Sunday, January 27, 2008

Marriage advice.

Yet another friend/student/acquaintance (does it matter? if you're reading this and think I'm talking about you, I'm probably not - that's how often I hear this news) has decided to tie the knot. After far too short a time dating, in my opinion. And frequently, at far too young an age.

What is it that explains this mad rush for the altar? What makes people decide, "hey, this one is different, I love him/her, we're getting married - NOW"? It isn't so much that they all go for the ring as it is that they seem to have an urgency about it.

And so I say, "hey, that's great, I'm glad you're happy, congratulations." And I mean it, sort of. I *am* glad that they're happy, and that they've found someone they see as a soulmate. I'm glad that they feel part of someone else and that they are loved and loving.

But what I don't say, and what I also mean - and if you are planning on getting hitched at some point soon, you might want to skip this part or risk having your bubble burst or getting pissed off - is that it's damn stupid to marry someone you've only been dating for a few months or a couple of years.

I didn't used to feel this way, but I've seen a few too many divorces on the heels of marriages after short courtships (and this goes for both different- and same-sex couples). RIGHT on the heels. In fact, so soon after that part of me wonders whether or not the "happy couple" should return their wedding gifts.

I think getting married puts tremendous pressure on a relationship, and that this pressure is exponentially greater 1) the shorter the length of time the couple has been together, 2) the younger the couple is, and 3) the less the amount of shit the couple has been through together. (If you're already living together, that helps some with 3, because living together can count as going through shit.)

And I also notice that, very often, this rush to the altar occurs simultaneously with other big changes - say, graduation from college, or the recent break-up of a previous relationship (yes, they happen that quickly). It's as if these folks are thinking, "My life is uncertain now. I need to do something to make it feel more stable and less out of control."

I just don't think that marriage is the answer, at least not if what you're looking for in marriage is stability and permanency.

Or, to put it another way, I've come to feel that marriage isn't something we should look at as the preferable way for young people to "begin" their lives together. I think we should look at it as a way for people to formalize, if necessary, a connection between lives that have already been lived together for some time.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Things you should know about.

1) A new mothering blog, this one on Black mothers in academe. Sekile (in Rochester! Near my old stomping grounds!) writes: "I've recently jumped on the blogging band wagon. My decision to blog is partially for personal reasons, needing a place to dump/reflect on my realities as a mother and an academic. However, I also have done some preliminary research on the intersection of black women, mothering, and academia and hope to continue in this direction this year. There is some emerging literature on black women in the academy as well literature on mothering in the academy however the realities of black women who choose to mother has been given little attention. Anyway, my hope is that this forum will allow me to be less splintered in my life by blending both personal and professional. The blog is bare
bones right now but I hope to add resources and other elements as it matures. In the meantime please spread the word to women who may be interested in it or my research. By the way, I'm also interested in hearing from black women who choice not to mother as well, your voices are just as valuable to me as I gain deeper understanding of Black women's realities on college campuses."

2) You know how much I love overhearing funny bits of other people's conversations? At least as much as Green loves seeing people trip. So I was thrilled to find My Pointy Ears Are Up, and since Pinky appears to be here in town, I'll have to watch to see if I'm ever quoted. (Psst - Pinky! Update!)

3) Spread the word about the NWSA Women of Color Leadership Project (and apply!).

4) I also discovered Double Hoo today. I don't know what a "double Hoo" is, but I'm sure if I read enough posts, I will figure it out.

5) The fact that I was able to do this is a privilege. Don't think I haven't been thinking this all day, or that I'm not trying to figure out where exactly this expense is going to be made up (thank goodness for my job, for interest-free credit cards, for overload courses, and for Mr. P's freelance work). But this week, my cat's trip to the vet ended up costing me the equivalent of one month's rent.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Kitty update.

Thanks to all who have expressed kind wishes for my cat (and sympathetic wishes for me). As a recap, she has been peeing outside the box, licking fur off her tummy (which I'm told can be a form of self-comfort in the face of stress, perhaps induced by moving and by the lack of Mr. P's presence for most of the fall), and she seems to have some kind of urinary tract something or other.

I managed to get her back to the vet's for the follow-up appt. this morning - which took two hours - without her peeing in the cat carrier (!).
They aren't convinced that she has a UTI, though they are keeping her on the abx (they did a culture, and it didn't grow anything, but they think it might just be difficult to grow. Huh. So much I don't know about medicine.). She has had bloodwork and x-rays, and she will be having an ultrasound this afternoon to make sure that she doesn't have a mass in her bladder.

