Some Thoughts on Depression

[TMI Warning]

About five months ago, I wrote a post on Facebook (and on this blog) about my experience with depression and how I came to receive treatment for it. I remember feeling very triumphant as I wrote it, because I felt like my difficulties were finally over.

This turned out to not exactly be the case.

In January, perhaps precipitated by some unfortunate personal circumstances, I relapsed and have been trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to recover ever since. The months since then have been filled with a lot of self-loathing, many random bouts of crying (daily at times), and much speculation on my part as to whether or not I really belong in this world.

This is when I realized that my problems, whatever they may be, don’t simply go away when I’m not depressed. I don’t “invent” the issues that I’m unhappy about. But being healthy makes it easier to ignore the pain in the back of my mind–all the wasted opportunities, lost friends, and scarring memories that have built up over the years like dust on a windowpane. When I’m healthy, I simply don’t think about it, and consequently I’m happier. But the mockery that I’ve made of my life isn’t a figment of my imagination; it’s quite real.

~~~

I also started to realize, perhaps even more than I did when I wrote that post, how little the healthy world knows about depression. Mental illness is truly the last taboo; many people refuse to even consider dating someone who has it. Kinda makes me reconsider being so open about my experience…

Even people who would otherwise be supportive just don’t know enough. For instance, if you know your friend is a diabetic, would you offer her a piece of cake? Probably not. But would you casually make fun of your depressed friend? Unfortunately, many people would, even though teasing and jokes are things that many depressives have a lot of trouble with. (This is because depression often causes a cognitive deficit that makes people take everything–a snappy tone of voice, an odd glance, a sarcastic remark–very personally. Here’s a great guide to cognitive distortions.) I am always analyzing and picking apart things that people say to me to try to figure out if they were just teasing or not. I am terrified of the threat of rejection that these casual utterances may carry, so I am always alert, always on my best behavior.

~~~

Another thing I’m never sure of is which parts of me are depression and which are simply me. I’m a skeptic, a cynic, and generally not too big a fan of things that most people seem to really like (Exhibit A: this). I don’t fit in with my surroundings in many ways. I’m more complex, polite, caring, respectful, quiet, conscientious, serious, passionate, emotional, and sensitive than most. I’m less assertive, flaky, impulsive, cheerful, “chill,” and casual than most. This makes for a great number of personality differences between myself and most people I know. When I’m not feeling depressed, these differences fade into the back of my mind. But when I am, they come right to the front, putting up a wall between me and the rest of the world, making me feel like I’ll be an outcast for life.

~~~

One more realization–Northwestern might be the worst place in the world to be depressed. (Not that there’s really a good place for that, except perhaps the psychiatric ward of a hospital.) It’s isolating, stressful, and miserably cold from October till May. Your peers churn industriously around you like a hive of North Face-clad bumblebees while you vegetate listlessly in your shitty shoebox room and email professors, friends, student group leaders one by one and tell them that you’ve been ill and cannot come to whatever crap you’re supposed to be at that day. You eat Nutella from the jar and wonder why none of your friends care. You wonder why you expect them to care. You sleep, a lot.

Northwestern also happens to have entirely inadequate mental health services, but that’s a topic for another post. My friends and I are working to change that. But for now, this is a really, really unfortunate place to be depressed.

~~~

And that’s it, really. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going now, but hopefully it’s somewhere good.

Gender-free Parenting

Maybe in the future.

So a couple in Toronto has decided to keep their newborn baby’s sex a secret from friends and family in order to help the child develop free of gender roles. I have so much difficulty deciding what to think of this. Because first of all, it’s nice to see someone trying to raise their children in a way that allows them to express themselves and be free of this typical “boys must not cry” and “girls must be pretty” bullshit.

However, people need to be realistic. As this Thought Catalog post wisely points out, kids in elementary school segregate themselves by gender and choose their friends accordingly. Who will be friends with little Storm?

Furthermore, Storm’s parents aren’t simply allowing him/her/zer to choose an identity–they’re imposing one. It’s one thing to allow your child to experiment and choose how to act, what to wear, and so on. But it’s entirely another to try to force a child to grow up without a gender at all. The idea should be that regardless of what’s in your pants, you should be allowed to express yourself. Hiding basic biological truths from a child’s friends and family is, in my opinion, going overboard.

