Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lessons for Girls: You Can Say No

Historiann has been hosting a great series of posts that contain lessons for women. I've decided to and add my own lesson: it's okay to say no. I know full well that I am hypocrite as I write this. I am the world's worst person at saying no to anyone -- which will lend this lesson a note of authenticity.

This lesson is seemingly simplistic. The idea of turning someone down for something -- a favor, a date, an engagement, a job, etc. -- when out of context has none of the threat or implications that it does in the actual situation. Also, in my personal experience, when I imagine turning someone down for something, it's never someone that I actually like. Performing favors for my friends, family, and teachers -- people who I admire -- is never something I see as burdensome. This is actually where the problem can arise. You can overstretch yourself.

It's great to do favors for your friends -- to be there for them, support them, and try to make them happy. Performing favors and tasks for your friends can also be a reward in itself. It can make you feel more accomplished and strengthen the bond between you and the other person. But that reward will be missing from the equation if favors are done out of necessity -- a kind of "I have to do it" mentality.

That's not to say that you still don't have your friend's best interest at heart. There's this kind of mentality that if you turn them down for this favor it will in some way damage the strength of the relationship. And this kind of fear can persist through any relationship. The same fear of not being a good friend/lover/student/whatever can come through in any situation: whether you want to turn your friend down for help with a science paper because you have to read 300 pages that night, or whether you hold your tongue while you make your lover's dinner, even though you have a terrible headache and really just want to go sleep.

Girls are often raised to be caretakers. It's that mother/wife/daughter/homemaker role at work again. It reminds me of the beginning of a poem by Maya de Angelou titled "Woman Work":

I’ve got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I’ve got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The cane to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.

Men are raised with responsibility as well, but in my house it's always been the woman who has to "make it work" -- as far as the household running smoothly goes, that is. The man is held responsible for how sucessful his son is, and for religious/moral upbringing, but a woman is judged by how smooth her household runs.

There was unbelieveable pressure on my mother to get the kids to school, take us to sports practice, music lessons, clubs, events, parties, cook dinner, keep the house clean, and still accept invitations from her friends. She often couldn't keep up with the demand, or didn't. My father often berated her for being lazy, and my sister and I would pick up the slack where we could. The more the demand grew, and the more pressure she felt, the more she froze up. My grandmothers juggled the same hectic schedules -- some of them more crowded and chaotic. And I've absorbed some of those lessons.

Now I'm nineteen and in college, and I've always been fairly certain that the only way I can get everything done is if I stop sleeping. What further complicates matters is that I feel guilty if, after I've become worn from going non stop for days, I want some time to myself and have to turn my friends down for dinner or for help on something. Sometimes I simply insist on doing more for them just to alleviate the guilt.

If, finally, I ask for some time to myself or turn down a favor, after I have put it off forever and feel like I will explode, a miraculous thing happens -- nothing. My friends normally comply with my request. They find it completely normal. They weren't even aware, most of the time, that I was feeling overworked, stressed, or like a lot was being demanded of me.

The hard part was not obtaining whatever it was that I needed, or opting out of whatever it was that they wanted -- it was simply getting to the point where I could tell them no. For some reason, that idea that turning people down is wrong is so deeply engrained in me that it feels hard to even get the words out. I feel traitorous.

We have to get to the point where we can tell people no -- no matter what it is that we're declining. It is unhealthy for both the person who wants to decline and the person who is asking for that favor to be in a state where the favor being fulfilled feels oblagatory. Every person on this planet has enough pressure on them without feeling like their are going to be consequences for their not wanting to do whatever task happens to be at hand.

We have been brought up to be caretakers, but that doesn't mean we are solely responsible for making sure that the world runs smoothly and that everyone gets exactly what they want.

So you can't go that art exhibit on Tuesday because you have to study, or you can't help with that paper because your sick. Maybe you can't do whatever it is because you just don't feel like it. You're not slacking off. You're not a terrible friend. They'll understand, the explanation isn't owed, and there will be other times.

