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Entries in culture (118)

Wednesday
Nov022016

Sadness at Beauty and the Beast's Truth

My approximation of the Sesame Street version of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, cleverly crafted from a carpet and a dog toy. Houston, Texas. October 31, 2016.

Vividly, I remember a Sesame Street hand-puppet rendition of Beauty and the Beast.

On the floor between our casual dining table and the kitchen in our open-plan den, we had a small television housed in a cabinet that, when closed, looked like a dresser. After elementary school, I sat in front of it on the brown tile to eat my snack.

In my memory of this particular Sesame Street production, a hand puppet crafted from brown shag carpet with glued-on googly eyes imprisons a girl in place of her father, torments her, and then manipulates her into falling in love with him.

At which point, they kiss.

The moment their puppet faces touch, he screams in agony, his shag-carpet tendrils shake with violence, and he disappears below the platform. A moment later, he pops above the stage as a “handsome prince.” (Of course, all handsome princes have white skin and blond hair. Even—or especially—the plastic ones.)

I had nightmares for weeks.

Bad enough that someone will trap you, harass you, manipulate you, and damage you psychologically. Adds insult to injury that, when you kiss him, he transforms from what you loved into something else entirely.

I don’t want the human, nonfairy-tale equivalent. What sane person would?

The tale, I believe, aims to teach kids that a person’s insides matter more than a person’s outsides. Instead, it shows the opposite: A prince-as-beast uses a woman to turn back into his old self—which, as far as I can tell, simply has a prettier coating on the outside for a horrible person on the inside.

I remembered the Sesame Street segment and its aftereffects when I read an op-ed by Jessica Valenti in The New York Times about what a lifetime of leering, jeering, manipulative men do to women.

Valenti’s essay reminded me of how many ways I’ve modified my own behavior to protect against personal, professional, and reputational fallout from male misconceptions. And I felt sad that I’ve had to coach young women to do the same.

Once I started to develop into a woman, I hunched my back to hide my chest in voluminous blouses and wore baggy shorts and pants to deflect attention from the boys, teachers, and assistant principals at my junior high who stared and commented and groped me anyway. (Yes, even the “adults.”)

For years, I wore pants to work because I felt a need to avoid femininity in a business setting, my goal to remove from the substance of the discussion as much of my female aspect as possible. I still tend to avoid anything form fitting for work even now, when wearing dresses.

I have my reasons. I’ve had to playfully tell men in business “no” and laugh off their advances, from the married client who sexted me without encouragement to the unmarried client who interrupted my presentation to comment on my ass. (His term, not mine.)

More examples?

A business-owner friend took down her fitness company’s website because, though pictures of her in athletic wear felt appropriate for the purpose, she had too much harassment and too many expectations from men who called to “use her services.”

Another friend, an independent consultant, talked to a client’s human resources department about one staffer’s continued advances, despite her requests that he stop. The company fired her.

Oh, I’ve got more.

I've sucked up walking into a board room and having one of the men say I look “pretty today” in a you-cute-sweet-silly-little-thing tone. I bite my tongue when male contacts ask if I have kids. (Men acquainted only professionally never initiate small talk with other men through questions about children.) I've ignored when men in a business setting refer to me as a "girl."

I've grown accustomed to men trying to make me feel small.

I’ve coached my younger female colleagues on how to defend themselves. I’ve taught them phrases they can use, explained clothes they should wear and not wear, and demonstrated ways to position their bodies to minimize groping opportunities. We've role-played responses to demeaning and belittling comments. I can prevent and penalize harassment and discrimination in my organizational ranks, yet these young women will venture into the world to business events and client offices where I can’t always take disciplinary action. (Although, yes, I have fired clients for mistreating my team.)

Again, I could go on. Yet… enough.

I’ve learned not to trust a man until he earns the trust. I’ve learned to stay on high alert. I've learned to slough off the sleights. I’ve learned to ignore, dodge, and parry and to do so as gently as possible to save the guy’s feelings, minimize awkwardness, and avoid angry backlash. (What about my feelings?)

In elementary school, watching Beauty and the Beast on Sesame Street, I couldn’t understand what upset me so badly.

I get it now.

I just wish that it had stayed a fairy tale.

