A Portrait in Political Blindness

How is Middle Eastern terrorism born?

The very, very basic formula is this:

-Government undermines interests of the people, or another country attacks and invades, subjugating the people.

-People slowly have their homes, property, jobs, and rights taken away, if they had any of those things to begin with.

-Are poorly educated, if educated at all.

-Often are oppressed minorities themselves.

-They try and try to improve their lot and they can’t, often asking what is going on and why.

-A Jihadi group shows up and gives them an answer…there is a holy war predicted in the Qu’ran, waged by wealthy infidels in the west at the behest of the Jewish elite. They want to destroy your land, your people, your heritage and Islam, to kill you, rape your women and corrupt your children. This is why you are enslaved, embattled, poor, out of work, being besieged by these misfortunes. Want to change your life and earn favor with Allah? Here’s a gun.

Now let’s travel thousands of miles away, to a different people in a different land. We are in rural Alabama, talking to poor white Southerners. Who are they and how do they live?

-Corporations and government undermine their interests, people feel “invaded” by new cultural forces, new demographics, and new social rules for survival.

-People lose their homes, jobs, money, and prospects.

-Poorly educated, if they are educated at all

-Are oppressed by virtue of their social class or geographical isolation, may possibly be older or disabled.

-They try and try to improve their lot and they can’t, often asking what is going on and why.

-A right-wing group (League of the South, KKK, Phineas Priesthood, etc.) shows up and gives them an answer…there is a holy war predicted in the Bible, waged by liberals, secularists, atheists, and foreign invaders. They want to destroy your land, your people, your heritage and Christendom, to kill you, rape your women and corrupt your children. This is why you are enslaved, embattled, poor, out of work, being besieged by these misfortunes. Want to change your life and earn favor with Jesus? Here’s a gun.

Can you tell me what the difference is?

 

Unpopular Opinion on Mental Health “Awareness”

I don’t know how else to title this post, so I offer you this, a reflection on people who advocate for mental health issues, especially their own, on social media or on Twitter by using hashtags. You may have seen the post: I have x, I struggle with y, please understand z, and then a hashtag, such as #mentalhealthstigma, mentalhealthawareness, or pick one of your choosing.

Maybe you’ve seen posts along the line of, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on…don’t worry, I’m not suicidal, if I were I would go to a hospital. But I just need the world to know that I’m sad, that I can’t cope, and this is what it’s like every day for people with depression/anxiety/insert mental illness here, so please [insert suggestion here].”

I know I see them pretty regularly, and as someone who has used mental health services, I can’t help but cringe.

Obligatory disclaimer: I do not desire, nor do I have the power to, tell you what to post on your Facebook or anywhere else. I do not claim to know who is really sick, who is attention-seeking, what conditions people really have, or what their treatment should look like. If you read this post and think of yourself, please keep in mind it’s not directed at anyone specifically.

Now for the actual substance of the post.

I do, occasionally, talk about mental health on social media. Sometimes I mention my own mental health, with a status like,  “Just got out of my psych appointment, trying a new medication and I don’t have to pay for it…yes!” I might share an article, a poem, or something scholarly intended for a large audience, such as “Groundbreaking research suggests connection between strep infection in childhood and OCD in adulthood.” Basically, I try to convey the truth, but not the gory truth, about my life. I try to let people know how I am doing and also give them information, or inspiration, that might help people besides me. I try to convey that mental health is a part of my life, but absolutely not the whole of my life.

That concept seems to be lost in a time when mental health is almost trendy. God, I hate saying that, but I’m forced to think maybe it’s true.

Upside? Mental health is much less taboo, much more recognized, and many people who previously would have gone without recognition, treatment, or accommodation are living full lives. Family and friends no longer hide in shame. Information is everywhere and even people without a mental health diagnosis increasingly find mental health advice useful. The DBT concept of mindfulness (also part of Buddhist teaching) is used as run-of-the-mill self-help. You can get a taste of DBT for free with internet access. I credit mental health awareness for this.

That said, everything has drawbacks, and one of them is the medicalization of human experience and emotions. I know from experience that many people don’t want to struggle through difficult things or feel bad emotions. They run either for medication, a self-help cult, to alcohol and partying, or some other salve for what is a normal experience. It deserves full awareness, analysis, feeling, and it deserves a human response that goes beyond coping with it, dulling, or eliminating it. Existential concerns, grief after a death, and other feelings and experiences are normal and don’t need medicalization. It’s a fallacy of our culture that we must always be happy, productive, grateful, and ticking every minute of every day. John Stuart Mill said, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.” Being a human isn’t always pleasant, but being aware of unpleasant reality is part of what makes me human, and it fosters growth and change, as opposed to stagnation and simply being content to survive.

