I still cry every time I leave home, whether I’ve been there for a weekend or a summer. I’m still the awkward girl with no sense of decorum who cries on the Megabus. I still feel worse and worse as I get closer and closer to my hateful destination. Every lonely Indiana mile hurts as I pass it by.
There’s no redeeming Chicago in my eyes. For the rest of my life, I’ll remember it as the first place where I ever consciously wanted to die. It was the first place I have ever felt truly alone–the first place where I understood, after my luggage has been carried up the stairs and the door has slammed shut, that nobody will come and save me now.
All the negative superlatives of my life so far have happened here. Coldest, loneliest, saddest, angriest. Most betrayed, most apathetic, most afraid.
Some days I feel like hate is the only response I can give to this city. I like to imagine that it will somehow be hurt by the blunt force of my hate, which burns on and on even after my wounds have all healed. But of course, cities don’t ache. People do.
It wasn’t always this way. When I was in high school, before I could imagine any sort of life outside of the Midwest, Chicago shone in my eyes like a lighthouse by the lake. It was an oasis among the decaying farms and factories and cookie-cutter suburbs that I drove through to get here. I dreamed of coming here for good.
Now I remember that and I’m filled with guilt for hating it without even being able to fault it. On one hand, this could all have happened anywhere else. Any city, any college, any lifetime. But it happened here. To me. And “it” includes too many interacting and inseparable events and incidents and feelings to plausibly explain to anybody but myself. But it happened here, to me.
There were the little daily indignities that piled up, and the larger heartbreaks and nasty surprises, too. And there were the “real” traumas, the ones that would make it into the story I would come to tell about my life.
There were times that made me smile, too. There have been moments when I have loved Chicago–for instance, when taking the purple line downtown above ground and watching the entire city skyline unfurl in front of me as the train rounded a corner. But a pretty skyline (and a few good friends, and a few fun trips) will never erase those superlatives.
This city has beat me down, and I’m just now starting to stand up again. I wish that I could keep living here without a heavy heart. But I can’t. So now, full of guilt, a hopeful voice in the back of my head counts down the months until graduation, until I can leave.
When I walk down the streets, I see yellow cabs and delis in my mind instead. I pretend that Evanston is Queens, that Lakeview is Greenwich Village, that Michigan Avenue is really Fifth. They are poor substitutions. But I remember the way the setting sun shines down the numbered avenues and I feel better.
It could’ve happened anywhere else, but it didn’t. It happened here.
This whole Tosh thing is making me think about how, in our culture, we discuss problems that disproportionately affect a certain group of people.
For example, one thing I noticed as I read as many articles about Toshgate (and their accompanying comments) as I could stomach is that the people defending Tosh were almost always men. There were a few women scattered in there, to be sure, but that number seemed almost negligible. In fact, there were many more men decrying Tosh than there were women defending him.
What I wonder is why this basic demographic disparity did not seem to give any of Tosh’s defenders any pause. Given that Tosh’s comment was targeted at a woman, and given that his “jokes” dealt with rape–which disproportionally affects women–shouldn’t women’s voices be given extra attention in this debate? Can men reasonably tell women how to feel about a terrible situation that they are much more likely than men to face?
Here are some more examples.
1. When the viral Kony2012 campaign sprung up this past spring, many people jumped on board despite strong criticisms from people who know what they’re talking about. Specifically, as I mentioned when I wrote about it back then, tons of African writers and activists were speaking out against the campaign and explaining how Invisible Children had misrepresented the conflict in Uganda. Yet the founders of the campaign and the people who donated to it seemed to think that they knew better how to solve the problem.
2. It would be difficult not to notice the fact that, in this country, men seem to dictate women’s reproductive rights. Most of the anti-abortion legislation being introduced all over the country is drafted by men and signed by men. The panel of witnesses testifying on the issue of mandating insurance coverage for birth control was almost entirely male. The journalists and commentators who discuss reproductive rights are overwhelmingly male. Men are obviously, ahem, part of the reproductive process and are entitled to have opinions on it. But shouldn’t the people who actually use the birth control, obtain the abortions, and birth the babies have the final say?
3. Embarrassingly enough given what century we’re living in, there are still people who insist that gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks are somehow out to “convert” everyone to homosexuality as if it were a religion, that they’re more promiscuous than straight people, that they make terrible parents, and that they’re asking for “extra” rights that others do not have (for instance, you know, hospital visitation rights–never heard of anyone who has those!). Aside from being appallingly bigoted, such people have clearly not spent any time interacting with–and, more importantly, listening to–actual LGB people.
