E Jesus não usou almofadinhas*

*(Jesus didn’t use cushions) quote from O Pagador de Promessas (Dias Gomes)

Spring is a season marked by fulfillment. Our desire to transition, propelled by the hopes of new blossoms and fresh starts, allowed us to brave the harsh winter. Its bevy of snow days tried our spirits and despite our reluctance to leave the house, which fostered propensities for reruns of crappy television and hot toddies, we emerged victorious.

As color surfaces everywhere, bringing with it floods of people on the street and in cafés, I feel myself thaw. After a difficult fall, I notice myself returning to a me that desires to stop and smell the roses. On a recent trip to the MFA in Boston, I realized how much I’ve progressed in my Zen by noticing the amount of time I could spend looking at one piece of art. While sitting in a recreated Buddhist sanctuary (which was awesome btw if you haven’t gone to the MFA lately- you should.), I was filled with thanks for the luxury to be able to just sit and be. It was just a few short months ago that I thought I would never get out of my cortisol frenzy, which left me feeling anxious, tired, and unable to see just how amazing this life I am leading is.

Through this Lenten journey, I have been struck by the concept of fulfillment. The ideas of completion, fruition, and wholeness riddle the various meanings of this word. As I sat in church on Palm Sunday, I was particularly attentive to the Gospel of Matthew (26:15) which discusses Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus, carried out to fulfill Jeremiah’s scripture. There has always been such a negative connotation surrounding Judas’ act. He is often seen as a villain, a man who made a choice to sell out his friend for money. However, after just finishing (FINALLY.) José Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, I sat in church contemplating a different way to view this transaction, noting how applicable this different viewpoint can be to our own lives.

If we look at the aftermath of Judas’ trade, we see the image of a man wrought with guilt. He hangs himself from a fig tree after relinquishing the thirty pieces of silver. In Saramago’s account of the incident, Jesus, who is portrayed through a very humanistic lens, treasures his friendship with Judas, and sees him as one of his greatest allies. He is the only disciple strong enough to put God’s plan into motion. Jesus praises him for accepting this task in his Passion, and even jokes with Judas moments before the soldiers invade Gethsemane, warning him that although he enjoys their fruit so much, he should be careful of fig trees (368).

Like Judas, we are all faced with difficult choices. I think about all of the decisions I’ve had on my plate this year: accepting a scholarship to a graduate school program that keeps me insanely busy, contemplating a school change, and moving. Sometimes making these difficult choices has made me feel like Judas- on the one hand a betrayer of others by making the hard decisions which allow us to move on, and on the other hand someone committed to doing what I feel is best for all, a support for others to start putting the wheels in motion too.

I reflect back on a beloved play that I read in college, as I understand the great connection that exists between making choices and feeling grateful. Isn’t there such a beauty in the simple fact that we even get to make choices and changes in our lives? In Dias Gomes’ O Pagador de Promessas (The Promise), the main character Zé-de-Burro makes a promise to Saint Barbara that if she will cure his donkey he will go on a great pilgrimage to her church for the annual feast celebration. When the donkey becomes well, he begins his hajj, all the while carrying a giant wooden cross. I think here about the promises we make to our gods, to ourselves, and wonder if we have the courage to give thanks and pay it forward when life hands us something spectacular. Do we sit idly, waiting for our anticipated fulfillment of fear and regret that negative past experiences have taught us is destined to come? Nothing gold can stay, right?

I believe that we do this, bracing ourselves for the worst because fulfillment is so much more of a choice than we care to grasp. Our fears that life will fall apart because of  the unraveling of one big decision reflects an inner voice that says it’s scary to think that we are in control of getting what we want, that this is scarier even than believing that life is out of our control. However, like we see with the choices of Judas Iscariot, Zé-de-Burro, and the people near and dear to us, choices and decisions aren’t always meant to play out the way we expected, because perhaps it is the journey of understanding and *gasp* failing that makes us learn.

I see that fulfillment isn’t just about going along in life, making the choices and playing the roles that we believe we are supposed to in order to reach some predetermined end goal. There is no set path for happiness, and although it terrifies me to think that some of the choices I am making right now could land me flat on my face, I am beginning to wearily understand that there is no perfect decision and all we can do is understand our options and listen to our guts. We must keep in mind that the change which forces us to make moves can also propel us to get out of those choices when they no longer suit us, or when our lives take us down a path that we didn’t anticipate. It’s scary business going out on a limb, but if spring has taught us anything it is that this proverbial branch, although shaky and unpredictable, holds all the sweetest fruit.

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Our Time

I’m supposed to be reading about JFK’s “New Frontier” right now. It’s not that the history of social welfare in America isn’t captivating (well, no, really it is pretty boring), but I’m just getting back into my creative flow and the furthest thing from my mind is how the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Blechk. I know I have to get this work done for class tomorrow, but as I glance across the tables in this coffee shop, I can’t help feeling  distracted by a bedazzled headband and the duo of women surrounding its wearer.

