Holidays, pop culture

A Last-Minute Holiday Resolution

So. What the ever-loving #$%&  is going on with all the Christmas that has been blasting me in the face every time I walk into a store since before Halloween?  I saw the first Christmas decorations up, in 7-11, on the Wednesday before Halloween. That’s two full months before Christmas.

The weekend following, while people were still stumbling drunkenly through the streets in slutty pancake costumes everywhere I turned, I went to Target and found an enormous display full of trees and lights and all that stuff. I looked around, and, even with a concerted effort, the only Thanksgiving-related products I could find occupied one measly shelf in the craft/office supply area of the store. So what gives?

Well, obviously, there’s some corporate greed going on here. Clearly, Christmas is the most lucrative holiday of the year, and Thanksgiving is not even close, so all these big ole’ businesses are saying to themselves, “hey  guys, I bet if we made the Christmas season twice as long, we could make twice as much money! Right? Right?”

And they may be. After all, the minute I walked into Target and saw all those cheery, glittery bits calling my name, I was struck with the thought that it would be so nice to get a jump on my Christmas preparations this year. It would be convenient to have that extra time to prepare, and I could enjoy the holiday more if , come December, I didn’t feel so stressed out about everything I had to do. All the things I had to buy, all the stuff I had to get and wrap up in all that wrapping paper I would need to procure, and…

Well, pretty much immediately,  my very perceptive partner, D-bizzle (names have been very slightly changed), pointed out to me that not two days ago I had been speaking bitterly against the greed of companies who thought it was ok to bypass the relatively cheap holiday about togetherness and family (Thanksgiving) in favor of the relatively expensive holiday about togetherness and family (Christmas). It didn’t and doesn’t sit well with me.

I’m faced with this dilemma: having Christmas stuff available two months before it’s needed is undeniably convenient, but I feel morally obligated to fight back against corporate greed at its most obvious. It’s the same reason why I never go to black Friday sales. I don’t feel inclined to buy a bunch of things I don’t need just because it’s cheap at events where people are not unlikely to make the news for being trampled to death inside Wal-Mart.

I have settled on this compromise: this Sunday is November 24. That is precisely 1 month before I need to have all my Christmas doodads in a row, so that is when I will begin preparing. No sooner. Even though all that glitter. I realize just one person making this decision is not going to send any kind of message to corporations. At least, not right now. While it’s only one person. But I intend to make this a permanent rule for myself. You’re welcome to do the same.

We can feel all cool and hipster-y together buying tinsel at Target on November 25.

SO EXCITED.

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art, media, pop culture, Uncategorized

The Princess Problem

Let’s talk about how all I wanted for much of my childhood was to grow up and be a princess. How I dressed up in cute costumes and sang cute songs and told everyone that I was either going to be a princess, a secretary, or the president of the United States. Awwww. So. Cute.

Now let’s talk about how, even though I grew up loving Disney, I have come to believe that “the Disney Princess” is a serious cultural problem.

What really brought the problem of Disney Princesses to my attention was this recent interview with Frozen animator Lino DiSalvo. According to DiSalvo, “Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty …So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression.”

You have to keep them pretty. The words that sank the ship of “I still love Disney, even though they’re kind of sexist, because…such good songs.” No. It’s over. I have to admit that these people are holding girls back from being fully realized human beings because we all have to stay pretty. Apparently, nothing else matters.

Of course, it’s totally cool to be not-particularly handsome if you’re a man, according to Disney. Just ask Kuzco, the Beast, Ralph, Quasimodo, Woody, and Milo. And those are just humanoid male leads. I don’t even have time to get into all the strange-looking supporting roles filled by men. And yes there are sexy disney princes. Absolutely. But apparently it’s not hard to keep them from looking too much alike. You know who didn’t get unnecessarily sexualized in ways un-befitting to either age or accustomed activities? Mowgli. Or Arthur. Or Pinnochio.

According to (one of) my feminist hero[es] Caitlin Moran, “the residual hold [princesses] have over female ability to imagine our own future is sneakily harmful” (How to be a Woman, p. 294). Moran believes  that the idea of “being a princess” correlates with the cultural idea that women must “be” while men “do.” Kind of like Aurora is a beautiful, naturally talented singer (as a hobby) who sleeps attractively while Prince Whatever-His-Name-Is gets imprisoned, escapes, and fights evil shrubbery and a witch who is also a dragon.

