Abortion: OK for Others, Not for Me

I used to be a rabid social conservative. This was due mostly to spending most of my childhood in a suburb in Ohio surrounded by other rabid social conservatives. Consequently, I used to think that abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape because I equated it with murder and thought that everyone else should too.

As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I am now pretty much as progressive as they come and think that abortion should be legal in basically any circumstance.

However, this is not to say that my views on the subject are simple. Personally, for reasons that I’m unsure of and am still examining, I believe that life begins at conception, and I define a fetus as a living human being. By my definition, abortion is murder.

So how could I support a woman’s right to choose to abort her fetus, especially given that I do not condone murdering anybody once they’ve been born?

The simple answer is: ambiguity. Nobody really knows when life begins. I feel like it begins at conception, but this is a belief, not an educated opinion. This is why I emphasize the fact that I “feel” or “believe” this; I do not think it or know it. Others may feel or believe differently, and I cannot impose my feelings and beliefs on others.

In contrast, there’s really no doubt that a human being that has left the womb is alive, and that killing such a person is murder (with exceptions, of course, for assisted suicide and removal of life support). This is why, contrary to pro-lifers’ ridiculous arguments, legalizing abortion is not tantamount to legalizing murder. Since no amount of scientific research can tell us when life technically begins, this is all open to interpretation by individuals, which means that abortion should be something people are free to choose.

As for my own views, I’m still trying to figure out where they come from. My family is very much pro-choice, and we are not religious, so it’s nothing to do with that. People who are more liberal than myself might suggest that I’ve been brainwashed by the surrounding culture, but that’s a spurious claim given that the surrounding culture has largely failed to brainwash me on any other subject.

That said, if I ever do become unintentionally pregnant, I will probably have to choose abortion, because destroying my entire life is at least as unpalatable a prospect as is killing a fetus. And then I’ll have to live with a huge amount of cognitive dissonance and probably force myself to change my views on when life begins in order to resolve it.

In any case, I guess this makes me the complete opposite of all those social conservatives who claim that abortion is okay for them/their wives, but not for others. I think it’s okay for others but not for me, because it conflicts with my beliefs. Maybe that will change someday.

The Trivialization of Mental Illness

I’m reading a very interesting novel called The Four Fingers of Death. It’s somewhat science-fiction, with a distinctly Vonnegut-esque tone to it–very sarcastic and cynical. The story takes place in the 2020s, and the author, Rick Moody, gives several hints as to the general milieu of the future. Few people have cars as gas is very hard to come by, India and China are dominating the world, and paper books are mostly a thing of the past. One little detail that the narrator mentions several times–a detail that most readers would skim over, but that the author undoubtedly meant to make a point with–was the 8th version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Currently the DSM is in its fourth version–DSM-IV–but the DSM-V is in the works. However, in the world in which Four Fingers takes place, the DSM-VIII has medicalized all sorts of everyday issues, such as a disdain for hygiene (“aggravated hydrophobia with hygiene avoidance”), opening a game of chess in an unusual way, being rude to waitstaff, and speaking unusually (“conversational pseudo-uremia”). What completely got me, though, was when the narrator diagnosed a new friend with “mixed caffeine obsession with chronic caffeine dependence” when–get this–the friend suggested that they meet up at a coffee shop!

The author’s point, of course, is easy to see. It’s a satire of the supposed overdiagnosis of mental disorders even today, and of the presence of useless and non-clinical “disorders” in the DSM. As in, hahaha, at the way things are going, soon we’ll call not showering a mental disorder! To this point, the narrator of the story mentions that everyone has been diagnosed with a mental disorder these days. The way he talked about the DSM–”I flip through it looking for symptoms I have yet to contract”–makes this attitude even clearer. Through his satire, Moody implies that mental illnesses are not something to be taken seriously.

Forgive me for making a big deal out of a (probably insignificant) novel, but this mindset right here–that mental disorders are just some sort of farce invented by people yearning for attention for their minuscule problems–this is what’s responsible for one of the biggest threats to adequate mental healthcare in America. I’ll attack this mindset point-by-point.

