Category Archives: Outlook

A Time for Boldness

Last week, I held a video conference with one of my distance learning students to discuss her last two papers for the writing course she was taking from me. One paper instructs the students to write an analysis of a word’s origin and history, the other is a traditional research essay. In discussing the etymology of her word, American, she said that she was interested in the changes to the concept of nationality as an American, particularly in context of immigration. I nodded enthusiastically, and then I made a fateful statement: “You could also think about this in the context of the phrase ‘Make America Great Again,’ particularly because we’ve come to see that it’s really referring to white America.”

My student nodded, and I could see the wheels turning. “Do you mean I can talk about politics in my essays? I’ve tried to avoid getting too political in my essays.”

I replied, “Absolutely, you can.” I paused for a brief second, weighing whether or not to say what I really wanted to include. I try to be neutral, I try to be nice to students who fall into different political camps, I try to keep communication open, and I try not to ignite inflammatory sentiments from unstable students in an effort to preserve my life and those of my other students. But sensing that my student had a need, I decided to forge on. My intuition told me that this was no time to be afraid. I added, “I don’t see how we can avoid politics, especially in this administration.”

She gave a quick laugh, and then she launched into what she was really thinking about for the paper: the idea of “American” and the racist ways in which it has been configured, especially recently. It was a terrific argument, but I was completely startled. Where had this been? Would she have mentioned it if I hadn’t said anything? It makes sense, though. She is a woman of color, and I am a white woman. 55% of white women voted for Donald Trump, a statistic I will bear with shame for the rest of my life, even though I ardently voted for and support Hillary Clinton. There is a major power inequity between us, not only because she is my student and I am her professor, but because I am white and she is dark-skinned. By virtue of my skin color, I hold social capital that she must fight to possess—and, frankly, may never possess for reasons that are never her fault. Because I am her professor, I can exploit her race and mine and cloak them under excuses: “insubordination,” “disrespect,” and other disgusting terms that hide fragile hurt feelings, guilt, and defensiveness.

Therefore, it is up to me to bridge the divide and invite her freedom of expression, even if—especially if—she disagrees with me.

And this is why I spoke up. I felt that it was crucial to let her know that her ideas have a place at this table and that it is my responsibility to hear them with professional respect. The rest of the conference was an eager and engaged dialogue about how she would organize her ideas. We ended with a brief note about the research essay (problems in bullying) and how much I looked forward to reading her final work.

Today, I read her research essay. From the very first page, she discussed the way Donald Trump bullied women, the way he bullied Hillary Clinton. Sexual assaults by Bill Cosby and Brock Turner. The way men bully and abuse and exploit women for their own gain and get away with it time and time again. It was a powerful moment of reckoning, because it relayed the routine contemporary injustices that she faces, that we face, as women. I don’t think I’ve read something this angry before—but what a genuine, necessary anger it is. It’s anger at being held hostage to fear, anger at mistreatment, anger at the minor and major injustices enacted against women by virtue of their gender. How long has she had to hold on to this anger alone? How long must she have hidden behind a “brave” face, because she knows the retributions for expressing herself are swift and brutal and even more damaging than hiding?

I never understand the power that vulnerability holds until I find myself in conversations or situations in which I make a choice to be vulnerable (often at very little cost to myself) and then invite my students to do the same—knowing that the stakes for them are much higher than they are for me. I remain respectful when they do not reciprocate, because I can only guess at the kinds of social and cultural chess matches in which they are enmeshed in all their personal and professional relationships. But when they accept my invitation and share, I have learned to sit and hold their words, because it is the very least I can do.

I write this, because it’s reminded me of the solemn duty I must acquit every day as a Christian feminist professor: to treat other students with fairness and respect and to cultivate a safe environment in which to invite their intellectual honesty, even if, especially if, it makes me uncomfortable.

In the weeks following the 2016 Presidential Election, I careened between fear and hurt. I sobbed over stories of naked bigotry and racism, over the hurtful words of a minority white population who had spent eight years being angry that a black man became one of our most beloved and popular presidents of all time. I worried over my safety and that of my fellow women, cis and trans, straight and queer. I kept my tone in class as politically neutral as I could muster, venturing to make a few “safe” statements in the spring. But I knew, somehow, that it wasn’t enough. It’s taken me a long time to emerge from the fear and face it without flinching, but what has awakened me is seeing other women, less privileged women, dealing with that same fear at far greater cost to themselves and with greater consequences than I would face. Surely I cannot leave them to carry this fight alone.

Conversing with young women (and women of color especially) has taught me that in order for them to be safe, I must not be safe. I must take enormous risks for them, because they cannot and I can. I must take up the torch for those of my friends who are in much more vulnerable positions than I, and so I must make the most of my cisgender, able-bodied, straight white privilege and channel it in ways that help people who are not me. Crucially, I must do so without fanfare or acclaim, because acknowledgment of my part in this fight is not the point of fighting. I cannot be silent, and so, I am moving into this next semester with fearlessness, determined to be as judicious and fair, yet vulnerable and honest, as I can possibly be.

This, my friends, is a time for boldness.

picture326

 

 

 

*If you are white and would like an excellent resource, I highly recommend Robin DiAngelo’s What Does It Mean To Be White? which helped me frame and understand my privilege in the classroom.

**If the concept of female “anger” is uncomfortable to you, I urge you to read Laurie Penny’s essay, “Most Women You Know Are Angry–And That’s All Right.”

***You may notice and want to point out that I do not address male students in this post. I absolutely do engage with male students in respectful and open ways and wish to address this, but that’s a completely different post and requires a different kind of focus and vulnerability in light of gender power dynamics. What I’m saying is, stay tuned! I’m already thinking about the next post. 🙂

****Finally, for the sake of disclosure, I do monitor my comments, because this is my private blog. I accept respectful conversation and disagreement, I do not accept trolls or porn bots.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Faith, Feminism, Outlook, Teaching

Why I need feminism (and why you do too)

Tonight, my brother posted the following link to a friend’s feed and asked for her opinion. I post it here now, simply because I want you to understand why I am bursting into flames as we speak:

http://www.ijreview.com/2014/07/156463-15-women-share-reasons-dont-need-empowered-feminist-movement/

Wait, what? SERIOUSLY? These are the reasons not to be a feminist? You aren’t a victim, therefore you aren’t a feminist? You don’t believe in the evils of patriarchy, therefore you don’t need feminism? Susan B. Anthony just rolled over in her grave. Not to mention Eleanor Roosevelt.

Cleopatra or Eleanor

Nothing against these (I’m sure) lovely young women, but they have a grave misunderstanding of what feminism is, and what it does for us all.

I’m not going to bore you with definitions of feminism or direct rebuttals, but I’m going to get personal. Here’s why I need feminism:

*Feminism is what gives me the right to be recognized by my society as an equal to a man. My gender does not make me lesser, but an equal.

*Feminism has granted me the right to vote, the right to a driver’s license, a contract to rent, a bank account, a job, and access to quality medical attention.

*On that note, feminism has fought for my body to be seen as an instrument of my own making–not a baby machine. Because feminism fought for my right to access birth control, I don’t have to worry about getting married and getting pregnant with baby after baby after baby until I die or wear out with a brood of 12 children in 12 years–unless I want to, that is. And then, I *get* to make that choice–it’s not my fate.

*Because of feminism, I don’t have to contort my body into a girdle, hoopskirts, corsets, footbindings, or other equally painful “beauty” devices to be seen as more desirable to a man.

*Feminism has fought for laws that protect me as a person from domestic abuse or unwanted sexual attention. I am a person, not a man’s property, plaything, or object. Feminism treats rape victims like people, not children, and not sluts.

*Feminism allows me to be educated at a university and to pursue postgraduate degrees. My only degree does not have to be M.R.S.

The beauty of feminism is…you, as a woman, don’t have to “choose” it or “believe” in it, because there are enough women willing to fight for other women to be recognized as equals (I’m only being slightly sarcastic here).

I realize that I’m (a) generalizing a bit; (b) idealizing A LOT (equal pay? not being career-penalized for maternity leave [in the guise of another excuse]? Yeah, I am looking forward to that day); and (c) not being super eloquent (but my dissertation is to blame for that one). But there are just some things that feminism has historically stood for and currently fights for. And they’re basic human rights, not even the “politicizing” of gender that is apparently happening to women everywhere (because a man telling me to put an Aspirin between my knees is *not* getting political? Whatever. I don’t reason with madness).

In more anecdotal news, last Christmas I was at church, when a parent at The Chancellor’s school stopped to talk to us. I had never met this woman before, and I am always pleased to meet parents. I reached out to shake her hand, but she brushed mine away, grabbed my stomach–we’re at church, mind you–and then asked, “No baby yet?”

Kids, I’m 29.

29.

No baby. At 29. I can just feel my ovaries drying up. There are women being raped and kidnapped and poorly educated the world over and the REAL tragedy is that a white, educated, 29-year-old woman has chosen not to have a baby yet.

And this is why I need feminism. The End.

1 Comment

Filed under Family, Feminism, Outlook

Old Body. New Light.

Right now, I don’t really know what to do with my body. I’m in a weird place, and I’m having to adjust how I move (literally) through the world.

I should probably explain. Wednesday, I had a large, painful, and disgusting abscess removed from my armpit. It was truly one of the most awful experiences I’ve had with my body. Pain in being touched. Pain in getting numbed. Pain in procedure. Pain in healing. Just…pain. Thankfully, the burning/itching I experienced yesterday has died down to almost nothing. I don’t feel nearly the amount of pain I did before. I’m healing. I’m grateful. I’m glad.

But for right now, I have this huge gauze pad on my arm and a wound that has been packed with medical gauze. I can’t move the way I normally can. This frustrates me. I’m used to being independent. Having my partner grab a heavy baking dish from the bottom of the shelf is new to me. Asking him to get something out of the oven when I *feel* complete is different. I just don’t know how to function in this body.

I’ve compared my actions with my left arm this week to T-Rexing. You know, big, able body, little, teeny, ineffective arms?

T-Rex

Try chopping an onion like that. Or showering.

Showering. I never knew how much I used my left arm until my range-of-motion diminished. This week, showering has been a disaster. I’ve been growing my hair out, so now there feels like so.much.hair to wash. I kind of sort of did my best yesterday, but it felt greasy. Today, I could actually reach up with my left hand and massage my scalp. Victory! I can wash my hair like a human being!

