Monday, August 29, 2011

"Look Both Ways" by Jennifer Baumgardner

You may recognize Jennifer Baumgardner, the co-author of "Manifesta." "Manifesta" was great, a basic and in-depth feminist, well, manifesta for young women of the early 00's. I highly recommend it as a primer.

And then "Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics" by Jennifer Baumgardner caught my eye at the library.

I've noticed that the vast majority of nonfiction I read can be divided into two categories: purely objective information and subjective semi-autobiography. Sadly, these two writing styles can be divided between the sexes. Women authors almost always include personal anecdotes and opinions in their nonfiction, while men are more likely to just write the evidence and analysis. "Look Both Ways" really takes the cake - Baumgardner appears to have interviewed only women akin to her class, background, profession, gender expression and urban location. Their stories intermingle with her own - this is not hard journalism, this is a blog. Which is fine! But don't write a 227 page blog of one's opinions and pass it off as "women's studies"!

And then there are all the issues in the book itself. At first, I schlepped through this book to find a few gems of actual information; about halfway through, it became a page-turning hurricane of shock. Many of the "drawbacks" of bisexuality she describes can be remedied by having a spine. A brain wouldn't hurt either.

On page 32, Baumgardner explains her relationship with a man, Steven, and cheating on him with a woman, Amy. She states in very clear terms that her relationship with Steven was just what she always wanted because of her relationship with Amy. By stretching her relationship wants and needs across two people, she was better able to appreciate them both. So what does she do? Dumps Steven! And here I'm stomping on the book, screaming "try polyamory, stupid! POLYAMORY!" Alas, the option of non-monogamy isn't mentioned at all in the entire book.

Page 141: "Women are entering into relationships with men with gay expectations, but they don't know how to actualize those expectations or, sometimes, even acknowledge them. It's part of the paradox of feminism, of feminism's unfinished revolution: women expect equality from their relationships, but not from men." If a woman is in a relationship with a man and she doesn't communicate her expectations she bears the responsibility of her disappointment. And expecting equality in relationships but not from men? Is Baumgardner writing about thinking adults here? She seems to have a pretty low opinion on men in general, but this makes women look contradictory and weak as well.

Page 143, Baumgardner writes about the appeal of a bisexual/lesbian girlfriend to men. The first reason for this, apparently, queer (a term mentioned once in the book) women lack the neediness of straight women. The author herself proved that false: she was very needy in her relationships. The second reason is that a man, who's CLEARLY commitment-phobic, knows that he won't have to commit to a queer woman. This is just insulting to everyone. And the final reason is that queer women tend to be more independent - actually, I really have no argument here. You've read my blog, this isn't news.

Those are all the specific snippets I have lined up. Overall, "Look Both Ways" is insulting. It insults men by calling them inherently misogynistic, emotionally dense, commitment-phobic and insecure. It insults women by calling them needily dependent, always looking for "The One", childlike, and stupid enough to date one of those Neanderthal men while expecting something more syrupy. To be sure, PLENTY of people who fulfill these stereotypes exist - these Breeders (not a sexuality-specific term) are the bane of my existence. Beaumgardner's worldview is so small that these may very well be the only gender roles she knows. How a 40something, bisexual, feminist journalist in NYC could emulate Carrie Bradshaw so well is beyond me.

And it's additionally insulting to pick up a book bearing the subtitle "Bisexual Politics" and to discover "My Repeated Bisexual Mistakes." The one real drawback to bisexuality mentioned in this book is that one's sexuality is perceived as reliant on one's partner. "Oh you're straight now" when dating a man, "oh you're a lesbian now" when dating a woman. So many people don't see bisexuality as a real sexual orientation because their own minds change it based on changing partners. Baumgardner explains this problem...and then implies that the bisexual person feels some kind of guilt?!?!? Guilt for other people's inability to conceptualize fluidity?!? Guilt for not living up to some bisexual role, which apparently doesn't exist because Baumgardner isn't aware of polyamory?!?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Decreasing Marriage Rates in Asia

According to an article in The Economist, marriage rates in Asia are decreasing dramatically - partl because there are just more men (by 2050, there will be 60m more men of marriageable age than women) and partly because it is more advantageous for women to remain single. Education, business, health care and urbanization all improve the lives of single women, while the lives of marriage women stay the same in traditionally family-oriented cultures.

