Tag Archives: holidays

Spirit of the Season

Thanksgiving week is a week of mixed emotions for me.  On one hand, I love it because I get to spend some extra time with my family, eat some really great food, watch football (lifelong Cowboys fan…I can’t help it) and spend some extra time focusing on all the things in my life for which I am thankful.  On the other hand I loathe it because this is the time of year that consumerism is running on all eight cylinders with a nitrous boost.  Everybody is spending money we don’t have on things they don’t need (or sometimes want) so that we can show someone just how much we love them.  Our television screens, magazines, newspapers, radio stations and websites are jam-packed with ads for the latest, hottest, fanciest and best products that money can buy.  And don’t forget the stores.  The stores make it so easy for us, don’t they?  Mega deals, door busters, all-nighters, early birds, free shipping and prices so low you have to see them to believe them.  Black freakin’ Friday.

Somehow, we lose sight of what the holiday season is all about (and I don’t mean in the religious sense).  Regardless of what you celebrate this time of year, we are all blinded by the blizzard and we forget that the season is supposed to be about family, about selflessness, about caring and about appreciation.  Instead, many of us focus on what we are going to get rather than what we already have or what we can give to those that are without.

Last year, after Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death in a Long Island Wal-Mart on Black Friday, I woke up.  I realized that even though I was not at that Wal-Mart nor do I ever even shop on Black Friday, I was partly responsible for Damour’s death.  I was a cog in the retail machine that was powering that greedy mob that took his life so they could get a bargain on a waffle maker or a LCD television.  As consumers, we all have tiny specks of his blood on our hands because we continue to measure our self-worth by what we own rather than by what kind of person we are and we continue to buy without giving much consideration of the actual “cost” of our appetite for stuff.  We all, like it or not, bear some responsibility.

So last December, in a moment of clarity, I decided that I no longer would ask for or expect gifts for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries or anything else.  I decided to let my loved ones know that I do not want anything anymore.  What I quickly realized was that while I was trying to do the “right thing” I was depriving people of doing something that made them feel good.  I never looked at it that way before.  I quickly modified my stance on giving me gifts to the following:

“I do not wish to receive any gifts for __________.  If you feel strongly about giving me something please consider making a donation to Responsible Men or choose a charity that is meaningful to you and make a donation in my name.”

I have to admit most of my family did not know how to respond.  I think most didn’t believe me and many decided to buy me things anyway.  I heard things like “yeah…but what to you REALLY want?”   However, some of them did simply make a meaningful (and greatly appreciated) donation.  That was the best feeling in the world knowing that I was able to make a difference (even if it was a small one) in someone’s life by giving up something I never had in the first place.  It was a feeling that I had not had since I was a little boy opening all those gifts that, at the time, meant so much to me.  Ironic, eh?

So, once again I am here to state that in the spirit of the season I do not wish to receive any gifts for the holidays.  However if you feel strongly about giving me something, please consider donating to Responsible Men or choose a charity that is meaningful to you and make a donation in my name.

I would also like to challenge you to join me this year.  Put your own wants aside and see how it feels to help someone else this year.  It may feel like you are making some sort of personal sacrifice, but in the end you will be getting something much more valuable than anything on your wish list.

If you plan to participate in “Spirit of the Season” leave a comment to let me know.  Also, please post a link to this on your Facebook and Twitter pages and encourage your friends and family to participate.  I would love to see this catch fire and spread across the country.  Let’s see how big of an impact we can make this year!

Happy Holidays!

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pay attention to the man behind the curtain…

In light of the fantastic response to my last article “I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” I decided to write a follow up piece.  My colleague, Pat McGann from Men Can Stop Rape, commented that he had written a piece about how the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are actually counter stories to societies definition of masculinity (no brain, no heart, no courage).  I started thinking more about the characters in the Wizard of Oz as metaphors for issues like gender, power and oppression.

Throughout the movie, we are told that in order to get what we want, we must go see the “great and powerful Oz”.  It is the Wizard that has all of the power.  He is the gatekeeper.  He can provide the Scarecrow with a brain, the Tin Man with a heart, the Lion with courage, and above all else he can get Dorothy back to Kansas if he feels like it.   Once they reach Oz, he quickly demonstrates his power by refusing to see them and then by declining to help them unless they bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West (a daunting and seemingly impossible task).