Being a princess comes with “wealth, glamor, and privilege,” but also, the “implicit acceptance that your powerful husband is going to cheat on you and that you just have to accept that” (293-294). In other words,  because all you’re good for is being really pretty, your social currency both devalues as you age and is essentially interchangeable with the currency of all other similarly pretty and compliant women.

The harmfulness of the Disney princess as an aspirational concept has never been clearer to me than in the response to David Trumble’s cartoon princess renderings of ten real-life female role models. This includes Anne Frank Princess and Princess Harriet Tubman, all of whom look like glittery, toothy fools compared to their real-life selves. According to Trumble, he created the images as a response to Disney’s more sexualized re-design of Brave  heroine Merida. The sparkly, simpering, and certainly more-sexualized image of the adventuresome heroine sparked outrage among fans of the film as well as feminist groups who felt that the new image enforced the idea that even someone as downright  cool as Merida had to change and be “prettier” if she was going to fit in and be a “real” Disney princess.

Trumble says he created his “real world princess” images because he, “wanted to analyze how unnecessary it is to collapse a heroine into one specific mold.” He says, “I decided to take 10 real-life female role models, from diverse experiences and backgrounds, and filter them through the Disney princess assembly line…The statement I wanted to make was that it makes no sense to put these real-life women into one limited template, so why then are we doing it to our fictitious heroines?”

Now, I totally agree with what he’s saying. The problem is, I don’t think his project worked. I saw a few people re-post the articles about Trumble’s art on various social media outlets, and a lot of people don’t seem to be getting the subversive message Trumble is trying to put out there. In fact, a lot of people thought the concept was, like, so, so cute! What a great idea! Trumble himself even notes that some people who saw the image, “saw no harm in it at all and wanted to buy the doll versions of them.”

Part of the reason I don’t think the project worked is that “Disnified” versions of other characters and re-imagined Disney characters are really popular on the internet right now, so it’s likely that people glanced over the pictures for five seconds, said oh, cute! and went on their merry cyber-ways. Which is, in my opinion, terrible, because it says to me that the idea of the Disney princess as a positive cultural force is so ingrained in us that plenty of people don’t see any problem at all when real women are turned into 2-dimensional characters whose main traits are white teeth and glittery dresses. It says to me that there are plenty of people in the world who are still OK with women being, first and foremost, pretty.

Caitlin Moran says that finally realizing she would never be a princess is the thing that has given her, “the most relief and freedom in [her] adult years” (294). This is because it made her realize that if she was going to change the world, she would actually have to do something. She couldn’t just be someone’s pretty, well-dressed muse. 

What I’m trying to say is, I’d like to see the reverse of what Trumble has done. I don’t want to see any more real women turned into princesses. I want to see some princesses turned into real women.

So. Any artists out there want to tackle that for me?

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Holidays, pop culture

Get Spooky with Your Waitress

Let’s talk about Halloween costumes.

I’m a crafty lady, and I love making my own costumes. I’ve been Peter Pan, Cruella DeVille (favorite costume award: strangers on the street sang the theme song to me all night long), Sailor Moon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a flapper, a clown (three years in a row. I had an odd childhood.), a pirate, and I can’t even remember what else. Most of these costumes I made myself. Some of them were sexy, and some of them weren’t. But I’ve never been anything where “sexy” was part of the concept of the costume. Peter Pan is a little boy, so, guess what? Not sexy.

Like many people, I’m getting a little tired of the pre-packaged sexy costume trend. Want to be a “Sexy Pineapple?” I’m sure there’s a way to make that happen. Which I guess is cool? if a little weird. My problem with The Sexy Costume is not that I have a problem with sexy costumes. I’m pretty into sexy costumes, to be honest. I think people should totally be allowed to be sexy if they want, not just on Halloween, but on every day of the year. There’s really nothing exotic about loving your body and wanting to show it to people, and the idea that Halloween is the one night of the year that women can sex it up with impunity is absurd. It plays into the idea that a woman’s sexuality is somehow taboo. As taboo as zombies, even. Which is just crazy talk.