First of all, contrary to popular opinion, “everyone” does not have a mental disorder these days. I’m sure you’ve heard someone comment, perhaps after hearing of another person’s diagnosis with a disorder, something to the effect of, “Oh, lord, everyone’s popping pills for something these days!” No. Everyone is not popping pills for something these days. Many people do, at some point in their lives, take medication for a mental issue. But most psychotropic medications are meant as temporary solutions while the person works on their problems in therapy or on his/her own. People aren’t meant to take them for their whole lives.

And even if every single person in this country does, at one point or another, take psychotropic medication, that doesn’t mean much on its own. Almost everyone takes drugs for colds or headaches at some point, but nobody seriously advocates against this. I use the word “seriously” carefully here–a radical diet book I came across recently, Skinny Bitch, claims that we should basically never take medication for anything. It says, “Yeah, getting cramps totally sucks. It’s supposed to. Every month you endure cramps (without medication), you are preparing for the physical pain of childbirth. So suck it up. Stop interfering with Mother Nature.” Pardon my coarseness, but I actually nearly crapped myself when I read this. What?!

Most of us are glad that with things like modern surgical techniques, dentistry, drugs, and diagnostic tools (like x-rays and blood tests), we now live happier, healthier lives. Before these things were developed, people had 40-year lifespans and got all kinds of gruesome illnesses. Similarly, back in the good ol’ days, people with mental disorders either spent their lives in misery, got committed to mental asylums, or simply offed themselves, depending on the nature of the disorder. If we can prevent that by having “everyone pop pills,” so be it–at least until we can find a better solution.

Second, the fact that some mental disorders may be overdiagnosed does not mean that every diagnosis is illegitimate. Some parents, for instance, push for their children to be prescribed medication for ADHD in order to help them get ahead in school, even if they do not actually have ADHD. It should be noted that there are standard screening procedures for this disorder that ensure that people are diagnosed correctly. If a parent gets their child to somehow cheat the screening tests, or if an unscrupulous doctor prescribes medication even though the child doesn’t fit the diagnostic criteria, well, guess what–these people are being unethical. That does not mean that ADHD isn’t a legitimate disorder that many people–adults included–legitimately suffer from.

Furthermore, although some people probably do “imagine” their disorders and seek treatment in order to get attention, I should point out that this can only be a minority. There is nothing at all pleasant or fulfilling about spending hundreds of dollars, taking medications that give you really crappy side effects, and telling a complete stranger about the most shameful aspects of your life. This is not fun. Anyone who invents a mental illness and seeks treatment for it as a way to entertain themselves is an idiot.

I should also point out that even though some people do falsify their problems and some psychiatrists do overprescribe, this is a general trend that you can’t really apply to individual people. Unless you are a psychiatrist, you are simply not qualified to judge whether or not a particular person’s problem is “real” enough to merit treatment. Everyone told me there was “nothing wrong” with me and that I should stop being a crybaby, until it got so bad that my daydreams changed from imagining that cute guy from class asking me out to imagining which method of suicide is most effective. Don’t be the person who trivializes someone else’s illness. Just don’t do it.

Third, Moody suffers from the mistaken assumption–shared by many people–that the trend in the field of mental health is for increasingly insignificant and non-clinical problems to be classified as mental disorders. With this view in mind, it’s easy to see how the author could come up with the hypothesis that in 20 years, a disinclination to take showers could be considered a clinical disorder.

However, if there’s any trend here at all, it’s in the opposite direction. For instance, premenstrual dysphoric disorder–more commonly known as PMS–was in the DSM until the revision of the DSM-III in 1987. Much earlier, in the 19th century, women who suddenly showed a strong desire to have sex were labeled with the diagnosis of “hysteria.” The cure? An orgasm. (This diagnosis was also a catch-all term for any medical complaint made by a woman. Obviously, it’s not longer considered a disorder.)

