Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The House of Leaves on Ash Tree Lane

 My final paper for my Study of the Novel class was about House of Leaves.  It is the most experimental paper I have ever written - and I did it unconventionally, because HOL is an unconventional novel.  I have shared it here because I'm a narcissist and I think it's really good.  I hope you all enjoy it.  Please leave me comments as I always welcome feedback and constructive criticism.  Also, if you loved it I'd really like to hear that, too.  :-)
            House of Leaves is the wrong book to write about when you’ve been assigned a 3-5-page essay. The concept is too dense; it is far too complicated and layered, and there is no way anyone could pluck one simple idea from the book to write a short paper without constantly being bombarded with tangents, shifts in perspective, or convoluted ideas; unless, of course, I wanted to write a high school-caliber dissertation on What I Loved Most About House of Leaves.  It would be better suited for a 60-page masters thesis, but I am compelled to write something about it. 
            I would like to say that House of Leaves is nothing but an elaborate exercise in self-indulgence, an ego-driven masturbatory masterpiece from a narcissistic writer grieving the death of his genius filmmaker father.[1]  I would also like to say that Mark Z. Danielewski is so obsessed with his own vast knowledge that he had to jerk us through 709 agonizing pages using a blind narrator, named Zampano, to detail an analogous version of Danielewski’s life – a simple story of a family torn apart (albeit living in a house that is growing on the inside), to the bewildering and often incoherent ramblings of another narrator, named Johnny, (who is descending into madness after he finds a box of journals, clippings, drawings and other random things from Zampano, which detail a film Zampano allegedly saw about the family who bought the house that is growing on the inside [this is the House that Jack Built]), who turns to drugs and sex to over-compensate for the lack of a consistent and strong maternal influence in his life, until Danielewski finally dumps his load all over our faces as we stare back in disbelief – just to see that it was all (probably) just an elaborate deconstruction of the idea of literary analysis and a reason to mock the publishing system. 
            Danielewski even almost goes as far as to tell us how countercultural he and his book are by couching his opinions in what Zampano says the “Navidson film” is “destined to achieve” and how “good story telling alone will guarantee a healthy sliver of popularity in the years to come, but its inherent strangeness will permanently bar it from any mainstream interest” (7).  In some parts I’m even reminded of Virginia Woolf’s metaphor for writing in To the Lighthouse when the narrator, Johnny, mentions his disgust for a story he made up for some women at a bar and “how fake it is” and that “it’s like there’s something else, something beyond it all, a greater story still looming in the twilight” (15).  As bold as Mark Z. Danielewski is, like all of us, he still hears the Critic’s Voice loudly. 
            I could also say that House of Leaves is a love story to the author’s black and white ideals of men and women.  Danielewski’s men are heroic even in their neglect (personal and otherwise) and irresistible to women.  His female characters are otherworldly in their beauty and mystery, but cold and distant at heart.  Will and Karen Navidson are said to have bought a house in Virginia, built on the bizarre land of Jonestown.  Navidson is a world-renown photographer who remains faithful to his wife, Karen, even though every woman he meets wants to have sex with him.[2]  Karen, an ex-model, has spent her life hiding behind a “hard and practiced smile” (58), and “hardly gave up the promiscuous behavior that marked her 20s.  She only became more discreet” (16).   
            In this house that the Navidsons bought, there is a labyrinth that grows out of a hallway.  I could go on and on about how the dark labyrinth is a metaphor for the unquenchable sexual desire of men, and how Karen’s claustrophobia is her fear of rape (or even simple sex for that matter).  The wheelchair bound character, Reston, even refers to the uncanny ability of the house to change size as “a goddamn spatial rape” (55). 
            Karen and Navy’s strained relationship is connected strongly to a lack of sex in their marriage and at one point Navidson says, “if she keeps up this cold front, you bet I’m going in there”(63).  If the house’s labyrinth could be seen as man’s unquenchable desire for sex (or desire to rape), one could interpret Navy’s words as meaning, “if she doesn’t give me sex, I’m going to take it.”  Or perhaps the labyrinth is a metaphor for existential angst – the dark abyss of the psyche, subconscious repression.  Either way a psychoanalyst could have a field day.
            If I were Johnny’s therapist I’d say that it’s all a lie.  In fact there is no Johnny (not in the way the narrator wants us to think); there is no Zampano; there is no House.  Karen and Navidson (what kind of fucking name is that, anyways?) and their children are all made up, too.  What we have here is a repressed drug addict who is losing his shit and writing a twisted manifesto of a madness he himself doesn’t even understand and it was all triggered by the death of his mother. 
      For one thing the character, Zampano, the one who allegedly got his hands on a film called, The Navidson Record, and who was writing a book about it is blind.  There is no way a blind man would be able to detail the events that take place in a film with such clarity if he couldn’t even see.  The narrator, Johnny, who supposedly finds all this work that Zampano has done, claims “we all create stories to protect ourselves” (20). 