So my main problem with the pre-packaged sexy costume is, as I said, that it exoticizes female sexuality. Also,  I think it’s boring.  If you’re going to dress up as a Sexy Ant, at least have the creativity to make your own costume. Buying a cheaply made polyester one for two hundred bucks off the internet is sort of an extreme waste of money, and it screams “I have the creativity of a rock, so we’re probably not going to have very much to talk about if you approach me at this party.” Which, I don’t know, maybe that’s your intention. In which case, by all means, buy that $150 Sexy Tampon costume. It’s so you!

But just because I don’t think Sexy Pancakes are very interesting, doesn’t mean I’m offended by them. I don’t think that the Sexy Blank Costume craze is ruining Halloween. I think it’s interesting and kind of sad that some people do:

The folks at the Real History Project have created this website. It’s a really unique Halloween website, in that it’s run by historians who created a bunch of historically accurate DIY costume ideas for women. So it’s great because 1) the ideas are really unique, and 2) it’s an opportunity for easy crafting! If you get a costume idea from this website I will be impressed and love it, and maybe even love you! The costumes on this site say to me, “I’m pretty smart and I like history and feminism, so we’d probably have a lot to talk about if you approach me at this party!” So I love everything about this website except the name: Take Back Halloween.

What exactly are we taking Halloween back from? Did “we” own it before, and then the sexy slut brigade stole it, preventing us from ever again using Halloween for what it was initially intended to be, which is a time for adults to dress up like historically accurate characters and talk about politics over bowls of candy? No. No one owns Halloween. The idea that there is a right way to do Halloween is like saying there is a right way to do any other holiday: “you celebrate Christmas but you didn’t go to church? Uh, oh, better take that holiday back from you.” “You celebrate Thanksgiving by eating Chinese food? Nope, not gonna fly, you’re going to have to give that holiday back. You’re doing it totally wrong.”

Halloween is a chance to party. Halloween also often involves children. It is supposed to be fun. And, it‘s the one day of the year that you can dress up as absolutely whatever you want, and no one is going to bat an eye. Want to be Adam and Eve, complete with no clothing whatsoever? Seen it. No one cared. (ok, there were pasties.) Want to be a sexy piece of bacon? Please, please, do. I would actually love to see that. (Guess what, I thought I was just making that up, but here it is.)

Now I know there is more to be covered in the “what is an appropriate Halloween costume” conversation than just the sexy/not sexy/”your grandmother is going to see those pictures” debate. For instance, this student group at Ohio University created a really smart ad campaign about the stigmatizing influence of racist costumes, which I think is totally rad. And while I think that we need to be careful about when we say appropriation is “bad” I do agree that there are some things that are pretty uncool. But ultimately, decisions about when cultural appropriation in a Halloween costume is acceptable are personal decisions, often made with an awareness of who you’re going to be around when you decide to dress up as, say, a Nazi.

Depictions of Halloween traditionally incorporate frightening, shocking, and bizarre images. You are likely to be put in situations where people are actively trying to scare you. With that in mind, the modern culture of Halloween embraces the idea that people can dress up as anything–there are no taboos. No one thinks that if you dress up as sexy corn, it’s because you have a corn fetish. I think it’s sort of understood that whatever you do on Halloween, it’s not real life, and tomorrow at the office, you’re going to go back to being your normal, culturally sensitive, maybe-sexy-maybe-not self. Which I think is so great.

Bring on the Sexy Pizza.

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art, media, social justice

Miley Cyrus, Feminism, Sexuality, and Appropriation

All right, so I’m jumping on a bandwagon here. Although you can hardly call it jumping when every embarrassing click you’ve made in the last month has had the words Miley and twerking in the title. You don’t have to admit it, I know it’s true.

The scandal that is Miss Achey Breakey, Jr. has been all over the news: everyone wants to talk about her risque ensembles, her ‘risque’ dance moves, and her seemingly constantly-visible tongue.  Even some more respectable news sources have gotten in on the action, discussing her “appropriation of black culture” and everyone wants to talk about whether it’s racist. Or not. Or Racist. Or Feminist. Or Not.