In Asian cultures, women with the least education are more likely to marry. In the West, however, women with degrees are more likely to marry. I theorize that this is because of a woman's role in a poor family. Among poor Asians, a daughter is another mouth to feed: send her away to take care of her (potentially wealthier) in-laws. Among poor Westerners, a daughter is another contributer to her family's funds: why send her away to fund another family?

Also, cohabitation rates have risen in the West while marriage has fallen. This reflects on the poor image we have of marriage: it's expensive to begin and to end (and there's a 50% chance it'll end). The habits of cohabitating couples aren't different from those of married couples. In Asia, though, the extremely low rate of cohabitation hasn't changed. The low rate of marrying women doesn't reflect on marriage, but on a traditional woman's role when she isn't single. They don't want their mothers' lives: they don't want to take care of anyone other than themselves.

Ther are also far fewer options in Asia for working mothers than in the West.

Come the 2050 sex divide, perhaps there will be an influx in clergy. People have used religious vocation to solve social/economic problems before. This article suggests that the 60m unmarriable men will topple the concept of universal marriage. I wonder if an honorable role for these men will be formed - clergy has been the common way to do that in previous times.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Recovering Catholic

I've had a loose concept of Catholic-based paintings/artwork for about a year now, it's been very slowly coming together. Aside from acrylic paint (<3), I'm using rosaries, pendants, prayer cards, flyers, etc.

It's difficult to describe, verbally, what this artwork expresses (thus the painting!). All the little icons and such are from a thrift store in Milwaukee. Going through the box of Catholic items there has been a very odd experience: everything is familiar, but my more recently acquired logic wonders wtf all this crap really DOES. Emotional comfort vs. rational reason.

The fact that there is some emotional comfort in these familiar things is pretty odd, considering all the terrible things I endured at St. Monica's Elementary. Discovering that St. Monica's is so extreme that it isn't acknowledged by the Chicago Diocese, though, has helped so much. I'm discovering actual Catholicism now, separating it from extremists. Many horrors occur in Catholicism and there is no way I'll convert back - I'm sifting the pleasant out from the abusive. Obedience to a cruel hierarchy is separate from artistic/musical/poetic appreciation. The comfort of some supernatural mother figure makes no logical sense but can be emotionally appealing.
That's one of the main reasons why Catholicism has been so successful for so many centuries: the emotional appeal tends to be much stronger among uneducated people.

Individual people and greed for control are responsible for what I've endured, just like with most evil committed in the world. I can appreciate parts of what they twisted, even if just as a familiar and complex myth. If I abandon that solely because I don't logically "believe" in it, how am I any different from the people who avoid fiction because they're afraid to feel anything? Like it or not, Catholicism is among my roots and I'm clearing away the weeds they planted.

Seems to me that there are three reasons for following a religion:
1) actual belief. "This deity actually exists, this special person actually did that, and I must do this." Logical thinking minus measurable evidence
2) cultural tradition. "We are this group and we do this. If this deity actually exists, it would be an additional benefit." Communal functioning.
3) emotional appreciation. "The symbols and stories are aesthetically appealing to me." No different from secular work.

I primarily have #3, but can appreciate #2 to a degree. My family has a mix of #2 and #3 and I would attend mass with them because I enjoy any time spent with them - if we're appreciating beauty together, even better!

Times like these I wish I had some sort of spiritual guide (an actual person, not an angel or something). The one great priest I knew has been warped by an administrative job and the Quakers to whom I reached out demanded community obedience in exchange for discussion. I'm done searching; though it may be lonely processing these icons by myself (nobody else from St. Monica's cares, or they're perpetuating), it's certainly safer.

And when my shitty 8th grade principal told me that I could never be non-Catholic since I was baptized, I thought she was just bullshitting me. No other religious culture could ever feel so familiar, make such irrational sense.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sex Positivity

Oh the joys of sex positivity! Who knew therapy could be so much fun?! It's healing, a way to take control of one's 50% of the situation (or some other percentage, depending on how many people are involved). Enthusiastic consent makes the entire experience even more enjoyable.
Today is Milwaukee's SlutWalk and it's so wonderful how many people, particularly Alverno people, who are marching in it. Wish I could be there with you glorious sluts!

