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Archive for July, 2005

Sunday morning

This is my favourite time of the week: Sunday morning. I love sleeping in a bit late, cuddling with my kitty, getting up and making tea, and puttering around the house, bare feet padding on the floor. I usually do my weekly BIG clean, complete with laundry, washing of floors, and bathroom and kitchen scrubbing. I often listen to music, what I call "Sunday Morning Music" – nothing too loud, lots of piano and acoustic guitar. I like bopping around to Sunday Morning Music. It makes me happy.

 

Sometimes, I like to bake on Sunday mornings. Baking bread is my favourite, it permeates the air and makes me think of warm and cozy things from my childhood. I also like to bake banana bread, and sometimes cookies! (I must admit, I do make the best chocolate chip cookies around!) Every now and then I'll bake croissants or biscuits for my breakfast. Nothing like fresh, hot biscuits straight from the oven, with quickly melting butter and jam. Yum!

 

In the fall mostly, I like to go for a walk on Sunday mornings. I like getting into a nice warm sweater and smelling the musty, earthy smell of the trees and the grass. I love the smell of woodstoves burning, and I even like the cool air on my cheeks. In the winter, I stay inside and watch movies on TV. Sometimes I read the paper, and struggle with the New York Times crossword puzzle. (I cheat if I have to, and I never feel guilty!)

 

When I was younger, Sunday always meant church, and I hated going to church. Even as a very small child, I thought church was terrible, some sort of punishment for my bad behaviour throughout the week. No matter how I tried to be good all week, I still ended up in church on Sunday mornings! Sunday school wasn't so bad (the stories were so imaginative!), but the church part was a killer – listening to that man drone on and one was NOT my idea of a fun time. So, Sunday was my least favourite day. I would have much prefered sitting in school as extra day out of the week to sitting in that church. The only good part about it came when I started to learn the songs.

 

Because of church, I hated Sundays for years. When I stopped believing in what the minister said at church on Sunday mornings, it was even worse. For years I associated Sunday with church and, eventually, with christianity, which I had come to believe was no good for me. So it took me some time, but finally I was able to reclaim Sundays for my own. I think it's a good idea – a day of rest – even if the christian sentiment is something I don't share. And so, after many years, Sunday became MY day.

 

I have a nice little ritual for Sunday mornings. I like all Sundays – sunny, rainy, snowy, cold, warm. Sunday is my own day, the day I do exactly what I want to do, nothing more. It's my guilty pleasure day, the day I can be with my favourite friends, or the day I can unplug the phone and ignore the world. Every once in a blue moon, I spend the day recovering, but I just hate wasting my Sunday like that. Sunday is the perfect day to go to an afternoon movie, and the perfect day to rent videos and watch them in my pyjamas. Sunday is the perfect day for a walk with a friend, or by myself. Sunday is the perfect day for cooking for many, or for one, the perfect day for poking around whichever stores are open, or for filling the house with music I make with my own two hands. To me, Sunday is all of these things. To me, Sunday is perfect.

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One of the things that most intrigued me in my feminism course was the role of gender and sexuality in society. I wrote my paper about it, in fact. Here's an excerpt (edited for more pleasurable reading):

 

Society, that of North America in particular, seems bent on excluding some people according to deeply ingrained rules that do not follow the reality of human diversity in regards to sex and sexuality. Gender is a socially constructed dichotomous concept, based on sex classification and sexuality. Sex classification and sexuality, however, are false dichotomies, which do not adequately represent the full range of human biology and experience. It is necessary to dissolve these dichotomies in order to allow all people to participate fully in society without the requirement of moulding oneself to what is, for some, an impossible model. Since gender is based on sex classification and sexuality, it will be shown to be an inadequate and limiting social construct that requires at best amendment, if not complete deconstruction.The term “gender” is used to refer to the social roles, characteristics, and behaviours that outwardly express whether a person is biologically female or male. “Man” and “woman” fall under the umbrella of gender. “Sex” refers to the biological, physical sex characteristics that a person possesses, including chromosomes and sex organs, which dictate whether a person is a female, male, or hermaphrodite. “Sexuality” refers to the feelings of sexual attraction a person feels toward another person. “Dichotomy” is used to describe systems that acknowledge only two options and place those options at opposing ends of the spectrum.

