Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On "Women's Empowerment."

Hey everyone! I'm not back to regular posting by any means, but having recently attended a feminist take over of my university's campus center and being encouraged by several of the women there to do so, I decided to post the written version of my piece (or a best approximation thereof) to the blog. Anyone may feel free to use it in part or in total so long as the proper attributions are made.

If anyone would like to address me about the content of this piece, feel free to use my email, LyraSchneider@gmail.com. For various reasons I am unable to view the comments on this particular posting.

On “Women’s Empowerment”

By Lyra Schneider

            First, a disclaimer: for the purposes of this event, this piece will be focused primarily on the conflict between socially gendered blocs of male power and female power. The audience is encouraged to think critically about how this conflict is expanded to act on individuals who do not identify as strictly male or strictly female. The audience is also advised that this presentation will cover several potentially triggering topics, including pornography, oral sex, and Abrahamic religious iconography. Finally the audience should not that this paper and the positions therein are undergoing constant revision, and I welcome critique and suggestions.

What is “Women’s Empowerment?” In the ideal sense, we might say that “women’s empowerment” is the process of women, as a social group, gaining power; but is that really what it means?
            In contemporary practice, I submit that what is often called “women’s empowerment” is not always what it should be; rather, it is an imaginary solution to very real problems, which has been appropriated by the dominant society in order to placate and enfeeble women’s lib. As someone who strives to emulate Lilith, the original bad woman who put the integrity of her Self above everything else, even God, wish to address this arrest of progress.
By way of example, I will examine the idea of the sexually empowered woman, and its deployment in contemporary culture. 40 years ago a woman enjoying sex may have been empowering, because it was then a revolutionary act. But it would seem that is no longer the case. Consider:
            At the dawn of the self-proclaimed feminist movement, it was not expected nor required that women enjoy sex. Rather, they were expected and required to perform it as a marital duty to their husbands. Feminists rebelled against this, citing their role in sex as unequal and therefore unsatisfactory; some of the most radical even questioned whether or not the politics of penetration could ever be made equal. These feminists paved the way to begin a serious critique of the entire culture of sexuality.
            The response from the dominant society was to increase focus on female pleasure, perhaps believing that to do so would satisfy our need for freedom from an inherently oppressive system; however, because women were still objectified, this was not truly a task of devotion or reparation, but rather a new condition to be met within that system. And most of us didn’t even notice that it was happening. Now, we have sex-positivity, and the face of cutting-edge “women’s empowerment” is the woman who can enjoy being brutalized and humiliated in porn, educating millions of viewers on the new standard of “what women are supposed to be.” She enjoys sex, but that enjoyment does not seem to belong to her; it is appropriated into the product being sold to the male gaze.
            To be clear, it is not that I am saying that a woman who enjoys sex – even sex where she is being hurt or treated like the lesser - can never be empowered. Rather, I am arguing that enjoyment is only a part of the issue; the rest lies in agency. When speaking of women’s empowerment it is not enough for a woman to be able to enjoy sex - she must be able to do so in a way that is not used to reaffirm patriarchal ideals, she must be free to choose the ways in which she enjoys sex, and most importantly, she must be free to have that enjoyment – or any participation in sexuality - be optional.
To engineer the kind of radical social change that would allow a woman to have real choices about her sexuality that transcend the bounds of the compulsory heteronormative sexual mythos – in essence, then, to transform the way that human beings relate to one another - we have to go deeper than understanding the empowerment of an individual woman with normative sexual acts. Women’s empowerment means empowerment for all women, not just individuals, and when one woman is empowered by being able to enjoy her sexuality within the patriarchy, another woman is disempowered in the comparison by not being able to do so; indeed, done with the shaming of sluts, many sexually empowered women now eagerly gang up to shame the “prude,” but this is just as hurtful and problematic.
Having undoubtedly said some polarizing and troubling things at this point, I want to take a moment to clarify my intentions. I am interested in critiquing the way that patriarchal power blocs use “women’s sexual empowerment” to their own advantages, and to a lesser extent, how women may end up being complicit in this process if we are not careful. It is not my intention to shame anyone for their kink or to suggest that it is impossible to explore power structures such as dominance and submission in a non-patriarchal context. Rather, I am interested in illuminating how the patriarchy asserts itself in what is often considered “empowered female sex,” in order to urge caution and awareness as we continue, as women, to resist the cultural trend of male superiority. It is my goal to contribute a perspective to our considerations about whom we have sex with, and under what circumstances, not to judge anyone for those decisions.