And if they don't understand, maybe that's a reflection that the relationship wasn't so strong to begin with, not that you dealt the crushing blow by turning them down.

Tuesday Movie Review: Live Nude Girls, Unite!

Julia Query's documentary on the unionization of San Francisco's peep show strip club, The Lusty Lady. The documentary chronicles not only the amazing struggle of the dancers to win rights such as sick days, equal hours for women of color, and guaranteed wage rights, but also the personal development of Julia Query.

Query went to San Francisco, as she stated in the documentary, to be a writer and a stand up comic. She is the daughter of Dr. Joyce Wallace, activist for prostitution rights. Query unflaggingly documents her fear of informing her mother that she stripped for a living -- through clips of her stand up show, by integrating the struggle into her account of the union struggle, and finally through a confrontation with her mother at the end of the documentary.

The documentary is an eye opener. It gives a realistic and understanding account of the problems that plague strip clubs and sex work, without either demonizing the employees of the strip clubs, or making them seem heroic in some way -- both lights seem to a problem that plague feminist interpretations of sex work. By focusing the documentary on what it set out to examine -- the working conditions and internal working problems of The Lusty Lady -- and by not making the employers and owners seem demonic or the workers seem idiotic or victims, the documentary ends up feeling more authentic.

Most enlightening were the accounts of the employment habits of strip club owners. Julia Query shows that many owners do not schedule women of color for as many shifts. In the case of her club, which is a peep show club, women of color were not scheduled at all for the private show booth. The employers said it was because women of color were not as marketable. Women with darker hair, darker skin, or anyone else who was not blond or light skin was labeled as "dark and exotic". Being labeled "dark and exotic" meant fewer scheduling hours. This makes sense, because something that is exotic won't be exotic for long if you put a large number of exotics in the same place. Another problem plaguing workers was stage fees. A stripper would be charged by the owners a certain amount to work the floor, and was made to account for their tips as they left. Women who did not make the quota of tips were in danger of losing their jobs.

Working conditions became worse and worse, and violence became more frequent in clubs. Dancers were blamed for violent acts that the customers were preforming, and management did nothing to ensure the safety of the dancers.

The documentary shows how more and more dancers are unionizing their strip clubs, mirroring the efforts made by The Lusty Lady. Rights are being won such as better hours, better wages, and sick days. But the widespread corruption and harsh treatment of the dancers chronicled in Julia Query's documentary is heartbreaking. It is a reminder that workers in the sex industry are often forgotten or written off.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Yes You CAN!!!

Yes you can buy these shoes! Carry this purse! Tshirts, jackets, buttons, pins, we got 'em! Line on up, join the patriarchal, democratic, hope laden consumerism!
Just buy the Obama sweatshirt (nevermind that it's summer), the Obama blanket, the Obama posters! Yes you can wall paper your entire living room with our fearless leader's face. He'll look on, hopeful and triumphant, handsome as Adonis, as you watch reruns of "Murder She Wrote".

Yes You CAN! buy these shoes for your toddler. Because your toddler is old enough to read, write, and vote. Your toddler is old enough to understand economic and wartime issues. Your toddler was an intellectual contributor to the grassroots campaign.

YES YOU CAN! buy these shoes that are promoting change! We're going to end the recession with dollars thrown at merchandise capitalizing off of our President's face, eyes, mouth, words, and of course, hope. We're going to change everything by doing something that's never been done before: marketing something or someone that is currently popular.

You can, my good people, you can. Because you are true supporters of the cause. The moment that you saw the commercial on your satellite TV advertising these shoes, you knew you had to have them. These shoes would show everyone how politically aware you are. And every time you bent to tie your shoes, Barack Obama's canvas face would shoot an invisible, powerful beacon of hope straight into your spinal cord, straightening your back so that you can march proudly forward.

Yes you can.

As one of my friends pointed out, it's good that people are proud of their president. And I know this same thing has been going on for a while -- just look at all the anti-Bush merchandise that was and is still available. I just wish that politically aware didn't necessarily mean having to keep up with the latest fashion trend.