Sex classification involves examining a person’s body to determine what biological and physical characteristics are present, and naming the person as male or female based on the presence of particular chromosomes, internal sex organs and external genitalia. There are two legally recognized categories of sex classification – male and female. However, in approximately 4% of live births, there is some uncertainty involved as to the person’s sex due to the presence of ambiguous genitalia. The uncertainty arises from the dichotomy involved with sex classification; intersexuals do not fit into either of the categories female or male and their sex is seen as a medical abnormality. Intersexual people are usually “treated” or “managed” with a combination of surgery and hormonal treatment to force them into the current sex classification system. This powerful adherence to the idea of only two biological sexes forces intersexuals – or more commonly, the parents of intersexual infants – to choose: either assimilation or marginalization.

Sexuality also involves a dichotomy within our society, based largely on sex classification. There is widespread recognition of heterosexuality and homosexuality, with marginal consideration to bisexuality (I say marginal, because bisexuality is largely both invisible and misunderstood; more on this later). Homosexuals are defined as having feelings of sexual attraction toward members of the “same” sex category as the one to which they belong. Heterosexuals are defined as having feelings of sexual attraction toward members of the “opposite” sex category as the one to which they belong. (Even these definitions reinforce the dichotomy of sex classification; I cannot discuss sexuality without referring to “same” or “opposite” sex.) However, this dichotomy is also problematic because it ignores the existence of bisexuals.Bisexual people are attracted to both sexes, which is largely misunderstood; bisexuals tend to be defined by their current romantic relationship – if it is a relationship with a person of the “opposite” sex, the bisexual is seen as heterosexual, and vice versa. Because of this invisibility, bisexuality as a category of sexuality is not recognized on a large social scale. There is also the notion of compulsory heterosexuality, a social construct that wrongly presumes all people to be heterosexual, implying all others are deviant from this “norm”. Compulsory heterosexuality, in addition to presuming everyone is heterosexual, subtly presumes that a person can only be attracted to one sex category. This clearly does not leave room for bisexuality, both marginalizing bisexual people and reinforcing a sexuality dichotomy, which, in turn, reinforces the sex classification dichotomy.

Gender is a way of outwardly identifying to which biological sex category a person belongs. Gender is primarily concerned with placing people into one of two categories, which correspond to one of two sex classifications: gender names male humans as men, and female humans as women. Gender has requirements: men and women must behave in certain ways and exhibit specific characteristics, many of which are placed in opposition to each other whether or not the terms are linguistic antonyms (i.e. men are considered to be rational, while women are considered emotional, though the two terms are not mutually exclusive: it is possible to be both rational and emotional). On this view, gender is a dichotomous system governing social behaviour based on and reinforcing a classification of two sexes, male and female.

Gender involves a restrictive set of expectations that does not allow for either biological sex differences from male and female or deviations from the outward identification of the sex category to which a person belongs. We do this by way of a wide array of behaviours in which people engage in order to clearly exhibit their biological sex category: by proclaiming one’s biological sex to others, by way of physical, social, and behavioural cues (which are gender-related rather than sex-related), and also by reading the cues provided and identifying the biological sex of another, then demonstrating the correct assimilation of the information provided by acting and reacting to that person in specific ways. The socially ascribed behaviours suitable for dealing with a person are based not only on the sex of the person who is doing the announcing, but also on the sex of the person who is receiving that announcement; if I were a man, I would be expected to act toward a woman in a much different way than I am expected to as a woman.

