Facebook Sides with Abusers and Bigots

Facebook is being a fucking ass right now. In case you haven’t heard yet, they’ve begun shutting down people’s accounts for using chosen names or pseudonyms.

I first started hearing rumors about Facebook locking people out of their profiles, asking for identification in order to get back in, several months ago. At the time, they were very distant rumors. I assumed it was someone who had been harassing another person and was reported as a result.

But then I started hearing rumors about drag performers being told they had to use their real names, and I thought, “Well that’s dumb. They’ll get push-back and change their policy.”

I began to watch more closely as Sister Roma struck up an attempt to raise awareness and convince Facebook to change their policy to allow pseudonyms or alternate names. Sister Roma, and those fighting with her, made an excellent case for why Facebook should rescind the policy, but Facebook declared that they were going to stay with their jack-assed assumptions that people must use their legal name on their profile.

Why is that such a big deal?

There is quite a bit of prejudice inherent in demanding that drag performers or transgender individuals use their legal birth name. Refusing to acknowledge someone’s preferred name, like choosing to ignore their preferred pronouns, is a form of transphobia that attempts to steal identity away from the person. It’s an ironic move on Facebook’s part since they recently introduced more gender options for a person’s profile. It’s even more ironic since I haven’t heard of a single celebrity being locked out of their account for using a stage name rather than a birth name. So much for consistency.

But the transphobia and double standard isn’t all that’s at play here. This name policy holds huge repercussions for other groups as well, particularly survivors of abuse.

I found out the hard way that using my name on the Internet wasn’t a good idea. I was stalked both by former cult members and a random stranger who just decided I was a convenient target. I always thought that just keeping my information private would be enough, but when one of the stalkers (hint: it was the stranger) managed to find out where I lived and worked by using a combination of Facebook and the white pages, I decided that was the end of my “real name” days.

Many others hold similar reasons for using different names, whether it’s someone trying to get away from a toxic relationship, questioning cult members seeking answers, LGBT who aren’t out of the closet yet, political refugees who want to maintain contact with family and friends without putting those people in danger, or a blogger who doesn’t want to risk being threatened and driven out of her home by angry jerks like Anita Sarkeesian experienced.

According to Facebook, their name policy stems from their desire for others to know who they are connecting with, but I think they reveal their hand a little too well in the face of their opposition. Their interests do not lie with the LGBT community or with domestic violence survivors or with rape survivors or with anyone whose identity puts them at risk of harm if revealed. Their interests lie with the abusers, the haters, the stalkers, and the violators. Their interests lie with those who don’t give a flying fuck about other people’s privacy or autonomy.

Which makes Facebook an abuser in its own right, using the threat of isolation and the loss of access to personal information to coerce people and putting individuals in the line of violence with cold disregard, declaring that those who don’t like it must be the ones in the wrong.

 

In Defense of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

“New Girl” just released its third season on Netflix, and in between burying myself amidst my textbooks, I’ve been binging on the wonderfulness that is Zooey Deschanel…which has unfortunately also reminded me of a recently developed pet peeve.

Manic pixie dream girls.

Criticism of MPDG has been growing since the term’s birth in an article by Nathan Rabin. But it’s not the trope that bothers me. It’s the criticism. Every time a female character barely steps into the territory of being quirky or vivacious I feel like the critics come swarming like piranhas to a wounded cow in the Amazon. From Barbara Streisand in “What’s Up, Doc?” to Zooey Deschanel in…well everything she’s in, people hate the manic pixie dream girl, complaining that she doesn’t exist and that she’s a shallow character.

The criticism of MPDG has progressed from complaining about an under-developed character to hating the entirety of the character…something which I would blame on the term itself. Rather than highlighting the tendency for female characters to be written solely for the support or fulfillment of the male protagonist (dream girl), it highlights the personality (manic pixie).

But people really do have those personalities! I have one of those personalities. I am unabashedly quirky, bordering on downright weird. My love of life leans very much on the side of childlike wonder, particularly in the fall and winter. You don’t have to spend much time around me at all to figure out that I live in a magical little world of my own.

Although I admire what Rabin was trying to do when he invented the term, I find that those who use it most often are participating not in a feminist critique of lazy character-building but in a veiled form of misogyny. Like the “body-positive” movement that has a tendency to demean and ridicule thin women, criticism of MPDG has become an excuse to rag on any characteristic that someone finds annoying.