The flash of advertisements on “Our Time”, an internet dating site for singles over 50, captures my attention at their table. These three women, huddled like the girls from Sex and the City at a Midtown bar, flit around the screen.

Amidst the  flurry of “Ooh!” and “I like that”, I am utterly lost in intrigue. I hope that they can’t feel me eavesdropping. As they update their profiles (“Alright, what else do we even have to put in here?”) and research their potential candidates (“Is that him?! He looks really nice”), I can’t quite tell who the investor even is. They all seem equally committed to finding love across the net.

In my mind I keep seeing the movie “Grumpier Old Men”, and I wonder if what I’m witnessing here is a similar scenario, twenty something years later, technology updated. I picture Walter Matthau, looking for love after being widowed. How would he find love in this computer age, when beautiful single women are not conveniently opening up Italian restaurants in the neighborhood? Would he be contented to live alone, or would he pine for companionship and create a profile for himself? Maybe he would have his son do it- he seemed to have a greater penchant for the written word.

Nonetheless, from its inception there has always been something so stigmatized about on-line dating. Many view it as an exclusive  place, reserved for trolls and mama’s boys who can’t speak to the opposite sex in real life. It’s branded as a place of loss, last resort, desperation.

But as I see these women, with their fashionably age-appropriate hairstyles, their  loose-fitting slacks hugging the curves they’ve earned from babies and years of tasting happiness,  I don’t see a lack. I don’t see desperation. I see vibrancy, self-assurance, hope.

They are truly enjoying themselves on this Sunday afternoon, bantering back and forth about how Match.com is too pricy and invasive, and which profile pictures would be best to put up to get them the man they want.

As I watch these women, I am reminded that I’ve been feeling a bit more like myself lately. I’ve been getting back to focusing on what I actually want, instead of dwelling on what I think I should have at this point in my life. It’s been a rough couple of months, the worst I’ve experienced in a long time, but I’m emerging stronger. I see these women; their persistence, their lust for moving on,  and I remind myself that there is  always a solution.

I definitely don’t have all the things I want right now, but what I am developing through some daily meditation and creativity exercises (Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” has been a godsend) is a deeper understanding that this is all a journey, and that each day I am graced with countless blessings to be thankful for.  Moreover, I find myself spending less time worrying about the fact that I don’t actually know exactly what I want, and more time putting vibes out into the universe to attract what I know will make me happy.*  I’m the most proud of myself for not giving up and throwing in the towel when issues in and out of my control wrestle their way back into my fearful thoughts. By putting myself out there on the metaphorical dating site which is daily life, I meet myself, for what seems like the first time, over and over again. And you know what, I like me.**

*I got some really interesting visualization exercises from a life coach I spoke with at a share fair a few weeks ago. I’ll post the information, eventually.

**If you haven’t seen this Poetri video- DO YOURSELF A FAVOR.

Day 3

So I’ve been doing positive daily affirmations for three days now.

Here are all the awesome things that have happened since then:

1. I was voted teacher of the month by my students (see the cutest of notes they wrote below)

2. I received a 100 on my most recent grad paper, making my GPA a solid 4.0.

3. I sang “You Are My Sunshine” in front of my students at the Arts Showcase today. They told me I should try out for the Voice (my inkling that most of them are deaf was confirmed).

4. I got to make pottery today.

5. One of my favorite (and most ridiculous) students from my first year of teaching came to my room to drop off my sweet new boys basketball sweatshirt. He’s so tall and eighth-gradery, and the sweatshirt is absurdly soft.

6. I had a great conversation with Virge that made me feel like I am truly on the right track.

7. I went medicine free today and didn’t feel miserable.

These are the biggies, and some of them are a stretch. Either way, I’m really pushing myself to see the good and let go of the crap. For example, today while I was doing some pottery with my students, a student of mine asked me if I had cats because I seemed “depressed” i.e. a cat lady. This super awkward comment made the tightness in my chest come back and suddenly dancing anti-depressant bottles appeared in my mind. Should I be medicated? Is it that obvious that I’m a little stuck? I freaked out. After that, I went to chorus with my students and we sang and danced and had a ball. I can’t lie and say that did the trick and I immediately forgot what the girl had said. But I’m not dwelling on it as much as I thought I’d be right now. That’s a big plus.

I’ve also been trying to write down something in my gratitude journal everyday to keep the positive juices flowing. It’s fun to look back on when I’m having a particularly tough time. If you don’t have the app on your phone- download it now! It gives you a gentle reminder everyday and it’s so cool to look back on all of the awesome things that happened months ago.

It takes 14 days to break a habit. I still think negative thoughts everyday. But they’re not every second of everyday anymore. So progress is progress.

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Not sure why this last one won’t rotate… stand on your head?

I have got to make a change.

I’ve decided to give this happiness thing a shot. A real shot.

I’ve truly hit a rut in my life, for no particular reason, and I just can’t seem to get myself out of it.

