Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Boys x Girls x Punk Shows

I recently read Lauren Denitzio's article about sexism in punk (via a link posted in Facebook). Lauren is someone I know tangentially, and I've only ever had one or two conversations with her, but I found the article very interesting. She talks frankly about things that make her uncomfortable at shows, and most seem very obvious: rape jokes, questions about whether she is IN the band or WITH the band. One thing she mentioned is something I have been bothered by for years:

So, for those who might not know what I’m talking about: you know what makes me feel unsafe? When you’re the only guy in the pit who doesn’t get the message to not fly full force into someone half your size or strength.

I spent years being annoyed and feeling put upon because I had to hang out in the back if I wanted to watch a band unmolested. I felt affronted that I couldn't see my brother or boyfriend perform because getting closer meant getting pushed around. Why should I have to deal with that? I thought. So when I read Lauren's article, I felt myself nodding in agreement...and then I started really thinking about gender, privilege, alienation and entitlement. And I remembered 2 things.

The first is Ali Carr's TED talk about how we're losing boys in the classroom. She doesn't pander to gender stereotypes, but does acknowledge that there is a difference in the way majority of girls learn vs majority of boys. There has been a lot out there lately about "getting" boys, both in educational terms but also in marketing/sales terms. How to get boys to watch certain shows, read certain books, attend certain colleges. As a girl, it's hard not to bristle at all that -- are girls not worth the same effort? But that bristling stops when we talk about education, because Ali Carr is right. Boys deserve education that works with them, not against them. Has focusing on girls in education left boys out of the conversation? What implications does that have?

The second thing that came to mind was a show I attended years ago at a random AOH hall in upstate New York. It was swarming with young kids, and I spent most of my time at the adjacent bar, happy to be out of the dancing mess. Wanting to watch a specific band, I slipped into the main hall, staying in the back as always, hoping to avoid the moshing and pushing that passed for dancing to teenage boys. As I stood watching them, though, I stopped feeling so put upon and judgmental and started to think about how amazing it must feel to those kids to be so physically liberated, to dance in a way that was socially acceptable to their peers, to move to a beat without having their sexuality called into question. To be un-ironically into dancing.

Fifteen-year-old boys are still very much figuring themselves out, pushing at boundaries, and the ability to be emotional and find their place in an environment tailor-made to them (a mosh pit full of noise and sweat and boy-ness) is nothing to scoff at. I remember thinking, This is why parents should let their sons come to shows...they get to really let go and bond in a way no other situation allows.

So, then, I come back to Lauren's thoughts on being at a show, and I'm suddenly faced with a question: why does my preference on how I want to watch a band take precedent over someone else's? If someone wants to dance, why should they be held back just because I don't want to dance? If a show is made totally comfortable for me, what happens if that alienates someone else, boy or girl? If boys are uncomfortable at a show that caters to girls then is that just a different side of the exact same coin? Is alienating boys a just revenge, or completely missing the point? And if the goal is to make everyone watching a band feel comfortable, what do you do when one group's "comfortable" is another group's "terrible show experience"?

I mentioned the word entitlement* up at the top because it's a concept that I find very frustrating and I am convinced is intimately involved in the discord in this country right now. My normal reaction to being near a mosh pit or violent dancing is simply to remove myself from the situation (this is my reaction to pretty much any situation I don't like). I'd rather hang out at the back, but I know not everyone feels that way. Is anyone entitled to a certain experience at a show? And, again, what happens when those "entitlements" are in direct conflict?

Who needs a thesis topic? Entitlement and Gender at a Punk Show

*In this sense, entitlement refers to a belief that one is deserving of certain privilege. I am not programs such as Medicare, where the term carries slightly different connotations.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Rules of Ownership

So John Green, a favorite author of mine due to his great writing skills but also his great speaking skills and his great being-someone-you'd-like-to-have-a-beer-with skills, says a lot of really great stuff. One of his strengths as a writer is coming up with wonderfully short sentences that manage to convey infinite amounts of wisdom. Behold:

“...being the person who God made you does not and CANNOT separate you from God's love.”

See? Brilliant—that’s an entire religion in one sentence.

One thing he said in his video today really struck me, because it’s something that I have felt and I have said in different ways, but not as eloquently know...not in public. About his debut, Printz-winning novel, he said:

“The Looking for Alaska that you read is not quite like the Looking for Alaska that anyone else reads.”

In essence, the reader makes her own meaning, and, in a way, owns a story. This immediately made me think of a memory from my childhood, one that I feel defines me in a very precise way. The memory is about tornadoes, briefcases, bathrooms, and books. It has multiple endings, as most stories in life do, but the first one, chronologically, is the most applicable here.

Tornadoes are a scary reality for anyone living in Nebraska and North Texas. Those residents know the hard-and-fast rule about where to go when those sirens go off: preferably a basement, but at the least an interior room with no windows. In Nebraska, we had a basement full of toys, so when an alarm would sound, we would gather in the room where my most precious possessions (i.e. the Pony Paradise Estate) already lived. In North Texas, however, basements were scarce and the only room in the house that offered protection from a storm was a small bathroom off the kitchen. Two adults and four children could barely fit in it, so the GI Joes and My Little Ponies had to take a backseat. The rule was: each child could choose one thing, and one thing only, to bring into the bathroom.