I want to see more female characters who have lives of their own that don’t revolve around a man. I would love to see an independent woman with her own desires and dreams in a movie, one who doesn’t need to fall in love in order to be fulfilled in the story line.

But I also love seeing manic pixie dream girls on television and in movies. It’s a nice validation of who I am. As much as I love my unique experience of life (and try to share it with anyone who doesn’t run away screaming), it gets lonely trying to live a magical life in a non-magical world. When I see a manic pixie dream girl, she restores my love of life!

I don’t think the two desires are mutually exclusive because the point of the MPDG trope was never to criticize a person, it was to criticize the way a person was used. As a feminist manic pixie, I demand my right to be represented in the stories of my culture in a way that recognizes my personality as a whole person who is real and complex in addition to being quirky and lively.

As Rabin says in his article in which he apologizes for creating MPDG, “Let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters: women with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy, who might strum ukuleles or dance in the rain even when there are no men around to marvel at their free-spiritedness.”

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl "I'm not gonna change who I am"

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl “I’m not gonna change who I am. So you’re just gonna have to deal with it and respect it.”

Mental Road Maps and the Art of Reasoning

“You’re not wrong, but you are incorrect.”

This phrase, cheekily spoken by my friend, sums up about how I’ve been feeling the last few weeks as I’ve encountered a surprising number of logical fallacies in one of my textbooks.

Logic is important to me. I spent too much time learning to recognize illogic in my former beliefs and struggling to reconcile the cognitive dissonance of being told to believe two contradictory ideas to merely shrug my shoulders when I encounter it elsewhere.

I try not to harass people too much if their personal beliefs and conversations fail to match up logically…usually; however, I expect more from a textbook that is supposed to be teaching me the art of making ethical decisions.

Ultimately, it probably won’t make a big difference in the grand scheme of the universe for me to write this post. It’s not like my textbook authors will read my blog and think, “Oh, shit, she’s right! Logic is super important. Let’s recall all the books and rewrite them.”

However, there’s value in catharsis (which I didn’t need a textbook to tell me), and there’s also the chance that maybe someone will read this and take it to heart. Butterfly wings and hurricanes and all that, right?

So, what is logic? Why is it important?

Logic is the road that connects ideas together. It’s not so much a philosophy on its own (although there is a philosophical study on logic) as it is the glue that binds any type of reasoning together.

We all use it on a pretty daily basis without thinking about it. Every time you choose not to step in front of a car because you realize that it will likely hit you and injure you, you’re using logic.

Some logical lines of reasoning are so easy that you don’t really need to think them through because you’ve done so many times before. Metaphorically speaking, you don’t pull your GPS out every time you have to run to the grocery store because you already know the route.

However, what if you want to go on a longer mental road trip, so to speak? That’s where logical reasoning is very important. You could, for instance, drive from New York to Virginia on I-95. You will need to have a map, know where you’re trying to go, and pay attention to the route and signs along the way so that you don’t get lost, but you can get there because I-95 connects both states.

You could not, however, get to San Diego on I-95 because I-95 doesn’t go there.

Logic is the road you travel on.

It doesn’t tell you where you should go. It has absolutely no value judgment on your starting place or ending place. It merely tells you whether you can get from point A to point B.

Of course, this is a very simplistic illustration, but I hope you get the idea.

Logic is necessary for everything from building a hypothesis to designing a car to solving crimes. Being illogical doesn’t necessarily mean that the conclusion is wrong, but it does mean that the process is incorrect and that any conclusions drawn from that process are suspect. A doctor could, for instance, accidentally stumble upon the cure for a disease by making a couple of errors in the treatment, but that doesn’t mean he developed the cure any more than a child who guesses correctly on a math test has “solved” a problem.

And I hope we would all cringe to think of that doctor proceeding to teach his “cure” to students without actually figuring out or understanding what it was that worked so well.

So you see, logic is imperative, not only on an individual level to know that something makes sense, but also on a societal or educational level to ensure that valid principles are being passed on. Logic is the first reality check: “Is this possible?” “Does this make sense?” It has to pass before “Is this true?” or “Is this good?” can be answered.

 

 

Selfishness: The Character Flaw That is Also a Virtue

We live in a society that views selfishness as the ultimate character flaw. Labeling something as “selfish” doesn’t even need an explanation; we just know that it’s horrendous.

We also live in a society that has had to resort to encouraging self-care as a prescriptive thing, ordered by others before being sought out by ourselves, rather than an automatic one.

