When the beacon of justice goes out, what will we use to light our way? 

shepard-equal-humanity-greaterthanfearForeword:

I originally wrote the story below in the innocent days of August 2016. Its hard to believe how much hope I had then, and what a contrast I feel now.

For those friends who caution restraint, even in linguistics, who believe that an erosion of civil rights has not yet begun, I ask that you attempt empathy for me, even if you can’t for those currently in the same limbo at airports around the country.

Each one of the detained has a life, a social network, goals, and loved ones waiting for them at home. The vast majority are students and doctors, parents and neighbors, co-workers and friends. We already have a rigorous vetting process for all applications to this country that is proven to be as effective as possible. This type of thing has never happened before, despite claims to the contrary. This policy does not increase security, but threatens our partnerships in conflict regions and is a death sentence to families that risked their lives to support our interests.

I am a deeply privileged white woman with resources of many kinds to help me through my own experience. Please recognize that without all the help I had, my refused entry would have been emotionally crushing and life-altering. Delay of even one more day in my case would have meant an entire year lost because I would have been too far behind to catch up.

I do believe that in times of peace and stability it is helpful to adapt your attitude to hand out happy, but this is not that time. This time our integrity is under threat. This is not a bureaucratic error. Foundational elements of our political system are under threat and ‘not minding’ is not an option.

If you feel this story in any way might help someone understand the human cost of a refused entry, please share. We are all human, we all feel joy and pain and loss. We have come too far to return to tribalism and hatred and outright violence.

The most white supremacist thought to which I have ever been immediately attuned was in the stress of the situation described below. I was in the deportation lounge thinking ‘Can’t they see I’m not a terrorist?’ My second though was ‘wow, that was pretty racist. What does a terrorist look like? Why can’t she look like you?’ I didn’t know until I had that thought how shocking it is to realize you were racist all along. The shame of that self-reflection is not easy to bear and is terrifying to share publicly. Both feelings inform how important it is to share this story. It is critical that we are all a little more reflective, a little more honest, with ourselves and with our fellow citizens.

Any shame I feel is outweighed by the hope that in sharing I might help one person to see a little more clearly. Hopefully some of this speaks to you.

 

The secret to a charmed life is making all the green lights… and not minding the red ones

This popped into my head on a sunny September afternoon while waiting in traffic at an intersection I used to breeze through in SE Portland.

I was considering my helplessness, stuck in Portland while the rest of my graduate classmates were moving in, finding books, meeting each other and beginning class. That was all continuing on the other side of the world while I was waiting for a light, and waiting for my whole life at the same time.

I was supposed to be in London, and I was here, waiting for the British civil service to decide if I was going to be allowed back, if I could live and study in the UK, a place I was pretty sure was integral to my whole future. Looking back, I suppose there was an issue I was a security risk. I thought I was a normal 20 something, just wanting to go back to school. I didn’t think that my constant international travel looked suspicious, although I should have known better after all that time traveling to weird destinations. Student tickets aren’t usually the means of constant global circumnavigation

It started like all my other trips. I packed, printed documents, double checked lists and said my goodbyes. From the moment I stepped on the plane I was on my way to a new chapter of life, expectant, nervous, a little jittery with my soundtrack plugged firmly in my ears.

I hit the immigration hall out of the gate. I was excited to be there and I knew this drill. A lifetime of international travel and I thought I knew it all. Little did I know I had only ever seen one side of that system.

I strode confidently up to the podium, my passport and a print-out of my invitation letter proudly displayed. I tried to keep the conversation short and polite, my goal was to get out of the airport and on the train asap. I guessed I could be in my room in 2 hours, max. My head was already at Paddington station, looking for a taxi.

I was drawn back to the podium by a question “Where is your visa?”

I was confused. They were supposed to stamp that. That is how most visas worked for American passport holders (outside China, at least.) My two previous student visas had been granted that way.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Isn’t that what we’re doing? Did I forget to give you my letter?”

(Always be polite when traveling, it costs nothing and is much more effective)

“I’m sorry, I’ll be right back”

I was left standing alone at the podium while others streamed by me. I had never had this perspective before, I was always the streaming, moving quickly through barriers with a smile and a quick polite word. It was disorienting, to suddenly know something is different and off, but not understand what exactly is happening. I was told to take a seat and wait. My original timeline was now very off and I was very much present in only this moment.