            The story that Zampano is telling is full of things that could be directly related to Johnny’s life – particularly his childhood.  The character of Holloway Roberts, an explorer and rival of Navidson, is reminiscent of Johnny’s foster father, Raymond.  Being “broad and powerful with a thick beard” (80) he is visually similar to Raymond who has “a beard rougher than horse hide and hands harder than horn” (92).  Holloway is also used to taking charge, like Raymond who is “a total control freak” (92).
            There is also a similarity between Navidson and Karen’s son, Chad, and Johnny as a child as he “turns out to be the most problematic.  He spends more and more time outside by himself” and he “returns home from school with a bruised eye and swollen nose” (91); this indicates that like Johnny, he spends time fighting.  These are only a few details that make it seem as if Johnny makes up The Navidson Record.
            Johnny also admits that he is guilty of “shifting and re-shifting details, smoothing out the edges, removing the corners, colorizing the whole thing or if need be de-colorizing” (92), indicating to us that he is clearly an unreliable narrator.  Knowing this we can chose to disregard everything he says and when he tells a girl about a poem called, “Love at First Sight” having been “written by a blind man… the blind man of all blind men, me” (117), it becomes quite clear that he possibly could be Zampano.  Or maybe not.  We can’t know for sure.  The only thing we really know is that Johnny is obsessed with women.
            From the beginning of the book we see that Johnny has severe issues where women are concerned.  He falls in love with every woman he talks to and when we meet Johnny, he’s “getting over this woman named Clara English” (xii), with whom (we later learn) he only spent one night. 
            From Clara he jumps into love with a stripper he calls, “Thumper,” to whom he can barely speak and when he looks at her his “desire suddenly informed by something deeper, even unknown, pouring into” (52) him, indicating to me a sort of Oedipal complex.  Throughout his supposed love for Thumper Johnny runs the gamut of sexual conquests.  He writes about all sorts of women he sleeps with (because no matter how nasty and smelly he is, he gets ALL THE CHICKS) and sprinkled amidst all his exhausting convoluted drug-addled prose we see subconscious references to his past and his mother. 
            While he is at a bar with his best friend, Lude, thinking about blindness and echoes, he refers to what seems to be a nightmare and “her toiling fingers wet with boiling deformation” and “the silence then of a woman and an only son” (49), which speaks directly to when his mother accidentally drops boiling oil on his arms, scarring him for life.  At one point after a paragraph about the explorers in the labyrinth using thread to help find their way back, a footnote discusses common metaphors for thread, one of them being an “umbilical cord, for life, and for destiny” (119), which is relevant if we think of the house’s labyrinth as a metaphor for Johnny’s inability to cope with his mother’s death.  Johnny himself admits that he “constantly craved the comforts of feminine attention” (129) and this is because of his repressed subconscious desire for his mother – not necessarily in a sexual way, but in the dark edges of the mind unrealized emotions can manifest themselves in weird ways. 
            Johnny is aware of the weird ways “desire and pain communicate in the vague language of sex” (265) and how the “emptiness in one night stands” is just another way of living in “darkness” (265), and that all of his encounters “added up to so very little, hardly enduring, just shadows of love outlining nothing at all” (265) – like the house and its labyrinth, which ultimately is a figment of Johnny’s tortured imagination. 
            He has experienced so much and has witnessed so much “atrocity” and is so utterly tortured by the madness of his mother and the horrors she had to endure – “unknowable rapes?” (299) – that his guilt drives him crazy.  It permeates his sleep, like when he dreams of a woman whose “face glows with adoration and warmth and her eyes communicate in a blink an understanding of all the gestures” he has ever made and “all the thoughts” he’s ever had (405) who tearfully tries to chop him to pieces and the only woman who ever really felt that way about Johnny is his mother.  This dream directly relates to a wrong memory he has of his mother trying to choke him to death – a lie she told him in an insane attempt to keep him from loving her, in order to protect him from her inability to be there for him.
            It is this dream that seems to bring Johnny one of the rare moments of clarity he has, he sees that he needs to let her go and he manages to start that business by getting rid of the necklace she left him.  The “idea of getting rid of it was no longer enough” he had to hate it, because he felt the “horrendous weight” around his neck – even when he wasn’t wearing it – was killing him.  The memories were too heavy.  He needed to heal himself the only way his broken self knew how.
            His mother told him “words will heal” his heart (598) and he believed her.  This is why he wrote everything – a book from the point of view of a blind old man, named Zampano, a description of a movie that nobody has ever heard of let alone seen, his own stream-of-consciousness writing.  He knew that if he ever came “to disregard everything” she told him he should believe that his “words” and “only” his words would heal his heart (598). 
            There’s so much more that could be discussed about House of Leaves, but it would be impossible to encompass it all in a short paper.  The various layers of this story could be analyzed and picked apart for years (they already have), but ultimately I think we have to accept that there is no one single meaning and that, like the house, it takes on a new form every time you "enter" it.  