When I interviewed for grad school, I was asked about my self-care techniques. I’ve since found out that the school’s concern for student well-being wasn’t a formality. Almost every time I’m on the campus, I’m hearing or reading something about the importance of taking care of myself.

I’ve also noticed that even though I want everyone else to take care of themselves (and routinely scold my friends if I think they’re not), I have a backlash of shame at the idea of carving time out for myself. There are a million other things I should or could be doing, and taking even half an hour to do something fun or nurturing feels like a sin…and I’m not even really that busy right now!

Although selfishness isn’t an emotion, per se; I’ve determined that it needs to be the next step on my “negative emotions reclamation” journey. My ability to pay attention to myself and give my body, mind and spirit what they need in the coming years will depend on my ability to be comfortable with seeming selfish from time to time.

And really, if you think about it, why is being selfish such a horrible thing?

That question first crossed my mind a year ago when a friend of mine was called ‘selfish’ for choosing to be child-free. Of course, my initial reaction was to fire back that it was far more selfish to have children for the wrong reasons than to choose to not have children…but then, so what if the decision to be child-free was selfish? What harm did it cause?

I think when we think of selfishness within our society, we automatically get a picture of someone doing something for their own benefit to the detriment of others. Obviously, self-focus that does not care or bother to understand the effect on others is a problem. Too much selfishness, and you have the infamous narcissist, obsessively staring at his/her metaphoric reflection.

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Narcissus by Caravaggio public domain

But should it automatically follow that any amount of self-focus is negative?

In the case of choosing to be child-free, I’d say it’s the best “selfish decision” a person could make. There is no child who will suffer as a result of that choice. No one gets hurt.

And with regard to self-care, I don’t think it’s possible to care for the self without at least a little bit of self-focus and self-concern.

I took a moment to look up “selfish” in the dictionary. Unlike most of my reclaimed emotions, I was surprised to find that there didn’t seem to be a positive or neutral definition that was forgotten at the end of a list. I can’t think of an alternative word that implied a healthy amount of self-focus.

So I’m left with reclaiming selfishness.

I want to learn how to be selfish—meaning, I want to learn how to practice self-care without feeling like I’m doing something wrong, I want to be able to say “no, that doesn’t work for me” without having to provide a convincing altruistic or globally beneficial reason to make my choice seem more palatable, and I want to have the right to love myself as much as I feel I should love others.

 

New Adventures in Grad School

I’ve begun a new adventure and stage of my journey this week with my first grad school classes. I didn’t realize just how much I’ve missed the academic atmosphere of class discussions and intense readings. I know I’m going to be busy out of my mind over the next few years, but the exhilaration of getting to play with ideas again is worth the extra stress.

I don’t regret taking a break from school after I initially graduated. It was the best decision I could have made at the time, allowing me to get some real-life experience, figure out what I really wanted to be “when I grew up,” and break away from the high-pressure of performance.

I’d recommend it to any student fresh out of college: unless you have a boundless supply of energy and know exactly where you want to go in life, take some time to celebrate your accomplishments and rest. Consider your options over the course of a year or two. Get some experience in the field of your interest, or try out lots of different fields! School will still be there when you’re ready.

I was slightly afraid at first that I’d forgotten how to be a student after several years of being out, but I think the break may have made me a better student. I’ve gotten enough perspective to realize that grades aren’t really the most important part of education, something I struggled with a lot in undergrad. It probably helps that I’m going to a school that doesn’t use traditional grading, but I feel that I would be less concerned about perfect 100’s even if I were going to a traditional educational institution.

I also feel like I’ve had the opportunity to really get to know who I am and what I believe. Everyone talks about school being the place where you find yourself.  It is a great place to get ideas and try out new ways of being, but I feel that it was the space in between undergrad and grad school that really allowed me to find myself. It was then that I was able to digest the information and find out how what I had learned previously applied to my life…and where I still needed to learn and grow.

I feel as though I’ve been glowing this whole week. I’m ready for the challenge of stretching my thinking and worldview. I’m ready for the transformation that will inevitably follow.

For the time being, I’m planning on keeping up with posting something new on the weekends, as usual. In this moment, at least, I feel that my sense of balance and the value of the different parts of my life will prevent school from becoming all-consuming. I even have hopes that grad school will be a kick-start to my blog as well as my life. Get ready for some out-loud musings and some light-hearted frustrations. I encourage my readers to enjoy my journey with me and welcome questions, ideas, and discussion on the various topics that I will metaphorically chewing on in the coming months.

