A Feminist Blogger Always Pays Her Debts – Victories and Failures of Game of Thrones

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Confession: I just started watching Game of Thrones at the end of June.

Yes, yes, I know. I’m letting down the whole generation of Millennials who have been trying to make Lannister references at me for years. (And I do mean at me, since even after I announced that I’d been streaming other shows instead, the Lannister references continued to flow in. Maybe they thought they owed it to me – I’m told they always pay their debts.) Nonetheless, I caved this summer, largely because searching for full-time employment leaves a whole lot of free time on either end of perfecting cover letters and resumes.

I’m only on season 3, episode 2, so there will be no spoilers here. Okay, just one: Dumbledore dies. But having spent so much time recently listening to the epic intro music (possibly more epic when played by a New Orleans jazz trio) has given me some time to think. I was told I would love Thrones for its “strong, well-written, complex female characters.”

Now, I’ll admit, the prospect was attractive. Growing, up, I was that kid.  I devoured the Lord of the Rings trilogy and for a period could rattle off extended dialogue sequences from the films. I plunged headfirst into series like Terry Brooks’ Shannara series and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritence cycle. In my “younger reader” days I was into Percy Jackson and the Olympiansthe His Dark Materials trilogy, and the full sequence of The Dark is Rising. Hey, I never said I wasn’t a dork. But I’m aware of how fantasy novels can (and frequently do) dismiss women into minor roles, plot devices, or non-speaking parts. You’ll never catch me throwing Tolkien under the bus – the man defined my childhood - but let’s take a moment to count up the number of female characters with important speaking roles. I’m at three. And I’m done.

Thrones, on the other hand, smashes through the Bechdel Test on the regular. Catelyn Stark, at least as far in as I am, is running around kicking ass and taking names. Arya is adorable and spunky (in a way that, to any fantasy-reading child of the 1990s who was into Tamora Pierce at the right age, will sound bells of familiarity at every turn)Daenerys has killed a lot of people, albeit with her breasts quite frequently seeming to do a whole lot of the work. These are characters with internal lives, motivations, and specific traits all their own. You could not sub Arya in for Sansa and expect the story to unfold in the same way. Cirsei and Shae’s dialogue can’t be switched.

Would I call Game of Thrones a feminist show? Maybe? Meh?

Would I call Game of Thrones a show directed entirely by men, based on a book series written by a man, with a female-to-male nudity ratio of about one metric fuckton to a naked butt here and there? Absolutely.

(Note: “metric fuckton” not to be used in situations requiring accurate units of measurement.)

While I absolutely appreciate George R.R. Martin’s ability to write women in speaking roles and major parts – which is awesome and let’s never lose sight of the fact that this is also an anomaly - there are also many, many things we should keep in mind before touting Thrones as the pinnacle of feminist television. Among these:

The excessive use of brothels as a plot device.

Let’s think about how so many of the most sympathetic characters use “whoring around” as the most manly and dashing of pastimes. Let’s think about why Tyrian’s entrance to the show waking up in a whorehouse is supposed to be endearing and entertaining, not troubling.

The frequency of rape scenes or almost-rape scenes

Let’s think about how these are tossed in and tossed aside again without really even being discussed. And let’s remember the feelings I’ve already expressed about rape as a plot device - for the link-averse, they’re wildly negative.

The representation of people of color

This is actually the first thing that skeeved me out watching the show. Keep in mind the way the Dothraki are represented, as an interpretation of the “shamanistic, earth-goddess, noble savage” trope linked troublingly to Native Americans. Let’s look at Daxos, the sole black man (at least up to the end of season 2), and the way he’s presented as a liar, a cheat, a womanizer, and manipulative master of fraud. Then let’s look at the way every single major character is white.

Guys, this is the great thing about fantasy. It’s fantasy. You can make your world look like whatever you want it to. You’ve got warlocks reproducing themselves in a magical tower with no doors. You’ve got zombies rising out of the snow and ravens with three eyes carrying messages on scrolls. Surely your imagination can stretch far enough to POC in leading roles.

