Archives for posts with tag: Meaning

Yeup. I am.

Truth be told, netfolk, I certainly haven’t always been. I’ve ridiculed feminists and viewed them in the same negative light they are often portrayed.

I’ve laughed at “get in the kitchen” jokes.

I’ve viewed women as decoration.

Here’s what changed.

I can remember when it happened. I was reading an article on shakesville, a (pretty great) website that I had never visited before, and that had they not had an interesting headline, and been linked to from some other article I was reading, I never would have read. In fact, it was the author’s Helpful Hints for Dudes series, which being a dude, and recognizing that occasionally I can use a helpful hint, I was intrigued by.

This was the inciting incident, but it helps to have some context as well. At this time, I was also getting to know a girl who I grew to respect, care deeply about and view as an equal (something my slightly arrogant self often denies both genders). Reading through the article, I was struck by one simple, unshakable fact: our society, still, in this day and age, marginalizes women as a whole, which naturally included this incredible girl. Would I have felt anything terribly pressing had I read this article in a different context? Almost certainly not, because women’s rights had never seemed like an issue that held any relevance for me.

All of a sudden, I was faced with the realization that in my ignorance, I was a part of the institutional repression of a group of people, a member of whom I “claimed” to care about. Then I thought further: my mother, my aunt, my cousin, my grandmothers, my good friend, my other friends, that girl I held hands with in kindergarten, the girl I hurt, the girl who hurt me — any girl I’ve ever cared about is living in a society that (carefully, and often quietly) tells them they are not as good  or that they are “different” (in a less-good-sort-of-way) because they’re female.

The beauty of this article is that it did not pander. It was not somebody who believed men were incapable of understanding these things. It did not explain to me why I should care; that was not its purpose. Its purpose was, in fact, to give a set of guidelines for men attempting to understand feminism. This made me get my back up, because I don’t need bloody guidelines to understand a topic. I know perfectly well what issues are at stake and the sort of people who are holding women back, and I’m happy to say I’m not one of them! I’m not part of the problem! And then I read her fourth point:

Because of the way cultural dominance/privilege works, marginalized people are, by necessity and unavoidability, more knowledgeable about the lives of privileged people than the other way around. Immersion in a culture where male is treated as the Norm (and female a deviation of that Norm), and where masculinity is treated as aspirational (and femininity as undesirable), and where men’s stories are considered the Stories Worth Telling, and where manhood and mankind are so easily used as synonymous with personhood and humankind, and where everything down to the human forms on street signs reinforce the idea of maleness as default humanness, inevitably makes women de facto more conversant in male privilege than men are in female marginalization. That’s the practical reality of any kind of privilege—the dominant group can exist without knowing anything about marginalized group, but the marginalized group cannot safely or effectively exist without knowing something about the privileged group and its norms and values.

And I thought, “Maybe I don’t know all of the issues. It is plausible, at least, that I don’t know all of them, I guess.”

I read on and began to see how subtle the problems really were. They weren’t that all men abuse women, or even that society is tolerant of that, because we don’t and it’s not. But when somebody decries a woman for not leaving her abusive husband, something insidious is going on. And it’s the same as when somebody suggests that for women to be safe they shouldn’t wear skimpy outfits and should watch their drinks. But I’m cherry-picking my arguments right now, by only using women as examples. But that’s because it’s so hard to think of equivalent examples with men. These ideas are practically cultural stereotypes, whereas I can’t bring to mind a single way in which men are frequently the brunt of victim-blaming. “Huh, weird.” I still felt that I wasn’t part of the problem, though. Then I read her take on why rape jokes aren’t funny. “Now,” I thought, “is when the feminist comes out: the How-many-feminists-does-it-take-to-screw-in-a-lightbulb?Just-one—and-that’s-not-funny kind of feminist; the existing-solely-to-steal-joy-from-mirthful-males kind of feminist. But I read it and the argument was basically this: even if you don’t make the joke, and even if it is legitimately funny (which she acknowledged some were) if you laugh at it then you’re not just laughing with your other non-rapist buddies– because you don’t know everybody, and some people do think it’s okay.

And you’re not laughing at the same joke as he is. The joke he’s laughing at is the one where raping women is funny, and when he hears you laughing he knows that he’s with his compatriots. He knows he’s with like-minded people. He knows that you approve of what he does. He knows that you’re a rapist too.

These were smart, and scary arguments, coming from a dreaded feminist, and all of a sudden I asked myself, “Maybe I’m not part of the problem, but am I part of the solution?”