Finally, I’m pretty sure that nobody who has this author’s opinion of the DSM has actually looked at one. I’m no DSM expert, but I’ve looked through it a number of times, and I can tell you that very few of the disorders listed in it seem trivial to me. (There are disorders that shouldn’t be there, perhaps, but for different reasons. For instance, gender identity disorder, which refers to a very strong feeling that one has been born into the wrong sex, is probably in the DSM because psychologists have assumed that it leads to a lot of distress and problems for the person who has it. Before it was possible to change one’s biological sex, that was probably true. But today, it has become clear that if a person who’s “suffering from GID” is able to change their sex, things get better. The remaining problems are caused more by society’s lack of acceptance for trans* people than by their psychological makeup.)

However, Moody is echoing the prevailing cultural sentiment that mental disorders are nothing but insignificant little problems that people have in their daily lives. If this were true, popping pills to solve these problems would indeed seem pretty silly. However, it’s not true, and unfortunately for those of us who have to struggle to find adequate mental healthcare and to get friends and family to accept and understand that struggle, people like Moody are busy spreading this misconception around through various media–in this case, a satirical novel.

Contrary to what Moody seems to think, recognized mental disorders cause significant problems in daily living, relationships, and work. Some involve hallucinations or delusional beliefs. Some involve uncontrollable episodes of panic, which are said to feel somewhat like heart attacks. Some cause people to be unable to experience pleasure from anything they do (this is called anhedonia). Some cause people to become so preoccupied with cleanliness, order, and performing particular rituals that they are literally unable to go through the day without taking care of these things. Some keep people from getting a good night’s sleep–ever. Some cause people to try to throw up every bit of food they eat, or stop eating altogether. Some cause people to want to kill themselves.

Do you see anything trivial here? I don’t.

Things Not to Say to a Depressed Person

[Snark Warning, TMI Warning]

You would think that most people have this depression thing figured out by now. Almost everyone knows at least one person who has it. And by depression, I’m referring to major depressive disordernot feeling sad, not having the blues, not going through a breakup or divorce, not losing your job, not having PMS. Major depressive disorder.

Anyway, apparently some people still aren’t clear on how to deal with a friend or family member who’s depressed, so I’ve written this list of things not to say to them. Seriously, please don’t say these things.

  • Why are you so miserable all the time? Would you like a detailed description of my brain chemistry? No? Then don’t ask this question. Also, quit it with that annoying mildly-offended tone. My emotions aren’t a personal attack on your values.
  • You know, I was depressed once, but I just pulled myself out of it. You know what, good for you. I’m truly happy that you were able to do that. But not everyone can, ok?
  • Stop being so sensitive. Lower your blood pressure! Now! Can’t do it? Wow, you’re so lazy, relying on doctors and medications to help you do something the rest of us can do ourselves.
  • But what could you possibly have to be depressed about? Depression isn’t “about” anything. It just is.
  • You’re just trying to make my life difficult. Actually, I’m just trying to get by and stop wanting to kill myself. Your life is quite honestly the last thing on my mind right now.
  • You just need to get a boyfriend/get out more/exercise/eat better/sleep more/take herbal pills/get laid/do art. Actually, yeah, tried all those. Let’s leave the medical advice to my doctor, shall we?
  • Why can’t you just go out and have fun with us? Because I get exhausted starting at 7 PM, because you and your friends bore me, because I don’t want to be asked why I’m not smiling all night, and because being depressed isn’t like going through a breakup–it can’t be solved by drinking or dancing or having sex with random people.
  • But you’re so young! Ahhh, this one always gets me. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers and college-age adults, right behind car accidents and homicide. So clearly I’m not exactly the first young person in the history of human society to be depressed.
  • You just need to learn how to control your emotions. Yes, that’s what therapy’s for. Thanks for the protip, though.
  • Why do you have to ruin everyone’s mood all the time? Because you’re letting your mood be ruined by the fact that someone in your vicinity has an illness. Also, if you’re so concerned about your mood, imagine what it’s like to live inside my mind 24/7.
  • Smile! Or else what? Will I fail to do my duty by Brightening Someone’s Day? Are you offended by my neutral facial expression?