Meanwhile, there are plans to put her on kitty anti-depressants. (Stifling negative thoughts, taking vitamins, and fighting for social change just doesn't work so well for kitties.) On the drug information the vet gave me, it reads "has been used in animals for separation anxiety, for inappropriate urination in cats, for feline lower urinary tract disease, and for obsessive grooming behaviors."

Doesn't that sound perfect? Happy pill, indeed!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

3 Hours and $230 later... cat has antibiotics for a perceived UTI; my gym bag, blankets, and iRiver arm band have been thoroughly sprayed with Nature's Miracle and are in the wash right now; all bags of any kind have been put in closets to deter anyone who thinks the litterbox is not a good enough place to pee; my windshield has a nearly full-length horizontal crack in it, which is what happens, apparently, when it's -9 degrees and you put the heat on full blast to keep your cat from freezing; there are still bloodstains on my white down comforter, on the couch, and likely other places that I have not yet discovered; one of us will have to wrangle the cat twice a day for the next week to give her the medicine, and by "one of us," I mean "me," as Mr. P is heading out of town for a week; and I missed getting to tuck in Bean because I was sitting in the vet's (cold) office.

But the cat is purring contentedly on my lap...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How is it that we still don't get this? Feminism, Lesbianism, Class, and Race.

Various blogs I've read lately have had one or another version of the "gender v. race" discussion. It so happens that I'm reading lesbian feminist theory of one kind or another for class, and so the ways in which white feminists and feminists of color are missing each other (actually, it's more like feminists of color are speaking directly to white feminists, who are looking somewhere above their heads while having their iPods blaring, is what it looks like to me, sometimes) are pretty much whacking me over the head, at the moment.

For this class, I've asked my students to read a number of texts that discuss lesbian identity and feminism. The two I'm thinking about right now are Gloria Anzaldua's (I'm not sure how to insert accent marks in Blogger without first writing this in Word, so I can't spell Anzaldua's name properly) Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza and Dorothy Allison's Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature.

So what hit me once again as I was reading just now, and what's consequently sent me to the noisy row of computers from the nice, quiet spot where I was reading and contemplating, is the context in which these two women talk about themselves as lesbians and talk about what "lesbian" means.

(Bear with me - the ramifications for feminism, more generally, will become clear.)

Dorothy Allison writes:
"I have known I was a lesbian since I was a teenager, and I have spent a good twenty years making peace with the effects of incest and physical abuse. But what may be the central fact of my life is that I was born in 1949 in Greenville, South Carolina, the bastard daughter of a white woman from a desperately poor family, a girl who had left the seventh grade the year before, worked as a waitress, and was just a month past fifteen when she had me. That fact, the inescapable impact of being born in a condition of poverty that this society finds shameful, contemptible, and somehow deserved, has had dominion over me to such an extent that I have spent my life trying to overcome or deny it. I have learned with great difficulty that the vast majority of people believe that poverty is a voluntary condition."

What this means is that for Allison, CLASS is the central fact of her life. Not gender. Not being a lesbian. She writes about race and gender and sexuality and the way that they all intertwine with class in her life. She says, a bit further on:
"Traditional feminist theory has had a limited understanding of class differences and of how sexuality and self are shaped by both desire and denial" - and quite a bit later - "My sexual identity is intimately constructed by my class and regional background, and much of the hatred directed at my sexual preferences is class hatred - however much people, feminists in particular, like to pretend this is not a factor."

And, by the way, she's talking about hatred directed at her S/M sexual preferences by lesbians, not hatred directed at her lesbianism by the straight community or the larger patriarchy.

What does it mean for feminism that this lesbian activist, who was out in far more dangerous times than these we live in now, still saw class as the fundamental aspect of her identity? That she still saw herself as oppressed by class within feminist communities that were trying to challenge the patriarchy and create something new that was woman-centered and therefore healthy and safe and empowering for women?

Then I think of Anzaldua. Anzaldua's writing about lesbianism is woven so closely into writing about cultural identity that it is difficult to pull out a thread that focuses just on lesbian identity. When I first read this book in graduate school, I tried to do exactly that, to pull out the theory on the "pieces" of identity that I found most interesting. I think I must have believed it was possible to do that, and this is a major problem among white feminists, that many of us still believe that our identities are separate pieces, that gender is the same for all of us. As one commenter posted recently at Belledame's about Black feminists who were protesting Gloria Steinem's NYT piece on Clinton and Obama, "when they stop being oppressed for being Black, they'll still be oppressed for being women." (Which is a deeply problematic statement anyway, as several people pointed out - I mean, when is this day coming when racial oppression will suddenly end? And in what universe is it possible that one form of the intertwined, institutional oppressions will be extracted and eradicated? Oppression doesn't work that way. And neither do most people experience their identities as separable.)