Flights land at Heathrow from all over the world, passengers enter the UK from 3 international terminals. That year 68 million passengers passed through their doors.

After I had been sitting for 20 minutes, a flight landed from Lagos. About half of the African passengers were detained for health screenings. I considered how lucky I was. Mine was probably a simple misunderstanding, his was being born in the wrong place. I was scared but grateful for the reminder to take deep breaths and choose happy.

I was not allowed in that day. I was refused entry, detained and treated suspiciously by a group I had previously barely noticed. I was fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed. I was in a windowless room with a payphone useless to me. It was early Sunday morning GMT, who would be available? Could anyone help? I sat with the other Americans who had made my same mistake. For some it had been a gamble, for some a genuine misunderstanding. There was a quorum of about 5-6 students, constantly shifting, but always about the same size. There was a woman who had been at a conference and couldn’t give up her passport long enough to get the visa. She was kind in telling me to give up hope immediately, but I was still naïve enough to be unable to comply.

There was a VERY highly strung gentleman from New York who kept us informed of the events he was currently missing at his college on an hourly basis, in between lamenting how miserable this situation was. Now was the coach to meet him, now was the welcome drinks, now was the meeting with his advisor. Maybe he could just buy a cheap ticket to Denmark or Amsterdam, and stay a few days. It is the only time in my life I have ever genuinely thought ‘you are killing my zen, man’

I was trying not to panic and so had not begun to focus on how this knot would be unraveled. I kept thinking that when they understood how the mistake happened, and that I was unaware of a rule change, there would be some accommodation.  There was a singular unwillingness to do anything other than process us and send us home to deal with their colleagues in another branch of UKBA.

We went down to the arrivals hall to collect my bags, including the extra I had brought and paid for. I was quickly learning what it was to be accompanied everywhere, treated as a suspect.

My luggage was searched thoroughly in the otherwise empty entry hall as other passengers sailed through ‘nothing to declare’ and searchd again in front of the entire flight I was put on to get me home as quickly as possible. I had a short chance to call my parents to tell them to expect me. I was escorted with 3 guards, all at least a head taller than I was, the most unlikely international menace you had ever seen. They walked either side and behind me, to the van with the cage in the back and from the cage to the secure departure area where they checked my bags again. My rational mind knew it was a shaming mechanism: how could I have any contraband when the bags had been in their possession since they last searched them? The rest of me was mostly numb. The female guard, taking pity, gave me the chance to pull 2 things from my checked bags- a clean shirt and a stuffed dog who was my most constant companion.

And there I was. In seat 47G, on my way to another 30 hour journey back home to figure out what came next. I flew to Dallas, was met and given a hotel room, woke in darkness to the ringing of the wake-up call and stumbled onto a plane to O’Hare, more grief from TSA, probably because I was a mess and easy. Finally, I arrived back where I started, 72 hours later. My parents had hugs and plans and we had a mad rush for the first 3 days while I got a new passport (a whole other story) and sent all the paperwork to the consulate. Apparently, they aren’t kidding when they say ‘check all immigration requirements’ because those suckers change! As an undergrad I needed a letter, as a postgrad (and post 9/11 and 7/7) one needed a bank account, and a letter, and a whole form, and additional photos. We sent everything they asked and called everyone we knew who might be able to help. And then we waited.

The thing that people misunderstand about government, is that there are lots of parts and they function very differently. The civil service is a job for life. It’s a slow but steady rise, as long as you do your job, don’t make trouble, and are good at the tasks assigned you, its possible to have a wonderful life, and contribute to society. People in the civil service are the balance to politics. They keep the trains running, and the security at borders well, but they are also impervious to changing or breaking the rules. They are annoyed by people trying to circumvent a system and they are careful and thorough. All of which meant I was totally helpless, waiting at that light. Hoping a stranger would read my application, including the statement of why I made the mistake I did and got sent back. There was nothing I could do, no levers to pull.

The only option was to wait at that light, and wait for that civil servant and trust that I would be on time where I was going, and that things would work out ok. The only thing I could do was try to not mind the waiting. To decide that there was a reason that things happen and I’m not always in control.

Sometimes we hit all the green lights, and some days there are more red ones. The way to ensure we have a charmed life either way is to make sure to hit all the greens, or just to choose… not to mind the red ones.

 

Afterward:

I was able to have hope because I trusted the system, and I have faith in something higher. I still believe there is an order to the universe, but our system is in trouble. It is imperative that we fight on, using whatever tools we can, until we see green lights for everyone again.

 

 

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How to argue with people on the internet

2016-01-23 20.36.21I have been struggling quite a bit as the election and the aftermath have unfolded. Since losing my mum I’ve made a consistent, deliberate effort to connect with her side of the family and they are almost universally Mormon, Republican and old-school Conservative. This election has been hard to navigate when to speak up and when to stay quiet, who will listen and when it isn’t valuable to pursue. I love these people, especially these women, and I am so grateful for the ways they have welcomed and accommodated me. At the same time, we disagree profoundly about so many things. We come from the same place and yet we have taken such different paths across multiple generations. Remaining in connection is important to me and yet… it can be hard. I know that any conversation we have is visible to wider communities and reflects on us both.

Where I come from is this:

This country (and the world) has had problems that we have used band aids and smokescreens to avoid solving. My liberal-bias-side would say that in the 1960s the world evolved and there is a group who doesn’t want it to be that way. They find the changes (dare I say ‘evolution’) threatening for lots of reasons and are unwilling to compromise what they feel are core identity issues. But, being fair, I think there are also some good points buried in what they are saying too. Globalization has been displacing, diversity is difficult to navigate at times, and we have not supported our entire community to reap the benefits of ever-increasing-productivity.

I had the opportunity to witness a Mormon ward and although it was closed and ideologically driven, it was also the most committed, supportive community I have ever witnessed. In many ways it was a time warp to when we lived in communities close enough that our neighbors helped care for the ill and the less fortunate. It was also a beautiful thing. I think we have all had some situation when we didn’t want to face reality, or when we believed a good thing was under threat. We rarely think about the fact that even the space to contemplate ‘I don’t want it this way’ is a privilege.

Trump voters (and Brexit voters) are insecure enough (across economic, social and psychological measures) that they don’t have the capacity (or believe they don’t) to adapt to a post-structural order. That is my generous interpretation. All of these things don’t make their beliefs and narratives ok with my value-system, but it does allow me a higher level of empathy with their suffering and their attachment to their position.

In terms of approach:

I remember my first debate training ‘aha’ moment. I was 19 at the time with no formal training so I had a slightly different (read less effective) approach to argument. It was like a Klaxon bell for me. Nick Bibby taught me that in a real debate you will never be able to convince the other side, you can only hope to convince the audience. Your opponent is spending all their energy on trying to prove you wrong, regardless, so they are not particularly open to saying ‘oh, I guess I was wrong’. I’ve learned over time that if you believe you are in a fight to win you have no brain-space to contemplate anything other than how ‘they’ might be wrong.

My friend Ross K Allan is special because he is rare. He’s nuts (and he thinks I am), but he is open to the possibility he might be wrong and enjoys the argument as much to learn as to win. There are only a few people in the world who really enjoy arguing for sport and to find someone who loves the activity and disagrees almost entirely with the things that inform my personal ideology is only one of the ways I am lucky. When we were both at the LSE we had coffee and argued for fun for hours and never cared who ‘won.’ Another friend joined us once and immediately moved the goal-posts so he could ‘win.’ He never joined an argument again. I know how much privilege went into those afternoons of arguing and how much generosity I owe to anyone who hasn’t had the time to hone those skills.

I start from the premise that the other side is not ignorant or dumb (it is not my job to educate them), but instead that we have different core values. I use the information provided from previous interactions, or from the conversation itself to decide if that person is open to alternative information, and/or views. I state my views as simply as I can, accounting for their context/ language and use things that are easily googled for evidence. I try to respect what they come back with to the greatest extent possible and with the most generosity I can afford. If they are open, I pursue the conversation, if they are not, I invest less, but don’t dismiss them.