In the widely touted open letter from Sinead O’Connor, the musical legend warns Cyrus against allowing herself to be “prostituted” by the men in the industry. Despite being fairly patronizing in tone, O’Connor seemed to have Cyrus’s best interest at heart at first, though this quickly devolved into petty rudeness on both sides with tweets from Miley and in three  subsequent letters penned by O’Connor. Plus Amanda Palmer wrote an open letter response to O’Connor, arguing that Miley is in charge of her own show, and has a right to be doing what she’s doing as her own brand of feminism.  (Suffice to say, the whole open letter thing is getting to be a bit much.)

What these two very famous women musicians address is primarily the sexuality of the female music artist, and how that sexuality relates to feminism. Now I’m all about subverting the male gaze and making sure that men and women understand that women have more going on than just being nice bodies. But I also believe that feminism in the modern day does, as Palmer suggests, allow for women, and men, to create and own their own relationships to their bodies and their sexuality. So, while I very much admire Sinead O’Connor’s choice to shave her head early in her career so that people would have to deal with her as a person, rather than a sexy singer-object, I also admire Amanda Palmer’s choice to drop her record label when they told her she was too fat to wear just a bra in a music video, and to get naked whenever she feels like it. Go Amanda, I love you.

But we’re talking about Miley. Particularly, how people are choosing to talk about Miley in the media. And it is notable to me that neither of these edgy, female, white, musicians is talking about the racial implications of Miley Cyrus’s recent performances. Writer Renee Martin noted that the scandal of Miley’s sexually charged performances only seems to be a scandal because it threatens the idea of what an “appropriate performance of white womanhood consists of” by incorporating “the dangerous sexualities of cultures of color.” With a good deal of scorn, she notes, “filth, ratchet, ghetto and animalistic sexuality is something which apparently should be left for black women.” In other words, if Miley Cyrus were being all sexified and nude in a more conventionally white way, it wouldn’t be a problem. Which to me is a huge problem.

As far as racial critiques go, Cyrus’s performance at the VMA’s and her music videos are frequently being compared to Madonna’s Vogue video and Gwen Stefani’s use of “Harajuku girls”; essentially, that these white performers are using an “other” race as a background on which to frame their own, white, stories. At least one article claims that the appropriation of another culture is just a step many white performers take to a financial end. Several have used the word “slumming” to describe Cyrus’s relationship with ratchet culture, and at least one writer is bemoaning the idea that white performers are now outselling black performers in hip hop.

One thing I find both intriguing and off-putting about a lot of the critiques of Cyrus is that the term “appropriation” is being used as though it is automatically bad. I have a hard time with the idea that because Cyrus is white, she shouldn’t be allowed to participate in a culture that she finds appealing. Cyrus claims that she feels a personal affinity to the culture she is appropriating. She says that the people who appear onstage with her and in her videos are “her homies,” not her accessories.  Does it even matter if I believe her? If she wanted to populate her videos with only white women twerking, she would still be accused of cultural appropriation, and people would still say she was racist for not including any black people in her video.

This fantastic article by aforementioned Renee Martin suggests that, culturally, we believe in “good” and “bad” forms of appropriation–taking as her example Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, she says, “Only when whiteness can claim a “positive agenda” are such acts of blatant appropriation presented as good.” Martin suggests that Gilbert, no better than Cyrus, is using cultures of color to “get attention” and “lend legitimacy” to her art. This is really problematic to me, because Martin seems to suggest that there is no acceptable way to participate in cultures of color if you are white. But what does that actually entail? Should white performers simply avoid all things associated with non-white cultures in an attempt not to be offensive to anyone? Maybe they should make a point to stick to only “conventionally white” things (what does that even mean?), thereby perpetuating the racial problems in today’s society: a society so culturally segregated that every time someone does something that is traditionally done by people who don’t look like them, people on both sides of the divide accuse them of racism.

(Added to this whole thing is the fact that it’s not actually accurate to say Cyrus is appropriating “black” culture, when not all black people consider themselves part of the culture Cyrus is appropriating. For example, several of these black feminists didn’t even know what twerking was until everyone freaked out over Miley’s performance at the VMAs.)

If you click any of the hyperlinks, you’ll notice I’m using a ton of articles by people who don’t agree with me to write this post. That’s because I think that what’s most important and wonderful about Miley Cyrus’s performance at the VMAs is that it sparked a ton of conversation about feminism and race. A lot of people who were already Miley fans were probably not having those conversations before googling her name brought up articles about whether or not the performance was a minstrel show.