4. And here’s an example from my own life. When I was a freshman in college, two students painted their faces black on Halloween and dressed up as African American celebrities. In other words, they wore blackface. The campus erupted in controversy, with some people decrying the costumes as racist and others wondering what all the fuss is about.
I was initially in the latter camp. I just didn’t think that this was racist. Yeah, it was kind of stupid and insensitive, but so what? People do stupid things all the time, etc. etc. Furthermore, it seemed to me that all of the students who were furious about the incident–including many African American students–were making a big deal out of nothing.
But then I realized that, to be blunt, my opinion doesn’t matter. It’s not my history that was being painfully brought up. It wasn’t my culture that was being mocked. Once I took the time to listen to the people who did have a personal stake in what happened, I understood why it was a big deal. I also realized that my ignorance about blackface and the fact that it didn’t personally offend me was not because I’m “stronger” than the people who were offended or because I’m more “rational” and “don’t take things personally.” It was simply because I’m white, and blackface wasn’t something I ever had to think about.
I’m not saying that you’re not allowed to have an opinion on an issue that doesn’t directly affect you, or that you shouldn’t share it. I’m saying that, before you solidify that opinion (and especially before you share it), you should listen to the people who are affected by the issue. You should try to figure out why they disagree with you and find out whether or not there’s anything you might be missing. Even if you don’t end up changing your mind, at least you’ve made your opinion more informed.
It’s also good to keep in mind that the members of a particular group are never a monolith. I certainly know African American students who didn’t think the blackface thing was a big deal. I read about women politicians who seek to limit their fellow women’s reproductive rights. There must’ve been Ugandans who liked the Kony2012 campaign. That’s why it’s good to familiarize yourself with all of the arguments about a particular issue before you choose what to think about it.
What seems to be lacking in our culture is the willingness to listen to the voices of people who are actually affected by the issues we’re discussing. We claim that people of color are just “playing the race card.” We claim that women just need to “learn how to take a joke.” We claim that LGBT folks just want “special rights.”
Why don’t we trust that people who belong to marginalized groups understand their own situation better than we do (or at least just as well)? Why do we assume that their interpretations are necessarily colored by a “victim mentality” or a desire to extort some sort of unearned benefits from the rest of us.
There probably are some people who think and act in ways that keep themselves feeling like victims. But they tend to be people who have been pushed down so much that they no longer know how to pick themselves up. The psychological term for that is “learned helplessness.” Experience teaches such people that none of their efforts make any difference, and even if they reach a point at which making an effort would help, they’re already convinced that it won’t. Incidentally, this acquired trait is correlated with depression. (And it is an acquired trait–people aren’t just born with it. Yes, not even women and minorities.)
In short, most people who have been dealt a fair hand in life have no reason to feel and act like victims. Those who do have probably not been dealt a fair hand. Such people don’t want extra rights or benefits that others don’t have. They want–to use that dreaded term–a level playing field.
It is also true that most people tend to act in their own self-interest. Women and minorities do have a vested interest in advocating for rights and fair treatment, because everyone does. People who oppose social justice causes tend to fixate on this as a reason not to give them said rights and fair treatment, as if wanting to improve your lot in life somehow makes you more “biased” than the rest of us.
But what these opponents ignore is that they themselves have a vested interest in ignoring the demands of women and minorities. Because it’s easier to ignore them. It’s easier not to care about what comedians say on stage because it’s “just humor” and if you don’t like it you can just walk out. It’s easier not to bother drafting, implementing, and enforcing legislation that makes workplace discrimination illegal. It’s easier to ignore racist acts on campus than to find the students responsible and discipline them. It’s easier not to think of yourself as a contributor, even a minor one, to systems like racism, sexism, and homophobia.
What I notice a lot is that, in responding to an event that has offended someone else, people tend to go, “Well I’m not offended so why should anybody else be? I don’t think this is wrong, so why should anybody else think so?” Many people, it seems, have a very limited ability to put themselves into others’ shoes, let alone walk in them. But to assume that we all think and feel the same way–or ought to–is a huge mistake.
I’ve got a post up at In Our Words today! Here’s a preview.
A few weeks ago, an organization of conservative LGBT folks and their allies called GOProudendorsed Mitt Romney for president. Surprise, surprise: a conservative group endorsing a conservative presidential nominee.
Dan Savage, however, was apparently irritated enough by this to comment on it. He tweeted, “The GOP’s house f*****s grab their ankles, right on cue…” with a link to the story, followed by the word “pathetic.” Except that he didn’t use the asterisks.
