Tuesday, July 29, 2014

HOW I FOUND OUT THAT I WAS DUMB



I have never considered myself a genius. There are plenty of subjects I know nothing – or almost nothing – about (physics, political science, economics, breastfeeding, The Game of Thrones – to name just a few), which means that if I find myself in the middle of a discussion regarding any of aforementioned subjects, I have to either keep my mouth shut, or at least be very careful about what I’m about to say.

On the other hand, I have never felt that I was an idiot either. I mean, being able to learn a second language to the point that one is able to get her education in a foreigner country (with a GPA above 3.5 ever since the beginnings in a community college, I should add) must count for something, right? And being a huge nerd, I have a lot to contribute when a discussion involves subjects I have a background in (history, anthropology, literature – to name just a few).

All in all, I have always been happy with the level of my “smartness.” My strengths and weaknesses seemed to be well-balanced; I never took the IQ test, but what does that say about a person anyway?

Yet during past couple of years it’s been pointed out to me so many times that I was dumb that I’m starting to believe that I was perhaps too optimistic in the self-assessment of my abilities.

What’s been happening is that there are some people out there who have such a difficulty to accept that someone might have a different opinion/philosophy/belief that, when facing such a person, their immediate conclusion is that said person must be a) stupid, b) uneducated, c) dysfunctional, d) all of the above.

I already wrote a column about some people’s astonishing responses to my decision to remain childfree. It’s a personal decision that doesn’t affect anyone but myself, so it’s been something of a mystery to me why so many folks feel obligated to convince me why I should become a mother even if I don’t want to. I’m not going to get into details here, but let me just quote one Czech woman (a former coworker of my father), who, upon hearing that I had no intentions to get married and have a baby, said to me: “When we started talking, I thought that you were an intelligent woman, but now I can’t believe how stupid you are!”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is what you get for defending your right to do with your uterus whatever you see fit!

Fundamental Christians are another typical example. Every now and then my path crosses with one who is concerned about my immortal soul and tries to convert me. I used to be nice and polite to such people, because I appreciated that they were trying to save me from Hell (which they believed in and I didn’t). So I would explain to them that I didn’t really need to hear their testimony about Jesus, because as a former Christian I was already well familiar with His teachings. I read the Bible in both languages, participated in Bible studies, went to church every Sunday, and read as many books on Christian theology and philosophy as my brain was able to absorb. (There was a dark time in my life when I even tried to restrain from premarital sex. I still shudder when I think about it.) When I decided that Christianity wasn’t the right path for me, I knew perfectly well what I was rejecting and why.

Do you think it helps?

No. Because fundamental Christians are so convinced that their truth is the only truth that they won’t accept any explanation. If I had a dollar for every time when I was told that if I “talked to the RIGHT person”, “read the Bible in the company of TRUE believers”, “went to the RIGHT church” or simply “got to know Christianity BETTER”, things would be very different for me!

Ugh...

And the sad thing? Nowadays the same shit is happening with people talking to me like I’m an idiot because I dare to express an opinion that modern feminism no longer represents me and my values, and that, while I still stand for “world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all” (the 6th principle of Unitarian Universalism), i.e. for men and women equally, I don’t identify as a feminist.

The responses of some people, including some of my close friends, are such that you would think that I announced a plan to become a serial killer specializing in babies!

I’m a little alarmed by how few of my “multiculturally sensitive” friends actually bothered to ask WHY I felt the way I did. If they asked, we could have a discussion, and maybe, just maybe, we would end up perhaps still disagreeing with each other, but at least respecting each other’s opinion (which, believe me, I’m fully capable of).

But the sad truth is that, just like fundamental Christians or fundamental Czech mothers, people feel that they don’t need to ask, because they already know.

“You just don’t know what feminism is.”

Really!?

If there is something I don’t know, it's whether to laugh or cry every time when I hear this condescending statement! Because, you know, that’s how I roll – rejecting things I know nothing about just out of sheer ignorance! It’s absolutely impossible that I decided to disengage from modern feminism PRECISELY because I have studied it a lot and that’s how I found out that it did NOT represent how I felt like a woman in modern society! I couldn’t possibly know what feminism is because I didn’t spent years reading up on it, from the early feminist movement all the way to the third-wave feminism and postfeminism. I have never even heard names like, say, Betty Friedan or Simone de Beauvoir, leave alone Jessica Valenti or Annie Sprinkle. I know nothing about different branches of feminism based on their fusion with another social/spiritual movement (black feminism, eco-feminism, Marxist feminism, Muslim feminism – you name it). In fact, now when I think about it, I don’t understand how I can have the nerve to open my mouth in public at all, considered my level of ignorance and lack of education!