[1] According to Wikipedia, Mark Z. Danielewski’s film director dad, Tad Danielewski (of No Exit fame), died of cancer back in 1993 and in a Random House interview Danielewski said, “My father will be remembered for a lot of things but by some, TZD--as some of my friends called him--will be forever known for his passionate consideration of the art of cinema” (Cotrell, “A Conversation”).  Danielewski speaks of time with his father as magical and from him he received a “magnificent and strange education” (“A Conversation”)

[2] I know I read that, but can’t find the page for reference!

"Tad Danielewski.” Wikipedia.com. 2013. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

Cotrell, Sophie. “A Conversation with Mark Danielewski.” Randomhouse.com. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. Toronto: Random House, 2000. Print.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Innocence and Exploitation in a Patriarchal Society

So Monday I'm off to the United Kingdom for my honeymoon!  I have been scrambling to get all of my homework done before this weekend so that I have nothing to do but enjoy myself for sixteen days.  One of those items was a paper for my British Literature class.  I liked it so much I decided to share it with you here.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. (All quotes taken from the Longman Anthology of British Literature:  Volume 2A - the Romantics and Their Contemporaries, Second Edition.) 
            In William Blake’s poems about innocence - The Chimney Sweeper and The Lamb in particular - we can see that being a child in Blake’s world was a dangerous thing if you were impoverished or without parents.  This was because of the profiteering off of their innocence and weakness.  Children were encouraged to lead precarious lives, to be exploited and used for commercial reasons, a patriarchal design condoned by the church.  This exploitation of the innocence of children is reminiscent of the way that women were expected to behave and be treated, a trend that was criticized by early feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft. 

            William Blake’s poem, The Chimney Sweeper, speaks of little orphan boys who are used to climb up into chimneys to clean them out.  Their little bodies could fit, but also got stuck, and many were left to die of suffocation or diseases of the lungs and testicles.  In the poem poor little Tom is told, “if he’d be a good boy, he’d have God for his father and never want joy” (122).  According to Blake, The Church clearly supported this practice; little boys were brainwashed to believe they were doing God’s work. 

            In The Lamb there is a trichotomic juxtaposition of the word “lamb.”  There is the animal, the child, and the child version of God – or Jesus.  The child tells the lamb, “He is meek and he is mild, he became a little child” (120).  This indicates to us that like God (and like the lamb) little children are to be “meek and mild,” or submissive and quiet. 
            Both of these poems could be seen as analogous to the patriarchal idea of female submission and the innocent devotion to what the church teaches can be seen as the na├»ve and ignorant submission to male authority.  In his poem, Visions of the Daughters of Albion, presumably his response to Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, he links “sexual tyranny and oppression to slavery, including the ravages of colonialism and the exploitation of children” (149).  This is an idea that Wollstonecraft argued about.