There’s also the uncomfortable sense that Storm’s parents might be a bit more concerned with making grand political statements than seeing that their child grows up happy. The email they sent to friends and family said, “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime…”

But the thing is, what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime just isn’t what it is right now. A responsible parent raises children with a healthy balance of realism and idealism–not one rather than the other. For instance, I’m sure my parents wish that someday I could walk down the street alone at night in a miniskirt and face no threat of sexual assault. But right now, I can’t do that. So they see to it that I don’t go out dressed like that. I’m sure they also wish that I could freely disclose my diagnosis of depression to whoever I want and face no stigma or prejudice, but that’s not how things are right now. So they tell me to be careful about whom I tell. (Granted, I choose to blog about it anyway, but that’s a choice I’ve consciously made.)

Back to the point. If the intention of Storm’s parents in keeping their child’s biological sex a secret was simply to prevent friends and family from making gendered remarks (and giving gendered presents)…well, I’d like to think that they respect their friends and family enough to be able to ask them politely to refrain. They could ask for non-gendered gifts. They could suggest ways to play with or compliment their child that don’t include references to gender (for instance, saying “Good job” instead of “Good boy/girl”). Sure, that would be a bit more difficult than simply keeping Storm’s sex a secret, but it would be less ridiculously dramatic, that’s for sure.

I’m not sure I see anything good coming of this. Raising a child who flaunts societal norms is a great thing, but that child should be old enough to understand the consequences that, unfortunately and inevitably, arise. A teenager who decides to (for example) dress androgynously knows that others will inevitably react in a negative way. But a little kid can’t possibly understand that. The thought of Storm coming home every day crying because all the other kids make fun of him/her/zer for no apparent reason makes me really sad, and it makes me wonder why these parents are putting their political beliefs before their child’s happiness.

For another (great) post on this topic that I completely agree with, see “A Child is Not a Billboard” by Clarissa.

New Comment Policy

From now on, I will delete any negative, anonymous comments from this blog. This is because I firmly believe that if you have a constructive comment to make about something I wrote, you should be able to put your real name on it (or a screen name you use elsewhere online). If you find yourself writing a negative comment that you’d rather keep anonymous from me, this is probably because what you’re saying isn’t helpful or constructive.

If you don’t feel comfortable having others read your comment with your name attached to it, you are free to email it to me at miriam[at]brutereason.net or contact me through Facebook.

If you don’t actually know me personally but found this blog through the internet somehow, I would prefer that you link to your blog or other sort of site. Although, if I think your comment is really interesting and/or constructive, I might leave it up anyways.

Regardless, if I decide to delete an anonymous comment, I will leave a note referring to this comment policy and inviting you to repost your comment with some sort of identification attached. If you don’t want to, that’s fine.

Ultimately, this is an issue of accountability. I criticize a lot of people and institutions on this blog, but I use my real name because I prefer to take ownership of my opinions. If you can’t do the same, then, with all due respect, keep your opinions to yourself. I never expect more of others than I would expect from myself, so I think I’m being fair in this regard.

In other words, no more of this “an acquaintance” or “someone you know” crap. If you know me and disagree with me, own up to it.

Thanks for reading.

Update: Here’s the rest of the comment policy!

Image credit

Dillo Day: Not For Me

This just says it all, no?

[TMI Warning]

Today is Dillo Day, a Northwestern tradition that dates to 1972. It’s a music festival that happens each year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. We get to see several musicians, including some very well-known ones (B.o.B. this year) for free.

Of course, because Northwestern is a college, it is only natural that Dillo Day is more known for being a drunken shitshow than a music festival. The drinking often starts before noon (or even on Friday night) and continues till everyone is semi-conscious in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Actually enjoying the music is nearly impossible, unless you also happen to enjoy being hit on and groped, pushed and stepped on, and presented with some great views of people making out or having sex in public.

And now I’ll make a confession. I find drunkenness, and drunk people, disgusting. It’s not that I merely find drunk people annoying and inconvenient. I find them, and their lifestyle choices, repulsive. I don’t understand why the hell you would want to end your night getting intimate with a toilet bowl, or why you would want to be too far gone to even remember some of the supposed “best” days of your life.