Now, a disclaimer: this post was meant more for the purpose of humor (a sense of which I do, believe it or not, have) than anything else. So don’t get on my case for hating on healthy people. However, if someone you care about has depression, you might want to take my suggestions into account. Saying stuff like this only makes people with depression want to isolate themselves from you every more than they already do. Might earn you a dirty look, too.

So, now that you know what not to say to a depressed person, you might be wondering what you should say to a depressed person. Look out for a post regarding that.

The Art of Looking Good

When I’m applying for jobs or scholarships, I’m often reminded to twist the wording on my resumes, cover letters, and applications (not even to mention interviews) to make myself and my experiences look better than they actually are.

I’ve never really stopped to think about how this makes me feel, but I’ll do so now.

Lying is unethical, in my opinion. So is intentionally misrepresenting the truth, which is what you do when you “word things differently,” as they say. I’ve just realized how shameful it is in my mind that being employable and successful in our society is based on our ability to paint ourselves in brighter hues than we really deserve to be painted in.

This summer, I’ll be volunteering at a summer camp for kids in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan, where I’ll probably be doing stuff like arts and crafts with them. The idea of the camp is to promote health and mental wellness, though I don’t see how that’s really what I’m doing. I’ll basically be playing games with some kids from the city. But how will it go on my resume? “Volunteered at a day camp for underprivileged children of recent immigrants in north Manhattan, teaching them about health and mental wellness.”

Yeah, something like that.

And I’ll probably mention something about how I turned down a job that would’ve paid me $2,600 for this opportunity.

And here’s the kicker—nobody’s going to ask me what I actually did with these kids. Nobody’s going to go check five or ten years down the line to see if any of my interventions actually did any good in preventing them from developing illnesses like diabetes and depression. Nobody’s going to ask these kids if they enjoyed their time with me. Chances are, nobody’s even going to ask for a recommendation from my supervisor.

But I still get to put this crap on my resume like it’s such an amazing thing that I did. Me, privileged white girl from Ohio, helping these poor little immigrant children learn how to stay healthy, all for no pay. Commuting an hour there and back each day from Queens! In the summer heat! Oh, and working for my parents for a whole month after that to pay them back for sending me there.

This is what I call the art of looking good. It’s how we get into schools like Northwestern and get the sort of jobs that we’ll all be getting afterwards. Playing this game makes me sick. The thought that I, a person who loves to write and understands the power of words, am twisting them around so casually to get ahead in life, disgusts me.

I’m not naive enough to opt out of this game, because I do want to be successful in life, and clearly that’s what it takes these days. But I play this game halfheartedly, and I protest against it and buckle under its weight every agonizing step of the way.

I wish I could’ve written on my college application that, you know what, the prestigious internship I did in Israel the summer before senior year of high school was awful. I learned nothing except that I hate doing scientific research and I hate religion. I also learned that the sacrifices I made to be able to go there were all for nothing. I didn’t make any friends there. I did learn a bit about my native country, but not much, and nothing I couldn’t have learned by touring the country with my dad, which would’ve been significantly more fun.

But that’s not at all what I wrote on my college application, or else I very well might not be sitting in this Northwestern dorm right now.

Nobody wants to hear about my failures, no matter how much they taught me. Like when they ask you about your weaknesses in a job interview, they don’t really want to know that sometimes the amount of work you have makes you cry, or that sometimes you check Facebook at work, or that several times you accidentally made a comment to a coworker that might be interpreted as racist. They want to know that you have some minuscule barely-significant flaw, but don’t worry, you’re working on it!

Likewise, if I end this summer feeling like I accomplished nothing with these kids, nobody wants to know that, so that’s not what’ll go on my resume. My resume will say that I taught. I helped. I volunteered. Never, ever will it say that I failed. Even if I do.