Though I’ve learned to expect and deal with men behaving badly toward women, entrapping them, preventing their advancement, and stopping them from fully inhabiting their womanhood, I feel sad that I had to do so. Sad that other women have had to do the same. And many have had far worse experiences than mine.

I feel sad for the men who society has raised to think this behavior okay. Men miss so much when they don't make genuine connections with women. And I feel sad for the men who know better and who suffer the fallout from those who don’t. I know and love so many men who would never, ever do this to another human being.

Most of all, I feel sad for my niece. Sad that only time divides me and the younger females of this world from the rude shock of their first encounters with the Beauty and the Beast's truth. And yes, yes—experience it, they will.

Your thoughts? Your experience?

Wednesday
Oct052016

Will the Truth Really "Out?"

As children, my cousin and I told other kids we were twins. When we confessed the truth, they wouldn't believe us. As lies go, this one was relatively benign. Colorado c. 1980.

Turn the other cheek. Let people say what they like and don’t protest or counter, or you sink to their level and add fuel to their fire.

Eventually, the smoke will clear and people will see through to the truth.

Wrong. So wrong.

Say something loudly enough and forcefully enough, and people will believe you. Say something with enough confidence and charisma, and people will believe you.

The truth won’t out.

What feels consolatory when preparing for a speech or a presentation doesn’t comfort much when we contemplate how to determine the truth in a given situation. When we wonder who to trust.

Public figures and people in authoritative and leadership roles lie loudly and even get caught in their lies, yet their bluster saves them from downfall. Politicians have this down pat, as we’ve all seen to our collective dismay (no matter on what side of the fence you reside).

Studies bear out these impressions—studies that you won’t feel particularly heartened to hear summarized. (At least, I didn’t.) How do liars get away with it? Let us count the ways:

  • Rejecting information takes more brainpower than accepting it as true, found a 2012 study from psychologists at The University of Western Australia. The same study found that misinformation sticks more firmly when it conforms to previously held beliefs. Further, the study found that efforts to retract false information—to show lies as lies—reinforces mistaken beliefs through repeating fake facts.
  • Even with the energy to critically assess the truth or falsity of statements, a lot of people don’t have the capacity or foundation to do so. They don’t have the math skills to test the numbers. They don’t have the life experience to know better. They don’t have the critical thinking skills with which to approach information.
  • People search for evidence that—even when false—supports their beliefs, according to a paper published in the September 2009 issue of Sociological Inquiry. When facts challenge beliefs, people tend to ignore or discredit them.
  • Often, liars butter people with flattery. When you like someone, when you feel he “gets” you, when you feel he shares something with you or confides in you—especially when he comes with flash and status—you want to believe him. Further, social proof helps: A lot of other people believe him. Why should you disagree?

How do the experts recommend we address blustery liars bolstered by charisma? The psychologists from The University of Western Australia who published the study cited above suggest providing an alternative account to fill the void, focusing on the facts rather than the myths, keeping your message simple and brief, taking into account your audience’s core beliefs, and repeating your message to drill it home.

Although this method sounds simple, I can’t say I’ve seen it in action and effective in real life.

The way I see it, we have three options:

  1. We continue to keep silent. We maintain hope that time and distance will prove our points.
  2. We counter lies with facts. Yet how can we cut through the noise of the liars? Their attention-attracting antics? Many people who have exposed lies, no matter how bald and clear their supporting evidence, haven’t had much effect.
  3. We shout more loudly than the liars. Sure, we include the facts, but we fight fire with fire. We scream, yell, even slander. Even if we choose to counter only with facts, we state these truths with even more bombast than the liars do their falsehoods.

What have I missed? Could another path lie hidden somewhere in the weeds?

I’ve begun to believe that you must lend your voice, speak truth to power, and not simply assume that smart people will see it on their own.

And I’ve begun to believe that sometimes you must do more than speak up—you must shout. Loudly.

I don’t shout much. Shouting feels against my grain. Yet I figure the time has come to try. To learn.

How have you dealt with lies and mistruths in the past? How did it play out? Would you handle these situations in the same way in the future or would you take a different tack?

What solution would you recommend?

Wednesday
Sep212016

Things You Should Never Leave Home Without

The formidable foursome of things I can never leave home without. August 14, 2016. Houston, Texas.