My issue isn’t so much with the alcohol itself, though my relationship with alcohol has always been sort of hard to explain. My parents are social drinkers; they can hold their alcohol well and rarely get drunk. When they do, they’re louder, more social, quicker to laugh. In other words, they’re more fun. I’ve never actually seen them get very drunk, although one summer my dad went to Israel without us to see his friends and apparently had quite a bit to drink one day. It happened to be the same day that our fridge broke down, and my mom, completely clueless in terms of household appliances, called my dad long-distance and hysterically explained the situation, her fears regarding the baby formula going bad, and so on. My dad’s response was, apparently, a hearty “I don’t give a fuck!” and a dial tone.

And that was the worst of it. I’ve never seen my parents stagger, throw up, or hand their car keys over. I’ve never seen them down multiple shots in a row. (In fact, the only time they drink vodka is at dinner parties with friends, when every shot taken comes with a toast of some sort of emotional significance. Meaningless drinking this is not.)

Consequently, my own experience with drinking has been quite different from that of most people my age. I enjoy wine, mixed drinks, flavored vodka, and champagne. I like to drink wine with my parents over dinner and I can’t imagine New Year’s Eve without champagne. I like to be a bit tipsy, enough to make things a bit cheerier, and myself a bit more bubbly. But I have never been drunk, and I don’t plan on it. (In fact, I was furious a few weeks ago when a friend of mine suggested, laughing, that my friends will “make” me get drunk on my 21st birthday. Excuse me? Nobody can “make” me put anything in my body that I don’t want to put there. Any friend who tries to force anything on my body, be it sex or drugs or alcohol or a piercing or what have you, is no friend of mine after that.)

Last night, thinking about the shitshow that today would inevitably be, I found myself wishing that I were normal, that I could have fun in the way that everyone else can. I wished I wanted to do what they do. But I’ve never been that person. I’ve always been serious and I’ve always preferred to be completely in control of myself at all times. My disdain for drinking to excess is as natural a part of me as my preference for Pepsi over Coke, or the fact that I like to sleep on my stomach and not on my back. How do you change these things?

There are no words to describe such a feeling of isolation, which is one of many reasons I don’t talk about it often. I never fails to shock me how easily I’ve accepted everything else “abnormal” about me–my diagnosis of depression, my bisexuality, my foreignness–but I cannot accept this.

And most of all, I just want to understand. I complain about these things and my friends tell me with a shrug, “That’s just how people are.” But why? Why take an opportunity like an all-day free music festival and turn it into a drunken mess you’ll barely remember afterwards? I even understand drinking and partying when you’re bored, but why on a day like this one? Why is this desire as natural for them as my aversion to it is for me? I want to understand this in a sociological and psychological sense. But I don’t.

I sound like a boring, prissy goody-goody with a stick up my ass. I know I do. But the funny thing is, I’m really not. When I’m in a genuinely good mood, which, thanks in part to my shitty environment, is not often, I’m always laughing and making jokes. I love dancing and trying to sing, exploring Chicago with friends, and frequently acting like an idiot. I’m known to occasionally skip class and go tanning on the beach, and to write my papers the night before they’re due because I was too busy hanging out with friends before. I love fun. But I hate partying. The two aren’t one and the same, you know.

So there you have it. Dillo Day is a disgusting boozefest, and it’s not for me. I guess that makes me an outsider as long as I’m at college (and possibly for quite a while longer). I don’t understand why, as a culture, we are fixated on the idea that people should be moronic and depraved until they turn 30.  I want to know why our society believes that being an idiot in your 20s is some sort of prerequisite to having a happy, successful, and meaningful life–and why everyone thinks I’ll “regret it” if I don’t follow this path. I want to know why college students are required as if by law to drink and party and smoke pot and have a lot of casual sex (another thing I really don’t enjoy), or else they’re boring and “lame.”

I’m fucking tired of being judged. It makes me really angry. Stop.

The Value of Disagreement

A photo from an Obama-McCain debate in 2008. Just to add some requisite humor to this otherwise serious post.

I am a liberal and I go to a liberal school. Sometimes this makes me feel happy and comfortable, because I have so much in common with others here in terms of politics. I can complain publicly about Americans’ lack of belief in climate change, or about something Glenn Beck said. I can ask my friends if they’ve seen the latest episode of the Daily Show or the Colbert Report. I can rant excitedly about some famous person coming out as gay, lesbian, bi, or trans. And I can do all this without worrying that I’m going to offend someone, or that someone is going to argue with me.