 

These social practices have a double meaning: on the one hand, they display to others the gender-specific, “correct” way to approach an interaction; on the other hand, they are a way of keeping tabs on who inspires one's sexual feelings. This is a manifestation of our society’s demand for a universal sexuality – heterosexuality. Thus, gender is based not solely upon sex classification, but also upon sexuality; the ways in which a person acts is meant to denote not only his/her biological sex, but also his/her sexual preference, and the presumption is of heterosexuality.So, then, gender is a social construction, built on the dichotomies of sex classification and sexuality. However, the dichotomy of sex classification falsely ignores the existence of intersexuals, and the dichotomy of sexuality largely ignores the existence of bisexuals. Gender, then, is a discriminatory social practice that is oppressive for those who do not fit into the narrow dichotomies of sex classification and sexuality, as well as for all those who do not wish to behave in the ways gender ascribes.

If this is truly a society committed to equality of all individuals, inclusion of all sexes and sexualities is necessary. I believe the first step is to officially and legally recognize intersexuals and bisexuals as legitimate categories of sex and sexuality. This will allow intersexual and bisexual people to be exactly who they are, without having to conceal their true identities and mould themselves (literally and figuratively) to fit into narrow socially constructed conceptions. If the dichotomies of sex classification and sexuality are deconstructed, gender will surely follow: when the foundation is removed, the structure cannot stand. The process will undoubtedly be slow and will experience resistance, but I believe gender deconstruction is one necessary piece of fully realizing the concept of equality.

(Although this piece has been heavily edited, including specific quotes and references, I want to acknowledge the inspiration drawn from the work of Marilyn Frye, Karin Baker, and Anne Fausto-Sterling.)

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well, after an intensive three weeks, my course in feminism has come to a close. I wrote my final exam today, and I think I did just fine. I always worry slightly about essay questions, because I'm not sure if I'm expressing myself well enough, and sometimes I just am most concerned about getting the points across rather than speaking with style, and of course that is a worry for my perfectionist heart. I'll find out my marks in the next couple of weeks, so until then, I'm going to enjoy my "summer of freedom"!

 

My thirst for knowledge has just been reawakened. The best thing about philosophy, for me, is learning how to think in ways that are not natural for me, to look at subjects from the perspective of another. The discovery that brings me is so rewarding; I find myself more and more humbled by the possibility that I am not thinking about something in the right way, that my instincts are exclusionary. I have always been fairly good at seeing other perspectives, but I have also been very quick to judge, quick to jump to conclusions based on my own viewpoints and experiences. I am opening more and more to the ideas of others, to reserving judgement until I have considered all the options, and maybe not even taking a side at all.

 

The other reason I love philosophy so much is that it shows me how interconnected everything really is. I love being able to see how religion and psychology meet, how religion and politics meet, how religion and science meet, where metaphysics plays a role in politics, and how physics and metaphysics intersect. I love how the more I learn about one thing, the more I need to know about something else; in learning about philosophy, I also want to know more about history and biology, and psychology and religion. I need to know more about how people are and how they have been, ad how they have been affected by their surroundings, and how they have formed the customs they have formed. It's all so fascinating to me, I feel like I could just spend countless years in school learning about all of these things. It makes me want to know more.

 

I wonder where it will all lead, and how my thoughts will change and develop along the way. I wonder what kind of person I will be on the other end, when I am finished. But then, I don't think I will ever be finished! The natural curiosity I have awakened is never going to be satiated; learning is a life-long pursuit for me, and I am so thankful for it. I think I will always want to know more, and that is encouraging and comforting for me. Hopefully it will help to keep my feet on the ground, instead of my head in the clouds!

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hello 29!

