Amanda Palmer, being an artist, and the question of “What is art?”

On Saturday morning I woke up early. I stared at my phone trying to transcribe digital readout into conscious thought and realized that I really had to get up right then if I was going to make the long drive up to  Annandale-on-Hudson in upstate New York to see Amanda Palmer’s play.

I had been excited for The Bed Show for months. With the things that had been going on in my life over the past two or three years, my bed was filled with all kinds of tension and joy and stress. The areas underneath it haunted by memories too real to handle, dark corners lurking behind brightly lit childhood photos and the familiar faces of stuffed animals. All I could think of as we drove up through the morning was how our beds are full of things we carry with us, even as we lie on them at night, shoving our bodies into the space between that baggage. I thought about how the things we carry rise up in us as we sleep. How they lift us up or press us down into the sheets, gasping and afraid or even ashamed of what we keep inside.

Sitting in the theater, I waited for some glimpse of Amanda. This woman that I felt that I had come to know all those years ago when she had sat in front of me on a stage at the TLA, legs spread beneath her piano, eyes intense and voice cracking with emotion, beating out a tempo that I have marched in sync with since then, from time to time. When I saw her come in stage right, I felt an unfamiliar stirring of excitement in my gut. The kind of feeling I have not had about an artist since meeting Neil Gaiman in college, and had never really felt before then.

If you can watch a laughing Amanda play ukulele while singing about ice cream without getting a severe case of The Warm Fuzzies, you're basically not human.
If you can watch a laughing Amanda play ukulele while singing about ice cream without getting a severe case of The Warm Fuzzies, you’re basically not human.

There aren’t a lot of artists that I feel a huge bond of kinship with. Oddly, Amanda married one of the other ones a few years ago. A fact that continues to make me smile a wry smile, like a friend who introduced two other friends and watched their romance blossom. I don’t know them, but somehow their connection seems very real to me, having grown up with Neil and having found something very adult and real to connect with in Amanda.

At any rate, I sat and watched her show. I laughed a lot. And I cried a lot. Particularly when an old man wandered onto the stage and sang a song about how he didn’t want people to feel pity for him as he moved through his life after the death of his wife and child. “I actually like it,” he told me, “with a hot cup of chocolate. And a cat in my lap.” He explained how people think your life ends when the people you love die, but it doesn’t. It just changes. And I was in the second row with my shoulders shaking, trying not to sob out loud at how beautiful and touching and soft and gentle this song was as it pried open everything I love and left me feeling exhausted and blessed all at once when it was finished.

Afterward, on the ride home and for two days afterward, I found myself looking around me and feeling genuinely disappointed with myself for not being a “better artist” or doing more artistic things with my life. I looked at Amanda from the audience and thought to myself “I could be doing so much more” and immediately felt a sense of guilt for not really using the talents I have. For not nurturing the artist inside me in the way that I should be.

Talk about a kick in the ass.

I think one of the reasons that I feel such a kinship with Amanda as opposed to other artists is the realization that she’s given me that I’m still sort of teasing out in my brain.

Most artists are so remote. They’re so far away from us that they seem super human. They don’t make their own posts on social media. They don’t really want to talk to you. And that distance leads to the feeling that, not only are these people super human, but there is no way you could ever do what they do. And that’s not a really good feeling and it leads to all sorts of issues with fame in this country that I could write a whole other blog post on.

The difference between Amanda and a lot of other artists is that she stands up and says she’s an artist but doesn’t exclude the rest of us from the conversation about her art. About art in general. In a way, her accessibility to her fans serves as an open invitation to come join the artist party. And, in the aftermath of The Bed Show and looking forward to her book tour here in Philly on Thursday, I feel more motivated than ever to get my art out there. To be heard. To do the things that I know I am capable of doing. And some of the things I’m not so sure about, because being scared of failure is bullshit.

One of the biggest bees in my bonnet when I was going through the ringer in the field of art history was this idea of trying to define what “art” really is. As if anyone has the right to tell anyone else that what they’re doing isn’t art. It was all wrapped up in this notion of the construction of “high art” and “low art.” It bugged me. I remember sitting down with my adviser and talking about my thesis paper and having him say “where’s the high art?” He didn’t like my response. Because there wasn’t any. Because I don’t think that high art is more important than low art.

In fact, I will even go a step further than that. I think that low art is more important than high art. When you define low art as vernacular photos, which is what my thesis was on. Or advertising. Or any of the million other things that we are surrounded by everyday. I mean, if vernacular photos are low art, what about the art of computer programming? What about the art of a love note in a lunch box? Or a home cooked meal? A thoughtful gift?

The point is, there is an art in our everyday lives that I think it is difficult to find when you constantly look at the untouchable artists around you. They distance themselves from us with the amount of money they can throw at a project or the amount of talent they can pay to surround themselves with.