Strategic presentation of prestige dialects

I’m not claiming to be an expert on this – I’m an English major with an amateur’s interest in sociocultural linguistics. Take my assertions with that very specific grain of salt, but still, let’s talk about linguistic discrimination. The Lannisters are from the southwest. The Starks are from the north. The Baratheons are presumably from King’s Landing in the south. The Targaryens are from Valyria, wherever the deuce that is, but is presumably nowhere close to anything. Despite this geographic disparity, Tyrian, Ned Stark, Joffrey, and Daenerys all speak in the same “standard English” dialect using the same prestige RP accent used so often in high drama even when it doesn’t make sense.

(Side note – I’m not necessarily proud of it, but I watched all three seasons of Showtime’s The Borgias in a month. It’s a historical drama about murder and intrigue in renaissance Italy, and everyone speaks in standard British RP. Why is this a thing?)

On the other hand, anyone not a prominent member of these families almost universally speaks in dialect. Prestige accent gains its prestige from socioeconomic and sociocultural factors – this is why RP is considered “posher” than, say, a northern accent, since political and economic power centers in London. What is this saying about people who don’t speak “proper” or “standard” English? It sounds like reading too much into it, until you remember the history of dialect discrimination that is unfortunately not really history.

Oh yeah, that nudity thing

There’s a reason no one watches Game of Thrones with their parents or relatives without squirming. It’s not the violence or the language. It’s those completely gratuitous scenes of female nudity in order to appeal to HBO’s target demographic. It keeps nicely in step with fantasy, sci-fi, and nerd culture generally’s long-standing tradition of presenting fully-clothed armed men wielding swords alongside women in push-up bras and underwear. I mean, I’m not here to bash Wonder Woman’s status as feminist icon, but let’s look at a side-by-side of her with Batman and Superman. That’s all.

It’s true: the male gaze is a thing. And, to clarify a point and to stop the thundering onrush of #notallmen I sense cresting the horizon, let’s talk about that for a second. A large percentage of people in the world are sexually attracted to one or more genders. (Naturally, not all, as asexuality is a thing that exists.) Which is fantastic. And some people are very pretty to look at, which can be enjoyable. Guys, I have watched nearly the entire filmography of Tom Hiddleston partly because he’s a splendid actor, partly because I have eyes and am a straight woman who finds him beautiful. I’m not saying that we should all close our eyes and lock ourselves in chastity closets. (What is a chastity closet? Don’t ask me.) What I am saying is that when a show chooses to represent its characters in a way meant to appeal to its viewers’ sexuality, and it does so in a way that disregards the sexuality of approximately 50% of the population by only representing women in sexually charged and vulnerable positions, something is off.

Am I saying that Game of Thrones would be a more feminist endeavor if there were more dick shots? I might be. I won’t deny it might help.

——

As with most media analysis, the important thing here isn’t to decide once and for all whether Game of Thrones should be used in Women’s Studies 101 classes as a classic example of feminist media. We need to appreciate the time spent developing the personalities of female characters – and, for the sake of the old gods and the new, giving them speaking roles for a charming change - while at the same time looking critically at our favorite media outlets and insisting that they do better. Without media analysis and critical lenses, we’ll be relying on blind trust that people will do the right thing. Which as Ned Stark used to be able to attest to, never works well.

Sorry. I said no spoilers. Well, that’s the internet for you, then.

The Body Pacifist Under Minor Renovations

Hey all,

So, as you’ve probably noticed, there are gonna be some changes around The Body Pacifist. No worries, the content’s not going under any serious overhauls. I’m not going to use the same domain name but suddenly start writing in-depth articles about deep sea fishing or the difference between a bear and a bull market. (Unless you want me to. In which case I’ll keep the suggestion under consideration.)

No, I’ve just decided it’s time to do a bit of aesthetic tweaking around here. This is largely because I’m tired of the font on this site coming up so small that I’m squinting at it trying to figure out if I said what I meant to say. So don’t worry if everything looks different from one minute to the next. Don’t worry if the layout of the site has changed three times while you’re reading this post. It will all work itself out soon. Hopefully in a legible font!