It feels weird to celebrate these small things, but then I think about the things I can do that someone else may never do in the same way. Or at all. I may temporarily have a T-Rex arm, but maybe someone else doesn’t have an arm at all. Or a leg. Or. I’m at least glad I am in an apartment with a kitchen and a stove and enough food to last me the week. And that I can now wash my hair without contorting my neck into a weird position so that my hair gets clean.

So maybe there is a lesson in all this. Maybe I’ve been taking myself for granted. That what I assumed was rightfully mine was really a gift. That not everyone has the opportunity or ability to do what I can normally do for myself. It’s a big and humbling thought.

I’ll be spending a bit longer (probably another week or two, depending on when I can get sutured, and then get those stitches removed) living like a Muppet. But in the meantime, I will appreciate the life that I have been given, the life I have now, and the life awaiting me when I “get better.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Outlook

Why Race Matters in Catching Fire

I got back from the theater late yesterday afternoon from a viewing of Catching Fire, the second adaptation in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. There are many, many things one could say about this particular film, but I’d particularly like to focus on the race-related aspects that, definitely emergent in The Hunger Games, particularly come to the fore in the Catching Fire adaptation. Note: SPOILERS ABOUND. If you haven’t read or seen it, you are welcome to keeping reading my post, but then you will be SPOILED. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of SPOILERS.

Okay, is that a decent warning? Moving on.

I didn’t think of race as being a huge issue in The Hunger Games trilogy, but when I saw the first film and then read responses, I wondered if maybe the films were on to something. Back when the first film was released, there was a strange outcry that Rue was black. I didn’t understand the response; I still don’t, actually. I thought the book made very clear that she was; in fact, I argue that it matters that Rue and Thresh are black. In the book, Katniss discusses how much Rue reminds her of her sister Prim, the girl whose place she has taken in the Hunger Games. Such a statement reminds us that we are all connected intimately as human beings, that we don’t need to be the same gender, sexuality, or race as someone to see ourselves in each other (which is a major premise of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which honestly could have been a much better book, but that’s not for this post, and no, I haven’t seen the film). In the first film, Katniss covers Rue’s body with flowers and makes her body seem like a viewing at a burial. This visual move reminds me astonishingly of James VanDerZee’s Harlem Book of the Dead, in which individuals are laid out for burial and then depicted in elaborate coffin scenes.

Rue   Book of the Dead

I knew we weren’t done with Rue, because the Victory Tour the Capitol forces Katniss and Peeta to revisit all the Districts and relive the Games. The first on their tour is District 11, home to both Rue and Thresh. The film smartly sets up a view of the district as Peeta and Katniss arrive in a militaristic vehicle to take the stage. In the tank, we glimpse workers picking cotton, surrounded by Capitol Peacekeepers.

Catching-Fire-Filming-Field

The workers are all black, dressed plainly in dark clothing. The Peacekeepers are, you guessed it, white. It’s a chilling visual throwback to the slavery/sharecropping history in the South (which, according to a theoretical map of Panem, is where District 11 is located). Once we get to the “celebration,” which is anything but, Peeta and Katniss take the stage to see pictures of Rue and Thresh on either side. Their families have been forced to stand below these portraits, forming a triangulation with Katniss and Peeta on the stage. This setup makes the horrific scene even more heartbreaking, because you can see Thresh’s parents–alone–under the picture of their dead son. Rue’s mother (no father depicted) stands next to her remaining children, between 3-4, all younger than Rue.

Peeta puts away the carefully constructed speech and stammers out his gratitude and debt to Thresh. Katniss speaks of her relationship with Rue and how Rue saved her life and became her friend in the Arena. Peeta vows to donate a month of each of their winnings to the families for the rest of their lives–a gesture they have no way of meeting, but one they feel they can offer. It’s an interesting and honest depiction of survivors’ guilt (and, I’d argue, white guilt too). And then, instead of applause, an old man offers District 12’s three-finger salute. This gesture is interesting, because it echoes District 11’s response to Katniss’s own salute in The Hunger Games (I’d argue the most moving scene in the first film). In it, the entire district had saluted Katniss, and then a man started a riot (now that I think of it, maybe Rue’s father?). Here, though, violence is not caused by riot. The old man sings Rue’s mockingjay notes, and then, the Peacekeepers sift through the crowd, dragging him up to the stage as Peeta and Katniss are pushed into the building. Just as the doors close, we hear a gun go off in the vicinity of the man, who has been forced to kneel on the stage.

hunger-games-catching-fire-teaser-trailer-3

This staging is done very intentionally, I’d argue. Watching someone being (essentially) lynched in the public square is one example of the race crimes taking place in the United States throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. By porting into that discourse, the film has found a way to make our shameful history even more relevant, though the books themselves are works of dystopic fiction.

This sort of violence is also enacted on Cinna, Katniss’s secretly rebellious stylist.

movies-the-hunger-games-catching-fire-lenny-kravitz

Cinna turns Katniss’s fake wedding dress into the costume of a mockingjay, which is to become the symbol of the nascent revolution. In so doing, Cinna flouts President Snow’s orders, and quite publicly at that. As Katniss is ushered up to the Arena, enclosed in glass, Cinna is surrounded and brutally beaten by the Peacekeepers. She is forced to watch her friend and ally bludgeoned before her eyes. It’s horrific. And yes, Cinna is also black. I was reminded of the unprovoked attacks on black men by white law enforcement throughout our nation’s history. And we wonder why young black men fall into petty crime and a system of incarceration so young and so often…when we consider the history of violence in this country, the inequity with which crime is treated based on which color you are, it should give us pause.

