Archive for the ‘Existential Crises & Epiphanies’ Category

I had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to attend a session held by a local anti-trafficking group, during which I heard the most wonderful speaker, Benjamin Santamaria. He spoke less about what his organization does, and more about the issue overall, and the culture under which this problem has been permitted to flourish.

Human trafficking is a terrible problem; it’s hard to know how many people are trafficked every year, but women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for sex as well as domestic slavery. Victims generally are stolen or sold from less developed nations and taken to wealthy western countries for these purposes, or are held within their own country or a neighbouring country and used by wealthy westerners who come to less developed countries for the purposes of sex tourism. It seems a lot of trafficked persons have family situations that make them vulnerable, from extreme poverty to abuse to orphanism. These are often people that are vulnerable because nobody is looking for them; they are disappeared and nobody knows.

Ben talked a lot about white western culture as a culture of domination. [this particularly incensed the young woman I was attending the talk with, for typical white liberal “white people shouldn’t have to feel guilty for what our ancestors did” reasons, but that’s not really what I want to talk about just yet; please keep it in mind for later, however.] He spoke of “white is right” attitudes, about how white settlers on this continent felt they conquered the indigenous populations who were already here (they didn’t), and that gave them the right to [attempt to] obliterate indigenous culture, language, and spirituality, replacing them with the laws, language, and religion of the white homeland (didn’t do that, either, but not for lack of trying – for the indomitable spirit of indigenous peoples). He spoke about the continuation of those attitudes in the here and now, and the richness that is missed by shutting ourselves off from learning from other cultures. He spoke about a lack of sprituality the dominance of religion can bring. He spoke about the soullessness of capitalism, the attitude that everything can and should be commodified – even human beings, human lives.

but, while this is a large problem that takes place at a societal level, Ben was careful to offer a solution. He expressed that the solution of public policies and international treaties was important, but that the underlying attitudes of individual people are what will really matter most.

hold on.

We spend a lot of time here and on other forums talking about patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, capitalism as being overarching structures, a “culture not a conspiracy.” We say, “we’re not talking about YOU as an individual; we’re talking about your default position within relations of power that are larger than just you, don’t take it personally, try to see yourself and your position as one within the matrix.”

Well, it hit home to me, listening to Ben speak, that this is true, but it also isn’t the end of the story.

Going back to how the woman I was sitting with was infuriated by Ben’s slam against white culture. She was completely and utterly pissed off by this, ranted on afterward about how white people have a culture too, and it’s just as important as other cultures, and how other cultures can’t be so great really because after all, look at how they treat their women. [yup, seriously. this is a woman who has done a lot of international development work. just goes to show you, I guess…]

I felt none of that righteous anger toward him for saying such things. I was nodding along with him! I wasn’t offended by anything he said about white people at all! Why is that? I thought about it for a while. At first, I just felt like, “well, he’s not talking about ME.” Not in a pin-a-rose-on-my-nose, I’m-not-a-racist way, but more in a culture-not-conspiracy kind of way. but then, that wasn’t quite it, either.

What Ben was talking about was individual responsibility. He was talking about how these attitudes are ingrained in the fabric of our society, but that we are individually responsible to and capable of unravelling ourselves from that fabric. He described a lot of things that we could do, individually, to change how we felt and believed some of the underlying attitudes that make human trafficking possible, that make it possible for people to be bought and sold on a global marketplace and used like they mean nothing.

He spoke about spirituality – not religion, not dogma, but spirituality. Belief that everyone has a soul, a spirit, a spiritual life that needs nourishment, that needs fulfilment. He spoke about sexism, and how men must not force women to do or be what we don’t want to do or be, but allow us to develop into our own beings, support us, get the hell out of our way. He talked about the mistreatment of the animals we use, from labour to entertainment to food. He talked about racism, and the belief held so dear by so many that white culture is dominant because it is superior. He spoke about capitalism, the commodification of everything under the sun – the land, the water, the sun itself – and how screwed up that is, because the earth is for everyone, it can nourish all of us, and yet we scramble to get our little tiny piece of it all for ourselves. He spoke about not buying these things, not buying into the capitalism matrix, not buying goods from countries where humans are trafficked, not watching TV, not watching CNN.

And you know? yeah. I felt myself nodding, moved by this message. YES! We are, individually, responsible for the attitudes and beliefs that we hold. We can only, ourselves, change those attitudes and beliefs. And that is the difference. When we work to achieve attitudes of love for others, of spirituality, of equality, of harmony with the world around us – that is when the guilt fades, that is when the righteous anger dissipates.