So the point is, if you read Anzaldua, you see via the contrast one excellent example of how white feminism has defined lesbian identity as a sort of stand-alone concept, as something that, by virtue of its whiteness, is focused on the individual and on the individual's ties to a political community that replaces blood family. Also by virtue of its whiteness, this version of lesbian identity is primarily occupied by gender, because awareness of race doesn't really enter into the picture. White lesbian feminists have absolutely tried to address issues of racial oppression, but what I'm talking about is a fundamental lack of awareness of how race functions.

So: How do we define women's issues? How do we define feminism? If we include as women's issues those that involve individual rights (such as abortion) but not those that also involve family and community and culture (such as poverty, lack of access to health care, sovereignty, etc.), then we are defining White Middle-Class Feminism.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Am I really gonna hafta hear "if he were white" all spring?!

Listen: I'm not a fan of politicians. Politicians spin truth, to put it nicely. They do what is politically expedient to do. And I don't like the feeling I've had (and I'm not alone) that Hillary assumes (and that the DNC assumes) that she'll be the Presidential candidate next fall because she's the institutional candidate, the one who represents the status quo for Democrats.

But tonight I wandered over here, where, in the comments, I got to hear a "feminist" try to defend Hillary with comments about how, "if Obama were white," he wouldn't be drawing anyone's interest, and where I got to hear another commenter attribute Hillary's viability as a candidate to her husband. I mean, is there anything more racist than suggesting that a man only got where he is because he's Black? Or more sexist than saying that a woman wouldn't be a strong candidate without her husband? (YES, I know that we're talking about Bill Clinton. NO, I'm not saying he has nothing to do with her popularity. But let's remember, Hillary Clinton is also probably the Most Hated Woman in America, and a huge part of that is due to her husband. So, a little perspective, please.)

Let's remember that, whatever we think of them as candidates, these are Senators who have actually accumulated some degree of experience, power, money, and prestige on their own. If we're going to discredit them, can we do so because they're too conservative or because they have rotten voting records or because they're saying stupid things and acting like asses? And can we leave the racism and the sexism out of it? In liberal circles? Please?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Self-Righteous Racism (and Minnesota Nice)

Here is a tale of much fucked-upness.

So, I get home from work today, and my Downstairs Neighbor (DN) is waiting for me. She asks if I've heard from LandLord (LL). I have not. She gives me a *look* and says, "well, she's called me three times to tell me my car is parked in front of the neighbor's house. It isn't. I told her the first time it was your car."

Let me back up. Between us, DN and Mr. Plain(s)feminist and I have four cars. Now that Mr. P is living here, both of our cars, and one of DN's cars, are on the street in front of our house, because LL has not yet fixed our garage doors, which stopped opening last month. So, for the past week or so, Mr. P or I have been parking in front of the house next door. I've felt badly about it, but it couldn't be helped; there is no other place to park. I mean, no matter where I park, it will be in front of someone else's house, and I figured that it was temporary, and that the garage would be fixed soon, so it wasn't too big of a deal.

NextDoor Neighbor (NXDN) has "issues" with her parking space, and is very uncomfortable with anyone parking in front of her house. She hates to use her garage, you see, and was clearly beside herself that anyone would park in front of her house. Anyway, I had no idea that she was so upset until today, when I heard that she had been calling LL to complain. Rather than come next door and knock on the door and ask us if we could please park down the street a little further, she called LL. (When I spoke with NXDN today, she suggested that perhaps I wasn't used to living in the city and didn't understand city etiquette, which entailed not parking in front of someone else's house. I pointed out that I'd lived in several cities, and that where I was from, when a neighbor had a problem with another neighbor, they would go next door to discuss it with them.)

Let's examine this, shall we? What kind of privilege does one need to have to not think that maybe calling someone's landlord to complain about them might have consequences for the tenant? And further, what would make someone call the landlord rather than just calling the next door neighbor?

When NXDN called LL, she mentioned the green car, which was mine. DN has a green truck. LL called DN to complain about her green truck. DN told LL it was my green *car* and not her green *truck*, and that LL should call me. LL didn't. Then she called DN twice more over the next several days to tell her to move her car (which was not parked in front of NXDN's house). Meanwhile, when DN calls LL, LL doesn't return her calls. When I call, though, LL returns my calls immediately. And while LL doesn't get most things fixed promptly, she does seem to make an effort to fix the things *I* call about. (DN's garage door didn't get fixed until *I* called about it.)