Overcoming great odds, and a gaggle of flying monkeys, the 4 travelers return to the Emerald City with the broomstick.  This time around, Oz tries to turn them away by using  intimidation and fear.  Take a look:

The Wizard represents power.  In our culture that translates to wealthy, white, straight, Christian men (the power elite) since it is generally wealthy, white, straight, Christian men who are the “decision makers” in America.  That has not changed much since our country was formed.  The Wizard wields his power in order to maintain control over others (refusing to see the travelers) or to gain more power (obtaining the broomstick) in the same way that the power elite have done for decades.  If you need examples, how about slavery, denying women the right to vote, the ban on gay marriage, “golden parachutes” for corrupt CEOs, and even the whole concept of being “one nation, under God”.  Of course these are the ones you can’t miss, but isn’t it reasonable to think that there are smaller, less noticeable things that also serve the power elite at the expense of the “have nots”?  How about Capitalism?  On paper it seems like a good idea, but in practice it’s a system that makes the rich get richer often at the expense of everyone else.

This is what brings me back to the sexy Halloween costumes.  Not only do these costumes sexualize and objectify women for the pleasure of straight men, they also put more money in the pockets of the CEOs of the companies that make them.  Each time we purchase on of these costumes, we support the current social power structure because the power elite are making money at the expense of women.  To back this claim up, I did my homework.  Let me lay it out for you as best I can.  Spirit Halloween is owned by Spencer Gifts (another company known for selling products that sexualize and objectify women). Spencer Gifts is owned by ACON Investments which was co-founded by Bernard Aronson (ACON also owns Mariner Energy, which was purchased in the aftermath of Enron and since it’s inception in 1995 has managed over $1.5 billion in investments).  In addition to his work with ACON, Aronson currently serves on the Board of Directors for Liz Claiborne, Royal Caribbean, and the Global Hyatt Corporation and has strong ties in the political world.  In fact, he once served on the White House Staff as Deputy Assistant to the Vice President (1977-1981) and as the Director of Policy for the Democratic National Committee (1981-1983).  He also serves on the board forth Democratic National Institute.  Make no mistake, this guy is a heavy hitter and has a tremendous amount of power and influence.  We must pay attention to the man behind the curtain for it is he that is shaping the world we live in.  He only has power if we continue to grant it to him.  Like the wizard, power is often an illusion that we help create and proliferate.

Of course it is not only his fault.  After all, this is a Capitalist society.  People will only sell what others will buy.  Some will say that if women don’t want to be objectified or sexualized, then they shouldn’t buy or wear the costumes.  I agree with that to a certain (small) extent.  However it becomes problematic when you realize how very few options there are for women.  Nearly everything is intended to be sexy.  Also I’d like to point out, as I did in the last article, that  you have to look at what would motivate women to buy and wear these costumes.  For many I have to think that being sexy is one of the few ways women are granted any power by men.  So should women give up the small amount of power they have?  Or is the better solution for men (particularly those that are white, straight and Christian) to be more willing to share the tremendous amount of power we have by building equality for everyone.

It seems obvious that the latter is the only viable option if our goal is to create equality.  If we can agree on that, then why can’t men agree to do it?  Why is it so hard for men to share the power that we have?  Is it that we don’t know how or don’t feel safe doing it?  If you think about it, the power we have is not something we earned.  It was granted to us at birth.  It has been passed down through history from father to son.  To break the cycle, all it would take is a generation or two of men who believe in equality for all to teach their sons differently.  All it would take is to tell our sons things like “pink is just a color”, “it’s OK to cry when you are upset”, “solve problems with your brain, not your fist” and “regardless of our differences, we are all just people.” Small changes bring about big changes.

I wanted to leave you with something a little different this time.  I came across two great videos on Facebook the other day.  I did not intend to make them a part of this blog, but when I blog, I let the article write itself.  Sometimes, I end up in unintended places.  I hope you can appreciate that.  Anyhow, the first video was created by a teenager from a teenager’s perspective.  While it isn’t about preventing violence or building equality, I think it captures what is at the core of my message – doing something to make change happen.  Here it is:

The second speaks to the things that we, as adults, pass along to our children.  This one is about the things we pass on to children.  It is from Child Friendly Australia and it is a little hard to watch, but very powerful.  Take a look:

Thanks for reading.  Please feel free to share your thoughts.