I know I’m not perfect. I know that my placement within the social stratification system of this country, this culture, gives me unearned privileges that I can’t exactly back out of. But. I know that I am trying. I know that in my heart, I am moving from those negative, overarching, dominant and dominating atittudes, maybe a little everyday, as an individual person. And so, I know he wasn’t talking about ME.

I say this not to hold myself up as a shining example of light, or for congratulatory backslaps and praise. I say this because it clicked a little deeper for me that day.

We ARE individually responsible, within this culture of domination. We must be HELD individually responsible for atrocities that happen to others, because OUR ATTITUDES OF DOMINATION have led to, have supported, have made possible, those atrocities. It’s not about guilt. It’s about movement. It’s about change. It’s about evolution. It’s about revolution.

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the other day, I received an email from a long-lost friend. Actually, this friend and I had  broken up so to speak, and have been out of touch for two years, nearly. It was a difficult time, and in lots of ways, it continues to be difficult not to have her in my life. I’ve struggled a lot with why I felt I couldn’t be there for her, and what kind of person that made me, what kind of friend. I have also struggled with whether or not I judged my friend, too harshly… or misjudged her… and what kind of person that made me, what kind of friend. Was it my place to judge her actions by my code, my ethics? Was that really what I did? I know that I have continued to love her and wish her the very best in life, from afar. I know that I am not angry with her. And I have gathered myself up, and with the help of my best-sister-friend, have moved into a new place.

So, lately my friend and I have been in contact. I am about to move to her city, and to go to school to do a degree that she herself has done. She knew it was around the time I should be getting offers, and she emailed me to wish me luck, which opened the door to a new kind of conversation. The past month or so we’ve not been in contact, but the other day I heard from her. She seemed to be in a bit of a dark place, rock bottom if you like. She felt alienated and alone, and singly responsible for both.

And in reading what she had written, I began to understand something. I think that we lead the lives we believe we deserve. I don’t like to put it “the lives we WANT” – because I don’t think anyone WANTS to feel alone and small and afraid. BUT, I do think we live the lives that we believe we should lead, that we deserve, that we are worthy of – and this is how we attract things and people and events into our lives. We can never have the life we want without believing that we truly deserve it. These two things – our desires, and our belief that we deserve that which we desire – must be in alignment for a happy and successful life.

I believe that we are the architects of our own lives, in many ways. And I think that when we don’t believe that we deserve to have the things we want, even when we have worked really hard for those things, even when we already have what we want – we will end up sabotaging our efforts to have that which we desire, consciously or unconsciously.

I remember a couple years ago I took a course about the philosophy of religion. Something the prof said on the very first day of class really stuck in my craw, and I still think he’s dead wrong. He said, “We cannot change what we believe. We can only come to realize what we believe, and live accordingly.” (Actually, I don’t think he put it so eloquently as I just did! 😛 ) I heartily disagreed with him, then and now. I think we absolutely CAN change our beliefs. And in fact, I think for some people, they MUST change their beliefs in order to live the life they want to lead.

And so, I guess the questions become NOT, “What do you want?” BUT RATHER, “What do you believe you deserve? Why? Why do you believe you deserve the life that you are already living? How can you come to a place where your belief in what you deserve and your desires are aligned?”

What do YOU think?

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I’m sick. It’s my throat, mostly, feels like it’s closing in it’s so swollen and inflamed. My voice kind of sounds like Kathleen Turner right now – husky, breathy, about an octave deeper than normal. This is the second nasty cold I’ve had since the new year.

Yesterday, I left my job. I was laid off, because my schedule with school wasn’t jiving with the kind of schedule my employers wanted me to keep. Never mind that I was promised it wouldn’t be an issue when I was hired, or that in 5 weeks, I’m finished classes and can work whenever they want. I’m disappointed to lose the job, because it paid quite well, and I hate broken promises. But otherwise, I’m happy not to be working there anymore – it was too weird for me. (For those of you who don’t know, I worked at a plastic surgery clinic as a skin care specialist.)

I’m grateful I was able to work there for the time I did – it helped me pay off some bills, and pay for my undergrad without going into major debt. I learned a heck of a lot about plastic surgery, which was a major conflict for me politically in some ways. I met some really nice people, and I got a whole ton of free skin care while I was there.