My therapist has been telling me for years, that I’m scared of being happy. What an absurd, yet true thought.  As odd as it sounds, stress, fear, guilt, disapproval, sadness, inadequacy, pity (the list goes on and on) all feel comfortable to me. They’re reassuring since it feels like the only thing I can bank on every day is that I am going to feel these things. Even as I’m writing this, I’m thinking to myself “How sad!”, but how true. I have been feeling this way particularly for the past month of my life, and off and on for years and years.

A lot of the problem seems to be my looking backward and doubting the future. I’ve lived with anxiety for so long that I don’t remember what it would be like to not feel stressed all of the time. Despite this feeling, there was a point in my life when I just woke up, faced the day, and didn’t think about the million terrible things that could go wrong.  Just like anybody else, I was a little baby who didn’t think about breathing or living or feeling sad. I just lived.

So, I’m going to get back to that.

I’ve been trying to find some inspiration on-line, in books, everywhere. I’ve decided to start with some simple positive daily affirmations. I’ve done them before, but honestly, never gave them a real deal shot.  Here goes my new morning list. Prolificliving.com recommends doing them 3x every morning, for at least eight days.

 

1. I am feeling healthy and strong today.

2. I have all that I need to make this a great day of my life.

3. I have all the information I need to solve any challenges that come up today.

4. I have the knowledge to make smart decisions for myself today.

5. I make the right choices all day using my inner wisdom.

6. I am happy and content with my life.

7. I am patient and calm and greet the day with ease.

8. I am filled with gratitude for another day on this earth.

http://www.prolificliving.com/blog/2013/07/15/morning-affirmations-before-getting-out-of-bed/

 

Now, my inner skeptic is already screaming “BUT BAD THINGS DO HAPPEN!” “WHAT IF haoisndkfansdoihawer HAPPENS!?!” “WHAT WILL YOU DO!?!” I guess the more I think about it, worrying about the what ifs doesn’t actually prepare me for them; it makes me feel like they already have happened, creating a false sense of anxiety when everything is actually pretty peachy keen.

I guess we’ll have to see how the affirmations go. It’s all worth a shot.

So.. I’m back in grad school… and this is what I write my papers on…

Miley Cyrus: To Twerk or Not to Twerk? –  A Discourse on Female and Racial Oppression   

On August 25, 2013, Miley Cyrus took the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards. The crowd expected to see nothing less than insanity, and as millions flocked to their televisions and computers after hearing about her show, it seems that insanity was exactly what they got. Cyrus entered the stage through a giant teddy bear, and proceeded to gyrate and sing off-key through most of her set (VMA 2013 Performances). Now famous for her twerking, Cyrus’ sexualized display did not fall short in the shock department.  Just seconds into the performance, the web was overwhelmed with tweets, posts, comments, and budding articles about just what the world was seeing before their eyes.

After digesting the performance, many people praised Cyrus for throwing her inhibitions to the wind; others were outraged and disgusted. Nonetheless, people talked.

Whether or not you loved Miley’s antics, or found them humiliating, her performance at the VMA music awards demonstrated, and I believe, perpetuated feminist and racist oppression in our culture. This can be seen first in the way that Cyrus’ actions lead to the objectification, and thus the oppression of the female form. In addition, it can be argued that through her actions, particularly the assertion of whiteness in African-American culture, racist oppression proliferated.

 

Miley and Sexual Oppression

To get a better understanding of how Cyrus furthers stereotypes and the sexual oppression of women, first of all, it is important to define what we mean by sexual oppression in this context. Sexual oppression as I am using it here is defined through the lens of sexual objectification. Sandra Lee Bartky in her piece “On Psychological Oppression” notes that “A person is sexually objectified when her sexual parts or sexual functions are separated out from the rest of her personality and reduced to the status of mere instruments or else regarded as if they were capable of representing her” (28). According to this definition, Cyrus, who performed scantily clad on the VMA stage, was subjecting herself to the “cultural depreciation” and stereotyping that Bartky likens to a Playboy bunny (28).

Of course, many feminists do not see things this way, and thus there are two distinct ways of viewing Cyrus’ choices, which are both important to recognize and address. Lisa Wade sums up the two sides of this feminist issue in her article “My Two Cents on Feminism and Miley Cyrus”. After many self-proclaimed feminists commented on Cyrus’ performance, two modes of thinking emerged. First, some artists such as Amanda Palmer claim that Miley’s performance was an example of asserting herself as a female, albeit a nude one, which means that she is powerful and taking control of herself as a woman (Wade October 14, 2013).

Others, such as Sinead O’Conner, a veteran artist, criticize the business which, despite personal motives and feelings of empowerment, is patriarchal and thus always oppressing. Wade writes, “Palmer’s [opinion] is straightforwardly individualistic: each individual woman should be able to choose what she wants to do.  O’Connor’s [opinion] is strongly institutional: we are all operating within a system – the music industry, in this case, or even “society” – and that system is powerfully deterministic” (Wade October 14, 2013). While it is admirable, perhaps, to see Cyrus as an assertion of femininity or artistry, the only assertion we can clearly see on stage is that of her sexuality. There do not appear to be many redeeming or noteworthy qualities that spawn from her performance. Thus, it seems that O’Connor’s opinion is more strongly evident in this case.