America: Still a Puritan Country

An apology that shouldn't be necessary.

Among the many things that disgust me about American culture, such as the spectacle of parents shoving McNuggets down their kids’ throats and of people desperately trying to get famous by releasing moronic YouTube videos or starring on any one of numerous TV shows meant just for this purpose, one thing that always gets me is the image of a politician or athlete standing in front of a microphone in a room full of reporters and apologizing for his (or her, but it’s almost always a man) personal sexual choices.

I don’t understand this about American culture. I’ve lived here for twelve years now, and I still don’t understand it. Why is it that someone we value for his contributions to politics (or sports or acting or whatever) must also be a pinnacle of human achievement and morality in every possible regard? Why can’t we realize that people are never perfect?

I am completely shocked by the fact that people are now calling for Rep. Weiner’s resignation. Does his sex life affect his ability to make laws? No? Then there’s no reason for him to resign.

Cheating is “bad.” But so is, arguably, driving SUVs, yelling at family members, and being a Buckeyes fan, for instance. Granted, these things are less “bad” then cheating. So how do we decide what’s bad enough to warrant asking someone to resign from their position?

One argument that I hear a lot is that prominent figures are “role models” for our nation’s children and should therefore be held responsible for their personal misdeeds. Well, with Weiner, this may not exactly be relevant, but it certainly applies to other notables whose sex life has become a matter of public record, such as Tiger Woods. As much as I doubt that a little kid who loves sports and strives to imitate Tiger’s dedication to his game would also choose to mimic his dalliances with strippers or whatever they were, I do think this can be a teachable moment. A parent could explain to their kid that sometimes people who are really great at some things make mistakes when it comes to other things, or that sometimes being really talented and famous makes people do bad things. Can we move on now?

Another argument I hear is that the problem isn’t necessarily the sexting thing, but the fact that he lied about it. Well, why shouldn’t he? It’s his business. Saying “no comment” amounts to admitting it’s true, so the only option is to lie. If I did something that I know my friends would disapprove of, and they start asking me if I did that thing or not, I would undoubtedly say no. Because it’s my business.

When it comes to apologies, there is only one person that Weiner should apologize to–his wife. The rest of America should not require an apology from him for something that’s none of their business. I don’t need his apology.

If nothing else, the reaction to the Weiner scandal–actually, the fact that it was even a scandal to begin with–shows that the Puritans who founded this country must be smiling down upon us from heaven, because we’ve proudly continued on their legacy. In this country, if you’re a prominent figure and you do one bad thing, you are a Bad Person, and you must apologize to the entire nation, resign from your position, and live out the rest of your days in quiet solitude, pondering your sins.

If Weiner resigns, I know that I personally will be extremely disappointed. Not only because we’ve lost a member of government who might’ve done some good, but because this sets a precedent–a person who broke no laws and committed no crimes can be forced to lose his job just because we don’t consider him “moral” enough.

Winter/Summer

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s already summer.

The signs are all there–I can wear my favorite clothes again, I keep my windows open, and the humid air envelops me and makes me feel safe, even at night. There are packing boxes everywhere and the dorms are slowly emptying out…

But in my mind, I’m stuck in January, when everything fell apart again. The heat outside can’t touch that feeling.

I wish I could pack that into one of my cardboard boxes and send it all away.

There is a quote by Albert Camus that I love, and that has provided me with a lot of inspiration along the way: “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

Well, for me, at least right now, it’s the opposite.

Fatism and Going to Extremes

Discrimination against fat people is a problem. People who are overweight are often judged to be less competent, less intelligent, and more lazy–not to mention less attractive–than people who are of a “normal” weight. They face discrimination in the workplace, and there are some jobs for which they are unlikely to ever be hired at all.

