Humanism ≠ Feminism

On Monday I went up to visit my parents. On the drive back to the train station, my mom told me that she’d had a super awkward conversation over dinner with old friends. The people she was eating dinner with brought up a guy they knew who had passed away in a car accident some years back. In the conversation, they remembered him being “a great guy” with a “great laugh.”

Mom brought the conversation to a screeching halt with two small sentences:

“Yea, such a great guy. You know he used to beat the hell out of his wife?”

After that, things got weird and awkward. Other people in the conversation called the woman in question “mouthy” and said that it wasn’t a coincidence that every man she’d been in a relationship with had beaten her. Mom cited repetition compulsion and that being “mouthy” (whatever that fucking means) is never an acceptable justification for abuse.

Mom felt super awkward about the conversation, but I was so proud of her! Feminist killjoy moments like that make me so happy I just have to Tweet about them.

When I told my mom that the conversation was an awesome feminist moment and how thrilled I was that she had opened up like that and corrected the other people in the conversation, her response was to say that she doesn’t “identify as feminist,” but rather as a “humanist.”

At which point I just wanted to put my head in my hands and rub my face with frustration.

I totally get where she’s coming from because I used to be her. I thought that feminism was too aggressive a movement for me to identify with. I didn’t want to lose friends over my association with some extremist viewpoint. I also thought that feminism was exclusive to women and didn’t want to exclude the men in my life from my primary operating belief system.

I had some serious learning and growing to do.

The first thing that I had to learn is that humanism is already it’s own thing. Humanism is chiefly the belief that humans have no need of supernatural powers to solve their problems. The American Humanist Association defines humanism as having numerous meanings depending on what exactly you are speaking about. Literary humanism differs from religious humanism, for example. They define Modern Humanism as:

“…a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion.”

It should be noted that modern humanism grapples with whether or not it should be defined religiously or secularly. I, personally am a secular Humanist. I’m basically an atheist and I truly do believe that humans have the potential to rationally sort out their own problems. With that said, my humanism and my feminism are distinctly separate beliefs that inform one another.

My understanding of feminism was fundamentally changed when I re-framed it as a resistance to – and revolution against – the patriarchal ideals which inform our society. I realized that men were very much included in feminism when I learned about things like toxic masculinity and started to think about how the roles and responsibilities that we apply to the fantasy that is the gender binary hurt people all along the sex and gender spectrum.

My world was further opened when I found myself interacting with intersectional feminists and discovered that my feminism could include not only all genders and sexual identities, but also people of other races and other issues of social justice. Of course, this portion of my feminism meant I got called out a lot on my white feminism and my ignorance when it came to issues of trans inclusivity, which was incredibly awkward for me at the time.

The point of all of this is to say that feminism and humanism are not the same. But even more than that, feminism includes men and women and trans folk. It includes people of all colors, sizes and sexual identities. And if you meet someone who calls themselves a feminist and doesn’t actually include all of those things? Then they are not really feminists. Feminism is either intersectional or bullshit. One of those two things. But that is an issue for another blog.

Mental Health, Stigma, and Therapy

One of the most damaging taboos that I have ever run across is the taboo against speaking out and articulating issues having to do with mental health.

My first experience with this phenomenon happened before I was born. My mother was the oldest of 6 children. When my mother was 18 years old, her family home burned down. Her two youngest sisters died in the fire. My uncle, the child closest in age to the girls, spent several weeks underneath the stairs, refusing to come out. Nowadays we would send him to grief counselling or therapy of some kind. But in 1968, they simply let him do what he was doing. He grew up, developed a heroin addiction, and died of an overdose when I was 20 or so.

When it comes to dealing with our problems, we as a species are really not great at being our own counselors. It’s hard to be honest with yourself about your behavior, or even the behavior of others. Everything you do is filtered through your brain, which is suuuuuper biased for all kinds of reasons.