Artists like Amanda invite you to reach out and touch the art around you. They invite you to participate in the artistic process. And that is the kind of art I can get behind. It’s beautiful and big and complicated and it invites you in in a way that is vital and alive. “Real art” (if we can ever define such a thing) inspires and communicates with the viewer. The world needs more real art.

Save the tatas!

It’s October, everybody! And you know what that means. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves, throw on a low cut top with a pink ribbon on it, and get aware of breast cancer.

Although how you could be unaware is completely beyond me, especially when October 1st hits and everything from your local KFC bucket to your Kitchen Aid mixer is suddenly the color of pepto bismol.
Although how you could be unaware is completely beyond me, especially when October 1st hits and everything from your local KFC bucket to your Kitchen Aid mixer is suddenly the color of Pepto Bismol.

I kid, but breast cancer is no joking matter. With the death toll in 2013 in the US reaching 39,620 out of 232,340 reported cases according to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is a serious disease with serious repercussions for cancer sufferers as well as their families and friends. And with numbers like that, the likelihood that you know someone who will be effected by breast cancer within your lifetime is high.

Breast cancer gets a lot of attention as a disease. And that makes sense. No one wants the women in their lives to suffer and die of cancer. (Of course, men get breast cancer as well. 410 of those deaths listed above were men.) But when you look at the numbers on breast cancer, the concern to death ratio doesn’t quite add up. For example, when it comes to body count, heart disease is way ahead of breast cancer according to the CDC, taking the lives of 600,000 Americans every year. There are also several other cancers that claim significantly more lives per year than breast cancer, such as cancer of the digestive system, which took 144,570 lives in 2013 and the respiratory system which took 163,890 lives that same year. Those numbers are wayyyy higher than the numbers for breast cancer. When other cancers have death tolls like that, it begs the question: Why the focus on the tatas? Well, I have a few theories.

1) Boobies. This one is kind of obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. The fact of the matter is that a lot of us like breasts. That’s why you see campaigns like this on Facebook and other social networking sites all month long.

How about no?
Yea, no. Because flaunting my breasts 1) doesn’t prove or solve anything 2) is offensive to people who have lost or may face the reality of losing their own breasts to cancer. And 3) just… really? How obvious can you get?

So setting aside the issue of the incredible callousness required in order to happily flaunt your tits at women with mastectomy scars, this kind of campaign gets us to the heart of pink madness, which is this simple fact: boobies are pretty great. A large number of the population enjoy breasts either aesthetically or sexually. And another large number of the population enjoy having breasts. And more than that, the latter segment of the population have been taught that their feelings about their physical attractiveness hinges (at least in part) on the size, pertness, and existence of their sweater kittens. So if there’s a disease out there that could potentially call for the removal of something that a large number of us like and a similarly large number like to have, it seems obvious that we would sit up and take notice of that disease and want to throw money at it in order to preserve our happy places.

2) Prevention. The CDC lists a couple of ways that you can try to prevent breast cancer, including keeping a healthy weight, exercising at least 4 hours a week, getting enough sleep, avoiding alcohol, avoiding carcinogens, and being aware of the risks inherent in birth control and hormone replacement therapy. But there are no guarantees. Taken together, these tips add up to “be healthy, but you still might get it anyway, so get checked to catch it early.” Which is not really great, all things considered.

The only real fun part is getting to feel yourself up without judgment. IT'S FOR MY HEALTH, OK???
The only real fun part is getting to feel yourself up without judgment. IT’S FOR MY HEALTH, OK???

Cancers in general are pretty hard to prevent. Disregarding, of course, things like lung and esophageal cancer, which have been linked to smoking and other environmental and lifestyle causes. The difference between cancer and heart disease with regard to public awareness is that cancer sends out the call for research and a cure, while heart disease focuses on education and prevention.

The Mayo Clinic lists some things that you can do to help prevent heart disease. These include not smoking, exercising at least 30 minutes a day, eating a heart-healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting good sleep, and getting regular health screenings. Heart disease is linked to many factors, but excluding genetic defects, the majority of causes are linked to lifestyle choices made by the individual. Heart disease differs from cancer in that it is something that can be controlled and prevented with proper education and available medical assistance.

It should be said that we aren’t neglecting heart disease awareness. It even has it’s own month. Guess which one? Yea, it’s February. But I don’t think anyone could argue with the fact that the fervor for breast cancer awareness easily overshadows that of heart disease awareness. And the reasons for that are, I’m sure, myriad. But from my tiny perspective it seems to be twofold. One, boobies are awesome. And two, the hope is that awareness of cancer will lead to funding for research and perhaps, in time, a cure. So while heart disease awareness seems to focus more on prevention and education, breast cancer awareness is looking for some kind of magical fix. Which is alluring because, well, magic! The idea that, if we throw enough money at a thing, it will just go away, while wholly ridiculous, does have a certain amount of appeal.

