Tuesday, June 20, 2017

THE FEMININE PERSPECTIVE


I have been circling this concept for what seems like an eternity. It is not a fashionable concept. We are in a time period where masculinity and femininity are seen as purely social or cultural constructs, each with their own set of major problems. Socially constructed masculinity is bullying and brutish, only interested in winning and dominating. Socially constructed femininity is simpering, wimpy and foolish, endlessly complaining and seemingly only interested in the sound of its own whining.

I believe that some people, regardless of gender, are born leaning toward a masculine perspective. I believe that some people, regardless of gender, are born leaning toward a feminine perspective. I was raised in a home that valued toughness and mental agility. I was taught to not act or be very feminine, because femininity was not viewed as tough or smart. After being abused as a child, I also went through a severe tomboy phase before and during puberty. Among other things, I cut my hair very short in order to look like a boy.

But I have always felt, at my core, extremely feminine. When I was in kindergarten, I would beg my mother to let me wear dresses to school (she would make me wear my corduroys underneath them—or, more often, send me to school in denim overalls). My mother was herself quite feminine, but more in a denim and heels way. More sexy, outdoorsy fox. I liked very feminine things, very girly things.

People equate this with stupidity, I’ve realized. Intense femininity is seen as dumb. It’s like Marilyn Monroe—pretty face, curvy body, nothing upstairs. And if femininity equals softness, that is seen as weakness. Someone who will just roll over on her back in the face of adversity. Someone who can’t think for herself.

Similarly, intense masculinity is seen as pure asshole-ish-ness. Just a real cold, unfeeling prick, storming through life, dominating everyone, not giving a fuck. If masculinity equals hardness, that is seen sometimes as strength, and sometimes as pure brutality. Someone who will steamroll their way through life. Someone who only cares about himself.

Ours is a culture of aggression, which is why the masculine perspective—while often critiqued—is not as universally hated as the feminine perspective.

I think both of these perspectives have been unfairly maligned, mostly because they are seen through a recherché lens. People think of these archetypes in terms of the 1950s businessman and the 1950s housewife. He’s a machine cut off from his emotions—no better than an automaton. She’s disenfranchised and powerless—no better than a cooking, cleaning sex doll.

That is masculinity and femininity at its worst. That is not masculinity and femininity as it should be.

Over the past few years, I’ve thought about myself as a creator quite a bit. I’ve often thought that one of the most valuable aspects of my work is the fact that it so wholly represents an intellectual feminine perspective. I have very little difficulty engaging with my intellect. I rarely come across a concept that I feel is over my head. I don’t think of this intellectual ability as distinct from my femininity at all. I think of it AS my femininity. My curiosity, my intuition, my wisdom. These things—though arguably gender neutral—FEEL feminine to me, because of the way I use and express them through my mouth and mind and body. And I love them.

I can feel these qualities in other feminine creators as well. My favorite fashion designers are Isabel Marant, Miuccia Prada (who holds a PhD in Political Science), and Vanessa Bruno. When I wear their clothes, I can FEEL their feminine wisdom in the way they’ve designed their garments, in their choice of fabrics.

My favorite cafés in Williamsburg are Saltie and Lilia. When I eat at these places, which are owned by women, I can FEEL how women think about food, how their choices inflect the aesthetics and the cuisine.

I love being around my friends, who regardless of gender tend to tip toward a more feminine perspective. I like the way they do things, the way they think about things. I’ve often thought that the feminine perspective could be visualized in spirals or concentric circles. That’s how it appears to me visually.

At the same time, I am fascinated by the otherness of masculinity. It is the thing I am most attracted to sexually. The not-me. While I believe that there is some masculinity in my thoughts and behavior, it is most definitely not my dominant personal perspective. It is a perspective I like to dive into and swim around in because it is so different. I love masculinity, I love the sound of it, the look of it, the feel of it, the smell of it. I love that it thinks differently to me.

But sometimes I feel like I am the ONLY person in the world who thinks this way. I feel sometimes like we are caught in this endless boys versus girls battleground, where nothing can ever be resolved. I hate it.

