I have two older brothers; and now that I look back on it, they taught me more about gender equality than any one else.
I'm suffering from the flu today; I have no voice, very little energy and have to stop typing every ten minutes or so because it's exhausting. I'm still writing because being sick is also incredibly boring and I'm a little behind. This completely unnecessary paragraph is my way of explaining how loose and possibly unintelligible this article might be.
Our concepts about what is masculine or feminine are largely shaped by our culture, and while gender is fluid, I find it hard to believe we don't inherently assign certain traits to each, at the very least on a social level. It seems like nature: people have ten fingers and ten toes, eyes and lips and limbs; man-people are built one way and woman-people are built another. We make distinctions by default because it's available to us and we're allowed to scrutinize. Blah blah blah, insert evolutionary psychological sentiment here. I've had a lot of cough medicine today.
It stands to reason that we continue this scrutiny both psychologically and socially; that man-people behave one way and woman-people behave another. Women are often thought of as emotional and chatty, and all men are secretly Don Draper while that reference still has some crumbs of relevance. If not; they're level headed, rarely emotional, rational beings. The separation between rationality and emotion we have in the US is appalling but to be spoken of some other time.
Where am I going with this? Sexism. So we learn to treat each other based off of these cultural assumptions of what men and women are like. Once you're released from your childhood into the adult world, you're forced to figure out what all these googly eyed motherfuckers are staring at and how you're supposed to talk to them.
We develop rifts as to what masculinity and femininity mean based on the roles they're assigned; Mother, Daughter, Sister was all women had for awhile. Men had Father, Son, Brother but they also had Doctor, Lawyer, and Guy Who Makes More Than You. Slowly though, we're working on bringing those roles to equilibrium. How long is that gonna take? Only the Moon Rabbits know. The point is we're trying.
Inevitably, as something becomes more acceptable, people become lost in the echo chamber, and utterly valid points suddenly seem like overblown arguments that aren't relevant any more because we see them 'all over the place' (IE our own facebook feed and nowhere else). We see this with the slow integration of anything; the lingering cries against racism and sexism are brushed off by many as the outcry of a few people who simply fail to accept that the fight is over and they're shouting only to hear themselves.
This includes bringing to light things that happen that people don't want to acknowledge are happening. For example, campaigns like Yes All Women made the uncomfortable point that rape and molestation can occur from any man in a woman's life; that's not saying every man wants to rape a woman; it's not accusing perfectly normal individuals of being monsters, it's acknowledging the very uncomfortable truth that it can happen by any one in our life, coworkers, friends, even boyfriends or family. You think that makes a dude uncomfortable, think about how it makes us feel. It's like Ratatouille but fucked up; Not every man is a rapist, but a rapist can be in any man.
Masculinity and Femininity have traits that are almost intrinsically associated with the words; Masculinity harbors aggression, femininity harbors sensitivity. We view the opposite sex through these ideals of what their gender represents. While this may not be a groundbreaking view, it's weird that we still seem to minimize our attention to the very common instances of these gender tropes being broken. There are many confident, aggressive women; there are also men who are sensitive and desire intense dialogue about what they're feeling. We all know this happens, but for some reason, we tend to be dismissive of it and reclaim the tropes anyways, consciously or unconsciously.
Growing up I was a tomboy. I wanted to be just like my older brothers. I remember being given dolls and losing interest in them quickly. I liked animals and playing in trees. I never really picked up on things that were feminine, and it wasn't a huge influence on my upbringing. I never had large circles of female friends, which never bothered me. For that matter, I never had large circles of friends so I think by comparison it wasn't much of a shocker. I picked up a lot of my influence (including being a fifth grader whose first CD purchase was Portishead Dummy) from my brothers; they taught me a lot about how to be human.
The cool thing about having siblings is you get to see the opposite gender in a completely desexualized context; it's not "men are from mars, women are from venus", it's "we're from earth and going to be in this minivan for the next eight hours." Growing up, I never saw their reactions to things and thought, "that's what boys do, and I'm a girl so that's why I do things differently" We were all just little people running around and figuring shit out.
As I got older, I got to see how my brothers were hurt by women. I got to see how they retaliated. I saw how their relationships formed and deteriorated and it appeared to have little to do with who had which sex organ. They were people, their respective girlfriends were people, and as they grew and changed they went through the same experiences I would later find myself going through. Masculinity wasn't some off putting toxic thing, it was just a different way the cards got shuffled. The fact that attached to it are certain privileges and attitudes shouldn't be ignored, but neither should the fact modern men can acknowledge it as an issue even if they don't know what to do about it.
I didn't meet too many strong women until much later in my life and it's been a great addition; I'm challenged on things and in ways I would have never considered. I'm a pretty passive person, and most of what I've learned about being assertive came from these badass women. What I learned about disarming people, how to not step on people's toes no matter what their personality, that was a gift from my brothers.
Feminism is about gender equality. It's unfortunate the word has been so tainted by the few irrational pubes who pull reverse chauvinism; in order for genders to be seen as equal, we need to consider both of them. You're going to run into well intended people with the wrong opinion and vice versa. There's no need to assume either way that someone can't be part of a conversation, understand something or even change their mind because of their sex. That's what sexism is by definition.
I feel like there may have been more of a point to make, but maybe not. Let me just include this completely unnecessary sentence and the equally unimportant one before it.
My belongings are held tenuously in the back of a friend's truck by bungee cords. I moved almost everything I own from my old apartment to my new place in one trip. It took just under an hour to get everything on and back off again. I don't own much and I don't intend to. By typical standards, you wouldn't consider me a materialist; I don't own a lot of things, very little of it would be considered 'nice' and even then a great deal of it was given to me. Most of it is pretty utilitarian; notebooks, art supplies, tools of my trades.
We talk about materialism as an obsession with the physical world, our physical comfort and belongings, and it tends to coincide with a distaste for spirituality and the ethereal. Being a materialist means you're concerned with things that are within the realm of your senses. In a way, this makes it ideal for the scientifically oriented in that it disparages faith or any noumenon that doesn't fall concretely into the world perception we build for ourselves out of the socially agreed upon senses.
Despite my lack of stuff, I struggle greatly as a carrier of that idea of materialism. The reason why has a lot to do with the fact that I live in an altered version of reality. By creating a place for myself with strict guidelines as to what is and isn't real, I had a sense of what is and isn't important. Reality is important. Seeing shit was just a weird quirk that I could get fixed like crooked teeth.
Materialism disposes of meaning, which made it pair well with the existential view I've trended towards most of my life. Things may or may not happen for a reason, but ultimately the meaning is self-assigned, and if it were part of something larger, it's not something you could conceivably know. I've held this view for awhile because it helped me deal with bullshit. Any time something terrible happened I could take some solace in the idea that its meaning was mine to declare, and there is something comforting in that when circumstances are beyond your control. In that sense, being a materialist means you're free to accumulate a world view based on tangible reality and not some chaotic and predetermined set of 'meanings'. That doesn't sound so insidious, does it?
But the things you own possess you, and that's not limited to your tangible items stacked on bookshelves or tucked into closets; it's equally true for the relationships you have with people and the ideas you hold to be true.
Ownership is a tricky concept to apply to a relationship or belief system; you don't own another person (hopefully) but you do own a connection with them. You have it with you, even when they're not around.
I have felt like I was possessed by this idea that I wasn't any different from anyone else, I just had this kind of handicap. Rereading what I wrote before kind of blows my mind; that I had to learn how to deal with being crazy, and deal with being normal; I kept both sides of myself completely compartmentalized.
I've since developed the idea that maybe I am different, but not in a way that isn't attainable for anyone else. I'm not special in the sense that I have some magic power like the people that made me recoil in my youth insisted they or I had. It's not a disease that I have to moderate; not exactly. It is something I have to take care of, but more in the sense of owning a guinea pig and less in the sense of a medical condition. The same goes for the people in my life though I'm admittedly a lot fuzzier on how to explain that.
Spirituality bothers me. It's been a relatively recent development that I've met people who consider themselves spiritual that I don't also consider completely full of horse shit. I am still very wary of the idea; it's hard not to hear people speak about energy and connectedness and not feel like it's something in their heads, that they're actually so far removed from connection because they're disregarding the clearly tangible world. You can't claim to be spiritual while completely disregarding the physical experience you were born into, not honestly.
I have moments where I go traveling, and I don't know if I can explain what that means, but in some ways I leave my body. My body reacts a bit like a dog whose owner left; it would much rather I be there, but usually it's going to take a nap or go get into things. I feel a bit like I live with my body right now; it's both a separate and same living thing to me.
I like the idea, at least metaphorically, that our bodies are just fleshy smart phones for our consciousness. We used to be up there in some big crazy space, and eventually we stuck our fingers in something corporeal and got distracted. We stopped lifting our heads up from these crazy meat sacks that could touch things and eat and have sex and experience things in such a visceral way. The sense of being spiritual was lost in very much the same way that being human is starting to. It isn't good or bad, it's a progression. Progressions shouldn't be considered strictly linear or forward; it's a development, the way water bubbles over from a fountain, going up and down at the same time. I don't really know if that's an example of the fractal nature of things, or if it will become some sort of Ouroboros in which we use our technology to reconnect with our original sense of spirituality. It's just a thought.
Maybe I am losing my mind. Maybe flying out here is dangerous and I'd be safer in the material world with rules of behavior I could follow. I am pretty raw right now, and I have a lot of growing up to do. I don't know if this is just another thing that I will toy with or if it's an addition to my perspective. You really don't know unless you play with it for awhile.
I don't really know if I understand what spirituality means. It's not what I identified it as when I was younger, or if it is it was held in a way I couldn't understand. There is some air of detachment that comes with it, when you pull up from your body and look around this immense amount of space you occupy. This is a new place for me to be in and I don't have much to guide me through it except questions and reactions, but it's starting to feel like a good thing.
There are so many things I want to do with my life. Ambition has always been a strong suit of mine, even if follow through is something I'm still learning. I don't think I'm alone in this, either. Most of my friends want to start their own businesses, grow their own food, build their own lives from the ground up. In part, I think this is out of necessity, and for some, the drive to create stems from a sort of mad desperation not to be forgotten in an age where the impact of everything you produce is diminished by sheer exposure to how many other people also produce it.
What is the fear of being forgotten, and what does it have to do with ambition?
We live in a very strange time. For one, the dissolution of the traditional family in America is on the rise, if not at an all time high. We crazy ladies can do all sorts of things like vote and have careers, and for us it seems like there's added pressure to have a thriving professional life and a couple of kids--but I'm going to talk about goals and stress another time.
What we're looking at right now is ambition, and our desire to change the world. I think that's been something hammered in to my generation; we need to make an impact on a personal level on as large a scale as possible. With the introduction of the internet, being the best guitar player your friends have seen isn't going to make you Nirvana, because every town has their best guitar player and the competition has become widespread.
But despite being typified as lazy and apathetic, my generation is rabid about their dreams, I know I am.
So here's where we depart from the chaos, my fellow dreamer. Start small.
I want to be a comedian. I'm not really shy about saying that any more, which was a big step for me, because I was pretty bummed I didn't want to do something more humanitarian or lucrative. I also want to start a podcast, and a venue, and record an album, and go on tour, and start some local shows, and launch a TV show, and run some sketches, and pump out articles every month, and have cartoons ever month and-you can see where I'm going with this, can't you?
'And' is one letter shy of being a four letter word, which for some reason is how I classify profanity. There is no conceivable way I could do all, if any of these things by the end of the year. I wonder if part of the reason we load our expectations so damn high is because we're afraid that if we do one of those things, and it doesn't seem the way we play it in our head, we have somehow failed.
No matter how much you tell yourself life isn't like the movies, some part of you still believes that you're the exception to the rule, that you'll be able to pull off all this crazy shit and still probably start a family later and be known as the greatest person because you achieved a bunch of things. But, that's crazy. You need to start small.
It's so easy to let ambition carry you, to think that you're reaching the apex and doing it faster than anyone, but typically that's just setting yourself up to fall from a great height. Rather than try to barrel through life, pulling together all of the pieces and claiming you can do everything, start small.
The first part of starting small, and this is a modicum (I used the word modicum in an article about smallness, ha!) of practical advice, is to pick a central objective. For me, this year, was writing. All I'm trying to do from now until December is write two articles for this site a month. That's it.