Even men who only have pockets to pack have leaving-home essentials, right?

Other than wallets, keys, and cell phones (a relatively new addition to the list), all of us have items we need to feel complete when leaving the house.

Here’s mine:

Book

You’ll never regret bringing a book.

If you bring it on your phone or tablet, that counts. As a real-book person, my taking one along when I leave the house makes for a lot less convenience. Yet I do it anyway.

I’ve regretted not bringing a book when I’ve gotten stuck somewhere without one—in a car on high ground sitting out a flash-flood storm, in a waiting room, sitting at a coffee shop when the person I’d come to meet got caught in traffic—and have never regretted having one when I haven’t ended up with a reading window.

Need suggestions? Check my list of all-time favorites (so far) and check the “Writing” category on this blog for annual and biannual best-reads reviews.

What’cha reading?

Lip Balm

Who in the world—man or woman—can manage to leave the house without lip balm? Even in Houston, a veritable swamp, I use lip balm regularly throughout the day. Once an hour. Maybe more.

Sure, it soothes, but dry, chapped lips look kind of creepy, too. Who wants that?

My favorite is the Nivea Smoothness Lip Care pictured above, but really, any lip balm without the menthol stuff that just seems to chap lips even more (has anyone else noticed that this happens?) and without fake flavoring that I have to taste all day works for me.

Any I should try?

Sunglasses

Blue-eyed people tend to suffer from greater photosensitivity, my optometrist tells me.

I use this medical opinion as my excuse for buying the darkest possible sunglasses and wearing them even on cloudy days, which feel just as bright to me as the sunny ones.

My first album purchase as a kiddo? Corey Hart, of “Sunglasses at Night” fame. (My dad felt horror—on the record cover, Corey Hart has an earring.) I’ve worn sunglasses at night, too. Though not due to hiding from a love interest, like our friend Corey.

Seems like Dolce & Gabbana reliably makes sunglasses with dark-enough lenses that work on my face and don’t have a bunch of unnecessary bling (e.g., charms, rhinestones, scrollwork). I’d buy much cheaper ones if they worked as well. (So far, no luck.)

Found any cheaper options you like?

Tea Bags

Maybe you don’t drink hot tea. Then bring some sort of liquid flavoring along with you. The powder packets that make lemonade. Or Kool-Aid. Or instant coffee, if you like that.

Who enjoys going somewhere and not liking any of the drink choices? And yes, this does mean I will ask a waiter for a cup of hot water when the restaurant doesn’t have tea. (Restaurants actually don’t sometimes. Or offer only Lipton. Which doesn’t count.) If we have lunch or dinner somewhere, brace yourself for this possibility.

Now, tea that comes in tea bags tastes so distantly inferior to properly brewed loose-leaf tea that it feels laughable to name a favorite. I have liked the Stash plain green tea as an option I can buy at the grocery store, though finer tea options like Taylor’s of Harrogate do taste a bit better when you find them.

Any better teas I should try?

Surely I’ve missed something. What does my list lack? The rest of you have to have similar lists of must-have items for leaving home.

What don’t you venture out without?

Wednesday
Aug242016

Society and Living Alone

My living room, dining room, and kitchen. All to myself. Houston, Texas. August 2016.

I’ve lived alone for years now. Technically, I’ve dwelled solo since 2008, after my once-ever live-together relationship ended. Yet as my subsequent boyfriend stayed here much of the time, let’s say I’ve lived alone since 2010.

So six years solid, and eight years mostly.

Unquestionably, only the fortunate can live alone. Living alone means I can personally afford to fully fund my household expenses. Would it help—and give me more fun money—to have contributions to living costs? Sure. Yet I don’t need them.

As with most things that only a few can afford, living alone means luxury. I don’t have to share my space with anyone. And not just my physical space—I don’t even have to share my home-related headspace.

I don’t have to compromise on how to decorate or where to store or leave things. I don’t have to worry about whether the things I do at home bother someone, bore anyone, or make me look stupid. I don’t have to consider whether I should wear clothing while doing any of these possibly annoying, boring, and stupid things and, if so, what sort of outfit would look good. I don’t feel embarrassed when I eat cookies for dinner or bad that I didn’t share them with anyone else or that, in eating them, I spoiled shared dinnertime and conversation. I don’t need to answer questions when I go back to bed after my morning run.