So: how does patriarchy assert itself in empowered female sex? Because it is still the norm for men to expect sex from women, as it was before, and now that women are “sexually empowered,” it has become the norm for them to expect women to enjoy it, too. It is no longer enough for a dutiful wife to perform her sexual duties; she must enjoy them. The female lover must get off while doing it, whatever “it” may be. If she is not capable of both doing it and enjoying it, she risks being discarded and replaced by someone who is; or, if no such replacement is available, she will be kept as “the best he could do.” Her inability to enjoy her own objectification has become a deficiency, tolerable to the vast majority of the male culture only when there are no alternatives. This is seen as progress, I think, because some pockets of male culture still do not care at all about female pleasure; thus, seeming to care about it in any capacity is a departure from the traditional. But departure from the traditional is not enough if it still reinforces the base requirements of the culture: women obligated to men, in a way that clearly privileges some women over others based on their sexual capacities.
            Knowing this, those of us who are able to do so start to train ourselves to meet the cultural need for pleasurable, nubile women. In the process we reify the superiority of the male sexual gaze and desire, while sabotaging the hopes of our sisters to be met with a genuine kindness and respect, to be seen as equals. We have forgotten, I think, that the problematic core of our society’s sexuality is not that women do not enjoy it, but that they do not have a choice in whether or not to participate, and that many if not most forms of participation are inherently antithetical to women being seen as equals, whether they enjoy it or not. If enjoyment is found through those practices, it does not serve us as a whole; it serves the patriarchy.
            Why do I say that many if not most forms of participation are inherently antithetical to women being seen as equals? I recognize that this is a very contentious statement for some, but consider the culture of our sexuality. From “gentlemen’s clubs,” to nudie mags, to the obsession with blow jobs beginning at puberty and never going away, and even to so-called feminist porn, virtually every act of sexuality that we discuss in the broader culture is dominated by the male gaze and the male desire. When the female desire is included, it is subordinate to the male one.
This is epitomized in the classical pornographic trope of the woman who “loves giving blowjobs.” This might be considered a sexually empowered woman, particularly if she chose to so identify (thus earning her greater appeal to any producer who might have use for her, since “empowered woman” is something of a buzzword these days), but the reality of the act suggests something different. Her desire and pleasure in performing this act, even if real – and, I will tell you from experience, it most certainly can be – are still tied unavoidably to the conditions of the act, which are submission. The male risks nothing in the exchange, and does none of the work unless he is brutalizing her. Meanwhile the woman risks not only her effort and her physical safety, but the integrity of the organ of her speech. The system of throat, mouth, teeth, tongue and lips, which for most of us creates the sounds and ideas that tell others that we exist, is literally stuffed up with the male organ of pleasure. Identity is suspended on behalf of the male desire. Whether the person doing it feels empowered or not, this is subordination; the empowerment would seem to come from feeling free to perform in a certain desired role, to be desirable, but this particular role – submission - can only reinforce the cultural assumption of male superiority when it is being consumed en masse, as in porn, with no chance to filter it or contextualize it.
(Sections in Italics were not read at the presentation for length/clarity) This idea is often challenged by the positing of feminist porn as a counter example. However, from all that I have seen thus far, feminist porn is primarily a form of apologetics which helps train women into their submission and forgives men for their affiliation with the more overtly violent forms of porn that they are used to, but it does not erase the meanings embedded in those acts. Sexual objectification is sexual objectification; just like farming, making it more “humane” does not eliminate the underlying problem of the act. An animal on the farm that is loved and tended to is still brutally slaughtered before its time in order that its body may serve the will of its masters; without the literal slaughter, though for many there is certainly a metaphoric one involved, the same applies to women in feminist porn. Both are a form of slavery; one of the body’s life, the other of the body’s image. Pleasure becomes a product, the means of which are controlled by the male-dominated industry.
            Men are sexually objectified in many of these en masse configurations such as porn as well, but their objectification benefits them comparatively speaking because it is a higher-ranked objectification. They are objectified as unbending tyrants, while women are the supplicant; but perhaps more destructively, if you look closely enough, it is virtually always the case that men are configured as “correct” and women as “wrong.” It doesn’t matter what the woman is saying or doing; if she likes it, she is a “dirty whore,” and even if those words are said lovingly, they are still meant violently. But if she doesn’t like it, she is a “prude bitch.” She cannot win. Meanwhile, the male can do no wrong; he is the casual dude, or the stern punisher, or the erotic lover, but in all of these it is inherently written onto his performance that what he is doing is right. The only exception to this is when the cultural discourse deigns to call it rape, and even then there are contentions from the patriarchy about whether what he’s done is really wrong or not, and accusations against his victim. In general, the cultural myth of the sexual man can make no mistakes, he needs no education, and if he ever expresses any caution it is only to demonstrate his mastery and control while the woman demonstrates her weakness and reliance on that mastery and control; without it she would be lost. It is propaganda for sexual colonialism at best. It is a clear example of the patriarchal narrative using ideas of women’s sexual empowerment to promote the status quo; much like the Ancient Athenias gave the cult of Dionysus a Festival in the city, so they could contain its radical nature, and that festival eventually became a principle platform for pro-state propaganda.