            Wollstonecraft saw that the cultural ideal was that women should be kept in a perpetual child-like state.  In A Vindication of the Rights of Women she “deplores that women, in particular are rendered weak and wretched by a variety of concurring causes, originating from one hasty conclusion” (232).  She attributes this to a “false system of education” that only focuses on etiquette and how to catch a man (232). 
            As a result of poor education, Wollstonecraft says, women have no ability to reason.  They are taught manners, not morality; are expected to speak softly, and are “treated as a kind of subordinate beings, and not as a part of the human species” (232).    She argued about the dangers of placing this requirement upon women, because if they were without money or a husband, they would be literally left in peril, unable to support or care for themselves, and like orphans, forced to live in the street and exploit themselves just to make a living.  Because of these expectations Wollstonecraft is left at a loss for “how women are to exist in a state where there is to be neither marrying nor giving in marriage” (247).

            While Blake and Wollstonecraft are alike in this seemingly feminist and anti-ignorant way of thinking, they differ on the subject of reason.  Wollstonecraft was severely against women having romantic notions.  She felt that women “waste their lives in imagining how happy they should have been” (246) with a husband who would love them passionately.  She reasoned that a woman would be no unhappier with a bad husband than she would be pining away for a good one. 
            Wollstonecraft even went as far as to openly treat other women “like rational creatures instead of flattering their fascinating graces” (233).  She refused to treat women “as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone” (233).  She pleaded to women to “acquire strength, both of mind and body” and that their quiet and submissive natures were “synonymous with weakness” (233). 
            Wollstonecraft believed that the submissive expectations of women and their lack of any ambition for anything other than that which pleases men, and the denial of “civil and political rights, to remain immured in their families groping in the dark” was a form of slavery (230).  To Mary Wollstonecraft, without total devotion to reason and the snubbing of all romantic notions, women will never be free. 
            In William Blake’s poem, Mary, he made reference to the expectations of women to be “weak as a Lamb & smooth as a dove” (274).   He clearly sympathized with her plight of not being “born like this Envious Race” (274).  While he evidently believed that women should have the same freedoms as men, he believed in “imaginative freedom over psychological inhibition” (113), because when you are ruled by reason alone you miss out on what it really means to be human – all the emotions, good and bad.
            In his letter to Dr. John Trusler, Blake expounded that the world “is a world of imagination and vision” (155).  The idea that one should place so much importance in “visions of fancy” (155) is not one that Wollstonecraft would have agreed with, but then again, William Blake was a man and Mary Wollstonecraft was only a woman.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Bombs Bursting in Air...

The most memorable Fourth of July I've ever had was also the last one I celebrated.  About fifteen years ago I met a young Afghani woman, named Ariyana who was visiting a friend (who happened to be my next door neighbor) from Germany.  She barely spoke English, but we quickly became attached and for the next several months I taught her more English and showed her the cooler, non-touristy parts of Los Angeles.  She came to my graduation from Pierce College and my dad formed a heavy crush on her.  How could he not with her big brown eyes, dark curly mane and super sweet personality?

Since we were spending so much time together it seemed natural to invite her to the Fourth of July block party my boyfriend and I were throwing in his parents' neighborhood.  We had a nice afternoon of drinking and eating and just generally having a splendid time.  Everyone loved Ariyana - all the guys fell in love.

We started the fireworks that we bought in Fillmore and responded to the ooohs and aaahs with pride.  I looked around to see how Ariyana was reacting, but didn't see her anywhere.  I set out to find her even though all my friends insisted I stay to enjoy the show.  I couldn't - Ariyana was a foreigner who didn't know that much English and I refused to leave her alone.

After about ten minutes I found her hiding under the bed in the kids' room of a neighbors house.  She was terrified.  I asked her why she wasn't out enjoying the show and she replied meekly with, "I can't." So I crawled under the bed with her and asked her to tell me about it.

You see, in the late 80s during civil war Ariyana and her family escaped from Afghanistan to Germany.  When they were fleeing Afghanistan they literally had to run through the middle of battle with bombs falling around them, dodging gunfire.  They didn't know if they were going to die right there or make it to safety.  Luckily they all made it, but not with out PTSD.  Ariyana had no idea what she was getting into when she agreed to come to our little celebration and had I known I would have protected her from  what ended up being a mildly traumatic experience for her.  I stayed under that bed with her, holding her hand until my friends had exhausted all of our fireworks.

Ariyana went back to Germany shortly after (apparently she was a semi-popular singer there and was about to record an album).  The day she left she kissed me square on the lips and said, "you are the first woman I have ever kissed," and as she walked out of my life the last words I heard from her were, "I hope to meet you again."