While I was talking with DN, then NXDN, then DN again, I later learned, LL was on the phone, now finally having decided to yell at Mr. P, who reminded her that if she'd fix the garage door, we wouldn't have this problem (which shut her up).

So the consequence of NXDN calling LL, in this instance, is that DN, one of the best neighbors I've ever had, and a friend, was blamed for my error and is now beside herself, sick of the shit and ready to find another place to live.

You know, I get the territorial behavior over the parking space. I get that NXDN wants things to be the way they always have been, and that she is threatened by people who obviously don't seem to know the rules of her neighborhood and who are messing up her evenings by forcing her to park in the garage, which she's afraid to do at night. I get it because I am exactly the same: I want my parking space, and I don't like parking in the garage, and I feel annoyed when people do little things that make me change my routine. I want my things where I want them, and I want other people to respect my space. And I know that this is petty.

And I also get that she, too, knew that this was petty, and that this is why she called LL instead of tracking me down. It was easier and less direct to call LL than to confront me. It's like when the people down the hall are having a large party and someone calls the police instead of telling them to turn down the music. No one wants to be the "turn down the music" neighbor.

And I get, as well, that in her comfortable life, NXDN didn't think about what it might mean to call the white landlord of a Black tenant to complain about something. She saw "her" space with my car in it, she noticed that DN occasionally parked far enough back that, when I parked behind her, I was in front of NXDN's house. She felt angry in the way that only privileged people can get angry (and I know this, because I've been there, too); angry about something to which she felt entitled but which was not actually hers - there's no law that governs the street - that was suddenly taken away from her.

So NXDN has her parking space back, and DN is in the process of deciding how long to stay here.

Meanwhile, DN offered me her parking space for tonight, so that I could move my car from in front of NXDN's house. (What was that about etiquette?)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

5 Things.

Katie tagged me for this, but I'm going to do it a little differently and just list regrets/non regrets rather than listing exactly five of each:

Things I Regret
That I have let fear hold me back in various areas. For example, in college, I never auditioned for any plays because I felt so overwhelmed by the near-professionalism of the students I saw in the Theater Dept. I didn't even know how to prepare for these kinds of auditions, and those kids seemed to have been doing it for all of their lives. I didn't take any film courses because I felt really embarrassed about admitting that I needed help with some of the basics - like, I didn't really know what to DO, and the people who took those courses intimidated me. I also regret that it took me until I was in my late thirties to be brave enough to perform at coffee houses. I do regret that my move to the midwest has meant that I only see my family a few times a year. (On the other hand, they've all rooted themselves on the east coast, and they could always move here if they wanted to...)

Things I Don't Regret
That I kept plugging away at this academic thing and didn't stop applying for jobs, even though I also don't regret that I simultaneously ventured into more creative work when it seemed that a teaching gig might be out of reach. I don't regret at all, even for a second, moving here to take the job I have currently, which I love. I don't regret having a kid.

Tagging: Ren, Green, and all the lurkers who email me that they read my blog but who don't comment.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A response to Steinem (on Clinton).

Nope, it's not mine. Go here. Excerpts:

"Yesterday morning, Gloria Steinem, influential second-wave feminist, weighed in at the New York Times with an opinion piece titled “Women Are Never Front-Runners”. I guess we can tell where she stands in this debate.

(Incidentally, if women are never front-runners, than how did Clinton get as far as she did on the “inevitable pseudo-incumbent” campaign she’s been running that made her the front-runner for most of last year? I find the headline of this piece to be a wee bit of hyperbole.)"


"Though she writes, 'I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest', Steinem opens her article with the observation that 'gender is probably the most restricting force in American life'. She continues by implying that the race barrier has largely been resolved, because 'Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women'."


"Steinem further suggests that negative treatment (or impossible expectations) of Senator Hillary Clinton stem exclusively from a sexism 'as pervasive as the air we breathe'. She notes that a fictional Achola Obama (who, unlike Senator Obama, doesn’t seem to have achieved anything more than state legislator) would not be seen as electable while Senator Barack Obama – by virtue of his gender, says Steinem – is. Not only does this ignore the very 'un-electable Obama' argument that has been a core component of Clinton’s stump speeches, but Steinem carelessly paints all criticisms of Senator Clinton with the same sexist brush. She notes 'Clinton could not have used Mr. Obama’s public style – or Bill Clinton’s either – without being considered too emotional by Washington pundits'. But, Hillary Clinton has tried: notably in Selma, Alabama earlier this year, when Clinton and Obama delivered back-to-back speeches in neighbouring churches. Obama’s speech was generally heralded as rousing and inspiring. Clinton’s was not criticized as being 'too emotional', but too robotic and fake. In fact, I suspect that Clinton can’t get away with Obama’s or Clinton’s style of speaking not because she’s a woman, but because she’s simply not that charismatic a speaker."

