Music I Like Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Gender in bands

It doesn’t really surprise me when I see this in Christian churches, but the phenomenon also spills out into secular society as well, and that does surprise me. I’ve seen a lot of bands with a woman lead singer who sings and plays no instrument (except maybe a tamborine) supported by men playing bass, guitar, and drums. This gender dynamic is odd.

Of course, there’s nothing terrible about being the lead singer. I don’t want to make it sound as if that’s an example of gender oppression, to be in the spotlight, but why aren’t there more women guitarists, bassists, and drummers? I know they exist. I’ve seen them before—just not in great numbers.

When my wife and I saw Sara Bareilles in concert, the opening act was a band called Raining Jane. They weren’t bad. They weren’t amazing. But she and I both agreed that it was pretty cool to see an all-female band—vocals, sitar, guitars, drums, bass. I also saw only once an all-female worship team at a church in Cambridge, Massachusetts (don’t know if they’re still there). Doubt I’ll ever see that again.

I wonder what the sociological factors are that go into band gender dynamics. If women do play instruments, they’re far more likely, it seems, to play piano and rhythm guitar than solo guitar, bass, or drums. Is there something deemed by the women themselves (or by society discouraging women) supposedly unfeminine about these instruments?

A while ago, I went with two women to see the documentary Girls Rock, about a one-week rock camp for girls. The girls didn’t have to have any previous musical experience, but within the course of one week, they all formed bands, wrote songs, practiced, learned instruments, and gave final performances. Even though there is some musicianship involved in the camp, a one-week camp can’t really train you that much on playing instruments well. A lot of the camp has to do with self-confidence and self-expression. Both women I saw it with loved the film and found it empowering. Neither particularly wanted to follow up by forming a band or learning guitar (or bass or drums) themselves, though.

I’m curious as to what other people’s experiences have been around bands and gender. If you’re a man, do you feel any particular affinity toward guitars, drums, or basses? If you’re a woman, do you feel any particular affinity toward singing, piano, and guitar? What messages of encouragement or discouragement in the realm of instrument-learning and musicality have you experienced?

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality Writing

Owning Subjectivity

Through various times in my education, I was taught to not use the first person and to use an “objective” voice in my writing. When I became an English teacher, I taught my students a similar principle, except I called it “the illusion of objectivity.”

Objectivity is an interesting concept, but I do believe it is usually an illusion. There is an approach popular in the social sciences (particularly with regard to discussions of gender, sexuality, race, and class) in which the writer or researcher owns up to subjectivity and doesn’t pretend to be objective. The writer recognizes that her or his own upbringing colors the research, both in the questions that are asked and in how the answers and findings are interpreted or made meaningful.

How do I see this played out? Well, I’ve seen it in several scenarios. One was a faculty meeting once, when I was still teaching, in which a rather heated debate about homework loads ensued with various teachers believing hefty amounts of homework were necessary to moving along the curriculum and preparing students for the rigors of college and other various teachers believing that hefty amounts of homework left students too stressed out and unable to balance their lives properly. At one point, a teacher noted that most teachers who belonged to the former group were non-parents and most belonging to the latter group were parents. I believe his observation was intended to defuse the tension in the room, but it served only to make things tenser by making the conversation personal. A non-parent teacher I spoke with later after the meeting was quite upset, because she said not all non-parents chose not to have children, and we all give all we have to these kids (the students). I was in full agreement with her. More importantly, that incident made me aware of how tenuous the idea of objectivity is, particularly in that kind of discussion. After all, are the teachers who are also parents more “objective” for being parents, as they see both sides of the homework issue (as parents and as teachers), or are the non-parents more “objective” for being non-parents and not being emotionally tied to the apparent sufferings and imbalance students and their families might feel when overwhelmed with homework?

Even though a lot of us who appreciate logic theory want to think we can avoid ad hominem mistakes, we nevertheless often judge what people say based on who they are and what their perspective is rather than solely on the soundness of what they say in a vacuum. Think about how many letters to the editor of newspapers start out with identification. For example, let’s say there were a letter announcing its author as a Jew before going on to argue that anti-Israel sentiment is not the same as anti-Semitism. Wouldn’t the argument, if it were sound, be just the same, whether it came from a Jew or from an Arab? Or a letter announcing its author as a woman that also talks about how feminism has ruined the traditional American family values and is responsible for a number of societal ills—would the argument, if it were sound, be just as strong coming from a man? Or would it retain its potency if the letter writer didn’t reveal her or his gender?