It’s only natural, then, that a movement has sprung up to combat “fatism”–and that’s awesome. What bothers me, however, is the tendency of anti-fatism activists to deny the fact that being severely overweight has negative effects on one’s health. I hear a lot of “weight has nothing to do with health” arguments these days, and this sort of denialism is simply dangerous. Obesity is a problem in America, and it does put you at increased risk for a lot of health problems, such as:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • type 2 diabetes
  • sleep apnea
  • breast and colon cancer
  • osteoarthritis
Given that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, I feel like its prevention is something that should be taken seriously.

Regardless, denying these health problems does not help anyone, and admitting that being obese is unhealthy is not tantamount to justifying discrimination against obese individuals. After all, one’s health is one’s own business, and not taking care of your body shouldn’t result in being discriminated against.

It worries me when social movements respond to a problem in society (such as fatism) by taking the extreme opposite view. This happens a lot with progressives. For instance, noticing that our society has pervasive and restrictive gender roles, some claim that gender is entirely socially constructed and has no basis in biology whatsoever. (Apparently these people never noticed that men and women do actually have at least one very noticeable biological difference.) Some note that homophobia is rampant in society, so they insist that heterosexuality is actually constructed and unnatural, and that same-sex relations are the only “genuine” ones. Similarly, some people think that because discrimination against fat people exists and discrimination is wrong, therefore, there is nothing whatsoever bad or unhealthy or in any way undesirable about being overweight.

But being fat isn’t the same as being part of other marginalized groups, such as being a woman, being gay, being transgender, or being Black. No reputable scientific study has ever found that being gay or transgender is in any way unhealthy or abnormal (except, of course, in the statistical sense). No reputable scientific study has ever found that women or African Americans are inferior in any way to men or Caucasians. But our entire body of medical evidence shows that being severely overweight comes with significant hazards to your health. This is something that is simply true. Regardless of whether you think BMI is a good measure of obesity, and regardless of how easy or difficult it is for you to lose weight, being obese is unhealthy. Does this mean that discrimination against fat people is okay? Hell no. But it does mean that obesity is something that should be discouraged.

Incidentally, some of the things that anti-fatism activists consider discrimination simply aren’t. For instance, when airlines ask obese people to buy two seats, guess what–it’s not because they just don’t like obese people. It’s because if your body requires more than one seat, then you should have more than one seat–in which case, it follows that you should pay for more than one seat, because it wouldn’t be fair to give some people a second seat for free. Furthermore, it would be unfair for a person who paid for a seat to effectively receive only half a seat because the person sitting next to them clearly requires part of theirs. Does it suck to have to pay more to fly if you’re fat? Yes. But in that case, lobby for airlines to make seats bigger, not to give you permission to use half of another customer’s seat.

Also, companies that provide incentives for their employees to exercise/get down to a healthy weight/whatever are not being fatist. They’re doing two things: 1) encouraging their employees to be healthier, and 2) saving themselves money by reducing lost productivity due to medical problems and by reducing the amount they have to pay as insurance. Fact: being healthier and not obese reduces medical expenditures. Similarly, doctors who recommend that their obese patients lose weight are not being fatist. They are being doctors. I am terrified of the day when doctors are prevented from dispensing sound, evidence-based medical advice for fear of offending someone.

Regardless, it is, in fact, quite possible to discourage obesity without promoting eating disorders, obsessive dieting and exercising, and holding oneself to an impossible standard of beauty, as the mass media does. Conflating  efforts to discourage obesity with efforts to promote unhealthy behaviors or stigmatize fat people is intellectually lazy. There is, for every issue, a solution that is healthy, reasonable, and benefits the greatest possible number of people. Just because that solution is extremely hard to find doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s there, and I can guarantee that it is almost never at one extreme or the other. It’s usually somewhere in the middle.

What Does Drinking Have to do with Feminism?

Well, for most feminist bloggers, the answer seems to be absolutely nothing.