I had a birthday the other day, the 21st of July. I am probably the biggest birthday fan of anyone I know. I love my birthday, it's my favourite day of the year by far. I never work on my birthday, it's a rule, and I always do something nice for myself, usually at a spa. I eat whatever I want, and I make all my friends do what I want to do. (It's true!) So this year, I had a massage, skipped class (although I did have to finish writing a paper), and went out for dinner at a swanky restaurant where the wait staff present your meals as if they were synchronized swimmers. I had a wonderful time, and thanks to everyone who came out (and especially those who paid for my dinner :)!I never feel any older really. I did have a hard time with 25, I felt as though I was never going to have all the things I thought I "should" have by that age…. a husband, a house, a good career, a dog, etc. I was kind of depressed about it for a while, and then I got over it. (I didn't really want some of those things after all.) I also felt that 25 was kind of old. It was my first feeling that I should try to be more grown up, because my early twenties were gone – the time when it is socially acceptable to be a dunce.

Now, I feel as though I'm getting younger all the time – silliness abounds in my life, particularly when I am with my two best girls, M and A!!! being around them keeps me feeling young. I think for a long time when I was younger, I felt I should be responsible, and so I was, mostly. Now, I just feel like I'm only responsible for myself, and that includes making sure I have as much fun as possible! Fun is a priority!!!

My horoscope tells me that this year is going to be a really great one, that the pressures and difficulties of the past several years (as a result of Jupiter or Saturn in my 3rd house or something) are going to be gone, and I will have a much easier and enjoyable time of things. It's kind of true, the past few years were difficult. But they were also productive, educational, character-building, and pretty happy a lot of the time. I've done a lot of stuff, learned a lot of lessons, and I'm so much more MYSELF than I have ever been. I feel like I'm on the right path, that I cannot falter. I feel like I am learning so much all the time, and I am more aware of things around me. I feel like I know exactly who I am, and I can integrate all the facets of myself in any situation and maintain my own identity all the time. And, I know that as long as I have my best friends around me, I am safe, loved, and I can do anything. What a great feeling!

So, hello 29! I can't wait to see what's in store!

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the power of procrastination

here I sit…. not writing my paper that is due in less than a week. In fact, I am ACTIVELY not writing. Why do I do this to myself? I think too much, then put things off, then I feel terrible about it and berate myself for wasting time, then I feel so badly that I don't feel like doing any work. it's a constant struggle to drag my ass out of the cycle.how I wish I could be proactive, take the bull by the horns, and just get the work done that needs to be done – even ahead of schedule! I always have big plans to get started early on research, pick a topic, get some preliminary writing done, maybe try a couple of ideas on for size and see what seems to come easily. but I inevitably wait and put it off until the last minute. Why do I do this to myself?

I wonder if it has anything to do with working better under pressure. People always say that, right? "I work best under pressure." I've even told myself this lie to justify my procrastination. in my case, I think that this is a load of crap, to be honest. I don't work best under pressure; I don't feel prepared, I get flustered and I don't do a good job. Then I berate myself again for the whole shitty experience.

Rather, I think it has to do with my learning type. Last year, I took a course in facilitating adult education, and I learned about 4 different learning styles, including my own. There are the ones who just jump in and start doing without really knowing what they are doing or how best to approach it – the learn-by-doing people. There are the ones who try to make sure that they everyone else is feeling good about what is happening rather than ensuring they themselves are learning what needs to be learned – the ones who can't make a decision of their own in case someone might disagree, and then flip-flop around like little fish out of water. There are the ones who gather only as much information as needed to make a decision and then take action – the ones who usually get things done in the world, who say, "well, something had to be done, at least I made a decision". And then there's my group – the assimilators. We like to get as much information as possible. Period. We like to have ALL the options. We like to research things. We are great at seeing two, three, four sides to every situation, and we see the merits in everyone's position. The only thing we are not great at doing is making a decision based on the information at hand! We put things off and think about them for as long as humanly possible. so in fact, we don't actually assimilate the information; rather, we gather it and organize it.

