Throughout American history, most bigots have been nice folks who had sincere religious reasons for treating other people badly.
Social conservatives were all over the airwaves and print media this week, explaining how and why the battle over marriage equality is not over. The Supreme Court may have spoken, but the other branches of government, they promised, could still step in somehow, if we elect the right people. Or county clerks could just refuse to issue licenses. Or ordinary people could practice civil disobedience in some unspecified way. There are, Glenn Beck has promised us, ten thousand pastors willing to “go to prison or to death” over this issue (though exactly what charges will brought against them or who might try to kill them is a bit vague).
I was recently sent the link to a beautiful article published in The New York Times about how the introduction of man-made light has had an enormous impact on our levels of consumption. Here is an excerpt from the article:
“In the modern world, petroleum may drive our engines but our consciousness is driven by light. And what it drives us to is excess, in every imaginable form.
Beginning in the late 19th century, the availability of cheap, effective lighting extended the range of waking human consciousness, effectively adding more hours onto the day — for work, for entertainment, for discovery, for consumption; for every activity except sleep, that nightly act of renunciation. Darkness was the only power that has ever put the human agenda on hold.
In centuries past, the hours of darkness were a time when no productive work could be done. Which is to say, at night…
I’m sure many of my friends, having visited my home, would never believe me.
Being attracted to it doesn’t mean I haven’t struggled with it. Sure, you see people online who literally have 100 possessions, or own one single red chair or whatever, but I have kids! They have toys! Lego! Stuff!
Minimalism isn’t a race. It’s not a competition. It’s not “she who owns the least, wins.”
We all have possessions. Most of us have too many. But all our possessions can be easily classified into two categories:
Things: Useful items that we use, which have a purpose, or an intrinsic value or beauty that we use and appreciate regularly. Items we take time over. Items that belong in our lives daily, or at least weekly.
Stuff: Purposeless items that we do not use, which do not have an immediate use to us, which may be pretty but do not “sing to our soul”. Items we do not have on display, which do not have a keeping-place or home, which detract from our life, and take up time, space or effort. Items we seldom or never use.
The key to minimalism isn’t about reducing to less than your neighbour has, or some guy or woman on a blog somewhere claims to have.
The key to minimalism is eliminating the stuff, and having only things in your life, thereby enriching it.
“But maybe I’ll use it someday…maybe…”
My life was filled with “maybe” stuff. Things that were “too good” to throw away or pass on, and items that I might use, or would surely use…some time soon.
They’re stuff. They’re not things.
Minimalism is also about living in the present. Planning for the future is wise, depending on how you plan. So safety mechanisms to prepare for emergencies is good, but 27 cans of soup for the Zombie Apocalypse, probably not so much. Being prudent and having good judgement is part of the picture too.
Gifts can also be a problem. What if the person asks after the items they gave you? What if they expect to see you use it and it’s long since been donated or sold? Firstly, people never ask. Second, get into the habit of asking people NOT to give gifts. If they insist, ask for perishables instead – a nice bottle of wine, some good quality cheese to share, some fresh flowers.
I’m grokking minimalism. Already, clearing the clutter away, I find my mental state happier and I feel more at ease since clearing my surroundings. And I’m going to continue clearing the clutter.
Find your own minimalism
Understanding what minimalism is about helps me to find my own level of comfort with the concept. I’m not going to end up with one chair, one shirt, one glass. But I will, hopefully, find freedom in owning and feeling the need to own much, much less.
The year is 2014. You are a white Western woman. You wake up in the morning in a comfortably sized house or flat. You have a full or part-time job that enables you to pay your rent or mortgage. You have been to school and maybe even college or university as well. You can read and write and count. You own a car or have a driver’s licence. You have enough money in your own bank account to feed and clothe yourself. You have access to the Internet. You can vote. You have a boyfriend or girlfriend of your choosing, who you can also marry if you want to, and raise a family with. You walk down the street wearing whatever you feel like wearing. You can go to bars and clubs and sleep with whomever you want.
