Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Delegitimization of Female Emotion: a Response

As usual, Facebook has the peculiar effect on my life of enabling deep and profound discourse with other people. I just read a note written by a close friend of mine, and was so struck by how well it expresses thoughts I share and feel important that with her permission I am sharing if here. I hope it makes you think, and if you are interested you can go to her blog, From The Papers of One Still Living

I have been seeing this picture floating around facebook in various forms recently. I've seen it at least three times in the past two months. I've seen a man my age post it, an older man with a handful of sons post it, and even a woman in her twenties post it. All told, it's quite widespread, and many people find the picture and its caption funny. Truth be told, however, I very much dislike this image.

Let me explain why. I have to do a lot of explaining for quite an interesting reason, in fact. Let's put my textual analysis training to the test. I'll analyze the picture in three steps---mostly because I like numbering things.

This first observation is the most obvious one: the message of this picture is offensive to women. According to this picture, women are emotional, histrionic morons who are just as reactive with all the matter in the universe as the element Flourine (F). Flourine has seven electrons, but it really wants eight---something to do with completing the electron shell or some chemistry-babble like that. Basically, if you've got some pure Flourine gas floating around, something is likely to combust. Watch this video if you want to know a bit about the element or just see some cool experiments: ( http://youtu.be/vtWp45Eewtw ). Just for fun, whenever either of the lovable chemists (they really are quite lovable---if you have a YouTube account, you should subscribe) says the word "Flourine," replace it with the word "woman" or "women." I did it when I watched the video for a second time, and it was quite amusing. In any case, yes, the image is accusing women of being emotional, histrionic morons. I'll argue that this accusation is preposterous.
Why is this accusation preposterous you ask? First, women are not universally histrionic. Some women are in fact histrionic, but so are some men. Being emotional and histrionic is certainly not gender-specific. Second, from experience, I know that men are just as "emotional" as women are. About 60-70% of my friends are male, so I feel I can say this and have sufficient evidence. Third, I know from my own life that such stereotypes break down. Ask any of my friends or family members---I don't even understand feelings let alone have an exaggerated amount/experience of them. Culture may tell us that women are more emotional, and people may reinforce and immitate those stereotypes just because of their ubiquity, but by no means can someone claim that it is, one, universally true, or two, hardwired into being male or female.
This point here is the zinger---the reason I hate this image most. The caption itself makes it almost impossible for any woman to object to it. Whenever a woman does object to it, like I'm doing here, the people who post or agree with this picture can cite the caption, telling the woman she is overreacting. "Oh, she doesn't like it? That just proves us right! What an emotional little b!7#% getting offended at a harmless, funny-and-true picture!" The picture itself deligitimizes and denigrates women's opinions, no matter how logical, insightful, or true. This picture illustrates a way people constantly write off women's thoughts and feelings, accusing women of an inherent irrationality and lack of personal control. This practice of devaluing another person's thoughts and actions by accusing them of less-than-sanity is called, in some psychological circles, gaslighting. There is a wonderful article on gaslighting and feminism by Yashar Ali. You should read it here:
(http://thecurrentconscience.com/blog/2011/09/12/a-message-to-women-from-a-man-you-are-not-%E2%80%9Ccrazy%E2%80%9D/ ). In this article he defines gaslighting as as a term "to describe manipulative behavior to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they're crazy." In my opinion, this is exactly what this picture both does and encourages people to do should any woman object to it.
So, that's that. That's why I dislike this picture. I'll leave you with a quote from the article I referenced: "As far as I am concerned, the epidemic of gaslighting is part of the struggle against the obstacles of inequality that women constantly face. Acts of gaslighting steal their most powerful tool: their voice. This is something we do to women every day, in many different ways." If this post struck you at all, I encourage you to speak up against things like this that appear in your Facebook feed. More importantly, I encourage you to listen to others rather than dismiss them, whether male or female. Admittedly, this is something I struggle with, so it's been healthy for me to write this, I think. If you agree or disagree with anything I've said above, feel free to discuss in the comments, as discussing things with friends is almost always fun! I just pray that no one will accuse me of "overreacting," because that would probably make me so angry that I would overreact! (badum-tss) Have a good evening, everybody!

Art and Life Made Beautiful Through Pain

If you have read any of my earlier posts, you know that I am an artist, and this is central to my identity and passion in life. I have been painting pretty much all my life, and this passion is now leading me to art school starting this fall. Anyhow, it is in this context that the following has occurred to me.

When I make art, it just happens. When I start a painting or drawing I pretty much never know how it will actually look when I finish. Stuff just evolves and works itself out as I go. Sometimes I feel just as much like a spectator as a creator as I see things fluidly develop on paper or canvas. I often find myself looking at a finished work thinking, "wow, I made this". Really, I don't know how to describe it, but I pick up a brush, pen, or chalk pastel and somehow my passions and emotions become visual.
This is also how it is with my life in general. Things just happen and work out. It's not always easy, but it's always beautiful in its own way. In my art, the media I work with are often challenging and take a good bit of experience to be good at. I have been developing and training my artistic skills since childhood. I've come to the point where technique become natural and fluid.