Marilyn Frye, in her piece “The Politics of Reality”, uses the birdcage example to shed light on this issue as well. She writes, “one can study the elements of an oppressive structure with great care and some good will without seeing the structure as a whole, and hence without seeing or being able to understand that one is looking at a cage and that there are people there who are caged, whose motion and mobility are restricted, whose lives are shaped and reduced” (5). In this way, Cyrus may not feel that she is being personally victimized by her audience, but she is perpetuating the stereotype to the rest of the male-dominated world that women are simply sexual objects.

She may not feel that she herself is confined to the birdcage, because she has the money and mobility to maintain a safe lifestyle for herself. However, women who do not have such a luxury become victims, physically and emotionally, of a system that classifies women as weak and for the liberal taking. These women cannot free themselves from the confines of the cage. In this way, Cyrus’ performance, and other ones like it, perpetuates female oppression at large.

Many would say that Cyrus’ choice of clothing was all in the name of art. Similar artists like Lady Gaga, perform in scandalou outfits. However, this would imply that the dancing or singing were to be praised as the highlight of her performance. It can be seen through her set, that the main focus was her body and sexualized dance moves. She did not have any intricately choreographed dances, and her vocal stylings were off-pitch. This led the viewer to be mostly or solely focused on her physical form. Moreover, the continuous touching of other dancers, herself, and her co-performer, Robin Thicke, ultimately led the focus away from the art of the music scene, and towards the powerless, sexualized image of a young woman.

Now, many bloggers have left comments saying that Miley can do what she wants and as long as personally, she doesn’t care about people lusting after her or commenting on her sexualized appearance, then no issues have arisen in terms of female objectification. Here, we must then delve into the area of motive. Is it sexual objectification or oppression if the woman is not opposed to being ridiculed or seen simply as a sexual object? While motive may determine the way we as women personally feel about the reactions we get from our culture, I do believe that what marks sexual objectification is less the female motive behind the expression, and more the inescapable cultural labels and oppression that come about as a result of this expression.

In terms of motive, it appears that Cyrus did not put on her performance in order to sexualize herself or to purposefully warrant being oppressed. She discusses the reason for her performance in a recent interview with CNN saying, “You are thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it…I didn’t even think about it when I did it because that’s just me” (France September 4, 2013). This reminds us again of Frye’s image of the birdcage. While Cyrus’ performance was a small incident in a larger cultural shift towards sexually charged musical performances, we cannot allow ourselves to believe it occurred inside a vacuum. Frye writes, “the oppressiveness of the situations in which women live our various and different lives is a macroscopic phenomenon” (7). Thus, although Cyrus plays it off saying she was just being herself, the broader implications for women being taken seriously in the music industry, or in society in general, are great.

Another reason why I believe that Miley Cyrus’ performance demonstrates female oppression, and furthers the stereotype of women as less powerful than men, is seen through the juxtaposition of the way she was viewed by the media, compared to her co-performer Robin Thicke. Christian Piatt, in his article “Miley Cyrus’ Contribution to Feminism” notes that “the criticisms of Miley online have far outweighed those of Robin Thicke, the married man in question who participated in said grinding” (Piatt September 26, 2013). Cyrus herself even expressed to Billboard that “No one is talking about the man behind the ass…It was a lot of ‘Miley twerks on Robin Thicke,’ but never, ‘Robin Thicke grinds up on Miley.’ They’re only talking about the one that bent over. So obviously there’s a double standard” (Lewis September 25, 2013).

Miley is just right here, arguing about this double standard. The fact that Robin Thicke received significantly less negative attention than Cyrus reminds us of this culture of male domination in our society. Despite the fact that Thicke, a married man, was gyrating on Cyrus as well, the minimal negative attention he received shows that he was more than likely viewed by the masses as being a “ladies man” versus a grotesque sexual object. Piatt goes on to say, “it tells us more about ourselves when we obsess about the shenanigans of the young woman far more than the borderline adulterous displays of a much older man” (Piatt September 26, 2013).

In an interview with Oprah, where she hit upon this cultural double standard, Thicke said, “This is funny to me, it’s silly…to me, I’m walking out toward Miley, I’m not thinking sex, I’m thinking fun. …I’m singing my butt off. I’m singing and I’m looking at the sky and I’m singing and I’m not really paying attention to all that. That’s on her” (Chen October 10, 2013). His nonchalance, and ease to pin the sexual deviance on Cyrus, demonstrates his male privilege, a common cultural thread in our society. His comment, “That’s on her”, denotes that he has no issue with Cyrus being labeled as a Jezebel, while he, the man who is married and still participating in the sexually laden innuendo, is just simply a bystander.