3) Pinkwashing. So pinkwashing refers to a couple of things. The first is exemplified by that first photo that I showed you. But here’s another:

breat_cancer_awareness_truck
Every bit of cement solidifies our commitment to end cancer!

And another:

pinkpistol
Put a cap in boob cancer’s ass!

And yet another, because I can’t resist a nice set of wheels.

This car brought to you by
This car brought to you by “Deep Impact Boats.” I can’t make this stuff up, kids.

So pinkwashing is, first and foremost, the selling of pink products with the idea of representing the fact that one supports breast cancer research. Ah, but there’s the rub. See, it turns out that you can slap that ribbon and pepto color combo on basically any product without too much oversight. You can, for example, require a proof of purchase for a pink item before the seller makes a charitable donation. And how much of a donation you make is not necessarily dependent on how much money you make from selling those branded product. You can look to the amounts donated by Major League Baseball and the WWE for examples of that. Both of those organizations sold branded products to people who believed they were making a sizable donation to Susan G. Komen. But the amount they donated is nothing compared to the amount of money they likely made from the sales of their overpriced pink bats and pink WWE gear.

Another issue with pinkwashing is the partnership between the Komen Foundation and several bottled water companies. Since water bottles commonly contain BPA, which has been linked to breast cancer tumor growth, that’s… well, it’s not a great partnership.

But pinkwashing draws a lot of attention and money to the cause, right? So that can’t be a bad thing, right?

Well, yes and no. Setting aside the fact that “awareness” does not equal “money in the pockets of deserving researchers,” there is a larger issue when it comes to some of the organizations that we choose to give money to in the name of this cause. I speak, of course, of cancer awareness mega giant Susan G. Komen, the organization standing at the heart of our Pepto-colored seasonal wonderland.

So aside from the issue of organizations not being required to give more than a pittance in donation in exchange for the use of the Komen name and pink branding, there’s a few issues to be had with the way that Susan G. Komen conducts itself.

Let’s start with Planned Parenthood.

Back in January of 2012, Susan G. Komen disclosed plans to eliminate $680,000 in grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings and education programs. In the four days that followed, a few things happened. First, several members of Susan G. Komen’s prominent staff members resigned over the issue. Second, Planned Parenthood received sizeable donations from other donors in order to make up for the loss of the grant. And third, the negative press became so problematic for the group that they reversed their decision just four days later, issuing this statement.

The snark delivered to Komen by the internet was proportionally epic.
The snark delivered to Komen by the internet was proportionally epic.

Komen’s reasoning? Well, according to statements made by them at the time, their new grant policy precluded the giving of funds to organizations that were under investigation by local, state, or federal authorities. Of course, Planned Parenthood was the only group to fall under that category. They didn’t, for example, find it necessary to drop Bank of America, who was under federal investigation at the time for foreclosure and mortgage fraud. And, of course, this decision had nothing to do with the fact that Karen Handel (VP for Komen’s public policy), who ran for governor of Georgia in 2010 (and lost), identifies as staunchly pro-life and specifically opposes Planned Parenthood.

What’s insane about Komen’s pulling back on Planned Parenthood is just how much good Planned Parenthood does in the fight against cancer. In 2012 they provided cancer screening and prevention measures to over 1 million women, including pap tests, HPV vaccinations, and breast exams. Planned Parenthood seems like the perfect partner in the fight against breast cancer, providing women from all walks of life with the medical treatment necessary to detect cancer early, when it is most treatable. When you take into account the political leaning of Komen’s leadership, it becomes clear that Komen’s reasoning had more to do with them being anti-choice than any trumped up policy regarding federal investigation.

Speaking of the federal government, Komen spends a lot of money on lobbying in Washington DC. Now, depending on who you talk to, that’s a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, their lobbying might pay off in the form of government funding being put toward cancer research. On the other hand, if the lobbying is not successful, they are wasting the money given to them in good faith by their donors. The latter view of their governmental activities seems to have informed their decision, after the 2012 Planned Parenthood debacle, to lessen their impact in Washington. They went from spending $140,000 a year in 2011 to spending under $20,000.

Another reason for the drop in spending in Washington could be the 2012 scandal that occurred when it was revealed that their CEO, Nancy Brinker, had a salary of almost $700,000 (it has since dropped to $400,000, according to Better Business Bureau). It should be said that I am not against people working for charitable organizations making a living. And certainly if you are the CEO you should make a salary that makes your job worth your time. But I think the appearance to donors was that she was living in the lap of luxury while donations plummeted, and that’s not an image that you really want to cultivate as a charity.

