How Men and Women Cripple Each Other

I think about gender roles a lot.

I’m very proud of my Lady Gaga post and it was written out of love for my two transgendered friends. Transgenderism is interesting because it proves that the difference between men and women is more than physical. When a person born with male parts knows that she is a female, who can contest that?

Now that I’m at University of Michigan, I think about what it means to be a woman. Now that I’m getting married in 8 months, I think about what it means to be a wife. My favorite wedding blog (A Practical Wedding), which isn’t really about centerpieces and wedding trends but more about the psychological transition from singlehood to marriage, had this excellent post about being a wife and mother. It’s about a book Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about female roles in the family. This part was reeeeally illuminating to me:

“She talks about her mom quitting a career that she loved, because her father couldn’t handle not having her home to take care of the kids and the house.”

I hear this kind of thing a lot. That men are so invested in their careers, they need their wives to take care of everything else in their lives (the home).  Meg goes on to write

“I worry when I hear about most of us* doing the bulk of the chores around the house. Not because we have to, but because we want to (“I just care more about cleanliness than he does, so I need to take responsibility for that.”)”

She also writes about how we praise women who sacrifice themselves for their kids. There’s the general idea that our society completely depends for its survival on mothers’ sacrifices, yet we don’t put any real value on this. The post is about women losing themselves, “having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls” in order to serve their families. This is not what God meant by giving. Giving is supposed to edify the giver and the receiver.

I hear about it a lot; I hear about men who never learn how to cook a meal for themselves, men who claim they don’t know how to clean or do other domestic things. I saw a guy pushing a stroller the way people walk their bikes – to the side of his body, with one hand. They don’t want to associate themselves with feminine “tasks.”

(Please grant me my generalizations, because there’s truth to them)

Is this because of how men are “wired” biologically? Or is it a cultural cripple?

Let’s flip it around. I hear women in my class, all the time and EVERY DAY, apologize before giving their opinions. I see my classes dominated by men, I see men with wedding bands who never talk about their wives but talk about getting married as a check off the list.  I hear insensitive remarks in general, not even just about women, that go unnoticed. Women are crippled in academia, and probably in the work place (I haven’t had a legitimate fulltime job – don’t get me started on my cleaning job with Maid to Order). When women cross over into “man territory” they seem to have to assimilate to mannish mannerisms. When men cross over into “woman land,” they get called “sensitive” and sometimes, by immature people, “gay.”

I want to tangent on my last sentence. I think this is hugely relevant right now.  Anywhere in the media where a guy is acting strange, dancing, or being generally comfortable with himself, he gets a lot of “you’re gay” thrown at him.  Anywhere a guy alludes to anything feminine, a joke has to be made about it. Sometimes I think that men are more crippled than women. They’re emotionally crippled. They’re so afraid of being seen as gay or feminine, which are synonymous with weak, that they force themselves along “safe” constructs of manhood. They have to dress a certain way, like certain things, not say certain words, all out of fear of being like a woman.

Being like a woman, like our mothers who taught us much of what we know and did so much for us, that’s the greatest fear for a man.

What does that say about actually being a woman? It sort of says that it’s a necessary evil. It says we are making sacrifices just by being who we are. It says that we need affirmative action and protection because we have it so hard or because we’re weaker.

What does this do to our work? It removes the elements we think are “feminine” – sensitivity, holism, empathy.

What does this do to friendships? It makes women compete against each other and boy-girl friendships unnatural (“you guys should date already”).

What does this do to children? It teaches them that they should only be a certain way, and if they vary from that, society will punish them. Hence, to the ones who bravely cannot help but be themselves, it means a lifetime of unnecessary troubles.

What does this do to the church? It gives us a false picture of who God is. It masculinizes God, the creator of sexes. And God is all-powerful, so we then associate (subconsciously) power with masculinity.  (My favorite priest pointed out that part of the curse in Genesis is that men will have power over women. The curse of patriarchal society.)

Finally, what does this do to marriage? To make marriage work, we have to either break the mold or buy into it. Both have extreme repercussions.  One makes society constantly question us, the other continues the cycle of men and women crippling each other.

I’m not against societal structure. Clearly I’m not – otherwise, I would not be entering the institution of marriage. I just think we should be growing up, in a way. Maturing. Transcending these norms and accepting each other and ourselves for who we are. Admitting our weaknesses. Enabling each other to do what we really want to do.

Everyone should read that post from A Practical Wedding. Tell me what you think.

So this is the New Year and I feel tons different. TONS.