 

Miley and Racial Oppression

In addition to promoting the sexually objectified stereotypes of women, Cyrus also overstepped various boundaries concerning racial oppression. At the beginning of her performance, it was evident that she had hired exclusively black back-up dancers. The dance moves she performed, particularly twerking, all come from black culture. Overall, the juxtaposition of the dancer’s more natural moves with hers, represent what Bartky would refer to as an example of “cultural domination” (Bartky 25).

The fact that we live in a society where slapping someone in the rear, whether they are male female or otherwise, is acceptable, is already a problem. However, the fact that Cyrus felt so comfortable slapping one of her African American dancer’s rears, repeatedly, on stage really taps into some very racist oppressive ideologies. I do not feel that it in some way it shows that we’ve moved on from the oppressive white dominated system of slavery. It doesn’t scream “Look! I’m white and she’s black and I’m slapping her rear and not hurting her- it’s funny now!” If anything, it shows that white domination is still alive and prevalent.

This type of relationship shows the psychologically oppressed aspect of Bartky’s argument. She writes, “the psychologically oppressed may come to believe that they lack the capacity to be autonomous whatever their position” (Bartky 31). I see this situation as an example of such. Of course there was money to be gained by the African American woman who allowed Cyrus to slap her rear on national television. However, the benefits to Cyrus were much greater, and the dancer put herself in a situation to be oppressed by physical white domination, seemingly without thinking of the cultural implications it had.

It is clear that Cyrus did not see anything controversial about her move, saying in an interview “I would never think about the color of my dancers, like, ‘Ooh, that might be controversial’ ” (Lewis September 25, 2013). Nonetheless, ultimately, the slap demonstrates the contradiction that Bartky discusses of feeling both equal and oppressed (Bartky 32). It can be understood by the viewer that the black dancer, by allowing herself to be in such a compromising position, was demonstrating her connection with the white Cyrus. Her actions could demonstrate friendship, perhaps, and some form of equality. On the other hand, the aggressive nature of the act and the racial makeup of the situation still demonstrate a semblance of domination, white over black.

In terms of the twerking, Cyrus has faced great criticism for her moves. This past year, she gained fame through her YouTube videos and other performances. Twerking is a dance that has roots in the African-American culture of New Orleans, and potentially African tribal dances (Newman August 28, 2013). Many see her white imposition on this dance to be an example of exploitation.

According to Big Freedia, a culture icon on the twerk scene, Miley Cyrus went too far with her choice of moves. Freedia writes, “for her to just come out of the blue and just start twerking, a lot of people are very offended by it, especially in New Orleans. When something get hot, everybody want to jump on the bandwagon and act like they created it. That’s totally understandable but they have to give credit where credit is due” (Newman August 28, 2013). Therefore, Cyrus’ assertion of herself in black culture, without any reference to where she got her moves from, can be seen as degrading.

Bartky notes that “black men and women of all races have been victims of sexual stereotyping (25). She sees this in the way that society views black culture as being overtly sexual, particularly through different forms of dance or music. Cyrus not only furthers the stereotyping that black dances like twerking are explicitly sexual by dancing half naked, but by placing herself at the center of the dance, surrounded by African-American back-up dancers, she also asserts herself as an expert in a field that she neither created nor understands fully.

Cyrus’ assertion into this culture threatens the sense of self-actualization true members of the group deserve to feel. Bartky speaks of the way that is difficult for African-Americans to feel that they have a solid role in society that is not threatened or oppressed (26).  When Cyrus asked for a single from producers Rock City, she explicitly requested that they give her a song that “sounded black” (Platton June 12, 2013). Although Cyrus clearly defines herself as a white woman, it is unclear why she would be interested in performing music that makes her seem like something she is not. This is an assertion of her white privilege; it doesn’t really work the other way around i.e. imagine if Beyoncé asked for a song that made her sound “white”. What would that even mean? But through Cyrus’ request, and her comments on her musical preference, it is clear that she wanted something “ratchet”, or sexualized, bumping, and therefore “black” (Platton June 12, 2013). This demonstrates Bartky’s ideas that white cultural assertion into black culture threatens self-actualization and the possibility of maintaining a solid role or sacred culture for African-Americans.

After the award show, there has still been internet fodder focused on Cyrus’ antics. Blogger Mikki Kendall, writing about an unrelated issue, began using the hash tag #solidarityisforwhitewomen (Gay September 29, 2013). Forums have been abuzz discussing how Cyrus’ performance can be perfectly encapsulated in this hash tag, particularly as some white feminists argue that what she did was liberating. The issue still stands that if Miley Cyrus did something liberating by dancing naked and perpetuating the sexually charged Jezebel stereotype of the black woman by inappropriately touching and using her dancers like props, then yes, this solidarity is particularly for white women.

Ultimately, the issue isn’t whether or not Cyrus brought the sexual oppression onto herself willingly, or even if she was being racist herself by attacking the form of another. Truly, the situation revolves around our patriarchal cultural system, which oppressively rewards women more often than not through sexual exploitation.