But two recent incidents made me ask myself if this is really such a good thing.

One was a conversation I had with a friend about a mutual friend of ours. We’re all really close and hang out a lot, but when I suggested to one that he go have a conversation with the other, he said that they don’t really have anything serious to talk about. I asked why, and he said that they always just agree on everything and there’s little to discuss.

The other was the killing of Osama Bin Laden. When this happened, my Facebook feed suddenly exploded with such a variety of opinions that I didn’t even know existed at Northwestern. Some people were screaming “USA! USA!” Others were really happy that Bin Laden was dead, but didn’t want to celebrate so gleefully. Others were ambivalent, wondering why this really mattered, or whether or not he should’ve been shot dead. Others still were furious that he’d been killed on the spot, arguing that he should’ve been tried by the American judicial system instead. Some were religious Jews or Christians, happy to have gained this victory against radical Islam. (Unfortunately, I don’t know many Muslims, but I would’ve loved to hear their perspectives.) Some were atheists or agnostics, wishing that we didn’t have these religious wars to begin with. And so on and so forth.

Immediately, tons of arguments and debates started up. I got into quite a few myself. As a result, I changed certain parts of my opinion, began to understand other parts more clearly, and generally started articulating my views a bit better. And, also, I learned a lot about many of my friends.

After that, I started to realize how much we’re missing here in terms of political dialogue. I used to be very conservative, but back then I lived in Ohio and everyone around me pretty much agreed. Now that I’m much more liberal, I’m once again surrounded by people who share my views on almost everything. Except for those times when my friends and I start getting bitchy and arguing minutiae, I rarely get to have a good political debate.

What to do about this? I honestly don’t know. I don’t know how to get more conservative or libertarian students to attend Northwestern. Like it or not, this is a liberal campus.

One related issue, however, is a bit easier to solve, and that is the tendency of people to want to shut down those who disagree. (I addressed this briefly in the previous post.) The internet makes it much easier to do this because you can literally avoid “conservative” or “liberal” websites, but I see this in play even out in the real world. When I lived in Ohio, despite being conservative, I had the uncomfortable feeling that conservatives always wanted to shut liberals up. Luckily, I didn’t have to feel guilty for long, because when I came to Northwestern I found that liberals do the exact same thing. The way we respond to alternative viewpoints is often anything but respectful and curious–it’s snarky and dismissive.

For instance, when discussing people who oppose the right to abortion, liberals like to refer to them as “anti-choice” rather than “pro-life,” which is what they call themselves. This is, in my opinion, ridiculously disrespectful. Pro-lifers place the sanctity of life above the freedom of choice, but that doesn’t mean they oppose choice. It just means they value life (and they define life as beginning at conception) more than they value choice. I disagree with this position entirely, but I respect it and can see why some people would think that way.

Similarly, conservatives will purposefully refer to Obama as “Barack Hussein Obama” (to highlight his “Muslim” middle name) or as the “Obamination” or as any number of other highly disrespectful monikers. Why? Why talk like this about the President of the United States just because he is a liberal?

This needs to stop. From both sides. Silencing the opinions of others benefits nobody. If they’re wrong, they’re wrong. If they’re right, then you should know the truth. If they’re partially right and partially wrong, you should take this opportunity to fine-tune your own views.

In fact, in order to put my money where my mouth is, from now on I’m going to seek out intelligent conservative blogs and read them. If nothing else, it’ll help me learn how to defend my own views better. Unfortunately, I don’t hear many conservative opinions here on campus, so I’m going to look for them elsewhere.

Who Has it Worse?

There’s a game we progressives sometimes inadvertently play. I like to call it “Who’s More Oppressed?”

You can probably guess what I’m talking about here. It’s the tendency of social justice-oriented people to engage in lengthy polemics regarding “who has it worse.” Is it Black lesbians? Is it transsexual Hispanic men? Is it lower-class white teenage mothers?

In fact, some (quite liberal) friends and I recently tried to figure out which identities the hypothetical most oppressed person in the world would have. (I’ll leave the conclusion up to your imagination.)