I hate the idea that being feminine means siding with femininity against masculinity. I hate complaints about men.

And I hate men denigrating women. It makes me so sad.

From taking the past few years to dive into the feminine perspective, I have surfaced with some ideas. People who identify with or are intrigued by the feminine perspective need to start putting their money where their mouth is. If you like the creative product put forth by feminine individuals, support their efforts. Stop complaining about the masculine not supporting the feminine if you yourself are not supporting the feminine. What the masculine perspective gets right is that it has an inbuilt support network. It puts its money where its mouth is.

Think about the things you naturally resonate with. If you feel deeply feminine, nine times out of ten the websites you shop, the clothing you like, the cafés you visit will be owned or operated by someone with a similar perspective.

Femininity shouldn’t need to feel justified by masculinity. And masculinity shouldn’t need to feel catered to by femininity. Those imbalances occur when people aren’t valuing and accepting WHAT THEY NATURALLY RESONATE WITH.

I love masculine men, but I don’t think I necessarily make work they are going to immediately resonate with (nor does the work they make immediately resonate with me, nine times out of ten). If anything, I would love for them to be intrigued by the fact that my perspective is DIFFERENT than theirs. When I was a girl, I used to go to hardcore shows with my friends. I LOVED watching the boys (and, though fewer, the girls) in the pit, watching their aggressive reaction to the music and to each other. It felt so graceful and primal and free to me. So natural. I had ZERO desire to go into the pit myself. I like that music, but I experience it differently. There is something beautiful about that to me. I don’t ever want to think that we have lost the ability to appreciate the differences in each other.

And I don’t ever want to think that we have lost the ability to appreciate ourselves for who and what we are. I am proud to make work and live a life from a feminine perspective. It was not a perspective that was drilled into me. It is one that was, in some ways, scared out of me. When I was able to reclaim it, it felt like coming home. I want everyone, no matter how feminine, masculine or in-between they feel, to find resonance with their own perspective. That’s one of the biggest hopes and dreams I have in this life.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

FEAR


I was abused as a child in different ways by different people. This is not a confession but a statement of fact. I have only told, at most, four people this fact. I don’t know why. It has been a hard thing for me to come to terms with—my whole life has been trying to run from my own pain, and creating spaces, relationships and situations that kept me from really having to deal with it. When I have encountered other women who’ve been abused as children and are open about it, I’ve felt angry with them. I felt they were using their stories to get pity and attention. I felt that it was disgraceful to air what I perceived to be “dirty laundry” in public.

