Thursday, December 30, 2010

"No Easy Decision"

The other night, MTV aired an episode of their show 16 and Pregnant titled "No Easy Decision." Dr. Drew Pinsky interviewed three women about their experience with abortion. if you missed it, you can view it here.

I don't watch too much TV, but a former roommate of mine watched 16 and Pregnant all the damn time, so I'm more familiar with it than I'd be otherwise. As someone who is adamantly pro-choice, I couldn't help but notice that abortion was never mentioned as a viable option for any of the women whose stories were featured on the show.

So when I heard about this episode, I decided to tune in. I was intrigued. Skeptical, but intrigued.

Overall, I was impressed with how MTV handled the subject. I'm bummed that they didn't air it prime time. And I wish it had been longer than thirty minutes. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't all walking on eggshells. And they managed to cover a lot of ground despite the time constraints. Natalia, for example, got the judicial bypass. As feminist Shelby Knox tweeted the night the show aired, "Kudos to MTV for talking about how parental notification effects [sic] women."

But of course, there's been backlash. CNN's Brooke Baldwin said that Markai "got herself pregnant." And Bryan Kemper of Life News couldn't get his facts straight. In an article titled "Youth Pro-Life Leaders Respond to MTV's Abortion Episode," he twisted the words/emotions of the three women and decided that they must have regretted their decision to abort.

Katie Stack, who was one of the three women interviewed, responded to that by writing a blog post. In it, she explained that she didn't cry on camera because she regrets having an abortion, but because she loves her family and felt badly for hiding something so important from them for such a long time.

By speaking out, she's doing her part to end the stigma attached to abortion. To me, her blog post was just as brave as her willingness to talk about her abortion experience on television. Her explanation should not have been necessary. Why the hell should she have to legitimize her tears to anyone, least of all an anti-choicer who couldn't even put the effort into getting his facts straight? But she took the time to explain herself anyway.

And I'm so very glad about that, because as much as I wish people would just respect others' decisions, these are the very stories women need to tell if we're ever going to succeed in putting a face on the issue, and make people understand that pro-choice is not pro-abortion. If anything, her display of emotion should serve as evidence that this truly is not an easy choice to make.

As Katie so aptly pointed out in the interview, "It's a parenting decision."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Feminism and crappy limericks

"Part of getting older is owning the facets of your identity that frighten you the most." - Jessica Valenti

2010 has been a year of transition, of change. I transferred schools and finally gave myself the opportunity to explore interests of mine other than poetry (which, until a year or so ago, was the one thing I was totally comfortable with and felt 100% confident about). This year I learned to be patient. For once, I did not expect to come out on top. And let's get real for a second: I hit rock bottom (perhaps more times than I made known).

I made one hell of a mess. This mess looked much like the one I made when I was nine and just starting to familiarize myself with poetry (I'm referring to the stage where I spent all of my time writing crappy limericks). What's different now is that I'm not nine. I'm twenty-two. And crappy limericks aren't so cute anymore when you're trying to convince people to start treating you like an adult.

Anyone who knows me knows that identify as a feminist. And I have since my senior year of high school. Back then, my green-haired friend Stephanie and I spent all our time spouting off in AP Lit class, thinking we were total badasses.

But the more I explore the zillion layers of feminism, the more I realize that it isn't easy. It takes effort the same way honing my poetry did.

And man, poetry and me go way back. I attended the annual Controlled Burn Seminar every summer for years. I studied at Interlochen. At SVSU, I majored in creative writing. I competed in poetry slams (one of which was held at the Grand Hotel on Macinac Island). I worked as editor-in-chief of two art/literary journals (Looking Glass in high school, Cardinal Sins in college). And I had my work published in a couple of national undergraduate literary journals.

I lived and breathed poetry. But it took a lot of time to cover that much ground. And it wasn't even one solid thing. At nine, I wrote limericks. At fourteen, I wrote couplets and quatrains. By sixteen, I had moved on to free verse. By nineteen, that free verse was better polished. A never-ending process. Endless change and (I like to think) a great deal of growth.

And so even though I've identified as a feminist for three or four years now, I still feel like I'm in the crappy limerick stage of it--the stage where I litter my Facebook Wall with angry shit and walk around with Audre Lorde quotes pinned to my tote bag. But don't really know where I fit in in the midst of it all.

I just finished reading a book called _Click_, which is a collection of essays written about "that moment" when its contributors knew they were feminists. Feministing editor Courtney Martin wrote, "It makes me sad now to think that much of my first feminist searching was born out of such desperation. I wish I had come to feminism celebratory or even outraged. Instead, I came like so many...on my knees, confused, heartbroken" (90).