Recently, I read some letters to the editor about capital punishment. One letter was for capital punishment. One was against it. Both were from self-proclaimed family members of murder victims. Does that perspective offer credibility? I guess, strictly from a theoretical logical perspective, no. But, really? Yes. I take a hell of a lot more seriously someone who’s had a family member murdered who is still against the death penalty than I do someone who has the same stance but lacks that personal experience. Yes, it seems to go against logic. The one without a personal investment in the trial and sentencing would seem to be the one with her head about her. But is that really objectivity? Or is it just another kind of subjective experience (the lack of a murdered family member)?

One time, in an American Literature course, my colleague and I planned a unit talking about race theory. Because I was Asian-American, some of my students questioned my motives for teaching that unit (“Is Mr. W.’s class doing this, too?”), but Mr. W was not similarly questioned, because he was White. But why would a White person be more objective about race? White, after all, is a race, too. It isn’t the lack of race… or shouldn’t be, at least.

In the end, I own my subjectivity. I know if I were White, born in the South, poor, raised to be macho, and taught to appreciate guns, I’d be a different person with a totally different perspective on life. If I were a woman forced to have sex with my boyfriend, I’d be a different person with a different perspective on life. If I were an American soldier in Iraq or an Iraqi, I’d have a different perspective.

We aren’t just detached logicians. We are all human and come with our own experiences. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can come to at least some semblance of the truth.

Christianity Movies Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

For the Bible Tells Me So documentary is subversive

As you may know if you’ve read my post from four years ago “Subversive” Saved!? I get annoyed when people use the word subversive inappropriately.

Well, I just saw a movie called For the Bible Tells Me So, and I have to say it’s pretty subversive. Unlike Jesus Camp and Hell House, this film doesn’t have as its primary purpose the making fun of “those crazy Christians.” In fact, rather than seeking to appease anti-Christian non-Christians, For the Bible Tells Me So seeks mainly to educate Christians about Biblical interpretation and the theological dangers of selective literalism.

And where it doesn’t get you on an intellectual level, it also presents the real humanity of the situation: even if you do want to be anti-gay as a Christian, how can your heart not cry out for people with gay children having rocks being thrown in the windows of their houses? How can you not feel compassion for gay people being beaten to death?

But, apart from one badly written and juvenile animated segment, the film really is quite educational and should be a must-see for any Christian who is anti-gay. I can’t guarantee you’ll change your theological views on sexuality after seeing this movie. You should still see it, though. It’s great exercise for the mind and the heart.

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

“I’m not a feminist, but…”

Ani’s not an angry girl, but it seems like she’s got everyone fooled. Every time she says something they find hard to hear, they chalk it up to her anger and never to their own fear. Recently, I was talking with a female friend of mine about various songs, and I mentioned Ani DiFranco’s “Not a Pretty Girl,” and she responded that she didn’t like the song and she’s not into “angry” music like that.

I’ve also encountered my fair share of women using the famous “I’m not a feminist, but…” line. My favorite was in college when someone came away from church and criticized one of the praise songs lyrics (“With you, fatherless I’ll never be”) as being sexist and reinforcing of patriarchal traditions. Of course, she prefaced it with the phrase I’m not a feminist, but….

Really? So why are you complaining about sexism and the patriarchy if you’re not a feminist? What is a feminist, then? Why don’t you want to be a feminist? Yes, of course, there’s the stereotype of the hairy, bra-burning, ugly, man-hating, anti-vaginal-intercourse loud lesbian (of course, in all the years I’ve been reading radical feminist literature, I’ve never come across any of these supposed embodiments of that stereotype). I don’t think these I’m not a feminist, but… women are really afraid of being mistaken for that stereotype.