So I unconsciously created a life where I was rarely put in a position to have to deal with straight men (my primary abusers) in a work setting. My work was female-oriented for the most part, and that made me feel physically safe. Up until about seven years ago, I led a life that appeared to be similar to the lives of my friends. I dressed up, I went out, I met men. But I was dissociative during intimacy, without realizing it. At that point in time, I thought dissociating WAS intimacy. I thought sex was something you just performed robotically in order to be approved of, and the best thing to do was to be sexually attractive and “do” all the things your partner wanted you to do. I was completely cut off from my emotions and from my physical desires. I just wanted to be a normal person, like my friends. I thought aping their actions would get me there. When they talked about their desires, I followed suit, parroting them and feeling nothing inside. I would often gain a bit too much weight as a deterrent to sex, unconsciously keeping myself safe.
At a certain point—or at any point, really—dissociative sex becomes like self-rape. I didn’t realize that. But at some point in time, for some reason, I began to question more and more the way I would involuntarily “tune out” during these encounters. Spontaneously and involuntarily “tuning out” was something that happened to me a lot in childhood, to the point where, in fourth grade, I went from being a teacher’s pet to a student who was reprimanded repeatedly for not paying attention. It happened so often it was even a joke in my family: “Aimee’s spacing out.” Because this behavior was both chastised and normalized, I didn’t understand that it was neither normal nor “my fault.”
As my life progressed, I began to see painful patterns that brought me a high degree of misery in my life. I was very easily controlled in the workplace because I feared making mistakes and being confronted—by women or men. People sense fear, and if they are not sensitive, they will often use it against you. In my personal life, after this period of going out and “hooking up” in a dissociative state, I began to draw back from intimacy, finally realizing that something was going on with me, and that it was very wrong. From that point, I began to see getting hit on by men not as a chance to feel like an attractive, normal person (which I absolutely did not feel like), but as an attack—and I began to get very nervous whenever a man would approach me. I still feel that way (but I am getting a little better). Being confronted romantically by a man, or in an assertive, aggressive or hostile way by a man, is deeply frightening to me, and I have a really hard time getting past it. Sometimes I just can’t get past it. This has caused endless problems in my work life and in my personal life. Sometimes I feel like I live in a constant state of childhood fear.
Dealing with all of these things on my own was and has been extremely difficult for me. As much as there are tools like therapy and so forth to deal with this type of thing—they don’t go far enough as far as I am concerned. I had a therapist who seemed embarrassed when I talked about sex (and, being someone who has been abused and is thus sensitive to the emotions of others, it made me not want to talk about it).
If you have been scared into a place where you cannot feel desire, no one can make you feel like it’s OK to feel desire. They can tell it’s OK because of course it’s OK. But telling you something doesn’t make it true in your body. You have to find that for yourself, in your own body, mind and heart. And you have to do this in your own way. I did it, I am doing it, but it has not been easy, and it has led to some extremely awkward and embarrassing situations. I’m still working on it.
As I wrote, I’ve only told a very few people about this. Not all of them were close friends. This is not a topic people feel very comfortable discussing openly. And previous to my coming to terms with my past as an abused child, I was as judgmental as anyone, more so, with regard to women talking about their abuse openly. Now I can see that their opening up about their own abuse was a “trigger” for me (I was also dismissive of triggers, until understanding them firsthand). Since I had yet to come to terms with it in my own mind and life, their stories made me think about things I did not want to think about. Or talk about.
People say you have to talk about things, but when you encounter closed doors (often in the form of uncomfortable silences), it makes it hard to talk about things. I’m not sure you have to talk about them. I don’t know. For me, I feel like this is something that is probably meant to unfold.
The weird thing is, I feel a sort of guilt about the ways in which my personal development relative to my abuse has made me make a mess out of so many situations. There are literally countless times that I have had issues with men that I “overreacted” to (from a normative perspective) because they made me feel so afraid. I feel guilt that it took me so long to address this problem directly, that I was mean to other women who told their stories of abuse, and that I still don’t know exactly what I should be “doing” to get better. I am OK with where I am. But I have regrets because I know I messed up some things because of this.
I also don’t necessarily like talking about this because I don’t want people to look at me and see something used and abused. I feel protective of the person I was as a child, and I don’t want everyone looking at her and studying her. It’s very embarrassing to me.
I’ve always enjoyed my writing life on the intellectual plane, and I do not love this sudden impulse I’ve had over the past few months to write so personally about myself and my life. It does not feel as interesting to me as my other intellectual and creative pursuits. I like less the fact that I’m drawn to offering these words in a public forum, since they are so personal. But I have a strong intuitive impulse to do this, and it’s one I don’t feel like I want to deny.

Monday, June 5, 2017

STABILITY


I’ve been thinking a lot about this word lately, and I came to a realization that was interesting to me. Since I was a child, financial instability has been the omnipresent nervous fear that invades my universe. While my family always scraped by, their modality of accruing income was just that: scraping by. Barely making it. When I applied to college, I was told I could not go because it was too expensive. But then my mother, possibly knowing that I was very responsible and certainly knowing that I didn’t fit into small town life, helped me apply for loans so that I could attend the New School.

In college, I attended school two days a week, went to my internships two days a week, and worked eight hour days the other three days. I was always working, always focused. I loved learning new things, so working hard came easily to me and in most ways, I liked it. I conflated my identity with my job title, so work just seemed like me. Who was I if I wasn’t my job?

Six years ago, when my father died, I was thrown into a profound existential crisis relative to my life, my “career,” and my internal value system. Having been on a high point for a good few years, suddenly everything seemed to go wrong in my life at exactly the same moment. I really didn’t know what I wanted, who I was, or what I was doing. I tried to grasp on to old modes of thoughts and action, yet found everything I thought I cared about slipping through my fingers.