And speaking of Komen’s political and lobbying machinations, we would be remiss if we overlooked their sue happy legal department. Susan G. Komen has entered into over one hundred legal battles over trademarking with other breast cancer organizations. Specifically, they are not interested in letting anyone else use the phrase “for the cure” in conjunction with any other cancer non-profit. So they are suing and threatening to sue other groups who have done this, wasting money that was donated to fight cancer to both the Komen Foundation and to the organizations that they are suing. So that’s… um… horrible? Yea. Really nothing more to say about that.

But what’s the benefit of them suing other groups in order to keep their “brand” untouched? Well, it may not surprise you to find out that the Komen Foundation rakes in a shit ton of cash every year. I’m not a super fiscally minded person, but the people over at philanthropy.com are. And they have a thing or two to say about Komen’s spending. I’ll break some of it down for you here:

In 2011, Susan G. Komen declared having received “$420-million in private support; $439-million in total revenue; and $409-million in expenses, including $333.7-million to program services, $48-million for fundraising, and $27.3-million for other general and administrative costs.”

Program services are where you see the amount that they give to research, so let’s look at that. In 2011, program services included four areas: “public-health education ($181.1-million), research ($75.3-million), health-screening services ($54.1-million), and treatment services ($23.3-million). And those areas are further broken down into 16 expense categories, such as the salaries, supplies, and the marketing costs associated with each. Out of the $75.3-million Komen spent on research, for example, $63.3-million went directly to awards and grants.”

So there’s a problem right there and my biggest issue with Komen financially other than the issues I’ve listed above. If your name as an organization is “for the cure” and, out of the immense amount of money you raise every year, only 22% of your income goes to actually finding a cure for breast cancer… I have a serious problem with that. And yes, some of their stuff goes to health screening and treatment, but the bulk of their program services goes to “public health education,” which, is basically awareness of the diseas. Which is basically just them producing pink stuff and information cards and calling it education when, really, it’s fundraising for Komen more than it’s anything else. Because honestly, how much more aware could we possibly get of the threat that breast cancer poses?

Bottom line? I am 100% in support of raising money to support breast cancer education, treatment, prevention, and survivors. But I think that Susan G. Komen is an organization that has very much lost it’s way. If you call yourself an organization that is “for the cure,” if you spend millions in order to make sure that you are the only organization who can even use those words, you should probably be actually funding a cure. Because that is why donors entrust their money to you. That is what we are all hoping for. A cure.


Want to find out what percentage of your money goes to a good cause? Always do your research before you give away your hard-earned money. Check out potential charities over at the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.

With everything that I’ve said here, it seemed only fair that I give you some options other than Susan G. Komen if you want to donate to charity. There are a lot of deserving organizations out there, but these are some of the highest rated ones according to Charity Navigator.

National Breast Cancer Foundation (CN Rating: 97.6)
The National Breast Cancer Foundation’s mission is to help women now by providing help and inspiring hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education and support services.

The Rose (CN Rating: 95.42)
Board Certified Radiologists, specialized technical staff, two Mammography and Diagnostic Imaging Centers plus a fleet of Mobile Mammography vans offer advanced breast cancer screening and diagnostic services including mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies and access to treatment to more than 35,000 women annually. Since its launch in 1986, The Rose has served nearly 500,000 patients and is now the leading nonprofit breast health care organization in southeast Texas.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer (CN Rating: 93.67)
LBBC is dedicated to assisting you, whether you are newly diagnosed, in treatment, recently completed treatment, are years beyond or are living with metastatic breast cancer. We are also here for your family members, caregivers, friends and healthcare providers to provide breast cancer information and support.
As a national education and support organization, our goal is to connect people with trusted breast cancer information and a community of support, regardless of educational background, social support or financial means.

Breast Cancer Connections (CN Rating: 98.76)
Our mission is to support people touched by breast and ovarian cancer by providing comprehensive, personalized services in an atmosphere of warmth and compassion. Bay Area Cancer Connections is a nonprofit organization located in the San Francisco Bay Area, but you’re welcome to call us from anywhere.

Dana Farber Cancer Institute (CN Rating: 94.93)
Since its founding in 1947, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts has been committed to providing adults and children with cancer with the best treatment available today while developing tomorrow’s cures through cutting-edge research. Read about our history, our breakthroughs, and the resources that help us support the health of our neighborhoods and communities.

Go home, Leviticus. You’re drunk.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Martin Luther King said that. It’s been getting a lot of play lately on TV and in articles and such. And it is definitely true. Because it has been a long road getting to a place where 19 states in this country acknowledge non-heterosexual marriage.

And it feels good. I have talked with a lot of my LGBTQ-etc friends in the last two days and we are universally thrilled to see this come to our home state. Some of us are even shocked that it made it this far, against so much opposition.