When he noticed the naked little girl at the beach didn’t look quite like he did and asked why, they answered his questions in simple phrases painted in black and white, pink and blue, and tradition. And he learned that boys and girls were different.
When one of the neighbor kids painted his nails, they got angry. That wasn’t something boys did. And he learned that there were different rules for boys and girls, and that breaking those made people upset.
When he was handed down a pink bike from his cousin, they replaced it with a blue one, because they didn’t want him to be mocked for having a “girly” bike. And he learned that being girly was something to be mocked.
When he cried, they told him to be a man. And he learned that crying, and being not a man, was something less.
I remember the first few experiences that made me uncomfortable with being a woman.
They weren’t even anything to do with my body. Some women cite their first period (which was definitely embarrassing), or going bra shopping the first time (yes, definitely awkward!).
But for me, what made me uncomfortable was the realisation, for the first time, that the world wasn’t built for me. It was, instead, built for men. My place, as a woman, was to be the object.
“Out of bounds”
I must have been eleven or twelve when I garnered the attention of a local workman near the building I lived in, in Hong Kong. I was so naive, and I thought of him as my “friend”. I used to go down to the carparks in the basement below, and rollerskate there, and I’d often see him, working on construction.
He’d come on over, and despite his limited English and my even more limited Cantonese, we’d chat and he’d hold my hand while I skated. I never thought anything of it, until one day he started pressuring me for a kiss.
And then I got away as fast as I could, ashamed and guilty – although I’d done nothing wrong, and very red-faced, even though I’d said no and nothing had happened. But from then on I didn’t skate in the carparks any more. I got the feeling that they were an “out of bounds” place for me.
That wasn’t the only “out of bounds” area. Not long after, I started avoiding a street I’d walk down to go to school, because of the catcalls from more building workers. They made me feel uncomfortable and helpless – powerless. I don’t know what their goal was in whistling to a pre-teen, but its effect was my discomfort.
I took a longer, different way to school from then on. My brother once asked me why, but I felt too awkward to tell him. Once again, I felt like I’d done something wrong, and like if I told him, I’d be admitting some type of weakness or defeat in myself for not having the strength to ignore the hecklers.
But I was only a kid.
You get 10%, they get 90%
There were countless other instances like this. When I moved back to school in Australia, I made the faux pas of going out on to the oval to play, and was immediately held in contempt by my new friends when I returned at lunch.
“We don’t play there,” I remember Kathryn telling me. “That’s for the guys. Girls stay on the asphalt. But only in the courtyards, and not near the transportables.”
I didn’t ask why the girls only played in about 10% of the school property, while the boys could go wherever they wanted. We had 10%, they had 90%. I was a young teenager, and you just didn’t ask questions like that: it was social suicide to do so, and even more suicidal to try to violate the unwritten rules.
Conform or die
My mother never got a straight answer when, on my second day at my new school in Australia, I took her dressmaking scissors to my yellow checked school uniform and hacked a full foot and half off the length of its skirt.
“What have you done that for!” she demanded in anger.
“It’s how we wear them,” I said snarkily, parading around in the dress whose skirt now barely covered my ass cheeks. “All the girls wear them like this. Nobody wears them long!”
And I was telling her the truth. But I never asked myself why.
I didn’t ask why. None of the girls did. We just wore our skirts as short as we could, and the shorter the better. Mum didn’t push it. Maybe she knew the unspoken reason better than I did.
Hypocrites and liars
All through my school years I used to sit with my friends and discuss boys and the soaps on TV, neither of which I was particularly interested in. But I had to keep the show up, and if I hadn’t at least pretended to be interested in the conversation, I’d have had no friends at all.
Everyone was talking about who had done what with whom. I hadn’t done anything – I’d kissed a few guys but that was it, but I lied and told outrageous stories of my sexploits with the best of them.
I don’t think anyone believed me but then, I didn’t really believe any of the stories my friends told me either. It was a bizarre competition of lies and one-upmanship, where the best bragging won the day. But at the same time, while we were sharing all our outrageous fabrications, we were slagging off the real “sluts” of the school who everyone just knew were really truly sexually active.
