Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Female, maddened and mute

At the writers festival I heard Alexis West read some of her poetry. It spoke of the frustration she has with having to explain repeatedly why golliwogs are offensive, and the way her patience was tried by white people wanting recognition and gratitude for “having black friends”. It was raw and real and I loved it.

Then she apologised if her poetry was too angry or offensive in any way to our paler sensibilities. She told us she hated being "that person" - the angry black woman. I wished she hadn’t apologised. There's not enough anger expressed about this kind of thing, in my opinion. 

Also, in a small, hesitant way, I could relate. I sometimes feel as if I'm continually an angry feminist. Like black women, but obviously to a lesser extent, women in general are constantly assessing whether to express our anger in response to sexist behaviour and be “that person” or just swallow our offendedness, smile and move on.

This dilemma was highlighted to me the other day when I posted a feminist cartoon on facebook which seemed to spark reactions from various folks in my social media network. The conversation seemed to take on a life of its own, going in directions I hadn’t envisaged, and raising sub-issues that I hadn’t previously considered. 

Then some people started getting quite angry, reacting to other people's comments. And I began to feel a little bit uneasy. But a voice inside told me not to moderate...just yet. And sure enough, somebody else felt it was their job to moderate. A male friend. “I think we all need to calm down now” was the sentiment. 

It seemed to me that women were angry, and men couldn’t handle it. One man had already left the discussion, in fact. I began to wonder why the anger of the oppressed is so confronting. Sure, it's raw and uncomfortable and not "nice". Yet, that anger is a direct result of violent and discriminatory systems that are not nice either. And certain groups have benefited from this structural violence for centuries.

So, why should Aboriginal people be expected to consider the feelings of those of us who have benefited from their dispossession and discrimination for the past two centuries? Why should the LGBTIQ community be expected to consider the bigots who have bullied them their whole lives as equally entitled to voice their toxic views? And why should women constantly accommodate the discomfort of men? No! I think those of us who are oppressors and benefit from oppressive structures have no right to tell the oppressed when to be silent.

This whole outpouring of frustration reminded me of a book called “Women who dance with wolves”. This book, which draws from Indigenous fables and stories, explores a number of archetypal women who are expressed in their rawest form. One character is a skeleton woman who follows a fisherman back to his cave. Another is a woman who makes more animal sounds than human ones and collects bones in the desert. A young girl dances like crazy in her new red shoes until she becomes a cripple. These women are angry, sad, ecstatic...the full gamet of emotions. I wonder why our so-called modern society tries to suppress this rawness and realness and "not nice-ness" in the expression of emotion?

So, as I process my own anger, and choose which battles to fight and which ones to let go, I will seek out poetry and literature and art where those raw expressions of emotion are evident. I hope people like Alexis West don't stop writing their poetry. Because it's through expressing the anger and pain that we not only move through it, but open up the possibility for the "other" to reach an understanding about their own privilege and power.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

When green eggs and ham just aren't your cup of tea

"Would you like to go for coffee?" He corners me after class. I mumble something about having plans and make attempts to skuttle out the door. "What about dinner tomorrow?" The hopeful follow up wafts in my direction. "Or brunch on the weekend? What about a drink sometime?" A seemingly harmless enough request has become a familiar refrain that leaves me with a feeling of mild angst.

I guess most of us, at one time or another, have been in what I refer to as the "green eggs and ham" scenario. Some people call it "humbugging". It's the situation where somebody repeatedly asks for or offers something, doesn't get a favourable response, and yet continues undeterred. It's prevalent amongst socialists, evangelical christians, and of course in the land of dating. When it doesn't feel like my boundaries are respected I tend to squirm. It actually takes me a lot of mental energy to work out how to say no tactfully, firmly and kindly.

While it was probably not Dr Seuss's intention to explore themes of consent in his famous children's book Green Eggs and Ham, his work does seem relevant to that subject. The principle seems to be that 'no' doesn't always mean 'no', and that persistence pays off. There are so many examples in literature and film of this mentality when it comes to dating. The classic case is the dogged pursuit of a lady friend by a slightly nerdy guy, which succeeds when he ultimately proves himself to be worthy of her affections.

Normally we find these movies romantic, and delight in the experience of the underdog finally 'winning' in the end. But as a male friend of mine says, there is a fine line between romantic and creepy and the distinction is whether the behaviour is wanted or unwanted. I realise that it's tricky for many of us to tread that line at times. We might find ourselves getting so caught up in our own desires or notions of romance that we somehow 'forget' to consider whether our suggested activities or requests are of any interest at all to the other party.

I find the tea analogy quite helpful when it comes to explaining consent to people. Basically, the principle is that if the person has said they don't want tea, or is unconscious, or only partially conscious, or was unsure about tea, but now that you've made it they show no interest in drinking it - DON'T FORCE THEM TO DRINK THE TEA!! It also points out that just because somebody enjoyed a pot of tea with you last Thursday, or with somebody else - doesn't mean they want tea today, or with you.

So, whether it's tea or oddly coloured eggs with pig meat that I'm just not that into, I realise I need to get better at trusting my gut instincts and being confident enough to clearly say no. I know this is a challenge for me, as I have been socialised to accommodate others' needs and consider their perspective above my own. But, more importantly, like SAM I AM, lots of us need to get better at reading body language, genuinely seeking consent, and accepting with grace if the answer is no.  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Last man standing

At the time of the break
We always promise to be friends
A few cuppas, chats, even dating advice exchanged

But inevitably they drift away
New girlfriends, buried feelings
or just Life, getting in the way

Until theres only one left
A rock, who was
there in the blackest time

But when people guess our history
The now feels flimsy, fake, less
Maybe he'll go the way of the others