All in all, I’m thrilled. I’m nowhere near the place in my relationship where we’re picking out flower arrangements, but it’s good to know that, when I get there, I will be able to do everything a heterosexual couple does without any pushback from my state. Without special paperwork and legal documents and bureaucratic fidgy widgyness. It feels really, really good.

What’s interesting, too, is that I just read this article on Think Progress about how Rick Santorum really couldn’t be bothered to say anything about the rolling tide of same sex marriage across the country that culminated here in PA on Tuesday. It’s something I’ve long been aware of, but if the Republican party wants to, like, keep their jobs, they basically need to let go of things like gay marriage. Because a recent Gallup poll puts support for marriage equality at 55%.

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See those numbers, kids? The dark green line represents the right side of history.

 

So all those things are good. And seeing progress is good. And all good things are good.

Except.

A bunch of people have taken this as an opportunity to spill their homophobia out into the internet in a seemingly neverending stream.

Morgan Freeman didn't actually say this, but it's still as true as if he did.
Morgan Freeman didn’t actually say this, but it’s still as true as if he did.

What’s always bugged me about homophobia – aside from the obvious message above – has been how obviously hypocritical all of these people are. They cherry pick the things they want to believe and leave behind the things that would be super hard to do.

Leviticus is that book of the Bible that famously decries men lying with men. “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman,” the book says, “for that is an abomination.” (Lev 18:22)

Leviticus takes all of this stuff very seriously, by the way. If you take any of these laws and break them, the whole chapter is full of recommendations for punishment. Phrases like “and they shall be put to death” or “they shall be stoned by the people” abound. But, moreover, if I see you committing some of these crimes and I don’t stone you, I’m going to hell with you. That’s some heavy judgment “I AM” is handing down, right there. And you’re kinda already fucked if you live in a country that frowns on stoning. Like the U.S.

But anyway, aside from the compulsory stoning of one’s neighbors, if you want to tow the party line about homosexuality as laid down in Leviticus, that’s fine. But if you believe that, you have to believe all that other stuff that goes along with it. And, believe me, there are some gems up in that book. Here’s some of my favorites!

Let’s start at the beginning!

Do you like bacon? Well sucks to be you. Lev 3:17 forbids the eating of fat. So no bacon for you guys! Keep that in mind the next time you’re at the diner.

Lev 5:2 forbids the touching of an unclean animal. Do you have a cat? A dog? Have you patted a dog on the street? Touched a horse’s nose? Frolicked in a field with the myriad fauna that abound there, a-la Cinderella? Cause you are goin’ to hell if you have.

Lev 5:4 forbids “thoughtlessly taking an oath” for either good or bad. Have you ever said “I swear” before anything? Then you realized that swearing that the barista at the coffee shop will pay with her last breath the next time she makes you a latte three times because she’s no good at lattes and can’t get the foam right waaaaaaaaasn’t such a good idea? Too bad. Sin committed. Enjoy eternal damnation.

Lev 10:6 forbids the showing of grief by letting your hair become unkempt or tearing your clothes. The second thing should be pretty easy, but if your dad dies you had better keep that sick do going, or else what happens? You guessed it! Hellfire and damnation.

Lev 10:9 states that you cannot have a fermented beverage whenever you go into the “tent of meeting.” Now, properly this means whenever you go to church. Catholics, I’m looking at you. Of course, for most of us, “tent of meeting” translates to “bar,” which is also kind of a problem…

Lev 11:4-7 says that you cannot eat any animal that doesn’t both chew cud and have a divided hoof. That eliminates all KINDS of yummy foods. No seafood, for sure, cause those tasty bastards don’t even have feet.

Delicious. And, now, a thing of the past.
Delicious. And, now, a thing of the past.

You also can’t touch their dead bodies, according to Lev 11:8, which is really only a problem if you, like me, are morbidly fascinated with poking dead jellyfish or feeling up taxidermied anything. But if you play rugby or football, does the term pigskin ring a bell?

Basically, if you like taxidermy at all or are interested in moving roadkill from in front of your car or taking your kid’s dead lizard out to the trash, you are totally ruined by Lev 11:13-22 and Lev 11:29. Truly, the road to damnation is paved with dead animals.

Did you just kill that spider who has been stalking your bathroom? Better not pick it up. Ooh, you killed it with your hands? Truly, you are a champion hunter. Also, according to Lev 11:41-42, you are going to hell.

A very real fear for devout Leviticus followers...
A very real fear for devout Leviticus followers…

Remember when that bouncing ball of joy came into your life? How excited you were to have him or her baptized and show off your new squalling offspring to the members of your congregation? Well I hope you waited before you went, Lev 12:4-5 states the standard waiting period for a girl is 66 days, with 33 days being the standard wait for a boy. Better get all your sins handled before the little bastard crawls outta ya, because you have to be really good for the one or two months after it’s born.