            (Sections in Italics were not read at the presentation for length/clarity) Even in the cases of porn where men are depicted as somehow wrong or incorrect in the script – for instance, porn where men are punished by women – it is usually clear that this is still a male fantasy, something the man willingly submits to in order to play out a dream of weakness. It is not a real transfer of power, but a mockery of the idea that power could ever be so transferred. The woman who seems to dominate the man may once again be considered empowered, but she is still participating in a system that ultimately privileges the male desire; she is cast as a “villain” just as surely as the man is cast as the “victim.” In this parodic inversion, the woman is still, ultimately, seen as the one who is wrong, the only difference being that now her very “wrong”-ness is a more visually realized character trait to be eroticized.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this, and indeed to all the points I have made thus far, but taken in the broadest consideration one cannot deny that these trends characterize the vast majority of our sexual culture, and that this basis is therefore written into any variances on it. Nothing which participates in the culture without directing sharp, pointed critique at all of the underlying problems can ever really escape it, and so the culture goes on reproducing an endless series of clich├ęs and motifs of sexual behavior built on stereotyping and objectifying the roles of both men and women.
            While this is obviously damaging to both psyches, it is clear that men are offered a better deal by this arrangement. Given that fact, if the entire society is to be free of the power that the culture of sexuality has presently created, men must be provided with good reason to give it up, perhaps moreso in some cases than women must. Ethically speaking it is clearly the right thing for them to do, but in strategic terms that rarely matters. Where is the incentive for the feminist man to abandon his place as sexual potentate when the ideal feminist woman is cast, by the dominant cultural narrative, as one who not only accepts her place as sexual lesser, but enjoys it?
            The culture of sexuality which we currently possess is built on the assumption that women are lesser. Finding ways for women to enjoy their position within that culture is not revolutionary, it is fatalist. The awakening of passion, of desire to be touched and pleased in a meaningful, truly empowering way – and, consequently, the awakening of awareness that not all women may desire any form of this, and that society must evolve to accommodate them as equals - is a crucially important step for womankind. But if we submerge that passion in obedience, if we dilute it to fit the pattern which already exists, then we are actually lending the strength of our eros to the very culture which has worked so hard to enslave us.
            The old cultures understood the threat of a woman’s eros effectively directed. Consider the myth of Lilith – the first woman according to Rabbinic tradition, often addressed by feminist theoreticians. Lilith came before Eve, and was made of the dirt like Adam; together they were man and woman made equal in the garden. Adam, symbolizing the male potency, attempted to dominate and control Lilith; specifically this is symbolized by her taking a position underneath him in sex. But Lilith resisted this configuration. Unwilling to be dominated, to be enslaved, she asserted that, having been made of dirt like Adam, she was his equal, and demanded to be treated as such; she wanted to be on top of Adam during sex. Again, this configuration is symbolic. It is a perhaps imperfect image for us, as in contemporary reality a woman being on top has very little potency, but the symbol is what counts. Lilith demanded sexual authority, and to be granted power herself.
            Adam refused her request. He would not lie below her. He would not grant her equality or agency. In her rage at this injustice, Lilith spoke the forbidden, unpronounceable name of God, and flew into the sky, departing Eden forever to become the mother of demons, the destroyer of Adam’s children – symbolic, remember, of the followers of his society - the anti-woman that the patriarchy rightly fears. She did not generate women’s empowerment purely by enjoying sex; she did it by rebelling against the very structure of sex, and thus male authority, as she knew it, and by becoming a nightmare woman who fought constantly to undermine the demands of her patriarchal culture. To follow her example and dismantle the society which binds us, to claim our birthright as children of Lilith, it is necessary for women to do more than simply learn to love the sex we are offered, but to demand a rewriting of the sexual contract for our entire society.
            (Sections in Italics were not read at the presentation for length/clarity) To do anything less is to accept the role of Eve: eternally blasted for our curiosity, yoked forever to the mortal sufferings of a tryannical God, mothers to a lost race which serves that patriarchal will, blinded by the light of its promises while Lilith shakes her head from the shadows that we cast behind us.
In this new contract we must have options; we must have an end to compulsory sexuality in all its configurations; we must have pleasure, yes, but not have it used as a product to market male superiority; we must have respect for all women as equals, regardless of race, class or orientation, whether cis or trans, sane or mad, with or without disability – sexual or asexual - or anything else imaginable that might, yes, affect our ability to be sexually normative. Indeed, in this new contract we must undo sexual normativity as we know it.
Obviously I cannot tell us exactly how to achieve such a contract, but I hope that the ideas and goals described here will inspire contemplation and activism; that all of us, regardless of gender, will move forward with awareness of the ways in which female pleasure is now incorporated into those structures, and caution towards resisting that. Thank you for your time and attention, and enjoy the rest of the take-over.