I think they’re just afraid of appearing angry. That’s it. They just don’t want to be considered angry. They want, as many post-feminist millenials and generation-X-ers want, to be fun-loving, positive energy folks. They want to enjoy life and have others enjoy life with them. They don’t want to be downers. They don’t want to be complainers. So, in order to complain and not be considered a complainer, you have to preface your complaints with “I’m not a feminist, but….” The idea is that the person you’re talking to will think “Okay. If you were an angry feminist, I’d just tune out. Since you’re clearly someone who is generally positive about life, I’ll listen to your complaint.”

If you ask me, it’s a cop-out. It’s like in discussions about racism in America, when a handful of Asian-Americans will try to appease the White Americans by saying there isn’t institutional racism or White privilege, and there’s absolutely no need for affirmative action of any kind. That’s their special “I’m not an antiracist, but…” preface for race instead of gender.

Nobody wants to be a downer or a whiner. Nobody wants to be a victim. Feminists are people just like you. Feminists want to enjoy life, and they do. Feminists laugh. Feminists go skydiving, rollerblading, kayaking, and all those other fun things people do in the “I have herpes, but I don’t mind” commercials. The truth is that feminists, like everyone, just want justice. They want people to recognize injustice and do something about it. They’re not going to hide behind phrases like “I’m not a feminist, but…” because they want to be honest.

It’s okay to be a feminist. It’s okay to be angry. People won’t think any less of you as a woman, just because you advocate for equal rights and equal treatment. Own up. We’re all in this together… or we should be anyway.

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

“Equality” shouldn’t assume we’re all in the same situation

When I was in high school, there were some people who didn’t understand why we had a Black Student Union and an Asian Student Union but no White Student Union.

When I was in college, one time we were eating in the cafeteria, and a white male heterosexual friend of mine looked up at a banner that said, “This is you” (or something like that) and listed a bunch of marginalized groups, and he yelled out loudly and indignantly, “No, that’s not me!”

At the last school I taught in, some students were upset after an assembly with an LGBT panel and said something to the effect of, “That was awful. They say they want to be treated just like everyone else, but they want to be special, too.”

This is a constant tension in a society that, at least as the American mainstream media portrays it, has no systematic racism, sexism, classism, or homophobia. It’s not a system, after all. It’s just a few crazed, backward individuals. As far as some people are concerned, there is no problem that needs to be fixed. So all these groups that seek to give voice and advocacy for the disenfranchised are useless. Why have a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People if you don’t have a National Association for the Advancement of White People? Why have a Black Entertainment Television channel if you don’t have a White Entertainment Television channel?

Problems exist
Well, first of all, I have to say that it is systematic, not just some crazed individuals. If you have presumably enlightened people asking if America is “ready for” a Black president or a woman president, then, it’s systematic. If you have Hollywood constantly pumping out White-centric movies with either no or only supporting actors of color (with the occasional Will Smith exception), then, it’s systematic. If well-meaning and supposedly “color-blind” White people keep mixing me up with other Asian-Americans who look nothing like me (totally different heights, skin tones, facial structures, mannerisms, and dress styles), then it’s systematic.

The problem is that life isn’t as simple as some people would like to believe. Yes, there are some overtly extreme bigots. Those people do exist. But most acts of racism, sexism, fill-in-the-blank-ism come from systems and people working along with the system without even knowing it. You don’t have to look any further than Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” to see how this is the case.

I consider myself lucky. In many respects, I am in the privileged (not marginalized) group. I am male. I am upperclass. I am college-educated. I am straight. But if I were also White, I don’t know if I would recognize how crazy these accusations of “double standards” or “reverse racism” are. I think I’d be making those accusations. It would seem logical to me. “If I can’t have a White group, why can you have a Black group?” “If I can’t have a male group, why can you have a female group?” There are a few things to think about this if you really want to know the answer to these questions and don’t want to just feel smarmy and superior.

It basically all comes down to whether you think problems exist or not. If you believe that after the passing of certain civil rights laws that we all of a sudden have equality in the US, then of course such groups would be silly. If, however, you believe that laws are only the beginning and much work has still to do be done on people’s hearts and on the culture in general, then such groups should not only be allowed but encouraged.

Think of it this way: if a student in my school were to start a campaign to raise money for earthquake relief in China, would it make sense for me to object “Why are you raising money for relief in China? Why don’t you raise money for America? We just had an earthquake here last month!”? Not really. The earthquake in China killed upwards of 60,000 people. I don’t even know how many people (if any) died in the latest Bay Area earthquake.