For a more everyday application, I am dissatisfied with a lot of things in my life, mostly relating to how I think and spend my time. I feel like I am under-performing, that I could do or be so much more. Most of the people around me accept their realities of working, going home, spending time with family, drinking or having a smoke, occasionally having a party and…that’s it. They are certainly happier than I am right now, but maybe being happy isn’t the goal. Maybe my being unhappy is the gateway to change into the person I want to be and to create the life I really want. How many people really embrace that in their lives, though? They say they agree with my sentiments and with the Mill quote, but their actions and lifestyle tell a totally different story and at the end, they remain unfulfilled. Going back to the issue of mental health, how many people say, “It’s okay because I have a disability and this is who I am” and then don’t make progress? Isn’t it better to say, “I have a disability but this is who I could be?” Being unhappy is lousy, but it’s also crucial to challenging the status quo, whether it’s your status quo or a structural one. Psychoanalyzing or medicating or self-soothing it into nothingness makes that kind of radical change impossible.

Can “normal” experiences cross a line into something that needs treatment? Sure. Grief becomes depression and you may need therapy or an anti-depressant to get over the hump. You may go through a crisis that causes such severe panic that you need a trip to the ER and some Xanax. I believe just as strongly in temporary mental sickness as I do in temporary physical sickness. Just as you can have a short-lived flu or cold, you can also have a short-lived depression or panic episode. The issue that I see is when what should be temporarily illnesses become chronic illnesses, not because of the nature of the illness, but the unwillingness of the patient to give up the diagnosis. Hence the infamous label becomes reality.

As much as the former phenomenon distresses me, it does not bother me nearly as much as what I am about to describe to you. People who get diagnosed, or who diagnose themselves, with a certain mental illness and then order their whole personalities, their whole lives, and all their relationships to that diagnosis. And more often than not, they are insufferable and attention-seeking about it.

I am talking about my own friends, people I know well, and whose thoughts and behavior I have some insight into, who talk on Facebook constantly about their struggles. Not struggles that are faced by the mentally ill as a whole. Their struggles. And the struggles are not always directly related to their illness, but the normal human struggles that they contorted beyond recognition to resemble one of their mental health symptoms. Their whole life has become a testament to their snowflake specialness and their personal rendition of a train wreck. Some of these diagnoses aren’t even real. They diagnosed themselves with these illnesses a lot of times. Being shy became an anxiety disorder, and instead of trying, with or without help, to overcome it by ordinary means, they rush to reduce themselves to fit their dysfunction. Being intellectual and being an outsider automatically becomes Asperger’s syndrome, which is a real condition with distinctive symptoms and notable impairment in daily function and abnormalities in childhood development. 

Nothing irritates me more than when someone who can barely read or spell butchers the English language in a professional (work or school setting) and they use “dyslexia” as an excuse. Never diagnosed with dyslexia. Never experienced the school failure associated with dyslexia. Never experienced the non-academic challenges of dyslexia. Never had to get accommodations for dyslexia. Dyslexia is simply their convenient excuse for being too lazy to learn to read and write in their own language.

Dyslexia is a word and a diagnosis that means something. It’s not whatever you want it to be, and it’s not whatever you identify with. If you do actually have dyslexia, you seek help for it so you can make actual progress, which most people with real dyslexia do without issue. Not use it as an excuse to be unprofessional or illiterate.

Likewise with OCD. This is the one where I’m really tempted to tell everyone that claims OCD to fuck off. OCD is relatively rare compared to other mental illnesses and it, too, has distinctive symptoms that actually mean something. It’s not a preference. It’s not a personality trait. It’s a disorder than can and does destroy lives.

Here’s the clue: If someone says they “are” OCD or “have a little bit of OCD,” I can almost guarantee you they don’t really have it. OCD can be mild or severe, but it’s a condition that you either have or you don’t. If you don’t require treatment or accommodations for it, it’s not OCD. If you use OCD as your excuse to take control of everyone else’s environment and organize it to your preferences, that’s unacceptable. If you have plans with other people to go on an outing, and you hold everyone else hostage because you need to pack and re-pack your bags, or leave on your own time, or wash your hands a million times…you’re, plain and simple, being a jackass.

Note that I specifically referred to those who use OCD as an excuse. People who acknowledge OCD, who are trying to treat it and who still struggle, will sometimes have their plans interrupted and sometimes do things that are illogical or bothersome to others. Any good friend or family member will understand this. However, part of treatment for OCD includes a family, community, and employment piece. People who are supporting an individual with OCD are explicitly instructed and trained NOT to enable OCD. We are NOT to change our plans to accommodate their rituals. We are NOT to arrange our work space or household to their liking. We are NOT to spend household money when they run out of soap through excessive hand washing. We are to guide them through to the best of our ability and keep living our own lives. And people with OCD are supposed to use CBT/DBT/ERP to challenge their obsessions and compulsions and adapt to normal life. Anyone that just expects people to cater to the OCD as a personality trait is both a) being a jackass and b) probably doesn’t even have OCD to begin with.

Aside from annoying the ever living hell out of me, this mental health trend-setting has real-life destructive consequences. The original mental health movement did not fight for the right of the mentally ill to stay sick and stay stuck in their current state. The whole purpose of mental health awareness is not just for people to gaze at their navels, or show off their social justice credentials. The practical point was to do research, expand resources, and to actually cure, or at least treat, the mentally ill, to make them able to participate in life and to give them legal protections. It doesn’t exist so people can brag about their dysfunction and adorn their profiles. It doesn’t exist to protect the lazy, the unmotivated, or the just plain dysfunctional. If your idea of raising mental health awareness is to publicly kvetch about your screw-ups and put a hashtag next to it…and then refuse actual help to fix it… you’re doing it wrong.

Do you know what mental health awareness was supposed to achieve? It was supposed to educate the world all the ways in which we are normal, healthy, and successful. We highlight the accomplishments of people like Dr. Temple Grandin and John Nash. We talk about the people who go to school and work, who get married, who raise children, who educate, who live and who, with the right assistance, lead full lives. We highlight all the things mental illness isn’t. It’s not laziness, it’s not mental retardation, it’s not psychopathy or sociopathy, and it’s not a death sentence, nor is it a life sentence in solitary confinement. We highlight the ways even those living with their parents, in group homes, and in hospitals can still make progress and integrate. We highlight the hope and the opportunities for the homeless and welfare recipients. We don’t want to draw attention to the fact that we are sick, but that our sickness doesn’t have to destroy lives. For some reason, I don’t see a whole lot of that anymore. I see a lot more people advertising not their achievements, their goals, or their strengths…but their addictions, failed marriages, emotional outbursts, and all the wrong things. We are now fighting to be seen as everything the original mental health movement tried to NOT be seen as, and to fix. It’s perverse.

I know someone who likely does have mental health issues, but I’m unsure if she actually has the conditions she claims she has, or she went doctor shopping. Regardless, she claims to have constant trouble in relationships, on the job, and in her mind. I have tried, on a number of occasions, to give her advice and direct her to resources. Others have as well. There is always an excuse why she can’t. She outright refuses to take a break from relationships, to stop binge drinking, to stop doing whatever it is that she’s doing that holds her back. That’s a pretty good indicator that someone doesn’t actually want to get well. They want the attention and sympathy that comes from being seen as sick. And that’s a shame, and it does an extreme disservice to themselves and to others who want to be seen as something other than sick.

When you claim to have a mental illness or learning disability that you don’t have, you create a false public perception of people who actually have the condition. This affects how we are treated by the public, by healthcare providers, by employers, by schools and legal authorities. It affects our legal protections and our funding.

Not too long ago, people with learning disabilities were “diagnosed” as stupid or lazy and either sent to institutions, publicly humiliated by teachers, or punished by their parents. Knowing that learning disabilities were real and treatable changed this. People pretending to have learning disabilities and NOT changing the so-called symptoms leads to people thinking the disability itself is pretend and that symptoms are just personal failures dressed up. Ever wonder why people are still saying mental illness and learning disabilities are over-diagnosed, and that what kids really need is good old-fashioned discipline? I have your answer, folks. Stop it.

This mental-health-awareness-that-isn’t has caused untold grief to the mentally ill in terms of how they perceive themselves. When a highly successful and socially acceptable person diagnoses themselves with autism because they’re introverts and they “feel different,” people with legitimate autism who are actually disabled start to wonder what’s wrong with them that they can’t be that successful, or that they need accommodations when this other person doesn’t. Family members and teachers have unrealistic expectations and push the autistic person beyond her capabilities and start to think maybe she’s just not trying hard enough. Conversely, they may lose hope for their autistic loved one and give up because the individual still needs extra help and isn’t progressing as fast as, or in the way that, they expected. These are problems that are exacerbated, in large part, because our perception of what disability looks like has been ironically dismembered by the very movement and awareness that was supposed to clarify it.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is yet another, classic, tragic example. OCD has nothing to do with being neat, clean, tidy, organized, or having type A personality traits. Some of the thoughts and behaviors may revolve around those ideas, but that’s not what OCD is, and many forms of OCD look nothing like the picture you often see in the media. When people with OCD and their carers are socialized to think of OCD as compulsive Martha-Stewarting, they fail to recognize the symptoms in themselves when symptoms don’t conform to stereotypes. I know someone who had severe OCD that had existed since childhood. Serious OCD can involve lurid visions and bizarre behavior that resembles schizophrenia. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia because she and those around her were unable to accurately recognize OCD symptoms. When she described lurid visions, disorganized thinking, social impairment, physical self-neglect, bizarre rituals and fixations, people were thinking about delusions, hallucinations and negative symptoms. No one thought OCD, role playing, reassurance seeking, and rituals to lessen obsessive thinking. The end result is that the true illness was missed, the treatment prescribed wasn’t helpful, and she was encouraged to take anti-psychotic medications she didn’t need that have dangerous, permanent side effects that are, flatly, unacceptable for people who aren’t truly psychotic.