It is clear through her actions, that Miley Cyrus is unaware of this system, or not particularly concerned with her perpetuation of it through the way she presents herself. She doesn’t have to be a role model, but must be more cognizant of the way she is perceived, understanding the stereotypes and cultural inequalities she is furthering. Despite the cries of feminists who may say that individualistically, Cyrus made a powerful choice as a woman, and therefore asserted her femininity instead of having it objectified, I do believe that in the end, her actions and nonchalant view of the system hinders women’s freedom by perpetuating stereotypes and white male-dominated cultural norms.

 

Resources:

Bartky, Sandra Lee. “On Pyschological Oppression.”Femininity and Domination: Studies in the

Phenomenology of Oppression . : pp 24-36.

Chen, Joyce. US Weekly, “Robin Thicke Talks Miley Cyrus VMA Performance to Oprah: “I

Don’t Twerk, I’m Just Twerked Upon”.” Last modified October 10, 2013. Accessed October 13, 2013. http://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/new.

Cunha, Darlena. The Huffington Post, “Miley Cyrus, White Feminism, and the Dance of

Oppression.” Last modified August 30, 2013. Accessed October 12, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/darlena-cunha/miley-cyrus-white-feminism-oppression_b_3844050.html?view=print&comm_ref=false.

France, Lisa Respers. CNN, “Miley Cyrus breaks her silence about VMA performance.” Last

modified September 4, 2013. Accessed October 14, 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/03/showbiz/celebrity-news-gossip/miley-cyrus-vma-response/.

Frye, Marilyn. The Politics of Reality. Crossing Press, 1983.

Gay, Roxanne. National Public Radio (NPR), “Twitter Sparks A Serious Discussion About Race

And Feminism.” Last modified September 29, 2013. Accessed October 12, 2013.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/08/22/214525023/twitter-sparks-a-serious-discussion-about-race-and-feminism.

Germain, Jacqui. Racialicious, “Miley Cyrus, Feminism and The Struggle for Black

Recognition.” Last modified August 28, 2013. Accessed October 12, 2013. http://www.racialicious.com/2013/08/28/miley-cyrus-feminism-and-the-struggle-for-black-recognition/.

Lewis, Hilary. The Hollywood Reporter (Billboard), “Miley Cyrus Opens-Up On ‘Racist’ VMA

Criticism, Censorship & Double-Standards.” Last modified September 25, 2013. Accessed October 15, 2013. http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/5721385/miley-cyrus-opens-up-on-racist-vma-criticism-censorship-double-standards.

Miller, Julie. Vanity Fair, “Gloria Steinem on Whether Miley Cyrus Is Reversing Feminism.”

Last modified October 10, 2013. Accessed October 12, 2013. http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2013/10/miley-cyrus-gloria-steinem.print.

Newman, Jason. Fuse, “Bounce Queen Big Freedia Slams Miley Cyrus’ Twerking.” Last

modified August 28, 2013. Accessed October 14, 2013. http://www.fuse.tv/2013/08/big-freedia-miley-cyrus-twerk.

Piatt, Christian. The Huffington Post, “This is the print preview: Back to normal view » Miley

Cyrus’ Contribution to Feminism.” Last modified September 26, 2013. Accessed October 12, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christian-piatt/miley-cyrus-contribution-_b_3876488.html?view=print&comm_ref=false.

Platton, Adele. Vibe, “Miley Cyrus Asked For A ‘Black’ Sound For Single, Says Songwriters

Rock City.” Last modified June 12, 2013. Accessed October 15, 2013. http://www.vibe.com/article/miley-cyrus-asked-black-sound-single-says-songwriters-rock-city.

VMA 2013 Performances.. “”We Can’t Stop/Blurred Lines Give It to You (Medley)”” Recorded

August 25 2013. MTV. Web, http://www.mtv.com/videos/misc/942064/we-cant-stop-blurred-lines-give-it-2-u-medley.jhtml.

Wade, Lisa. Sociological Images, “MY TWO CENTS ON FEMINISM AND MILEY CYRUS.”

Last modified October 14, 2013. Accessed October 14, 2013. http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/10/14/my-two-cents-on-feminism-and-miley-cyrus/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed: SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving (Sociological Images: Seeing Is Believing).

Sympathy vs. Empathy in the Kingdom of Humanity

So I just started back in Grad school. At this point, I feel like an old pro. I have my classes managed (for the most part) and I’m working hard to remove my “stink face” from my 4:30-7:00 p.m. class repertoire. I must do this after a very sweet and helpful-meaning professor cornered me after school last year and asked me why I was expressing such disdain and general hatred for her class.

“I can just tell by your face that you think you’re above this course, G.”