I encountered a less dramatic form of this argument recently on (where else) Tumblr. A male user had responded to a graphic against slut-shaming with the comment, “Try to nail every girl you know? Douchebag. Try to be civil with every girl you know? Fuckin friend-zoned. It works both ways.”

A user named, of course, “stfuconservatives” reblogged the post and added some commentary to it, claiming that being called a slut is worse than being “friend-zoned” and that women have it worse than men. Further comments on that post agreed with stfuconservatives and generally bemoaned the preponderance of sexism in this world.

Let’s step back for a minute. Yes, being called a slut is awful. Nobody should ever call someone that. Period.

Besides which, what this guy wrote and the way in which he wrote it is definitely quite presumptuous and entitled-sounding. However, for the sake of argument, I’ll play devil’s advocate and take his perspective. First of all, he never said that this men’s issue is worse than being called a slut is for a woman, which is what the responders claim he says. But in fact, he specifically says, “It works both ways.” What does that NOT imply? That men have it worse. This man never said that he finds it appropriate to call a woman a slut, or that he doesn’t think this is a problem. Let’s not put words into his mouth.

Furthermore, why this immediate assumption that this man’s claim does not deserve attention? Several commenters immediately point out that they themselves have never “friend-zoned” a guy for being nice. Perhaps not. But this issue is one that I have heard mentioned by guys many, many times, and it strikes at the heart of the conflict between masculinity and sensitivity that most (if not all) American men have to face. This culture glorifies the “Bad Boy,” and men are taught from an early age that being a man means being callous and aloof. Rape culture permeates through our society, teaching men that inducing women to have sex with them is a worthy goal.

On a personal level, every “nice guy” I know has experienced at least one situation in which a girl he liked picked an asshole over him. In fact, when I was younger, I did this all the time. I don’t know why women do it. But it happens. There’s no need to pretend that this isn’t an issue, because it is, and it should be addressed.

Finally–and this relates to a topic I’ll be addressing in a later post–the name “stfuconservatives” (means “shut the fuck up, conservatives,” for those who aren’t familiar with chatspeak) is just so damn wrong. How will progressives benefit from silencing those who disagree with us? Argument and debate not only causes us to strengthen our ability to defend our own views, but it also reminds us that we might not be right about everything, and that many different perspectives exist in the world. These perspectives should be valued, respected, and engaged with.

But back to my original point. What good, exactly, does it do to argue about who has it worse? Why can’t we acknowledge that even groups that we associate with privilege can have issues, and that different kinds of privilege operate in different social contexts? There are so many different kinds of prejudice and stereotypes.

For what it’s worth, I’m glad that I’m a woman, and I can act as kind and generous with men as I want without them relegating me to the status of friend (and nothing more). I’m glad that when it comes to dating, being the person I truly want to be–caring, sensitive, and witty–actually helps me get dates and find relationships, rather than hurting my chances.

Ultimately, I think it’s unfair to make any claims about who has it worse. Each of us sees the world through our particular lens. In terms of things like access to employment opportunities, salaries, historical discrimination, and reproductive justice, women undoubtedly have it worse. But how about being expected to get a job that can provide for a family? How about being drafted to fight in wars? How about being expected to show little emotion, to know how to do practical things around the house, to love sports and be athletic, to propose marriage?

Who has it worse is irrelevant. Let’s fight for social justice without trampling on any group, whether it’s traditionally “privileged” or not. What this comes down to is choosing to speak, write, and argue in ways that are inclusive, rather than exclusive. Like it or not, about half the world is men. There’s no need to make them feel like we don’t care about their viewpoints.

Coming Home

[TMI Warning]

This weekend I went home to Ohio, where my family lives. I hadn’t been home since winter vacation (I spent spring break in New York) so the time seemed ripe for a visit.

The drive was spectacular in that unspectacular way. I took the Megabus, sat on the upper level, and spent whatever time I didn’t spend sleeping looking out the window at the Midwestern landscape. I watched as it changed from the industrial utilitarianism of Chicago and northwestern Indiana to the vast fields, punctuated by lonely farmhouses and islands of fluffy deciduous trees, that I grew up with.

When I got to Ohio, I was stunned by how green it was. Green trees, fields, and shrubs stretched in every direction. I was reminded of how I felt three years ago, when I came home from a summer in Israel–I felt like I’d never seen so much of one color in my life.