One could hardly design a more controversial and, in my view, offensive message. First of all, the phrase “house f*****s” is a blatant allusion to another offensive term, one laden with historical meaning: “house Negros” (or “n*****s”). In the antebellum South, slaves were divided between those who worked in the fields and those who worked in the plantation owner’s house. The house slaves were typically lighter-skinned and received better clothing and food, and the type of work they did was less physically taxing than that of the field slaves.
A century later, Malcolm X characterized the “house Negro” as a slave who is more likely than a “field Negro” to support—at least tacitly—the institution of slavery, because it has afforded him or her an easier life than it did to the field slave. Similarly, he described African Americans who wanted to quietly live and work among whites as “house Negros,” and himself and his fellow activists as “field Negros.”
[…]This is the complex and painful analogy—which I have probably oversimplified here—that Savage has, for some unknown reason, chosen to invoke. To him, LGBT folks who support conservative politicians are like “house Negros” because they are willing to support a power structure that others (rightfully) consider oppressive.
So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didnt appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”
[…]After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” and I, completely stunned and finding it hard to process what was happening but knowing i needed to get out of there, immediately nudged my friend, who was also completely stunned, and we high-tailed it out of there. It was humiliating, of course, especially as the audience guffawed in response to Tosh, their eyes following us as we made our way out of there. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said about me.
So, what we have here is a (male) comedian insisting that rape jokes are funny (in itself a barely defensible position), getting called out for it by a female audience member, and insisting that it would be “funny” if she got gang-raped.
Naturally, Tosh made a typical non-apology:
I just love how he claims, as usual, that his comments were taken “out of context.” Is there any context in which, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now?” is an acceptable thing to say?
While I’m pretty sure that most decent people would see this “humor” for the crap that it is, a number of online conversations I’ve had the misfortune of having today suggest otherwise. For the record, every single person who has defended Tosh in this situation is 1) a man, and 2) someone who admitted to having previously watched and enjoyed Tosh’s show. So something tells me that there’s a little bit of “But I like this guy and I need to convince everyone that I’m still a good person!” psychological trickery going on here. In technical parlance, we call that “cognitive dissonance,” and it helps explain why some people defend assholes like Tosh so rabidly.
Here are some Actual Arguments that I’ve seen.
But humor relies on offensive jokes!
Now, that’s just false. My favorite comedians, such as Jon Stewart and Tina Fey, may make fun of people, but they don’t need to try to crack jokes about rape to be “funny.” And, as I’ll discuss later, there are different ways to be offensive.
But that’s just his Thing!
Um, so…get a new Thing, then? If you need to remind people of some of the most terrible things they’ve ever experienced in order to earn a living, you might want to consider getting a different career. Just sayin’.
But joking about terrible things makes it easier to get past them!
Why don’t you ask the survivors of said terrible things? Most rape survivors would disagree with you. Also, while there are definitely ways to incorporate sexual assault into a comedy routine that are sensitive and useful (Donald Glover has one that I can’t find the link to right now), joking about the gang-rape of an audience member is emphatically not one of those ways.
But FREE SPEECH!
Words cannot describe how tired I am of this argument. Anyone who makes it lacks even the most basic understanding of our Constitution. All the First Amendment means in this context is that the government can’t restrict Tosh’s right to include offensive material in his routines. It can’t censor videos of his routines, it can’t impose any fines or penalties on him for doing his routines, it can’t make it illegal to joke about rape, and so on.
But that’s it. The rest of us can still speak out when someone says something terrible. A company that employs that person or syndicates that person’s material can still fire the person or stop syndicating the material.
Yes, you have a God-given, constitutional right to be an asshole. But why, why must you exercise it?
But people should know what they’re getting into if they’re going to his show!
Well, that sounds awfully victim-blamey, doesn’t it? Should women also “know what they’re getting into” if they go to a bar alone? Should people going to prison “know what they’re getting into” if they get sexually assaulted there?
First of all, this isn’t always practical. The woman in question here was going to see a show that included several comedians, some of whom she knew of and others that she did not. It’s unreasonable to ask everyone going to a comedy show to research the comedian’s entire oeuvre to make sure that it’s free of rape jokes.
Second, Tosh has a show on Comedy Central. One of my friends pointed out that it’s often playing at the gym when she goes. Should she just avoid the gym, then? Should she call every gym she’s considering going to ahead of time to make sure that none of their TVs are currently playing Tosh’s show?
But other Comedy Central shows are offensive too! Why focus on this one?