Because they were trash.
In other words, we were hypocrites and liars, and jealous ones at that, who hated the girls who were maybe actually doing what we secretly longed to do. Or longed to do, but were scared of doing. Or maybe were thinking about doing but weren’t ready for just yet.
Diets and magazines
Society makes objects of all women, and it certainly objectified me. I remember starting my first diet when I was in my early teens, even though I was underweight. My best friend ended up in hospital with bulimia – she got down to 27 kgs (59 pounds) and nearly died.
We were obsessed with looking like the girls in magazines, and distressed that we looked…well, like ourselves. Like normal young women.
Looking back, it wasn’t my body I was uncomfortable with, it was the objectifcation that came with being a woman. Being told I had to look a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain way.
When you don’t fit
I didn’t fit the stereotype of small, delicate, weak, meek, quiet, gentle. No matter what I did or how I tried, I was big, tall, strong, powerful, intelligent, geeky, sporty, awkward…and the objectification that came with being a woman made me even more acutely aware that I didn’t fit the gender role I was supposed to submit to.
What it’s really about
I’m grown up now, and these things don’t affect me as much as they used to. But I still cringe when I get wolf-whistles – because that small, awkward girl inside of me remembers. They’re not a compliment. They never were a compliment.
They’re about control. And power.
And there are places in the city where I feel uncomfortable and unsafe, despite being nearly six feet tall and a weightlifter and probably well strong enough to defend myself. This is an experience common to all women – from the moment we learned that we can’t play on the playground any more, because “that’s where the boys play”, we’ve never felt like our world was our own any more.
An experience commonly shared…being the object. That’s what learning to be a woman is all about. That’s why strong girls grow up into awkward women, and take decades sometimes to reover themselves. Our society is cruel.
But I can’t help wondering, would I be a different person if I’d stood my ground, walked on past the hecklers, kept skating in the carpark despite the threat? And maybe we can teach our daughter to be strong too.
Just my thoughts. Because nobody should be forced to be an object.
Not everyone is happy of course. The Churches are looking all confused – on the one hand preaching that “God is love” while on the other hand saying, “wee-eeeell, maybe God is love – but not quite for all people. Not for you gay people over in the corner, anyway.”
And the politicians who, in not too distant memory were all iffy and uffy about same sex marriage, now rush in their full acceptance of the cause, saying, “We were on your side all along! Yes, really!”
Then there are groups who claim that same-sex marriage will persecute traditional marriage types. I’m not sure how – and neither are they, as they don’t quite specify the details – but they’re vehement on the matter.
The thing is, all this denying and delaying and complaing and whinging about being persecuted sounds eerily familiar. The same complaints were heard, and the same arguments, every time a persecuted minority (or majority) has gained rights.
The same arguments were used against the civil rights movement in the US (didn’t you know whites are discriminated against?), and the same against women rights (men are being persecuted now – didn’t you know?). It’s the same old line, used over and over.
It never held water then, and it doesn’t now.
Australia is a backwater
My home country of Australia is starting to look more and more like a backwater of human rights. I’m embarrassed. I’m living in New Zealand now, but I follow the Aussie news, and I feel ashamed that Australia hasn’t led the way on this issue. Especially when so much of the population is clearly in favour. It seems like the politicians have stopped listening to the people. Or maybe that happened a while back…
But you can’t stop change. The Churches in the UK are against this, but popular opinion is changing so swiftly in favour of this issue that they’ll soon be left behind, if they aren’t already. Just one more way in which mainstream religions are losing touch with popular culture.
These are interesting times we live in. I think there are some issues that are changing a little too fast for my liking, such as the amount of violence on TV and film. But other issues, such as rights for minorities, can’t change fast enough.
We all know that the churches of the Bible belt have been placing a massive emphasis on “purity” and virginity lately. Especially for women.
Teens are taking “purity pledges” and being “re-virginized” (whatever THAT means!) and promising to “wait” until they get married.
But have you ever stopped to ask – why?
Why the emphasis on this one aspect of human behaviour?
Think about it for a moment. How is a “good person” or a “valued member of society” usually defined?
Think of the people in history you’d consider to be heroes. They might be Jesus, if you’re a Christian – but I bet his sex life was never a big issue for you (do you even know how many sex partners he had? is it even mentioned in the Bible?)
Or you might think of Nelson Mandela. Or you might be thinking of Martin Luther King Jr. Or Marie Curie, if you’re a scientist. Or Fred Hollows, who restored eyesight for countless people in the world.
What about Mozart and Beethoven, and the beautiful music they gifted the world? Or Van Gogh, for his stunning artwork?
Or modern composers like Eric Whitacre, and the gorgeous pieces he’s currently writing for us to enjoy?
Other heroes you might consider could include people like your family doctor. Or a favourite teacher. Or the physiotherapist who helped you to walk again after you had a terrible brain injury.
They’re all heroes. Every one of them. All doing good works. All worthy of admiration.
If you believe in Heaven, every one of them deserves a place, wouldn’t you think?
I sure would.
Were they virgins when they married? If they married? And does God even care?
Of all these people, do you know for certain if any of them were virgins when they married? Did it matter? Did it make a difference to them being good people?
Did it affect their being valuable people, of worth to the world and those they loved and that loved them?
I’ll answer the question for you: not one bit.
Their sexual status when they married didn’t affect their contributions as unique individuals. And neither does your sexual status affect your contribution as a unique individual.
Don’t think so little of God!
If you think the Divine is so petty as to care about your virginity, well then, you’ve got one really petty little God you’re worshipping.
If you think God will judge you based on whether you’ve had sex or not, you’re really underestimating God. Plus, you’re really overestimating your own self-importance. The Divine has better things to worry about.
So why do the Churches care?
Firstly, don’t get Church and God muddled up. They’re NOT one and the same. Churches are made up of people. People with all their human frailties and mistakes and bigotries and confusions.
Churches have been telling people what to do and what to think for a long, long time. And a lot of the time, they simply represented what society thought.
When society got it wrong, so too did the Churches.
For example, when society didn’t know better and thought the sun revolved around the earth, the Churches defended this belief to the death. Literally. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition for his challenge to this theory, his books were banned, and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Other scientists that challenged the same belief (such as Giordano Bruno) were burned at the stake by the Church.
This all happened a long time ago, but what I’m pointing out is that the churches are fallible. They make mistakes, because they’re controlled and made up of people. They reflect common beliefs of society at the time. And sometimes not so common!
What’s more, the Churches, due to their generally conservative nature, tend to lag behind society, and are slow to change and update as society changes.
Society has changed, but the Church is still playing catchup
This is what we have now. Reliable contraception is relatively new (the pill was first approved in 1960, very recently in historical terms) and was a massive change to how women could control their fertility.
With that huge change, the status of women changed quickly. Women were suddenly no longer tied to house and children. We could choose to work and pursue careers, knowing that pregnancy wasn’t lying in wait for us unexpectedly.
Reliable laws supporting safe termination followed swiftly in 1973 with Roe v Wade, enabling women who did find themselves unexpectedly pregnant to end it with a safe termination. Terminations are very common – I’ve had one, as have about half of my friends. These days they’re safe and supported by public health insurance in most western countries – the days of backyard coathangers are thankfully over.
But all these changes, including other further advances such as the morning after pill (1997), are very new. Too new for the Churches to cope with. They’re still more than a century behind, back in the Victorian era, advocating abstinence until marriage.
But what’s wrong with abstinence?
Quite a lot, actually. But let’s start with numbers.
The average age of menarche (first period) for girls in the US is 12.5 years of age. Boys hit puberty on average at age 13.
So if they’re going to be abstinent, women are going to, on average, have to be abstinent for 14.4 years. Men are going to have to remain abstinent for 15.9 years.
Are you beginning to see a problem? I sure am! Can you imagine, as an adult, going without sex for about 15 years? It’s just not practical or reasonable to expect young people, at the height of their fertility, to not have sex for that long.