Coming home has a certain routine. I greet my family, especially my little brother and sister, whose screams of “Mashaaaaa!” (my Russian name) are always followed very closely by screams of “iPaaaaaaaad!” (my iPad is possibly their favorite thing about me). Then I go through the house and take an inventory of everything that has changed since I was last there. My sister has a new car seat, a much bigger one. There are new drawings and school projects and children’s books lying around. My dad has been cleaning out the little closet under the stairs.

My room, though, is just as I left it, more of a museum than a space where someone actually lives. Every time I’m home, I make changes to it, because that’s the only way I can continue to believe that someone actually inhabits it. Usually I box up some relics of my old life and put them in the closet. This time was no exception.

Yet it’s impossible to avoid the reminders of the fact that I don’t belong here anymore. The first thing my dad said upon seeing me was that my outfit (leggings, boots, and a long, non-revealing top–de rigueur in Chicago) was an “outrage.” He repeated this point several times, saying that just because I could wear something in Chicago doesn’t mean I can wear it in Ohio. Then he said I look like a slut.

This was far from the first time I’ve felt this way here. Come to think of it, I’ve always felt painfully out of place in this little suburb. I was one of very few foreign-born students in my high school, and one of even fewer Jews. I didn’t know anyone else who had ever visited Israel, let alone lived there. I looked different, dressed different, talked and acted different.

I was the subject of much speculation and well-meaning humor. I’ve been called such epithets as “commu-Jew,” “Russian spy,” and “weird Jewish Russian flute player.” I’ve been asked all sorts of naive questions; ranging from the innocent, such as, “Have you ever tried wearing your hair straight?” (Yes, I have. It’s ugly. I am Jewish and my hair is meant to be curly) and “Which church do you go to?” (Um, actually, I don’t go to any church); to the simply ridiculous, such as, “Do they have cars in Israel?” (Yes, Israel has come a long way since biblical times).

(Or, as an addendum–do I like bagels? Do I like vodka? Do I party a lot? How much can I drink? How much can my parents drink? Do my parents belong to the Russian mafia? Are they spies? Political refugees? Do they keep nukes in the basement? Will my dad beat up any guy I bring home? And while we’re at it, why didn’t the Jews accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah?)

I also found myself struggling to explain my developing identity to those around me. Whenever I tried to tell my friends about my life in Israel, I was generally met with blank stares, because many of the people I knew had never even traveled outside of the United States, and some had never even left Ohio or the Midwest. When discussing my travel plans, I usually encountered dumbfounded confusion as to why I would ever want to go to “that place,” since American media tends to portray Israel as a war-torn wasteland. One friend’s mom, a well-meaning woman who treated me like family, asked me to consider not going to Israel anymore because, and I quote, “We want you to be safe with us.”

Everything I’ve mentioned above, I generally took in stride, often even with a laugh. But sometimes the ignorance drifted subtly (or not-so-subtly) into prejudice. A boy in my third-grade class called me a “stupid Jew” (an experience now shared, sadly, by my nine-year-old brother). When a high school friend jokingly insulted me and I got a bit defensive, he smugly suggested that perhaps my defensiveness has to do with my Israeli nationality. Somewhat more disturbingly, a close friend in high school began to tell me once that her mom considers me egotistical–here I wondered, How? She’s hardly even talked to me–but then my friend inserted the explanatory qualifier–because I’m Jewish.

Oh, okay then. Makes perfect sense now.

Whether harmless and funny or crude and prejudiced, the way people interpreted and responded to me when I lived in Ohio could only have told me one thing–you don’t belong here.

Chicago is a different story. People mostly couldn’t care less which country my passport comes from or which type of religious congregation I attend (or, in fact, whether or not I attend one at all, which by the way, I don’t). When I tell friends about my time in Israel, they say “That’s really cool” and tell me about studying in Argentina or traveling through China. Although prejudice of various sorts still exists, even here, I don’t know which is rarer–someone deciding that I’m “egotistical” because of my ethnicity, or feeling like enough of a smart-ass to tell me that their mother thinks so. For the first time in my life, I’ve met people my own age who share  bits and pieces of my culture, and my identity has become even stronger because of it.