I am most definitely part of this group. I identify perfectly with all of it; I am great at finding information, and really, really great at organizing it (I love to colour-code my readings!). sometimes it is difficult for me to take a stand on something, particularly in a paper, because I often do see all sides to a situation. I usually have gut reactions to topics, but I want to make sure I'm not just being short-sighted, and so I try to examine the arguments of others and play devil's advocate every now and then (this used to absolutely infuriate my ex, who just wanted to be right all the time and felt I was picking a fight!). None of this applies, however, to american politics and other drivers – only snap reactions go on with those topics!

In any case, today is the day. I am choosing a topic and an argument, and I am sticking to it. maybe.

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as I have been reading so much (see last post!) for the class I am enrolled in this summer, I of course have been thinking a lot about the issues that I am studying. The class is a philosophical look at issues raised by and about the feminist movement. The things I have been spending mental time and energy on are mainly surrounding one theme that is central and prevalent in feminist literature: the concept of the Other. (No, not the Nicole Kidman creepy movie with the kids in the dark.) Our society is constructed in such a way that you cannot think of one thing without thinking of another part of a dichotomous relationship – man/woman, body/mind, right/wrong, black/white, strong/weak, healthy/sick, (dead/alive – hee hee) etc. The problem is, one half of the dichotomy is considered standard in a social sense, and the "Others" are cast as opposites, not preferable, negative, substandard. In fact, each half is equally different from the other: men are as different from women as women are from men. Either side of the relationship could be held up as the standard, and the other considered not preferable.

 

We have a problem in our society, of a mythical norm. It is prevalent in everyday life, from reading the newspaper to conversations with friends, to media representations. What is considered the norm is not even the majority. The mythical norm is white, male, christian, able-bodied, thin, young, heterosexual, and financially stable. He is able to take advantage of all kinds of unearned privelege, just by being lucky enough to be born in the body and family and social group that he was. Everyone else is Other, marginalized to varying degrees. Most of us have multiple factors that work against us in this society, combinations of race, sex, religion, sexuality, disability, class stratification etc. and too often, these intersections are lost in the shuffle as those with only one category of Other try to fight their way to the top of the heap: "Look at me – I'm white, christian, able-bodied, heterosexual, thin, young, and financially stable! I'm almost the norm except for this one little thing about my sex… I deserve to participate fully in society!" These "pure" claims of discrimination – based on only one of sex, class, sexuality, race, religion, disability, etc. leave multiply disadvantaged people out of the picture.

 

I find it irritating as I go about in the world that I have been given certain priveleges that I haven't earned. I am lucky, to be sure, that I never had to know the pain of being poor, or having to figure out my sexual identity, or having a physical or mental disability. I am lucky to be exactly who I am. But that's just the point – it's all luck. The wheel of luck spun when I was born, and landed me in the family I grew up in, with the physical and mental characteristics I have. So many others are not so lucky… and so many others are much more lucky, and neither have done anything to deserve it! That society rewards and punishes everyone according to the luck of the draw is so cruel and unnecessary.

 

So here I am, both Other and priveleged. How do I reconcile these things in my life? How do I go about in the world, knowing that only my birth makes my voice heard more than that of another? How do I go about knowing that if only I had been born a male, I would have so much more privelege?

 

It is humbling, to be sure, to think of the world in this way. I am better able to perceive of myself as being lucky, and nothing more. I am better able to understand how my skin colour gives me unearned advantages, and how my sisters of other races have to be that much smarter, work that much harder, be that much more persistent, act that much more "good" in order to not have her race reflect badly on her (in some circumstances). I am better able to understand how the world is built for me, and how those who are physically disabled are at a serious disadvantage. I am better able to understand that if the wheel of luck had spun differently at my birth, I could have the complex emotional burden of telling all my friends and family that I am gay, and have to live in a world where same-sex unions are not as widely accepted and represented as are hetero unions, and have to explain to my children that she has two mommies and not everyone is going to like that. I am better able to understand that the opportunities I have in my life are not the same as everyone else's, that because of my socio-economic class I do not have to break free of a number of financial, emotional, physical and psychological constraints in order to practice academia.