             

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Transphboia in (I can't believe this, but) Portland makes me Mad

Greetings, Mad ones, Mad supporters, and the Mad-curious.

I really didn't think I would ever have to say this, but Portland is making me mad.

Insert obligatory joke about hipster culture here, and moving on.

Portland, Oregon has a reputation for being a very progressive place, and for the most part I believe this is well-deserved. But this recent article out of Portland, concerning the transgender bathroom policy at their largest high-school, is drawing some very questionable praise from the trans* community, and as a somewhat radical member of that community (and a general anti-authoritarian) I felt the need to subject it to some harsher scrutiny. The article itself touches on some of the ideas I'm about to get into, but I felt it needed more.

Here is a link to the article in question: Article

Here is the most important thing you need to know from that article:

"Earlier this year, Portland Public Schools' general counsel Jollee Patterson sent administrators guidelines about how to deal with transgender issues, including bathrooms. 'This (bathroom) issue requires us to consider the need to support our transgender students, while also doing our best to ensure the safety and comfort of all students,' she wrote. The district said it was "best practice and desired outcome" for transgender students to use the bathrooms designated for their current gender. [emphasis mine] But students would also have access to unisex restrooms or health office restrooms if they chose, the letter read."

Just in case it wasn't clear in that block quote from the article, I am going to re-iterate it here: The official position of the Portland Public School district is that they WANT trans students in the bathrooms associated with their birth gender.

Now, on the off chance that I am reading this incorrectly, I will concede that it is possible the district is actually so progressive that by "current gender" they mean "current gender identity" and not "current legal gender." If that is the case, then bravo to Portland! But I somehow doubt that is really what they mean, since the "safety and comfort of all students" is cited in a disturbing recollection of so many segregation laws, illegal for almost half a century now.

The Grant High School in Portland is being praised for its decision to make more unisex bathrooms available for their trans* students, but no one is calling attention to the fundamental error of motivation. They are trying to "protect" the cis students by keeping the trans* students away from them. While they are not quite so bold as to forbid trans* students from using their preferred bathrooms, the administration tacitly approves harassment, bullying and even abuse of trans* students for using those bathrooms with its language about "desired outcome" and its absence of any official policy supporting the use of those bathrooms. The apparent justification is that cis students would feel "unsafe" or "uncomfortable" if they had to share their bathroom with someone whose assigned birth gender was different from theirs.

I think that's a preposterous excuse, even if it were true. And I'll concede that in some rare cases it might be, but I don't think the vast majority of cis students are really that concerned about it. And I think those that are concerned about it need to be getting help, because the moral arc of the universe bends towards integrated bathrooms, so high school is not the last they are going to see of this situation. To me, the administration's concern with "student comfort" is really just implied approval of transphobia; rather than challenging students to understand their trans* peers and to reconsider the possibilities, they allow fear of someone different to define their policy and create a "special bathroom system" for trans people.

Now it's true that anyone is allowed to use the unisex bathrooms, but I don't believe there won't be a stigma attached to it. "Hey Johny, why are you using the tranny bathroom? You coming out tonight?" Okay, so I'm not a heartless teenager anymore and I'm not the best at coming up with hurtful chatter, (I never was to begin with), but I think you see my point. Those students who are transphobic in the first place are only being given more ammunition to be hurtful and hateful when they see their former targets of harassment going into a special "unisex" bathroom that only allows one person inside at a time. While this may be a useful stopgap to allow trans* students an immediately safe alternative, it isn't solving the bigger problem of transphobia; it isn't solving the larger problem of the district fundamentally seeing being trans* as an unacceptable social deviance.

This sort of "love the sinner, hate the sin" approach is all too common in administrative affairs, particularly when it comes to socially deviant behaviors like depression, schizophrenia or, in this case, being trans*. "Gender Identity Disorder" is a thing of the past now, having been replaced in the DSM V with the somewhat more forgiving "Gender Dysphoria," but the fact is that being trans* is still considered a medical or even psychiatric disability, even without the word "disorder" attached to it. This thinking is shaping the thoughts of the professionals involved in the manner, in this case school administrators, and leading only to increased stigmatization.

Perhaps, in Grant High School's case, this will not turn out to be true. But I think it sets a very dangerous precedent when an administration's "desired outcome" is for trans students to go back to the "designated" bathroom. Even if I have misinterpreted that (and I really don't think I have), it is still a dangerous precedent to try to "solve" the problem of transphobia in schools by incorrectly assuming it is just a disagreement about bathrooms and creating "neutral" bathrooms which will always be politicized anyway. I will state it again for the record: having unisex bathrooms available is an absolutely vital part of creating a safe community for trans* students.

But making them the only institutional resource in response to an obviously intimidating and harassing student body? Expecting us, the trans* community, to silently accept an administration's declaration that we belong in our "designated" bathrooms or in special "unisex" ones, but not in the bathrooms of the gender with which we identify? And then to expect us to accept the praise and accolades being heaped on this $500 lock-changing as if it were a milestone victory for trans* rights, to be given a "special" bathroom that marks us as permanently different or even disabled, and no additional institutional support?

If I may be frank, fuck that shit. Why are the trans* kids being asked to use a special bathroom? Maybe the policy should read something more like "The best practice and desired outcome is for all students to be comfortable and accepting of each other as the gender with which they identify, but for students who are unable or unwilling to do so, they may certainly use the single-stall unisex bathrooms we have provided for their safety and comfort." Parenthetically I might add "Until they are ready to change."