Do you have your “red wings?” Because Lev 18:19 says you’re going to hell if you do.

Have you ever in your life purchased a crucifix or a little statue of St. Francis? Because idols are bad, says Lev 19:4.

You may think you're being a good Catholic, but this here is a one way ticket to Hell.
You may think you’re being a good Catholic, but this here is a one way ticket to Hell.

Remember all those little white lies? About Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and how many people you’ve really slept with? Well, the guy who wrote Lev 19:11 is watching you. And knows which circle of hell you’re going to end up spending eternity in.

Remember that swearing thing before? Well, have you ever said “I swear to God if you little bastards don’t get your shoes on and get in the car I will smack you so hard!” When they didn’t, did you smack them? Well, if you’re a good parent that doesn’t hit their kids, you just swore falsely on God’s name. And Lev 19:12 says that’s another no-no.

Here’s good news for everyone that hates waiting two weeks for a paycheck! Holding the wages of an employee overnight is a damnable sin! Don’t believe me, check out Lev 19:13. Are you an employer? You might want to go see a priest. Like, every day.

Pretty sure everyone in government is in violation of perverting justice by showing partiality to either the poor or the rich. Lev 19:15 takes a dim view of that kind of thing.

Remember that guy who cut you off two weeks ago? Or your ex wife? Still hate either of those people? Want revenge? Lev 19:18 specifically warns against seeking revenge or bearing grudges. Naughty, naughty!

To be fair, if she had given me that family of dead-eyed corn children, I'd cross her ass out, too.
To be fair, if she had given him that family of dead-eyed children of the corn, God would probably cross her ass out, too.

Turns out, God is, like, super against intermixing things. Lev 19:19 warns against three things:

  1. Cross-breeding animals. So if you love your purebread whateverthefuck dog, beware.
  2. Mixing fabric in clothing. Yea. Try to live in the modern world without mixing cotton and polyester. I dare you.
  3. Planting different seeds in the same field. Do window boxes count as “fields?” Because having a window box with just one kind of flower could be really, really boring.

This one really must stress out the true Bible adherents. Lev 19:23 forbids you from eating fruit from any tree that has been planted for less than four years. I can just see them, pulling out their hair out in the aisles of the Super Walmart.

Devout Walmart Shopper: Excuse me, how old was the tree these apples grew on?
Walmart Employee: … I don’t know.
Devout Walmart Shopper: Well, considering that my eternal souls’ well being is on the line, could you find out? I’m not interested in going to whatever circle of hell is reserved for eating the fruit of immature trees.
Walmart Employee: Right… I’ll get right on that. *goes to stock in another area*

Hey, are you a friend to facial hair in any way? Well if you are, you had better keep it long and sloppy, my friend, because Lev 19:27 specifically forbids trimming your beard. Also, in an act of serious micromanagement, the same verse prohibits you from cutting the sides of your hair.

All of those people with cross tattoos? Yea, I don’t care how much you love The Lord Your God, according to Lev 19:28, he hates tattoos.

Particularly, I would think, if you put it there...
Particularly, I would think, if you put it there…

Lev 19:32 says you had better give up that seat on the bus to the little old lady with her walker. No, we don’t care how much your feet hurt. Is your podiatric discomfort truly the reason you want to spend eternity rubbing shoulders with Beelzebub?

This is one of my favorites, because there are so many right wingers who are guilty of it all the time. Lev 19:33-34 states that “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.” So much for immigration law, folks! The world is just one big country, according to Leviticus. 

Have you ever muttered a swear at your parents under your breath? Cursing your mother and father is specifically addressed in Lev 20:9.

We all remember that rule about not working on the Sabbath? That’s Lev 23:3. That must be rough for Christians who work in restaurants. The Sabbath has some good money to be made. Too bad.

Blasphemy is another no-no, which I’m sure is no news to you. This is one of the sins that is outlined as specifically being punishable by stoning by Lev 24:14. I wonder if it’s blasphemy if you only take the Lord’s name in vain during sex? I would hope he would take that as a compliment.

Remember that “eye for an eye” rule? That’s Lev 24:17-22. I wonder how nitpicky that rule really is… like, if I give you a papercut, do you do it back?

This sort of insult would definitely have to be answered.
This sort of insult would definitely have to be answered.

And last, but certainly not least, did you know that you are not allowed to permanently sell off your land? Yea. Lev 25:23. The reasoning? Because all land belongs to God and you can’t sell his shit without permission. Which I guess makes sense. I would get seriously bent out of shape if someone sold my stuff when I wasn’t looking.

All in all, Leviticus as a book makes me think that we are all looking forward to this when we die:

Although, in fairness, I would welcome a Hell that had Rowan Atkinson playing the Devil.