I've never thought of it like that. (Strange image to couple with feminism, yes?) But the same is probably true for me. Even though I've considered myself a feminist for years now, I had to experience a couple of things that hit a little too close to home before I could realize that it's more than believing in equality--it's also acting on that belief.

And that's some tough shit.

And so I've finally moved past desperate and heartbroken (anyone who knew me a year ago knows what that looked like). Now I'm pissed. Pissed and frustrated because there's so much out there to be done and I don't even know where to start, or how to start. Because I'm still just learning to trust myself and my voice.

You know, limericks.

But despite my inability to trust myself, people have told me for years that it's obvious to them that I'm a feminist. Well, duh. I scream it. But like I said: I've got angry shit all over my Facebook Wall, and Audre Lorde quotes on my tote bag. Lots of noise. (Eloquent noise, but still.) I hide behind all that noise. Where the fuck is my own voice in all of that?

So to me, growing as a feminist is a lot like writing poetry. As a poet, I subscribed to the idea of "saying as much as possible in very few words." A lot of the women I admire don't even have to go on raging, long-winded tirades for me to understand that they mean business. I can just see it in their actions--in the way they live their lives.

I want to reach that point, whatever that means for me. I know that these interests of mine aren't mutually exclusive. I could just write feminist poetry and call it good. That is, in and of itself, a form of activism. But right now, that isn't fulfilling enough for me.

I'll admit that I don't really know what the hell I'm going to do to satisfy this need. But I'm going to find it and live it. If it brings me back to poetry, awesome. If not, I'll keep moving on to whatever's next. I've taken one huge step away from my comfort zone. I can take a few more.

I'm pretty excited to see what 2011 has in store for me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How I became the "Cuntlovin' Ruler of My Sexual Universe"

I just finished reading _Cunt: A Declaration of Independence_ by Inga Muscio. Mind: Blown.

In case you're not familiar with it, here's the blurb from the back cover:

An ancient title of respect for women, the word "cunt" long ago veered off this noble path. Inga Muscio traces the road from honor to expletive, giving the woman the motivation and tools to claim "cunt" as a positive and powerful force in their lives. With humor and candor, she shares her own history as she explores the cultural forces that influence women's relationships with their bodies.

Sending out a call for every woman to be the Cuntlovin' Ruler of her Sexual Universe, Muscio stands convention on its head by embracing all things cunt-related.

A copy of it had been sitting on my shelf for years, and was mentioned several times in my women's studies class this semester (it wasn't assigned reading, though). So I decided to get with the program and read it already. 373 pages later, I'm the proud, "Cuntlovin' Ruler of my Sexual Universe."

I don't think I've ever read anything so critical of capitalism. (But then I guess you can't really call yourself a feminist without being critical of it... or whatever economic system you're living under, for that matter.) Momentary brain fart, there--sorry. I should not have been caught off-guard. After all, I've been critical of capitalism for a very long time.

Picture it: Boyne City, Michigan, 1997. I'm eight years old and spending the weekend with a friend's family at their condo. On our way to said condo, I turn to my friend and ask her, "So, who lives there while you and your family are at home in Grosse Pointe?" She looks at me incredulously and answers, "Um. No one. Right, Dad?"

I'm profoundly disappointed and mutter something about how I think it's unfair that there are homeless people locked out of an empty condo in a place as cold as Boyne City. My friend's dad laughs and says, "It looks like we've got a little socialist on our hands."

I repeat the word "socialist" a few times to myself so it'll stay in my mind until I have the chance to look it up later. I have a very hard time (even to this day) understanding why what he said was meant as an insult.

Given the incident explained above, you'd think that someone like me would just smile and nod through a book like _Cunt_, right? Oh, sweet. Someone understands my perspective!


In an earlier post about feminism, I mentioned that I'm in awe of just how much I don't know. In _Cunt_, Muscio does an excellent job of picking out little things that we're conditioned to accept as the norm, and points out how they contribute to the very things we work against as American feminists.

Take tampons, for instance. Part of life, right? No. Muscio points out that you don't have to pay $7.99 for a simple box of cotton. "Why the flying fuck should a woman have to pay some huge corporation over and over because the lining of her uterus naturally, biologically sheds sheds every month?" (30).

I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of assigning a dollar value to people and things that people need to survive. When, at the age of eleven, I found out that my parents had to pay a water bill, I wanted to call the city officials and demand an explanation.

So maybe the tampon thing would have been common sense to me once--like when I was eight and 100% altruistic and just wanted to help the homeless.

But in my twenty-two years on Earth, I've encountered many people like my friend's dad. So I go to the freaking drugstore every month and buy my box of tampons because I'm a woman who lives in the good old USA and menstruates.

But this book brought back some of my old mindset, and made me a little ashamed of having lost it in the first place.

Meanwhile, other things she mentioned actually made me feel a little better about some of my habits/practices.