Further, I don’t have to put up with anyone else’s bad or annoying behavior. Or deal with someone wanting interaction when I just want to hermit in a corner with a book. And so on.

Yet could solo living prove harmful?

I don’t mean just for me. Sure—if I hurt myself or fail to come home one night, no one may know for days. And without additional income to support household expenses, I don’t have as much cushion if things in my life go south for a bit.

Yet, though I confirm my high importance (or, at least, self-importance), let’s look beyond me. How will widespread solo living affect the world?

After all, for years, even single people like me shared space with family, friends, associates, and even colleagues. Today, an increasing number of people live in single-person homes. Per the New York Times, a single person living alone occupies one in four U.S. households. Over the fifteen years between 1996 and 2011, the number of people living alone skyrocketed 80 percent around the globe, according to a research report by Euromonitor International referenced in The Guardian.

Does the increase in single-person households mean lost community? Lost goodwill for our fellow human due to decreased immediate coexistence? Increased isolation that could lead to despair and disaffection?

Trends aside, humans make for social animals. We tend to gather together in protection, support, joy, and sadness.

Technology may make it so that each human has other people to hand at any moment, yet could electronic interaction possibly prove as good as time spent in person? (Personally, I can’t say that interacting with people on-line makes me feel better about the world and the humans who live here.) Could increased reliance on digital communication methods heighten our personal and societal dissatisfaction?

Or—more positively—will the increase in solo-person households make humans increasingly proactive in finding new people, having experiences, and getting out into the world?

If so, increasing numbers of people living alone in urban areas could even revitalize cities.

Of course, it could all prove situational.

Maybe the relative healthfulness of solo living depends entirely on each individual’s personality type and geographic area and its societal effects will depend upon the varying concentrations of personality types living in each area.

For example, my introversion means living alone likely increases my happiness—and my forgiveness for human foibles—as I have a reliable place to go to recharge from human interaction.

And I don’t mind leaving home to find people and things to do, which living in an urban area makes easy. Further, I have a fabulous neighborhood community, which helps immensely. It makes me feel part of something larger, rather than isolated—which living alone could do.

If my personality tended toward extraversion and I didn’t want to put in the work needed to get friends out and about with me, or if I lived in a less densely populated area, living alone would likely prove less healthful.

What do you think?

Wednesday
Aug102016

Simple Things I Suck at Doing

I even consider myself--perhaps unjustifiably--a good draw-er, in my own fashion. FrogDog Headquarters, Houston, Texas. June 30, 2016.

I have decent self esteem. Though I recognize that the vast majority of things escape my expertise, I feel I have decent proficiency in many and expertise in a few.

My existence doesn't feel like a waste of space, anyway.

I do try.

Yet I have a handful of very basic life skills that I simply cannot master. In the spirit of confession and transparency, here goes:

  • Automatic dispensers. Oh hello. In the way, yes, sorry. Just here in the lavatory wandering between the soap, water, and paper towel machines, flailing my hands around and failing to get help from any device. As one does. Carry on.
  • Names. Upon introduction, my brain—unbidden, mind you—makes up a name for the person no matter what the introducer tells me. And then I can’t get the made-up name out of my head. Besides, names feel arbitrary. So many people called Charles, all of whom have nothing in common. I’ve known one guy for a couple years now who should have the name Gary who I know doesn’t actually have the name Gary.
  • Pushups. This has to be a mental block or some failure of muscle memory—or lack of muscle memory, more like it—because I have decent strength in general. Yet, despite any amount of goading, I can’t do a single quality pushup from the ground up. (Though I can slowly lower myself down—never to rise again.)
  • Coordination. Ask my trainer about my attempt at jump lunges. He still laughs, years later. Given his request that I do them again so he can film it for YouTube, no one will ever witness my attempt at jump lunges.
  • Cookies. Can any of you eat one cookie when you have twelve cookies in front of you? Exactly. Wait—you can? Oh. Well. Now you see why I need a trainer.

Other people have got to have similar challenges. Right?

What simple things do you suck at doing?