Mental health awareness, past and present, has done immeasurable good. Mental health awareness in the present, as leveraged by people with privilege, has done immeasurable harm. At the very least, it’s not benefiting the right people and it all but ignores those who need it most.

 

 

 

 

Hatred in our Ranks: Why Lie About It?

Stream of consciousness ahead!

I hope that all my readers can benefit from this post, but it is primarily geared towards conservatives and Trump supporters. Let’s open our eyes and be honest here.

The left has its fair share of extremists, clowns, bigots, and violent and destructive folks. But I’m focusing on conservatives here because they are the latest people to piss on my Facebook. And they have been pissing furiously.

The conservative Republican platform, even in its mainstream form, enables and panders to bigotry. The hard right Tea Party form even more so. Get real. And please don’t tell me you don’t see it (how could you not?) Or that you’re not like that. Whether you yourself are like that or not…you tolerate it.

I’m an immigration reformist and supporter of English as the official language of the US. I bring this up because these issues were motivators for a lot of Trump voters to show up at the polls. Once upon a time, I would have been one of them.

So what’s the big deal? I only want economic security, rule of law, and for everyone to be able to talk to each other. I want to control our budget and defend against security threats. What’s so bad about that?

Nothing. And that’s exactly the problem.

Over the years, I’ve become a big believer in the idea that, if the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, give it back to the sender and be done with it. I’ve been accused of generalizing and not realizing that “not all xyzs are like that.” I’ve told people that “we’re not all like that.” It’s a discussion that goes exactly nowhere. Because it’s not about people and never was. It’s about groups, ideas, culture, and power. More importantly, it’s about how these forces are used and abused to maintain a status quo that benefits the few. The ideas and culture themselves are neutral but how they are marshalled in politics and relations is what is destructive. Yet we use the face value neutrality to avoid facing the consequences of our ideas.

I’ve learned that if I’m really “not one of those people,” I should prove it in my conduct, instead of whining about it when I’m called on it. Anyone who knows me knows what I’m about and I don’t fear people’s accusations. Most people don’t seem to agree. When they show their prejudice in public and someone calls them on it…they complain that they’re not like that and to stop generalizing.

Yet what do we spend 99.99% of our time doing? Promoting our ideas without critical examinaion, believing whatever news sources cater to our beliefs, and painting outrselves as victims of “the other.” When we are held to account, we cry “Not all of us! We’re individual!” When we perceive that we are victimized, it’s a huge cultural force that must be resisted by us brave warriors. I’m sick of it.

How can we deny racism in our ranks when, in the 1920s, the KKK had a membership of 4 million over the issue of…immigration? When white supremacist groups use immigration as a recruiting tool to this day? When people have no problem leaving comments in public, mainstream online forums referring to Muslims as goat fuckers and relishing the graphic torture and murder of Muslims? When people commit hate crimes as a result of reading conservative nationalistic rhetoric? When even seemingly mainstream conservatives are openly supported by radicalists such as David Duke and no one says anything? When people criticize their opponents not with facts, logic, or common courtesy, but with the most vile, racialized, sexist, prejudiced invective imaginable, with a few references to key issues such as abortion or taxation as an afterthought? When people boast publicly about how great it would be to beat up protestors, shoot Communists, put sodomites in jail, deport legal American citizens, or prevent them from voting, if they don’t share conservative views? Don’t tell me they are joking either, because these comments are constant. It’s not an addendum to mainstream commentary…it IS mainstream commentary. And nothing about the context or the way these comments are written is remotely suggestive of a joke.

How can you not see that? How can you not see how people find that threatening? More importantly, how can you claim that you’re not prejudiced and yet dismiss the very real implications and consequences of your ideas, blame the victims, accuse them of faking, or minimize the jumbo kracken in the room by saying that it’s just a few extremists?

Here’s a hint: A man, a known con man and overall depraved dirt bag in just about every way imaginable, won the highest office in the most powerful country on Earth campaigning on these very sentiments and pandering to these very “extremists.” When you reach that milestone…you’re not extremist. You’re mainstream. A man like Trump could never get this far if his ideas and followers were truly as extremist as you say.

But please, don’t say anything about that unless you’re called on it. You totally ignore this message unless someone accuses you of being a bigot…then it’s damage control. We’re not all like that. You’re attacking me. I thought liberals were tolerant? Look at all the Black Lives Matter people beating up Trump supporters! Yeah, a few dozen, maybe a few hundred, hate crimes were inspired by my candidate but two or three were revealed to be fakes so…so there!

I didn’t SAY that I hated Jews. I just don’t believe those Jews who say Trump supporters burned a swastika on their lawn. I didn’t SAY I hated Muslims. I just support someone that hates Muslims, wants them banned from the US. I don’t hate the poor or blame them for their situation …I just don’t care enough about them to give them fair wages or job protections…and if they hate it, they need to take responsibility and go to school. But I’m not blaming them, okay?

I’m sick of it. And I’m not letting you get away with it. I can’t make you see reason, I can’t make you have empathy, I can’t make you do or be anything…but I can make myself accountable for fighting lies with truth. I can make it a point to challenge prejudice and cowardice and apathy when I see it. And mark my words that as long as I am alive and you have contact with me, I will show you what kind of person you are every day for the rest of your life.

Sexism, Healthism, Paganism: A Review of Ellen Dugan’s Practical Protection Magick

Disclosure: I am not Wiccan, in case that was unclear to anyone. I read literature from all faith traditions for academic, theological, self-help, or entertainment purposes. So that may cloud my judgment on this, but know that I’m talking from a place of knowledge and respect for other traditions. 

It started when a relative got me a book by Ellen Dugan, well-known neo-pagan author, also known as the garden witch. I read it and really enjoyed it. I learned she had a book on protection magic, a topic I happen to love, and I decided to buy a copy of her book Practical Protection Magic. 

Overall, I was happy with the purchase. There are many reasons to read this book and learn from it…correspondences, spells, discerning psychic abilities, easy to read, humorous, etc. And that’s not exhaustive. Please don’t take this review as an admonition against reading the book for yourself. 

However, the more I read about Wicca, neo-paganism, and New Age philosophy, the more I start to see the same patterns of prejudice that exist in all faith communities. Today, I want to focus on healthism and sexism in pagan literature and use this book as an illustration of negative things I’m seeing. 

The good news is that the sexism and healthism are concentrated in one chapter. The bad news is that it makes that one chapter nearly unbearable to read.

It’s Chapter Five on the element of fire. The central premise of the book is that you can use the four natural elements to increase the power of your magic and promote healing and protection. And ED chose to associate fire with…physical fitness.

Oh, boy. 

ED isn’t the first person to invoke health in discussions of spirituality, and she certainly won’t be the last, especially whereas New Age philosophers tend to believe that like attracts like and in the mind-body connection. But when it’s concentrated in one place in a tone that couldn’t be more condescending if it tried, it deserves its own review, just for this one chapter.

The first rule of healthism is that if you’re too fat or not physically fit enough, it’s your fault. Furthermore, the first rule of pagan healthism is that lazy, fat people equal wimpy witches. And ED wastes no time reminding us. She tells us that we should lay off the sugar and junk food, walk more, eat more veggies, drink more water, insert healthist trope here. No! Way! So! Original! And it gets better. Being unfit makes your aura dull and hence your spells aren’t as powerful. (What’s worse, that ED believes that shit or that she was able to make money peddling it to thousands of other people that believe that shit? I mean, talk about wooooo!)

I accept that there is a mind-body connection, and that like can, indeed, attract like. I understand that all belief systems have an element of woo. But a so-called healthy lifestyle boosting your aura and magic and draining negativity doesn’t just push the boundaries of plausibility, but obliterates them.

But that’s okay, because ED can prove that she’s right. Now that she has made a complete! Lifestyle! Change!  She feels better, and now her magic is so much better. Of course, there’s no chance of self-fulfilling prophecy or confirmation bias. It must be all that law of attraction stuff. 

She tells a story that was obviously intended to be funny, but was instead tacky and insulting and gave me the impression she laughs at her own jokes. After six months of transformation, she sees a skinny woman eating junk food (apparently she is still skinny despite eating like the proverbial fat kid…the irony…) She talks about a sensation that is all too familiar to chronic dieters…craving. She joked about how she has to remind herself that she is sane! And she will! Not! Kill someone to eat her chocolate. Ah, yes, fat, dieting, menstrual or menopausal women eating chocolate and killing people to get their hands on it. Hurr hurr!

Thankfully, she has a new addiction…cutesy pink workout clothes with slogans like Strong. Beautiful. Me! Because that’s what makes women want to work out…being sexy, apparently. Then she repeats platitudes that are all too familiar to fat acceptance advocates, because we said them first before they were repurposed by diet culture. Such as the idea that being strong or beautiful isn’t about big muscles or the size of a garment, but about confidence. This, of course, after spending a chapter’s worth of keystrokes equating fat and “unfit” with being weak and unhealthy, being a lousy practitioner, and complaining about how she looks in pictures. Or about how women who want to have fun should do belly dancing because it’s good for your midsection. Yeah, okay. How dumb do you think I am?

Like all stereotypical fat ladies, she eats for comfort but now that she has addressed the root of her issues (hysteria?) she doesn’t eat emotionally anymore (because women are so emotional!) Clearly, every fat person has exactly this problem and that’s why they’re fat. 

Another trope I saw, right at the beginning, is the most subtle but just as damaging and offensive. She “joked” that she started losing weight when she saw pictures of herself after an event and had to ask what was wrong with her camera. In other words, fatties are delusional and don’t know they’re fat. Where have we heard that? Every joke about fat women ever? So-called studies that shit fit over the alleged fat masses who don’t know they’re obese? I would think so. 

There is also a section on body language that, while not healthist, is covertly sexist. It’s the kind of advice you get when going on job interviews for corporate America…especially if you’re female. Smile! Shoulders back! Eye contact! Walk with confidence/grace! No crossing your arms! The idea that body language can be a legitimate expression of emotion, personality, or a cultural trait, especially with regard to eye contact and other “direct” body language is not considered. And I honestly doubt that changing your body language makes a meaningful difference in the spiritual realm or in the eyes of those that really mean you harm. In fact, it may make you more visible and hence a target. An insecure or otherwise resentful person might not like your confidence and target you for that reason. Maybe you’re actually being overconfident and inviting blowback. Why not? It’s just as plausible as the idea that standing up straight and smiling will deflect the supernatural powers of evil. Maybe, if women are feeling targeted, they *should* be defensive. They *shouldn’t* smile. They shouldn’t saunter like they closed a deal in the boardroom or like they were a case study in “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Maybe they should cut the crap and be supported in doing so. I have a feeling she wouldn’t be giving this advice if she were a man writing explicitly for men. But what do I know?

There you have it. My pet peeve of the week. Read, but exercise caution. Fat hatred and healthism are pervasive and they need to be exposed and challenged if we are going to make progress. 

The Anti-Healthist Guide to Hitting the Gym

Yes, that’s right. Anti-healthist people go to gyms. I’m one of them. I also do physical activities outside the gym that I like. 

Should you? 

Maybe. This multi-step series should help you decide. 

First question is to determine: Is it okay to go to a place like that? 

Hold the phone…did I really just ask that? Believe it or not, yes, I did.

Lots of articles stress all the different ways to motivate us to go to the gym or a morning jog: listen to music, walk the dog, bring a friend, set up a routine, add your suggestion here. All good ideas except…they don’t start at the right place.

What people don’t understand is that if you’re fat, disabled, unathletic, anti-healthist, or just don’t fit the gym rat stereotype…there is a more fundamental attitude at work. A lot of us feel, subconsciously,that we don’t belong there and have no right to be there. We feel like we’re in the way, or that we’re bothering staff when we ask for assistance. We feel like we’re being judged. We feel like it won’t do any good, that we’ve been “too fat” or “physically unfit” our whole lives and that will never change. We’re afraid we just won’t be able to do the tasks, use the machines, follow the instructions or follow through with our work out time. We may be afraid we will get injured or something along those lines. If you are very fat, or disabled in some way, concerns about injury or not being able to use equipment may be a very real accessibility obstacle. Some of us, particularly the anti-healthist set, may have a defiant, comtrarian attitude straight out of an 80s high school cult classic. We’re not the vain, stick thin bimbos or the meat headed jocks. We don’t need no stinkin’ gym time! 

Those attitudes are more common than people realize and they are more hindering than people know. That’s why I start with challenging these attitudes. 

First step within a step: Remember that gyms are a public place and a service provided to paying customers. It’s not an elite country club. You pay the fee? You have a right to be there.

Second step: This is not gym class where you wait to be picked last and are forced to play games you suck at and have the rest of the team resent you. This also isn’t physical fitness testing where government entities are demanding that you do the impossible, overcome your genetic limitations and ace a bogus exam. When you’re at the gym, there are no standards but your own and you can spend as much time as you want doing what you want. You can spend an hour and a half doing yoga or 15 minutes walking on a treadmill. It’s your time and there are no grades. And unlike school, you don’t need to ask permission to take a break, use the bathroom, listen to music, or watch TV. Lots of gyms have TVs. Turn on closed caption, put on your earbuds, and work. Even if you have to take breaks every five minutes. At least you’re there and you’re doing it. Plus, as you get better at this routine…you may find you don’t need as many breaks. But you’ll never get to that milestone if you don’t persist, breaks and all. 

Step three: Don’t worry about the people. The staff will be relieved to talk to someone and make their shift go by faster doing something other than staring at the clock. As for other patrons…most people in general aren’t thinking about you as much as you might think. They’re wrapped up in their own thing, and even if they wanted to spoil for a fight, they don’t want to get kicked out. So take comfort in that. And take comfort in two other things: they might have a battle (say, exercise addiction) that you don’t know about. They might secretly be inspired by you. They might be really entertained by that shirt that says, “I hate running” or “Exercise? I thought you said extra fries!” Or perhaps “Bacon is a vegetable.” If they really are haters, the best revenge anyway is to force your fat and/or skinny unfit ass in their space. Mark your territory as this is a public place and…wait for it…it’s yours as much as it is theirs! 

Most people aren’t haters though. And you’re not obligated to hang out with them, even if they are.

And yes, feel free to have extra fries…before or after the workout. I don’t care. Because the anti-healthist fitness motto is this: Health isn’t a destination but a mode of travel…and in the end, all roads lead to your healthy, fit Rome destination, even if this healthy, fit Rome place has lots of neighborhoods that all look different from each other. Just make sure you’re on one of those roads. 

See you at the gym! Extra fries to follow! 

What happens when you oppress the poor libfems…

In my last post, I gave a brief portrait of what trolling looks like when it comes my way, and how the rules of civility tend to punish activists in favor of trolls. I want to revisit last night’s Facebook incident because it’s still going on. This Facebook page is a well-known radical feminist forum, supposedly, and guess what? I have had dozens of comments dogpiling me, insulting me, putting words in my mouth and basically telling me to shut up.

My offense? Being too aggressive with people of privilege and not being sufficiently inclusive of men. That’s right. Our radfem hub has been infiltrated by libfems. As I mentioned in my last post, my comment is the most liked. Even now, I keep getting likes. So the message is being heard. Unfortunately, only one of my supporters defended me in the comments. The rest were intimidated into silence and watched as I was pilloried.

This was the man -hating, exclusionary, aggressive, jealous, woman shaming comment that started all this:

“With all respect to Emma Watson, I’m not interested in being lectured on feminism by a woman of tremendous economic privilege who makes a large chunk of her fortune catering to the male gaze. If she has found a cause she cares about and manages to do good, that’s commendable. But playing a somewhat feminist fantasy character as a teenager does not make you an expert on feminism and I don’t need feminism explained to me. Thank you.”
Shame on me, obviously. Why, it just might be worse than the SCUM Manifesto. 

Puhleeze.

After this comment, I was told I was trashing Emma’s success, that I was jealous of Emma, that I was a lesbian with hip dysplasia (still can’t figure that one out), was told I was woman-hating, asked for my lady card, and had words put in my mouth and straw men erected against me. One example is that I was being bizarre and illogical for accusing the Harry Potter franchise for catering to the male gaze, which is not what I said at all. I was even told that I was holding women’s rights back, that I need to get a grip and realize that men can be feminists too. My attackers then proceed to read off a list of their personal Nigels that prove how awesome men are. I was even told to stop with the aggression.

That’s right. Feminist was told by other feminists to stop being so angry! Of course! Never heard that before! So original! So effective! Why, that’s how all social justice movements get ahead, by being nice all the time! Tell that to the suffragettes, I think they might have appreciated knowing that if they had just been nicer, they might have avoided all that force feeding and jail and stuff. 

Now that I have tried, and failed, to have an intelligent discussion on Facebook, I want to add a few words I didn’t dare say in that Facebook post. 

I resent celebrity activism, especially celebrity feminism. I resent the cult of the celebrity in our culture. I feel that rather than ooh and ahh over a handful of rich and famous people with spare time and a Twitter account, ordinary people took action on their own behalf. I resent the fact that women like Hillary Clinton with her character, her qualifications, her record of public service are ignored, insulted, slandered, and threatened, and so irrationally hated that millions of people voted for the next Hitler to avoid having her as a leader. Meanwhile women like  Emma Watson, with no such qualifications, are given the limelight and are well received in large part because they are young, conventionally attractive and happen to be famous. I doubt Emma Watson would have received her current distinction otherwise. Even if she had the qualifications, which she doesn’t, it’s unlikely she would have been noticed if she were,say, a middle age butch lesbian. 

Of course there is nothing wrong with Emma genuinely caring, wanting to educate herself, and use her clout to do good. But real, lasting change doesn’t happen as a result of a few high-profile figures. Name one movement that won their battles by employing a handful of movie stars. It doesn’t happen that way. It happens when groups of committed, ordinary people stand up to power or, if they have it, give up their power by, for example, going to jail, taking real risks. 

Also, if you are going to employ a figurehead for a cause, putting someone like Emma Watson is an insult, however well intentioned she may be. The message being sent is that women’s issues aren’t serious enough to warrant a qualified candidate to represent them. A popular 20-something actress will do, especially if she’s cute. I happen to believe that women deserve an advocate that actually a) bears some resemblance to them and how they live, which EW doesn’t and B) has real qualifications for a UN position or any high profile position that affects public policy and people’s lives. 