Like trying to reason with my uterus, for example.

I've never used the Pill. I don't sleep with dudes, and therefore don't need it for reproductive reasons. I know a lot of women who use it just because periods really suck, and having them less is nice. But I've never been into that. It just doesn't suit me. Seems unnatural and unnecessary. Don't get me wrong: I respect the hell out of the Pill. I no longer have a healthy relationship with my Protestant grandmother because I've put so much energy into defending it. But I've never actually used it, and doubt I ever will.

So I was glad to find that this book contains a whole section on the importance of getting to know your body and your menstrual cycle. It's something to which I have devoted a lot of time. My periods have always been intense; if I don't do something to control the pain before I start bleeding, I'll be stuck in the fetal position for days. And since I'd rather not take birth control, I've just gotten really good at figuring out when it's going to happen. I've tried to explain that to a few people and gotten funny looks. So it was nice to see my beliefs and practices within the pages of this book (especially since I needed something to make me feel better about the fact that I've been inadvertently adding fuel to the very fire I've been fighting all my life).

Although her main focus is on the US, Muscio does not ignore other cultures. And in mentioning other experiences, she strengthens her argument that capitalism is incredibly damaging to women. One of the most eye-opening parts of the book for me was an interview she conducted with Soraya Mire, a woman from Somalia who points out, "In America, women pay the money that is theirs and no one else's to go to a doctor who cuts them up so they can create or sustain an image men want. Men are the mirror. Western women cut themselves up voluntarily. In my country, a child is woken up at three in the morning, held down and cut with a razor blade. Western women pay to get their bodies mutilated" (126).

And yet in the afterward, Muscio acknowledges that despite her best efforts at being inclusive of all women, she missed something pretty tremendous and has been kicking herself since. "What I did not consider--and this is totally a result of my socialization--is that the world is made up of more than women and men, boys and girls. In writing _Cunt_, I completely overlooked the realities of gender-variant people" (239).

In the "expanded and updated second edition," Muscio explains that after the original publication of _Cunt_, she was asked many times about her "position" on trans-inclusion, and was entirely caught off-guard. It made her want to go back and edit entire sections of the book she had written.

High five to her. In admitting that, she touched upon something I've mentioned here many times: Feminism is still relevant because just look at how much we're still learning. We've all got our biases. And we're living in a capitalist society whose ideal is white, male, and heterosexual, so we're still going to catch ourselves inadvertently leaving people out. Shit, I'm gay and have kicked myself for not meeting the expectations of compulsory heterosexuality. I'm female and I've used sexist language. And yet I, like Inga Muscio, have identified as a raging feminist for quite some time now.

Like I said, reading _Cunt_ has made me aware of how I've been fueling the very fire I've been fighting all my life.

It's time to stop. I don't know how fully I can do that without leaving the US, but "I promise on a holy stack of _Beloveds_ by Toni Morrison" (69), I will spend some time with my inner eight-year-old.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Let's be honest for a second, here.

Tomorrow I'll be twenty-two (which I guess just means that I can -officially- relate to just about every single Lily Allen song ever written). This one's my favorite.

And like everyone else, I'm trying to convince myself that it's okay--okay to be unsure, okay not to know, okay to acknowledge that I feel a little lost (or a lot lost, even). Okay to admit that even if I am strong, I often don't feel that way.

People keep asking when I plan to graduate from college. The truth is that I don't really know or even care. I finally looked at my credits and figured out that I'll probably be able to graduate sometime in 2012. But I only did that so I'd have a "real answer"to give. I'll get there when I get there. It's kind of hard to pinpoint it when I'm not even sure what "getting there" means to me yet.

I spent the day working on my women's studies final--a series of short essay-length responses to questions about articles we've read throughout the semester. I was geeking out so hard. I loved it. I'm lucky. At least I know that there's still something out there I love, even if I don't quite have a firm grasp on it just yet.

I keep repeating to myself that we're all different--myself included. And we all have our own ways of handling things.

Tragedy, for instance, affects me more profoundly than it does many people, no matter how distant it is from me. And I was surrounded by a lot of it last year. I felt as though I was expected to to push it aside because it wasn't "mine." My friend Liz (who's my age) lost her parents and brother suddenly. A month later, Tracy's house burned down. And three months after that, Sharon's six-year-old daughter drowned in Otsego Lake during a church outing.

I tried to focus on my own shit. At the time, I was very busy with work I didn't really find fulfilling. The trouble wasn't the workload or even the fact that I didn't find it meaningful, but rather, that I couldn't bring myself to admit it. And time was a'wastin'.