Thanks for your patience – I’m by no means a web developer. I know my way around a WordPress interface, but I’m not about to hack NASA. We’ll see how it goes.

Love and gratitude,

-Allison

Stop The Beauty Madness and Take Back Ourselves

Image courtesy of Stop The Beauty Madness

Image courtesy of Stop The Beauty Madness

Think back to the last time you consumed some kind of media. Any kind, really: from binge-watching back episodes of Game of Thrones (cough cough this isn’t what I did today), flipping through the latest issue of Vogue, or shelling out the seven-to-fifteen dollars now somehow needed to get a seat at the movie theater. Chances are, in some form or another, beauty was front and center stage. But what do I mean when I say “beauty?”

That would be a good question. It should be a good question. But you already know the answer. Beauty has collapsed from a potentially infinite number of dimensions to just the one we all know. The one that dominates red carpets and awards shows, runways and magazines, reality shows but rarely, if ever, reality.  Why is beauty something that can only be expressed in the typical Hollywood fashion? Why must beauty be visual at all? Why is beauty dependent on physical appearance and sexual attraction?

You want to know a little secret? I do not get up in the morning with the express purpose of making myself sexually palatable to the proverbial stranger. This is not my goal in life. I’m never going to be blonde. I’m never going to be tall. My body does not look like a willowy, gazelle-like supermodel, and based on my lived experience it’s not going to do that. My legs don’t do “gazelle.” And why is this a problem?

Beauty does not have to be in the (socially constructed) eye of the beholder. It can be in the eye of the possessor. And more importantly, it doesn’t have to be the body of the possessor. Beauty can be in anything and everything. Why limit ourselves to a tiny subset of one tiny facet of what beauty can mean?

Why, when we say “beauty,” can’t we mean the sound of a friend’s voice that we haven’t heard for months? Why can’t we mean the rhythm and power of this poem by TS Eliot*? Why can’t we mean the gloriously dulcet, smoky tones of this man’s voice? Why can’t we mean a girl working a fulfilling job she loves, or a man holding his child in his arms? Why have we let beauty slip away from us? And will you join me in stopping the beauty madness?

Today (Monday, July 7) marks the launch of Stop The Beauty Madness, an online activism campaign and conversation jumpstarter around body image, sizeism, race, gender, sexuality, eating disorders, age, representation, and so much more. It aims to change the discourse around beauty, body, value, and self-worth, to help us understand that we are capable of being so much more than square pegs against social beauty standards’ tiny round holes. It features a set of advertising-style images to spark conversation, a blog by the wonderful activists (and founders!) Robin Rice and Lisa Meade, and a 10-week audio series featuring a spectacular panel of Featured Voices. Which I’m not just saying because I’m a part of it. Sonya Renee Taylor, Melissa A. Fabello, Kate Fridkis, Denise Jolly… Dudes. This lineup is sparkling with the diamonds of awesomeness.  I feel like the kid that always got picked last for kickball suddenly being drafted to the Los Angeles Dodgers. How’d this happen?

Want to find out more? Want to help shape this conversation, listen to more than two months’ worth of podcast recordings of the best and brightest in the body positive community? Just like clicking on links? Check it out. StopTheBeautyMadness.com. You won’t be sorry.

*Yes, this is a quietly insidious way of my trying to make sure everyone gets more TS Eliot in their lives. Don’t judge. The man is my spirit animal.

Your Body Peace Bill of Rights


imagesSo, folks, it’s the Fourth of July again. I’ll leave aside the discussions of post-colonialism and cultural erasure and militarism and imperialism for the moment (though if you do a quick Google search with any of those words, you’ll find interesting reading for the rest of the summer). No, my topic for the day is FREEDOM.

Not the stars-and-stripes, writing-”MURICA”-across-a-cake-in-sparklers-and-frosting kind of freedom. If you know me IRL, that’s not exactly my bag. But freedom to exist in your own body.

Sometimes body hate and self-judgment feel like more than the status quo. It feels like the only quo. How could you stop feeling this way about yourself, if messages on every side (from the diet commercials to the media to your friends and family) are telling you it’s impossible to feel any other way?

Permit me to stretch for a moment, but do you think Alexander Hamilton would have accepted tyranny and over-taxed lightly caffeinated coffee alternatives because society told him there was no alternative? No! My favorite Founding Father (and the most dashing, because seriously he died in an honor duel to the deathwould have planted a flag in the ground and shouted, “No! There is another way!”

In that vein, I’ve set about drafting the Body Peace Bill of Rights. Body hate is not a predetermined conclusion. It is a practice. And as with any practice, it takes realizing that there’s an alternative to make a change. As you navigate the holiday weekend (or just the weekend, should you not be in the US), keep in mind these five inalienable rights of every person to feel secure, at peace, and unthreatened just as they are, right this moment.

1. Freedom from other people’s opinions and judgments

“One shall accept no opinions respecting the establishment of one’s body, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom to eat, or dress, or exist, or petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

(I’m leaving the ability to petition the government untouched, because I feel like that’s always been the less-hyped aspect of the first amendment. Let’s give government petitions some love, folks.)

Summer holidays, at least in the American Midwest where I currently knock about, often translate to barbecues, potlucks, and other gatherings centered on food. I don’t think of myself as a particularly social individual – friends are continually reminding me that there are ways to pass an evening that don’t involve Netflix or fourth-round novel revisions – and yet somehow I’ve been to four or five such food-based events this summer. It can be stressful. The fear that people are going to watch what you’re eating, that they’ll comment on it, that there’s an expectation for you to eat or not eat a certain amount… It’s everywhere.

And you don’t need to worry about it.

Your food intake is nobody’s business but your own. 99% of the time, no one at your social gathering is at all concerned with what you’re eating. I can almost guarantee that you’re the most worried about it by a mile. And if someone there does make inappropriate or uncalled-for comments about it, know that it’s not your problem what they’re saying.

You’re a fully independent person (*cue bald eagles screaming across a flag-draped sky, for ambiance*) and you are fully capable of feeding yourself. Anyone who wants to make you feel judged for what you eat is petty, probably self-conscious about their own food, and in need of a serious dose of body peace. Spread the zen from your side, as much as possible.

2. Freedom from food-related fear

“Adequate and tasty nutrition being necessary for good living, the right to eat what sounds good, is available, and will not make you feel ill shall not be infringed.”

Grab a plate of potato salad and a cheeseburger if that’s what you want. If you’d rather have a grilled veggie burger and fruit salad, grab that. Just make sure that it’s what you really want, and not what you think is “right” or what you think others expect you to have. See the first amendment for reassurance that, odds are, no one will notice either way.

It’s just food. Food is not the enemy. We need food to stay alive. Why not make it taste good at the same time?

3. Freedom to avoid destructive situations

“No one shall, at any time, be quartered in an environment where one is uncomfortable,  judged, or made to feel unwelcome.”

All too often, there’s an expectation to say “yes” to everything. Every invitation. Every party. Every request from friends, family members, and co-workers to bring your famous key lime pie to the next gathering or cookout. (Hey. Guys. I make a fantastic key lime pie. It’s understandable.)

But some situations are just not the best thing for your well-being. If you know that you’re entering into a situation that will only make you uncomfortable, sad, and possibly triggered, you reserve the right to (politely) say “no, thanks, not this time.”

Self-care is enormously important, and is not being “weak” or “giving in.” It’s knowing your body’s needs and your own needs for your mental health. So if you know something won’t be good for you, don’t do it. It’s the same as choosing not to eat a peanut butter sandwich if you’re wildly allergic to nuts. We all know what the outcome will be, so why put yourself in that situation?

This doesn’t have to be straight refusing invites, either. It can be as simple as choosing not to engage Great-Aunt Mary in a discussion on gay rights or politics, or politely shutting down a conversation from your grandfather about why you’re still unemployed. Take care of yourself, and the rest will follow.