Furthermore, the same communities that are preaching the abstinence mantras are typically
a) not providing young people with full sex education, so they are more at risk of pregnancy, STIs and dangerous / abusive relationships should sex occur
b) not providing young people with access to contraception or teaching them how to use contraception properly
c) dumping guilt on young people when the inevitable does occur and they do have sex.
In other words, they’re preaching a virtually unachievable mode of behaviour for all but the most asexual of young people, then blaming those same young people when they cannot meet unrealistic expectations.
So why purity?
Purity has, and always will be until it finally suffers a permanent demise as a concept, been about control. It’s a way of making people feel: dirty, cheap, worthless, not good enough, not able enough. It’s a way of judging people and labelling people and keeping people (women) in their place that is hurtful and can be very cruel.
Yes, the pretty white dresses and “purity rings” are all very nice, but they’re a veil over a brutal attempt to control women.
What to do?
Don’t buy the lie. Don’t buy into the purity lie.
Instead, focus on being a good person. Do good works. Let your actions speak for who you are and what you believe is important and right. If you choose to wait until you find someone you love for sex, that’s only your business: no-one else’s.
It’s not the church’s. Or your minister’s. Or your parents. Or your friends.
Ignore the purity rings. And the purity balls. And the purity pledges. Be a good person because that’s who you choose to be, not to fit into someone else’s rules and regulations and guidelines and boundaries.
Have sex when you choose to. With who you want to. With as many or as few people as you choose.
Do it safely. Feel no guilt, because sex can be a beautiful, fun, pleasurable gift when you do it right.
But the only purity that you should ever concern yourself with is the purity of your food and drink. Because that’s the only purity that matters.
For a long time the whole Madonna-Whore Complex gave women two roles – we could be “pure” as wives, mothers and virgins. Or we were “dirty” as whores – women who enjoyed and appreciated sexual fulfilment.
Madonnas and whores – the two categories for women.
Nothing in between. The thought that sex could be a normal healthy part of a person’s (particularly a woman’s) life was, and is still, problematic for people who see women as either madonnas or whores, as pure or impure.
Because sex is such a massive stepping stone in the madonna-whore world, such a huge item of goods to be traded and sold by a woman’s father on her wedding day to the prospective husband, it can never be seen as a normal healthy thing that humans simply do because its enjoyable and natural.
In the Madonna-Whore world, virginity is of incredible importance. Without her virginity, a woman is worthless. Soiled. Trash.
And a man who has had sex with many women? Well…
Have you ever noticed how there are so many words for a woman who has had sex (or a woman who people think has had sex) but there are very few for men?
The outcome of “sluts versus studs”
So we get the politicalisation of contraception – because only a whore would need it. Once a woman is married, her role becomes simply that of “Mother” or “Prospective Mother” and contraception is an unmentionable. Although almost all couples use contraception in modern society, it’s an unmentionable topic. People pretend it doesn’t happen.
And we get the politicalisation of abortion. Only a whore would abort. A “nice” pure girl doesn’t get pregnant in the first place (because she’s “abstinant”). And if she does (whoops!), she’ll marry the father and have her Happily Ever After.
This very narrow view of women – as pure or impure, madonna or whore – stems from patriarchal religions, is tied up with the old worldview of women as chattel and property, and is directly at odds with the direction society is headed in. Hence the clash between the patriarchal churches and society at large.
And the churches are losing. You can see this very clearly in the political landscape in the United States at the moment, the likely collapse and fragmentation of the Republican party – it has aligned itself with the old, white, extreme right religious sects of society, and is finding it simply doesn’t have the numbers. Those numbers are reducing at a very rapid rate, reflecting the way society is changing.
So what’s happening?
Sex is coming out of the closet. That’s what’s happening.
Women are starting to talk about sex, we’re starting to proclaim loudly that it is natural to enjoy sex – with however many partners of whatever gender we wish – and that whatever sex we happen to enjoy does not value or devalue us as individuals. It is simply something we, as human beings, do.
The changes we’re seeing in society, and the death of the madonna-whore complex, are part of women’s movement towards full equality as human beings. That’s all it is.
A group of people cannot be equal as long as they continue to be put into boxes for their behaviour and stereotyped. The “purity” concept needs to die – and the sooner the better. Purity is a concept that should be attached to clean water, or safe food. Not to women and girls. Not to people. We’re not a commodity. We’re human beings.
Aphrodite is a Goddess who represents the sexuality and power of women. She is strong, and fearless – and yes, she is sexual, and sensual, and beautiful. That is why she is intensely uncomfortable for people who have traces of the Madonna-Whore complex instilled in them. Because we’ve been taught that sexuality should be secretive, that is doesn’t give us strength and power. Yet it does.
This is why I think women need to embrace Aphrodite and what she represents. Make peace with our beauty, our sexuality, our sensuality. Be proud to say we enjoy sex. With whomever we choose. In whatever way we wish. Our bodies are our own to use as we desire.
That is why we do the Slut Walks, and why we support the womens shelters. That is why we do NOT bitch against other women, or criticise them for their sexual choices. That is why we support the right to choose, and the right to have safe, freely accessible contraception. Because all of these things are about the right to control our own bodies.
I’m no Madonna. I’m no whore. I’m a human being. And so is every other woman on this planet. It’s time to throw the boxes out the window. None of us is pure, or impure. There is no such thing as virginity – I’m tossing that out too.
Here’s the proposal, and you’ve heard it before: gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry, because marriage is about children, and having families. Gay couples can’t have children together, so they shouldn’t be allowed to marry.
If a society allows gay marriages to happen, it’s saying that marriage is more about sex than having a family.
I’m going to pour cold water on that one right now.
Case 1: My grandmother, a widow, got married again in her seventies (my grandfather died when he was 49 from cancer). According to the logic above (let’s call it “Santorum logic“), that marriage shouldn’t have been allowed, right? Because there was no way on earth my grandma was capable of having kids with her new husband, who was rocking along in his mid 80s.
Case 2: Then there’s a friend of mine, who is in a wheelchair, and can’t have kids, thanks to a car accident when he was in his early 20s. He’s getting married next year, to the woman he got engaged to before the accident. She’s been with him through all his therapy, and if that ain’t true love, I don’t know what is. But they’ll never have children.
So, according to Santorum Logic, they should also be shoved in the “NO MARRIAGE FOR YOU” box. Right?
Cases 3 and 4: My husband had two great aunts, both of whom got married then found they could neither of them ever have children with their husbands. I’m sure they really wanted to, but couldn’t. Some people just can’t have children. If you’re religious, you can call it an “Act of God”. And it’s cruel.
Does that mean that their loving, lifelong marriages with their husbands were something less than a “real” marriage because children didn’t happen? Or maybe, according to the Santorum Logic that “having kids is what marriage is for“, their husbands should have dumped them by the side of the road, Bible-style, and married again?
Of course, we don’t know that the problem was with the women. Fertility problems are actually pretty even between the genders. But hey, this is a patriarchal society, so let’s go right ahead and assume that the blame should be laid on women.
Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s clarify what “Biblical Marriage” (that often bandied-about term) actually is. Here’s a handy graphic:
Doesn’t sound that lovely to me!
I’ve just outlined four cases below that I know of, with real people that are friends or relatives of mine, where their marriages were NOT anything to do with children, and where to have children wasn’t an option.
Yet so many anti gay marriage people would never say a word against their marriages.
So let’s call this anti gay marriage hocus what it actually is: bigotry.
It’s bigotry. Hatecrime. Based on suspicion and fear.
I don’t believe any person should have the right to control or prevent the happiness of another. This is a human rights issue, loud and clear. It’s that simple.
So to end my post, here’s a lovely photo of some happy senior newlyweds, in honour of my grandma who I loved:
And some happy disabled newlyweds, in honour of my friend, who I care for:
And some happy gay newlyweds, in hope that all my gay friends will one day have equal rights everywhere: