Monthly Archives: May 2011

How To Use Your Inner Duct Tape: Why EVERYONE Has Prejudice and Why We MUST Silence Its Voice

A detective gathers clues in order to form conclusions about a mystery or crime in order to solve it. In this same way, humans (and animals) gather visual clues in order to form conclusions about the world around them. For instance, if you are in a courthouse and you observe a man with a modern, neat hairstyle wearing glasses, a sharp, black suit, expensive shoes and carrying a briefcase, what do you conclude? Likely, you assume that he’s a young attorney. However, this is merely an assumption, based on his appearance and nothing else.

Everyone has the compulsion to form immediate conclusions about their environment – that’s how we survive. We use knowledge that we have accumulated from things we’ve observed, experienced or “heard about” and apply them to our lives with the intent to avoid conflict and pursue future positive and beneficial experiences. However, at a certain point, this hasty tendency becomes worthless – even detrimental.

When people assume that black women are “sassy,” or that fat people have low self-esteem, or that girls love the color pink, or that gay guys are feminine, they begin to lose their ability to know the individual. Fortunately, there is a way to fight these automatic assumptions: PRACTICE.

For instance, I was sitting irritably at a stoplight one day and a heavyset woman was crossing. She was walking with some difficulty. I suddenly said aloud, “Wow, she is fat.” As soon as I heard myself make such an out-of-character statement, I furiously chastised myself. What made me say that?? Yes, the woman was fat. Why would I mention it or even take note of it? I hadn’t said, “Wow, she is blonde,” or “Wow, she’s wearing purple.” So what was it that prompted this inappropriate outburst? As I searched my feelings, I realized that it was my own discomfort with the difficulty she seemed to be having getting across the street. The fact is that some people have more difficulty doing certain things than others. There is no reason for that to make me uncomfortable. Well, on top of that, I felt that she was unfashionably dressed, which subconsciously indicated laziness to me. I feel great frustration when I perceive laziness, and that affected my judgment in this case as well. However, there was no possible way for me to know what type of person this woman was. She might simply not have enough money to buy clothing that I considerable fashionable or, worse yet – gasp! – she might fucking like the clothes that she’s wearing; perhaps she didn’t dress herself solely to meet my approval today. In all reality, I was becoming frustrated because what I saw in front of me was unattractive, and this prompted a disgusted reaction instead of merely an indifferent one. We are taught by the media to loudly judge and reject those who don’t meet our personal criteria for attraction. I’d executed their programming flawlessly, I thought. Sickened by my own behavior, I admonished myself for being rude and inwardly talked out my true feelings about the woman until I had isolated my true motivations and examined them carefully. That was one of several battles I’ve had with my inner prejudice and I’m certain these battles won’t end any time soon. Personal motivations can be extremely complicated and varied, and that’s what makes this particular inner conflict a long-term, ongoing one.

Many factors can affect our reactions to a person’s appearance. Aside from preconceived notions borne of personal experiences, many times when we think we have a problem with someone personally, the root of the discomfort is that we’re looking at someone we’re not attracted to. For some reason, there is a human tendency to dislike (or, at the least, avoid) people we’re not attracted to. That’s why “attractive” people are treated better than “unattractive” people. Unfortunately, whether or not a person appeals to us visually or sexually should have nothing to do with whether or not we assign them worth. It’s just another form of prejudice, but it typically goes unrealized since we humans have the uncanny ability to justify things in our own minds so we don’t look like monsters to ourselves. It’s essential to try to break down this wall as well.

Part of the problem is that we forget that the person in front of us isn’t a product to be bought or approved by us; they are human beings with feelings and thoughts, just like we are. Often, we fail to give credence to the perspectives of others, and we fail to acknowledge that WE CANNOT POSSIBLY KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE to be them. Sometimes that’s a fact we must face and be left without answers in order to see things more clearly. For instance, I will never know what it’s like to be a black or Mexican person living here in America. All I can do is listen to these individuals and hear what they have to say, and attempt to piece together an inkling, but I must admit to myself that I will never understand life through their eyes. All I can do is try to be empathetic, find common ground in the human experience where I can, accept the fact that my perceptions may be wrong… and care.

The best we can do is try to eliminate most of our knee-jerk reactions through self-imposed behavioral modification. The media inundates our brains with suggestions that judgmental reactions and thoughts are normal, even “cool.” We are taught that judging others elevates us and proves our belief in our own status – that belief in our own superiority might someday make it true. Unfortunately, this lie has consumed the personalities of men and women everywhere and caused cattiness and backbiting where no cause for it previously existed. Fighting this indoctrination takes years of practice and it may never be mastered, but it’s definitely worth a try.

Step one is to LISTEN CLOSELY to yourself. Listen to what you think and to what you say. Hear your inner thoughts and try hard to recognize the ones that are judgmental, superficial and rude.

Step two is to GET MAD AT YOURSELF. You cannot skip this step. When you feel angry at yourself for a behavior, you are less likely to repeat it – or at least more likely to be acutely aware of your mistake, once it’s made. It’s like a mental spanking – when you start thinking judgmental thoughts, you suddenly recall how sore your butt was last time.

Step three is to ANALYZE YOUR MOTIVES. Where did this thought come from? Dig deep. Don’t shy away from this self-exploration. Discover the root of the problem through brutal excavation. For this to work, you have to be brutally honest with yourself.

Step four is to COUNSEL YOURSELF. Explain to yourself why your reaction was unacceptable and force yourself to take another look at that person, this time without preconceived notions or unnecessary animosity. See them as a person, a human being. Pretend you’re psychic and try to put yourself in their shoes for five minutes and see through their eyes. (Your analysis of their thoughts will obviously be inaccurate, but I find this to be an effective practice, regardless. The idea is to get yourself to care enough to try.)

These steps are not fool-proof and I can’t guarantee eventual mastery over your inner Catty Bitch, but I can promise progress and awareness. And that’s one giant leap for humankind.

Photo courtesy of Not Bad For me, Not Good For You

What is PTSD?

Here’s the problem. Most people believe that once you remove yourself from an abusive situation, everything will be fine. After all, it’s all downhill from there, right? Wrong. Even after ending the relationship, people who have experienced abuse at the hands of a partner can suffer from PTSD, a lifelong illness that never goes away. PTSD affects you for the rest of your life. And it’s not just for soldiers anymore.

PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Here’s a slice of criteria from the DSM-IV explaining the causes of PTSD:

“(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others (2) the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.”

PTSD causes physical damage to the brain. It’s literally a stress fracture. The stress imposed upon the brain resulting from the traumatic event causes damage to the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning and memory as well as in the handling of stress. As a result of this damage, people suffer from memory loss, flashbacks, and delayed comprehension. But that’s not where it ends. Other chronic symptoms of PTSD include insomnia, vivid nightmares, intense psychological distress at exposure to situations or objects that resemble any aspect of the event, depression, detachment from others, feelings of impending doom or imminent death, irritability, outbursts of rage, difficulty concentrating and exaggerated startle response. Typically, people experience all or most of these symptoms for most of the rest of their lives.

Some people need just one event to trigger PTSD. One of my close friends was slammed against the wall, punched in the eye and helplessly cornered when she smashed his glasses against his face in self-defense. He threatened to kill her and she hit him with a nearby coffee mug. She managed to get away and call the police, but it was too late. She was already destined to re-experience this trauma repeatedly, day after day, for years to come. She currently has difficulty leaving the house, interacting with an intimate partner, and dealing with crowds. Her awareness has been heightened to a state of hypervigilance as a result of the damage to her brain.

Unfortunately, deliberate acts of domestic violence that occur repeatedly (or a domestic situation that causes prolonged fear on the part of the victim, as in a constant fear of your partner’s reactions) will create a more severe condition than would an attack from a stranger. Not to mention, the closer you are emotionally to your assailant, the more severe your condition will be. Experiencing trauma at the hands of someone you formerly trusted or someone you currently love causes deeper injury and produces harsher symptoms as a result.

If you are involved with an abusive partner, you might think that “good guys” don’t exist. You might think that no one really has a good relationship. You might think that relationship equality is something out of a television sitcom; something that doesn’t exist in real life. I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. There are billions of men out there who will treat you respectfully every single day. There are billions of men out there who will love you for exactly who you are, whatever flaws you may think you have. There are billions of men out there who will sweep you off your feet and romance your socks off. (And women.) YOU SHOULD NEVER EVER BE AFRAID OF YOUR PARTNER, NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT. But if you are, consider the risks. The result may be more than you can deal with for the rest of your life. Just think it over.

Image from MediManage.com

It’s My Vagina

It was recently brought to my attention that there are A-sexual individuals who populate this world right next to us indiscriminately leg-humping horndogs. I hadn’t previously considered the fact that there were people out there who had no sexual attraction to others or that there were those with zero sex drive who weren’t interested in sex at all. Once I realized this, I thought myself very narrow-minded and self-focused to never have contemplated this possibility but I tried to forgive myself because most people don’t become aware of things in a vacuum; they have to expose themselves to outside sources and influences in order to become educated and informed. That’s what reading is for. That’s why human contact with a variety of people is necessary.

Back to the point: here on this little blue marble, there is EVERYTHING, ranging from full-on “sexual addiction” to A-sexuality and ALL of it should be respected. However, use of the word “slut” points toward the complete avoidance of voluntary female sexuality. Female sexuality is only acceptable as a passive acceptance of the inevitable penis which must invade our helpless vaginas, because it is the way of things. Amen. However, if a female is utterly and completely uninterested in said penis, she is considered a deficient anomaly to be similarly dismissed and marginalized as “abnormal.”

To make things worse, our culture pushes emphasis toward the sexual median and forces all of us to walk a fine line between harlotry and frigidity, asserting that neither “extreme” of sexuality is acceptable. If we are completely uninterested in sex with others, we are defective and have issues. If we are too enthusiastic about sex and relish the opportunity to engage in every available casual encounter, we are overzealous and have issues.

If a “slut” is a promiscuous woman, how do we define “promiscuous”? By church-going, Republican-Baptist standards, promiscuity is pretty much defined as any extra-marital sexual engagement. Even a quick rub-and-tug. By free-loving, debauching, Liberal-atheist standards, promiscuity is alleged when you don’t know their first name. In the adult industry and swinging community, promiscuity isn’t a term that’s really even taken seriously; it’s considered laughable and ridiculous — however, this phenomenon is due to the commonality of casual sexual encounters and has little to do with tolerance of others. Those same adult communities ridicule those who choose not to participate with multiple partners.

The intolerance of diverse sexualities plagues our nation, with everyone attempting to shame everyone else to sexual practices that are more like their own. Don’t be gay, be straight. Don’t be slutty, be abstinent. Don’t be straight, be gay. Don’t be gay, be bi. Don’t be A-sexual, be a slut. Everybody’s human. Why can’t we just hump when we want to?

Just in case you don’t know the answer to this question, it’s PATRIARCHY. (Again.)

Why is that? Well… because that’s how oppressive, insecure men prefer their women: compliant but not too eager (lest a woman’s sex drive cause her to find a better dicking somewhere else.) And the Patriarchy is the system under which oppressive, insecure men set the cultural rules. If our cultural norms reflected female perspective, men would be similarly shamed for infidelity and promiscuity. But under current rule, there is no shaming word for men who like to fuck. There also isn’t a comparable word to the stigmatized “frigid” for men, either. That’s because men get to fuck who they want when they want – and don’t fuck who they don’t want to fuck – and they refuse to be shamed by their preferences.

Unfortunately, part of the problem is women themselves. Women help pass around the word “slut” and “whore,” eagerly slandering and belittling each other with the weapons that men happily wield against them. This is not because “women are naturally competitive.” Men are naturally competitive, too. If we lived in an oppressive Matriarchy, men would turn on each other in the same way women do in order to compete for validity. But here we are, clawing our way through the crowd to prove our sexuality and denounce our whoredom, therefore affirming our validity in a Patriarchal world. We’re truly pathetic.

Why can’t we just like ourselves and wait for the person who likes us back? Let’s stop buying into the degrading makeover reality shows and be ourselves for once; do we really believe that men will forever deny us? Are we really that convinced that we have to make out with our best friend to score dick on the weekends? Let’s fuck who we wanna fuck, labels be damned, and laugh in the faces of those who would try to insult us with meaningless references to our conquests. Let’s be proud of our sexuality, whatever it is, and deny the Patriarchy the right to shame us for what we do with our own vaginas.