But, while we are super flawed when it comes to judging ourselves (and sometimes others) when it comes to emotional and mental health, we also aren’t super great about seeking help when we need it. Nor are we good at being honest when we start to get it, or about our needs and boundaries while we are working on ourselves.

There’s a lot of reasons for that. Having serious emotional or mental problems in your life is a highly stigmatized thing. It also, for me, feels like a really personal thing. It’s one thing if the people around me find out that I broke my leg. It’s quite another if they find out that I’m being medicated to deal with my anxiety or depression or what have you.

And I mean, when you consider the history of mental health in this country alone, the stigma against disclosing mental health issues becomes pretty easy to understand. Who wants to be institutionalized or shunned because their behavior doesn’t fit into the norm?

There’s also the issue of people simply not believing you when you say that you are feeling upset or depressed. Or not understanding the depth to which a person can be hurting at any given moment, or the work that they are doing and will continue to do in order to make themselves feel OK. There’s a lot of “well you don’t seem depressed” or “just go hang out with friends, you’ll feel better” and that kind of thing that gets floated around when someone says they’re dealing with anxiety or depression or any number of illnesses that happen to be invisible to the naked eye. Robot hugs makes a really good point about this whole phenomenon and how little sense it makes.

2013-11-21-Helpful Advice

I personally think that more work needs to be done in order to make these things OK and safe to talk about. And to that end, I’m going to be honest about some of the things that have been happening on my end.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been depressed. With help, I’ve been looking for a therapist, which has at least given me the feeling that I am on the right track. But it’s been super hard to deal with. I’ve gone through this before once or twice in my life. I get depressed, I go to therapy for a while, then I quit when I feel better. I feel like there are some underlying issues that I’ve never really fully addressed that actually need scrutiny for more than a month or two. It’s easy for me to get just enough help so that I feel better and quit. I do the same thing with the gym. I hit it hard for like a month, lose a few pounds, then get all scattered about it over the next couple of weeks until I feel uncomfortable enough and guilty enough to go again. Later, rinse, repeat.

Anyway, so I’ve been dealing with this. And it’s been rough. But I think it’s going to get better. I also think it’s important that we be open about what we are going through as people. Not only does it makes it easier to be honest with and accountable to ourselves, but letting the people that we care about see what is going on within helps them to be more honest with us and with other people who are close to them. Which I think can be a really powerful thing.

To my friends without a mother on Mothers Day

I see you.

I see every day the messages that we receive as a culture to love our mothers unconditionally. To return the gift of life that they gave us with unending affection and unquestioning adoration.

I see how you tried to fit into that mold. How you fought every day to make excuses for her. To yourself. To the people around you. Because she’s your mom. And she’s supposed to love you, right? And take care of you. And she’s really not that bad. Not always. Not all the time.

I see how you spent all that time trying to be the perfect kid. Because being the perfect kid would change her. Because so much of what was going on had to be your fault.

I see you now, cringing whenever someone brings up their plans with their mom. Leaving the room when time comes to talk of Mother’s day.

I see you trying to explain to people why she is no longer in your life. Trying to articulate how hard it was to put up with her for years. To make excuses. To work on yourself and find yourself backsliding because of her constant negative presence.

I see you fielding the protests on your mothers behalf from people who don’t know her. Who don’t even know you that well. Telling you that she can’t be “that bad.” That you owe her your life. That you should give her something in return for this gift she gave you. In return for your life.

I see you thinking about all the things you gave her. All the chances and the benefits of the doubt. Every little chip she took of your sanity. Of your self worth.

I see you. And I want you to know that I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you for making the choice to remove a toxic relationship from your life no matter how hard it was. I’m proud of you for continuing to make the decision to keep her out when she calls you on the phone or sends you emails. When she tries to fight her way back across the bridge that you burned.

I see you. I see how hard this day is for you. And I’m proud of you for standing on your two feet without her. I cannot imagine the strength it took to get you through making that decision.