In life in general it's been the same way for me. I have been through some very emotionally traumatic situations, and that is when I have most developed artistically and as a person.
When I was in high school, my mother (who I am incredibly close to) struggled with serious mental illness. She saw and heard things that were not real, and lived very dark and painful false realities. This was the hardest time of my life up to that point, despite the fact that she had already dealt with severe health issues and other trying things had happened. I was isolated, afraid, and completely powerless. I couldn't do anything about the accusations, the chaos, and the heartbreak going on around me. But it was at this point in my life that I grew most as an artist and a person. I began to pour pain, intense emotion and deep passion into my art like never before, and I gained a greater capacity to feel and love deeply. I learned a lot about pain and life In general. Through my suffering I gained a much greater understanding of life and other people. I learned to be sensitive and kind like I couldn't have been before, and as a result be able to help others experiencing pain and crisis. All these things are invaluable as an artist and as a person in general. My mother came out of this time of darkness due to medical intervention and emotional support, and I (along with my family) came out of this time far stronger and as a much more loving person despite my utter brokenness and trauma.

I wasn't expecting to go that route with this post, but I guess the point is that despite, through and even because of the pain I have experienced, things have been made beautiful and somehow better. The moments of darkness have led and contributed to the kind of experiences I mentioned at the very beginning of this post. Through the pain I have been through, I have experienced things naturally fall into place in my life. Doors open and opportunities arise in the most unexpected ways, and life changing decisions are easy and natural. Life just happens.
I often look at my art and am amazed at the fact that something inspiring somehow happened, and that who I am in some way has made it on to paper or canvas. In the same way, I look at my life and am awestruck by how things work themselves out beautifully even in times where things rationally don't make sense. Trial and pain have played and still do play a significant role in the development of my life and my artistic expression. And in a lot of ways it is due to the rough patches of my life that things go so smoothly and naturally now.

All of this brings me to the awareness and amazement that there is creativity and power beyond me that weaves my life together. As a Christian I believe that this is God, my creator, the source of beauty and meaning in the world. I see him as the ultimate, truest and most original artist-- the very reason that I am able to create anything beautiful. And because of him, my times of pain have resulted in deep artistic and emotional beauty that I value beyond words. And now, things just happen.
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

On the Job: Lessons in Human Worth

I recently got a job working at a group home with severely disabled individuals. I absolutely love my work despite, even because of, the demands it has and patience it requires. I give constantly-physically, mentally and emotionally. Most of the people I work with are either paraplegic or quadraplegic and need pretty much everything done for them, and many are bedridden. The clients I work with also all have mental and psychological issues, often quite severe.

Working with such severely disabled people is teaching me some things that I didn't really expect. I am learning a tremendous amount about the intrinsic value of human life. These people cannot contribute to the world in the ways that society generally considers "valuable", yet due to the single fact that they are human, they are worth the world and their lives have deep meaning. From a Judeo-Christian perspective, they have unquestionable value based on the fact that they are made in the image of and based on the nature of their divine creator and hold meaning in his eyes that cannot be fully grasped by humanity. And even apart from any specifically religious conception they still hold innate value; they feel, conceptualize life and it's complexities, dream, hope, grieve, feel pain, and in my personal experience thus far are fully and deeply aware of when someone genuinely cares about them. I do not feel successful in my attempt to describe this concept that I have come to realize. However, it just comes down to the fact that regardless of who or how somebody is, the fact that they are a human being gives them innate and inseparable value that can never be underestimated or fully grasped.

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Creation, Love and Foresight of Sacrifice

I deeply, passionately believe that the specific reason that God created humanity was so that he could love us, not the other way around. Yes, the full understanding of God, his love, and the purpose he has given humanity will naturally result in mutual love and respect, but I think that the conception many Christians have of God wanting to be loved being the purpose for our creation is absolutely wrong. He did not create us so that we would give to him, but rather that he could give of himself to us and that this nature of love would be reflected and reciprocated by his creation.
In light of this, something else I have recently come to realize, to my utter astonishment and even confusion, is that when God created humanity, he knew we would hurt him. He knew that loving us would cost him dearly. He knew that humanity would bring sin into the world, and he knew that it would ultimately cost him his life to mend and restore the connection that sin severed between himself and us. He knew that even still many of us would not love him in return and that even those of us who have made that choice do not always fully love him because in truth, we do not always fully believe in him. By all rational standards, there is no way it would possibly be worth of to make such a sacrifice, and yet the Creator of the universe deemed it so.
This leaves me utterly dumbfounded. I cannot possibly understand such love, and even more so I cannot understand how such love could be so central to the nature of God. Honestly, I understand why people do not believe as I do. Heck, I understand why people don't believe in God at all. I understand the validity and agony of the question of evil, pain, and injustice in this world. If anything, these realizations I have made make this even harder and more confusing to come to terms with. But somehow, my God deemed it the greatest good that love would triumph in the midst of such a world, that power would be displayed through great pain, and that rather than stepping down in all his glory that the miraculous would be most meaningful and powerful when displayed through the lives of imperfect and weak human beings. And somehow, it is worth it to my Creator to suffer for and with those he had created. Of all the mysteries I have encountered, this is the deepest and hardest. But it is also what is most beautiful and makes life worth living.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone