My God is the ground, the grass, the dirt
She does not ask for money to wash away my sins
Because there is no such thing, just perfectly imperfect
And glory is not a for-profit scheme
My God is the air, the wind, the wing
She envelops my body in an easy embrace
And does not touch me behind the dark, musty pews
Of a so-called holy place
My God needs no organization or LLC
She is everywhere, in everything and calls for nothing
Not for wars or plagues, nor rape or murder
Not for chains that bind because of the flesh between my legs
To My God, nothing is unholy
She is Me, she is the World
The Oligarchs’ Schadenfreude
Every day that passes
Seems more pointless than the last
Ears and eyes shut, but mouths wide open
that comes from these monkeys
You wouldn’t believe it
They don’t even know they’re in a cage
At a zoo, mere spectacles
Shouting to the delight of onlookers
Whose pockets are lined, and fists are clenched
I must admit…
This zoo has always made me feel
In the gray of winter
It is easy to wish for sleep
A rest so long that when you wake
You are tickled
By green blades between your toes
And the sunlight rouses you
Bright and warm against heavy eyelids
But there is something to be said
For the silence that embraces us
After a fresh snow when the sound
- Try as it might -
Seems to vanish with little more
Than a whisper on the wind
In the quiet I am reminded of the end
The world is not an hourglass
That you can simply turn over and start again
Without the noise I am able to focus
On every grain of sand I have left
In Defense of Fluidity and Self-Determination
Any Prosers who know a bit about me will be unsurprised that I've been driven back to Prose after a short hiatus to debate social issues. I believe there's value in creating awareness around topics that folks might otherwise ignore out of complacency or selfishness. It's also a worthwhile pursuit to question and critique EVERYTHING - especially today, when so many people's perspectives are based on misinformation and biases (unconscious or not). Plus, I'm a Gemini, and I've never met an argument I didn't like. :)
**Before we begin, a disclaimer - I'm happy to provide any and all links to the research I reference throughout this piece. As far as I'm aware, the current Prose UI doesn't support hyperlinking, and I simply don't want to clunk up my writing with lengthy URLs. Feel free to reach out in the comments or via direct message for more information.**
When I came across this thoughtful writing challenge on gender, I was excited to read about folks' experiences. As Baldwin says, "'You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read." I find that even when I read about someone with a vastly different human experience than mine, I'm able to find connection in the emotion - and it helps me better understand certain people and communities with whom I might never have the opportunity to interact with otherwise.
But as I read one particular post by @EstherFlowers1, I must admit I'm having trouble empathizing with her perspective, mostly because I think it serves to invalidate the experiences of trans, non-binary and gender fluid folks, which is not only demoralizing, but dangerous. Also, there's a fair amount expressed in her piece that simply isn't based on an accurate understanding of gender and sex, which are two distinct concepts. While I can agree to disagree with all sorts of folks, it becomes an issue when their opinions are rooted in or contribute to the oppression, marginalization or brutalization of others. That said, I doubt there is a purposeful attempt to do harm here, but outcomes matter regardless of intention. Hopefully, this can be a good learning experience for anyone who engages with both of our pieces.
To start, I want to note that I have a Master's degree in Communication, with a research focus on gender and politics, and I've taught a host of undergraduate courses on gender representation and the intersection of gender and labor, among other things. I tell you all this not to toot my own horn (although, I worked hard and published some great work, so why not?), but because of this: Since the Trump presidency, there has been a troubling trend of anti-intellectualism where folks think all opinions are created equal. The reality is, however, if someone is an expert in their field, their educated opinion should and does hold more weight than a random person you pluck off the street who doesn't have the same working knowledge. That's why we go to doctors when we're sick and not our neighbor who is an accountant. In terms of this discussion, I have no insight into Esther's background, so I am not asserting that she doesn't have any authority or experience with which to speak on the matter. I only state this to let folks know what academic and professional experience I am pulling from when I lay out my thoughts in this piece.
To start, Esther makes the point that gender, though a generalization, is not a completely useless way to categorize people, because it helps us identify who to have sex and reproduce with. There are a couple of issues here. The first is that it is sex, not gender, that has served as the basis for humans to determine who to mate with for reproductive purposes. The term is "sexual dimorphism" not "gender dimorphism," and for good reason. Early neanderthals, for example, were often nude - they could see the biological differences in others - breasts and vaginas versus penises - and that is how they determined who to reproduce with. And you better believe that everyone was hairy as fuck - so it's not like they were confused by a woman with a mustache because there's something innately unfeminine about body hair. Furthermore, having sex to reproduce is different from having sex for pleasure, and, as a result, we've see homosexual and bisexual activity across different species and periods throughout time.
Additionally, it's worth noting that there is a growing pool of research about "postgenderism"that examines the potential for advanced assistive reproductive options to render all humans capable of both carrying a pregnancy to term and impregnating someone, which would eliminate the need for gender identification in society to its benefit - individuals would no longer be constrained or oppressed by gender role expectations. So, to say that this or other interrogations of gender as a social construct is making a "mockery of sex and gender and reproduction" that will contribute to natural selection weeding out such folks is not only false, but also seems to suggest that those who do not ascribe to a binary interpretation of gender don't have legitimate reasons for doing so. If we're mocking anything, it should be a binary understanding of gender that doesn't adequately represent the breadth of human experience and largely only serves to pigeonhole people. But much more effective than mocking is dismantling and reimagining.
In early civilizations, expectations as to behaviors for women and men varied from community to community based on the environment and population size, not because they recognized some innate characteristics of women to be more gentle and men to be more assertive, for example. The research continues to show that there is no sex-based evidence for behavioral traits. Rather, modern day women and men in the U.S. have been socialized to believe in and ascribe to traditional gender roles because they are rewarded with social capital. In fact, we've seen societies - both throughout history and in contemporary contexts - that have completely different conceptions of gender than we do in the U.S. or other industrialized Western nations. Certain Native American tribes, Indigenous Australian populations, South Asian and Samoan communities (just to name a few) have recognized gender fluid or non-binary folks, others have five or six gender categories, and some have none at all. Similarly, they have different expectations of those gender roles, or are largely egalitarian - because, put simply, gender is what a society makes it.
A great example of an egalitarian-minded society exists in Sweden. In certain schools in modern-day Stockholm, teachers try not to use terms like “boys” or “girls” or gender-specific pronouns. In an effort to reach a greater level of gender equality, they push for gender neutrality. Pronouns like “he and she” are replaced with “hen,” and children’s books have protagonists who are not clearly male or female. This effort helps teachers interrogate and counteract impulses to behave in certain ways with students of certain genders that disadvantage them - Like telling little boys to suck it up when they get hurt versus taking time to console and communicate with them like they do with little girls. The model has been so successful that they've continued to expand it to new schools every year.
The bottom line is that the gender binary assigns different roles, status, expectations and power to humans with male and female genitals, without any biological need to do so - it's a way to exercise cultural control that puts a population of humans who have all sorts of preferences and traits into a binary prison that not only forces them to deny their authentic selves to the detriment of their mental health, but also renders them vulnerable to discrimination and violence based on a conception of how folks "should be" that ignores the reality of how they actually are. In this case, a world with no gender or a broader understanding of it, at least, would mean that your biological sex would have no social meaning, just as being right-or left-handed has no inherent meaning. (Although people actually used to think left-handed folks were less capable, so parents forced their kids to use their right hands. See how sociocultural attitudes can shift over time when we encounter new evidence?) To me, genderlessness doesn't sound too bad at all.
With that, there are a few tangential points left that I would be remiss if I didn't also address. In her piece, Esther goes on to assert that "children need fathers and they need mothers," hence why maintaining a gender binary is important - but there's no factual basis for this claim. In fact, the research suggests the opposite. In these contemporary studies, we see that children in same-sex-parented families outperform children in different-sex-parented families on multiple indicators of academic performance, including standardized tests scores, high school graduation rates and college enrollment. Adolescents of same-sex parents also experience fewer social problems than a nationally representative age-matched sample of American youths. Even after controlling for a range of socioeconomic factors, this positive association does not disappear. What this research may suggest is that same-sex couples who are more open-minded and understanding of varying representations of sexuality and gender, based on their own experience, are more likely to produce thriving offspring than heterosexual couples who may be constrained by traditional gender role stereotyping.
This segues into her discussion of "anti-breeding" sentiments, which she dismisses as a selfish trend. The observable reality, however, is that there are a myriad of substantive, material obstacles to childrearing in 21st century Western capitalist societies like we have in the U.S. Without living wages, affordable healthcare or childcare, less and less folks have the practical ability to raise children, even if they want to. And from an environmental perspective, we also must consider that the planet is overpopulated, climate change is an existential threat to humanity, and people do not want to raise children in a world where there is so much uncertainty about food and other resources, natural disasters and what have you. All this is not to say that as our understanding of gender roles evolves, that personal choice is not also a factor here - women no longer feel the same level of societal pressure to marry or reproduce - and why shouldn't both women and men feel empowered to make the best decisions for themselves? It seems that this should be the most fundamental of human rights, especially given that we are not facing an extinction crisis from lack of childrearing (although from all the other stuff, sure - we're on our way out.)
