Tuesday, July 22, 2008

afternoon cheese

I am in love with my job today. What I do is pretty much applied anthropology (which is as rad as it is rare for someone who only has a BA), and I get to do it in a building full of smart, purpose-driven, positive people. Without fail, I am totally impressed by a coworker's insight every time I get the chance to participate in a meeting. No matter where I wind up, I want to always work in a place where I feel this inspired to be a better version of my professional self.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I am looking for the crest of a new wave.

It seems like for the past few days I keep having the same conversation about the state of feminism. And I need to talk it out, so here we go.

It started the other night when Charlie and I were talking about music and Atmosphere came up. I love Atmosphere, but Charlie can't get into them because Atmosphere raps tend to be heavy on blatant misogyny, if not actually endorsing violence towards women.

Here's an example:

You can keep the change
Hit me back when you're stable
If she give good brains she can play with the halo
"Don't worry. You're in good hands. I'm a good man."
"Nah, just sick of the program."
I only speak to put ammonia in the bleach
An orphanage, I'm here to get a portion of the piece
So play the leach: Suck me dry
Dot your "T's", cross your eyes
And blow me counterclockwise
So either call my bluff, or turn the volume up
And make noise for the women that swallow stuff
And put your hands up if you feel the music
Cause all that matters is the bass and the movement

And that is from one of my favorite Atmosphere songs, "The Bass and the Movement." I will be the first to admit how strange it is that I love that song. I was not raised to be an uncritical consumer of media. I believe quite firmly that my sexuality is not the source of my worth. And I would react pretty unfavorably if, in a different context, a man who judges the value of women by their fellatio abilities asked me to "make noise." Actually, I wouldn't even wait for the invitation.

So how can I call myself a feminist and justify smiling, bouncing in my chair, and quietly singing that song to myself as a re-read those words? How can I justify listening to this music while working at Girls Incorporated (of all places!)? I simply can't.

I am unquestionably a hypocrite for letting Atmosphere off the hook. But here's what I think is really important: My hypocrisy is unquestionable because Atmosphere's misogyny is unquestionable. I've started to realize that really obvious sexism is becoming less and less important to me, and I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

I take it for granted that everyone knows the lyrics I posted are degrading and unacceptable, and that somewhere, someone else is angry on my behalf. And why wouldn't I? I've never lived in a world without Title IX. At college, I was in the gender majority. And it absolutely blows my mind that my great-grandmother, one of the first people to celebrate with me when I learned how to blow a bubble gum bubble, was married before women had the right to vote. What big, legal fight have I ever fought? Or even had the need to fight?

Of course, legal gender inequality is still very real, and there is always legislation or a court decision floating round that would chip away at progress made. (Title IX is in trouble right now, as a matter of fact.) But I generally don't call my representative. I wouldn't even know where to start if I wanted to find more public ways of expressing my opinion. (I mean outside of Facebook, okay?) And I think that's pretty common for my generation.

But there IS sexism that affects me on a regular basis, sexism that makes me really angry. It's the subtle stuff that gets overlooked because you can't fix it legally or even prove it. It's my middle school math teacher who only used shopping examples when answering girls' questions and only used sports examples when talking to boys. It's professor who never asked me interesting questions or challenged me in my own major, and the moment I realized that other female students were the only people who knew what I was talking about when I complained about his apathy. It's that including females in biological studies is a still a revolution in progress.

And what can even be done about that? I seriously doubt that my middle school teacher had never been exposed to ideas about gender equality. It's not like my professor was verbally abusing or unfairly grading his female students. And even if I could convince administrators that this was a problem, there were no specific rules being broken.

And I guess my "subtle stuff" probably feeds right into blatant misogyny. But I don't feel that "the big fights" address what sustains sexism. Gender inequality would be gone already if it was as simple as a few laws and Aretha Franklin hits. Inequality is sustained by interactive, multiplicative stereotypes of both sexes. A 30-second PSA can't cover that. There's not a bunch of grant money floating around for fixing something so immeasurable.