4. Freedom from body-related limitations

“Fear of judgment or social norms shall not restrict one from free and enjoyable expression.”

For years, I would get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when the dreaded poolside dinner combo was introduced. As if eating food in front of people wasn’t hard enough, then there was the double whammy of having to eat in front of people while wearing a bathing suit. Please, just have me gnaw through my own leg while I’m at it.

I’m sure none of you are new to the two-step plan for getting a bikini body this summer, but I think it bears repeating:

  1. Go get a bikini.
  2. Put it on your body.

Voila. There we go.

I know this is easier said than done, and I’ll admit that I still have to gear myself up for the act of eating a cheeseburger in a bikini in front of others. But I’ll do it. My stomach’s not flat. My thighs touch. I’ve put on weight during college. I’m not going to look like I strolled out of the pages of Sports Illustrated. And you know what?

Look up at the sky. It’s still there. My burger-bearing bikini body has not caused the sky to crash to the ground, burying us all in the debris of my personal inability to look like a supermodel.

Ask a friend to talk you through it or go with you if you feel nervous. Find someone you can confide in. But don’t let outside pressures about appearance or socially constructed beauty stop you from doing what makes you happy. You deserve better than that.

5. Freedom to accept mistakes

“The right to struggle, slip up, or trip without giving up or inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on oneself shall be reserved, here and for all time.”

Newsflash: none of us are perfect. We can keep the principles of body love and self-acceptance and recovery high up there on our mental list, and sometimes we will still slide backward. We’ll allow that relative or that friend’s comment to throw us for a loop. We’ll interact with food in a way that we know is self-destructive or an unhealthy coping mechanism. We’ll make big plans and chicken out at the last minute.

Hey guys: that’s life.

But don’t let that slip become a landslide. Accept that mistakes and slip-ups are a part of everyone’s recovery, indeed everyone’s life, but they don’t have to define the future. A relapse can always be turned around. It’s never too late to choose to do something good for yourself.

Recovery isn’t linear. The path winds and dips and turns and sometimes takes you straight through a building and out the other side, but every step is exactly the step you need to take. Be gentle and kind to yourself if things are still difficult for you. Every step you take on the path to recovery is one step farther along than you were before you took it.

—————–

What amendments would you add? What are your strategies for making it happy and at peace through the summer? Let me know in the comments! Personally, I’m heading out the door to a Fourth of July gathering right this minute – and who knows? Maybe it’ll involve bikini-clad cheeseburgers.

To clarify: I’d be wearing the bikini. Not the cheeseburger. That’d just be weird.

 

#MarginalizED – Bringing Diverse Representation to Eating Disorder Awareness

Fun fact (okay, it’s not a fun fact at all, it’s just a fact): eating disorders are not a “rich young white girl’s problem.” They are not a “first world problem.” They are a human problem. Not that you’d ever know that by looking at the media’s representation of EDs.

Imagine in your mind the typical story the media puts out there about eating disorder diagnoses, struggles, and recoveries. Close your eyes and think about it for a second. Did it look a little like this?

  • Young (certainly not over thirty, because my God), upper-middle-class straight cis white woman develops an eating disorder to cope with some traumatic event in her past. The ED is anorexia.
  • After an intervention from loving family members, the woman enters residential treatment.
  • Several months later, she emerges 98% recovered and ready to make a difference in the world.

Probably.

Now, I’m not saying that these stories don’t have value. They do. They are serious struggles that need to be addressed. I’m a young middle-class straight cis white woman recovering from anorexia, for crying out loud. Those stories happen.

But are they the only stories?

When’s the last time you remember hearing an ED memoir with the protagonist suffering from bulimia? How about binge eating disorder or OSFED (Other Specified Eating or Feeding Disorder, what the DSM used to call EDNOS)?

How many stories out there are told by women of color? Not enough, if the #EatingDisordersAreForWhiteWomen hashtag is anything to go by.

