Sunday, June 14, 2015

Extra Feels

Rogue Valley Roasting Co.
Soy Cappuccino
Breakfast Burrito

Okay, I'm a little fucking grumpy this morning, so I'm going to start by ripping on my husband a bit.  This is what he gets for not reading my blog.

My husband is a racist, just not about race.  I have informed him of this before when he has been railing about politicians and lawyers and such.  This came up again after I read Amanda Palmer's recent article for The New Statesman.  It was a wonderful article about empathy and being open to understanding even the most monstrous of people as human beings who also have human experiences.  I thought it was wonderful, anyway.  When I brought it up as something my husband might want to check out, not as something he would necessarily agree with, but something he might want to ponder since I have tried to say the same things in my own way, the conversation devolved quickly.  So did I.

But, hey, crying at inopportune moments is my catchphrase.

It's strange that someone like me, who was born with extra feels, could end up with someone who doesn't share this level of open-mindedness.  Though we generally reach the same conclusions about politics and religion and such, we seem to reach these points from very different paths.  This does not mean he is without compassion or deep feelings of his own (he loves to get his cry on watching YouTube videos of surprise soldier homecomings).  He's just lazy about applying his empathy. 

For instance, when I express grievances about economic inequality favoring the so-called 1%, I am clear that my problem is with economic policies that bring about this situation.  I do not presuppose anything about any individual person or their motives.  I do not even generalize about "most of them."  My husband, on the other hand, is convinced that there is no such thing as a businessman who is both moral and successful.  He makes sweeping generalizations about the morality and/or intelligence of many groups of people.  He was even dumb enough to make certain generalizations about women.

"Honey, if 'all women' want to marry rich, attractive men with fancy cars, how do you explain me marrying you?"

"You're weird."

And that's the problem.  Yeah, I am weird.  But that's not why I don't value wealth and other material expressions of virility.  I'm not a deviation from "all women."  That presumption is just a stereotype.  Can you find examples of it?  Of course!  How common is it to see a beautiful young woman on the arm of a wrinkledy old rich guy?  But seeing that doesn't validate the stereotype about how "all women" are in reality.  The truth is that women are just as complex as men in their desires and values.  But there are comparatively few rich old men, so it is not difficult for them to find at least a few women willing and available to confirm that bias.  And the stereotype persists because of overexpression in media and repetition by society at large.  As in, people like my husband being idiots, who take television as the broad reality and real-world example as aberration.

This might sound like the rantings of a grumpy wife.  These are such rantings, but they are also true.  It's also all so much more important - and dangerous - than it might seem.

Every time we frame our opinions, even our humor, in stereotypes and generalizations, we dehumanize people.  We take away someone's right to be seen and understood as an individual.  Even if it's not someone in front of you at the moment, there is a cumulative cultural effect.

Gender stereotypes engender a "benign sexism," which can be an inconvenience, at best, or a worse economic disadvantage.  But that background sexism accumulates in some as outright misogyny, and frequently results in physical and mental violence against women.  Men, too, suffer because of gender stereotypes.  But no one wants to equate their comment that women just aren't as good at math, or their rantings about their "touchy" girlfriend, to rape culture.  They aren't bad guys - they'd never do something like that!  But the stereotypes are where the violence starts.

The same is true for racist comments.  Even when you're telling a joke among friends, even friends of that race, who know you are not in the least bit racist, if the joke involves race-based stereotypes, it still promotes harm.  I'm not talking about satirical use of stereotypes to call them out as ridiculous and invalid, though this is not exactly risk-free.  I'm talking about, say, following the news that the new employee is Mexican, making a joke that there will finally be someone to mow the lawn... and it's funny because everyone knows that you're totally not racist and the new guy is actually an engineering major.

But as much as you don't want to see yourself as the bad guy because you are not causing the harm directly, you are going to have to come to terms with the fact that you are still harming people.  Your "totally cool with it" friend may not be as cool with the joke as you think they are, or maybe it's over the long run that it's going to take its toll.  But even the other "some of my best friends..." people present are affected by the repetition of the stereotype.  They are primed for that example to come along and confirm the bias.  And someday, when the person who reflects the object of the joke finally speaks up about the harm and dehumanization they have experienced, that would-be ally is more likely to feel detached rather than empathetic, and to deflect or minimize this other human being's experience.

I can feel my older brother rolling his eyes at me.  See?  This is why he doesn't tell those jokes around me.  I have no sense of humor.  I'm too sensitive.  Deflect, deflect.

Really, how dare he say I have no sense of humor!  I heard a great joke the other day:

What did one condom say to the other as they walked by a gay bar?
"Wanna go in and get shit-faced?"

Was that a gay joke?  Yes.  Did it involve stereotypes or subjective values about gay people?  Nope.

There is no doubt that I am sensitive.  That is nobody's fault.  I was born that way.  Cultural stereotypes would have you believe that it's because I'm a girl.  But you know who else is super-sensitive in my family?  My older brother.  Not that brother, the other one.  But, growing up, while my crying was "weak" and "girly," his throwing the gameboard was just "being a sore loser."  And that's where it starts

All these cultural sicknesses, these abuses of gender or race or creed, they all start from that first act of generalization, thus, detachment, thus, the other-ing and dehumanization needed to make abusive acts, major or minor, acceptable in polite society.

Sorry, if my being aware of that infringes on your punchline.


Mix Bakeshop
Decaf Soy Cappuccino

And I'm back for round 4!  (Yes, it has taken me four weeks to finish this ever-changing blog).  But let's just wrap this puppy up...

Amanda Palmer and I aren't the only ones on this empathy wavelength.  Wil Wheaton (who reminds me a bit of my older brother... not that one... the other idiot) also blogged about a seeming cultural shift online toward widespread bullying and hostility.  Not that it hasn't been present before.  His concern is that the younger generation seems to have incorporated wanton snark and vitriol as part of their cultural identity and is now saturating the internet, among other parts of society, with it.

The internet is a peculiar and particular place, and I think we're still a long way from figuring out how to handle it.  But we of the extra feels are still here.  Even if there are trends in thinking - trends like racist thinking, sexist or xenophobic thinking, isolationist, myopic, self-righteous, self-involved, what have you - they are only trends and are never all-encompassing.  Bell-bottoms were a trend.  Many people thought bell-bottoms were a really, good idea.  But bell-bottoms were never a fundamentally true expression of human aesthetics and we, thankfully, evolved.  If we can get over bell-bottoms, and if we can elect a black president, and if we can handle women becoming astronauts and leading successful movie franchises, then we can overcome this trend of apathy and anti-empathy.

We of the extra feels are not naive or weak.  We have been born more sensitive and aware and that has immense value.  And I assure you, we are many.  We must take strength in each other's presence and pay no mind to our inopportune catchphrases (just me?).  And, as hard as it is, don't lose faith in change.  People can change their trends in thinking.  It's not a guarantee, but it's a possibility.  No matter how monstrous.  Or how annoying.  They are still human, and for most people, there is still plenty of love within them.  And we are primed to show them the way back to it.

Time to head home.  My loving, misguided partner in crime awaits me.  Peace.

No, seriously, motherfuckers.  Peace.