Broun vs. Board

Rep Paul Broun (R-GA) is campaigning to make 2010 the Year of the Bible. Politico reports that Broun has introduced the bill to the House of Representatives for history's sake. A commemoration, if you will.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with Christianity,” he said in an interview with POLITICO. Rather, he says, it seeks to recognize that the Bible played an integral role in the building of the United States, including providing the basis for our freedom of religion that allows Muslims, Hindus and even atheists to vocalize their own beliefs.

Well, if you want to get technical, the Bible itself didn't have anything to do with providing that freedom of religion. The way that people were interpreting the Bible did. People were discriminating, killing, and marginalizing other people who had different beliefs about Christianity. That's just counting the Christian conflicts over religion in Europe. I'm sure there were other sects of religion that made the journey over to America.

I am not arguing the Bible does not provide solid doctrine for tolerance of other people, and brotherly love, ect., ect., because if I did argue that, I would be an idiot. I am saying that the way this argument is formulated, it makes one think that the Christians who came over here from England to escape persecution weren't running from people using basically the same Bible.

But the point is, most of our founding fathers were Christian. It was the dominant founding religion. So if Broun wants to argue that the Bible had influence over their thought process, lives, ect., and therefore had influence over how they started the country and made laws, fine. It probably did.

This whole "Year of the Bible" thing sounds a bit fluffy to me though, and doesn't seem like it's going to serve any particular purpose.

Is it going to be like Black History Month? Are Universities going to host seminars on the different sects of Christianity that developed or migrated to America? Are they going offer lecture series about Irish-Americans who were discriminated against for their Catholic beliefs? Will there be History Channel documentaries on The Faith of Our Fathers, discussing how Thomas Jefferson chopped up the Bible to remove any reference to Jesus' divinity and how George Washington stopped going to church on communion days?

Probably there will be all of these things, and then some, but those events would have taken place anyways without the help of the Year of the Bible.

While the bill probably won't ever pass (currently it finds only 15 co-sponsers), it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, and in the end probably won't be much more than a laugh, it still seems like it's being pushed forward only as a bone to Christian supporters of Broun. But I can't blame him. He is a representative of Georgia, and we do reside in prime Bible-belt real estate. Perhaps the reason the bill doesn't sound so monumental to me is, if you go to the right areas where I live, every year is the Year of the Bible.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Passionate Discourse

During my first year in college, I discovered, along with many other discoveries, that I am moved by spoken word.

I've encountered it several times in the past year, and every time I came across an artist that spoke with integrity, passion, love, and rhythm, I was engulfed in a storm of inspiration. Gil Scott Heron and Eve Ensler are the two I have been acquainted with so far.

I'll admit, when I discover that I like something, I often simply explore more work by that particular artist, rather than venturing further out into the genre. These artists often have to come find me for me to fall in love with them.

Aya de Leon found me.

I want more of this woman. I want her passion, I want her discourse, I want her thoughts. I want her like I wanted more of Inga Muscio after I read Cunt, like I wanted more of Suzette Haden Elgin after I read Native Tongue.

I stumbled upon Aya recently while watching a documentary made about her, definition: Aya de Leon. The program was recorded lazily and the timer set with only slight curiosity, to be tucked away in my DVR until I felt just bored enough to hit the play button. I'm glad Free Speech TV did play it, and that I didn't simply delete it to try and appease my father's cries for more recording time (I monopolize much of it with documentaries).

The poem "Cellulite", which I have posted here, particularly struck me. Lately I've been feeling so low anyways, so out of touch with any good feeling about myself. Normally, this manifests in an obsession with several real or imagined malfunctions that I am certain I possess. This time it is a preoccupation with the flaws of my body.

I think Aya might have inspired me to reform my lazy approach in discovering talented spoken word artists. Had I been more inclined to explore the genre, I might have found her out sooner, and perhaps could have praised her in more depth. However, this time, excitement preludes intimate knowledge.

And really, I can't say this is a particularly unpleasant change.