What about Enobaria, the District 2 Career tribute, who had her teeth sharpened? Initially, I was very concerned that the film would depict her as the stereotypical black savage.

FIN03_Idiom_1Sht_QQ_Enobaria.jpg

Thankfully, the film downplayed any violence associated with her (and in the books, I don’t recall much anyway), AND they depicted the perfect, blonde creepy siblings, Cashmere and Gloss (this franchise’s response to the Lannister twins) as much more cruel and violent. Plus, as My Sister pointed out, Beetee, whose ethnic origins was never made clear in the series, was depicted by the awesome Jeffrey Wright, a black man. As she rightfully noted, we cannot fall into the trap of making every African American character a saint, simply for their ethnic origins. Balance is good. So there’s that.

Is Catching Fire a film solely about racial oppression? No, there are other means of oppression, of torture that occur (and we need look no further than the ways in which Finnick has been exploited for Capitol gain, or how bitter winning has made Johanna, for instance). But I believe that the films saw an opportunity to make a statement about our sordid past and conflicted present and did so incisively. And the response to the first film has indeed shown that we are not, in fact, a post-race America.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Movies, Outlook

ANXIETY

This is going to be a mess of a post. I am feeling all the feels today, and I can’t quite seem to make sense of it. So, I’ll start somewhere and then end up in a totally different place than where I intended. Let’s start with the facts: my doctoral qualifying exam (known as DQE in my department) is on the 28th of this month. 12 days away. My prospectus has been sent in, I’ve practiced with a colleague who gave excellent feedback, and I’m already starting the re-reading of one of my primary texts for the writing process that’s about to begin. I’ve got this.

And then, this morning, I woke up in a cold sweat, because my first-ever DQE nightmare came to visit.

[Sidenote: every summer, late July, early August, I start to have School Dreams. Something odd always happens in my classroom, and one of my nightmare students is always in it. It sucks. I get this momentary dread that school is going to be bad. It’s not.]

In my dream, I was at my dissertation director’s house. Now, I’ve never been to his house, but my dream-sense told me that it was his. He grilled me on “brionext theory.” I have no idea what that is even supposed to be. He grilled me on The Passion of the Christ. You know, the Mel Gibson Jesus-gets-crucified film. And asked for the medieval literary connections. So I rambled on about Margery Kemp and Julian of Norwich. This is funny for several reasons: I am not even close to being a medievalist/medieval studies scholar, and haven’t read any medieval texts for a good 7-8 years; also, my director is not a medievalist. Not even close. He’s even made some good-natured gibes about the medievalists in the class I took with him last spring. So, there’s that. And THEN, his children showed up. Now, I’ve never met his family either, but again, dream-sense. So somewhere in there, I started reading to his child.

AND THEN, one of my committee members started talking about her childhood in Mexico and all the sharks that lived along the beaches. This is funny for several reasons: she has not, to my knowledge, ever lived in Mexico. Also, The Chancellor and I watched  a Shark Week program before bed last night featuring sharks possibly breeding off the Mexican beaches. Or a rogue shark trolling the beaches off Mexico. I can’t remember now. But there was a map to accompany this sidenote. And my other committee member was not there. I remember wondering if the other two had dis-invited him from my committee. Which is crazy. And not true.

I woke up in an absolute panic. What if I can’t remember every single point of every single thing Fredric Jameson’s ever said (yes, I thought that at 6 am)? What if I get lost and can’t even remember the names of the books I read (also thought at 6 am)? What if I don’t pass?

So, the anxiety about not passing the exam has caused me to put off studying with shocking ease. I started rewatching an old TV series when I should have been reading Money or brushing up on my Fredric Jameson. I actually feel like it now, so I may just do that before I lose my nerve again.

But that’s the honestest truth about this process: there’s a whole of brain, yes, but there’s a nerve aspect to it that I am finding unpleasantly surprising. I have absolutely got to keep my wits about me, especially for the really difficult questions I’m not going to know how to answer satisfactorily. I cannot expect perfection, even though I am a fairly extreme perfectionist. I just need to pass this exam so I can write my dissertation and graduate and get a job. This 2-hour segment of my life is very important, yes, but I need to remind myself: it’s a short-term means to a long-term end.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my old crony Martin Amis is calling me.

Let's tango.

Let’s tango.

Leave a comment

Filed under Doctorate, Outlook

Why (Some) Nice Guys Finish Last

If you’ve ever seen a “chick flick,” “rom com,” or whatever term you deem for a romantic comedy aggressively targeted at women, you’ll often find, in addition to the ludicrous career choices for women (shoe designer, fashion designer, baker, editor at a magazine, handbag designer, you get my drift…), a designated “nice guy” who gets friend-zoned by everyone, including our heroine du jour. Until, of course, a series of misunderstandings and maneuverings land him in bed with the heroine until she ends up with the standoffish but muscular Mr. Right, or (gasp) our Nice Guy ends up being the hero. Wow! Did anyone see that coming???