I'll conclude by saying this - someone expressing their gender identity outside of the binary conceptualization we've been taught does not hurt individuals, nor collective society. The only folks being hurt are the ones that are being denied the right to do so - whether it's through legislation that bans gender affirming care, restricts access to public restrooms, allows businesses to refuse service etc. or through hostile communities that ridicule and endanger them both physically and mentally. Even for cisgender folks, traditional gender roles are often the cause of great strife, whether it's through the restriction of bodily autonomy, a lack of career opportunities, discrimination in the workplace, abuse at the hands of others who deem themselves more powerful on the basis of gender alone, or simply mental anguish over not "fitting the mold." As long as they're not hurting anyone, how hard is it to just let people live their lives how they wish?
Warning: This Feminism Will Hurt
I recently watched a viral TikTok that posed the question, “why would any man listen to a feminist when all they do is villainize men?” The creator blames “angry feminists” for the popularity of social media “stars” and podcasters like Andrew Tate. We make men feel bad, and apparently the logical choice that follows is to flock to any misogynist with a microphone.
Aside from the fact that the hateful and factually inaccurate rhetoric these “men” spew is dangerous because it incites violence against women, it also oozes male privilege and entitlement. We are calling you out for abusing us, raping us, killing us, and taking away our bodily autonomy — to name just a few of the many injustices perpetrated against us — but you don’t want to listen because it makes you uncomfortable? God forbid a man feel discomfort. Discomfort and fear are for women only — we must simply get on with things, adapt, carry our keys as weapons and exercise only in daylight — but men? Men deserve to be made comfortable.
Hopefully it’s obvious to many (or women, at least) that the video’s creator fails to acknowledge that the actual cause of both women’s anger and the rise of toxic masculinity is the patriarchy, but there’s much more to unpack here. The creator calls for feminists to present their arguments in a way that are palatable to men —in other words, don’t be so meeaaannn. He fails to see that this directive is emblematic of living in a patriarchal society where women are expected to be meek and empathetic, and only men get to be angry. It’s also a classic case of tone policing — men dismiss the ideas being communicated by feminists because they don’t like the way the way in which those ideas are delivered. I’d argue that this man, though supposedly trying to “help” feminists by encouraging a “kinder” approach to men, is unaware that he holds an unconscious bias against women because he grew up in a patriarchal society that tells him female rage is wrong. Women telling men what to do is wrong. Men must not be made to feel less than. Subservience is a space for women.
The thing is, our whole way of life — this society that we must exist in — has been designed for men. Everything is made with them in mind, as if being a man is simply the default. Our language shows us this. Our businesses show us this. Our government and institutions show us this. And now, some other male creators are posting responses to this video about “what’s in it for men” if they become feminists and help dismantle the patriarchy. Unsurprisingly, they’ve even managed to make feminism about them. Apparently it’s not a good enough reason that women are dying as the result of the patriarchy to care about it, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t give a flying f*ck about how I make you feel. The work of writer and radical feminist Audre Lorde also comes to mind here:
“Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises, those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with them…The oppressors maintain their position and evade responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.”It’s not the job of the oppressed to teach the oppressors. I will not ask nicely to be treated as a fully-fledged human worthy of dignity and respect, deserving all of the same rights as men. Men act as if feminist scholars have not dedicated decades of work to the topics of feminism, misogyny and the patriarchy for them to understand these nuanced issues by reading objective quantitative and qualitative studies — divorced of those pesky emotions that make them feel icky. Not only can men no longer be allowed to feign ignorance in the modern age where we have access to the world’s knowledge at the flick of key on a keyboard, but they must also not be allowed to demand even MORE of our emotional labor. We already do the lionshare of this work in our everyday relationships, and this leaves men in the same position of power they have always occupied and never earned — they get a free education on their terms, and all we get is the hope that they might finally decide to understand the plight of women.
Thanks, but no thanks. Afterall, do mice concern themselves with the feelings of cats?
If you’re a man and you actually want to do better, support the women in your life and dismantle the system that hurts us all, why don’t you start acting like it? Call out overt misogyny and abuse from other men like the Andrew Tates of the world. Call out more insidious biases perpetuated by men like the aforementioned TikTok creator, who fail to see the proverbial forest through the trees. Do your own work — go to therapy, read a book, attend a gender studies course. Listen to women, and if their anger and accusations make you uncomfortable — don’t run from it. Instead, interrogate it; ask yourself why that might be. Sometimes, we have to be uncomfortable to grow, and I will not put my feminism in a spoonful of sugar. It’s a jagged little pill I want you to feel going all the way down.
Cigarettes in Autumn
It feels like fall
I sit outside in the cool air
And smoke, inhaling deeply
It's the only time I feel young again
I miss the feeling of possibility
Of strangers and dark streets
Like anything could happen
When the night was young at 11 PM
They say it's bad for you, I know
But when I breathe in
I feel the buzz of youth and infinity
The feeling like I'm untouchable
“I Do Not Dream of Labor”
I started writing a post for LinkedIn because I'm looking for a new job and need to be "engaged" on the platform to help my chances of landing something...but then it devolved into a rant that I have not proofread, but feel the need to share so maybe someone reads it and it was not a complete exercise in futility.
We’re seeing an increase in conversations around labor, capitalism and the ways in which American society might benefit from reimagining how workplaces approach employees and how employees approach work. I recently read Derek Thompson’s article in The Atlantic called “Your Career Is Just One-Eighth of Your Life” and it got my wheels turning even further on the subject.
(Read it here: https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2022/09/career-ambition-advice-data/671374/)
Thompson starts the piece off by saying that “autobiography is not advice”, but I question the extent to which he realizes that his own advice is shaped by his very specific and privileged experience as a young white man who graduated from Northwestern and came from a college-educated, successful family. I think you can see the influence of this experience as he hits some of his numbered points in the article.
#1 – He says that the typical career is 80,000 hours long, thus making up “only” one-sixth of your existence. Reminder that the title of the article says one-eighth and I am confused on this point alone – but I don’t want to dwell on it too much because there’s a reason I’m in communications and not an accountant. What I will say is that I’d question if this estimation includes commuting hours or is reflective of many folks who have no choice but to work overtime, whether paid or unpaid, due to the way businesses are structured (the prevailing workplace ideology in the U.S. that you must “always be connected”).
An inability to transition to a work situation that offers better work-life balance due to common barriers to entry like higher education, access and cost of licensure, childcare needs etc. might also account for marginalized folks working above and beyond the 80,000 mark. Ultimately, he ends the section stating “Your career is not your life. Behave accordingly.” Easier said than done when losing your job can have devastating effects – like resulting in the inability to afford life-saving healthcare or feed your family – and many of us don’t have other kinds of safety nets to fall back on (e.g. a race and gender that gets you ahead of the job hunt game without you having to do a thing).
#2 In his next point, he talks about the idea of job hopping, noting that people who switch careers, especially early on, tend to have higher wages. He quotes an economist, Henry Sui, who says that’s because people have found better career matches. That statement in particular raised a flag for me. I think it's more so that their new employers just pay them better (an average of 30% for those who switched jobs over the pandemic), which would point to the fact that their current employers aren’t valuing their work or tenure with fair compensation given a market that’s seen inflation rise a whopping 492% since 2020. I agree job hopping is the way to go, and that often means making lateral moves. In the current economic climate, however, it’s not the way to go simply because you’ll learn new skills or find a role that better suits you (though that may very well happen), but more so to simply snag that pay bump. If your employer really values you, perhaps they should think about giving you a raise or promotion, paying you a fair market rate or, at the very least, giving you a counteroffer when you let them know your plans to jump ship. Otherwise, the grass and the money is literally greener.
#3 Thompson’s next directive is to take a job you actually want to do vs. one that just sounds good at a dinner party or written on your resume. Again, for those with the luxury of choosing more fulfilling work (myself included), this is sound advice, but it leaves behind a swath of average Americans. Yes, I’m talking about the majority of blue-collar workers, but I’m also talking about entry-level and middle-management cubicle gigs too. The simple reality is that the prioritization and pursuit of work that is more fulfilling – like non-profit support, creating art, playing music, writing creatively etc. – is most often going to cost you a decent salary, security, stability and a manageable work-life balance. (If such creative endeavors can even be called “work” is an existential question for a different day.)
Perhaps Thompson should have a chat with fellow Atlantic writer Erin A. Cech about her thoughts on how “Loving Your Job Is a Capitalist Trap.” She says that recommending career aspirants do what they love and deal with the practicalities later “ignores the structural obstacles to economic success that many face, and blames career aspirants if they cannot overcome those obstacles,” a point I less eloquently made above when talking about barriers to entry. That kind of advice assumes the availability of financial safety nets and social-networks that only upper-middle-class folks have access to.
In labor journalist Sarah Jaffe’s book, Work Won’t Love You Back, she also talks about how corporations created the discourse about loving your job as a way to pay workers less and give them fewer benefits. Basically, she says the whole capitalist regime depends on you believing that lie, and I’d rather not fool myself. Hence, why many folks like me are enticed by the idea of “quiet quitting”, which is a purposefully deceptive misnomer (capitalism infiltrates our discourse again!). It really just means having reasonable boundaries around your work life – predictable hours from 9-5 and not deriving a sense of self-worth or meaning from what is often just a means to an end in a capitalist society – you work to get paid. You can engage in the stuff that brings you joy and ignites your passion in your spare time, and this is made all the easier if you’re not working past 10 PM or stressing about getting promoted so you can feel like you’ve “made something of yourself.” Besides, when you’re passionate about something and pursue that kind of work for an organization, chances are your employer will exploit it. That’s why you hear about non-profit workers being burned out so often – we’ll do uncompensated work for the causes we love.
#4 I agree with Thompson that we should be honest with ourselves about what motivates and inspires us, though that can a difficult thing to unpack when you live in a world where everything is commodified, and money is king. Corporate America tries to sell you on the idea that you should do what you love so that you can be a teacher with a graduate degree making the same amount as a waiter and way less than anyone with an OnlyFans page, but you have the pride of doing what you love! Let the low wage work that only benefits the corporations rage on.
Furthermore, many of us don’t have the luxury of having career ambition as “a matter of taste.” You can have all the drive in the world, but you can’t singlehandedly fix broken systems and institutions that often blocks you from achieving those goals, or at least makes the journey decidedly more difficult for some of us over others. When people on the internet decry hustle culture, they’re not dogging on ambition – they’re saying you should be wary of exploitation – like low wages for less job security and longevity. It’s about advocating for fair working conditions and being able to live a comfortable life without dedicating so much time and energy to employers whose CEOs make billions and would just replace you with another cog when you die without a second thought.
#5 Honestly, I almost threw my laptop across the room when Thompson concludes with his fifth and final point – “The best kind of work is voluntary: It’s something you choose to do rather than accomplish under the imminent threat of poverty or getting fired.” I’m not sure where he lives, but in capitalist America, no labor is voluntary. That’s why we call it work. And with all the power that corporations have amassed, it’s hard to find work anywhere where you feel valued for your contributions, treated like a human and not a robot and can therefore free yourself of fears of getting fired. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard bosses and C-suite executives talking about how their lower-level employees should just be happy they’re employed and stop complaining. If that isn’t a low bar, I don’t know what is.
Until we reimagine the capitalist regime and redistribute wealth in an equitable way in this country, choosing more fulfilling work will always be a luxury. Folks are lucky if they’re able to make ends meet. Many can’t conceptualize pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones in the workplace because we’re just trying to stay afloat in a society that doesn’t prioritize healthcare for all or other basic human rights – like the ability to marry who you choose or decide what to do with your own body – for people who aren’t white Christian males. Saying “don’t be afraid to do hard things” in this climate ignores the very hard realities many folks are facing right now. I am not advocating for the elimination of joy from work – if you can find it, good for you – but it’s not so readily available for everyone. For many of us, working for pay can be tedious and soul crushing. Maximizing profit while minimizing time working for that profit seems the best way to preserve your health and sanity in the modern American machine unless you can organize, unionize, strike and take other “radical” steps to fight to change it.
Dare You to Move
Something happens when you
push your body to the edge
of what it can handle
It reminds you that
you are alive
And despite everything,
you are grateful to breathe
To feel, to hurt
The pain can bring tears to your eyes, sure
But it's also the release
Of anger and disappointment
Everything that's been holding you back
if you push yourself hard enough
You can move
Endless Summer Night
Sometimes I wish for an endless summer night
Sweet cicada serenades as you drift down the lane
Enveloped by the glow of street lights
Your feet barely touch the ground
As crickets join the singing
And the air smells of fresh cut grass and possibility
Like anything can happen if you wish hard enough
In the twilight, I run headlong into my dreams
Until the sun breaks the horizon at dawn
And I must face the day