Why I Hate The Mental Illness Rhetoric about Depression

Following the death of Robin Williams, I watched Facebook flood with articles and discussions of depression. It’s a tough subject at the best of times, even harder following the fresh sting of loss.

Emotions were high, so I prepared myself for an onslaught of insensitive posts about suicide being selfish, cowardly, etc. I was dismayed, though, to see phrases like “depression is a life-threatening illness” and “depression is out to kill you” dancing alongside the other comments.

I’ve watched the fight to raise awareness about depression for quite some time, and it seems that we’re finally reaching a place where people sort of understand that depression isn’t a character flaw…but I’m not sure that where we’re headed is any better.

Although it’s important to recognize that depression can be rooted in physical causes, vitamin deficiencies or hormonal imbalances, it’s equally important to recognize that it isn’t always rooted in physical causes. Sometimes it is entirely emotional or situational.

AND THAT’S OKAY.

What’s not okay is to diminish the impact of a person’s emotional process or environment, which is exactly what this “life-threatening disease” model does.

A while back, I talked about reaching the point of no return when I was in the cult. It was the moment that I realized that I would rather die than continue to live the life I was in—that wasn’t an overstatement. I was suicidal for almost two years before I finally left, and one of the things that gave me the courage to break away from the toxicity of the IFB was my suicidality. When I look back on my life, I don’t see that struggle as “dangerous” or as part of a “disease.”

It was a crisis, to be sure—but it was a good crisis. When death was more appealing than my life, I had nothing to lose in trying to make my life worth living. My depression was the signal to me that things couldn’t just go on the way they were. Something had to change.

Had I been taken to a doctor during that time, I could have easily been dismissed as “mentally ill,” given some pills, and sent back into abuse. I might have spent years more, maybe even the rest of my lifetime, trying to battle “depression” (the symptom) rather than the true “disease” (abuse).

I get that the “illness” proponents are trying desperately to end the stigma around depression, but as someone who was depressed for non-medical reasons (still good reasons), I don’t see a true end to stigma.

We might have shifted slightly in our opinion of depressed people, but only because we’ve shifted from thinking of them as emotionally unstable to medically unable to be happy…so technically, the stigma is still there. Sadness, hopelessness, loneliness, desperation—they’re all still “bad.” We’re just more willing to say, “It’s not your fault.”

But I don’t want my emotional state to be acceptable only if it’s caused by an imbalance somewhere. I don’t want to live in a society where being sad is demonized to the point that I either keep it hidden or I go get a pill to make it go away.

I want my emotions to be okay, no matter what. I want to live in a society where having an emotional struggle is as acceptable as having a medical problem. I want to live in a society where depression can be a valid indication that something is off in my environment rather than just an indication of something being off in my body.

The disease model is convenient in a society where minorities and oppressed groups are far more likely to experience depression. It allows us to shake our heads over a “diseased brain” rather than considering what societal factors may be creating an environment in which depression can thrive. It allows us to ignore problems like abuse, discrimination, bullying, economic distress, and prejudice as we scurry around trying to find the magic bullet that will force everyone to be happy with the way things are.

Yes, I struggle with depression. I struggled a lot in high school and college. I struggle less now, but I still struggle (usually when I’m not embracing my emotional work and end up stagnating in the emotion I don’t want to work through).

But NO, I do not have a mental illness or a disease. I don’t have a chemical imbalance. I’m not helpless or in danger because of it. I’ve learned to embrace my downward cycles as an indication that it’s time to make changes in my life or focus on healing old wounds that have been ignored. I’ve found hope. I found my own way of working through it, with the assistance of some amazing people who had the guts to tell me that my emotions weren’t bad or dangerous on their own. It was fucking hard, but it was worth it in the end because I understand my moods better than anyone now, and I know I can sit through the dark times…and grow through them too.

I’m not saying there is never a medical reason for depression. I’m not saying that medication can’t be helpful. I’m not saying that offering assistance isn’t necessary.

But I am saying that the rhetoric that paints depression as nothing more than a physical illness is as damaging, in my opinion, as the rhetoric that paints depression as a character flaw.

What would happen if we stopped talking about depression as if it were the boogyman hiding in the corners of our minds? What would happen if we didn’t assume that emotions were an illness or teach people to be afraid or ashamed of what they are going through?