So, ultimately, I appreciate Miley Cirus’s performance at the VMAs for two reasons: 1) it was sexual but not sexy, and I think she’s aware of that, and I want her and all women to have a right to perform their sexual identity however they choose. 2) It sparked a lot of very important and intelligent conversations about race, culture, and appropriation (like this one, and this one) that revolved around a figure in the media with such a wide following of young white people–a lot of whom are probably being exposed to  those conversations for the first time.

Don’t worry, I’m not deceiving myself into believing that Cyrus is so self-aware that she’s trying to shock people with her non-sexy sexuality and cultural appropriation in order to make them have really smart conversations about ideology. I would not be all that surprised if she hasn’t read a single one of the articles discussing the complexity of the choices she’s making as far as gender and race are concerned. And I do think that she would be a better and more interesting performer if she were more informed about those things. But, I am still defending her right to create the kinds of performances she is making, and yes, even saying that I think they’re kind of good for everyone. Like bad-tasting medicine.

Miley Cyrus: a spoonful of bear-flavored fish oil.

Plus she’s actually a pretty good singer.

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politics, social justice

OH MY GOD BABIES: the Semantics of Abortion

There are few things that make me more uncomfortable about the state of modern America than the current debate about abortion. Specifically, I have an issue with die-hard “pro-lifers” who have a tendency to confuse their religion or their googly feelings about babies with ethics, and have a habit of throwing around exaggerated accounts of how they are right, and everyone who disagrees with them is a soulless baby killer.

Now, what I’m not saying is that abortion is always good. Nor am I saying that pro-lifers are always wrong. For the record, I have googly feelings about babies, too. What bothers me most about the debate surrounding abortion is that, ostensibly, we’re all fighting for the same things here: education and proper care for women dealing with pregnancy, and appropriate actions regarding their unborn offspring. Obviously, the two sides of the debate do not agree with each other about what “proper care” and “appropriate actions” actually means. In my opinion that’s ok. Or would be if I believed that a real conversation could take place between the two factions regarding the issues at stake.

Unfortunately,what seems to be happening with people on different sides of this issue is that they have laid down their boundaries along semantic lines. The differences between how each group chooses to understand the vocabulary of abortion politics leads to a lot of misunderstanding–some of which, I firmly believe, is willful. The more pro-life news I read, the more it seems that “die-hard pro-lifers”  prefer arguments about semantics over practical discussions about what policies are the best for the greatest number of people. And this leads to the expressions of viewpoints that are mired in bad science and stories about adorable babies and religious terminology, and never seem to get around to addressing the actual effects that abortion-related policies have on real-life women across the country.

The most abundantly problematic semantic issue I find in the abortion debate is that of the titles the two major factions have chosen for themselves. “Pro-Choice” and “Pro-Life” are not opposites. The term “pro-choice” (and I will admit to a bias, though I maintain that it’s a bias in favor of accuracy and sensibility) is fairly accurate: the average self-identifying “pro-choice” individual supports policies that give women a choice about what will happen to their bodies when they become pregnant, including but not limited to, having the option of abortion. What they don’t do is tell women they should have an abortion or that they shouldn’t choose to keep their child. That’s why the term “choice” is used. It’s not an ideology that’s pro-abortion, it’s an ideology that’s pro-options.

The term “pro-life,” on the other hand, sets up a number of serious semantic issues. First of all, it creates a false dichotomy between “pro-lifers” and “the other guys,” who, if they are not “pro-life,” must logically be “anti-life” if they are to continue to be understood as an opposing faction. This creates an immediate gap between people who want to identify as “pro-life” and everyone who doesn’t agree with them. It’s pretty understandable: I wouldn’t want to have a conversation with someone who is “anti-life” either. After all, what would it accomplish? A true enough response, if the dichotomy were accurate, but it’s not. The second problem with the term “pro-life” is that it doesn’t address the concept of “choice” at all. “pro-life” groups are all about “saving lives,” which is hypothetically noble, but the concept loses a lot of it’s credibility when these groups insist on explicitly valuing the lives of unborn children over people in Syria. In addition, I don’t find the term very accurate if “pro-life” groups are willing to shut down valuable women’s health resources (some of which provide the majority of sexual health resources to women who otherwise couldn’t afford them) in order to achieve the singular goal of saving the lives of unborn babies. Despite numerous claims to the contrary by pro-lifers who claim a holistic approach to supporting all life, being “pro-life” is politically akin to being “anti-choice.” And that’s the title I choose to use.