The answer was no. As I went on in my life, I began to realize the subtle ways that I was contributing:

  • I had been thinking of this important girl as “a credit to her gender.” Hmm. A compliment, undeniably. But what else am I saying? I might just be saying that of all of the women I know, you are especially great. But then, why wouldn’t I say “a credit to the species?” Perhaps it was just a stylistic choice. But it wasn’t. The implication is that most women are not smart and clever and even-tempered the way you are (true), because women aren’t usually like that (false).
  • Or how about the fact that when I see a woman my first inclination is to evaluate her physically. Okay, no problem, maybe I’m judgemental… except, I don’t do that when I see a guy. Well, I’m not evaluating guys as potential partners, so we’re okay there… except I claim to value more than aesthetics in my partner. So I’m left with being shallow, or naturally objectifying women, and I’m not shallow. Is this because I’m a bad person? Nope (some would argue this, but let’s go with it), I’m pretty normal for society. This is because women are supposed to be sex-objects first, and everything else second.
  • Now, my defensive reaction to this realization was, “Well I wouldn’t mind being evaluated as a sex-object all the time haha,” and then I really thought about it. To have people decide whether they would respect my ideas based on how I was dressed; based on how nice my haircut was; based on how much “effort” I put in; based on how big the bulge in my jeans is; to be yoked with the responsibility of arousing the people who look at me. I realized that if I don’t find a woman attractive, I don’t chalk it up to an incompatibility; I blame her. I actually would mind being on the receiving end of that.

Here’s where things really got out of control. What about fat women? It’s okay not to like them, right? I mean, I totally don’t like fat guys too. They’re utterly repulsive, right? All of them.

But the same argument applies. It’s none of my business. They are not maintaining their bodies for me. It’s not that they don’t care what I think; they very well may. It’s that I have no right to judge them as people for the way they look. I can completely disagree with the way they treat their bodies. I can hold the opinion that if I was them, I would do better, but that opinion is hardly worth the matter it takes to store it; the time it takes to construct it, because I’m not them, and strictly speaking, if I were, then I’d be in precisely the position they’re in.

So then who is it okay to dislike? If nobody can be judged for what they are, then who can I hate?

And just as quickly as the question came, so too did the answer: nobody.

Granted, I have freedom of speech(mostly) and certainly freedom of opinion and I can hate whoever I want. But maybe I can’t look at myself the same if I do now that I know. Maybe, I can’t judge women-who-play-the-victim-because-they-were-totally-asking-for-it. Maybe I can’t judge flamboyant-gay-guys-because-there-are-lots-of-them-who-don’t-have-to-throw-it-in-my-face. Maybe I can’t judge transsexuals-because-they’re-just-so-fucking-weird. Maybe, I can’t judge thieves-because-they’re-too-lazy/greedy/selfish/immoral-to-get-a-job. Maybe I can’t judge racists-because-they’re-an-archaic-vestige-of-a-cultural-disease. Maybe I can’t judge child-predators-because-they-pervert-the-most-fundamentally-innocent. Maybe I can’t judge anybody. 

That doesn’t mean I agree with what everybody does, or that there should be no consequences for people’s actions. That also doesn’t mean that I think a woman dressing in a way that I find provocative is the same as a man preying on a child. It does mean that hate is hate, and judgement is also hate, and if I hold hate in my heart, I am part of the problem.

So this is my feminism: we are all people with the same rights and freedoms and hopes and dreams, and to waste a single moment of this life in hating another (which is what all judgement boils down to) is a crime against all of us.

When they hated the fat, I did not speak up,
For I was not fat.

When they hated the sick, I did not speak up,
For I was not sick.

When they hated the LGBT, I did not speak up,
For I was not LGBT.

When they hated the women, I did not speak up,
For I was not a woman.

And when they hated me,
There was nobody left with a voice to speak up for me.

I’m not perfect (you’re shocked, I can tell). I hate people all the time, but when I notice, I try to correct it. I don’t mean I correct what I say, but I try to see the world as they do. I try to imagine how their life is, and to remember that they are somebody’s child, and that they are a product of their genes and their surroundings, and that I am not always (or even often) right and if I have nothing nice to think, perhaps I should think nothing at all. When I meet somebody I disagree with, I try to see what common ground we have before asserting my own views. When I hear of somebody who has done something heinous, I try to feel for the victim and the perpetrator, because the perpetrator has in some way had a life gone awry (but in no way does that take away from the victim’s pain. Steubenville reporters, I’m looking at you).

And when I meet a woman, I try to see her point of view before I try to see down her shirt.

Sometimes I try to see down her shirt too.

I’m a work in progress.

Cheers

Advertisements

What Karate Means to Me

Jared Windover

Karate, literally translated means empty hand, and is thus a way of defending oneself when one’s hands are empty; a means of unarmed combat. Karate is a lone Okinawan defending his home and family, standing tall against a Samurai horde. Karate is a man striking a makiwara late at night while his family sleeps, with the threat of death hanging over his head if he is found out. Karate is the softness of yin and the hardness of yang. Karate is all of these things and much more, however, this is not what Karate means to me. To me, the meaning of Karate can be found in three things; a staff, a belt, and a pair of shoes. These are what Karate means to me.