Okay, so unless that previous paragraph was not enough evidence for you, I admit that I mostly hate chick movies. I have my select few that I adore (apart from my Jane Austen period films, which I don’t count, because they far outstrip most chick flicks). I could pull apart the many tropes that I detest, but I’d like to include one that transcends the chick flick and actually has been seen in other entertainment genres, as well as real life. Ladies and gentleman, I’d like to talk today about the Nice Guy.

We’ve all encountered him at one point. He’s a seemingly decent fellow, stable, dependable, etc, who just can’t seem to “get” the girl of his dreams. Now, by “get,” I don’t mean understand (because if we really understood the objects of our fantasies, they would stop being the objects of our fantasies, amirite?), but rather obtain, win over, other adjectives that imply a he-man conquering of the she-lady. He bemoans to his friends, male and female, “Why doesn’t anybody like me? I’m a nice guy!” And sometimes, he is able to have a relationship, sometimes with the object of his desire. And some women oooh and awww over what.a.nice.guy he is, and wonder why nobody dates him. But yet, their lack of interest in dating him should set off signals about the Nice Guy.

I know a lot more single women than I do single men. It’s a strange phenomenon, really. But for whatever reason, I know lots of great, attractive, professionally successful women who are single and unattached. Not so many guys, however; it seems that when a nice, eligible man is “on the market” so to speak, he finds a partner relatively quickly. My personal theory somewhat dovetails with the pilot episode of Sex and the City, in which the women wonder why there are tons of great single women and not tons of great single men. Miranda Hobbes’ theory is that the [insert undesirable adjective] guys are just as ungrateful and demanding as the hot jerks.

MirandaWhile that is a bit cynical for my taste, she makes an interesting point. The world is not simply made up of hot eligible bachelors and ugly jerks. Rather, those qualities are interchangeable, and we are not promised a fairytale ending. What I also find interesting about this observation is that there’s a subset of guy who’s not necessarily falling over himself to date a beautiful woman—he puts that impression out there, but may be just as selfish and ungrateful as the man who can by society’s standards more legitimately think highly of himself. And that brings me to the Nice Guy phenemonen.

You see, while a Nice Guy puts himself out there as the alternative to the Hot Jerk, he’s not really a nice guy for the sake of it. No, it’s a carefully constructed act, one that makes him seem desirable and attractive, particularly to catch the eye of a woman he’s lusting after. In other cases, he suffers from incredible moral superiority until the stank of his holier-than-thou act drives him away from sane and reasonable people with normal flaws and quirks. In this way, the Nice Guy differs from his counterpart, the Gentleman, a man who is friends with women, and who may just want to date someone, but is actually a great friend.

For example, let’s look at everyone’s favorite Friend, Chandler Bing. Yes, Rachel was the prettiest, yes, Joey and Phoebe were funny, yes, Monica was neurotic, yes, we all HATED ROSS, but Chandler is a cool guy who ultimately stole all our hearts. Why is that?

First of all, when Friends began, we all saw Chandler as a loveable, nerdy loser who could never say the right thing to a woman he wanted to sleep with (unless, of course, that person happened to be Janice).

imagesCA5I04I4

Thankfully, Chandler demonstrated a quick wit and an acute self-awareness that transformed from awkward to endearing as the years passed. If he was desperate, he didn’t hide behind a façade of what a great guy he was—rather, his painful honesty made him a relatable figure to those of us who watched.

imagesCAQRO59J

And then, when Chandler hooked up with Monica, one of his best friends, he worried that dating would ruin their friendship. Thankfully, their ability to laugh at themselves—and each other—plus a sense of who they were kept them from the “We were on a break!” roller coaster of Ross and Rachel.

Not all Nice Guys are Chandlers, unfortunately. There are varying degrees of Nice Guy, but the three I’m going to talk about today irk me for very specific reasons. Obviously, this is very biased, so feel free to add your own changes or suggestions in the comments.

Bachelor #1 for me would have to be…Aidan Shaw of Sex and the City. Yes, I chose Aidan. I can’t stand that guy. Years before I started watching the show, I heard tons of female acquaintances oohing and ahhing over Aidan, and what a great boyfriend he was. I will admit, Aidan has redeeming qualities, several more than many of the other guys Carrie Bradshaw dated. Aidan often seems like a fairytale, when compared to the alternative.

imagesCAVCQXYR

Although, in the words of Pitch Perfect’s Fat Amy:

imagesCARLT9CA

I spent a lot of time during Sex and the City wanting to punch either Mr. Big or Carrie Bradshaw in the face, depending on whose level of selfishness was greater. And that alternated constantly.

Ahem. Back to Aidan. When compared to the iceberg that is Mr. Big, Aidan seems like The Perfect Boyfriend. He is a furniture designer with a dog and quirky long hair and jewelry. He genuinely wants to be with Carrie. But here’s the problem: it’s a certain kind of Carrie that she puts forth and he lets himself believe is the real Carrie. To develop this analysis a bit further, I need to split Aidan into his Season 3 and Season 4 incarnations, because there are some interesting shifts that may prove my point about his being a Nice Guy in the end.