And yet…and yet. How I love coming back to Ohio. I miss the greenness and simplicity of it, the friendliness of the people, the lack of noise and traffic. Sometimes I even miss the prevalence of lawn gnomes and pickup trucks. I love escaping the pace of the city, and the police sirens screaming past my window at all hours of day and night. And the girls in heels and sunglasses looking down their noses at me, and the men who try to say things to me on the street.

In Ohio I don’t have to feel bad that my shoes are from eBay and my perfume is from T.J. Maxx–because so is everyone else’s. Even the extra pounds on my body seem to melt away when I’m home, because the “fashionable” waifishness I encounter every two steps at Northwestern is, needless to say, very rare back home.

In Ohio, in other words, I’m a big fish in a small pond.

I used to hate Ohio and especially Beavercreek, the suburb where I lived. They represented everything I hated about the United States–the stifling conservatism, the ethnocentricity, and, on a less serious note, the complete and utter lack of things to do. But over time I’ve grown to appreciate this leafy town. It is, in its own small-minded way, comforting, familiar, and serene.

I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the world I’m coming home
Let the rain wash away
All the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits
And they’ve forgiven my mistakes
I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the world that I’m coming

Think of the Children

Being a 20-year-old college student, I don’t often write about issues relating to children. However, not only do I plan on having kids someday, but I also think that how our society relates to children is often a fascinating subject to study. Furthermore, some things just piss me off.

The subject of this post is both fascinating and infuriating. A blog I follow called Free Range Kids had a post several days ago describing a new law in the works in New Jersey:

We’re getting to the point where ANYTHING having to do with children is so fraught with inflated fears that we are going absolutely crazy. Consider this bill just introduced in the New Jersey state assembly: It would outlaw the photographing or videotaping of kids in situations in which “a reasonable parent or guardian would not expect his child to be the subject of such reproduction.”

According to the post, the reason for this new law is that last summer, a 63-year-old man was caught taking photos of (fully-clothed) girls because, according to him, he finds prepubescent girls “sexy.” While this is, of course, culturally unacceptable (not to mention pretty gross), does it really harm anyone? Is it really that much worse than a camera-less old man simply watching those girls and discreetly masturbating?

Furthermore, as the post mentions, this law would criminalize anyone who takes pictures of their kids in a sports game or at a birthday party, or anyone who takes artistic photographs in public places, which may include children. Since I’m basically my family’s unofficial photographer, I can definitely imagine how frustrating that would be.

I think the question these lawmakers need to ask is, how would this law make children safer? It does nothing to prevent pedophilia or childhood sexual abuse. Someone who has a strong enough sexual urge towards kids to do something like this is unlikely to be restrained by any law, especially when it’s so easy to take photos on the sly.

Ultimately, law-making is about balance. Laws should not cause way more trouble for law-abiding citizens than they’re worth, and this one definitely does.

Mea Culpa

mea cul·pa. Latin. through my fault; my fault (used as an acknowledgment of one’s responsibility).

Apologies have an interesting social function. I think that many people underestimate their power because they don’t necessarily “fix” the harm that was done, but in my opinion that’s an overly simplistic view of things.

Many people have trouble saying sorry. Some think that an apology is unnecessary if the harm done was accidental or unavoidable. (Possibly they also argue that accidental implies unavoidable.) Others think that there is no need to apologize if they believe they behaved correctly and that the other person should not have been offended or upset. There are also people who don’t believe in apologies because they don’t actually “fix” anything. And still others–the largest group, I believe–simply don’t like the feeling of apologizing, so they avoid it altogether.

But why? Maybe because apologizing puts you in a vulnerable position. It forces you to admit, implicitly or otherwise, that you were wrong. It forces you to confront the fact that your actions sometimes have unexpected negative consequences and that people often see your actions very differently than you do. It also opens up the possibility that the other person will reject your apology, and nobody likes rejection.

I definitely used to belong to this group of people. I hated apologizing. It felt crappy and even after I did it, I still felt like the other person was going to hold a grudge.

I’ve grown up since then, though, and now I give out apologies like some people give out hugs. I apologize for everything that I might’ve done wrong, from accidentally cutting someone off as we’re walking into a classroom to not answering a friend’s text in a timely way to seriously upsetting someone. I apologize even for things that many people don’t think require an apology. And it feels great. I feel like my respect and consideration is a gift, but unlike the gifts you buy, I can give out as much of this one as I want.