Oh, well, what can I say?! My problem is that I’m always so damn sure that I have the right to choose what to do with my body, which spiritual path to pursue, and what philosophy fits best with my values and beliefs that it gets me into trouble every time!

But here is a message I have for all the politically correct folks in my life who apparently feel that not being a feminist is close to a crime: One of the multiple definitions of feminism I heard over the years is that feminism liberates women and allows them to make their own choices. However, the diversity of human experience considered, allowing women to make their own choices inevitably means that some of them will make choices different from yours. If you can’t deal with the fact that some women might have different views than you, then what kind of feminist are you in the first place!?

Because you know what? If you insist that only your path is the one and only true path, then you are no better than the chauvinistic society you are supposed to fight against. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there will be women around you who simply don’t like it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

'WHERE DO WE GO NOW?"





I have been feeling uncharacteristically peaceful this week and so when I started to think what to write about in my next post, I found out (to my enormous surprise) that for once I had no desire to argue with modern American feminists, or to make fun of the fundamental religious right.

Wouldn’t that be nice to share something positive, something inspirational?

Now, I don’t know how long it will last and so let me just put it out there quickly, before something sets me off and I will revert back to my usual confrontational self:


I had such a great time watching her “Where Do We Go Now” film on Saturday night that I feel obligated to pay a tribute to it on my blog.

But before I do so, let me share briefly why I think that watching movies like hers might be a good idea for people who are striving to become well-rounded and multiculturally sensitive. It’s simple: Because not all of us are in the position of being able to travel the world (which I’m hoping will change for me in the future!), reading books and watching movies is one of the most affordable options of how to taste a flavor of cultures different from our own. Even fictional stories teach us a lot about life in those mysterious parts of the world we normally don’t think about. Some of the best movies I rented from Netflix for past two years were from Iran, India, and/or South Korea. And don’t get me started on books – I would need a whole new blog just for that!

Anyway. Nadine Labaki is a Lebanese actress and film director, and her first feature film, “Caramel”, is one of my all-time favorites, which is why I was so excited to rent her second one. “Where Do We Go Now” is a little difficult to categorize; in fact, that’s the main reason why it’s been getting such mixed reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Reviewers are cranky because they are unable to decide whether the film is a comedy or an anti-war drama. (The fact that it also contains features of a musical isn’t helping matters.) I can testify that the movie made me both laugh and cry repeatedly; whether you consider it a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to you.

I don’t want to give too much away just in case this post will persuade some of my readers to see it, but here is a synopsis:

In a remote Lebanese village Muslims and Christians have been living together for a long time. But when news about religion-based conflicts and violence in Lebanon reach the community, men become restless. Neighbors are turning against neighbors, friends against friends. The women, however, are determined to do everything in their power to keep peace. They are supported in their efforts by both local priest and imam, who are growing increasingly frustrated with their flocks’ stubbornness and aggression. Because desperate times call for desperate measures, the women would do anything to prevent their men from trying to kill each other; including but not limited to hiring a group of Ukrainian strippers as a distraction, or feeding the men pastries containing hashish to calm them down. Eventually, the women succeed in their plan to rid the village of weapons, which significantly reduces the risk of violence even after the men sober up.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? But if you are anything like me, the movie will leave you thinking about things like why all the religious violence in the world? How much we should blame religion and how much testosterone? How does economy play into all that? And so on, and so on, until your brain gets overheated, but isn't that what a good movie is supposed to do?

I will end with a quote from one of the reviewers from Rotten Tomatoes, who summarized the movie as follows:

“Odd little movie - but quirky. … Seemed a little confused on whether it wanted to be a comedy, drama, or a musical. It even had a blossoming love connection that they started, then seemed to forget about. Like a said...odd movie.”

I agree. It is odd and quirky and occasionally confusing. Just like, you know, life :)


Monday, July 7, 2014

PEDOPHILES: GLOBAL CHICK'S ETHICAL DILEMMA



It doesn’t happen to me very often that I run into such a complicated social issue that I have literally no idea where to stand, but it can happen; hence today’s column.

On Saturday morning I was happily sitting in bed with a mug of coffee, wasting time on one of my favorite Czech blogs. In one of the discussion threads a member made a nasty comment about the last LGBT Pride Parade in Prague as “a parade of pedophiles”. Naturally, I considered the comment homophobic and the lady who wrote it a judgmental, narrow-minded bitch.