Season 3’s Aidan is portrayed as an Aw-Shucks kind of guy with the hair and wardrobe to match.

 aidanpic2

Charmed by Carrie’s deceit at being a designer so she can buy his expensive chair, he asks her out—but only if she’s a non-smoker (to his credit, he is upfront about his dealbreakers). Carrie panics and lies that she doesn’t really smoke. And Aidan chooses to believe this. Dude. A woman who is pulling out a cigarette during a casual conversation is not a casual smoker. Politely make your excuses and leave. But no. Aidan does later catch Carrie sneaking a smoke on their date and gravely notes that they have a problem. At the end of the episode, we see Carrie sticking on a nicotine patch, musing that she hopes he’s worth it.

To add to that, he likes the country and he has a dog, while Carrie is a fashionista who likes herself. A lot. She also ends up having an affair with Mr. Big, so there’s that. Her nervous, jumpy behavior should give Aidan the hint that All Is Not Well. Of course, when he finds out that not only has Carrie been smoking but cheating on him, he ends the relationship for very valid reasons.

Enter Season 4 Aidan. He knows how he feels—angry and hurt. Yet, he hooks up with Carrie and agrees to try their relationship again. Let’s also note that Season 4’s Aidan has been upgraded to better clothes, better hair, and a lither physique:

imagesCADYTZKL

But there’s a particular episode when he and Carrie have moved in together in which he treats her terribly. He slaps on a nicotine patch and makes all sorts of crazy gestures when he hears a voicemail Mr. Big has left. Now, mind you, Aidan has every right to be upset that Carrie was unfaithful. But if he’s still upset, he needs to not be dating her. He can’t be living the past if he’s willing to try out the future again. Carrie is not at all blameless in this story arc, but I don’t want to go there at this point. The point is: Aidan should never have signed off on a relationship he still had doubts about. End of story. And that’s why I was never Team Aidan. Knowing better and still choosing poorly does not make you Mr. Right.

Let’s move on to Exhibit 2, shall we? Meet Ross Geller. Yes, I realize he’s kind of an easy target. Nevertheless, the showrunners poised him to be the hero in Friends without fully realizing that in the end, it would be the prettiness of Jennifer Aniston (because she wasn’t really able to exercise her comic talents until Horrible Bosses, lesbihonest) and the wit and charm of Matthew Perry that would make the show an enduring hit.

But seriously, folks, Ross Geller is kind of a boob.

ross-geller-20676

The first season finds him wondering why his wife left him (answer: she’s a lesbian and he did not read the numerous signs). And then, his high school infatuation, Rachel Greene, walks back into his life, having run out on her own wedding. And for the entire first season and a half of Friends, we get to witness the delightful tango of Nice Guy pursue Object of Desire. Ross does things for Rachel, but Rachel doesn’t realize it’s a ploy for her to respond to Ross’s overtures with gratitude sex. Unlike Chandler, who listened and sympathized with Monica’s problems with no other expectation of return than the bounds of friendship would ask, Ross schemed to excite Rachel’s gratitude as a means of awakening her desire for him. Eventually, it actually worked.

And then Ross has to Schrute the whole thing up. To be fair, though Rachel is not blameless, either. During a really huge fight, in which their relationship kind of seemed to be ended, Ross had revenge sex with the girl who worked at Kinko’s (or some other post office/copy shop of sorts). When Rachel wanted to patch things up, he guiltily and uneasily agreed. Of course, Rachel found out about the copy girl, and accused Ross of cheating on her. And this  is where his iconic reply comes in:

imagesCAY6RBVG

Yes, instead of admitting that he might have been a pre-emptive schmuck and misunderstood their fight, Ross defends himself and throws his own mistake back in Rachel’s face. Way to go, guy.

Of course, Ross spends the rest of the series trying to get back together with Rachel, and there’s all sorts of back-and-forth shenangians that wore us all out by the time the show ended. I never forgave Ross for being a manipulative jerk in the guise of a nice guy. Also, never forget the spray-tan incident.

 Ross-Geller-TOW-Ross-Tan-10-03-ross-geller-9744006-720-480

 

It’s time to move on to Guy #3, the one who inspired this post in the first place. Leonard Hofstadter, I’m looking at you. I can’t stand you, dude.

imagesCAYAMSS7

Don’t look at me like that. You know what you’ve done. Leonard, in my eyes, is the perfect trope of Nice Guy. He does all sorts of boyfriend-y and friend-y things for new neighbor Penny, including getting her TV back from her old apartment and facing down her ex-boyfriend, being nice and listening to her many, many guy problems, inviting her over to eat dinner with the guys and switching out one of their routine dinners-out to the Cheesecake Factory, her place of employment.

But are Leonard’s motives innocent? I argue no. Because there are subtle moments when Leonard acts out his resentment that Penny is not eager to go out with him, especially when he can’t seem to work up the nerve to ask her out. He behaves passive-aggressively, especially when Penny obliviously accepts his gestures as markers of friendship—which on the surface they seem to be!

Leonard: if she’s not responding to your boyfriend gestures by becoming your girlfriend, then she’s just not that into you. By now, Leonard and Penny have gotten together and broken up and gotten back together again. But I just can’t seem to get past Leonard’s whiney, mopey, douchey behaviors.