Because I felt so profoundly alone and confused, I grasped on to a way of making money that I hated, but that felt (and was) very “stable.” If I could count on my financial stability, surely I could work out the rest of my problems from there. That was my thinking at the time.

I now see this as a period of profound contraction. My father’s death, and other painful events around this time, truly scared me back into a shell I was just venturing out of for the first time. I took these awful events to be a form of punishment, messages sent to me telling me that I was wrong to try to venture outside my safety zone, and it was much better for me to put myself into a space where I didn’t really care about anything aside from the numbers in my bank account. Go back to being the little anonymous worker bee you were in (and after) college.

But when you don’t care about anything, nothing can really care about you, either. The friendships I fostered during this period were OK on a superficial level, but I knew these people didn’t really care about me (when people asked me where my family lived, I would have to tell them that my parents were deceased. More than once, one “close” friend physically got up and left the conversation when I made this statement. Pretty good sign that he didn't care about me as a human being.). Still, I can’t blame them for not caring about me. This was in some subconscious way exactly what I wanted. I couldn’t bear the pain of having someone or something I truly cared about “taken” from me again.

I can’t say that this specific pain was entirely relative to my father’s death. We were estranged when he died, and I didn’t have a great relationship with him by any means. It was more that his death brought up, in a very strong way, the sadness of everything around my childhood­—and everything about my parents and their lives and deaths. I had suppressed this sadness for many, many years, and feeling it for the first time was agony to me. I didn’t want to be alone with my pain, but I didn’t want anything else around that I could love and lose either.

So, I led a life where my primary means of making money made me extremely unhappy, and my friends were only friends on a superficial level. I was, however, financially STABLE.

Only in the last few years, in fact basically in the last year, have I come to realize what a mistake it is to depend on financial stability as a key to life stability. This is not true at all. It FEELS true. Looking at those numbers in your bank account FEELS like stability. It feels like a sigh of relief. But it has nothing to do with stability.

What I realized today is that stability is actually love. When you begin to honestly love yourself, and cultivate honest love in your life with your friends, relatives, lovers, etc.—THAT is stability.

When you care about others and they care about you, free from obligation or condition, you have stability. I have a few friends now who I know love me, regardless of what I do or don’t do. They don’t compete with me, they don’t shame me, they don’t have codependent relationships with me, they don’t take advantage of me, and they don’t abuse me. They love me. We hang out and see each other, and it is happy and fun. I can talk to them about sad things in their life or in my life, and we can deal with it. When they are in pissy moods, I don’t expect them to change just to make me happy. If they have great success in any area of their life, I honestly enjoy it with them and for them, free of envy. If things go a little lopsided, I only hope for the reestablishment of their happiness, and do what I can to help.

I can’t tell you that I was brought up to understand love in this way. Most people understand love as a condition or an obligation, which is what makes love seem weird, scary and not fun. I was no different. In my relationships previous to now, I always walked on eggshells, scared that I would do something wrong and have love taken away from me. I tried to please others as a way to keep myself safe from the pain of abandonment or abuse. And the joke was on me, because I always wound up feeling abandoned.

Then, in this period of strong avoidance in the last few years, I just gave up on walking on eggshells. I felt that if no matter what I did I was always going to lose love, I would simply prefer not to have it in the first place. Sad choice! And one that I have been slowly and cautiously moving away from. It has not been easy. A lot of my life is still tangled up in my past, in ways that I really don’t like. But I feel, for the first time, like I finally understand the path forward.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

E.P. THOMPSON KILLING IT SOFTLY ON THE NEED FOR (AND INCREASING LACK OF) INNOVATIVE POLITICAL THOUGHT

Words as true and necessary today as they were when this was recorded. E.P. Thompson is truly a forgotten gift to the intellectual avant garde. Completely sui generis in his modality of thought, analysis, and discourse. Time for his rediscovery. Ripe for reevaluation. And his work is such a pleasure to listen to and read.