What’s interesting to me is that I’ve recently become attached to the idea that we attract into our life exactly what we are putting out – whether we are consciously aware of it or not. If you’ve seen the movie The Secret, this is exactly what I’m talking about (it was recently on Oprah, twice in a week). We’re attracting everything into our lives, through our thoughts and energy. Even things we think are “bad” experiences, which is a bit tough to wrap your head around at first, but really becomes empowering when you realize that you also have the ability to change it.

Anyway, for me, my new unemployed state is perfect evidence of the Secret working in my life. For a long, long time now, I have not wanted to work in the beauty industry any more. It has been years that I’ve been feeling restless and unhappy with my job, and I kept on trying to just find a different job to make it better. And for many months, I have also been wishing that I didn’t have to work, that I could just be a full-time student. I’ve been dragging my ass to work, wishing I could be at home working on schoolwork, or at the library, or in a specific class that I couldn’t take because I had to worry about my work schedule.

So, because I’ve been feeling this way, I have attracted it into my life. Now, I can concentrate on schoolwork full time without having to worry about working all those hours. My wish has come true! And, I also now have the chance to get out of the industry that I have been unhappy in for so long. And what’s best of all, is that I’m not really all that upset about losing my job (anymore, at first I was, until I remembered the Secret). I know I’ve created this experience, so how can I be upset? I wanted this all along, and the universe answered me.

Interesting, huh?

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I feel like I don’t have anything to say lately. I open my mouth to speak, or position my fingers over the keyboard to type, and I come up with nothing. I guess I do tend to get a bit reclusive this time of year, but this seems unusual. I always have SOMETHING to say! I’m not returning emails, I’m not returning phone calls, I even stayed home from work the other day. What’s worse, I don’t have anything to say acedemically either, and I have two research paper proposals due within the next two weeks. I don’t know what to write about for either class, I don’t want to go to the library and do any research, and I feel like all my assignments suck lately.

I think I have the malaise. All I want to do is sit on the couch with a tub of Cherry Garcia and watch What Not To Wear.

Any suggestions for how to snap out of this funk?

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well, folks, I’m taking the day off from FF, because it’s time to celebrate me. It’s my 30th birthday today.

Everyone keeps telling me how I’m going to love my 30s. I think it’s all what you make it. My 20s were about learning that, learning what was important to me and learning to take responsibility for my life – my mistakes and my accomplishments, yes, but mostly my FUTURE. There are a lot of forces at work in the world and society around me that I have no power over, but there is one force in the world that I DO have power over – myself. I have learned that nobody else is going to direct my future and my life for me, and why would I want them to?

I have learned that it’s never too late to start over. Sucking it up and going back to school has been such a humbling experience. It has taught my a lot of humility. What did I know? What do I know now? Very little, in the grand scheme of things. I have changed and grown so much over the past 2 years since I have returned to academic life, and my ideas and consciousness is evolving all the time. I am looking forward to deepening my connection with myself more and more.

I have taken time away from other people this year. This year has been mostly about going solo, keeping my nose to the grindstone, working hard. This has been such a change for me, because my friends have always been so important to me. But I have learned this way that the best relationship I can have is with myself. I have been watering my own garden this year, and  as a result my blooms are brighter than ever.

Despite the changing and growing, I have always a still small centre that is the essence of me, and that essence never changes. It’s good to know I can rely on that centre to drive me.

So here’s to my topsy-turvy 20s: you kicked me in the ass, and I kicked back. I fell in wild, passionate love, and back out again. I made great friends, and even kept some. I had some wonderful experiences professionally, and abandoned a successful career to pursue my heart’s path. I learned how to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” I lost a few times, but I gained myself.

So far, 30 is looking pretty good.

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Veg PastaI have finally made the decision to become vegetarian. I have been flirting around with the idea for several years, since my teens, but I have always thought that becoming vegetarian would be something that would make my life more difficult, that it would be complicated. I have gone through phases of not eating certain things, red meat being a major one, but I have always ended up back in the realm of the carnivore. (more…)

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well, I'm late, again. I'm sorry I wasn't able to post a new Feminism Friday piece this past week. I had a bit of a tough week, and my energy was way down and then blogger was acting up and I had to finish a paper and all I really wanted to do was drink wine and sleep it off, which helped enormously. Things are getting back on track this week, and I'm feeling more like posting, but I think I'll save a Fem Friday post for this Friday. While this post has a gendered bent to it, it's mostly about me and my struggle with reconciling my studies and my beliefs with this little thing called a career. My work is in conflict with my heart.So, here's my big confession: I work in the beauty industry. I have done so for the past 11 years. I am an aesthetician and makeup artist, and right now, I am working in a plastic surgery clinic. I hate it.