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I’ve a Feeling We’re Not In Kansas Anymore…

Finally it’s Autumn.  I love this time of year.  In Austin, the weather cools down to a balmy 92° and thoughts turn to things like turning leaves, football, chili, and Halloween.  Ah, Halloween – the one day out of the year where us grown kids can act like our children and nobody will give it a second thought.

Now if you’ve known me for a long time, you know that I have not always been a fan of Halloween.  In fact, I can remember several times in college when I, along with my roommates Pat and Springer, would sit and drink beer with all the lights off in the house so the trick-or-treaters would think we weren’t home.  I hated Halloween.  For me, that tradition more or less carried on until I had a child of my own.  Once my son was born, something changed.  The more he understood Halloween, the more he got into it and the more I got into it.

My son is 5 now.  Last year was the first time he actually cared about his costume.  We shopped at places like Spirit Halloween and Party City to find a Wall-E costume because, in his mind, nothing else would do.  Sadly, none of the costumes we found met his exacting standards.  So, being that I have a degree in art, I decided to make a costume for him.  Check it out…

DSC03299

Pretty cool, huh?  At first I was sad that I wasn’t able to find a costume all ready to go, but it was fun making this with him.  I was also saddened by what I did find in those stores.  So this year I decided to write about it.  In order to research this article, I visited www.spirithalloween.com to see if anything had changed.  They have costumes for babies all the way to adults.  They are also separated by gender and style for convenience.  I started by looking at costumes for men and then for women.  Quickly I was overwhelmed by the stark differences between the male and female costumes.  In fact, it was so bad that I had to find a way to simplify it so that I could even put it into words.

For this article, I wanted to be able to compare apples to apples.  I wanted you to see just how entrenched male and female gender roles really are in our society.  I decided to focus on a set of costumes to which most, if not all of us can relate…the characters from Wizard of Oz.

First, here are the “standard” costumes for Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Dorothy:

all_four

I’d say this pretty much what I expected to find.  They seem true to the original movie wardrobes.  HOWEVER…I also found a series of costumes called the “Wicked of Oz”.  Here are the same 4 characters from that line:

all_fourWhat I noticed right off that bat is that the male characters, in this version, appear more powerful because they are more menacing.  Meanwhile, the female character (Dorothy) became more powerful by seeming sexually dominant – down to the black latex corset and knee boots.  She looks like a dominatrix.

These gendered expressions of power are found throughout pop culture.  Nowhere is it more evident than in the world of superheroes.  Male superheros are powerful because they are physically dominant machines that leave collapsed heaps of criminals in their wake.  The lines between hero and villain are often blurred because of the violent nature of many heroes today.  For female superheroes, their power is expressed in their sexuality.  Take a look at these examples of  Batman in the film The Dark Knight and Silk Spectre from the film The Watchmen and you will see what  I mean:

Batman-Dark-Knight-Solo-FP2062SilkSpectre

Batman is the embodiment of raw power and anger who is always teetering on the brink between good and evil.  Silk Spectre, on the other hand, radiates sexuality.  In fact, her story line in the movie is that she is involved in 2 sexual relationships with 2 other superheroes (Night Owl and Dr. Manhattan).  Oh, and she is the daughter of a superhero who was beaten and raped by another superhero (The Comedian).  Both characters are powerful, but they arrive at their power by very different means.

But I digress.  Where was I??? Ah, yes…KANSAS.  I was stunned (but not surprised) at the divergence of the character paths in the “wicked” costumes.  So, I decided to see if there were any other interpretations of these characters costumes.  I did a search on the site by each of the character names (Scarecrow, etc.).  What I found was nearly unbelievable.  Check it out:

SexyOz

This is wrong on so many levels I will have to focus on just one in this particular post.  These outfits scream SEX regardless of the character contexts.  These costumes make the models look like a strange amalgamation of naughty school girl meets farmer’s daughter meets St. Paulie’s Girl meets “Diamond” from the local strip club.  All of them play on male (generally speaking) sexual fantasies.  They also reinforce the cultural belief that women’s bodies are the most valuable currency women have in order to “purchase” power from men.  In a patriarchal society, men are the keepers of power and women are forced to use their sexuality in order to share in that power – even if temporarily.