An article at the Frisky called Why Being Drunk is a Feminist Issue is causing quite a stir in the blogosphere. The article makes an argument that I have attempted to make numerous times–although rape is always the fault of the rapist and not the person who’s being raped, no matter what that person was wearing or doing or drinking at the time, the unfortunate reality is that we live in a world where rape still happens–and alcohol makes rape more likely. The Frisky article puts it like this:

In an ideal world, rape wouldn’t exist. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter how much a woman had to drink, what she was wearing, or what overtures she had given—no man would ever consider sex without explicit consent and would recognize that anyone who is deeply intoxicated is unable to give consent. But we don’t live in that world. Unfortunately, short of some Herculean sensitivity raising effort, we do not have control over what men, drunk or sober, will do when presented with our drunkeness. What we do have control over is our side of the equation—how much we drink.

Of course, this suggestion always has the effect of immediately infuriating virtually all feminists. How dare they suggest that there are things women can do to prevent themselves from getting raped? We should be able to walk alone down a street at 4 AM wearing nothing but stilettos!

Yes. Yes, you should. I absolutely agree. I will wholeheartedly support any initiative that aims to stop rapists from being rapists. And I absolutely agree that rapists should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law regardless of how the victim was acting, what she (or he) was wearing, or how much she (or he) had had to drink.

But the truth is that, as the Frisky article says, you can’t control what other people do. You can only control what you do.

However, I’ll set that entire argument aside for a moment, because I know I really can’t win this one. The feminist blogs have slapped it with the label “victim blaming,” from which there is no coming back. (Which, incidentally, really pisses me off, because the writer says numerous times throughout the post that she does not think it’s a woman’s fault if she’s drunk and gets raped, and that she fully blames the man and that he should be prosecuted. Yet all the responses to this I’ve read insist on claiming that the author blames the victim. People. You cannot respond intelligently to a blog post if you refuse to even take the original blogger at his/her word. That’s just intellectually dishonest. Respond to what’s written, not to what you feel should be written there based on other things the author says. There are nuances, for heaven’s sake.)

Anyway, there is another reason why drinking (by which I mean, drinking to the point that you’re intoxicated) might not be compatible with feminism, and it involves the concept of choice.

To me, feminism has always been all about choice. Feminism is a philosophy that empowers women to choose–choose what job to have, whether to date/marry/have kids, and what to wear, for instance. It follows that choosing who to sleep with is a power that women should also have.

But getting very drunk takes choice away from you. It can make you do things that you wouldn’t do while sober, and that you regret later. It makes you more agreeable, less likely to fight back, less likely to speak up. Sure, a drunk person legally can’t give consent, but who draws the line between can and can’t? Where is that line? What happens when you consent to something that you later realize you shouldn’t have consented to?

Furthermore, it’s a well-known fact that some men actively try to use alcohol as a weapon. Fraternities reserve the “good stuff” for the most attractive girls, and who hasn’t seen a man in a bar enthusiastically buying more and more drinks for a woman he wants to get with?

Not all of these men are rapists. But they know that being drunk can induce someone to think they want something that, deep down, they don’t really want. If alcohol makes you consent to sex that you wouldn’t consent to otherwise, that’s a problem. If being drunk takes the power of choice away from women, then yes, being drunk is absolutely a feminist issue.

Why I Criticize Liberals and Not Conservatives

For someone who identifies as liberal and progressive, I certainly spend an odd amount of time criticizing fellow liberals and progressives. Unlike other bloggers of my general type, I don’t do all those muckraking-type posts detailing the latest scandalous Fox News segment or hypocritical Republican politician’s speech. Instead, I prefer to rip on people that I mostly agree with. Why is this?

Several reasons. First of all, getting my panties in a wad over some stupid conservative comment takes very little intelligence, and I prefer to utilize my intelligence as much as I can. The typical liberal kvetch-post usually goes something like this: “Well surprise surprise! [Insert Republican candidate here] gave a speech in [insert small conservative town here] yesterday and claimed that ‘good Christians’ should not allow gay couples to go to prom! It never ceases to amaze me how vile these Republicans are!” Or: “Last night [insert Fox News talk show host here] claimed on his show that people on welfare are ‘dirty rats pilfering our hard-earned money.’ Perhaps he should try living on welfare for a while!”