You are so brave.

I see you.

And you are okay.

mothers-day

Being a grown up is pretty fucking great

My birthday is coming up (this weekend, the 19th, feel free to send cash) and that has gotten me thinking about all kinds of things. About adulthood and childishness and death and all that good stuff. So here’s a rambling list of some stuff I’m thinking about as I take the first step into my 30s. This blog post is totally my gift to myself, because I’m just going to be weird here for like 700 words and you all will read it anyway because you’re bored on your phones on a train platform or a toilet somewhere.

So, first and foremost, I’m pretty sure you can measure your success as an adult by how much money you manage to save at the grocery store. Last night we saved $50, so we are clearly winning some kind of grown up lottery. Moreover, our groceries had almost no junk food in them!

I say "almost" because I had to buy myself these delicious little bastards. Because what's the point of being an adult if you can't have some fucking fun?
I say “almost” because I had to buy myself these delicious little bastards. Because what’s the point of being an adult if you can’t have some fucking fun?

I’m also fairly certain adulthood can be defined in another way, though. Because all the social and fiscal responsibility in the world won’t save you if you can’t chill the hell out and have some fun. It’s important that you fulfill the dreams your childhood self dreamed as much as possible. To that end, yesterday morning I announced to Frankie that, when I die, I want her to have my skull bleached and bedazzled so that she can remember me forever as decoration.

Nothing says "eternal love" like using the whimsical remains of your loved one as a centerpiece.
Nothing says “eternal love” like using the whimsical remains of your loved one as a centerpiece.

She, of course, said no.

But being bleached and bedazzled would basically be the culmination of a lifelong dream. So I’ll keep begging like a kid for a Christmas present. I’ll wear her down. You’ll see. Because I’m an adult. And that means I’m persistent.

One of the better things about being a grown up is that you are the master of your own domain. Which means that you are the master of your own time. Which is great! But what I find more and more is that I have less and less time to do the things that I want. Which is a super huge bummer for me. But, in order to counter that utter crap salad of a realization, I’ve started doing super adult weird shit with my spare time. You know, that time that you have that you can’t really do anything with? That stuff drives me crazy. It’s existential version of a penny. Why does it even exist? It costs more money to make than it’s really worth, but you never want to throw it away because eventually it will add up to a dollar. It’s so frustrating!

Fuck you, Abe.
Why can’t I quit you, Abe? Why?

Here’s a real question that I think I’ve finally answered. You know that time after the gym and dinner, but before bed time? What do you do with those two hours that doesn’t make you feel totally useless? I mean, I watch TV and play video games as much as the next girl, but I’ve figured out in the last year how to tag team my leisure time like a pro. Which basically just means that I never watch TV without cross stitching anymore. And I listen to audio books while I clean. Because I’m a grown up!

But back to birthdays. My absolute favorite thing about my birthday is the cool people that I get to share it with. Jules and my birthdays are only 8 days apart, so we always get together for dinner and drinks and hangouts, just the two of us. It’s super great. I look forward to it every year. This year it’s cheap noodles and expensive drinks at the Hop Sing Laundromat. Which just… really you can’t beat that for a night out.

This year my girlfriend continues to win all the girlfriend awards there ever were for her awesome gift giving skills. Last year she got me the boxed set of Calvin and Hobbes. This year she got me a KitchenAid. A red one. Which I promptly named Martha. While making this face:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!

Seriously, I have wanted one of these things for the last … ever. For. Ever. And now I have one. I am going to bake so much, y’all. I am going to get so fucking Martha Stewart all up on this kitchen. It’s insane.

Then tomorrow she is taking me out for bourbon and noms at Twisted Tail, my favorite bar in the city next to Hop Sing. And I get to spend the weekend baking with Martha and playing games and running around the city doing basically anything I please.

All things considered, so far, my 30s are kicking the absolute shit out of my 20s. My 30s are making my 20s their bitch.