Treatments have to fit the problem
Treating a problem isn’t favoritism. It’s sheer logic. It’s actually equality. Treating everyone the same when a problem exists isn’t equality. It’s lunacy. If someone’s right leg needs radiation therapy to kill a cancerous growth, it doesn’t make sense to give the left arm and brain radiation therapy as well in order to be “fair.” Real fairness means treating whatever body part needs treatment. It doesn’t mean giving the same treatment to all body parts. The medicine that cures you when you’re sick can also kill you when you’re healthy.

But who is really healthy in a country where -isms abound and are even ignored? Everyone in America needs treatment but different kinds of treatment. Let’s look at marriage as an example. Let’s say you have a marriage in which the wife does everything for the husband, and he does nothing explicitly positive for her. Basically, he does whatever he wants, and she facilitates whatever he wants. He does nothing she wants unless it also happens to be what he wants. The husband clearly benefits from this arrangement in superficial ways. If he wants to be pleased sexually, she will do whatever he wants. If she wants to be pleased sexually, he doesn’t have to make the effort to do so. If he wants a vacation, they’ll take one. If he doesn’t want to do the dishes, she’ll do them. If he wants to watch TV, she won’t ask him to do something else. If he wants to have a night out together, she’ll always be up for it. He will be above criticism. She’ll never nag him. It’s quite obvious that she benefits little from this relationship, apart from never having to make tough decisions and being responsible for the outcomes of those decisions. But let’s say we want this marriage to work before the wife commits suicide or leaves him. Is it enough to send her to therapy? Is it enough for her to just say “No, I don’t feel like it” every now and then? No. The marriage of this hypothetical couple needs therapy in both directions, but the therapy isn’t the same. The therapy the wife receives needs to let her know she can assert herself, that her happiness matters, that it’s okay for her ask for things, too. But the husband cannot receive the same therapy. He already knows how to assert himself. He already knows how to ask for things. In fact, that’s the problem! His therapy would have to tell him that even though he superficially “happy,” and even though the way he’s treating his wife is morally questionable, the main reason he should seek a marriage of equality and mutualism is that it’s even better than what he has now.

Humanity is not a zero-sum game
Relationships (between races, between marriage partners, between genders, between sexualities, between classes) are a lot like the prisoner’s dilemma. The version of the prisoner’s dilemma I got in high school had a four-part matrix with arbitrary quantities outlining degrees of desirability for the outcome. You and your partner have committed a crime and are being interrogated separately by the cops. If you confess and your partner confesses, you’re both going to have less happiness (probably more prison time). If your partner confesses and you don’t, your partner will get more happiness and you’ll get a little less. If you confess and your partner doesn’t, you will get more happiness and your partnet a little less. If, however, neither of you confesses (in other words, you cooperate with and trust each other), you both get more happiness (i.e., no prison time) than in all the other scenarios.

I can attest that a marriage of equality and mutualism lacks a lot of the superficial benefits of a totally dominant/submissive marriage, but the rewards are wonderful for both parties. And this extends to demographic groups as well. Yes, as an upperclass person, I wouldn’t really want a workingclass person stealing my money, but a society in which the rich were a little poorer and the poor a little richer I believe would be far better off than the one we’re living in now.

Next steps
There are a few things people in the privileged groups can do if they’re interested in really helping and not just having arguments:

  • Recognize that advancing marginalized groups doesn’t hurt you in the long run. It’s not us vs. them. It’s us with us. After that hypothetical couple goes through therapy, both will have a better marriage in the end for it.
  • Entertain the possibility that problems may exist. A lot of times it might seem like feminists or gay people or people of color are just whining and complaining or indulging in a “victim mentality,” but all they’re trying to do is get you to recognize that problems exist in the hopes that you’ll stop trivializing things with questions like, “If you have an X group, why can’t I have a Y group?” No one is saying “Woe is me. Pity me. Oh, poor me.” They’re just trying to say “Wake up! Can’t you see there’s a cancerous growth in this part of my leg? Can’t you see the cops have caught us and we have to decide whether to cop a plea or not?”
  • Form your own groups, but make them productive. No people of color are going to complain about a Whites-only group that seeks to educate other Whites about White privilege. No feminists are going to complain aobut a male-only group that seeks to educate other males about male privilege or sexism. No gay rights activists are going to complain about a straight-only group that seeks to educate other straight people about homophobia or heteronormativity.

There. I’ve said my piece. I said what I thought needed to be said. I realize many people will disagree with what I’ve said, but I hope it’s at least made you think.

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Who has a right to talk?

Everyone has a right to an opinion, naturally. We are all human beings. We observe. We think. We act based on what we think about what we observe. There are sometimes when it’s best to keep your opinions to yourself, though, or to at least hold off on sharing them so that you can listen to opinions you might not often hear or that others might not often hear.

This is a quandary I often face, being both a male and a person of color. I get annoyed when there are debates about antiracism, and sometimes white people just won’t shut up and listen to people of color. Likewise, I get annoyed (yes, even at myself) when there are debates about feminism and sometimes men just won’t shut up and listen to women.

I do feel for white people, though. I feel for them. I really do. As a man, I often can’t resist the urge to share my opinion, to argue back and forth and always feel as if my opinion needs to be expressed and listened to, regardless of what other people’s opinions I might be stifling. It’s tough. It’s tough to just be quiet and listen. I’m also particularly argumentative by nature—have been ever since a very young age.

I have to remind myself, though, that space is important. Just as white people sometimes have to give us our space to just think and articulate our thoughts without constant interruption and objection, I have to give women that same space. I have to give gay people that same space. I have to give non-Americans (whom I run into with increasing frequency in online discussions) that same space.

Since I am part of at least one marginalized demographic (Asian-Americans), it’s easier for me to see how dominant or chauvinistic I can be in other respects. How often have I been shamed by spouting my mouth off about some issue only to be told by a European that what I said applies pretty much only in an American context?

I remember in college there were big debates about the Take Back the Night march every year. The march was run in such a fashion that men were not allowed to speak during circling up, and men could participate in the march but not be in the front of the march. A lot of men called this reverse sexism. There were even women who were saying men should be allowed to speak. Finally, one year, the organizers of the march said that men could speak in the circling up but only if they were sexual assault survivors themselves. That year was a disaster. Several men did speak up during the march, but none of them was a survivor or shared a story of themselves dealing with being sexually assaulted. They just went on tirades about how women need to be more careful. What the fuck?! I was ashamed to be a man during that march. Take Back the Night is all about taking back the night, creating at least one night a year in which women can feel a safe space. During that time, to be lectured to be more careful is a great way to have the entire night’s objective be undermined. Men ruined it once again.

I didn’t really mind being in the back or not saying anything. I knew that my very silent presence in the back was already saying something: “I support this effort.” I didn’t have to speak out in a circle or be in the front. I just had to be there.

Are there times to speak out? Surely. What a shameful society we’d live in if white people could never talk about race, men could never talk about feminist issues, and straights could never talk about queer sexuality. But there are times. That’s the trick.

Figure out when you’re in a debate. Then debate. But also recognize when people are just trying to articulate their thoughts in a safe setting without being attacked and try, try to understand the need for that space. I’m still working this all out on my end, too. We all have opinions, and we should all have the right to have opinions, but there are times and places to express those opinions. Sometimes you should just listen. Sometimes I should just listen, too.

Life Movies Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Raping 13-year-olds is now okay. Thanks, Roman!

The New York Daily News recently published this article: ‘Wanted’ man Roman Polanski dodges legal bullet. Let me translate some chunks for you.

Polanski was, and remains, a brilliant film director. But to many people, particularly in America, he is most famously remembered for fleeing the country after pleading guilty to “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a 13-year-old girl who was modeling for him.

In case you’re wondering, the pedophilic rapist in question only pled guilty to this “crime,” and it doesn’t matter anyway, since he’s good at his normal job.

The original judge, Laurence Rittenband, was a publicity hound and celebrity sniffer who cared more about how he looked in the press than what happened to either Polanski or the 13-year-old girl.

Both the lead prosecutor and the defense attorney explain in great detail how the case was about to be resolved, with a guilty plea and no hard jail time. But Rittenband thought that might make him look bad, so he ignored judicial protocol and went back on his own promises, declaring instead he wanted Polanski in prison.

Ordinarily society will let someone who’s good at his normal job off the hook for raping a 13-year-old, but one judge decided a rapist of young girls should get some kind of actual punishment. He must have ulterior motives for doing so.

The fact that this film focuses more on the court than the crime will understandably bother some viewers, since offering drugs to naked 13-year-olds and having sex with them is conduct the average American finds repugnant.

Perhaps to balance this, the film talks extensively with the victim.

Her biggest frustration, she says, is that no one believed her, or that people felt she or her mother, who set up the photo session, must have done something wrong.

Yet the case clearly didn’t break her. She’s frustrated with the system, but she settled a civil suit against Polanski and publicly forgave him. She’s a mother of three who’s been married for 18 years. She seems OK.

In case you’re tempted to have a normal reaction to this horrendous crime and don’t really care for Roman Polanski’s films, let me try to justify the crime. It’s not really a crime. After all, the supposed victim seems okay. Life went on. It’s not like she committed suicide or anything. Geez.

It does note, however, that many of his greatest films, like “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” suggest there sometimes is no justice. Which would be a curiously dispassionate coda to a case and a life marked by so much fire.

C’est la vie.

Poor, poor brilliant pedophile rapist filmmaker. No justice for him. People should just leave the poor guy alone.

If you’re a rapist, you’re a rapist. If you’re a pedophile rapist, you’re a pedophile rapist. Or that’s the way it should be. Perhaps we should go find all the sex offenders in prison and see which ones of them might be brilliant performing musicians or innovative entrepeneurs if we just let them out of prison. After all, their victims might seem okay. Their victims, after thirty years, might be married and have kids. Right? And the judges in their cases might have had ulterior motives for sending them to prison. After all, raping 13-year-olds isn’t an offense that warrants a prison term… at least not for people who are good at their jobs.

Let’s take a look at the girl Polanski raped thirty years ago. From a 2003 article:

“Everything was going fine; then he asked me to change, well, in front of him,” she says. “It didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to go back to the second shoot. But I didn’t at that time have the self-confidence to tell my mother and everyone, ‘No, I’m not going to go.'”

During that second shoot, Polanski’s motives became apparent.

“We did photos with me drinking champagne,” Geimer says. “Toward the end it got a little scary, and I realized he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn’t quite know how to get myself out of there.”

Polanski sexually assaulted her after giving her a combination of champagne and Quaaludes.

Let’s see. It didn’t feel right, but she lacked the self-confidence to refuse (maybe this is why statutory rape laws exist?), and then he gave her alcohol and drugs and sexually assaulted her. What’s not wrong about this? Seriously.

I’m a male who is more than a decade younger than Polanski was at the time of the rape. I’m not a brilliant film director, but I’m pretty good at my job. I work in an admission office at a high school. Can you imagine if I told a 13-year-old applicant to take off her clothes, gave her drugs and alcohol, and then raped her? That would be awful. Since I’m not an Academy Award-Winning director, I’ll tell you what would happen. I’d be fired immediately, or at least temporarily suspended pending further investigation; ostracized from my church, family, and friends; given divorce papers immediately by my wife; and probably sent to prison for over a decade if not several decades, during which time I’d be tormented and raped by other prisoners. Yes, that’s what happens to pedophile rapists. And I doubt anyone would believe my defense if I said, “Uh, she seems okay now.”

Much as I loved Death and the Maiden, I can’t believe that not only is Roman Polanski walking free, but the the media is defending him. Yes, of course, the woman he raped when she was only 13 has been unbelievably strong and managed after thirty years to move on with her life, but that doesn’t make what he did any less wrong.

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Tirade about makeup

Over two decades later, my mom still tells people the story of how I told her (this was back when I was a wee child) she wasn’t a “real woman” like her sister because my mom didn’t wear makeup or paint her nails. My mom has a habit of rubbing in my face stuff I said when I was younger that I no longer believe. But back then I fell for society’s message that gets hammered into both little boys and little girls: real women wear makeup.