Maybe, just maybe, we could actually begin to address depression intelligently, allowing each person to figure out what physical, social, and mental components are at play for them. Maybe we’d actually see people capable of working through their depression rather than succumbing to it.

 

Guest Post: Don’t Forget Ferguson

This weekend’s post was written by my partner, outlining some of the things he thinks we can learn from the situation in Ferguson. 

The world’s eye is on Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting of an unarmed black teen. Questions of racism, mass civilian protests, and para-military reactionary violence hold the nation’s social media spotlight, in spite of reluctant media coverage.

The news has made a point of selectively reporting on the rioters who loot and destroy property, as if that justified the presence of snipers aiming their guns at civilians. Never mind that people go on crimes sprees all the time without prompting law enforcement to resort to armored tanks and riot gear. They ask us to believe that it’s necessary to shut down schools, enact a curfew, and bring out the arsenals over a few Molotov cocktails and broken storefronts.

But when the police are taking cameras away from reporters and citizens and arresting individuals just for protesting, the claim that police response is focused on rioters and looters rings hollow. There is a fundamental difference.

Protesters raise their hands in front of police atop an armored vehicle on Wednesday in Ferguson. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes/AP

The scene in Ferguson is not just some small number of criminals who hate and oppose police. Thousands of ordinary citizens congregated to employ one of the dearest human rights in the history of humanity: the right to protest and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

And the police retaliated with teargas, smoke bombs, and rubber bullets. Ferguson PD came out with helicopters, armored vehicles, and military-grade assault weapons, essentially enacting martial law.

And we rightly recognize that this is unacceptable.

The nation responded with a wave of outrage, and following public demonstrations all across the U.S. in solidarity with Ferguson, things seem to be settling down. Yet this shouldn’t be the end of our action.

We must ask difficult questions. Why did these abuses occur? How did the country arrive at a place where it was possible? Who is responsible?

For when police fail to limit their response to the actual criminals and criminal actions, instead removing all constitutionally guaranteed freedoms from every single citizen in an entire city, they have not simply failed as a police organization. They have sunk to the level of the criminals they supposedly despise and fight. And this is more than disturbing.

Yet the near-unanimous social opposition to the police’s actions is slightly surprising. An even more stringent martial law was enacted in the Boston manhunt for the bombers, and the nation’s response this time is fundamentally different. Instead of largely supporting the removal of every citizen’s rights, an entire city (and the nation with them) is protesting the injustices.

This objective contradiction leaves us to wonder what impetus and justification caused these police-state actions. The police do not wake up one day and shoot an unarmed black teenager. A government cannot suddenly seize the power to attack its own citizens, punish them for exercising 1stAmendment rights, indefinitely detain them without probable cause, or suppress them.

Everyone wants to identify different culprits. The nation points at the Ferguson Police department. Some point at Presidents they didn’t/don’t like. Others raise their voices against an oligarchy run by corporations. Still others blame Congresses for passing bad bills or being generally inept.

We decry racism where we find it. We can castigate a media that kowtows to their owners. We throw our hands up in despair.

But to find the nearest complicity, we need look no further than the mirror.

You. Me.

We have turned blind eyes to comparatively minor violations of freedom that paved the way for incrementally larger ones. These have occurred piecemeal over decades, sometimes in secret, but usually, largely with America’s approval as citizens exchanged freedom for a sense of safety.

We trusted President Obama not to use his new power – to execute or detain US citizens without probable cause – against us. We believed the TSA’s promises that their disregard for due process is necessary for our protection.

We allowed the NSA to surveil and record innocent US citizens as long as they kept the terrorists at bay. We turn blind eyes to the FCC as they censor public speech. We were convinced by our leaders that curfews and martial law were the only way to catch the Boston Marathon bomber.

We’ve been lulled into complacency over the violations of our rights and privacy for years…until we get a glimpse of the repercussions of letting go of the Bill of Rights. We watch in horror as a fundamental shift occurs, from our government and its citizens together facing an outside enemy—to our government facing its citizens, who have become its enemy.

And it was inevitable. For when people voluntarily relinquish their human rights, abuses naturally follow.

Let Fergusun be a lesson. We must be vigilant. We must be active. Freedom is not something to take for granted. Let this tragedy be the wakeup call for us to protect each other’s rights from the ever-reaching arm of power. The government can only be of the people, by the people, and for the people if the people maintain that balance.