Oh, and if you go over to read the whole thing, skip the comment that completely and utterly misses the point...

And while we're at it, check this out: Hillary isn't the first woman to run for President. I can't believe I forgot about Shirley Chisholm (embarrassed).

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Flyin' the friendly skies.

- According to the helpful Northwest phone representatives I spoke with when I was stuck in Detroit during snowstorms a couple of weeks ago, when you are in airline representative holding hell trying to rebook, you should REMAIN SILENT and NOT SELECT ANY NUMERICAL OPTIONS when you get the automated response system. That will bump you immediately to the customer service queue. Also, according to me, if you are using your cell phone during a time of mass flight cancellations and delays, you should immediately hang up and use the dedicated phone lines that you might be able to find in the terminal. They will put you right through. If you stay on your cell phone, however, you will either get bumped off the line repeatedly or wait on hold for the better part of an hour.

- What is the deal with airlines who change their policies about carry-ons from the airline's general policy without noting this in the reservation information? It's always been one briefcase/purse plus one carry-on. I intensely dislike being told upon boarding that I can only carry on one bag, total, and that I need to gate check one of my bags, especially when one bag holds my computer and wallet and the other holds my dvd player, tissues, gum, water, and child-quieting-candy. And when I tell the flight attendant that I need to get on and move the contents of bag 2 into the bags of my travelling companions, I don't appreciate the lecture about how I should have done that before I got on board. Though I did feel badly about making a bit of a scene. Sorry about that. Not your fault, I know, but your airline kinda sucks and should have handled it better.

- A special circle in hell should be reserved for people who put their seats back in coach. There is No. Room. for this kind of behavior. And when I tap you on the shoulder to ask you to please move your seat up because you are knocking the laptop off my kid's tray table, do not ignore me as I tap and "Ma'am?" you and be an ass about it. Just because you're seated directly behind First Class does not entitle you to take up my space. Also, guy in back of me? I totally support you. The gate attendant should not have told you he was going to gate check your bag and then left it there. I'm glad someone picked it up and brought it back to you. The fact that I didn't chime in with a "heck, yeah!" when you pointed out that this was not cool was only due to the fact that everyone on the flight seemed tired and grumpy, and I felt a bit intimidated about speaking up. But I think everyone there had your back.

- Another special circle in hell should be reserved for gate agents who do not announce gate changes. I mean, really, what is up with that? We are all sitting there quietly waiting our turn to get on a plane, and some of us have been there for a long time, so even if you've had a busy day, please, announce the damn gate changes. We're not all watching the boards. Some of us are trying to sleep/read/contain our kids. FWIW, the phone representatives think you suck. The one I spoke with, the one who could hear you announcing that customers should call the phone representatives to rebook, pointed out that she'd been a gate agent for five years, and that she always had to stand there and rebook until the line was gone, and that she was never allowed to tell customers to call the 800 number. She was more than a little pissed about that.

- If you are going to sell $2 half-cans of Pringles and $5 snack boxes, then at least have the decency to have change available. There is just no excuse for that.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Why everyone is not entitled to an opinion about everything.


Actually, the title of this post is about a larger issue, something I've blogged about before - the notion that one is not entitled to believe something abjectly stupid. I mean, I can't prevent you from having an opinion, and I certainly wouldn't try to stop you from proclaiming your ignorance to the world, but I don't think that having a brain gives people an automatice right to hold opinions about things about which they know nothing. Or, to put it another, perhaps clearer, way - I don't think you are entitled to be listened to or respected simply because you have an opinion. All opinions are not created equal.

What this post is really about, though, is the case in point: Elaine Vigneault's opinion of depression and anti-depressants.

Sometimes the watch words are phrases like "I believe." When someone says "I believe" or "my belief is," it can preface almost anything - it can be an informed opinion based on research, or it can be a suggestion that dinosaurs didn't exist, or it can be an explanation of personal faith, or what have you. I note this only because I found the phrase noticeable in this sentence:
"my belief is that depression is a normal state of being, a state some have called the human condition. Not all people are depressed, but such a significant portion of highly intelligent people experience symptoms of a 'disease' called clinical depression that I believe that depressive habits of thought are common enough and safe enough not to warrant a disease classification."

