18 December 2011

I Don't Feel Sorry for You, Ms. Spelling

The other day I made the unfortunate decision to spend almost an hour of my time watching a spectacle of consumer greed and conspicuous consumption on HGTV. This "special" hour-long festival of wealth and ridiculousness was called SELLING SPELLING MANOR . Yes, I admit it, I watched it.

The show is ostensibly about Candy Spelling and her 56,500 square foot home in Beverly Hills, and her struggle to emotionally detach from her ostentatious home. Having sold the "Manor" to some British heiress for 85 million bucks (65 million below her asking price), she has only 30 days to move out! Oh My!

But back to the important facts: yes, you read that right: 56,500 square feet. That's big enough to house 18 of Mitt Romney's 3009 square foot homes. Yes, 18. The average house in the United States, according to the National Association of Home Builders in 2009, is 2700 square feet. In 1970 it was 1700 square feet. My house is 1800 square feet, and often seems way too big for me.

The show is a spectacle of disturbing statistics and imagery. It is fascinating that anyone would ever actually construct such a monstrosity, in my view. Who fucking needs that much space? Who needs a bowling alley? A gift-wrapping room? A climate-controlled doll storage room? Not to mention the 17,000 square storage foot attic. (The attic space is NOT included in the 56,500 square feet of the Manor, by the way.) Anyway, I was just stunned at how much space this monstrosity actually has, and how anyone would ever think it was a good idea to create such a hulking and bourgeois display of wealth. What is the purpose?

Here is HGTV's description of the show:

Candy Spelling had just 30 days to move out after closing the sale on Spelling Manor, the 56,500-square-foot family home where she and television producer, the late Aaron Spelling, entertained presidents, royalty and Hollywood legends. Join us as Candy gives an exclusive tour of the mansion's more than 15 specialty areas, including a bowling alley; a billiard room; an arcade; a collector's gallery with more than 700 dolls; a projection room with a large-scale screen and full surround sound; a china room; a silver room with place settings for more than 50; a gift room with accompanying custom-designed gift-wrapping room; a design studio to capture photos of jewelry and other personal items for online auctions; and a collection fine-art originals, including one of the famous Dogs Playing Poker paintings.

At the end of this show I found out that there will be a second hour of SELLING SPELLING MANOR which will involve the trials and tribulations of Ms. Candy Spelling and the process of downsizing her possessions so that she can comfortably live in her new 16,000 square foot condo on Wilshire Boulevard.

Perhaps I'm being mean. Perhaps I should have sympathy for her struggles. But I don't. I think she is one of the most over-privileged humans I've ever seen, and her "struggles" are laughable in light of real problems suffered by people all over the world. Yes, I'm over-privileged too, in my own way. I'm not starving, nor do I lack for heat or comfort. I suppose we could all see Ms. Spelling's quandary as a lesson in mindless consumption and use it to reflect upon our own privileges. I'm still just disturbed that such domiciles exist. Think about it: her previous home, the 56,500 square foot structure, could easily have housed 25 families or more. What awesomeness would it have been if she had decided to make Spelling Manor a waystation for refugees, or a temporary shelter for victims of domestic violence, or even a place for stray dogs and cats? Why on earth does anyone need all that space to themselves? They don't.

14 December 2011

What We Talk About When We Talk About Hysterectomies

Here's what happened when I decided I was going to have a hysterectomy: everyone, I mean everyone, had something to say about it.

I had been having really disturbingly heavy periods for a while, starting three years ago. Then the clots started coming. Really big, unwieldy, variously shaped blood clots just arrived and literally fell out of my body. (see above).

We discovered that I had a benign fibroid that was likely causing the giant clots and occasionally tremendous severe pain. I had given up on tampons to quell the flow, and now even the biggest most absorbant pads were no match against the giant squid-like formations that my body was excreting. My helpful mother suggested adult diapers. Not funny, Mom. Anyway, after various attempts at hormonally altering this menstrual trajectory, my physician and I decided upon (which really means I gave in to her idea that she had suggested years ago) a hysterectomy.

So, we scheduled it, and I looked forward to a menstrual free, clot free, invading alien fibroid free life. My doctor said we could leave my ovaries in so I wouldn't have so much hormal adjustment to deal with. That was a good thing. Anyway, here's what happened.

Every person I talked to about this procedure had things to say about it way above and beyond what anyone would say if I had told them I was having gall baldder surgery, for example. Here's a list of stuff people said:

Oh--are you sure you're okay with that?
Oh, my mother in law had a hysterectomy and she was never the same afterwards.
Really? I'd be careful if I were you. When I had a hysterectomy they did
something to a nerve in my leg and now I always feel numb.
Why do you want this surgery? You'll never be the same.
I don't think you should do this--those are your organs.
Isn't there anything you can do to save your uterus?
Oh, you must be cursed!

These are a few of the most intriguing examples I can remember. I should also say that I have many supportive feminist friends who said nothing remotely like the above comments and who were all very kind and helpful. It's just intriguing to me that the removal of an organ that is so distinctly affiliated with what it means to be a female (or is it a woman?) prompts these kinds of responses from usually thoughtful humans.