I actually like a lot about my job. I enjoy my coworkers, I have an easy atmosphere, and my bosses are kind and respect what I do. The problem I have is ideological. I am a feminist, and I am complicit in perpetuating the beauty myth. I am a puppet of patriarchy.

It all started out innocently enough. when I was 19, I decided to leave university because I hated it and instead took a course in aesthetics. It was, I thought at the time, a nice career where I would be helping people feel good about themselves, physically feel good, and help reduce stress. So, for years I worked in spas, and took a holistic approach to skin and body care. Then makeup called, and I loved the creativity I was finally able to display in my work. Finally, I realized that if I was to continue doing what I was doing, I would have to concentrate on the growing skin care market in order to make money and not ruin my body. (Pedicures and waxing are really hard on the body, you have no idea.) So, I learned advanced techniques in skin care for lightening sun damage and reducing ageing in the skin.

Which eventually led me to this job. I had wanted a job like this for as long as I could remember. Working in this clinic has been a dream in so many ways, because I am not stuck doing all the things I had grown to hate about aesthetics – pedicures, waxing, manicures. I only do skin care treatments now, and that is something I had wanted for a long time. And plus, the job pays really well. It has allowed me to work part-time and attend classses full-time, which is what I want. Sounds great, right? So what's the problem?

I am at the pinnacle of my participation in the patriarchal beauty machine. I work with patients who are – for the most part – succumbing to the pressures of patriarchy to be and look a certain way: young, thin, nubile, sexy. But these women CHOOSE to undergo plastic surgery, right? Well, when female sexuality has been commodified so extensively, and everywhere you turn you are being shown what the perfect female form is, and you don't have that kind of body or face, and your husband is having an affair with a younger thinner woman, or you find nobody looks you in the eye anymore, or your breasts disappear because you breastfed your children, or your stomach won't shrink down to the size it was pre-pregnancy no matter how many situps you do, and even Jennifer Aniston can't keep her husband from straying… is it a choice?

Plastic surgery is, in my view, coercive in most cases. Now, in some cases, it can be really wonderful, for reconstructing a missing breast post-mastectomy, or correcting genetic anomalies such as tuberous breasts, or reconstructing faces post-accident, or correcting disfigurements after burn trauma. This is not what I'm talking about, although the case can be made for a more radical acceptance of ALL kinds of bodies and faces. If society was more welcoming to these types of "problems" there would be no need for plastic surgery. However, what I'm most worried about is plastic surgery's role in perpetuating the oppression of women through femininity. Why should women have to change their bodies and faces through surgery just to live up to the patriarchal definition of "woman" or "feminine"? That seems really harsh to me, considering these are not small procedures: risk of infection, allergy to anesthesia, hemorrhaging, sepsis, scarring, permanent loss of sensation, capsular contracture (this is where the tissue contracts around a breast implant and squeezes it until it becomes hard – this is very painful), etc. are all real concerns.

It isn't women who should have to change. It is societal expectations for women to be and look a certain way that should have to change.

I find it hard most days to go into work. I struggle with it all the time, because I feel so hypocritical! Here I am reading, writing, studying, and advocating feminist theory, yet I am contributing to patriarchal femininity by working at this job. My biggest dilemma is that I can't afford to take a different job. I have bills that need to be paid, including tuition, and I just can't afford to take a different job. Because my skill set is very unique and specific, there's not that much transferrance of skills to a different type of job. I feel trapped. If I left this job and took a job working at a job that doesn't require much in terms of skill, I would have to work three times as many hours to make what I make now, which would leave me no room for studying. My job is making it possible for me to study what I am studying.

Anyway, I hate to be a complainer, but I am really kind of torn about this issue. I don't feel like I have much choice in staying at my job, and I can't possibly see a different way of looking at it so that it wouldn't make me feel so bad about contributing to the oppression of women. But, at least it's only one more year, and even though I'm colluding with patriarchy, it is enabling me to be doing this very thing: sitting at my computer, thinking and writing about feminist issues and how to make it better for women all over the world.

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