This is not a new idea, certainly, this notion that "if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention" (see? it's even a bumper sticker!) or that intelligent and creative people are particularly upset about the state of the world and so take to their beds in a kind of melancholia.

But it's also not an accurate definition of "depression." Depression is not dissatisfaction with the world. It is not outrage. It is not sadness. If you imagine depressed people as revolutionaries (which she does - see below), then you're not getting it. Depressed people, people who are depressed enough to go on anti-depressants, often don't make it out of the house. These are people in pain.

Here's the quote:
"My theory is that many people’s depression is anger turned inward. Anger is a powerful emotion that can be both destructive and constructive. Anger that is unjustly aimed inward becomes debilitating depression, but justified anger aimed outward towards things like injustice can be a powerful motivator. I think if more people embraced this view and used their anger as a motivator, we’ve have a revolution and possibly a better world.

There’s a saying, “if you’re not mad as hell, you’re not paying attention.” And another one “ignorance is bliss.” I think both are true. I think happy people are people who wear rose-colored glasses and don’t see reality clearly. That’s not to say happiness is ignorance; I’m saying that constant bliss can only be achieved through drugs, ignorance, or some other form of blurred reality. Occasional bliss is available for anyone willing to accept it: puppy pictures, flower bouquets, a compliment to or from a stranger, a familiar tune, a tickle, a love note, a memory… But constant bliss… that’s not real.

So, anyway, I just think we should be really, really careful about medicating the depressives, because they could be future revolutionaries and powerful dissidents who we need to lead the changes to our social world
." (see comment #106)

So, first, Vigneault has a theory about depression (kind of like Elaine Showalter has a theory about chronic fatique syndrome, eh? And not a bad analogy, at all, in terms of the effects these kind of ignorant assertions have on other people's lives). And second, she's basically giving the finger to all the people who are so depressed that it's an effort to get out of bed, the people who think seriously about swerving into oncoming traffic to just make it stop. You know, because the rest of us need their pain so that they can lead us. And third, she's saying that if your anger is turned inward, it's your own damn fault: you could control this if you wanted to and were motivated to do so.

One of my favorite bloggers is Heather Armstrong, who has written frequently about her struggles with depression and her near death from it - and the salvation that has come to her from her meds. Recently, she posted a link to her husband's reflections on living with someone with chronic depression. It's funny that I happened to read this just after reading Vigneault's Tom-Cruise-like response on Feministe. Jon points out that people who make these kinds of comments are really, really not helping: "Stop being an arrogant know-it-all. You aren’t right. You are wrong. If someone tells you they need help, your opinion means less than that of professionals. Stop being ignorant. Stop being obstinate."

Vigneault comes to her postions from her own experiences: she is "seriously against anti-depressants myself because of my own experiences with them and how they fucked me up." OK, that's fine - I have zero problem with that, and most people, I would guess, have zero problem with that. The problem comes in when the leap is made from "they didn't work for me" to "they are horrible and don't work for anyone." She says "my opinions about depression come hard earned." Only her opinions come hard earned, I guess - no one else, in the history of time, has ever had a different, valid, opinion based on experience (forget about research).

She also self-righteously defends her position that anti-depressants are universally dangerous by painting herself as a martyr: "Suffering is the human condition. I choose not to medicate." Which again suggests that her understanding of what depression can become for some people is seriously lacking. Again, it's not that there's a problem with her personal choice not to medicate. It's that she is dismissive of everyone else.

Look - I am skeptical when it comes to the medical monster that is our health care and pharmacological system. I have had anti-depressants practically forced on me and refused them all the same. But I would never take my own experience and decide that it is universal and that everyone else is completely deluded, which is what Vigneault is doing here (to a commenter who says that anti-depressants helped them, she replies "I’d argue about whether they really did the trick or if you just believed they did..."

And, to come back to Elaine Showalter - it's really, really uncool to use the term "hysteria" when talking about treatments for depression or about any health issue, particularly one that predominantly affects women.

This is where I was originally going to end this post, but something's been nagging at me. When I read Vigneault's blog and she expresses her frustration with the negative responses she's been receiving to her comments, I have to wonder if she honestly thinks that this is simply an issue of people not wanting to hear what she's saying and therefore shutting her down. I think she really doesn't get that what people are reacting to is not a criticism of "big pharma" or a healthy suspicion of the diagnosis of an illness and the effects of its treatment, but rather the fact that she comes across as determining for everyone else, for all time, that depression is not a mental illness and that anti-depressants cause brain damage and don't work (oh, and also, that therapy doesn't work, either). It's one thing to launch a criticism - it's another to insist that your criticism is valid because everyone else is just like you.