Boys Will be Boys: Masculinity and “Womens Issues”

I recently watched a brilliant TED talk by Jackson Katz on violence against women and how it’s a men’s issue.

mvp
Be an MVP. Hells yea.

Katz is a co-founder of a group called Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), an organization that works to enlist the help of men in the ongoing battle with domestic violence against women. So, basically, I had already decided that I liked him before I watched the video. When I watched it, though, I liked him even more. He’s this super down-to-earth, everyman-feeling kind of guy, and here he is talking about power and privilege and using his position as a powerful, priviliged man to expose the injustices in the world. Anyway, he encouraged me to write this blog post. I strongly encourage you to take the time to watch it, but if you don’t have the time, let me tell you what I took from it in a few highlights.

[W]hen we hear the word “race,” a lot of people think that means African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, South Asian, Pacific Islander… When [we] hear the word “sexual orientation” [and] think it means gay, lesbian, bisexual… [we] hear the word “gender,” [and] think it means women. In each case, the dominant group doesn’t get paid attention to  This is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves… the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance, because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege, the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us. And this is amazing how this works in domestic and sexual violence, how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.

The power behind that realization is potent. The fact if the matter is that the dominant group in the conversation about domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment is rarely challenged to think about it’s role.

I’m lucky in that I’m surrounded by awesome male allies as a female in the world today. I can still remember having a beer with my brother a little over two years ago. He leaned across the table and said to me:

“So… rape culture. What’s that like?”

What followed was a moment that I will always remember. He acknowledged his privilege and listened to my experiences as a woman. He didn’t bluster or get offended. He didn’t say things like “not all men are like that” or “well I would never do xyz.” He listened and he internalized and tried to understand.

And I know a bunch of guys like that. Self-described feminists and womens’ allies that rock my world when they engage in this conversation. But the fact of the matter is that victim blaming is a part of the conversation about so-called “women’s issues.” The first thing out of a lot of people’s mouths is a question about – or an accusation of – the woman.

Why was she out so late at night?
Why doesn’t she leave him?
What was she doing dressed like that?
She’s a tease.
She’s a slut.

The man is rarely a part of the conversation.

And I get that, actually. I understand where that comes from. It’s hard to think about what we do about men, just like it’s hard to think about what we do with any perpetrator. Perpetrators are scary because they are not a predictable element in our everyday lives. And violent domestic and sexual perpetrators are especially terrifying because they do their work right in front of our eyes, behind the closed doors of our neighbors and friends. But Katz is asking the right questions when he says, toward the middle of his talk, that:

You know, the perpetrators aren’t these monsters who crawl out of the swamp and come into town and do their nasty business and then retreat into the darkness. That’s a very naive notion, right? Perpetrators are much more normal than that, and everyday than that. So the question is, what are we doing here in our society and in the world? What are the roles of various institutions in helping to produce abusive men? What’s the role of religious belief systems, the sports culture, the pornography culture, the family structure, economics, and how that intersects, and race and ethnicity and how that intersects? How does all this work?

Like this awesome kid, right here.
Like this awesome kid, right here.

It’s absolutely true that perpetrators aren’t alien monsters. They’re somebody’s son. Somebody’s brother. And they are born and raised right alongside men who don’t beat and rape the people around them. And I think that’s what makes dealing with them so difficult and so terrifying. If every abuser were, say, bright purple or something, it would make it easy to avoid them. Just don’t go near that bright purple guy! Easy peasy. But that’s not the case, so the question becomes: What makes those men different?

I believe that Katz is right in his assertion that we have to trace those violent tendencies back to some kind of societal cause. I think it starts with socialization in childhood. Men are socialized to think that they need to be aggressive and big and dominant and powerful in order to be “real men.” I’m sure you’ve heard these lines before.*

Boys don’t cry.
Man up.
What are you, some kinda pussy?
You’re a little bitch.

In just those few examples, we can see some of archetypes that men are being called to fill. Not only are they expected to perform as men by being emotionally closed off and immune to pain and weakness, but those last two “insults” have always spoken to me – and a lot of other feminists. If you insult someone by calling them a pussy or a bitch, what are you really saying? You’re saying three things, and stick with me here:

  1. They’re a woman, or possess female genitalia, for one.
  2. You’re inferring, through that statement, that being female or having female sex organs makes a person inferior.
  3. You are teaching them, through those two correlations, that women are inferior beings.
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Something about the math here seems… off.

It’s not a straight leap, but if you are a boy and you hang out in enough schoolyards with enough other boys, you might come out of it scared of being seen as emotionally or physically weak and female, because those traits are traced back to femininity, and femininity is bad.