At the point when they become angry, hateful, or dismissive I’m happy to walk away from the conversation without needing to leave judgement and almost always happy to leave the door open if they want to re-engage. Examples can be seen both on this blog and on my Facebook page.

I always, ALWAYS try to take the high road, mostly so when I look back I feel good about my actions. I don’t think the important thing is how they respond to me, but how I respond to them, and what I can learn from the situation; about them, about me, about the world in which we co-habitate.

I try to use as much nuance in our interactions as I can, including using public or private communication, timing (if I see red I wait until I’m calm again to respond), directed or undirected comments. I respond and point out inconsistency or flaws to other’s posts, but I try to be positive as much as possible in my own. If I know I will hurt someone’s feelings or upset them, depending on how important they are to me, I will try to soften that blow or remind them that despite our disagreement, we still have areas in common. I’m happy to drop a topic if requested and don’t need someone to justify why. I try to stress things to balance where I call them out because it is hard to be wrong and everyone has pride. I think about our common links and the impact of our dialogue on the wider group. I choose when to engage in debate pretty carefully and practice observing in new spaces or if I am unsure of the majority opinion of a group. I check in with myself often.

Our advanced state of capitalism, poor education system, and marketing sophistication combined with a history that many don’t know and common narratives that are often simulacra (papering over previous generations of suffering), all contribute to a fully divided American polity. I know that it is my own privilege that lets me pass back and forth, even while my gender disenfranchises me in many places. This allows me to see both sides in many discussions.

I try to bring love, and hope and clarity as much as possible because I think fear, division and blame are the real dangers of our current political direction. I think these issues have been festering for centuries (or longer); our constitution has our original, unresolved, race-debate enshrined in its text. We amended the document (with a civil war) but the emotional labor to fully knit us together has never been done. Instead, there are regularly figures who exploit these tensions for their own gain. Exploitation for personal gain is not rare or unique, it is also buried in our national narrative.

Discerning what is a topic for rational discussion and what is a matter of emotion or faith is important to know where your valuable energy is worthy of use. Also helpful to know which battles are important (ones with large audiences who might be open to alternative ideas) and which are not (you and a douche in a coffee shop or supermarket queue with no one else around.)

It is a hard boundary to know how much to be kind to others during a period of ‘awakening’ and how much one’s kindness is used to help an intransigent avoid dealing with real issues. This is where reversing the burden of proof can be helpful. Instead of trying to prove them wrong, I ask them questions to make them support their racist point, or critique from a meta perspective (gently) things like lack of evidence, an assertion with no argumentation, poor sources of citation, etc. My goal is not to prove them wrong, but to engage in a Socratic dialogue to help them see my point. It could easily be argued that I am using my own privilege of intelligence and education to marginalize them, but I try to be aware of that and use it as much as possible to increase my own capacity for patience and empathy.

I try to remain engaged in the debate and avoid it ever being about a person. ‘I’ statements help, and remaining on issue (including steering back that direction) are helpful in that.

My mum used to say “the way in is usually a question but it’s rarely ‘have you thought of this?'”

I’ll usually follow a conversation through one cycle of dismissal, vitriol or ad hominem attacks and then I’ll let it drop. The point is more to plant seeds than to win battles. Change takes a long time, and Inception is a great strategy for large societal shifts.

Many people disengage or attack because they know they can’t win and it’s a way of avoidance. I won’t let them get away with that, but I won’t be mean about it either. Humility is important to me, and so I also remind myself that everyone has something to teach me, albeit sometimes it’s more about them as an object or a catalyst.

All of this is grounded in HUGE time devoted to doing my personal work and remaining balanced and grounded intrinsically.

This is meaningful to me: “People don’t want to be immediately dismissed because they might have a view that you consider wrong or even vile; they want to feel heard. And once that happens, it’s a lot easier for them to make mental space to understand other people’s problems.” (http://www.vox.com/identities/2016/11/15/13595508/racism-trump-research-study)

It does take time, and stupid amounts of emotional labor. I think an unwillingness to do one’s own emotional labor is at root for a lot of this current aggression. In traditional Western societies, women do emotional labor and men fight the wars. Feminism has spent 50+ years attempting to upend this dichotomy. It is threatening and messy and complicated and scary when those simple binaries don’t exist. That is the root of much social conflict that I see today. Binaries always include and exclude and currently those inclusions, exclusions and boundaries are all under dispute.