She called me at about 4am a few months later to inform me that her father had passed away and being half asleep I failed to inform her that I would be moving - my boyfriend and I had broken up and I was going to be living out of my car for a bit until I could find a place.  She had also moved and failed to give me her new number.  Because I have horrible short term memory I can't recall her last name.  I have spent years trying to find her, but I've had no luck.

The night of July 4, 1998 was forever burned in my mind.  You know those moments when you have a moment of clarity, an epiphany that changes your life forever?  Well it was one of those.  I realized how bizarre it is that we celebrate our "independence" by simulating war.  Instead of celebrating life, peace and freedom, we glorify war.  Our fireworks are in effect, "bombs bursting in air," and for Ariyana who has actually had to live through real war, it was too much to handle.

We live fat and lazy with our first world problems promoting violence and we justify it because we feel entitled.  Like jocks rioting for their winning team after a football game, we get wasted and blow shit up (sometimes shooting guns off in the air which have killed several people over the years) and look cockeyed at those who don't consider themselves to be nationalists.

But we forget.  We forget that thousands of people died in order for us to call this land our own.  To be "free" and "independent" we butchered countless innocent men, women and children.  Today should not be a day of explosive excitement.  Today we should hold each other tight, be grateful that we're alive; that we're all together, and that we don't have to live through what Ariyana and her family did.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

To Bear or Not to Bear

I've been thinking a lot about biology lately, or, more accurately our biological drive to reproduce.  I just got married (this past weekend, woot!) and one of the many questions people asked (besides, "are you taking his name?" [no] and, "will you be moving into a house?" [someday]) was, "when are the babies coming?" Those who know me well know not to ever ask me that.

Because of PCOS I am unable to have children without intense hormone therapy, which I do not want to put my body through.  Evan and I also feel that the world is an overpopulated mess and we do not wish to force anyone into it.  So we've decided to not try to get pregnant and agree that adoption might be a thing we'd be interested in further down the line.  We see it sort of like how we view animal breeding - why create more life when there's so many suffering without a home?

Why indeed.
I also do not think I'd make a good enough mother to take on that responsibility.  I am very selfish with my time.  I tend to get lost in my own head, tuning out everything around me which could result in some horrific neglectful behavior.  I have a bad temper and I'm impatient.  I like my sleep.  I like my life the way it is and I'm working on making it even better.  Having a child would disrupt all of our plans leaving me bitter and resentful.  I was raised with that type of resentment and it resulted in me being kind of fucked up as an adult.  I refuse to do that to another human being.

Getting back to biology... all of this aside, I can't stop thinking about getting pregnant.  I will be 37 years old in exactly one month and, "my biological clock is ticking.  like.  this!" Even if I intellectually wanted to get pregnant and I had no health issues I would have a very low chance of conceiving, and if I did conceive I would have a higher chance of miscarriage or some other problem.  If we changed our mind, we would have to do it within the next two years or else our chances would dwindle substantially.  As you can imagine I've been experiencing some very confusing and conflicting emotions.

Right now I have a 15% chance.  
I always heard that women are wired to respond to a baby crying.  That has never been the case for me until about a year ago.  Now when I hear a baby (or a child) crying it's all I can do to keep from poking my nose in where it doesn't belong.  It guts me.  I can't see a baby without tearing up (and my god why do they all have to have such huge wise eyes that seem to peer into my soul?) and every month when my period starts I feel let down.  Why?!  I don't even want children!  Because I am a victim of my biology and I have absolutely no control over it.

I wouldn't even know where to begin...
A combination of extra testosterone and what I can only assume is my "sexual peak" (because my body is trying to tell me it's time to make babies) I am prone to feeling more amorous than most, but since I was an early bloomer (started my period at 10) and have PCOS my estrogen levels are totally whacked out right now.  I think I might be in perimenopause, although I can't know for sure without testing.  I have every single symptom and I had a hormone test last year that my doctor shrugged off the results for because she thought I was on my period.  I wasn't.  She was impossible to communicate with (and I lost my insurance) so I stopped seeing her.  Nevertheless I am literally drying up and my window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller.

So what can I do about all these unwanted emotions?  How do you balance what you KNOW IN YOUR MIND with what you feel inside?  I see a show where someone has a baby and I walk around weeping as I fold laundry.  I literally laugh out loud and chastise myself for being so silly.  "You don't even want kids," I say out loud.  I know this as an impenetrable FACT - just like I know the sky is blue and that my husband loves me.  Yet I still weep.  Uncontrollably.