Okay, I exaggerate, but hopefully you see my point. It’s just that it takes no mental energy whatsoever to criticize people and ideas that are so ludicrous. For instance, today in Salon: talk show host Sean Hannity thinks Sesame Street is an attack on “family values” (whatever the hell that means these days), and Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) apparently thinks that the US should support Israel so that the Jews can rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and Christ can return. Um, okay.

Now, what Salon (and the liberal blogosphere in general) does with their time and webspace is their own business, but one has to wonder why so many intelligent writers would would want to waste their energy railing against the likes of Hannity and Bachmann and the rest of that entire cadre of shockingly brainless people. Because, really, what is there to actually say about the two links I just mentioned, aside from the fact that they are really stupid?

Meanwhile, most of the intelligent conservative perspectives that I’ve encountered unfortunately involve economics. For instance, Northwestern’s president, Morton Schapiro, refuses to implement a living wage for workers in dining halls, housekeeping, and etc. because he thinks this idea is economically unsound–and he’s a well-known, respected economist. No matter how much I’d love to see a living wage on campus, I can respect his opinion.

However, one little problem–I know absolutely nothing about economics, and I am prevented from learning more by the fact that I find it insufferably boring. So not only am I completely unqualified to even try to argue with the likes of Dr. Shapiro, I also have little desire to do so. (Likewise, it seems, with most liberals. The Living Wage Campaign at Northwestern, for instance, has insisted on using passion and emotion to fuel its arguments, even though President Shapiro, when asked what would convince him to implement a living wage, answered, “Good arguments.” Meaning, of course, arguments that are evidence-based and rational.)

As for why criticizing liberals is a good idea, that should be self-evident. I care deeply about seeing the causes I care about succeed. Sometimes, however, I feel that people are going about them in the wrong ways. For instance:

Incidentally, there are just so many types of privilege now. White privilege, male privilege, class privilege, heterosexual privilege, cis privilege, abled privilege, thin privilege, even vanilla privilege! A veritable buffet of privileges. For the record, I do believe privilege exists, in a way. But I don’t think it’s worth talking about, because bitching and moaning about it and yelling at people you disagree with about how they can’t “see past their privilege” contributes nothing useful to the larger discourse on social justice. I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t. All it does is alienate people that you might have otherwise persuaded.

I’m getting really off-topic now, but another quick comment about privilege–although this is a matter of semantics, I think it’s much more useful to view non-privileged people as disadvantaged rather than viewing privileged people as “privileged.” After all, we don’t want everyone to lose privileges like not being accused of stealing, being paid fair wages, and being able to easily find the right hair care products. Rather, we want everyone to have these privileges. So rather than implying that it’s somehow “bad” that I, as a white woman rather than a black one, can walk into a store and not be followed by a salesperson, we should be implying that it’s completely wrong that a black woman would be followed while a white one would not. Different emphasis entirely. I know any progressive would agree with me on this, and yet they persist on using language that problematizes the privileges that some of us have rather than the disadvantages that others face. The privileges I have as a middle-class, cisgender white person are privileges everyone should have. The privileges that heterosexual men have are privileges that I should have. And so on.

Back to the point. This is why, in most of the posts where I’m explicitly criticizing something, I generally propose some alternatives–organizing a protest rather than personally boycotting a store, finding a healthy balance between work and love rather than sacrificing one for the other, and so on. I hope that by doing this I have shown that I do actually care about finding solutions rather than simply criticizing things. I get a lot of satisfaction from identifying ways that things are being done wrong and suggesting ways to do them better.

But bloggers who endlessly chronicle the bon mots of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh are doing absolutely nothing productive. I’ve always believed that a “good blog” is one that contributes something meaningful to the world rather than simply chronicling things that piss off its author.