I think honesty and deliberation are important personally and in relationship and the sensationalism of our media and the schism created by so much diversity so densely packed is both a new conflict and the same war we have been fighting since agrarian times. Intersectionality helps, but also just being candid about one’s own limitations, perspectives and biases.

So many people are scared for so many reasons. I have always marveled at things like the stock market and sovereignty as both are premised on a slightly unfathomably large group just agreeing to a concept, or having confidence in a system. It is all governed by how a huge number of people feel.

Politics is about power, but more importantly it is about people, relationship and community. Most people follow the law because it is the law, not because they will be punished if they don’t. People want to get along with others and fighting always must end at some point.

I spent a lot of time at the LSE thinking about the continuum between coercion and convincing. I understand the Realist drive to coercion and I agree there are many gangsters out there. But to believe in democracy is to believe that the power of more people, applied deliberatively and with love, can make the tide rise for all boats. US history is a mix of both gangsters and idealists and we must acknowledge both to be able to move forward.

The more someone pushes my buttons, the more I realize I have something important I can learn from them. Sometimes I also realize its ok to just take a break.

A constant source of comfort for me is the thoughtful, intersectional, feminist responses I see from young people around the world, and especially my peers from the debating community. International competitive debate has changed drastically since I was an undergrad. When I started competing I was a member of the most patriarchal, misogynist, xenophobic, chauvinist society you could imagine. When I got to international competition I thought it would be better but I took on the job of Women’s officer after a Women’s Forum that was… underwhelming in nature. No discussion of systemic inequality that impacted women and other marginalized group’s chances of doing well in the competition. The sea-change from then to now is amazing and was a series of tiny steps over almost 15 years.

My first act as Women’s Officer to WUDCouncil was to introduce an equity officer. I received so many concerns that first year, but only a portion were about gender equity and a great number about religion, accent, LGBTQ issues and access. We introduced the equity officer to better serve the needs of the whole community. That was a first step but it would be a further four years before Org Com had an equity team with any actual power. Those were a difficult and often impotent four years of constant battles large and small. It was worth it. This week I have had exquisite joy as the LSESU Open announced its equity team directly after announcing the CA team. It isn’t perfect, but it’s SO much better than it was and that gives me hope. We each impact a few people deeply, but if they are improved by it, and impact a few more people, those ripples can really make a difference.

If a single person sees my words and examines one belief more carefully then I consider my efforts valuable. I may be tilting at windmills still, but hope for greater understanding and more nuanced resolution is ultimately the only real strategy I have.

Emotional labor for my Trump-Voting loved ones

It was my mother, as it is almost always the mother, who kissed my hurts, and taught me slowly the secrets she learned:

That feminism is asking for equality.
That equality doesn’t mean displacement.
That if we communicate clearly there is often more than one way to share an orange.
That I am enough as I am, and Louis IV invented rules of etiquette to keep his court busy.
That hearing my own voice, deep from my own soul, will always point the right direction. Continue reading

Trust

IMG_0024There are people in this world who will save your life

Who throw a lifeline if you are drowning, not caring that the rope will bind you

Who are generous, or loving, or thoughtful, or driven, and say ‘yes’ when you ask for help

 

Saying ‘yes’ saves at least one life every day but saying ‘no’ is so much easier when one is tired

Saying ‘yes’ inspires hope, and a renewed demonstration of commitment;

to each other, to the process, to ourselves

 

There is electricity in these ties that connect us, and healing

Acceptance is a powerful thing; generosity and kindness

A willingness to be wrong, to be vulnerable, to be open

 

The courage to risk, the confidence to fall, the heart to begin again

Life is a hard thing at times, there are monsters in the deep

And sometimes light is hard to come by

 

So we leave signposts, and whisper to the trees as we pass

Breadcrumbs for both me and the birds

if they eat the bread then surely they will sing my way home

 

 

Always beginning again

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. Drucilla Ileen Curnutt Hamblin was born June 15 1902. She had a first-rate mind and was a certified teacher in a one-room school house to support first her family of origin and then her family of destination. She taught school to support the family while my grandfather attended dental school. After having children she devoted herself to homemaking, raising my mother and uncles to value education, hard work and family. Her sons all became dentists and my mother, well, for those lucky enough to know her, understand how incredible a woman she was.
 