I'm sick of this kind of stealth-marginalization of mental difference, and I'm sick of the approval it gets from the status quo society.  Sound off if you're as Mad as I am about this.

-Rius

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cam's suicide in Degrassi (or rather, how it is handled) makes me Mad

Greetings, Mad Nation and all visitors thereto.

The Weekly Madness has been out of commission for a year and a half, but this one event may finally be enough to rouse my advocacy from its long stage of dormancy and bring it back into weekly action. I am overflowing with a Mad response to this week's episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation, and so I cannot help but share it with all of my fine readers, present past and future.

Where do I even begin in analyzing this event?

First, a bit of context: if you don't already know, Degrassi is one of the most progressive shows on TV right now, being one of the (if not the singular) only TV shows to feature an out trans character in a prominent light. The show is lauded for its mature and sensible approaches to many issues previously considered way too controversial for TV of any age, much less TV for teenagers, such as Degrassi. The show certainly has its moments - its ups and downs, things it gets right and things it gets wrong - but overall I have come to expect a certain level of quality and, above all else, progressivism in their handling of controversial material.

So I was rather disappointed when in their most recent episode, the suicide of a character was announced, and the seemingly clear-cut solution was "Don't blame yourselves kiddies, just go to therapy!"

The thing is, there may certainly be situations where a suicide is completely random. I have attempted suicide before and I would pay thousands of dollars for a good explanation as to why; I cannot easily place any amount of blame on any party, animate or otherwise (except maybe the movie Twilight....don't ask). But I believe myself to be a very rare case, and that generally suicides are precipitated by specific events. A person starts off with hope, and hope prevents suicide in most rational human beings; it is events, filtered through a depressed awareness of reality, that gradually chip away at hope until suicide becomes an option. These events may be relatively innocuous and well-intentioned actions by others that cause unintended harm, or they may be violent, harmful incursions that, intentionally or not, break the suffering individual's hopes even further.

Given that this is the case, any situation where suicide is present bears investigation: what did the people who knew the person do, positively or negatively, that may have affected the situation? Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to suggest that anyone found to have a causal link to a suicide should be prosecuted (though I do believe that right should be reserved in very powerful cases); but I do think that a certain degree of responsibility needs to be obtained in order for real progress to be made. Suicide happens when a person feels they have been failed by an entire community; if there is anyone in the world they can turn to, they generally will. What needs to happen in the wake of such an event is that people need to understand why they were not turned to for help; or, in many cases more probably, what they did wrong when they were turned to for help.

In Degrassi, two students consider themselves responsible for this incident. One, who in my opinion does bear significant responsibility (seeing how miserable the suicidal student is, he yells at him, belittles him, and demands for him to change) is convinced by a friend that instead of feeling responsible, he should go to a counselor and become part of a task force to "make sure this never happens again." I am waiting anxiously, though with very low expectations, to see just what that task force will end up looking like in future episodes, and whether any real, substantive change will take place as a result. Regardless, I am disappointed that a counselor is seen as an adequate solution; how quick his friends are to point him to a stranger who knows nothing about his situation or his true feelings on the matter, a stranger he will probably be more capable of lying to in order to avoid feeling his true pain. The issue of seeing a counselor is actually NEVER problematized on this show, which is another grievous error, but I won't get into it at length at this moment.

The other student who feels responsible told the suicidal student to "get out of Maya's life," referring to a mutual love interest; he said this because the suicidal student recently cold-clocked him, revealing himself to be violent and unstable. Though it was a mean-spirited rebuttal, it was also meant as protection for a third party and was somewhat understandable given their relationship. Personally I feel he bears little to no responsibility, but that he should have someone to hear him out on the subject; instead he is told that he is stupid for feeling any responsibility (though it isn't clear if we are to take this seriously) and that is apparently the end of it. Again, I am anxious to see how this turns out.

But most painful of all is the overall handling of the student body reaction to this event, which culminates in a candle-lit vigil where Maya says, basically, "This is stupid, he was selfish, we shouldn't mourn him, he doesn't deserve this, no one should feel responsible;" the counter to this is a weak but insistent "He was sick and feelings are just feelings."

Neither of these viewpoints are appropriate or correct. Suicide is a complicated thing, the culmination of an individual and their struggles and the way the community responds to them. It is not a question of being sick, but rather a question of being failed. What people implicitly refuse to acknowledge in the wake of suicide is that to kill oneself might ever be advisable; they assume that to kill oneself is always wrong and therefore the suicidal individual must be "sick" or "mentally ill." They are wrong: suicide is sometimes appropriate, when there are really no better alternatives available, and a person is not necessarily "sick" for choosing it when faced with that decision. It is possible they evaluated the situation incorrectly, of course, and I believe in Cam's case he did, but on the other hand no one was really offering him any real help except, maybe, for Maya (and earlier episodes suggest she is more interested in making out with him than figuring out what's really bothering him). Was Cam a bit misguided in his decision? Perhaps. But others contributed to his misdirection with their own insensitivity and this NEEDS to not be swept under the rug. We can't wait for the magical some day when "It gets better;" we need to make it better in the here and now, before it's too late.