The biggest problem with being “anti-choice” as a political ideology is that it supports policies that take away women’s options about their pregnancy, seemingly without regard to what else is being taken away. Her sexual freedom. Her agency. Her equal opportunity, with men, to say, “no, I don’t want to deal with this.” Sometimes, her own life. I’m not saying abortion is always the best option for a woman who doesn’t want to keep her child. Adoption and prevention are wonderful options. But that should not be the decision of the courts or the church. It should be the decision of the woman. What “anti-choice” activists seem to ignore, or simply not to care about, is that whether or not abortion is legal, it’s still going to happen. It statistically still does. The difference between a legal abortion and an illegal abortion is primarily in the mortality rates of the desperate women who seek them.  In practical terms, seeking to restrict the options of women is to say that the lives of the unborn children are more important than the lives of the unprepared mothers, and that will never be an ideology I can support.

Meanwhile, I am outraged by articles like this one by Kelly Clinger, who explicitly endorses the viewpoint I ascribe to “anti-choice” activists when she draws parallels between modern-day abortion and the holocaust of WWII. She criticizes “the hard-heartedness” of the women who seek late-term abortions and makes references to “piles of hair shaved off of Jews in the concentration camps,” posing hypothetical questions about the effect “if we had the bodies of 50,000,000 babies piled on top of each other in a museum somewhere.” This woman has basically accused women seeking abortions of behaving like Nazis, and what gets me is, she thinks it’s ok. She’s so entrenched in the “pro-life” rhetoric surrounding abortion that she has stopped seeing pregnant women as women with complex and unique and personal needs, and has started seeing them as a factory for a cause that she can self-righteously champion.

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politics, social justice

The Difference between “Activist” and “Almost Activist”

I’m sure it’s fairly clear from the nature of my blog, but I’m the kind of person who takes note of social and political injustice, thinks about it, talks about it, maybe blogs about it, but rarely does anything concrete in the name of fixing the problem. Every now and then I write an email to a state representative explaining to them that I would really appreciate it if they would veto legislation that restricts my and other women’s right to make health decisions about our bodies (and you can, too!). And sometimes I sign online petitions to the white house in regards to issues I care about, like for instance the fact that there has been no response to the recent petition to pardon Edward Snowden (and here’s where you sign that!). One time I protested a thing. Which was pretty fun, because gay people with signs tend to have a high denominator of fun even while addressing serious, civil-liberty-related issues.

But there is a difference between being a person with opinions about how the world should be, and being a person who is willing to devote his or her life to making the world the way it should be. I’m a writer, so you could say I’m an expert (or, let’s be real here, I’m working toward the goal of someday being an expert) on expressing my opinions. I certainly hope that over time, with my work, or my blog, or my emails, or my voice I can help change peoples’ minds about how this world should work, but I don’t harbor any illusions about the real-time effects of what I say and do. I have opinions, but so does everyone else, and opinions are very, very hard to change. I believe that the dissemination of information towards better informed discussion has power.  But I also believe that, in many ways, this power is nothing compared to the power of individual people like Narayanan Krishnan.

Mr. Krishnan amazes me, because he gave up a career in a 5-star hotel restaurant in order to feed 400 hungry people three meals a day, every day, without holidays, for the last ten years. Every day, Mr. Krishnan feeds hundreds of people who are totally forgotten by their communities, often mentally ill, without resources. He sometimes feeds them by hand, and also gives them haircuts. His charity doesn’t make enough donations to cover every meal, so he subsidizes it with money from a house he owns, makes no salary, and lives in the building where he and his team work. It blows my mind. (Check out their website if you want to donate.)

The dictionary defines “activist” as “an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause, especially a political cause.”  Mr. Krishnan’s cause is not an explicitly political one, but if anyone is an “especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause,” he is. To be any more active, he’d have to learn how to never sleep. But he’s not the only person out there whose activism amazes me.