From this, and from the pain I feel when others don’t extend me the same courtesy I extend to them, I’ve started slowly figuring out exactly what the function of apology in human society is. It’s a social lubricant–and I don’t mean in the same way alcohol is. It’s a social lubricant in the sense that it keeps relationships going smoothly and provides a way for people to let each other know that they care about and respect each other. An apology rarely fixes the problem that it caused, but it lets the person who was harmed know that the other person still cares.

For instance, several weeks ago I posted something on Facebook that a friend of mine found offensive (it made fun of her future career) and she posted a really angry comment on it saying that she was offended. I honestly found her response completely overreactive and entirely too public. Nevertheless, I set that aside and acknowledged that she was upset and wrote her a message apologizing and explaining that I hadn’t meant to offend her. She responded with an apology for her overreaction and accepted mine. And everything went on just as it had before.

But if at any point during this interaction–if I’d decided that her overreaction absolved me from having to apologize, or if she’d decided that my apology retroactively justified her overreaction–then things wouldn’t have gone so well. In the first case, she would’ve been stuck with a grudge against me, and in the second, I would’ve felt taken advantage of, like my conscientiousness had simply been abused.

Apologizing is one thing that I believe I do very well, so it’s difficult to understand why others can’t do it too. Like listening, writing, and reading critically, it’s one of those skills that are lacking in American society. I think it’s because people fail to recognize the power that a simple apology can have, and I wish there were a way (aside from writing slightly presumptuous blog posts) to show them they’re wrong.

Should the Personal be Political?

I recently came across the site Does This Make Sense? and I already love it. It’s got a lot of intelligent, thoughtful commentary. One piece that I particularly liked is called “Hell, No. I Won’t Say No.” It concerns the idea that women who want to change their society should withhold sex from men until their wishes are fulfilled. Lorraine Berry writes:

In principle, choosing not to have heterosexual sex as a protest against policies that restrict women’s abilities to have autonomy over their bodies seems the ultimate in women’s power. It did, to some extent, work in the case of Liberia, where the brave women there forced their men to continue negotiating for peace by sitting naked outside the building where the negotiations were taking place.

Ultimately, though, Berry argues that this form of protest is not only ineffective but counterproductive for women who happen to enjoy sex (which is, I might argue, almost all of them). There are many problems with a “sex boycott, such as what gays and lesbians would do, and the fact that it almost seems to confirm right-wingers’ anti-sex campaign (no abortion, no contraception, no pornography, no comprehensive sex ed, no premarital sex, no non-hetero sex, and so on).

However, I have another problem with it, and it involves the concept of “the personal is political.”

Here I’m going to just be a bad feminist and say that I disagree with this principle. Of course, I do believe that people should live according to their values (political ones included), but I cannot condone manipulating personal relationships for the sake of one’s politics. Unless your partner is personally overseeing the campaign to take control of women’s bodies, it’s completely unreasonable, not to mention unethical, to punish him for the actions of certain other members of his gender. (This is not even to mention that I cannot imagine a feminist woman dating an anti-feminist man to begin with.)

And, in general, I don’t think that politics should direct one’s personal life. If I choose to date a woman, it’ll be because I like her, not because I want to make a political statement about bisexuality. If I choose to date someone of a different race, it’ll be because I like him/her, not because I want to make a political statement about interracial dating. In contrast, the so-called “political lesbianism” movement advocated choosing to be a lesbian for political purposes. How is this an authentic way of living?

Of course, sometimes the personal becomes political, as when an anti-gay politician is revealed to be having same-sex relations, or when people speculate on whether or not Elena Kagan is a lesbian. In the first case, although people may bristle at the obvious hypocrisy, I think being anti-gay is bad enough regardless of what one does in his spare time (and sending inappropriate messages to teens is bad enough regardless of their gender). As for the second, most would agree that it shouldn’t matter. The fact that people make it matter is the crux of the problem.

So, is the personal political? Maybe, but it shouldn’t be. In my opinion, personal relationships are a sort of refuge from the outside world. I don’t bring politics into the bedroom, just like I wouldn’t bring my cell phone or my laptop or God into it.