And if there's one thing we know for sure about brain chemistry, it's that everyone is different.

Elaine Vigneault responds, sort of. Here's my comment in response to her:
"Well - it's true that I did not make the reference to Cruise to paint a flattering picture of your argument. I think he was wrong about much of what he said about depression and anti-depressants. However, like it or not, state it or not, you are in agreement with Tom Cruise. He says the exact same things you do about depression and anti-depressants and psychology. So why do you see it as name-calling when I point this out? About the only difference between your two positions is that you focus on social change as a response to depression (when you're not denying that it exists, because the way you describe depression bears little resemblance to serious depression) and he focuses on vitamins and Scientology.

As for proving that depression is a mental illness, as you know (because you mention it), the DSM does that quite nicely, whether or not you choose to agree with it. And yeah, psychology isn't a perfect science, nor is it unbiased. But the fact remains that, according to the professional, expert, and research community that has the qualifications to determine these things, depression is a mental illness, and you can argue this until you're blue in the face, but it won't change this fact. Even you, yourself, say above that "we don’t have a clear understanding of depression and other mental illnesses" - which is true, both in that we don't have a clear understanding of what causes them and how they work and how to treat them, AND in that depression is a mental illness.

But now it sounds, from what you say above, that part of your issue is that you want to be able to say you're depressed without having to also be perceived as disabled or as having a mental illness. Which opens up a whole 'nother area of discussion.

In my post, I did, of course, make other criticisms of your argument - which you have not addressed - beyond the five words that you quoted and offered as an example of how I wasn't criticising your points..."

Monday, January 07, 2008

Probably not an original post about the Iowa primary.

First off, as Donna Brazile so beautifully said, Hillary is the "establishment candidate." That's my issue with her - a vote for her is, more or less, a vote for the status quo. She is the face of liberal feminism, not revolutionary - and certainly not radical (by which I mean *real* radical, not what-passes-on-the-interweb-for-radical) - feminim. She's not revolutionary in any sense of the word, except that she happens to be a woman. And because of this, she is also, methinks, the DNC's candidate. So what happened in Iowa means a lot, because it just may mean that the DNC will wise up this time around and not appoint a boring, same old same old, non-risk-taking, non-revolution-making candidate. (And the other candidates should totally jump on this "establishment candidate" label - that is something that all of us recognize about her, I think, even the people who are pulling for her, that she is establishment all the way.)

And second, the fact that Barack won was such a refutation of all the people I would otherwise respect who say annoying things like, "oh, America isn't ready for a Black president, so we should vote for a sure thing like Hillary/Edwards/Biden," or "electibility is the thing." Um, yeah - Obama's looking electable now, isn't he? So now can we move past these pathetic attempts at strategic voting and focus instead on rejeuvenating the electoral process and getting behind the best candidate, whomever that may be? Because I don't want an "electible" president. George W. Bush was an "electible" president. I have seen a lot of awful people get elected to various positions - you don't have to be good to be electible. I want a GOOD president, dammit.

And third, if folks like Barack and John McCain have good showings in the primaries, it will perhaps help to change the political machine that seems so bent on cranking out the most unimaginative and uninspiring "leaders" that can be found. I can't tell you what a refreshing change it is this year to actually see some impressive folks in both parties. I'll even go out on a limb here - and I'm probably out on this limb by myself - and say that it isn't so much Barack's blackness that makes him so historically important and so important for our country, but rather it is his politics, both some of his political positions and his manner of politicking, that make him stand out as the watershed candidate. (When Charlie Rose talked about this historical moment we find ourselves in and called Barack the historical change candidate, I was pissed at first that he didn't also see Hillary as a historical change candidate, because of course, she is one, as well, as is Richardson, for that matter. But the more I think about it, the more I see her establishment politics as taking away from her monumental role as possible First Woman President, just as Clarence Thomas and Condoleeza Rice have estranged themselves, by their politics, from their historical roles (at least, this is so in my own little head. I do not presume to speak for Black community).)