F irst things first, before I forget: there is an electric car in Grand Rapids that looks like a silver cylinder that drives around Easttown a lot and I have seen it on Plainfield at midnight one night this past fall. If you know anything about this or the owner please contact me! When I saw it, it was a very dark night and I thought it was an airplane without wings. Further sources have told me this is a bad description.

Sorry to contradict Ben Gibbard’s sentiments but I am feeling TONS different from my last post, which was written last year. Now I don’t know how to even phrase the ideas going around in my head.

A conversation I had the other day with a Taoist summed everything up: by playing part in this political game we are distracting and impeding ourselves and our kids from dreaming., and online magazine, features many solutions and rarely rants or fosters useless anger about problems. Another plus: it is not high on itself, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Their Ideas for Cities series makes you think outside the box, something we sorely need to do right now.

If you think about it, America is very young. We are a little over 250 years old. We were born yesterday. There is no reason to stick to anything that isn’t working for us.

I can translate the questions from my last post into ideas. For example: Why don’t we know our neighbors? I guess I meant this as a rhetorical question but it’s more effective if you try to answer it. What if instead of calling police about loud music, we confronted our neighbors politely?  Do we not think people will comply if we had even the shallowest of relationships with them? More rhetorical questions, but it’s more what I meant.

What if instead of waiting for crime to happen and then arresting and imprisoning people thus ruining their lives forever, we sent in interveners, who basically distract and dissipate a bad situation?  We do this with our kids all the time. All the time. When I cried/whined as a small child, my dad would hold me up to the mirror and I would see myself and start laughing. It’s not that hard to distract someone from what they’re doing, especially when they’re in a drunken rage.

(Side note on crime: the public eye is the best non-violent weapon against crime in a densely populated place. Rural areas don’t have a public eye. That is why guns are so valued out there, because if a girl is getting gas alone in the middle of nowhere, who is going to step in if no one sees some rapist approaching her? And how are we so sure crime won’t move to sprawling places as they become more and more dilapidated?)

If police officers walked the streets of a city again, they would be preventing more crime. Here’s why I think so: a police officer in a car has a literal barrier from the neighborhood around him; he becomes anonymous. When we see police cars, we think of their targets, which are usually speeding cars and drunk drivers, we don’t think of them as interveners in a house break-in.  A police car comes and goes in a neighborhood. A strolling officer lingers for ten to twenty minutes. And the citizens get to know him, too. He becomes a presence and everyone feels safer and more connected.

We don’t even need to leave intervening and patrolling to the police force. We can do a great deal of that on our own.  When I was in college, my boyfriend of the time told me that he heard a guy yelling at his girlfriend repeatedly in a very abusive manner. After some minutes of this, there was heard the voice of a very loud, very friendly sophomore who said “Hey! Whatcha doin’ out there?!” in a tone of loud curiosity without a hint of even threat. This dissipated the situation completely. When we intervene, we give people a self-awareness they didn’t have a moment before.

The crime issue is the issue with the most viable solution in my eyes right now.  Our issues with food, unemployment, homelessness, and the environment have livelittle solutions to them but will need huge reworking to deal with, and this change will happen beyond most of our lifetimes.

And it will happen, and change will happen in your life. Because at one point, we all decide to stop distracting ourselves and to live our tiny insignificant lives. Everything that happens to you in 2010 will be important in ways no one will ever recognize– not even you. The best you can do is live in your moment, appreciate the scope of your world and your mind, and to invite others into it.

If we start thinking like we’re going to be okay, maybe we’ll finally realize that we already are.

My Top Ten ArtPrize Entries

We in Grand Rapids are waiting to hear who made it in the top 10 in Artprize. Voting ended last night and the B.O.B. was buzzing with last-minute viewers. I wanted to post my top 10 personal favorites–of what I’ve seen, mind you, which isn’t half of what’s out there.

10. The Car Chase – It makes you feel like you’re part of a Fantasy-Action movie scene. The women in the water are surprising and the flying insects are delightfully scary.

9. Triangle by Deborah Hyde – This piece is a quilt. I have never seen a quilt like that. Not only is it a beautiful image, but it’s intricately done. I don’t know. Something about it strikes me.

8. Clasp of Hands by Suzanne Jacobs John Forsythe – I love seeing a bronze sculpture that isn’t a bunch of kids saluting the American flag or reading books on a bench outside of a library. This one is just beautiful. The hands found throughout are mysterious and the angel-woman at the top is gorgeous and broken, her wings out of place. Love it!

7. Loss by Tad Mckillop – This one got an emotional reaction out of me. I have no idea what hydrocal is but the statue was life size and unmoving, just as the concept. How many of you have felt like that woman? I guess I love sculpture – especially the ones that look mythological and human at the same time.