It was during this period of my life that I stumbled on a book in the library called Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M Martin. I quickly fell, be-speckled-eyes first, in love with the Baby-Sitters Club series. I saved up allowance dollars and bought the books at book fairs, garage sales, and used bookstores. They topped my birthday and Christmas lists for years—especially the Super Specials, which were larger and more expensive. There was a four-foot horizontal shelf in my closet specifically reserved for the series, which quickly filled the space with its pastel rainbow. The collection was my pride and joy. I strutted around my room, secure in the knowledge that I could quickly name off the titles of the first thirty or so books. I kept them neat and dust free, always in order. I adored each one and never leant them to any one.

When the sirens sounded, then, there was no doubt in my mind what was coming into that bathroom with me. Luckily, my father had recently traded his old briefcase in for a smaller and sleeker model. The old briefcase, with its tattered leather cover and brass combination locks next to the handle, became mine. In the minute and a half we had to scramble everything together, I could stack 60 books very neatly into that briefcase, snap the locks and haul it across the house. The bulk of the series fit into the main compartment, lined with worn down cream velvet, striped with pen marks. The Super Specials were lined up in the lid where partitions meant for organizing papers and files held them in quite snugly. I would pause for a moment before slamming the lid and admire the covers, the way they lined up in each stack to form a perfect grid of smooth, slick paper.

I am sure my mother had actually meant for us to bring one small item in—a picture album, our baby blankets, or perhaps a small toy. I still maintain, as I did then, that the books were all enclosed in a briefcase, which is one item, and therefore was allowed.

Looking back, I wondered why it never occurred to me that those books were just about the most replaceable items I owned. If a tornado did in fact rip through our house, tear our roof off, and destroy the contents of my closet, the cost to replace the entire series would be under $400.00. Today this seems like a rather paltry sum—less than the deductible on my renter’s insurance. At ten, however, that was more money that I had ever seen.

I don’t think the money was really an issue, though. I doubt it even occurred to me that there was a way to replace the books. In my mind, the books that I owned were the only ones I could own. They were mine, no force of nature had any right to take them away from me. I had marked in the margins, dog-eared the pages with my favorite passages, stamped a “This Book Belongs To” note in the inside cover of every single one. By being in my possession, they had become part of me, each book was not only the means by which I experienced the story, but part of the story itself. The way I read the story was imprinted on them—a little bit of me being left on every book I read. A newer, cleaner edition with whiter pages would not have the same familiarity, would not tell the story in the same way. Those books in the bookstore belonged to someone else, would be read by someone else and interpreted by someone else. I wanted my books, my stories. Those, to me, were truly irreplaceable.

I no longer have those BSC books. They were lost to the attic or to yard sales after I grew out of them and moved on to such rich literary classics as Christopher Pike’s Remember Me and Lois Duncan’s Stranger With My Face (don't worry, my taste in books got better in college). That sense of ownership remained, however, and is probably a contributing factor to my very packed bookshelves. Once I love a book, how can I let it go? It’s mine, after all. All mine.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year's Scream

2011 is a weird year, there's no getting around it. All the "00" years seemed kind of cool because we were still in that "It's the new millennium!" excitement. You know: "I can't believe it's 2005!" Then 2010 came along, and it's such a nice number, so round and bouncy. Sure, it's kind of square but even so it seemed like a really partial number, an even keeled one. A number that could see all sides of an issue, wouldn't judge you, and would totally be willing to help you move that couch.

And now it's over and it's...2011. You can't make funny New Year's glasses with it. It's a prime number, which either makes it very cool and exclusive, or the sad loser year that no one wants to hang out with. Either way, it's odd. (Ha ha. Sorry.)

Looking down the barrel of this year from January is kind of intimidating. You know that scene in Home Alone (the first one) (great movie) where Kevin has his hands to his face and is screaming? The scream is actually in response to aftershave and therefore ripe for a metaphore about growing up, but that scene became representative of the whole movie, of Kevin's feelings about two burglars trying to break into his house and ruin his already-terrible Christmas. And it's how I feel right now, like I need a moment of unbridled screaming to calm myself before tackling the bear that is 2011.

Like last year, I'm not doing resolutions this year but rather listing things I'm looking forward to/need to focus on.

1) Women in Children's Media
I'm now the V.P. of an amazing organization, which means it's time to quit making excuses, put my big pants on, and get shit done. Those are all things I'm telling myself while I panic about how little I know about how to host media online.

2) The Work Move
Our offices are shifting around inside our building, and it's going to put a strain on pretty much the entire company. This year will require a lot of patience, flexibility, and some really great noise-cancelling headphones.

3) The Wedding
Anyone who had fun planning their wedding must have had a much bigger buget than we do, as I've spent the last 2 months either overwhelmed by guilt for how much we're spending or in a total panic that no one will have any fun because we aren't spending enough. A lot of deep breaths (and about 10 excel spreadsheets) will help. Also, I need to keep in perspective the best part of all this: marrying Dan.

Also, I guess I should blog more. Or just write more. And start getting to work on time. And stop eating so many bagels. And run more. Train for a half marathon. Talk to my friends more. Clean the apartment more often and dust more than once a year. Call my mother weekly and talk to my siblings more and see my new nephew and be more organized and oh my God the closet shelf needs work and AHHHHHHHHHH. Hands on face!