 

It's not as if I didn't think of myself as lucky, but I truly am lucky in so many regards that I did not realize, and at the expense of those who are not as lucky as I am, whether I intend it or not. It's not as though I have been running around in the world being a jackass to those less advantaged than I. But I have considered that the differences between myself and other people did not matter, that the differences were unimportant – what mattered was a shared humanity. I now think this could not be further from the truth – it is our differences that are important; our differences make us unique, make us who we are, give us struggles that build our characters. My differences are important to me! It is an important part of my identity that I am a woman, that I am healthy, that I am heterosexual, that I am quirky, that I am an atheist, that I love to sing and dance and bake and write philosophy.

 

It has been an eye-opening experience to look at the world through these lenses. I now can actively commit to a widened world-view that includes recognizing my privelege, and being careful to both listen to the voices of others and not to take advantage of the privelege I do not deserve. I am also in a better place to be more considerate and thankful for all the lucky bits that make me who I am.

 

How priveleged are you?

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god, I’ve been reading and studying so much lately. I do think I’m getting a bit faster at reading, which is great, because normally I’m painfully slow and I get distracted and have to reread whole paragraphs, stuff like that. I daydream all the time while I’m reading, maybe I’m trying to imagine the author sitting down to write the piece I’m reading, or imagine some of the experiences that may have pushed her to write the words on the page before me. I try to empathize, but myself in her shoes… relate her experiences to my own, in order to better understand and internalize the material. I have always done it with fiction – imagine the characters, visualize them, give them whole visual references right down to their surroundings. I have always hated books that had too much descriptive detail, and those that did not have enough – I needed detail enough to fuel my imagination, but too much ruined the fun.

Now, as I am reading much non-fiction, I am still visualizing, still picturing the character whose voice I am reading – only now, it isn’t a character at all, but an author, and it’s quite serious! Now I am picturing the author, sitting, typing, researching, pouring out her life’s work and her beliefs onto the page for me to judge, to accept or reject. it seems so much more personal. the judgements I make now are about the author, rather than the characters – although in a way, it is splitting hairs, but for me, I was always able to separate the characters from the author, much like separating the actor from the character she plays.

I have loved reading since I was a little girl. My mom likes to tell the story about how I wanted to read so badly that I convinced myself I had learned all on my own. I had a book on tape, a Disney story that came with the audio cassette and the book, and I had memorized it word by word. I knew when to turn the pages because the tape would sound “beep!” to remind sleepy parents (and budding self-taught two year old readers!) that another page was finished. When I proudly told my mother that I had learned to read, she asked for a demonstration of my new talent, and I proceeded to bring out the book and recite the entire story – complete with Scotty dog Scottish accents and, of course, the “beep!” that signified a page turn! She broke the news to me that I could not yet read – not gently, either, she was laughing her head off – and I indignantly demanded that she teach me, then. And so she did; I was reading just before my thrid birthday, and I haven’t stopped since. One of the greatest gifts my mother gave me was teaching me the love of a good story, how to become enraptured by picturing each scene, how sometimes the characters become so dear that you don’t want the book to end. I remember one magical summer when I first read what has become my favourite book, the Neverending Story. I couldn’t put it down, yet I loved the world that was unfolding in my imagination, and I relished each section so much that I dragged the book out for the entire 2 months, even though I was reading every day all day. I really wished it was the neverending story. The next summer, I read it again.

I think that reading is as active as any other activity is, and that there is a responsibility on the part of the reader to be careful with the words laid out before them by the author. to passively skim a book doesn’t work for me. I have a need to be respectful – books have gone through so many edits and reconfigurations, so much work and passion has gone into it, I just can’t be casual about reading it. and so, I sit, daydreaming about what I’ve just read, picturing everything in my mind’s eye, trying to interpret it in a way that will resonate with me, so I can carry it with me as I do so many of my favourite novels. a good story never really leaves you.

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