By the way, that was another attack I was subjected to, that I had no right to criticize Emma’s economic privilege because she worked hard for her success. (Oh, yes, how tired, abused, and downtrodden a life it must be to be paid millions of dollars to play dress up. Yeah, no.) But I digress. 

Lastly, I expect people advocating for me, or for the common good, in public to be accountable, take criticism, and make a reasonable effort to live by their principles. It’s dandy for EW to criticize the sexualization of young girls and to tell her own story of being objectified in this way. But it rings hollow from someone who makes big bucks posing for fashion magazines and who, generally, goes out of her way to perform constructed femininity in her everyday life. Her choice? Yes. A choice that I am obligated to take seriously? Nope.

I have decided not to read any more comments on that Facebook post, not to reply to anything, or spend any more time on that page. With that, I give you my closing thoughts, my last comment on that page:

“She works as a model. She fits conventional ideas of what feminine is. That’s catering to the male gaze. Also, I commended Emma Watson in my comment for trying. And that seems to get ignored. As for aggression…sorry, social movements don’t make progress by, again, going out of our way to not alienate or not be aggressive. What people don’t realize is that to those who are truly opposed to us, the only stance that’s non-alienating and non-aggressive enough to be considered is acquiescence. If not acquiescing in my totally level-headed comments constitutes “aggression,” then so be it. Don’t like it? Don’t read my comments. I’m not in the business of watering down feminist discussion to meaninglessness to make people feel good. Furthermore, I feel that women spend too much time defending their proverbial Nigels than actually serving women. As for my comments about Harry Potter, I didn’t say the Harry Potter franchise catered to the male gaze, nor did I trash her success. I was making the point that being a strong female character in a youth series doesn’t make you an expert on feminism. Tell me what substantive experience Emma Watson has in work or in life that helps women at large? None that I can see other than fame and a profession that places style over substance. I think it would behoove you all to learn to read and to have the integrity to respond to what I actually said instead of putting words in my mouth.”
Waiting to be banned in three…two…one…

Fake Allies: Time to Play Dirty!

I just want to put my head in my hands.

I value civility. I value extending the olive branch and hearing different ideas. But I also value being blunt, being effective, setting boundaries, breaking out of the echo chamber. Well, guess what? I’m just about out of olive branches. I’m about ready to play dirty or not at all.

The first time I tried playing dirty in defense of someone else happened a few years ago. This person banned me because I was building straw men and attacking the people who were spamming her page, attacking her and her supporters. 

This woman, I suppose, doesn’t know what “straw man” means. It’s not a catch-all term for a personal attack. It’s the act of misrepresenting a person’s position to knock it down more easily. And pretty much by definition, it’s almost impossible to build a straw man when the building blocks being used are things that were, you know, ACTUALLY SAID…and not just said, but yelled, cursed, insulted and threatened. By people who had absolutely no business being on that page anyway. But somehow, my pointing that out constituted an attack and a straw man and I was banned. 

It’s happened to me a lot over the years. I’ve been banned from Catholic pages for stating inconvenient facts.

I’ve been relentlessly attacked on Amazon for writing a negative review of Kick Ass from a feminist perspective. As is typical of internet trolls, I was accused of being ugly, fat, and jealous of Hit Girl. 

It happened to me a few years back when I wrote about my anti-healthist beliefs. I was told that I was morally deficit, disgusting, that I was going to die of these awful diseases and that I deserved it.

It happened with Trump’s election. The same people who responded to Obama’s election by hanging black dummies and setting them on fire, who responded to prominent Jewish activists by Photoshopping images of them in ovens, who responded to the prospect of a HRC presidency by building a model of Hillary Clinton’s head on a pike…now they want us to move on, unify, grow up, heal, and stop being so mean and calling them bigots. 

And it happened to me tonight, again on Facebook, on a so-called women’s rights page. I had the nerve to criticize Emma Watson’s celebrity feminism. One woman responded by asking me for my lady card, telling me what I was enabling misogyny and that my comment was woman-hating nonsense. And that I was jealous, a consequence of poor breeding and a lesbian with hip dysplasia.

Nothing was done about this.

How much do you want to bet that of this happens again and I defend myself, I will be banned?

How long will it take for people to learn that being civil in the minds of these people is about shutting up, smiling, and allowing the hostile takeover of our spaces? When will we defend ourselves and our allies as jealously as we defend trolls and interlopers? 

Only time will tell. I’m just not sure there is enough time in all of eternity for these people to get a clue. 

Update: In spite of being trolled, my comment is by far the most “liked” on that comment thread…and the likes are climbing still.