Whoops. Honestly though, the fact that I’ve been working 10 hours straight in the most hectic business market in the world, the classroom, isn’t the reason why I maintain a stink face deep into the evening hours. I’ve never hated a class in my life; that’s simply just the way my face looks. (Well, maybe I was a little bored that day.) Nonetheless, point taken, I’ll be aware of it.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to stay even-keeled these days. I know I have to get over the fact that although I work twelve hours a day serving America’s youth, I still have to complete fifteen hours of post-regular business day volunteer work for one of my classes. It will make me more culturally-aware, and I will certainly get some joy out of it- so no big deal. I’ve also been working hard to be honest with myself about how many extra jobs I can do around my school without totally burning out. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love to volunteer, I love clubs and after school activities, and I love money (I get paid extra to do some jobs so heyo). It’s not that I don’t want to get down and dirty.

However, with the onset of some of the most debilitating panic attacks I have had in recent years, and the blossoming allergy/common cold symptoms I have stumbled upon in the last week (which could be nothing or a serious lung infection often associated with my MCTD), I have to revert to my sick-self ways. Ugh.

I ask myself: “G., sweet little overachieving G., do you maybe think you’re doing too much?”

Instead of the usual “Shut up, B!” that my mind normally reverts to, right now I’m in an odd state of legitimately thinking I can handle what I’m doing. Delusions? Adulthood responsibilities accepted?

Through these emerging issues, and the questions they bring up for my schedule and mental load, I’ve been thinking a lot about the limitations we put on ourselves as people, particularly the limitations that we, and ultimately society, put on those of us who have chronic illnesses.

Anyone who is chronically ill knows that we often have to measure our lives in spoons (1), a concept that is confusing to anyone who isn’t sick. Spoon saving due to a chronic illness means taking into account that since I went to the gym yesterday (2 spoons), and I had a stressful sixth period today (3 more spoons used up), I don’t know if I have the energy to grab a beer with my friends tonight. I only have so many spoons to give out before I flare. Which is not fun for anyone.

I think that a lot of my feelings on the topic of limitations and the oftentimes frustrating sympathy that results from those who are akin to my limitations, are spawning from a book I’ve been reading: Laurie Edwards’ “In the Kingdom of the Sick” (2).

In my opinion, some of it is a little wordy and repetitive, and not suitable for a mild hypochondriac like me. I read some of the case studies and think to myself:

“I KNEW IT ALL ALONG!! I HAVE xhoiaskldnfiowheawermonia disease too!”

Besides that, which is entirely a result of my fear and not Edwards’ writing, it’s given me a lot of great food for thought.

The main premise of her book is that people, particularly women, are socially stigmatized for being sick. Edwards states “The Tired Girl stands for so much that society disdains: weakness, exhaustion, dependence, unreliability, and the inability to get better” (2). In essence, women, who must always remain healthy and vibrant according to society’s standards, are somehow lacking or inadequate if they appear to or define themselves as sick.

As someone who constantly heard and still hears slews of:

“It’s just a cold, it will get better”

“You do too much, just take a break once in a while and you won’t feel so bad.”

“Don’t be so sedentary; if you just go for a little walk or bike ride every day your muscles won’t hurt so much.”

I find this stigma to be spot-on, and entirely accepted; unbeknownst to even the most intelligent and well-meaning humans.

With that said, of course I adore my friends and family who say these things with a concerned and hopeful smile. I know everyone wants what is best for me, and if I don’t say it often enough, thank you, I love you.

Nonetheless, through these comments, which ultimately reflect a deeper-seeded societal issue, I am faced with an understanding of the reality of the stigma. I am subtly caressed, daily, with a hand that feels like sandpaper, by the way these ideologies makes those of us who are chronically ill feel like we’re making it up, or at the root of it, making ourselves sick.

Isn’t that exactly what you’re telling me when you ask me to deep breathe my anxiety away or go to yoga so that my extremities don’t burn or atrophy during a MCTD flare? Yes, you are trying to provide realistic, and sympathetic ideas because you love me, and you don’t want me to hurt anymore. But the way it feels to a sufferer, and the greater reality of it all is that by insinuating that a chronic illness can be exercised, laughed, or willed away, we bypass the chemical and physiological fact that I have auto-antibodies (3) floating around me that viciously attack my own healthy cells, falsely thinking they are intruders.

The result of constantly being made to feel like I am the problem, and not my autoimmune disorder leads me, and many other people, to cry and mourn the loss of our healthy-selves in silence. We are no longer allowed admission into “The Kingdom of the Healthy”. Edwards could not have put it more eloquently when she wrote, “So many people are suffering in isolation because they don’t want people to think they are crazy” (2). That is exactly my feeling, and the reason why I don’t tell anyone, save my therapist and doctors, that I’m scared of myself and what’s going on inside my body. 

Nothing makes the fact that you have a chronic illness, which you cannot control, and which you did not invite into your body, worse, than having it trivialized and demoted to insanity. The saddest part of it all is that we don’t even realize we’re doing it, myself included. It is so ingrained in our capitalistic mentalities to believe that winners don’t get sick, and that if you actually worked really hard at it, no excuses, you could pull yourselves up from your bootstraps and beat anything; cancer, PTSD, ADHD, or a heart attack.

But here I am, looking at it. Number 14.06. on the Disability Evaluation Under Social Security (4). I am disabled, and if I want to, I could begin collecting checks for it and/or get a sticker for my car that gives me prime parking at the mall. One day, it will more than likely come to this. 

