Monday, 14 October 2013

A Spectacular Failure at Picking Up a Girl in a Bar.

The other night, I was at a bar with a handful of co-workers. This bar is a very blue-collar kind of bar, in the North End of Halifax, about a half hour to forty minute walk from the downtown core. It's got a lot of older regulars and tends to be an after-work crowd rather than a weekend-partying crowd. I don't find it to be a "pick-up" kind of atmosphere - especially when karaoke is going on, because anyone who knows Halifax's karaoke scene knows that there are a couple of regulars on the scene who, while entertaining, set the tone for hilarity more than anything else.

So my co-worker's and I are here after our day and a few of us have had a chance to sing already - I sang one of my standards, "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ: Superstar. It's in my range and I get the satisfaction of belting out that middle part and surprising everyone who hasn't heard me sing before. It's a vanity pick. I do it well. I can't sing anything else from the movie. All the smokers are outside, and the table is populated by just me and one other friend.

Enter the Pick-Up Artist. Our table is at the back of the room, near the waitresses' stash of cutlery, condiments, etc. Pick-Up Artist wanders over and pokes his head around for a few minutes.

"Aha!" he exclaims. Friend and I look over at him. "Hey, there's a plug back here and I need to charge my phone - will you guys make sure nobody steals it?" We agree, as that is not an unreasonable request. He plugs his phone in.

He doesn't go back to his table. He stands there for a few moments, awkwardly. Friend and I exchange glances. Pick-Up Artist starts to strike up a conversation. "Are you guys going to sing tonight?"

Now here's the thing. If a guy approaches me at a bar, I'm going to be civil at first. Just because I'm not interested, I don't have to be rude, and I think that's reasonable. I know some people will say that you're just giving them an "in" that way, but really, what I'm doing is giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming they are a decent human being. There's no harm in their trying to strike up a conversation with a pretty girl. The harm lies in turning that into harassment when they make it clear they're not interested.

"I already have, actually," I say. I turn back to Friend, who is very pointedly not making eye contact with Pick-Up Artist.

"Oh, yeah? What did you sing?"

"I Don't Know How to Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar. Anyway, we'll make sure your phone doesn't get stolen." I turned back to Friend.

There it was. I made it clear that I was not interested in continuing the conversation, but I don't believe I was rude, considering the man was a stranger. I attempted to treat him politely, as any decent human being should.

This, my friends, is where a man should walk away. Manly readers, if you find yourself in this position, do yourself a favour. Walk away. I will explain why this is so important shortly. Our Pick-Up Artist, however, did not walk away.

"Oh, wow! You must be really intelligent!"

Okay, I'm not going to lie. I was kind of gleeful that he chose to say something so wildly stupid after the point at which he should have walked away, because it meant that I had free reign to school his dense little brain. Friend and I locked eyes. Keep in mind, we haven't really hung out outside of work much. She hasn't really seen me drink and she certainly hasn't seen me in a situation in which I can actually tell someone what I think of them as our customer service job has us biting our tongue more than I would like. I can see she's looking forward to witnessing what she is sure is about to come.

I look at him. "How exactly does that make me intelligent?"

"Well, it's a pretty old movie, and you know it exists."

"That's a terrible metric for intelligence. For one thing, taste is completely subjective and for another, knowing that something exists doesn't make me more intelligent, it means I was exposed to it."

"Well -"

"And, actually, that's pretty classist, on top of being just a shitty metric for measurement. Not everyone has the opportunity to be exposed to the same things, and just because they never had a certain experience, that doesn't mean that they're somehow less intelligent."

He gaped at me for a moment. "Well." He paused. "You're right. It was not a good example." He stood their for a second. Friend was trying to not laugh visibly, and I could see her trying to hide her smirk. I waited for him to get the message that he was not going to get anywhere with me, hoping that he would finally leave. Unfortunately, this was the kind of guy who gets his ego bruised and has to then go on to prove himself.

"But how would you ever measure intelligence then, since everyone's experiences are all different?" he finally asked, apparently pleased with himself. I rolled my eyes.

"Look," I said. "That is a long and involved ontological and epistemological debate that I don't really want to get involved in with a pleeb at a bar."

He finally appeared to get the message and retreated to his table. Later on, some young kid was singing the Beatles and I was called up right after him. I had to walk by Pick-Up Artist's table to get to the stage, so I paused on my way by - because I really am quite vindictive - and I said to him, "Wow - that kid must have been fucking brilliant - the Beatles are way older than Jesus Christ Superstar!"

He wasn't impressed with that.

Anyway. I sang my song. I went back to my table. A short while later, he comes back, to check that his phone is still plugged in. He put his hand on my shoulder and leaned in to talk to me. I pulled away.

"Hey - you should ask before you touch anybody. You shouldn't touch people without their permission," I said to him. He pulled his hand away.

"You're right!" he said. He turned to Friend and placed his hand on her shoulder and leaned in to talk to her. Bear in mind she was sitting mostly turned away from him, and her body language was screaming "I don't want to get involved in this."

"Hey, buddy," I said. "I said you shouldn't touch people without asking. Stop touching her."

"I'm not touching you, she doesn't have a problem," he said.

"Look," I said. This guy had long passed his welcome and was entering into serious harassment territory. "It's time you fuck off, alright. We don't want to listen to you or talk to you."

It took telling him to fuck off a couple more times, and one of our male friends returning to the table from smoking and yelling something obscene at him to finally get the guy gone.

Sorry, that was a long story, I know. But, male friends, do you see what went wrong here?

First lesson: A girl being civil to you is not an "in". If she's polite but distant, she's not interested. If you keep badgering her, she's likely going to become not only less and less interested, but more and more pissed off.

Second lesson: I know that you think persistence is key. That if you don't take "no" for an answer, your chances of eventually getting a "yes" go up. Well, guess who else doesn't take "no" for an answer? Rapists. Girls grow up knowing they have to protect themselves from getting raped. Most girls, when they interact with a strange man at a bar and make it clear they're not interested just to have him continue to push and badger at them have a thought process somewhere along the lines - either consciously or subconsciously - of "he will not go away after I told him no; that means the likelihood of him ignoring my no if I were alone with him is significantly higher."

When you badger a woman at the bar relentlessly, you are sending her a signal that you could very likely be a rapist.

But what about the ones who finally say yes? Are they significantly smaller than you? Do you not think there's a possibility that they feel that maybe, since you're so relentless that you might pursue other methods of making her say yes, like violence? Do you think perhaps that she might be saying yes because that seems safer than risking getting beaten up or violently raped, as opposed to coercively raped (which is what you would be doing)?

Here are some tips for your pick up attempts at bars.

Approach the girl you are attracted to. There is nothing inherently wrong with this act. Say something. Don't use a stupid line. Don't use a fake compliment to try to ingratiate yourself to her, because if she's anything like me she'll school you on your patriarchal classism. Just say hello, compliment her shoes or hair or whatever.

If she's at all intrigued or interested in hearing more, she will respond positively.

If she isn't, she will either roll her eyes and ignore you (far easier than my usual route of giving human beings a chance to prove themselves as decent, and usually more effective as well), or she will smile tightly and respond monosyllabically, or in some way, her body language and actual language will indicate that she's not interested. If she tries to be polite, don't make her regret giving you the benefit of the doubt. Be a grown up, say "Okay then, I hope you have a good night, cheers!" and walk away.

Firstly, she will appreciate you as a human being for not harassing her. Her friends will appreciate you for being a decent human being. You're not likely to get anywhere, but you know what happens when you consistently be a decent human being? Someone eventually sees that you are a decent human being, and combined with your charming personality and suave good looks, they will find you irresistible.

It won't get you laid tonight, probably. But it will honestly make everyone's night out more pleasant, and which is a better ego boost? That a girl responded because she actually finds you attractive or funny or whatever, or because she's scared you're going to rape her? If you said the latter, you're an awful human being, but if you said the former, the only way you can do that is by respecting boundaries. Because when you respect other people's boundaries, they will respect you. And respect will get you a lot further in this world and with relationships of all sorts - casual to serious - than fear of violence will.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Why Death Jokes are Funny, but Rape Jokes Aren't

People often use humour to cope with the dark, scary things that happen in life, and in most cases, it makes sense. We make jokes about death and dying because we are all going to die and it makes a lot of us uncomfortable. We make jokes about getting old and getting sick and things like that because it happens to all of us, and it helps us to normalize those things. That makes sense. We are all going to get old, get sick, die. That is TRULY a part of life, that we can't choose for or against.

Rape jokes? Not funny. They normalize rape, which ISN'T an inherent part of being alive. We don't need to NORMALIZE rape, we need to ERADICATE it. People choose to rape - people choose to devalue and disrespect another person so violently as to forcible violate their freedom of self and body. It's a violent act that is not just part of life, but something that people choose to do.

This is why, while I enjoy dark humour for the most part - because we're all going to die - I don't think rape jokes are appropriate or funny ever. Overwhelmingly, only certain groups are at high risk of rape, as opposed to the entire human race being at high risk of aging and dying. Those groups at high risk of rape are cis women, Trans* people, children, gay men. Yes, straight men get raped, too, but it's not as high on the risk of violent crimes against their bodies that they have to worry about as it is for those of us not privileged to be born cis with a penis.

I understand that people make jokes about scary things because it makes it easier to cope with things you can't escape. But most of the people I see making rape jokes are the people who don't have to be scared about rape. Straight white men seem to overwhelmingly, as a group, think that rape is hilarious. It's not something they have to worry about when they walk home from work at midnight because the only work available is a backshift and they have to pay their rent. They don't have to worry about it when they use the bathroom that coincides with their gender but not with the view society has about their genitals.

Making jokes about something turns it into a part of everyday life. The best stand up comedians are successful because they point out the lunacy and hilarity inherent in our everyday lives. Being terrified of walking home or working a night shift by yourself or using the bathroom because someone may commit a violent crime against your body just because they can... that's not something that should be part of our everyday life. And it's not something that has to be. But it won't STOP being part of our everyday life until we stop treating it like it is. Until we stop making light of it.

We're all going to die, even straight, white men. So make a joke about dying. But we're not all going to be raped - only some of us, mostly not straight, white men. So don't make a joke about rape.

Here are some statistics about rape in Canada:
  • One of every 17 Canadian women is raped at some point in her life 
  • A woman is sexually assaulted by forced intercourse every 17 minutes in Canada 
  • Girls and young women between the ages of 15-24 are the most likely victims 
  • 80% of assaults happen in the victim's home 
  • 70% of rapes are committed by a perpetrator who knows the victims (relative, friend, neighbour, colleague, or other acquaintance) 
  • Approximately one half of all rapes occur on dates 
  • 62% of victims are physically injured in the attack; 9% are beaten severely or disfigured 
  • Statistics Canada has found that one in four girls and one in eight boys have been sexually abused by the time they are eighteen

Monday, 24 June 2013

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Individualism and Loneliness

I grew up in a very codependent household. There were unhealthy aspects to it, but there were also very affirming ones. Two main contributing factors to that dependency were my parents' divorce when I was twelve, and the fact that I was homeschooled for my entire grade school career.

In large part due to the homeschooling, I was always close with my mother - being in her physical presence for most of every day, it would have been difficult to have a distant relationship. My older brothers, who went to public high schools*, had more strained relationships with our mother and my father (their step-father) and they didn't live with us for very long. For the most part, my childhood and teenagehood involved a very close relationship with my mother and two younger brothers.

Things were never perfect, and when I got older and started to form my own thoughts, my relationships with my family got a lot more complicated and a lot unhealthier. But even after the emotional abuse started, the fact remained that we were all very dependent on each other.

When I left home, I knew that was going to be the hardest part. I had spent my whole life in constant contact, and constantly supported (in certain ways) by my immediate family. It could be stifling, but it was also comforting in ways I never really appreciated until after I left.

The processing and decompression that occurred when I first left cost me a lot. I believe it was the turning point in my relationship with my Ex. My friend group at the time had scattered, and he was the only person I really had to rely on. The transition from having the constant presence of my family to depend on to just having him was difficult. I didn't know how to be truly independent and he got the brunt of that. It was too much for him, and understandably so. What previously was split between four people (him, my mother, my two younger brothers) was now all on him.

In the year following the breakup, I learned a lot about being more independent, less co-dependent, but I still hated being alone. I remember having a bit of a light bulb moment when I spoke with my childhood best friend, telling her how much I disliked not being in a relationship. Everyone had been telling me that I should embrace being single: the freedom of it, the ability to do whatever I wanted without having to check in with anybody. And I tried. I slept with a bunch of people, went on dates, went to New York City with some friends, wrote my honours thesis. And the entire time, I had wished I had someone who I could share those things with - the sexual encounters, the travel, the stress. Someone who's emotions were in tune with mine and would help me and let me help them.

When I told my friend this, she said "That's who you are. There's nothing wrong with wanting a boyfriend or a girlfriend to be with."

And it struck me, because she was the only one to advocate any sort of dependency. To be fair, she has known me for fourteen years, known my mother and my family, and is one of the few people who really knows me. More than I did.

What I ended up taking from that conversation was that, yes, while a lot of the codependent habits I had learned were pretty unhealthy, and the independence that I had learned was very important to my development as a person and an adult, that I didn't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I mentioned previously, in my mental illness post, how individualism in our society is the apex of achievement and success. If you do it on your own, you really did it. It's not quite as impressive or successful if you do it with help. This applies to relationships, too. I've been told by so many people that dependency is the last thing in the world that you want, that it's not only unhealthy, but will drive away any sort of worthwhile partner.

I really don't understand that. Is your partner not your partner? Doesn't that mean they are there to be relied upon, for support when you need it, and for you to give support to when they need it? Finances get pooled so you can both (or all three, or whatever dynamic your relationship is) live better lives, emotionally and economically? I'm not saying it's for everyone, I know a fair number of people who are happy doing the single thing. But I know as many who are miserable doing the single thing.

But we can't say that; we're not allowed to admit it when we're lonely. That's weak. We're supposed to love being single - especially as women, or somehow we're setting back feminism by falling into old traditions. Well, bullshit, I say.

We're human beings. We're group animals. We evolved in groups and gaggles, depending on one another for breakfast and lice-picking. It's so ingrained that even in our modern civilizations, we pack our individual selves into cities; we're surrounded by strangers, but at least we're not really alone. You can hear your neighbour in the next apartment fucking his girlfriend. You can connect with the guys upstairs by banging on your ceiling to get them to turn the music down. We're never alone, but gods, are we ever lonely.

But it's such a bad, dependent thing to say "I need someone. I could survive on my own, but I can't live like this." What is so bad about being a little dependent? About needing a little emotional and physical support? Sure, you should probably draw the line at never letting the other person out of your sight - I did say earlier that there were unhealthy levels of dependency.

I just think that we'd be a lot less lonely, and a lot more comfortable, and capable, if we didn't have all these hang-ups about individuality. You can be your own person and still rely on others. I don't think people who think they are going to lose their personhood in a relationship truly understand how to be an individual if it can so easily be taken from them.

I do think that people would be happier if they would share their burdens a little more often.

*The strained relationship my older brothers had with my parents had more reasons than just that they attended public schools. There was a lot more to that story. I don't mean to imply that publicly schooled children don't or can't have good relationships with their parents.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Individualism and Mental Illness

I have been told that because I speak candidly about my depression and the driving forces of its development, that I can't truly be depressed - that if I was, I would hide it. That I would be ashamed of it, not wave it around proudly, like a banner.

I won't name names. The purpose of this blog post is not to call anybody out, and besides - they know who they are. No, the purpose of this blog post is to talk about why I try to be open about my mental illness, and my history of abuse.

We live in a society that stigmatizes mental illnesses of all type for a number of reasons. As a society, we value individualism above communalism and certain types of  personal success over less ambitious forms of contentment. What happens when you have a culture of individualistic ambition is that you wind up with a society of people who look down on asking for help when you "shouldn't" need it.

Now, we also know that people get sick. There's no denying that. Medicine is a huge business in our society. It saves some lives, extends others. Helps to ease the discomforts often associated with death. But even in this arena, where the veil of compassion and care hangs over everything, recovery is still an individualistic concept. People defeat their illness, battle the disease, and come out on top - the survivors.

And fair enough: people who live through illnesses like cancer and AIDS are fighters. But they didn't just punch and kick their way through it. We have a habit of downplaying the role of the science and the medicine in individual survival stories. We talk about his battle with cancer, her triumph over heart disease. When we talk about the person who is sick and surviving, we don't tend to look at the years of research that went into finding their cure, the thousands of dollars in research grants that paid for that research, the thousands of hours of lives that researchers spent in labs, and the taxes that citizens contributed to fund those research grants. We don't bring attention to the web that holds the survivor aloft, alive.

This is a reflection of the individuality we value. The individual survived. The scientist cured. The government funded. We talk about the individual actions, not the interaction of those actions.

Mental illnesses throw a wrench in this system of individual empowerment. For one, we can't see them. There's no lump upon which to perform a biopsy, no parasite to remove. There is simply our brains, and by proxy, our minds. You can fight a mental illness about as well as you can fight your own shadow. You find that when you try, you're just yelling at yourself.

Despite the work of many researchers that have spent their lives trying to figure out how to help those with mental illnesses, our society doesn't pay much attention to that sort of science. The mind is an ethereal place. The kind of place that coincides too much with the imagination, and therefore with faking it. We - the public at large, I mean - don't see the research in the news. We see the caricatures of the crazy cat lady, and the loony old homeless man, and the emo teenager who cuts herself for attention.

But we're told it's illness, and fine, we believe that. But people with real illnesses FIGHT and BATTLE and DEFEAT their diseases. They buckle down and win. So, if you have depression, or anxiety, or crippling OCD (among others), why can't you FIGHT and BATTLE and DEFEAT it like everybody else does, like all those other survivors do?

We forget that the other survivors played a very small role in their survival. That while they may have fought some of the battles, the doctors and the researchers and the funding agencies are the ones that won the war. And we forget that, because we can't amputate it, that the mind is still a part of the body, that it is a function of our brain, which we also cannot amputate or transplant. We cannot cut the disease out, or irradiate it into oblivion. We actually have to address the illness and interact with it, and it's complicated. We can explore the oceans and outer space, but we still have a hard time exploring our own minds.

And so, we find ourselves unable to work with mental illness the way we work with cancer or polio, at least not publicly.

There is a lot of shame around being broken in a way that can only be blamed on your own body - and we are individuals, aren't we? We create our own success and fight our own battles. If your body - the symbol of your individual person - does not work properly AND you can't just install a tube or cut out the part that doesn't work to fix it, then what good are you? You become a burden. You require help, and that means someone else has to sacrifice their own individual success to help you. And so you become ashamed. Of your illness. Of your inability to get better. Of your failure to be a successful person, and therefore to be a worthwhile person, or a person at all.

I talk about my mental illness because I refuse to be ashamed of it. A person with cancer is allowed to talk about their ongoing work against their illness. I should be allowed to talk about the ongoing work against mine. Mine won't get "cured" and it may not be fatal. If I'm lucky, I will get to live my life with successful coping mechanisms. That doesn't sound like much of a war story, or much of a triumphant recovery story, does it? It certainly doesn't paint me as the hero, considering my inability to vanquish my own brain.

I live with depression and mild anxiety, a touch of OCD. They come from a history of emotional and verbal abuse that severely affected how I view myself and my place in the world. Combine that with the influence of the Autism that runs in my family (I know myself too well to believe I've escaped it completely). And you know, I'm not ashamed of it. People who develop cancer after being exposed to radiation aren't blamed for getting cancer. I refuse to be blamed for developing mental illness as a result of exposure to a different sort of harmful environment.

The reason I am expected to be ashamed, though, is because by being open about my mental illness and my need for emotional support, my inability to achieve success completely on my own, and the way my mind turns itself against me, I am asking for help where I "shouldn't". Living openly with depression and other mental illnesses means relying on others for support, it means giving up some level of individual success. It means questioning the validity of the argument that I, as an individual person, should be able to pull myself up by the bootstraps and FIGHT and BATTLE and DEFEAT.

We shame mental illnesses in part because they question our ability to be autonomous, successful individuals who don't need anybody's help to do anything. And because we place such high moral value and succeeding without help, we look at those requiring assistance to maintain themselves with moral disdain.

I do think the tide is shifting, but my observations could be skewed. I'm probably part of a self-selecting group, but even if I see a change just because I spend more time with people who think along similar terms, it still means there are others out there who understand this. And if enough of us stand up and question why we, as a society, still look at a legitimate illness this way, then perhaps more people - people outside our little intersectional circles of theorizing - will start questioning this status quo, and perhaps there can be some positive change.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

A comment on the phrase "there’s literally nothing stopping you [from doing this thing that costs money] "

This post came across my dashboard on my Tumblr and it struck a chord.

I would love to travel. I would love to quit my shitty, demoralizing job and spend my days knitting and writing and painting brains and uteruses. I would love to go to yoga classes a couple times a week and get more fit. I would love to eat an ethical and socially conscious diet. I have said these things to people and they look at me and say "just do it! there's nothing stopping you!"

Let me tell you a story.

Today I filled out a form to ask the YMCA for a subsidized membership so I could attempt to put myself in a position where I can more fit (because guess what? Lack of money is stopping me - I've had people tell me I'm being stupid because it doesn't cost anything to run; well, yeah, except I can't afford non-shitty running shoes, and my back problems make high-impact exercise problematic for my health).

But I digress.

I filled out the form that the YMCA asks for so that they can arrange subsidized memberships for those who can't afford it. This was what got me swimming lessons and dance lessons and baton twirling lessons when I was a kid - a subsidized membership at the YMCA. I am so grateful for it.

The form asked what my net income is and what my monthly expenses are. At first I was worried that I made enough that that would disqualify me from subsidization, but then I tallied up my expenses.

I make, on average, about $1200/month. If I've been sick or have taken a mental health day because my job wreaks havoc on my depression, it's less than that, obviously, because I work for an hourly wage.

My expenses worked out to be the following:
  • Rent: $575 (This is high for a tiny basement apartment, and this is my half. My roommate's pays the same amount PLUS $50 for parking every month, which makes me glad to not have a car. We're fortunate that this includes our utilities.)
  • Food: I try to spend less than $200/mo on food because I can't really afford not to, but I put down $200, because it usually ends up close to there if I want to not be hungry. This includes cat food/supplies
  • Internet: $25
  • Renter's Insurance: $9.
  • Transportation Costs/Bus Pass: $70
  • Telephone: $60 (I recognize I could have a cheaper cell phone plan, but I spend most of my time not in my apartment, and the things I have on the go require that I be able to check my e-mail, etc. on the go. My plan is about as basic as a data package can get, and I got the cheapest smart phone that Samsung offered through my provider).
  • Credit Card Repayment (because having a maxed out card and the bank calling you about SUCKS): $200.
I tallied that all up, and do you know what adds up to? $1139. Guess what $1200 - $1139 is? $61.

Tell me again now that if I want to travel, I just have to do it. Who's going to buy my plane/train/bus ticket? Who's going to feed my cats for free while I'm gone? Tell me again that if I hate my job, I should just quit and find something that makes me happy? Who's going to pay my rent, so that my roommate isn't as screwed over as I would be? Again, who will feed my cats? Tell me again that I can do anything I want to, with that whole $61 I have left over at the end of the month, which, funnily enough, is never there, either?