I realize that there is a lot of controversy about hysterectomies in the culture--and that in the past there have been too many performed for probably specious reasons. But can I just say here that I'm glad and grateful that I could end my suffering? I was miserable with blood gushing out of me at random and seemingly for no reason. And the pain was, at times, unbearable.

I'm lucky, in fact, that I have health insurance. I'm lucky the surgery went well, and that my recovery has been relatively not terrible, although I'm still tired. And weirdly enough, I'm still reluctant to tell everyone about this surgery because I don't want to hear any more bullshit about my uterus, and how I might be changed in some way because I no longer have the ability to reproduce.

I am changed, because I will no longer menstruate. Yippee! But I, myself, am not changed in any way that sexist people might think removing a uterus would change a person. I feel fine, I feel liberated, and I feel like me. I have four little scars where the laparoscopic incisions were made, and I have a new appreciation for modern surgical techniques. I am grateful for my doctor and the my caring, thoughtful nurses. But I'm still me. So there.

09 October 2010

I survived a "Ladies Tea"

"cakes baked by men" silent auction at First Assembly in Des Moines

One of the things I've struggled with during my life is saying no. I'm not always very good at it, although I'm getting much better as time goes on. Recently a friendly neighbor of mine invited me to a "Ladies Tea" at her church--where, she explained, she would personalize her table for her guests and "ladies" would enjoy a morning of conversation and tea. I said yes. She frequently invites to me to other church functions, such as bible study, and I've always declined. Anyway, I went. It was two hours long.

One of the things I learned a few days ago was that the church, First Assembly of God in Des Moines, is a fundamental and evangelical Christian church. Both fundamentalism and evangelism are repugnant to me, so I wasn't very happy when I realized what I was stepping into. But on the advice of my dear sociologist friend I decided to approach the event from an ethnographic perspective. So I went and took my place at the table.

One of the first things I noticed upon entering the very large room, which used to be the sanctuary, was the two giant (prominently displayed and lit for the occasion) photos of children on the wall. One was a little Asian girl, the other a black girl. This was a marked contrast to all the white women in the room.

The tea consisted of about 30 tables with eight women at each table and a raised dais with four women seated at a table. We had coffee, fruit cup, and quiche. The quiche had bacon in it (what would Jesus think!) which I managed to mostly pick out. The tea was hosted by the pastor's wife, who never said a word without identifying herself as the "pastor's wife." She introduced herself and a few other contributors to the event and everyone applauded politely. When she asked the cooks to come out of the kitchen, they reluctantly stuck their heads out to rousing and very enthusiastic applause. The cooks were men.

I won't bore you with the laborious details of each speaker, but the highlights should be sufficient to give an accurate picture of the tea. The speakers were all missionaries who talked about their experiences in various places such as Indonesia and South Africa, converting Muslims from the "dark side" (they actually used those words) to the light of life walking with Jesus Christ. The most reprehensible one has lived as a missionary in Indonesia many times, and kept referring to how many Muslims there were in that country, and how there are more Muslims in Indonesia than in all of the Middle East. Of course, she gushed, these lucky heathens (upon finally reading the bible) just had to become Christian because the bible told the truth and the Koran did not. I tried to keep my expression neutral during this talk.

The other thing I kept noticing about these women was how very steeped in paternalism and patriarchy their whole worldview is and how exceedingly oblivious they are to their own lack of agency. I can't even count how many times I heard one of them say "He takes care of me," and "When I didn't know what to do, God told me," and God called me to do this" along with "God told me to . . . "

This turning of self over to some benevolent and paternal God bothers me, of course, since there is literally no room for self or agency or THOUGHT. But what really troubles me about this "God told me to" is that there is no responsibility or community or thinking involved. God tells you to be a missionary, so you do it. God tells you to move to Iowa, you do it. What if God tells you to kill your self? Or your neighbor? I sense the comfort these women get from feeling and believing that their lives are working towards some greater good--I understand that. But their world view is so limited that they believe that Islam, one of the world's great religions, is a product of the devil. That kind of belief system makes me sad and very worried.

I was happy that no one tried to recruit me. But I was also a bit sad that people have such limited perspectives on the world that they truly believe that their way is the only way.

13 July 2010

A gender crime is a gender crime.

Lately, and forever, I've noticed that when a man shoots up a workplace or shoots members of his family or by whatever method murders his wife/girlfriend/partner the MSM never ever calls it a crime against women. They just call it a "workplace shooting" or a homicide. Okay, so it might also be a workplace shooting and a homicide. But, it is also a very common crime against women. In fact I would say it is a very frequent crime that men perpetrate against women that doesn't get identified as a gender crime.

What I would most like is for this to stop, but since it won't what I would appreciate seeing is this: a headline that tells the truth and reads Yet another guy kills his wife.

You can bet your booty that when a woman kills her husband, a much less frequent occurence, it is identified as a wife killing her husband. But every fucking article I've read about this asshole in New Mexico keeps calling it a "workplace shooting." So he shot her and himself at her place of work. That doesn't make it a workplace shooting. I'm just tired of the patriarchy not seeing itself as a patriarchy. I guess hoping it will change is ridiculous.