One time I wanted ice cream so badly that I cried because of my diet.  I wanted to be healthy more than I wanted the ice cream - the ice cream didn't even matter in the big scheme of things, but I wanted it badly right then and there.  How fat (and ultimately irresponsible) would I be if I ate ice cream every time I craved it, knowing it would be the worst possible choice to make?  Is this sort of like that?  Is it wrong of me to equate making babies to eating ice cream?

Mmm... baby.
Sometimes I think once I'm in menopause the emotions will go away because my body will know it's too late, but what then about my mind?  What if I change my mind and it's too late?  Will adopting a baby satiate that craving?

These undesired, useless biological urges piss me off.  Why can't I be more evolved?  The human species doesn't need to spread anymore.  We're already bordering on parasitic.  There are so many children all over the world (although now we Americans apparently have to count Russia out) who need good homes it seems positively negligent to breed instead of adopt.  But people can't be judged for acting on their perfectly natural and organic biological needs.  We have been raised to unconsciously believe that they are our top priorities.

That's not how you do it...
Raising a family is the fundamental mark of success.  It's why we work so hard at finding a mate.  Ultimately we all just want to make babies; spread the seed; be seen as virile; fit in with other mommies.  Our whole purpose for living (biological imperative) is to ensure that the human race lives on FOREVER.  What a conundrum then, when our incessant drive will be what destroys us all?

Okay, I feel better now.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Yep, I'm Just Another Bitter, Lonely, Middle-aged, Control-Freak Feminist!

I am not one to gossip much more than the average person, but I recently had an Internet squabble with a new friend that made me feel a bit like I was banging my head against a wall.  I'm not here to throw anyone under the bus, but this convoluted discussion brought many things to my mind.  One of them being that there are many things I adore about this person, but there is one thing I recently learned I do not, and this one thing is not his flaw alone.  It is a humanitarian flaw.

After biting my tongue every time he has mentioned something about the hotness of women – after post after post of him diminishing women to tools of objectification where he decides what is “hot” - and even goes as far as to demean those who don’t achieve this level of “hotness," I felt utterly convicted to express myself and this is what I said:
"She may have a big ass but she's still "skinny." That woman does not represent the average female body. I'm so sick of this whole "look she's curvy so she can represent you" bullshit. The point is NONE OF THIS SHOULD FUCKING MATTER IN THE FIRST PLACE. People need to stop obsessing over what women look like. PERIOD. You are still singling women out for objectification and the world needs to STOP doing that. Skinny, fat, big ass with skinny body - WHATEVER. We're all women with brains and dreams and what our bodies look like SHOULD NOT MATTER."
Granted I might have been a little PMS-y and utilized the "F" word (which I know is a huge social faux pas) and I clearly struck a chord with him, but I had allowed his prejudice to go on too long without stepping up.  

Men like him speak of women like this under the guise of being supportive of women with larger than average breasts and buttocks.  His chant often means something along the lines of “This is what a real woman looks like.”  These aren’t overweight women; these aren’t even women of average size or women struggling with being underweight.  These are women who’s bodies might be found in a comic or popular pornography.  It is ideas like this that girls have have killed themselves over.  

It’s not that I have a problem with his taste – it’s that he believes everyone should share his tastes and those who don’t are somehow less enlightened.  He (like many men) also BELIEVES women NEED to be told daily how beautiful they are and when I let him know how the world places too much importance on perceptions of beauty and that I don’t need to be told I’m beautiful everyday his immediate response was to call me, “bitter.”

Why is it whenever a woman speaks out about the injustices of sexism she’s labeled as bitter?  When I explained to him that my passion comes not from a place of bitterness he didn’t seem to hear me at all.  Then he pulled the “thought police” card as if my pointing out his prejudice and sexism was an attack on his freedom of thought. 

I, and many other women, seem to encounter this sentiment a lot.  That feminists are bitter control freaks.  Would they say the same thing about Martin Luther King?  I am NOT comparing myself to King, but we definitely share the same passion – or we would have if some bigot hadn’t shot him down.

What about Bill Cosby?  Cosby has been on a crusade to stop black people from calling themselves niggers.  He believes that by calling each other by that horrible dehumanizing word they are willingly setting themselves back into a time when their people had no freedom, no rights.  They were merely slaves.