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go take a shower and wipe off the feeling of "ick" that's come from having seen Mike Huckabee on Craig Ferguson and having found him eminently likeable. ZOMG. Scary.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


Not the most original title for a post, but here I am, back home, and overwhelmed with all that the New Year is hurling my way. Nothing bad, just the usual work that I need to get caught up on after two deliriously blissful weeks off. The fact that I have been sick for the whole time - and that I had to spend the night before Christmas Eve in a hotel in Detroit due to snowstorms that caused me to miss my connection - did little to dampen the sheer pleasure of reading (books! Several of them!) and of watching t.v. (whole seasons of shows!) and of knitting (a scarf (re-knit about four times until I got it right) and two dischcloths!) and of eating (many boxes of cookies!) and of playing in the snow with Bean (!). The only things I did not get to do that I had been looking forward to doing were:

1) going to the gym (due to my cold); and

2) going to the coffee shop with my laptop and deleting all my old emails.

(This last may not sound like a big deal to you, but as a card-carrying OCD'd person, lemme tell you, the thought of that makes my eyes roll back in my head and my tongue to loll. In a good way.)

So, I read not only some of the books I received for Christmas -

- which included Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (which I enjoyed; in addition to it being a great read, Ellen Forney's illustrations are awesome (and you know what, I recently discovered that we actually went to college together, although I'm pretty sure I never knew her while I was there. At the same time, however, I do, have this nagging feeling that we may have been in the same small Lesbian Studies class...) and Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman's
Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism (which, so far, I'm kinda "meh" about - when I finish it, I'll have to write more about it) -

- but also some of the books I gave as gifts, including Ryan Knighton's Cockeyed: A Memoir and Firoozeh Dumas' Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America.

I even made it through another third of the The Book That Would Not Be Finished, also known as Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia on the flight home. I've been reading this book off and on, mostly off, since August, and I just finished the India part, which I think I liked better than the Italy part, even though some of her descriptions of self-sacrifice for religious rapture were a bit off-putting. I'm a few pages into the Indonesia stories, and I suspect that, despite how unmotivated I've been to finish it, it will end up being a book I will recommend to others. Heck, I recommend it now. Go read it.

The book I meant to bring with me to read but forgot at home is The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon. If someone had said to me, "hey, you should read this book. It's about a guy who set himself on fire when he was a kid," I'd probably have said, "no, thanks." But I found it in the memoir section of a great used bookstore and had to buy it. During the same week, I also bought Barrie Jean Borich's My Lesbian Husband at the original Amazon Bookstore. I picked up this book purely by chance; it did not seem on the surface to be something that I would necessarily want to read, only because I've read so many books already that seem like they could fit under the title of "My Lesbian Husband,", like, wow, yet another book about lesbian relationships, or maybe another about a lesbian couple in which one had transitioned - not uninteresting or unimportant topics at all, but just ones I had read a lot about already. It just didn't grab my interest, but I picked it up, anyway, and I opened it up to page 118 and I read these sentences:

"When I asked Linnea what does it mean to wear a ring of promise, I did not fail to see her bright and beckoning face, did not fail to know that I was more than a boozy blaze of a girl imagined by a famous alcoholic homosexual who died too young, did not miss the fact that Linnea was no stock-studio savior positioned in the back of a cutaway cab. She was real husband material, reaching for ways greater than words to say she loved me. It is just that I wanted to know who would write the story of this tempered metal I should wear so close to the skin. The ring was not an idea that Linnea and I imagined between us."

Readers, I was blown away by this prose. And I bought the book purely because of those lines. I have no idea whether or not I'll like the book, but I couldn't ignore the beauty of Borich's writing.

I also mentioned t.v. watching. I finally got to see the second season of Weeds, so now I'm only one season behind. Hopefully, the Season 3 DVD will be available shortly. (I'm hearing good things about The Wire, now that the series is about done, so I'll have to start watching that, now, too. Apparently, I can get it from On Demand.) I also saw the first season of 30 Rock, which I had zero interest in before, and which I can't get enough of, now. And of course, I watched the obligatory several episodes of The Sopranos, because that's just good television.

Bean and I and a few others got to sled in the backyard and have snowball fights, the latter of which also involved a lot of laughing and tackling and falling down in the snow. Delightful times!

Also, because my folks still have a dial-up internet connection, I got to play many, many games of Solitaire and Golf while waiting for various pages to load.

So it was a good, restful, even productive two weeks (I even did some planning for this semester), but now I am hit with that bad feeling one gets when one returns from a vacation. Like, "Holy Shit, I have a lot to do!!!"

So today's plan, now that it's almost 1:30pm:

1) Get dressed.

2) Hit McDonald's.

3) Go to the office to do a couple of quick things that can only be done there.

4) Go grocery shopping.

5) Come home and watch t.v. while making lists of things I will commence doing tomorrow.

Happy New Year, y'all.