Well, it didn’t take me very long to grow to detest makeup, especially as I embraced feminism and even more so after reading Susan Brownmiller’s Femininity. What surprised me, though, was how many women (even feminists) seemed to like makeup—not just tolerate it or indulge in it every now and then as a guilty pleasure. Every woman I’ve talked to about makeup has unequivocally defended her decision to wear it (as Charlotte from Sex and the City would say, “I choose my choice. I choose my choice!”).

I remember one time I was shocked to encounter a makeup defender I thought didn’t even wear makeup. She said, “All women wear makeup. Sometimes it’s just a little bit. Sometimes you can’t tell, but all women wear it.” I was devastated. I couldn’t believe it. All women wear makeup? Of course, what she said can’t literally be true. There have to be some women who don’t wear makeup, even if they’re only three out of three billion. But I’ve generally found she’s right.

My wife is a feminist and a strong one at that, but she wears makeup, too. Sometimes she wears it. Sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes she doesn’t wear much. Sometimes she wears a lot. I always tell her she looks better without makeup, which is true. As Harry Connick, Jr. says in “Just Kiss Me”:

Don’t worry with your lipstick. I’m going to kiss it all away. Throw away your lipstick. That’s not your color anyway. My lips are your color, so lips, stick with me.

Nevertheless, like all the other feminists I know, she still wears makeup.

I just don’t get it, on several levels. First of all, jewelry, clothes, shoes, hats, and bags are all adornment. They drape or hang. They are not plastered on you. Your face is who you are. Your face is how people identify you. How can you do that to your face? Secondly, when I’ve seen my wife without makeup, she always looks much better than when she has makeup on, and I’m sure she’s not the only one for whom this is true. Thirdly, most women put on too much makeup. If you put on so little makeup that other people can’t even tell you’re wearing makeup, maybe you’ve gotten away with it—maybe that’s the whole point of makeup, to fool people into thinking you don’t look like yourself. But for a lot of women I’ve seen, I can tell you’re wearing makeup, you’re wearing too much makeup, and not only does it not make you look more beautiful than you normally do—it makes you look terrible.

This is particularly true at events, fancy dinners and such. That’s when women who ordinarily wear so little makeup as not to be noticed (or no makeup at all, if that’s possible) will cake it on and look terrible while their friends tell them, “Oh, you look amazing!” (which I translate to mean, “You ordinarily look terrible. Good thing that makeup is all over your face to hide what you really look like,” but somehow that’s a compliment, I guess).

In my mind, makeup is designed to accentuate facial features. Thus, its ideal applications are for situations in which people will see you from far, far away (say, 50 feet away) or for situations in which you are in a photo shoot/movie set with very careful lighting and expert makeup artists. Neither of those situations is a fancy dinner party, where most people will be seeing you from two or three feet away.

Even though most of my friends are women, and I generally identify with women in most things in life, makeup is just one of those things I could never understand. And if there are any feminist women (or even non-feminist women) who don’t wear makeup, feel free to pipe up here. It’d be great to know you exist.

Life Movies Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

A straight guy at Sex and the City

Ever since I saw the first preview, I’d been dying to see the big screen version of Sex and the City. My wife wasn’t that excited, but I was. And the friend we saw it with yesterday told people she was going to go see it with her married straight male friend just to amuse them. I didn’t realize what a novelty I was, of course, until I went to the bathroom after the movie was done—women’s bathroom across the way, totally full; men’s bathroom where I was, totally empty.

Granted, I’m a bit more “sensitive” than most straight males I know, but if women can see a male-targeted film like Iron Man, why can’t men see a female-targeted film like Sex and the City? I’ve never drooled over Gucci, Louis Vuitton, or Manolo Blahnik. I’ve never had the kind of dating drama these women have had. I’m not white. I’m not rich. I don’t live in New York City. I’m not a woman. I’m not in my 40s.

Then again, I’ve never been captured by terrorists in Afghanistan and forced to make weapons in a cave. I’ve also never been an archeologist professor adventurer.

Contrary to what the lackluster reviews might have you think, Sex and the City was an entertaining movie, one of the most engaging I’ve seen all year. I don’t have to relate directly to it. It’s funny (yes, even with its bad puns) and involvingly dramatic.