For thousands of years women have been enslaved by patriarchy and to this day we only receive privileges when we act according to that ancient and archaic patriarchal design including, but not limited to allowing the patriarchal design to dictate how we should live our lives in the first place. 

At the core of any society lies an unsaid rule – that women should desire the approval of men.  In order to win that approval we should make ourselves into what they feel is attractive, even if it means physical mutilation.  If we refuse or do not accept these practices as a priority we are called bitter and if we make any attempts to help free our sisters (and brothers) from this brainwashed enslavement we are accused of policing thought, being controlling – all sorts of negative ideas designed to scare us into staying in our place, which is being demure, agreeable, entertaining and above all else – sexy.  Beautiful.  Hot. 

I know this person’s intent was not to be a sexist jerk creating a hostile environment for those who don’t fit into his idea of what women should look like.  I know he wasn’t even aware that he was being discriminatory against women he finds unattractive.  This man never expected for anyone to call him a sexist.  Because in his world, sexism isn’t even a thing.

And therein lies the problem.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The National Organization for Women: A Brief History

After World War II the feminist movement that won suffrage was killed by the media – which denounced feminism.  Women were told they were supposed to stay at home to be mothers and happy housewives.  

Note the psychotic look in her eyes...
Thankfully with the rise of the civil rights movement in the 60’s came a new feminist movement. Feminist lobbyists pushed for prohibition of employee discrimination in The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it passed; however it did not include sex and and it was announced by the EEOC (The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) in 1965 that sexual discrimination in the workplace was legal. 

In 1966 Betty Friedan (Author of the book, The Feminine Mystique) and Dr. Pauli Murray, a law professor at Yale attended a conference in Washington to get the EEOC to enforce the prohibition of sexual discrimination in the work place.  They were told they had no authority.  Frustrated and with the desire to form an organization that helped women the way other civil rights groups had helped black people they met with Aileen Hernandez (who had left the EEOC) and Richard Graham and about 20 other women to discuss their anger over what was happening.  Betty Friedan wrote the acronym: 
N O W 
on a napkin and right then and there the organization was born.

Thanks, ladies!
NOW’s mission was to start a revolution for “true equality for all women in America.”  NOW believes that women are human beings and should be free from all forms of prejudice and discrimination - that they should be able to experience the same opportunities and freedom of choice that men do.  NOW doesn't believe that women are entitled to the lifelong support of men nor should they be forced into a submissive marital role.  They believe in a true partnership in marriage and total equity in the workplace. 

From their humble beginnings, NOW has worked tirelessly at pushing for sexual equality by filing sexual discrimination lawsuits, organizing strikes, and eventually in 1972 getting the House to pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), which was originally written by suffragist leader, Alice Paul in 1923.  Unfortunately the amendment did not get enough approval by the deadline and by 1982 the ERA was dismissed. 

We should all be this angry.

Discouraged, but not defeated, NOW did not give up.  By the time the Supreme Court had thrown out the case for the ERA, NOW had drawn attention to women and the unnoticed services they provided.  They established the NOW Task Force on Battered Women and The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which ended employment discrimination against pregnant women.  They organized conferences on racism and sexism, establishing both as “a shared struggle for equal rights.”

In 1983 NOW defeated anti-abortion bills and the Supreme Court ruled that government couldn’t interfere with women's abortion rights unless it was clearly justified by "accepted medical practice." By the 90s they had organized several conferences and marches to support gay and lesbian rights.  They lobbied for and got the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) signed in 1994.  A $1.6 billion dollar budget was set up for violence prevention and services.  Thankfully it was reauthorized this year, although not without a lot of resistance.

NOW has gone from 20 women in the 60s fighting for equal rights to a massive organization in the 21st century with chapters all over the country fighting for civil rights for everyone.  In 2006 NOW celebrated "Forty Fearless Years" at the national conference in Albany, NY, which included a Young Feminist Summit and a tribute to the founders and past presidents.  They are very proud of the fact that they are the largest feminist organization in the United States.  They have 500,000 members with 550 chapters in every single state. 

Fight the power!
If you are interested in joining the National Organization for Women and fighting for equality and justice please visit their website, http://www.now.org.  You can donate without joining, or you can join with several options for membership dues.  You can pay annual dues or for $1000 you can receive a lifetime membership.  You can even gift a membership to someone else!  You don’t have to be a member to volunteer; however, just visit the website for details!