What about middle-aged or older women?

What about the 10% of men (at the absolute bare minimum) with some form of disordered eating?

What about LGBTQ folks?

What about people who choose not to pursue residential treatment? Are their stories “not bad enough” or “not serious enough” for mainstream acceptance? (Hint: the answer is NO.)

We’ve talked here before about the importance of representation. If eating disorders are pigeonholed as a problem affecting only one tiny segment of the population, how is that going to affect how willing people are to seek treatment? How does that further myths that a huge segment of the population’s experiences don’t matter? How does that make people feel who, already struggling with serious physical and mental health issues, are told by the media that they’re not sick enough” or “thin enough” or “white enough” to have an eating disorder?

It needs to stop.

The ever-fabulous Melissa Fabello (who I’ve worked with and sung the praises of before, if you remember) is teaming up with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to bring you Untold Truths: The Marginalized Voices Project. In its own words:

The Marginalized Voices Project is a collaboration between the National Eating Disorders Association and feminist activist and editor of Everyday Feminism, Melissa A. Fabello. Together, we’re calling for stories that focus on underrepresented experiences and communities in order to create a platform for people to share what it means to suffer (and recover) from an eating disorder.

Our goal is to create a collection of stories that tells the whole truth – by spanning the entire spectrum, highlighting stories from people of marginalized identities and that challenge misconceptions – so that we can present the world with what the reality of most eating disorders look like.

Marginalized Voices Social Image 1 (1) Marginalized Voices_Facebook2 (1) Marginalized Voices_Facebook3 (1) Marginalized Voices_Facebook4 (1)

Interested in sharing your story? Know someone else who might be? Visit this link for more information. Basic guidelines include:

  • Personal narrative, creative nonfiction, or memoir-style
  • Between 1,500 and 2,500 words
  • Deadline is August 15th, 2014

Share this movement far and wide, and let’s break down ED myths and misrepresentations together.

5 Reasons Trigger Warnings Aren’t Proof of the End of Days

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Here’s a theory I’m working on living by: if a stupid thing gets tons of traction online and in print, and everybody and their mother is leaping on it giving their side of the story every single day, there’s really no call for me to write about it. I have the common sense to see when I’m wasting time, effort, and keystrokes. I really do. But then my Sunday newspaper beat me over the head with the millionth op-ed thinkpiece about how trigger warnings on college syllabi are the literal end of the world, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

I think it’s probably fair to mention that a solid 80% of my bubbling resentment  annoyance comes from the snarky, disrespectful tone these articles are dripping with. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. But if you’re going to overuse the same “Trigger Warning: Thinking Ahead” or “Next Step To Saving Millennials From Anything Bad In The World” tropes, I’m going to call you out on it.

Point one: you do realize that what you’re doing is making fun of people for having serious and negative reactions to upsetting experiences. Which is a really charming personality trait, and I’m sure you have tons of friends because of it.

Point two: that’s not what trigger warnings are for.

That said, here are five  reasons why trigger warnings are not the end of the world. From a millennial who’s not afraid to think, mind you, and who is completely aware that I’m not living in the Hundred Acre Wood. Sarcasm and snark kept to a minimum.

1. They Do Not Affect You Unless You Want Them To

This is my go-to reasoning for so many issues that just shouldn’t be issues. Are you planning on reading college syllabi and restricting your course schedule because you’ve had serious painful responses to reading or speaking about certain events or situations? (I doubt Glenn Beck or Jim Norton are planning on it.) Then trigger warnings have nothing to do with you. 

You are inserting your opinions and your values in the lives and personal choices of others. In your own families, in your own houses, in your own reading practices, you are more than welcome not to talk to your children or your friends about potentially upsetting material in their daily lives. The public education system is not the playground for your individual choices.

2. Trigger Warnings Are NOT The Same As Censorship

Apparently I need to point this out, because a stunning percentage of op-eds I have seen on the subject equate it to Fahrenheit-451 scenario. The syllogism, apparently, runs like this:

  • Trigger warnings mean flagging objectionable content.
  • Flagging objectionable content means designating things that are bad and sinful.
  • Designating things that are bad and sinful means censorship.
  • And censorship means throwing books into an enormous pyre and howling at the moon.