I think these costumes send the message to girls and women that females should always exude sexuality or should always give off a sexual vibe.  For boys and men, the message is that females are always looking for sex or to be sexy.  If you combine that with other messages that tell males that “real men” are tough, strong, in control, devoid of emotion (other than anger) and hypersexual, then it is easy to see why some men don’t take “no” for an answer when it comes to sex and/or why some men don’t accept responsibility for getting consent (they put the onus on women to say no rather than actively seeking an enthusiastic “yes”).  It is also easy to see why some women give in when being pressured to have sex even if they don’t really want to and why some women don’t classify or report an unwanted sexual encounter as a sexual assault.  The lines around intent, sexuality, consent, appropriate vs. inappropriate, wanted vs. unwanted are blurred.  Everyone is confused and some men (and women) are taking advantage of that confusion.

Thankfully, most men treat women with dignity and respect (I really don’t like the word respect, but I don’t have a better one in this case).  Most men do not abuse, assault or rape women.  However, I think on some level we all have a hand in paving the way for the men who do.  We are all part of a culture that accepts the sexualization and exploitation of women.  By accepting those parts of our culture, we are creating space and therefore opportunity for the small number of men who see women as sex objects and pressure, coerce and force women into having sex.  When we say things like “I don’t abuse or rape women, so it’s not my problem” we are actually saying that we have no influence on the world around us.  If that were true, then boys who grow up in abusive households wouldn’t frequently grow up to be abusive themselves (for example).

The reality is that men must challenge our own socialization.  We must think critically about the world around us and how we are influenced by it.  If we are ever going to live in a world that values men and women equally, men must join women in challenging anything to the contrary.  We must also be willing to pass on to the next generation a set of attitudes and beliefs that reflect and promote gender equality.  We can do this through schools, community centers, churches, sports leagues, etc. but for these values to really take root and flourish, THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MY FOLLOW UP POST CALLED “PAY ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN”

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The Story of Stuff

Have you seen the video entitled “The Story of Stuff”? I have. If you haven’t, watch it now and then come back to this blog entry and finish reading it. I’ll wait.

Great! Now you will have a better idea where I am coming from. So…stuff…I have too much of it. I bet you have too much of it. AND we are approaching the time of year where we accumulate even more of it. Often times it it stuff we never even wanted in the first place – like the gifts you were stuck with from the the 7 White Elephant (aka Dirty Santa or my least favorite Chinese Christmas) gift exchanges in which you were forced to participate last holiday season. That is just one example. There are plenty more I can assure you.

So…this year I am going to do my part to put an end to it. I am asking everyone in my life that is planning to get me a gift this year to resist the temptation to buy me more stuff. Seriously. I don’t want any more stuff this holiday season or any other for that matter.

I also understand that it feels good to give and we call this the season of giving. I don’t want to be a Scrooge McGrinch…I love this time of year. I just feel like we have lost sight of what it is all about. So, here are a couple of options that I believe are much more in line with what the season is all about:

1. Make a donation to Responsible Men at http://www.responsiblemen.net. I am trying to raise money to attend the Men Can Stop Rape training this July in Washington DC. The total cost will be about $2,000 including the travel, room and board, and the cost of the workshop. I want to go so that I can make Responsible Men a better organization.

2. Make a donation in my name to their favorite charity or cause. Chances are, I like that charity as well. That makes both of us feel good.

The beauty of this is there is no stuff. There is also no plastic packaging, gift box, wrapping paper, plastic bows, tape, ribbon, cards, or any other stuff that just gets trashed anyway.

Imagine if everyone in your family decided to do this. Then imagine if everyone in your family got all of their friends to do the same with their families and so on. Imagine the tremendous amount of good that would come of that. Imagine the power in a movement like that. Imagine what could be accomplished because of that.

Now stop imagining that and start doing it. Make a commitment this holiday season to ask your loved ones to make a donation to something you care about in your name. Offer to do the same for them. Make it a tradition. You never know…you just might change the world in ways you can’t imagine.

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