There's prevention. That's what Girls Inc. is in the business of, I guess. But beyond that, is it possible to think global/act local on this instead of the other way around? Perhaps I'm being too cynical. Perhaps my cynicism sustains my numbness to obvious sexism. I don't know. What do you think?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ed Award Tax

I think that encouraging action regarding the bill H.R. 6407 would probably be inappropriate for this blog. (As a VISTA, I'm included in the Hatch Act.) But Colleen, that information you were interested in can be found here at the AmeriCorps alum blog.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Something to think about tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Independence Day in the US, but instead of apple pie or national service or the patriotism of dissent, I invite you to think about the other side of the meaning of sovereignty for this country. As my coworkers and I discussed earlier this week, not being British is totally worth celebrating.

And, of course, we're not the only country who escaped! By my completely unscientific estimation, assuming that all nations that used to be British-controlled have national independence days...

Around the world, 52 days per year are spent celebrating the end of British imperialism.

That is almost two months of everyone from Afghanis to Zambians celebrating the fact that we're not Brits. On any given day, there is about a 14% chance that somewhere, people are taking the day to feel thankful to not be British. Probably there is less finger-loss to small explosives on non-US independence days, though.

Now go grill something.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

the autonomy of service

One of the documents I stumbled across on the common drive here at work was this paper on the history of national service in the US. VISTAs had to read it for last year's national conference. Lots of it is exactly what you'd expect: Civilian Conservation Corps roots, Volunteers In Service to America was pushed through congress in the name of Kennedy's ghost, Regan slashed at VISTA funds like Jason slashes at promiscuous campers, Clinton merged VISTA with his new AmeriCorps and so on and so forth. There are a couple points I'm still musing on, though. Ready?

VISTA has been attacked on practical levels, and that's not totally unreasonable. Just few thousand people are "Fighting poverty with a passion" each year. Factor in how very few people (especially legislators) understand the difference between direct service and capacity building and we wind up basically paddling upstream. So are we really making a difference? (Although, I must say that I totally lucked out on my fantastic state office and work site. My assignment is by-the-book, I anticipate tangible results, and the state office is totally supportive.) I can accept that there are practical criticisms of VISTA. It should come as no surprise that I think periodic evaluation of the program is a great way to sustain it.

Still, I just can't wrap my head around the ideological attacks on national service. Well, maybe I can. What I really mean is that I totally disagree. (Shocking, right?) The basic argument is that since I receive a living stipend and other benefits while I am volunteering, I am not acting autonomously and am therefore besmirching the name of volunteerism. Also, the feds pay my stipend and Big Government = apocalypse or whatever. But this reciprocity business is one of my biggest pet peeves about my own culture.

Despite what Precious Moments greeting cards and forwarded emails with too many .gif files have told you your whole life, random acts of kindness don't really exist. Human culture is based on reciprocity, and that's not good or bad. It just is. Parents don't hemorrhage time and money into kids because it feels good after 18 years. I didn't occasionally pick up my roommate from her night class when it was raining because it made me feel superior. No one donates to charity for no reason. Everyone needs something from someone at certain points in our lives. Parents expect children to make grandbabies and scope out decent nursing homes. I never had to hesitate to call my roommate when I was the one stranded on campus without an umbrella. If 1,000 years from now, North America has gone totally Mad Max while Wal*Mart and SUVs thrive in Africa, you bet we'd expect a "Do They Know it's Christmas at All" or two.

Does that make my parents selfish? Does that invalidate my relationship with my college roommate? Does that mean that Bono is less than sincere? No. It just means that we've created a whole mess of false compartmentalizations. To experience true autonomy, I'd have to make sure that I didn't know who I was helping or how I was helping them to ensure no one feels debt, entitlement, or a sense of karma, and then suppress the chemicals that stimulate my brain to feel good about it. Of course we don't do it that way! Being human means being connected to pretty much everyone in one way or another. When we ignore or simplify the implications of this, we create expectations like "true autonomy" that are unappealing and impossible to achieve.

So no, I absolutely would not sit here at Girls Incorporated of Indianapolis from 9-5 every day for a year without compensation, the benefit of experience, and the connections I will make. But I refuse to believe there's anything wrong about that. The government supports AmeriCorps, and in return AmeriCorps enhances the stability of American society, which means the government can continue thrive. Furthermore, the experience and connections I gain this year will eventually be transferred in to the work force and non-professional volunteerism, so who knows how many people will benefit from this year over the course of my lifetime. This is not nearly as simple as just subverting the purpose of the government.