The internet can make our accomplishments seem so huge! We can look at our friends and marvel at how they home cook all their meals and seem like they've got all the answers woven together, their lives packaged neatly in the wrapping paper of doing-better-than-you-itude. But we don't photograph our burnt dinners or post to facebook about our nine hour staring contest with the wall while we contemplated what people would say at our funeral.
I've tried to do more than that. When I do, I typically stress myself out and fail.
Starting small seems like it would be the enemy of ambition. After all, go big or go home, right? Or maybe it's even simpler than that. Maybe by starting a small thing, we're acknowledging that we're going to start something and starting things usually leads to other new experiences, which is more dangerous than daydreaming about where we'd like to be because it means that things might not actually be as good as we think they are. It would be like deciding to run a marathon and finding out about 5 minutes in that your skeleton is made of vomit and jello. We're all afraid to live up to our potential, because potential is a vague nod to what it's assumed you're capable of, and we dread not living up to this imaginary standard.
Someone told me once that perfection is the enemy of good. This has been rattling around in my head a lot recently, because I've realized how scary it is to realize you might not be as talented as you think you are. I think I'm pretty intelligent, but to be humbled (or humiliated, as the case may sometimes be) is a common and unavoidable experience I find myself having. What's strange is that I rarely think less of myself by meeting someone who's smarter, I just acknowledge that I am imperfect..
There is probably some evolutionary imperative to be better, faster, stronger, and to believe that we are the most viable members of our species. To assume that we're not worthy contributors to our species, even if it were the truth, would have a crippling effect on humanity as a whole. There'd be no reason to attract or impress a mate, and let's be honest, a hell of a lot of what we do is just fanfare for doin' the nasty.
Maybe there's even more to it than that; when you accomplish something small, it's hard to believe it will have any real impact; I have that insecurity with writing all the time. I worry that what I'm doing doesn't matter, that it will be forgotten, that I'll have wasted my life and contributed ultimately nothing to the human race. On a planet that suffers from overpopulation and apathy, I worry that I am meaningless.
Strange that a need for meaning could prevent us from wanting to do anything meaningful at all. But here's the terrifying, freeing irony; nothing that you do in life matters. You are not significant, neither are your successes or failures. For every flub you have, every race you win, there are millions others that are doing the same. You will impact a few people close to you, but it's doubtful you will be recorded in eternity.
If you find this perspective disconcerting, I am sorry for you. It seems like such a huge task to do something that matters, especially on such a scope as impacting the human race. Maybe this is pedantic, introductory nihilism, but any school of thought that takes interest in the "eternal now", to borrow a phrase, is tugging at a loose thread in our tangled idea of meaning. There's such a huge pressure not to die alone and forgotten, as if somehow our rotting bodies will be filled with regret as they decay. What we really draw meaning from are the things that make the moment we inhabit meaningul.
Imagine your life as walking on a clay road, one that can only stretch so far into the past, the future, and now. To spend to much time clinging to what's behind you will make it impossible to reach your future. To spread it to far ahead will make you lose your footing and plummet to a chasm of uncertainty below you.
But what if we were to take that clay, and instead of spreading it around us, we use it to sculpt the space we were standing in? Wouldn't we have gained a stronger footing, have more ability to appreciate and create the moment that's around us? There is a past and a future, but there's little we can do to harness them productively. It's only the current moment that we can build upon, and it's only the current moment that you'll find any kind of meaning. To assume that there's more to it than that...I don't know. If there is, you won't be around to see it anyway.
Ambition is just the will to recognize that you can move forward. It isn't the assumption that you've mastered life; if you had, what would be the point in trying? You'll fail and it won't matter. If you want to find meaning in life, you have to take part, and embrace what you're doing instead of how well you're doing it. If there is any improvement to be made, it will only be discoverable through the moments in the future where you're present, which doesn't do you a lot of good to harp on right now, does it?
Yes, this is more of the same 'it's not the destination, it's the journey' kind of tripe, I suppose. I may take it so far as to suggest that there is no journey, because that suggests that you're going to end up somewhere. As anyone who's tried to achieve a passionate goal can tell you, there is no end to what inspires you. There are only more layers to peel back and explore. So find what it is you want to do with your life, darling, and start small.
About A Blog
I'm a Denver Comedian, occasional cartoonist and person of interest to someone, probably. These articles are really too long.