Note – I’m sorry. The snark simply couldn’t be restrained. I exaggerate slightly.

But that’s not what a trigger warning is. A trigger warning is the same, essentially, as those screens from the Motion Picture Association of America that appear before each and every new movie hitting theaters.

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This, in fact, is exactly what’s at stake. If a college course will deal with extreme violence, sexuality, nudity, rape, incest, trauma, mental illness, or that kind of thing, students have every right to be forewarned. This is not the same as removing the material from the syllabus. Students are not asking to burn every copy of A Clockwork Orange from off the shelves. The request is to let students who might be dealing with legitimate physiological responses around sexual assault (not an unrealistic suggestion, as 1 in 4 college women and 1 in 10 men will experience some kind of unwanted sexual contact while on campus) know that there might be some bumpy roads ahead, and to take care of themselves accordingly.

I would open the question to those opposing trigger warnings for college classes: how do you feel about eliminating the practice of rating films? What are the differences in your logic? I’d be happy to have that conversation.

3. No, We Can’t Warn Against Everything… But That Doesn’t Mean We Can’t Warn Against Anything

A more well thought-out response to trigger warnings, in my opinion, is that triggers can take different forms for everybody. A smell, a certain tee-shirt, a stretch of campus sidewalk, any of these things can spark a negative reaction in a certain person. I agree with this. My triggers, as I’ve talked about on this blog before, are mine, and unique to me. I don’t expect anyone to warn me when a lengthy discussion about, say, a certain golf course fifteen miles from my high school arises. Although I’d be very surprised if there were great works of literature written about that golf course.

Yes, warning against everything that can spark a negative reaction is unrealistic. But does that mean that all warnings, of any kind, under any circumstances, are impossible and should be thrown out? I’d argue not. Jon Stewart has an excellent bit on the apathy toward gun reform, which though of course not at all the same context expresses the same “throw out literally everything with the bathwater” approach. Shouldn’t we be able to make mention of the relatively universal, very obvious mentions of potentially traumatic material, even if we can’t hit everything?

4. Very Little Will Actually Change

Yes, this may be speculation. I am not frequently consulted for large changes in the public education sector. Shocking as it may be, I’m just a blogger with a handful of opinions (a huge number of which are strong ones about Hemingway, but I digress)But all this outrage against “the corroding of the younger generation’s understanding of the harshness of reality” and “the loss of valuable life lessons when students skip anything that makes them think about unpleasant things” seems out of proportion to what is actually at stake here:

A bullet point on a college syllabus warning students that this course contains graphic descriptions of rape, incest, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, etc.

A bullet point, guys.

Not burning books. Not a post-apocalyptic society in which librarians are prey to a pack of illiterate, armed children roaming the streets. A bullet point.

I took a French course this past winter at my university on feminism and literature in Francophone Africa. It was a fascinating course, it was challenging, and I’m glad I worked through it. It also featured eight books on the syllabus, of which seven described rape, incest, abuse, or prostitution in some capacity. Would I have taken this course had I known about that aspect of it? Yes. Would it have been good to know beforehand, especially if I had had a history of sexual violence (which, statically speaking, someone in that room probably did)? I would think so.

Point is, the class still exists. We’re still in it. We’re just not taken off guard.

5. We Already Use Them

Remember when you were in school and, before turning on a film about the Holocaust or putting up images of the My Lai Massacre, your teacher would say, “I’m about to show you something that might be upsetting. If you need to put your head down or go into the hallway for a minute, go ahead and do that”?

That’s a trigger warning, guys.

It is literally no different than what is currently getting the media’s panties in a Gordian knot.

So can we turn down the sensationalism and talk about this rationally, please?