This argument generally refers to South Park, which is well-known for being offensive. But there are different kinds of offensive. South Park, for the most part, is “offensive” because it covers taboo subjects and uses strong language. Such things can be shocking and unpleasant if you’re not expecting them, but they’re not outright prejudiced and harmful. And in fact, this type of “offensive” material can actually break down stigmas and encourage more openness around these subjects, which is great.
Joking about rape, as I mentioned above, is different from joking about religion or bodily functions or sex. It’s not merely “offensive,” it’s actually harmful to individuals and to society as a whole.
But other comedians are offensive too! Why focus on this one?
This is a stupid argument. I can’t speak for every single person offended by this incident, but I speak out every time I encounter something like this. Nobody is singling out poor Tosh, so calm down.
But she “heckled” him!
Am I to assume that interrupting a comedian’s show makes one deserving of rape?
First of all, as this woman makes clear in her blog post, we have a responsibility to speak out when something isn’t right. Could she have waited till afterwards? Sure. Could she have written Tosh a nice, polite, friendly letter that never made it past his secretary? Sure. But she wanted to be heard, and she had the right to be.
Second, even assuming that she was acting improperly (not something you’d ever accuse a man of, is it?), that still doesn’t make it okay to announce in front of an audience how “funny” it would be if she were gang-raped. I honestly have trouble believing that there are really people who would justify Tosh’s behavior this way, but I saw them with my own eyes on Facebook earlier this afternoon.
But you’re just taking it too personally!
Congratulations, you’ve now completely failed at being a decent person. Yes, there is such a thing as taking an insult too personally. If a comedian made a joke about brunettes or writers or psychology majors or other such mundane groups that I belong to, and I exploded at him, then yes, I would probably be “taking it too personally.”
But sexual assault is not something that can be “taken too personally.” It is personal. It’s personal even if you haven’t personally experienced it, because I guarantee you that someone you care about has.
It’s personal because a woman who accuses a man of sexual assault is still questioned about what she was wearing at the time. It’s personal because a man who accuses a woman of sexual assault is still laughed at and considered less of a man. It’s personal because a man who accuses a man of sexual assault is still called a f*****. It’s personal, people.
Perhaps there will come a day when sexual assault is treated exactly the same as other crimes. When it does not disproportionally affect women, people of color, young people, poor people, and others who are already marginalized. When we can all agree that there’s nothing anyone can do to “ask” for rape.
Perhaps when that day comes, it’ll be possible to joke about sexual assault and wonder how it could ever have been that people didn’t treat it seriously.
But Nobody Cares™! That’s Just How Things Are™! Nothing Will Ever Change™!
You’re creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more people care, the faster things will change. Because they’re already changing. If you’re not interested in helping, bugger off while the rest of us change things.
But he said he’s sorry!
First of all, no, he really didn’t. He said, “All of the out of context misquotes aside, I’d like to sincerely apologize.” Out of context? Misquotes? Honey, stop. Here’s what should be a primer on how to actually apologize for something you’ve publicly said.
Second, even if he had made a genuine-sounding apology, I don’t understand this requirement that we have in our culture to accept any and all apologies and then never speak of the Matter again. What if I don’t accept your apology? What if the words “I’m sorry” are simply not sufficient to make up for what you did?
Nobody owes forgiveness to anyone, and even if Tosh had actually apologized, that doesn’t mean we should stop analyzing his words and making sure that others understand why he was wrong. You don’t get to be like “Yeah well I said I was sorry so why can’t you just get over it already!” Sorry, nope.
When I was a little kid, my favorite dreams were the ones in which I got something new–a toy I’d been wanting, some really cool gadget. (Kids are acquisitive that way.) I would wake up grasping for my new possession and feeling a tremendous sense of injustice at the fact that I couldn’t keep it after the dream was over.
Right now, I’m still dreaming the dream, hoping I never wake up and lose what I’ve just gotten.
My depression kind of has its own saga. I’ve had it since I was 12. It got much worse when I went to college. I got diagnosed and started taking anti-depressants and it got better. Then it got worse again despite the anti-depressants. Then I said fuck it to the anti-depressants and went off of them. There were a few good days in there in spite of that, to be sure, but it was always there.
That is, until a few days ago.
It’s well-known that depression can spontaneously remit sometimes, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen to me. Just a few short weeks ago I was strongly considering going back on anti-depressants and dreading the long, lonely summer ahead. I’d had many bad episodes recently, too many.