After a very strict Catholic upbringing, it was only about midway through college that I learned to accept pleasure. Suffering doesn't actually accomplish anything (it could be argued that one learned through suffering, but extreme Catholicism looks down on learning as much as on pleasure), and enjoying pleasure doesn't make one a bad person. It's ok to be moderately selfish, especially when so much fun can be had giving as well. Sexual pleasure is a physical release, and going at it enthusiastically and partaking in power play bring about a mental/emotional release as well.

Many thanks to Susie Bright, Eve Ensler, Del LaGrace Volcano, Annie Sparkle, Margaret Cho and many many others who have brought about the queer sex-positive awareness that has certainly improved my life and, well, certainly the lives of my lovers! There are indeed queer slut role models aplenty, advocates of enthusiastic consent and body awareness and gender fluidity, which can flood one's life like a rainbow avalanche if only that door is opened. They've cleared the rough paths so that mine may be easier to walk (or skip).

And a very special thank you to Kate Bornstein. The quote in her book Gender Outlaw has made all the difference: "never fuck anyone you wouldn't want to be." (and, of course, my appreciation to the grandmother who coined the phrase, and to the anonymous person who announced it at a Bornstein event).

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fulfilling Stereotypes

Having attended an all-women college, living in the dorms the entire time, I realize that those were five years spent away from normal men. Aside from standard social divisions such as race, age, sexuality, etc., the main split between us students was between nursing majors and everybody else. By no means were all nursing majors vapid, shallow and dependent - just like not all non-nursing majors were deep, analytical and independent. When someone who didn't major in nursing was referred to as a "nursing major," the reference of her mind was understood.
And, aside from a few faculty members, security guards, and boyfriends of friends, men were not a social group in my mind. Because I only knew them as individuals, I thought of them as individuals rather than as representatives of a gender.

So when I graduated and came back to reality, I was extremely hesitant in thinking along the lines of "men this" and "men that." When I'd read/hear women complain that men take up too much space, I didn't want to believe it. The main division, in my mind, was still between nursing majors and everybody else, devoid of gender...alright not entirely. It's saddening to see a woman fulfill the "nursing major" stereotype because she can't imagine her own independence and value.

And now, after two years of almost daily public transportation, it's much more difficult to question women who claim that men take up too much space. About two-thirds of the people who cram me against the bus/train wall, rub up against me unnecessarily or push me into the aisle are men - all of the people who intentionally do these things are men (how do I know it's intentional? They look right at me while doing it and the women apologize).
This is probably not a natural, biologically-based behavior - at least not any more than the vapidity of many women is based in biology. Granted, I don't know the backgrounds of most of the people who act along these stereotypes, but I'd like to believe that these behaviors are nurtured socially.

In essence, a lot of people make it rather difficult to not categorize them along stereotypes.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Go on a Diet!

I've written before that normal people understand multiple partners in the context of cheating, but not so much in polyamory. The idea of monogamy, lived successfully or not, is a comfort zone for most people. Open honesty among multiple sexual partners, though, baffles the normals.

Living poly has opened up my life in ways I couldn't have imagined. A year ago, I was in an unhappy monogamous relationship and I wasn't doing anything. The only people I was meeting were my girlfriend's friends. And bedroom activities had fizzled.
And now I'm meeting new people all the time, I have projects going on, learning new things, queereducating people, and having so much fun! And...expanding my experiences.

Most of the normal people I know (monogamous, straight, etc.) behold my life as a soap opera minus all the drama. My worklife hasn't suffered from my social life aside from being really worn-out and sleepy some days. And yet some of these normals tell me to go on a diet - and not a diet from food! This is just too much for a lot of people, apparently I need to rein in the awesome insanity of my life.

This is probably not, for the most part, jealousy. One person actually is jealous and it's no secret. But otherwise, there's no reason for me to decrease anything I'm doing so long as it's safe and everyone involved is happy. Aside from finding the time, there's no struggle in my poly life nor in discussions with normal people. It's just facepalm-worthy sometimes.