When Edward Snowden decided to give up life as he knew it to make the American people aware of the government’s overwhelming information monopoly, he became an activist, whether he ever wanted to be one before. Likewise Julian Assange has risked political backlash from numerous countries to keep the public informed of classified government actions in and attempt “to radically shift regime behavior.”

I know not all of you are going to agree with what these men are doing (although I can’t imagine anyone denigrating Mr. Krishnan’s actions), but I can not help but admire the dedication it requires to give up so much personal happiness in the name of an ideal. And there is the real kicker, to me. Because I have a lot of difficulty imagining doing such a thing myself, and in some ways this makes me ashamed. I find myself hesitant to act when it seems possible that my actions could meet with familial disapproval–I haven’t even considered doing anything that might get me into actual trouble. Do I really stand for anything if I’m not willing to take risks in order to keep standing?

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politics, social justice

Hold Your Breath, Illinois

So I’m just going to come out and say that I’m really hoping Illinois legalizes gay marriage today.

I originally hail from Minnesota (Long, long ago, in a winter far away) and I was very proud when they came in number 12 for marriage equality not too long ago. I’m ready for all the states that I personally identify with to be as cool as I imagine them to be. Any time now. Just as soon as this happens, and then Chicago stops being kind of segregated in a racist kind of way. And then maybe if we could stop closing schools and subsidizing trashy umbrellas designed to represent historic icons. Then everything would surely be perfect here in the Windy City.

But anyway, this would be a really good first step.

The thing with marriage equality is, I kind of feel like I’m beating a dead horse when I say that, hey, this is an important civil rights issue, and needs to be addressed. Here in Illinois we’re waiting for the Illinois Legislature to decide to vote on it, today, before they adjourn, and that’s a big deal. But I can’t help but feel that if we don’t pass it today, we’re going to pass it eventually. Chicago is a very Democratic place, and Democrats tend to be pretty pro-gay marriage at the moment. So that’s great, and I’m really happy about it. Yay to gay couples who fit snugly into hetero-normative social roles!

But the other thing is this: I am totally, one hundred percent behind a policy of marriage equality, because that sort of seems to be the best we can do in the world we live in right now. But I also think it’s important to question whether this whole marriage thing really ought to be such a huge legal advantage. Stay with me.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (a somewhat shady for-profit enterprise that is very invested in legalizing gay marriage at the moment) there are 1,138 distinct benefits, rights, and protections provided by law on the basis of marital status. This includes social security benefits, crazy tax benefits, family and medical leave laws, immigration privileges, and healthcare privileges (including the often-used example of hospital visitation rights and decision-making rights.) And I agree that if straight married couples have these rights, then so should gay married couples. Without question. But my question is, why do these benefits hinge on marriage at all?

According to this article, an unmarried woman can end up paying a million dollars more in her lifetime for health insurance, taxes, etc, than her married counterparts. This article found that single people often feel discriminated against in the workplace, where they are more frequently asked to work evenings and weekends than their married counterparts. A lot of the benefits conferred on married people (especially the financial benefits) are considered to be a sort of encouragement by the government to get married, because many people see being married as automatically better than being single. Some of the social security benefits of marriage were put into place under the assumption that single people paying into the fund would get married eventually, and they would be recouped their losses then.

In reality this just isn’t the case. Almost half of all Americans are single (at least legally speaking), and there is a growing trend of people who choose not to get married. Like, on purpose. And these people are actually pretty happy, whether you believe it or not. What’s interesting is that, according to this article by Maura Kelly, single people are actually more likely to contribute to society, even though they get less compensation for it. They are more likely to volunteer, to spend time with neighbors, participate in public events, and even frequently work the same jobs as married people while getting paid less. Not to mention they don’t get the same kinds of benefits–for instance, a single person cannot put someone who is important to them on their health insurance, while a married person can include their children and spouse in the package. Nor can they necessarily designate beneficiaries for things like Social Security and 401(k) plans.

To me, this seems pretty unfair, and really unnecessary. Why the tax breaks? Why aren’t the important people in an unmarried person’s life just as important legally and financially as the important people in a married person’s life? I haven’t heard a good explanation yet.

I’m waiting.

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