway. Your life experiences alter who you are and in fact your atoms are being replaced. You are literally not any bit the same person you were 7 years ago.

 

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

 

It’s a process–being the person you want to be. And I am not saying I have the answers, or am any good at it. I’m trying, though. I think a lot of people just live their lives and don’t bother to think about what they’re doing or why they’re doing the things they are. That is one thing I admire about Christianity–if you’re actually doing it there is a constant process in your life of reflection and betterment. There are also plenty of people who pay lip service to the concept and zone out for an hour every Sunday. You find that in all contexts of life, though.

I am at heart an agnostic; I have a hard time taking things as huge as the possibility of an afterlife and sins and moral codes on faith. I have a certain admiration for those who can, but that’s not how I am hardwired. I believe the Bible has a great deal to tell us about ourselves, I believe everyone should read it, try to understand it, and use it as a vehicle to move towards a deeper understanding of their lives and the universe. I also think they should read the Dhammpada, the Tao Te Ching, the Book of Mormon, and the Koran (full disclosure I have not read the entirety of the BoM or the Koran, only parts).

 

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” – Will Rogers

 

I don’t tend to care for viewpoints that suggest that a person can have the monopoly on the truth. As flawed individuals, we can’t possibly know everything there is to know. So you can believe that you are correct and I am wrong, or I can believe the opposite, but fundamentally truth is based on your experience, which is biased by a myriad of things. I could wake up tomorrow with a revelation that God is real and Jesus is His only son, but proof that relies on feelings is ultimately a personal issue.

 

I don’t really know where I was going with any of this, so there isn’t really any wrap up. Just some thoughts.

 

“The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain

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