Here's a few examples:

Fox News: 3 dead, 4 wounded in New Mexico Office Shooting

Yahoo News: 3 dead in workplace shooting

USA Today: Shooter kills two, then self at New Mexico Plant

11 July 2010

Pontypool Changes Everything . . .

Last night I watched a truly interesting movie called Pontypool. My brother first brought this film to my attention months ago and it's been on my radar ever since. I finally bought a copy since it refused to appear on Netflix. Whatever. Netflix can be stubborn. Anyway, it was billed as one of the ten best zombie movies ever. Sure.

But really, people, I love this movie. It is one of the smartest and scariest movies I've seen in awhile, and that's saying something, for me. I couldn't stop watching it, stayed up late, and was truly creeped out enough to check behind the shower curtain before heading off to bed.

The plot is simple: DJ Mazzy Starr begins his early morning shift at a small radio station in Ontario when he and his staff begin to get reports of violence and strangeness in their small town. Havoc ensues, almost entirely off-screen. There is a virus that is infecting people and causing them to try to eat each other. That's all I can say. You must watch this movie, I tell you. It's amazing.

Just to get you excited, here's a little quote from the film:

Mrs. French's cat is missing. The signs are posted all over town. "Have you seen Honey?" We've all seen the posters, but nobody has seen Honey the cat. Nobody. Until last Thursday morning, when Miss Colette Piscine swerved her car to miss Honey the cat as she drove across a bridge. Well this bridge, now slightly damaged, is a bit of a local treasure and even has its own fancy name; Pont de Flaque. Now Collette, that sounds like Culotte. That's Panty in French. And Piscine means Pool. Panty pool. Flaque also means pool in French, so Colete Piscine, in French Panty Pool, drives over the Pont de Flaque, the Pont de Pool if you will, to avoid hitting Mrs. French's cat that has been missing in Pontypool. Pontypool. Pontypool. Panty pool. Pont de Flaque. What does it mean? Well, Norman Mailer, he had an interesting theory that he used to explain the strange coincidences in the aftermath of the JFK assasination. In the wake of huge events, after them and before them, physical details they spasm for a moment; they sort of unlock and when they come back into focus they suddenly coincide in a weird way. Street names and birthdates and middle names, all kind of superfluous things appear related to eachother. It's a ripple effect. So, what does it mean? Well... it means something's going to happen. Something big. But then, something's always about to happen.

07 July 2010

I miss Cagney and Lacey

Lately I've been seeing these commercials for some new TNT show called Rizzoli and Isles, starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander as two cops of some kind. What has really pissed me off about this new show is the way they have constructed these two women. In every advertisement I've seen both women are very sharply dressed, and both are wearing totally ridiculous high heels. They're both standing around looking fabulous, which I suppose is their only option since they couldn't possibly run or even walk wearing the shoes that they are wearing.

I don't plan to watch this show, nor do I really care what they wear, but truly what has happened to strong, powerful, non-glamorous women on television? These ads made me remember the old Cagney and Lacey show from the 1980s--now this show had its flaws, but still, it was refreshing to see two actors who were not supermodel types and who wore sensible shoes while they did their jobs. Why do we have to have models playing cops? Why do they have to have long flowing hair? Why do they have to wear snazzy clothes and full-on makeup? Why do they have to embody the current standard of beauty so perfectly?

Much of what was watchable about Cagney and Lacey were the stars: Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly. (I love Tyne Daly.) But they were so much more regular to me than Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander. I'm not saying women have to look a certain way to be acceptable--far from it. I appreciate women of all shapes and sizes. I just wish we weren't so obsessed with ultra-skinny women who look like models and who wear crippling shoes to work at jobs where any person with half a brain would wear something more practical. Just saying.

01 July 2010

Mansplaining . . . explained.

I have to thank my friend Miranda for bringing this term and idea to my attention. Of course I knew about the action that this terminology refers to, but holy shit is it nice to have a word for it!

The activity is called "mansplaining," and here is an excellent paragraph from Rebecca Solnit's opinion piece from the Los Angeles Times that perhaps began the coalescence or convergence of feminist brilliance that came up with the term:

Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I mean. It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence.

What Miranda sent me was a wonderful blog post from Science Blogs that also grapples with the mansplaining syndrome. It's worth a read. Science Blogs also refers to another blog post, by Karen Healey, about the same topic. Quoth Healey:

Mansplaining isn't just the act of explaining while male, of course; many men manage to explain things every day without in the least insulting their listeners. Mansplaining is when a dude tells you, a woman, how to do something you already know how to do, or how you are wrong about something you are actually right about, or miscellaneous and inaccurate "facts" about something you know a hell of a lot more about than he does.

Bonus points if he is explaining how you are wrong about something being sexist!

Think about the men you know. Do any of them display that delightful mixture of privilege and ignorance that leads to condescending, inaccurate explanations, delivered with the rock-solid conviction of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation?

That dude is a mansplainer.

It's a beautiful thing when smart feminist women gather their thoughts and work together to create greater understanding of living in patriarchy.