Part of what really bugs me about this is something even more fundamental, though: Cam did have options, and he was aware of them, but he did not have a chance to pursue them before the writers decreed he would kill himself. This, to me, indicates a fundamental failure on the part of the writers to understand both mental health and their own characters; that, out of ideas on how to develop a complex and interesting teen with a grab bag of emotional struggles, they simply used suicide as a plot stop. Not only is this terrible writing, but it underscores the fundamental assumption of the writers, which is that suicide is inherently unreasonable. That only someone who is unaware of their options would ever do it.

Cam probably could have solved most of his problems by quitting hockey and being allowed to go home. It would have been difficult but not impossible. No exposition is given to us whatsoever to explain his decision to commit suicide; it simply happens one day, rather suddenly at that. Because of this we are left to assume that it was a rash, impulsive decision that indeed can only be explained by sickness or selfishness, when in reality neither of these usually motivates a suicide. A much more powerful effect could have been produced had the writers showed us Cam's attempts at escape: had they shown us how he tried to go home but was rebuffed; how he had tried counseling and medicine and found them both useless or unavailable; had he, like most people in his situation, tried literally everything until there was nothing left to try but suicide. That is infinitely more realistic; it is a statistical truism that only 9 out of 10 people who are depressed respond positively to therapy and/or medicine, so an entire 10% of people who are depressed can be assumed unhelpable by such things. This woefully underrepresented percentage is erased from existence by suicides staged like Cam's, and I do believe such people make up a larger percentage of suicides than any others; people who are genuinely trying to be saved and find that nothing is available.

This is why I denounce "it gets better" and why I am very upset at how Degrassi has handled this issue so far; like with many other issues of mental health, the "progressive" aspect of the show tends to be lagging very far behind on an actual understanding of the state of discourse on suicide, at least within the community of the mentally marginal. I can only hope that in future episodes they dissect this event more intelligently, but I'm not holding my breath.

Please leave thoughts and comments below; hopefully we'll be blogging regularly once a week now.

-L

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Temporary Madness Hiatus

The Weekly Madness will be undergoing a temporary hiatus. My personal and professional life are both in upheaval right now - between preparing for another move and training for a new job, I am 100% completely swamped and sadly don't have the time and energy necessary to keep up my indignant rants. As soon as I stabilize a bit more, I will resume your regularly scheduled Madness. Should be a few more weeks.

Thanks for everything and hope to see you soon,
R

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Positive Attitude" makes me Mad

Greetings, Citizens.

Today I want to talk to you about my Job Search, which is largely responsible for my repeated delays and cancellations over the last few weeks.

Now, Job Searching is depressing - everyone knows it - but that's not actually what I'm here to talk about today. I mean sure, it would be great if there were a less depressing way to do it than sending out 100 applications letters, hearing nothing from 95 of them, and hearing "no" from the other five after making time in your day to interview with them, but it's not really what I want to focus on. I want to focus on what to me is one of the most enraging parts of the Job Search process: Positive Attitude.

Virtually every single job posting you see, ANYWHERE, asks you to have a Positive Attitude, rendering the request redundant to begin with, so I'm already frustrated. But moving on: what is a positive attitude? Well, no one really seems to be able to agree on it, so now we're not only using a ubiquitous word, but also a meaningless one. Great. Still, I'm getting the subtle impression that my cynicism here is not falling under anyone's definition of "positive attitude," so now I feel ostracized for being skeptical about the completely arbitrary word choices of my company.

Basically, what "Positive Attitude" seems to mean is that you will do exactly what they tell you without thinking or complaining about ANYTHING, ever. Unless they ask you to think about it, of course.

Well, okay, this isn't terribly surprising; most jobs are like this, we know that, we begrudgingly accept it, and we go to work every day because we have to. Man, this really IS depressing, unless you're lucky enough to already think exactly like the company that hired you. But ultimately it's not really revolutionary enough to be discussed on The Weekly Madness; so why am I talking about it? I'm working up to something here - the grand daddy of all "positive attitude" schemes I've ever run into.

First point: if a company doesn't give you their name - or the name is something generic like "Integrity Enterprises" (randomly generated example) that yields several conflicting results when googled - do not interview with them. It is a scam. Even if it isn't a complete scam, it's probably a waste of your time in one way or another; let me tell you a little about my recent experience with such an interview, and why it made me so Mad.

I'm going to skip over the bulk of the agonizing of this interview, which was in an un-reschedulable group setting, filled with hyperactive self-proclaimed caffeine addicts (No, really?) that cussed and shouted and "didn't want to be the bad guy" and kept trying to get us all to leave by saying "some of you aren't going to make it, and you should just walk out right now - not to mention that the whole presentation was bookended with The Zohan, that Adam Sandler flick about an Israeli super-soldier becoming a hair dresser. This was to drive home that they "are not corporate America;" no, they like to have fun.