Except that this time it turned out to be less simple. As the discussion continued, I learned to my amazement that yes, the last Pride Parade really included four pedophiles, who marched publicly side to side with the LGBT community on the grounds that they couldn’t help being born pedophiles and therefore they had the right to be accepted by the society as everybody else.

I can’t lie to you, my friends, my first response was a total freak-out! Mainly because the argument that “we can’t accept homosexuals because they sexually abuse little boys” has been pissing me off for a very long time, and I like to see myself as a part of the crowd that patiently educate the public that no, homosexuality and pedophilia aren’t a same thing. What on Earth, I thought, possessed the LGBT community in Prague to invite pedophiles to their parade?! Isn’t that precisely the thing that would cause most religious fundamentalists go “I knew it!!!” and throw a beer can at the TV screen?!

Intrigued, I read through the whole thread and then clicked on a link provided by some of the members, which led me to a website that is supposed to be the most comprehensive Czech informational and psychoeducational source about pedophilia. Further research discovered that:

1)      Most pedophiles will not sexually abuse children or become consumers of children’s pornography. When we hear in the media about cases of a children’s sexual abuse, they were usually committed by a person who isn’t a “true pedophile” (i.e. a person who is sexually attracted to children), but a person who has an entirely different issue, for example sadism. (I must admit that this information is consistent with what I learn from literature both professional and popular about these predators).
2)      Pedophiles don’t have a choice in that sense that no matter how hard they try, adults simply don’t turn them on. They usually become aware of their sexuality as adolescents or shortly after. Fear, disgust, and self-loathing follow.
3)      It’s not all about sex. One of the differences between true pedophiles and other kind of sexual predators is that pedophiles are capable of genuinely falling in love with children. Because children’s world is close to their way of thinking and being, they often become terrific teachers, or writers of children’s books (I couldn’t help but remembering a recent Facebook argument with a former classmate, who couldn’t deal with my observation that “evidence suggests that Lewis Carroll might have been a pedophile”).
4)      Many pedophiles are trying very hard to not commit an act of sexual abuse against children; they often voluntarily undergo treatment and spend most of their lives in therapy. In those cases where a pedophile “slips,” the abusive act is significantly milder that act of a sadist, usually limited to, say, masturbating in the front of the child. (I’m still recovering from reading an autobiography of a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. Her description of what her stepfather used to do to her truly makes a masturbation in front of a child a piece of cake – by which I’m not by any means trying to say that it’s okay, God forbid! I’m making this comparison because it supports the idea that a pedophile and a sadistic sexual deviant are two different matters.)

All right, so I read the website. The question is: Where do I go from there!?

I remember a psychopathology class in college back in Czech Republic, taught by a psychiatrist who specialized in sexual deviations. Learning about the most bizarre types of sexual attraction made me feel deeply sorry for people who seemed to be born that way and there was nothing they could do to change (can you imagine spending all your life being sexually attracted to, say, trees?! Yes, that exists.) But that’s the thing: While I have never had a problem to accept the LGBT minority as equal, I confess that pedophilia, together with all sorts of other ‘ilias, has always been on my list of “sick people”. My mindset was therefore such that I was ready to treat such people with compassion (especially those who made a serious commitment to do no harm), but not to perceive their condition like something that the mainstream society should accept as a norm.
Intellectually, I’m capable to comprehend that if pedophilia is a sexual orientation people are born with, the society probably should treat them like human beings. In my heart, however, I’m not yet quite ready to hear at a parade:

Say it now and say it loud,
I’m a pedophile and I am proud!

Some aspects of the website I reviewed are not helping matters. Women in the original blog where I learned about the site’s existence complained about some of the pedophiles having photos of kids as their profile picture and about the forum being littered with photos of kids (fully clothed – the website wouldn’t allow anything inappropriate) randomly downloaded from Internet with comments underneath like “oh, this little cutie is so adorable!”

And once again I’m asking: Am I a bad person for cringing?

As a mental health professional, I like to believe that should I ever find myself counseling a pedophile, I would treat him as any other client, i.e. with compassion and unconditional positive regard. However, from a societal perspective I struggle with trying to determine how far as a society we should go in normalizing these issues. I have been going back and forth ever since Saturday morning and so far a conclusion isn’t in sight.

One thing is for sure though: I don’t have children of my own (and no intention to get any), but there are some children in the world that I happen to love dearly. If I imagine, say, one of my best friend’s little boys being salivated over on a pedophile website – even if I knew it was fully platonic - well, let’s just say that I would feel a very strong desire to kick somebody’s ass, possibly even balls!

So, what really interests me today is how do YOU feel about this?