On a separate note: Ladies. Do not feed the bad behaviors! If a guy is constantly offering to do amazing things for you, pause. Ask yourself, “Is he just a great friend, or is he trying to get out of the Friend Zone?” Beware. It can be a fine line. If you think there might be strings attached, do not take up those offers. Don’t take advantage of a Nice Guy just because he offers himself up. You will find yourself in an endless loop of obligations and resentment and regret and drama. And no one wants that.

Guys: don’t think that acting as a friend to enchant a woman is going to instantly win you relationships. Be a friend first. If you are at all a decent fellow for no other reason than being a friend, chances are some lady’s going to notice and reciprocate. Remember: we all liked Chandler better than Ross, because Chandler liked his friends and Ross liked himself.

2 Comments

Filed under Celebrity, Culture, Friendship, Outlook, Television

The Extroverted Academic

I’ve seen a lot of books, social media, and clever analogies devoted to introverts. And with good reason: introverts are deeply intricate, mysterious individuals who can (but not always) keep personality traits close to them until they feel safe enough to be themselves around trusted friends. They are fascinating, exciting people of great depth, wit, and character. I should know: I married an introvert, and many of my family members are introverts, as well. In fact, so are many of my friends and colleagues. I do greatly enjoy reading about the care and feeding of introverts, because it reminds me that Not Everyone Is Like Me. Did I forget to mention? I’m an extrovert with a  capital-E. Really, in my mind it reads more like EXTROVERT!!!! but you get the idea. By the way: if  you’re not terribly familiar with an extrovert, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert yourself, I highly recommend reading this blog on The Care and Feeding of Your Extrovert from an extrovert’s point of view. Rowan, an extrovert, does a great job of explaining the complexity of what has often been seen as a “simple” personality trait.

When contrasted to the many, many introverts in my life, I realize how different I can be and seem. Especially in my profession. As my faithful readers know,  I am a doctoral student in English Literature, and currently teaching courses for the university at which I am enrolled. Many (but certainly not ALL) academics I know tend to be introverts , and if you think about the nature of academia in English Studies departments, it kind of makes sense. Our work involves, with a lot of teaching, a lot of research, introspection, and connection to ideas, theories, and insights. To generalize: a lot of thinking and reading. By stereotypical standards, introverts would thus seem to be a perfect fit.

As an extrovert, I find myself fighting stereotypes over both academia and extroverts. You see, some individuals are guilty of setting up false dichotomies about personality types, with introverts depicting extroverts as shallow, unfocused butterflies who flit from one shiny thing to the next and suck the life out of everything with their obnoxious energy, and extroverts depicting introverts as withdrawn, unfriendly, and selfish. Neither of these stereotypes is fair. But, I’ve yet to see the outpouring of literature that accurately describes extroverts in the way that studies have churned out books about introverts. I sometimes secretly feel that though we perpetuate the myth that the world is made of extroverts, my own life experiences has shown me that it’s just not true.

If you think about the Myers-Briggs Type Indictator (MBTI), you will realize that extroversion is one of eight personality indicators, and those who identify as extroverts come in eight combination types: ESTP, ESFP, ENFP, ENTP, ESTJ, ESFJ, ENFJ, ENTJ. While I often test between ENFP and ENFJ, I really manifest as an ENFJ. The Myers-Briggs website describes an ENFJ as “warm, empathetic, responsive and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfill their potential. May act as catalysts for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership.” Thus, I am less likely to be “logical” and task-oriented than an ESFJ, but I am highly attuned to the potential of others. In fact, the ENFJ personality type is often described as Teacher, which I think is a fitting nod to my profession.

Academic myths that we perpetuate tend to value the individual over the community, the intellectual thinker over the sharer, and knowledge over people. If you look over the many blogs and articles written about the current state of academia (which I do not urge you to do–it is rather grim right now), you will see that the bottom line and the tenure line takes precedence over building the sort of idealistic communities that extroverts tend to yearn after.

And with these two perceptions, I sometimes find it very daunting to be an extrovert in academia. What follows is a guide that has helped me articulate who I am in my professional environment. If you are yourself an extroverted academic, or know one, I hope this will provide some clarity and insight. Disclaimer: this list is not to be taken as an insult to introverts or a poor-me manifesto, but an exploration of the joys and challenges of my personality type within my particular occupation. This is not a one-size-fits-all list, but rather, a guide that expresses my particular manifestation of extraversion:

1. Human interaction is a basic emotional need for me. I am fueled by my relationships with my friends and colleagues. This does not automatically mean that I looooove going to conferences (they’re just okay) or am awesome at schmoozing (I’m not, and for reasons I’ll articulate in a little bit); rather, I am fueled by my interactions with my colleagues and peers. I am energized when several of us get together and share ideas/stories/critiques.

2. It’s true that I love to talk and will share my ideas, especially if I find you interested and receptive. But I also enjoy listening and hearing your ideas. Basically, if you give me a teaser or introduce yourself in the conversation, I will welcome you with open arms and shut up attentively. But I am not a mind reader. I don’t know if you’re secretly resenting my seeming domination of the conversation, or if you’re just being a good listener (though your body language can certainly help me make that distinction). If you keep listening and I have something to say, I’ll keep talking. But if I have nothing to say, I won’t say it. I don’t just gabble on because I love to hear my voice–I enjoy hearing yours, too.