Nonetheless, the issue will remain, when I, a seemingly healthy woman of 24 emerges from her car, taking a handicap spot from someone who “really needs it”. My illness is quiet; many don’t know because I am blessed with mild symptoms and a support team that has given me medications and functional ways to deal with whatever comes up.

IfI did “look sick” (whatever that means), people would inevitably treat me differently because of my deviation from the norm (healthy), which is also not awesome. In the end, I still grapple, as I’m sure many people with chronic illnesses do, with the need to have my sickness identified and supported, while also trying to fit into the image of what society says a woman, athlete, or teacher should be.

I don’t know ultimately, what we, the chronically ill, want from what Edwards deems as those who “live in the Kingdom of the Healthy” (2). I don’t want people to stop caring about me, and stop giving me love and advice on how to feel better. Sometimes they think of something that I’ve never tried and it works (i.e. acupuncture).

At the end of the day, I think it boils down to recognition. It’s not that I want applause for my silent struggle. I didn’t do anything to merit the title of “Good at Being Chronically Ill”. 

What would be ideal for me, and I will assume others, is more empathy and less sympathy. Everyone knows what it means to hurt, to be sick. Tell me what chronic problem you encounter daily,  not just about a particular instance of a time when you felt sour. Comparing single, ephemeral incidences of hurt to a chronic illness is pure torture, because the fact remains that your sour day ended and mine may not due to the eternal nature of my problem. Explain to me what your doctor said that gave you hope. Take me to my rheumatologist when I’m having a flare and I can’t drive my car. Imagine yourself as your drive all the way there, living in your worst moment, vulnerable, embarrassed, needing just a little more support than usual.

It boils down to love, and the realization that we’ve all been dealt something difficult in life. No one person’s load is more to bear than another’s; it’s all perspective.  If we love more and compare less, empathize more, and sympathize less, everyone wins. This type of winning is what emerges from hard work, and the understanding that today, you are fine, but tomorrow you could enter into any one of the other kingdoms, and you’ll probably want a hand to hold.

 

1. http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/wpress/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

2. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/04/10/kingdom-sick-chronic-illness/2067779/

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribonucleoprotein

4. http://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/14.00-Immune-Adult.htm#14_06

Best Day

I stumbled upon this narrative poem I wrote right after my grandfather passed away. I don’t know why but on this weirdly snowy day I felt like sharing it.

 

You were irreplaceable.

China blue and crystal.

Shiny, priceless- a sign that I held something of value.

Without you I am half.

Missing pieces, the most important ones.

 

I don’t know how to love, feel, or say what I mean.

 

It hurts to think of loving anyone else, the way that I loved you.

 

If I held you one more time, what would I even say?

Could I tell you in one minute how much you mean to me?

 

Life goes on with a hole in it, now.

Days get longer and slower, mostly longer.

 

I am tired and I can’t sleep.

 

–              –             –             –              –              –

 

 I remember back to our best sick day.

 

We sit far enough away so it won’t hurt.

We sit far enough away so I won’t hurt you.

 

A river of chemicals separates us- saline, chemotherapy, blood.

Like this, you are still beautiful to me- cheeks flushed, hair curled, bones strong and graceful.

Not that you were ever graceful- this is just how I choose to remember you now.

 

We wait, for hours, lost in a made for TV commercial about air filtration.

Home cleansing.

Home health.

The irony of you in your hospital bed, now, and you in your hospital bed later, at home, dying.

 

We joke about getting one.

We laugh about how clean our air would be.

 

“Seeeeeeeeems nice.” 

You say.

 

I am silent other than a steady stream of “Yeahs” and “Mmmhmmms”.

We both know you won’t ever be home again.

At least not like you used to be.

 

I’m scared to touch you, move you, be near you.

I don’t want to admit that months from now I’ll look back on this moment and remember it as the best last time we spent together.

I won’t tell that to anyone.

But it was.

 

I can’t see you as sick.

Even when I think back to the way liquid oozed from your skin those last days.

Tears, blood, soaking into bed sheets; your body’s reminder that you were broken, you would soon be gone.

As if you needed a reminder.

 

As if I did.

 

I still remember never thinking you were dying.

I don’t know how people die.

How it all just shuts off.

 

And it’s not that I can’t accept you’re gone. I can.

I just don’t know what it means to say, “He’s gone!”

What is gone and where did you go?

 

My mind can’t debunk the myth that your heart still beats in my heart.

 

I don’t know how to get past the images of you I don’t see in my dreams, or mirror, or coffee cup anymore.

I can’t understand how I didn’t shut off with you.

I can’t help feeling like this is how a loss of innocence feels.

 

I can’t help but think that the me without you is somehow changed and so different that now, the me with you, is nonexistent.

Meaning- you never existed.

Meaning- I actually do have to go about this gone alone.

 

The gone makes it hard not to wonder if we get the same chance to love again.