Don't get me wrong, I like to have fun too. But I don't really think an interview is the time to be having "fun," especially not when it's in the passive form of a movie screening. Really makes it seem to me like they're trying to make you forget what happened in the middle of the presentation by putting something ridiculous on either end. i.e, brainwashing us. But whatever - I do remember the middle of the presentation, as I practically stormed out when we got to it.

This was one of the MANY segments in our 2.5 hour group interview about how important it is to have a Positive Attitude. Now, I can handle your generic "positive attitude" where you are able to come into work and put a good face on it, especially for the customers, but are allowed to complain about things that suck on occasion. I mean, most companies, when they talk about "positive attitude," seem to mean that they just want to make sure they are hiring someone who can come in and do the work, even if they didn't have a great day/morning/whatever. Well, this is problematic; it definitely discriminates against people with profound depression; but from a purely business standpoint, it kinda makes sense. You want to hire someone who can work efficiently on a day-to-day basis.

My point being, I and many other Mad folk can handle this, more or less; especially if we're lucky enough to get a boss or coworkers that like to complain along with us on occasion. But that is not the kind of "Positive Attitude" this job wanted. What this job wanted was stated in big bold letters: "If you don't focus on any of the bad stuff, then nothing bad ever happens!" I'm basically quoting here. This job is encouraging people not only to never speak of anything unpleasant at work, but to never even THINK about unpleasant things; moreover, they go so far as to demonize those who do as lazy, selfish, and unmotivated. Anyone who thinks about anything negative has a "bad attitude" and is not welcome.

It's interesting to hear this kind of talk from people who are constantly shouting at us (trying to "Git Excited!"), and constantly talking down to the "hypothetical" members of the audience who "weren't going to cut it," and insulting anyone who had a different approach to "attitude" than them. The speaker went so far as to liken a person's description of their weekend, which was full of trials, to "Bullshit, bullshit, bla bla bullshit." This person also went so far as to suggest that everyone has been through roughly the same amount of crap and so no one has a right to talk about theirs as being worth particular notice. She cited her divorce while being laid off as an example; truly, a tough situation, but not by any means the worst you could expect to encounter in the work environment. The lack of sympathy is absolutely astounding.

So, this woman who is talking to us about positive attitudes is an overly excited, overly judgmental, extremely callous-seeming person, whose supposed three children I find myself praying for their deliverance. My point being, her own attitude does not seem to be "good" at all - it is merely high-energy and completely conformist and without sympathy. But she gets to hype it up as "Positive," all other attitudes as "bad," and force an entire room of people to agree with her because we are all desperate for a job.

This is a problem. This is actively programming people to become a part of a cultural system that represses and oppresses even the most basic expression of feeling and analysis. I feel like even Psychiatry would generally hold that it is usually dangerous for a person to never even THINK about what has troubled them; and most psychologists would definitely uphold this point. The fact of the matter is that misery and suffering are part of the Sapient existence, and if we don't actively work to integrate those experiences into our beings, they linger and lurk and fester and turn into very ugly personalities.

Hmm, kind of like the person who was giving the presentation, it seems. To illustrate exactly what I'm talking about in a non-Mad context, I will tell you that this job was to be a manager of a fragrance wholesaler, and we were all asked about our favorite cologne/perfume. I told her that I don't wear any because it is bad for my throat as a performer, which is true: airborne scented oils in high concentrations are damaging to throat, and every little bit matters when you need to project to the rooftops. Her response to this was basically to make fun of me and then move on.

How is this a positive attitude? It sounds more like being a bully. Because, guess what, that's what she is. Why? Because she has zero sympathy anywhere in her body, because she consciously and willfully squelches all "negative" feelings in her until she is nothing but a whirling dynamo of action, caffeine, and thinly veiled hatred.

These people are so fake, caffeine basically is their personality, but they talk about how they love working at this job because they get to be "who they are," and if you like getting to be exactly who you are then you'll love it to. Except I'm not fake, I'm real, and that means that I have shit in my life that I might want to discuss with my coworkers on occasion, as I'm sure they want to discuss with me; it's called "Kvetching" in Yiddish, and it is a cultural concept of bonding over the act of shared contempt. And you know what? Everyone does it. For these people they probably do it more often over the most recent celebrity scandal, safely transplanting it out of their own lives, while also removing any shred of substance from the act. Fine, I don't want to Kvetch about Usher anyway.

I was surprised to hear back from this job after the interview that I had passed. I thought, surely my hatred for them most have been rolling off of me in waves. But apparently you can't detect such things when you have a "Positive Attitude." So I told them I wasn't interested because I like to be negative, it makes things more real, and finally got a pause out of their hyperactive chipmunk on crack routine. Don't think they'd ever heard THAT one before.