3. I genuinely like teaching. I’m not posturing when I say that I really like my students, and I find it to be my calling. As an ENFJ, I am peculiarly attuned to the potential that other people house within themselves. Therefore, I make it my mission to help my students unleash that potential. I find a batch of poor grades as much a reflector of my teaching as I do on my students’ performance (though circumstances could tweak that mindset, certainly). Therefore, I find it terribly hurtful when I’ve had colleagues suggest that I am not “mean enough” to my students or that I “give to0 many As.” As someone who puts her heart into making her courses concise, understandable, and meaningful, I find such suggestions denigrate the way I relate to my mentees, and to their potential abilities.

4. I will not be shattered if you offer constructive criticism or legitimate concerns that you can back with specific examples. I *will,* however, be devastated if you are a jerk behind my back, if you attack me for no good reason, or speak badly about me when I have given you no reason to. I have been at the receiving end of backhanded criticism, and I spent HOURS trying to decipher what I’d done. I analyzed and second-guessed everything in my interactions with a few of my colleagues. In the end, I had to conclude that it wasn’t my fault, and all I could do was be polite and respectful to my peers. But I have never forgotten those comments, and I never will. And I think about everything I say before I speak to those individuals.

5. I am a social person, and I realize that I am intense, and can come off too strong. So, I try to control myself, and can often seem shallow because I offer up small talk as a “warm-up.” Listen, I am more than happy to discuss auteur theory with you. But I am equally happy to discuss the Kardashians (and it’s true, I know way too much about that family). See #1. It’s just that I’m afraid to overwhelm you with my intensity. Which brings me to…

6. Though I naturally gravitate towards human interactions, it comes with a nasty companion: constant, social anxiety that can sometimes overcome my joyful embrace of humanity altogether. If you are cold or unresponsive, I am (usually) quick to recognize that and may end the conversation as soon as I can think of it–this may make conversation awkwardly abrupt. I may become afraid that I am boring you and get out of a conversation, even if I’m enjoying it. I may be afraid to approach you, simply because I don’t want to seem like I am foisting myself upon you. My need for human interaction is linked to my need to be accepted and nurtured. Thus, I can’t let some things slide as easily as my more introverted companions. I overthink conversations constantly and cringe at all my mistakes. Thus, I sometimes find it awkward and difficult to schmooze with academics, particularly if I am afraid that I am going to be judged because I like Jane Austen (and seriously, the academic backlash against Ms. Austen is unbelievable, but that will have to be another blog post), or because I listen to Lady Gaga unironically. And not to hate on academics, but seriously, we can be a judgy, pretentious bunch sometimes.

7. Having a cheerful…no, let’s be honest, perky…demeanor often works against me. I am a small-framed, white, blonde, feminine-looking woman with a high voice who dresses in bright colors, and often wears dresses and flip-flops in the summer. I smile A LOT. Kids, I don’t mean to be a Pollyanna. I’m just in love with life, and if it’s a good day, I have no compunction about showing it. Therefore, I have been seen as fluffy, not smart, an airhead, you name it. Being treated this way by men is a grim reminder that the glass ceiling is alive and well. And yet, if I am assertive or aggressive in defending my theory/reading/ideas, I am then called a bitch. I work hard, and my appearance or demeanor does not (or should not) overshadow the seriousness with which I approach my occupation.

8. Sometimes, I become lonely in toxic academic environments. In places that value the individual and unintentionally reward backbiting and other nasty behaviors, I withdraw when I realize that I am not going to be appreciated. I’m not shy, and I’m not a snob. But I can recognize where I will be hurt or unappreciated, and so I take measures to protect myself. But then I suffer, because I crave a nourishing, balanced community made of accepting and loving people with whom I am an equal.

9. Despite some of the posts that jokingly assume that extroverts see a book as a paperweight or a doorstop (really, Tumblr? Really???), I enjoy reading. I’m not a nonstop party, and I like my down time, too. I find that reading nourishes and develops other sides of me. I can sit for hours with a book and be transported into other worlds and ideas. I just might text someone throughout the process, though. Because if I’m engrossed by something, then I have to share it.

10. I can commit to things, and I can follow through on some of my grandiose ideas. It’s true that I’m not the best planner or the most logistical of thinkers. But that doesn’t mean I flit carelessly from one idea to the next. I stumbled upon my dissertation idea last spring, and it’s stuck with me ever since. I’ve had to change/abandon a few related ideas, but the overall topic has remained the same, and I’ve had no hesitation about sticking with my commitment. On that note: yes, extroverts can and do commit. I’m not quitting my PhD program any time soon in favor of becoming a basket weaver or a yoga instructor (can I get a sarcasm font for that?).

11. I love to share. Really. If I have a great idea, then I share it. If something works, I want to talk about it. I’m not backhandedly suggesting that your teaching is bad, I’m just sharing what has worked. And, in fact, I will also share my failures and frustrations with you. In that respect, I am a sort of open book. I’m just as open about my failures as I am about my successes, and I will be the first to beat myself up about them.

How do you see extroverts, if you are an introvert? How do you see yourself, if you are an extrovert? Please feel free to share–I find personalities fascinating, and I’d really love to have more dialogue about extraversion, especially in light of the explosion of texts about introverts.

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Doctorate, Outlook, Personality, State of mind, Teaching