6. Saugatuck Portrait Collection by James Brandess – This choice might seem unlikely to you, but if you went and saw this while a certain woman was there, you got to experience an overwhelming explanation of how interconnected all of the people in these portraits are. She started explaining the project and then went into a 15 minute spheel, pointing at a person, explaining them, pointing at another person, explaining their connection, and so on, while knowing all of their names and life stories. And when she was done, she said “So, you can see that everyone in Saugatuck is connected and it’s quite remarkable” as if she had only given 2 examples instead of fifty. I was amazed. And I love Saugatuck. It’s a great little town.  I love the Red Barn.

5. Time Cannot Exist Without Memory by John Magnan – We sat on this oversized bench the other day and I felt like a little kid again. Exactly the point. I like the concept behind this art. I like it when artists use simple concepts and let you sit on their pieces. Haha.

4. The Secret of Three Dimensional Ultraviolet by T. Mikey – He had two pieces in the B.O.B. and the first one I saw was the Wizard of Oz, which of course won me over immediately. I like these pieces because they use an unusual medium and frankly they look trippy. It does Alice in Wonderland justice by making it trippy/creepy, which the book totally is.  And then I think of Wizard of Oz, and I realize Baum may have been on drugs.

3. R. Temus by Norma Randazzo – This one had beautiful detail and I like the homage to Artemus–and that she wears a fur coat. Her arrows are beautiful! Reading the artist’s statement and, well, everything she wrote, she seems like an interesting person.

2. A Line through the Center of Space by Gary Pennock – In the basement of the B.O.B., one corner was really dark and surrounded by a partition. I went into it and looked down a tube and was sucked into another reality, never to return. Or, that was my experience. I loved this piece, it played this constant noise and made you feel like you were experiencing infinity. If I’ve ever told you about my infinity dream, this was the closest thing to it. Quite an accomplishment there.

1. The Sharing Tree by Michael Glenn Monroe – I met this artist and he gave me a children’s book he illustrated and his wife wrote. It was adorable. I am forever partial to children’s art and felt it needed to be on here. The tree isn’t necessarily children’s art, but it definitely accommodates them.


Rise Up Grand Rapids by Charlie Brouwer – I had to put this one on because it’s my great uncle’s work!  I love that the ladders are borrowed and that from a certain angle, my church looks like it’s growing out of a nest of ladders. I love the mindfulness of the state of Grand Rapids and Michigan in general, the hope it embodies, and the truth it speaks that we can only get out of this mess by helping each other. It is not sentimental or Barney-esque or mushy gushy or “gay,” I won’t let it be. It’s vital to our survival.

Both of these works are in Cathedral square and were the first ones I saw. This is by far the best thing to ever happen to Grand Rapids. It’s like a miracle. Grand Rapids has felt like a real city this past week, and now that we’ve seen what it can be, we can work toward the reality.

Deep in the Idea Pond

How novel writing can be a lonely and tedious process, but rewarding and important.

I’m writing a novel. I spent the last ten years telling myself I couldn’t do it, that I’m not the type, that no one reads anymore. BOO YOU KANYE WEST. What’s worse, selfishly dreaming up your own American novel, or writing a crappy book of cliches for money and self-promotion?

I’m reading Ulysses by James Joyce right now and when I read it, I get the itch to write. But when I read Wicked, which I’m also in the middle of, I wonder if I could ever imagine worlds like that. And I’m reading nonfiction southern starlet Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and wondering why I even try when such good writers create beauty out of reality.

I feel so lonely about this novel. I have about 5000 words. I think about it a good chunk of my day. Why do I get that lonely pit in my stomach when I think about actually writing it?

And I’m stealing stuff from my life. In fact, everything is stolen from my life and American culture and other writers and their ideas.  I think that is okay, though. I do take a Woody Guthrie view on life.  We gotta stop this idea-individualism. It’s not just my life, not my own idea pond. You gotta know how to fish those ideas correctly. And you gotta go deep.

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you have to go deeper.” David Lynch

Sometimes you throw fish back for other people to catch, sometimes you eat the fish for dinner.

In the 19th century, painters would copy other painters to learn their technique. This not only taught them how to paint, but it gave them income, because originals could only be copied in this way. Sophia Peabody, wife of author Nathaniel Hawthorne, painted copies of classic pieces until one day, when she got one of her migraines. With that terrible migraine, partly from her exposure to mercury as a child, she got incredible imaginative ideas for paintings. She painted her own original work from her mind.

The pain involved in creating art, along the amount of copying and adopting and tracing and thinking it requires, is age-old and normal. I am not special and it makes me incredibly happy. My contribution to the literary world will only ever be microscopic, but dangit, I AM here in this pond!