Ileen made three meals a day for years in the Arizona heat well before air conditioning was widely available. She made clothes to outfit her children and grandchildren and did works of public service in her spare time. Her selflessness was expected, that was just how things were. None of us will ever know how she felt about an education cut short, a professional life out of reach and a lifetime of putting others first. She encouraged my mother to pursue an education and find her own self-fulfillment. Ileen sent Carol away so her daughter could pursue a path of actualization and died before they had a language to find common ground.
My mother encouraged me to follow my dreams, often to the other side of the world, and despite missing me terribly, she felt strongly that she was following in her own mother’s footsteps. I’m grateful for that encouragement, even as I mourn the times we could have had together and the delay that meant my mother will never play with or care for my children in my lifetime.
On this day of my grandmother’s birth I am also grateful for all the other strong, selfless, amazing women whom I have the privilege to know. We are all taking different paths through life; some are rearing the next generation with love and passion, some are starting on new professional lives with courage and resolve, most are the glue that hold us together in all our myriad ways. I’m grateful too for their partners and allies in navigating this complex, difficult world. There are so many ways to show love, to let others know we care. There are many things today to fear; the rise of authoritarianism, the hatred that leads to violence, and the uncertainty of what lays before us.
My mother taught me that the only thing that will help us through is to try to love enough to understand and celebrate our differences. So for anyone reading this, I hope you see the love you have in your life. I hope you know that your mother loves you, even if she doesn’t always know how to say it. I hope you have the courage to open your heart to love, and to persist, even when it seems hopeless.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants. I never knew my grandmother, but I know that so many of the ways I am lucky in this world I owe to her tenacity, conviction and persistence. Happy birthday Ileen, today is an important day.LexmarkAIOScan13_4-2

On the insanity of many things

I was sent a link today by a colleague. He was a little worried because it was Jezebel, both by the idea of him being on Jezebel (way to be welcoming to allies) and by what it might say that he was sending me a link. The video was funny-ish, if you like laughing at people and their insanity, but the part that was weirdest to me were the YouTube video adverts preceding the actual content. The first was startling by both the level to which I was offended and the distance from the mark; thinking I would be a good prospect.

Its possible I was more surprised after a week at Dreamforce learning about the tools that currently exist for truly world-class targeting of content and prospecting. But the first link was for a breast enhancement cream, and the second for some ridiculous new form of face-paint. Not that I don’t care about my own presentation (albeit admittedly much less than many of my peers), but SO many things about me say that the ad is both unlikely to be successful in getting my money and likely to make me very very angry.

I also noticed the number of things they did with marketing to try to fix what seems to me to be a product based on so many flawed ideas and damaging assumptions. Using an RSA style to ‘teach’ as an introduction into a way to further the message of superficiality seems oxymoronic (emphasis on the moron). The juxtaposition of insight to shallowness is startling. Furthermore, how they got to a place through my activities or history thinking I would be a good prospect is currently boggling my mind.

enhancement add

I went to try to complain to YouTube but of course that is almost impossible. Lots of ways to complain about the video, none to complain about the advert.

I don’t totally know how to react other than to dismiss it as a product of modern life. But I find it strange that shaking it off is the only solution to something this totally screwed up on so many levels. I guess ranting to a twitterverse of total strangers is a close second to actually trying to fix any of the myriad inherent problems in the situation. Talk about a radical view of power and total disenfranchisement…

Where have all the flowers gone?

Library - 0953I have been reading several of the gender-related themes going on in the news, usually from a feminist bent (qu’ell surprise I hear you say). Cases about how rape isn’t’ really rape, how women still face disparity in many workplaces, and, lesser emphasized, the ways in which women are subtly hampered in their pursuit of positions in the public sphere (in all sectors) and power (direct and indirect).