Everything that had happened to Liz, Tracy, and Sharon, plus the fact that I was still closeted and thus living dishonestly, made me realize that life's too short. Well-intentioned adults (my parents, professors, etc) kept telling me to chill out because I was only twenty and had all kinds of time to figure shit out. But I had learned the hard way (by attending a funeral for a six-year-old) that you don't know how much (or how little) time you have. No one can really afford to live the way I was living--if you can even call it living.

So this year, I've tried really hard to be honest. I came out to my parents (and just about everyone else who hadn't known). I gave up on editing, transferred colleges, and am undoubtedly happier than I was a year ago.

But since I'm being honest, I'll admit that I'm still scared shitless. I don't really know what's next and know that it's not over because I'm still living and therefore, becoming.

Life is messy. I am messy. Admit it, you're messy too.

It'll be okay.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Meme? (That's a funny-sounding word to me.)

There's this silly meme on Facebook where you're supposed to write 25 things about yourself: random facts, quirks, etc. I thought it'd be a fun topic for a particularly self-indulgent blog post (read: fine way to procrastinate on all the homework I've got do do before the semester ends). So, here goes.

1) According to my mother, I was born able to tell time. That's really too bad for her. She could never trick me into going to bed early.

2) I sob uncontrollably every time I watch The Fox and the Hound. I'm not exaggerating. I really can't handle that scene where the old lady abandons her pet fox in the woods when it's raining. Brings me to pieces every time.

3) I never scrape frost or snow or anything like that off my windshield on cold Michigan mornings. Instead, I just get into my car earlier than necessary, turn on the defogger, and read a book.

4) As addicted as I am to Facebook, I'm very glad that I have a really boring cell phone that doesn't let me connect on the go.

5) I'm not really a big fan of pancakes. My body demands protein and caffeine upon waking in the morning, and pancakes just do not provide the goods. Sorry if that makes me un-American or something.

6) I hate cheddar cheese. Swiss is where it's at.

7) Every time I'm forced to watch Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake videos while babysitting, I think about the cartoons I watched as a kid (The Rugrats, Recess) and am certain that they contributed to my androgyny. Thank goodness.

8) I will go out of my way to avoid left turns at busy intersections.

9) Although I'm not overly fond of my middle name, I think it goes nicely with my first name. (Amelia Nicole--pretty, yes?)

10) Not only am I not religious, I'm also not even remotely spiritual. I tried really hard to be, but it just didn't work out. (Sorry, Mom.)

11) My first concert was Hanson in June of 1998. Don't make fun of me.

12) My taste in music is really questionable (see above fact). But so is yours, most likely. At least I'm willing to admit it. :-)

13) I love the idea of traveling, but my agoraphobia often gets in the way.

14) If I don't do things ass backward, they don't get done.

15) I was born in mid-December, and am really bad at math. So sometimes I lose track of how old I am, because for eleven and a half months out of the year, I cannot simply count backward to my year of birth to get my age.

16) I can't remember the last time I wore makeup.

17) My glasses leave my face so seldom that I often lie down in bed or get into the shower and then realize that I'm still wearing them. Actually, I'm pretty sure I was wearing them the last time I made out with someone, too. Hm.

18) I really can't stand Sarah McLachlan's music. I don't really know why. Maybe I just associate it with animal abuse commercials and don't like being depressed. But at any rate, I'm pretty sure that the only way I'd be able to handle her is if she suddenly did a cover of "I Touch Myself" or something.

19) I freaking love seafood--even sushi. All you haters can shut it.

20) My mom told me once that I had a healthy mind because one day when I was super thirsty I told her that I could easily drink an entire gallon of milk.

21) A year or so ago, my friend Tracy and I were sitting at Starbucks on SVSU's campus making up stories about where we'd be in ten years. Tracy came up with an elaborate tale about how my cat Mac was still alive but really old and in a lot of pain. She went on to tell me that he lost control of his bowels and had trouble walking. And she told me that although I knew it'd be better to put him down, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. When she got to the part where I put him in my car and drove halfway to the vet only to drive home again, I burst into tears and a bunch of strangers sitting nearby became concerned. Tracy felt really badly about it. I don't know if this anecdote says more about her talent for telling really colorful stories or my sensitivity/ridiculous level of attachment to my cat.

22) I love gift cards. This probably means I'm a huge tool.

23) I consistently refer to Christmas as "Grinchmas," not so much because it makes me grumpy (even though it kind of does), but mostly just because I really love the color green. And the Grinch is green.

24) I was raised by someone who is adamantly against abortion in pretty much any circumstances, and considers it "a form of genocide." But here I am, absurdly passionate/vocal about reproductive rights. (Again: Sorry, Mom.)

25) I love rain/snow as long as I don't have to drive through it. I'll gladly ride my bike or walk through it. But if I have to drive through it, it can damn well keep itself up in the clouds 'til I reach my destination.