See the thing is, I can work in an environment where I have to pretend to be in a better mood than I am, but not an environment where I am never allowed to think a negative thought about anything of substance. Not only would this kill me to try, but I simply wouldn't last; I would crack in front of them and get canned in the middle of the training program, wasting tremendous amounts of time and effort for naught. But even if I could get through that, it really would be emotionally toxic to do so. And this is really the heart of what I'm getting at here: This monolithic "Positive Attitude" construct is BAD for people. Patently. It isn't just repressive to Mad culture, it actively cultivates very unhealthy cognitive and emotional patterns in everyone it touches, Mad or not. For the supremely chill it will probably hit them less hard, as they have the emotional privilege of not feeling as upset about things, but it will still stunt their emotional growth.

I'm not saying the workplace needs to be a place where we can process our deepest emotions. But we at least should be able to blow off some steam; otherwise we're just lying to each other the whole time. Which only makes it harder to feel okay about blowing off steam in any other context. It's hard enough as it is, "Positive Attitude" doesn't need to make it any worse.

Sound off if you're feeling me on this, Mad Ones.

Sincerely,
R

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Delayed Madness

Madness will be delayed this week. I hope to put something up this weekend but this night simply isn't conducive to good mental health. See you soon, citizens.

-R

Friday, July 15, 2011

Madness as the new "Other"

Greetings, Citizens.

Tonight, I present you with another potential re-hash of many old ideas in a new form. Hopefully it will stick in your craw in a new way and leave you inspired. It is derived from many of the ideas utilized in my theory on Marxism and Mental Illness. It is an exploration of the deployment of "Mental Illness" by the Status Quo as the new "other."

The fact of the matter is, the Status Quo has been demonizing an "other" as part of its standard operating procedure since the dawn of mankind. From women, to people from different countries, to people from different cities; heathens, Jews, Puritans, barbarians, you name it. There has always been a scapegoat for people to blame all of their problems on; some nebulous "other" who, by virtue of being "other," exist as a sort of barrier that defines, by exclusion, who the status quo "is." "We are (insert group name here), and we're not like (insert "other" name here); we're better than them." These days, we are finding less and less obvious cases of this kind of dichotomy, but that isn't because the behavior has gone away; it has merely taken on another aspect.

To be sure, this kind of bald-faced othering DOES still exist. In today's culture, 7/14/11, many Americans view Immigrants this way, as do they view people who are gay. The term "homosexual agenda" is testiment to this fear of the "other" and what "they" will do if allowed "their way." This fear is a principle ingredient in constituting a sense of identity for the Status Quo, by providing them a common enemy to unite against.

On a subtler level, we see the same thing take place with Mental Illness. We are the ultimate other; those of us with a mental illness have something about us that it is institutionally valid to fear, discriminate against and outright judge. You see, for many rational-thinkers, it is no longer sufficient to take part in the identity-forming fears of immigrants or gay people or Jews or pagans; such individuals are, more or less, institutionally justified. This does become a complicated issue of semantics, but the bottom line is, you're not SUPPOSED to judge those people any more. That's not "PC."

But it is "PC" to judge the Mentally Ill. Even if is not PC to judge them as "bad" (though it certainly is a common practice, especially in the media), it is definitely PC to judge them as unfit, unsound, and generally not worth the same amount of attention as a person who is not Mentally Ill. In short, a Mentally Ill person is a second class citizen, via official Psychiatric sanction.

Now, there may well be some people who fall under this classification who probably should be treated as second-class citizens; vicious murderers and worse, people with absolutely no moral backbone and no hope for redemption. But this is just one type of person found under the category of "mentally ill," along with individuals like myself, and even milder-mannered people who simply have "depression." People who are doing their best to be good, who care about goodness, who feel they care about it more than anyone else around them. But despite this, our cries go unanswered, or dismissed as "mentally ill."

Whenever medical personnel agree with me, I am a bright young boy. When they disagree, I'm manic. It really does seem to be that simple; no one will admit it, but the number of times I've seen it happen is staggering. Mental Illness is used to excuse complete ignorance and persecution of dissenting ideals. And Psychiatry is getting away with it because humans seem to have a built-in need for there to be an omnipresent "other" to fear and reject.

It's despicable on so many levels, even a purely utilitarian one. Madness is just humanity's way of trying out new ideas; evolution is a process of mutation and selection. If we worship the status quo of Psychiatry as much as we do now, we do not allow for mutation; only selection. This cannot possibly lead to any real growth of the human spirit. Many of the world's most brilliant inventors and creators have been retro-actively diagnosed (a pathetic project on Psychiatry's part to "universalize" their modern findings, granting them additional agency by making it seem like "bipolar" has ALWAYS existed and isn't something they basically invented to categorize a behavior pattern) with a "mental illness," and it has often been attributed as a major source of their inspiration. If this is true, I can only assume that their inspiration would have been completely devastated by the medication and therapies of the modern approach.
This otherization of mental illness is not just bad for those who are different, but for the species as a whole. Humanity NEEDS us to keep on being mad to supply the energy for our own self-revolution. At least that's my take on it.

Hope you found something to agree with, Citizens. See you next week.

Sincerely,
R