The most interesting to me however is the debate about women in the workplace, and the choices they make. I think there is another debate here, that is actually being obscured by discussions of child-care, partners taking on ‘home’ burdens, and issues of compensation.

Sheryl Sandburg referenced it indirectly in Lean In, but I think there is an interesting debate to be had around the way we interact in the workplace and how it is in direct contradiction to gender narratives in society and the way that children are socialized, largely from birth.

Judith Butler points out that it is impossible to leave a hospital in this country as ungendered. This initial expectation creates a pattern that is repeated throughout our lives. Even when parents attempt to raise their children against normative gender expectations, supporting those children to choose their own path, the social pressure to conform is so strong, that individuality is suppressed in many school aged children and becomes a hard-won prize for teenagers, many of whom do not make it out of high school unscathed.

For most boys in this country this involves initiation into the dominance/ submission game. Competition, clothed in a variety of constructs, serves to constantly delineate within ‘masculine’ groups who is the dominant, and who must submit and admit mastery by others. I say masculine specifically, because this is not only the case in groups of boys. I think anyone subjected to groups of mean girls can identify with this dynamic as well. I term it masculine instead because that kind of competition and required dichotomous split has traditionally been associated with the masculine ideal and relates pretty clearly to Constructivist dialogues too.

I was watching The League a few weeks ago (for the record a highly entertaining time that I recommend). I was struck while watching by the sheer volume of what my mum used to call ‘guy stuff’. The prevalence of activities that centered around one individual or group attempting to dominate, or being dominated by others was kind of striking. Funny how it probably echoes in small amount what goes on within actual football teams themselves.

It made me realize the tension that my brothers have probably felt for a long time that I am kind of unaware of. It is not that hard for me to find a group of friends who are happy to be supportive of each other, and who can relax and enjoy life as a group without the need to compete/ dominate/ be dominated. I asked a friend and he said that he has friends who are more like that, and some who are less.

It also made me think about how many activities in that gendered life are centered around that dominate/ submit paradigm. Lean In, while good advice in some ways, really means stop voluntarily submitting. It tacitly acknowledges that in the workplace that paradigm is getting played out over and over and over. So many of our white collar professions are thinly veneered arenas to get others to submit.

I’ve been wondering about the number of ‘hard charging’ women I have been known that have voluntarily given up professions that were very important to them to raise children full time. I can’t help but think that part of the motivation for this decision is a weariness of fighting. Given that expectation one can either get in the ring of the dominate/ submit expectations or attempt to succeed/ survive/ thrive without- either way you are fighting; fighting someone else or fighting that set of behaviors. It is tedious if you don’t have the ego drive to get off on it, and it is tiresome if you want to inhabit a different way of being.

Honestly, it feels at a higher volume and intensity here in the States (not that it doesn’t exist in other places), and I wonder how much of the national identity was formed on the premise of valuing that ‘fighting’ spirit.

I also wonder about the place of boys and young men in all of this. How much of the narratives they are fed from early in school are about joining and succeeding in this game, despite any instincts or desires to the contrary they might have? How much are they taught to buy into and compete against others when it ends up working against them?

I’ve been thinking about the dearth of a new masculine narrative to rival the feminist strains. Women have been fighting for a long time now to find new identities that allow for freedom and self-definition, but this has so far (mostly) failed to be matched by new masculinity ideals. Men are expected to do new things, but in the same old ways. When they have a hard time adjusting to the expectations we excoriate them for being ‘cave-men’ or ‘unenlightened’. We expect them to smoothly transition between being that way to succeed in the workplace and be supportive partners and parents in the home, not acknowledging the cognitive dissonance it creates when switching. We are (fairly) frustrated by our perception that men are unwilling to make adjustment, or give up privilege but I think Louis C.K. is right– if we had that advantage, wouldn’t we re-up? It feels slightly mean at times that we don’t have empathy for people who have to struggle harder than they are used to for the same privileges they used to enjoy. I mean, don’t get me wrong- guys, you gotta get over that- you had it great for a long time, welcome to what the rest of the world has been dealing with- but I want to try to have patience so they can decide what their new definitions of masculinity are going to be, not premised in oppression, exclusion, and full throttle competition.