 

Bro, Do You Even Lift? And Other Competitive Fitness Discussions

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Things I do not ordinarily recommend: selling furniture to strangers on Craigslist. My basic life motto was “nothing good ever comes from Craigslist,” tied for first place with “everything is better with sweatpants” and “there’s no such thing as a bad time to quote Shakespeare.” But I’m in the process of moving out of my apartment, and someone’s got to take care of all this huge, heavy oaken furniture that I borrowed from my roommate’s relatives. So Craigslist it is.

Today’s activity consisted of helping our very friendly, not creepy Craigslister carry a piece of said huge, heavy oaken furniture – namely, a five-drawer dresser – out of our apartment, down a flight of stairs, across the yard, and into his flatbed truck. Now, I realize that from my internet persona it may be difficult to tell, but let me clue you in on a little secret. I’m not exactly bodybuilder material. When I use weights, and that’s really something to write home about, it happens so often, they weigh a whopping three to five pounds. And that’s enough. So needless to say, as I fill out job apps and wait for interviews, “furniture mover” is not something in my near future.

This isn’t particularly earth-shattering in a body-positivity sense, I’m aware. But after we’d heaved the offending armoire into the flatbed, I started listening to the conversation that he, my roommate, and I were having. And it made me think.

“That’s definitely my workout for the day,” I sigh, leaning against the wall of the house.

“Yep, no need to go to the gym today,” Craigslist Guy says.

“We’re two weak, short women, this is as much as we work out,” Roommate says.

And so on. Polite, filler conversation. But why do we always do this? I don’t know about you, readers, but I’m guilty of making entirely too much of a conversational deal out of my exercise regimen. The thought process runs a little bit like this:

  1. Something happens that calls into question my physical fitness level. This can be something as practical as me trying to lift an uncooperative object, or something as, well, as petty as someone else mentioning that they had a good run at the gym yesterday.
  2. I instantly go into a spiral of self-doubt. The thoughts come hard and fast: do I work out enough? I’ve gained a lot of weight recently, clearly this is because I’m not working out enough and I’m trying that whole “intuitive eating” thing, which is currently playing out as that “eat more than you ever thought you’d let yourself” thing. They’re so much healthier than I am. I wish I could lose some weight. Man, this sucks.
  3. I try to come up with an appropriate response, falling into one of two categories: a) explain exactly how often I work out to defend my status as “one of the good ones” (let’s not even talk about how screwed up of a thought this is) or b) I say something self-deprecating.
  4. I generally say something self-deprecating.

This happens, now that I stop to think about it, constantly. In recovery, I find myself continually defending my right not to work out, even though I do it with some regularity. Is this because I want to prove to the world that “fitspo” and “pain is weakness leaving the body” is really not the best inroad to a healthy lifestyle, physically and mentally? Partially. I definitely consciously mention that it’s okay not to go the gym sometimes, and that it’s okay to indulge in that froyo because you’re dying to have it, and because froyo. Sometimes it’s conscious and intentional.

Other times, it’s something else.

When did exercise regimens become the new golden standard for how good of a person you are? Because somehow “going to the gym and getting on the elliptical X days a week” has become synonymous with “getting your life together.” Can’t I have my life together and work out when I want to? And what about those who, broadening our worldview to be a little less ableist, can’t lace up their running shoes and go for a jog? And those who don’t want to, because their stress relief and enjoyment comes from something like gardening, or baking, or cosplaying, or whatever? Do I need to defend myself for choosing to be or not to be in their number? (And did my third motto just subtly slip into this paragraph? Possibly.)

What exactly is the solution for this heightened sensitivity to, and need to defend myself against others about, exactly what I choose to do exercise-wise? Tough to say. For now, I’m making a conscious effort to be more aware of it, and to call myself out when I see the four-step cycle beginning again. I’ll work out or not work out as it fits my mental state, my lifestyle, my schedule, the weather, my mood, the time of day, the placement of Venus in relation to Mars, etc.

But one thing is certain: Craigslist Guy probably didn’t give a winged crap about whether or not I went to the gym this evening. He’s got his dresser. And I’ve got to revise my set of mottos.