But then they started decreasing in frequency. I didn’t even notice what had happened until, ironically, an evening when I was sad. I had put on some sad music and was sitting around lamenting the uselessness of one of my romantic endeavors. There’s no chance in hell it’ll go anywhere, but I really like the person in question, and this sucks.
And then it suddenly hit me–I was sad like normal people are sad. I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t wondering why I’m such a failure in life and why everybody hates me and why I’m so ugly and useless. I wasn’t planning a lifetime alone and lonely. I wasn’t going down the list of every single person I’ve spoken to recently, analyzing our last conversation, and scanning it for clues showing that they actually secretly hate me.
I was just sitting around, kind of blue, listening to sad music, regretting the fact that this Thing isn’t going to work out, but hoping that someone else will come along soon. Like a normal person. A healthy person.
And that’s when I knew it was over.
The weekend after that–this past weekend–felt entirely new to me. All the colors were brighter, my senses were sharper. Little hurts rolled right off of my skin like water. I woke up in the morning looking forward to the day, whereas for the past year and a half, I’ve woken up every day thinking, “Fuck, another day.”
I could be happy sometimes when I was depressed, but only if I had a concrete, immediate reason. Now I don’t need one. I can be happy just because, sometimes. I can be happy just because I’m alive.
There are a few reasons why this might’ve happened now. Summer started and the academic stress went away. The weather is good. I can be outside now, go to the beach, take walks, explore the city, have a life outside of my tiny room. My friends freed up, too, and suddenly I started having plans with them all the time. It became possible to text someone in a moment when I was feeling down and have plans an hour later.
Besides that, I fell for someone for the first time in ages. Although that person is completely unavailable to me in more ways than one, it was a reminder that there really are people out there with whom I can feel a connection, despite my cynicism about these things. Nothing’s going to happen here, but I’ve already learned more from one unrequited crush than I have from the past year and a half of dating.
The final thing is that I started writing again. By which I mean, really writing–writing fiction–and not just these blog posts and the various other expository pieces that I do. I restarted a novel that I thought up two years ago but then stopped writing because I thought I wasn’t mature enough to write it. It’s a lofty project; its themes include grief, depression, suicide, marital discord, friendship, betrayal, love, and figuring out what the hell to do with your life. It doesn’t seem like an uplifting thing to write, but it is, and writing it once again has made all the difference.
For the first time in a while, I can be at ease alone. Whereas before I hated myself so much that I dreaded being left alone with myself for more than an hour or two, now my mind is a welcome presence. It writes stories for me, it promises me a bright and happy future. It points out birds and clouds and other things I used to ignore. It steers me towards my cheerful playlists, not my brooding ones.
I’m writing this now not just to share it with others, but because, as with coveted toys of my childhood dreams, I’m trying desperately to hold onto this feeling before the dream ends. Because it will. It always does. And when it does, I’ll no longer be able to understand how I could’ve ever written this.
And I’ll reread it and try to understand. I’ll remember to see my friends and to write more and to stay open to the possibility that someone will come along and change my entire life.
2. On anti-science and why it fails.This article especially makes a brilliant critique of liberals who claim that science is “Western” and therefore “oppressive.”
3. My friend Kate takes down that ridiculous book The Secret that was all the rage a few years back. No, just because you wish really really hard for something to happen does not mean that it will. How was this ever a bestseller?
4. On things no one will ever say to a man. “Men will never be asked the question, “Can you have it all?” because it’s implied that they already do. Their penis entitles them to the life cake and eating it too. They have a monopoly on “All.” They invented “All.””
5. I must confess I did not have the energy to read all the responses to the by-now-infamous Atlantic “Can Women Have it All” piece, but here’s the one I did read. It’s about federally mandated paid maternity leave, and how women in 178 countries–but not the United States–have it.
And the Crap Post of the Week Award goes to this gem from College Candy. (Really, Psychology Today and College Candy) should probably be off-limits for this award since that makes it too easy.) The writer has been taking advice from her friends about dating and one of them told her a little-known Rule: you can only text a guy once for every two texts he sends you, and call him once for every three times he calls you.
She writes, “Correct me if I’m wrong (which I know you guys will!), but the air of mystery disappears if I’m doing all of the texting and calling, right? He’s not worried about what I’m doing or how my day went or if he’s on my mind, because I’m basically telling him.”
Naturally, it didn’t work. Despite all the fairly sexist babble about men being “clueless” and “oblivious,” trust me, they can tell girls who play these inane games and follow “Rules” apart from those who don’t, and they stay away.
Also, as a side note, unless your friend is Marilyn Monroe, I’d take her dating advice with a grain of salt. This includes me, folks.