Katz asks over and over again in his talk “What’s going on with men?” And if you start back on that playground with that little boy being taught that his “feminine” qualities (and don’t even get me started on gender assignment and heteronormativity) make him inferior, it doesn’t seem too far a leap that the same little boy, once grown into a man, would find it hard to respect the women in his life.

And if that same little-boy-now-man finds himself still experiencing things like emotional and physical weakness, do you think he is likely to express those things? Of course not. Because “being a man” demands that he be a stoic warrior type with no emotional output. And what do you think happens when someone bottles down all of their emotional baggage for years and years out of fear? Will all of those seething emotions just go away? No. Will they come barreling to the surface like a freight train? Yes. And could that barreling stampede of pent up emotion translate into physical and sexual violence? Absolutely yes.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg. And I will get back to the issue of male gender roles in a later blog entry, because I think it’s super important to think about. The scary thing is how big that problem really is. How do you socialize men differently? How do you socialize boys so that they learn at a young age that the types of behavior classed as “feminine” are not shameful? How do you teach them that violence is wrong, particularly when it is enacted against those over which one holds power? Well, Katz has a solution to that.

Now, when it comes to men and male culture, the goal is to get men who are not abusive to challenge men who are. And when I say abusive, I don’t mean just men who are beating women.We’re not just saying a man whose friend is abusing his girlfriend needs to stop the guy at the moment of attack. That’s a naive way of creating a social change. It’s along a continuum, we’re trying to get men to interrupt each other. So, for example, if you’re a guy and you’re in a group of guys playing poker, talking, hanging out, no women present, and another guy says something sexist or degrading or harassing about women, instead of laughing along or pretending you didn’t hear it, we need men to say, ‘Hey, that’s not funny. You know, that could be my sister you’re talking about, and could you joke about something else? Or could you talk about something else?I don’t appreciate that kind of talk.'”

Wow, right? I mean, we can enact all kinds of social programs and educational initiatives in order to get some handle on how these boys turn into abusive adults, but Katz is calling for something much more immense. He wants societal change on an individual level to influence these young men and steer them towards healthy, loving relationships. It sounds both incredibly simple and immensely difficult at the same time.

Katz calls silence in the face of things we find objectionable a “sign of consent and complicity,” and I think he’s right on the money with that. In my previous entry on street harassment I didn’t quite get into talking about solutions for that issue. Mostly because I was ranting and didn’t feel like coming up with constructive thoughts. Because… rant! But the attitudes and actions that lead to domestic violence and sexual assault are very much present in the issue of street harassment.

When I talk about it with people, there are always all kinds of solutions offered to me on how to deal with street harassment and the men who do it. Here’s some examples:

Throw your dog’s poop bag at him!
Yell and curse at him and walk away.
Just ignore it.
Turn around and yell “Come and get it, sugar!”

And, my personal favorite:
Maybe you should just move out of the city if you don’t want to deal with that.

As entertaining and groan-inducing as some of these solutions are, none of them come close to solving the problem of street harassment as a whole. And that’s the goal of talking about these social issues, isn’t it? I mean, if I feel better after one incident, that’s great, but if we can eliminate street harassment as a prevalent big city issue in the U.S…. well, that’s the dream!

And that’s what Katz is talking about when he brings up what he calls the “bystander approach.” An approach that I think works for all forms of rape culture awareness and which I believe is the only surefire way to work the attitudes that contribute to rape culture out of our society. Katz says:

[T]he bystander approach is trying to give people tools to interrupt that process and to speak up and to create a peer culture climate where the abusive behavior will be seen as unacceptable, not just because it’s illegal, but because it’s wrong and unacceptable in the peer culture. And if we can get to the place where men who act out in sexist ways will lose status, young men and boys who act out in sexist and harassing ways towards girls and women, as well as towards other boys and men, will lose status as a result of it, guess what? We’ll see a radical diminution of the abuse.

Best traffic sign ever, right?
Best traffic sign ever, right?

All I could say when he said that was “Yes. Yes. That’s the only way this works.” Because if men are socially rewarded for being big, aggressive, rapey creeps, then they will continue in that pattern. But if they lose status every time they violate the safety of another person – be it with their words or their fists or their sex – then instances of domestic violence and abuse will be dramatically lessened in the general population.

I want to talk a lot more on this blog about men and men’s issues. I thought this was a good place to start, though. And I hope that I gave you all some food for thought.


*If you are interested in learning more about how we socialize American boys, please check out this short preview for the film The Mask You Live In. And be sure to follow the excellent work being done by The Representation Project.

On Street Harassment, Silence, and Social Change

  So, in case you didn’t notice, gentle reader, it’s street harassment season. Every year, when Spring arrives, women emerge from wool coats like butterflies from cocoons. They spread their wings, bare their legs, and gather, brightly colored, in squares and sunlight. But, like a dark cloud threatening on the horizon, these beautiful springtime revelations are […]