The staff is often the first weapon a student learns, and it was the first weapon I learned. However, I was never attracted to it for its potential as a weapon. I was attracted to it for the way it moved. It combined power and grace, speed and control, and it allowed the person using it to transcend the confines of their body and become more than they were. I would sit there and watch while my Sempai practiced, hoping that one day I’d have the chance to use it. The class in which I first used the staff was the most exciting I’d ever had. I learned to strike forward, and to perform the four corner strikes. At home I started practicing those strikes on the street in front of my house, and I would practice for hours. I practiced until it was too dark to see what I was doing and I had blisters on my hands. Then one day, after a demo team practice, I was asked if I’d like to learn the more advanced staff techniques under my Sempai; an apprenticeship of sorts. Ecstatic doesn’t begin to describe how I felt at that moment. I learned everything I could about how to use the staff while I had the chance. The fervour that I had for the staff, I believe, is the spirit of Karate. It is practice and practice and practice, not because an instructor is telling you to, but simply to improve at your art.

Another symbol of Karate for me is the belt. Not just any belt, but the Karate belt. The first time I wore it I had no idea of the significance it would one day hold for me. In fact, when I first began Karate I intended to quit at black belt. At the tender age of 9, I did not realize the irony in that. Regardless, it is now something very important to me. I know very little about the origin of the belt, but one thing I do know is that when the belt went on I was a different person. I was focused, and I was there to train. When I’m wearing my belt, I’m not only representing myself, but I’m representing my dojo. Not only am I representing my dojo, but I’m representing an entire history of martial artists leading up to me; others who have worn the gi and the belt and have called themselves Karate-ka; others who have lived and died by their art, and those who have passed it on to the next generation. When I wear my belt, there is a certain protocol with which I’m supposed to act, and a certain role which I’m supposed to fill, and it must honour all of those who have gone before me. Eventually, as is the way for many things in life, the belt ceases to be the reason you act the way you do, and you take that action into the rest of your life. Similarly, I have heard mastery described as the point at which you forget all you’ve been taught. It is not forgetting in the sense that you no longer know; it is forgetting in the sense that it is no longer conscious, but subconscious; no longer what you do, but what you are. For me, this is embodied in the belt. I am a Karate-ka when I wear it, and I am a Karate-ka when I don’t, and for this reason it symbolizes all that I am as a Karate-ka.

Lastly, a pair of shoes; two shoes put side by side, evenly, against the wall, with a bunched up sock in each. This is the last thing I saw before entering the dojo on more days than I can count. It is a practical step, as training in bare feet develops strength in the feet and begins to condition them. As well it helps keep the dojo tidy, as you’re not tracking dirt and mud in. When students first begin, they remove their shoes hastily and rush into the dojo to begin their training. Sometimes students are reprimanded to tidy their shoes so that there’s room for everybody else. It takes time for this to develop independently, but it does, and it did in me. I now take a small amount of pride in making sure my shoes are put neatly in their place before beginning my training. I spent a particularly long time, however, rushing to remove my shoes and begin training, and this was evident in other parts of my life as well. I was reluctant to make my bed, do chores, or tidy my things. It all seemed like time that should be spent more effectively on other things. Eventually, however, and I feel this was due to my training, I began to examine these habits, and realized that they were not in the spirit of Karate. My previous Sensei had a saying, which I’m sure others have said before: “It is not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice.” By being haphazard with the things in my life, I was reducing the value of my life. By rushing from one thing to the next, I was losing the lessons that could be learned from those things. It is this, more than anything, which now characterizes my training. My goal is no longer to learn something new, it is, rather, to gain as much value from what I am doing as I can extract; whether it be a kata, or simply putting my shoes away.

Karate is an art, a philosophy, and a way of life. As such, its meaning to me cannot be adequately summed up in an essay, nor a book, nor an entire library. It is something that has penetrated to my core, and will be a part of me so long as I live. It has realized fervour in me, taught me responsibility, given me a sense of community and history, and taught me to look for value in all that I do. It has changed who I am, and for that I am forever indebted to my Sensei, my previous Sensei, my Sempais, all of my classmates, and an entire lineage of martial artists. To make it perfectly clear, it has made me who I am today, and I can no more define what it means to me than I can define myself. The three items are images that, for me, are indelibly linked to Karate, and while Karate is much more than the sum of those parts, Karate can also be seen in the slightest of things; a punch, a breath, or the eyes of a master. Or a pair of shoes, side by side, with a bunched up sock in each.