Maybe I’m just coming from a different place. I know some people (both male and female, of various sexual orientations) can directly relate to a lot of movies. I don’t think I ever have. First of all, as an Asian-American who enjoys movie-going, I usually have to force myself to identify myself with main characters who are White or Black Americans or with main characters who are Asian (as in, from Asia). And, no, I didn’t feel as if the nerd-thugs from Better Luck Tomorrow were like me at all. Never have I come across characters who are feminist Christian males. Rarely have I come across slightly effeminate straight males. I’m okay with this, though.

I know for some others, movies are about speaking for the speechless, offering a voice and identification to various groups. I applaud these efforts. I’d love to be more represented in films (independent or mainstream), but I go to movies for the same reason people went to them during the Great Depression: I go to escape. Movies, for me, are about entertainment. I like a good explosion and chase sequence. I like a good joke or gag. I like relationship drama and yelling. I like some good character development and maybe even a little tragedy. I like to think. And I even appreciate a bad pun every now and then (Sex and the City, both movie and TV show, has this in spades).

I may have been the only straight guy at SATC yesterday, but it was a good movie, and I think a lot of guys missed out on some fun.

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Successful politicians will be political

Okay. I don’t get it.

I’ve been following the 2008 US elections for the past year, and I don’t understand how people can make it sound as if such-and-such candidate clearly would make a bad president because she or he did X—with the implication that the other candidate(s) would never do such a thing. Whether it’s Obama calling a reporter sweetie, Hillary implying only whites are hard-working, or McCain supposedly getting “cozy” with a lobbyist. I’m sure as the campaign goes on, there will be more and more smears from all sides.

Look, first of all, politicians are people. They have flaws. Sometimes they say dumb things; no, not all as dumb as what George W. Bush and Dan Quayle have said, but the real problem with politics is… politics. To be a successful politician, you have to try to please as many people as possible, and that means walking on eggshells, not appearing too extreme, and not taking a strong stand on certain issues.

Right now, gay marriage is in the spotlight and all the news stories are basically saying that McCain, Clinton, and Obama are all not taking a stand on it. Do you really believe none of them has a strong opinion on the issue? My guess is that in real life (in the privacy of their own homes), McCain is strongly against gay marriage, and Clinton and Obama are in favor of it. But here’s a great snippet from The New York Times:

John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton — are pretty much in agreement. All oppose it, while saying at the same time that same-sex couples should generally be entitled to the legal protections afforded married couples. All think the decision should be left to the states

Really? They all think that? How convenient. Really. I mean, they all just happen to hold a position that won’t blatantly offend the conservatives and moderates while also not appearing to be homophobic?

I don’t blame them, though. To say “No, those fags shouldn’t get married” or “Of course gay people should have the right to get married” would be campaign suicide. The degree to which politicians have to lie and be vague about political stances in America (I’m not sure how many other countries suffer this problem to the same degree; perhaps many, perhaps only a handful) is well-represented in the fact that people now easily divvy up the US into “red states” (Republican) and “blue states” (Democrat). If you take a look at the red state and blue state map, it almost looks like a Civil War map, doesn’t it?

Would it be a terrible thing to have two USes with two US presidents? Two nations, not exactly under God, definitely divisible, with liberty and justice for a lot of people? Perhaps, then, they could still be politicians, but they might have to lie a little less and would actually be able to have strong stances on things and get stuff done?

I loved the Matt Gonzalez and Gavin Newsom mayoral election we had in San Francisco a few years ago. San Francisco is one of the few places in the US where the mayoral election comes down to a Green Party candidate and a Democrat. Did they lie in their campaigns? Sure. Probably. But I think we essentially got their stances on things, and I don’t think they had to sweat quite as much. I like that.

Frankly, I think McCain, Clinton, and Obama are all liars and politicians. They will say anything to get elected, will slip up and say something obnoxious from time to time, and then give the obligatory public apology for said slip-up. After eight years with George W. Bush’s unique blend of incompetency and bravado, I’d be happy with any one of the three candidates being president. I kind of do hope that Clinton or Obama wins, though, just as it would be a historic breakthrough and would set a precedent for future women and/or black US presidents.