Category Archives: Life

The Patriarchy Has You

Have you ever looked at the news lately and just been confused? Like you’re watching a bad soap opera where motivation doesn’t make sense? We’ve all been taught theories about this in school, like culture, religion, and rational self-interest, but all these explanations fall apart under the weight of the contradictions. Why are conservatives supposedly “voting against their interests”? Why are we spending billions to fight terrorism, when heart attacks and domestic violence claim so many more lives? If men are a privileged group, why the hell are we all so angry all the time? I may not have found the one true answer, but I have found one that works better than the rest: Patriarchy.

I used to think that term was only by man-hating radical feminists, which should tell you how far the up propaganda river I was. Patriarchy needs to be front and center in the mainstream because the modern world doesn’t make sense without it.

Patriarchy is a social system that values fear, dominance, competition, and control. The subjugation of women and the privilege of men is a large part of that system, but it is based on those core values. It is the society we live in. We want to believe that we are somehow beyond sexism, but as I read more about Patriarchy in Alan G. Johnson’s “The Gender Knot”, Patriarchy is so pervasive that we refer to it in unconscious euphemisms like “the way things are”. You see it in the number of corporations, nations, institutions exclusively controlled by men. You see it in our politics, you see it in our language, you see it at every school shooting.

You especially see it in the way women are portrayed in our earliest myths. From Pandora’s Box, to the Garden of Eden, man is held as the standard and woman is the other, the aberration to be controlled.

Our best historical estimates place Patriarchy’s origins near the beginning of agriculture. Agriculture required dominance of one’s environment to ensure a plentiful harvest season. Reproduction provided labour and thus more control over the environment. Women were able to create more laborers, so this made up one of the reasons why women’s actions were so tightly controlled.

Patriarchal values inform other systems of oppression as well. Racism was introduced to justify the buying and selling of human beings to work on the cotton and sugar plantations of the Atlantic slave trade. Homophobia punished deviation from a masculine-centered ideal. Any system in practice today that uses violence to control people can trace its roots back to Patriarchy.

Both men and women benefit and suffer from this system. Women suffer by their marginalization as second class citizens. When a woman tries to walk to her car in a dark parking lot alone, it his her actions that are policed, not the men who would brutalize her. Men suffer by their status as oppressor. They are forced to abandon their humanity to participate in society. Having emotions other than anger is seen as inappropriate and unmanly. They are forced to compete for what they want, and when they don’t get it, they’re very identities as men are questioned. We lionize male aggression so much that for many men it seems like the only way. This line of thinking is the same for the domestic abuser as much as it is for politicians who order drone strikes. Kill or be killed. Via the body or the soul.

There isn’t much time left to ponder it. Patriarchy has created a vast system of global inequality that is wasting the Earth’s material and human potential. So much good is left undone because we can’t ask men to give up control. This is the reason that we can’t build clean energy sources, balance budgets, pass sensible laws, or even have reasonable screenings at airports. The solutions that involve men giving up control, even if they give more personal freedom, are what we now call, “political suicide”. Those are the solutions that we need the most right now.

If you’re convinced of Patriarchy’s existence, and you know the danger, then this is what you need to do. You must read, watch, and expose yourself to as much feminist thinking as possible. The first battleground will be your own mind. If you feel yourself getting angry at the state of the world, question that anger. Men must question their impulse to dominate and control every situation they find themselves in. I have a lot of work to do in this area too. Feminist women already get it. They have for years, and the lies about feminist thinking that have been spread as part of the recent backlash have be fought at all times. When you come to your own understanding of Patriarchal system that you live under, tell others about it. Connect with other people who think as you now do. The promise of feminist thinking is more than just equality. It is the promise to experience true love, true happiness, and true freedom.

Uh-oh.

I was in the parking lot of my local BCAA, hoping to buy some car insurance. It was November 8th, 2016. My Birthday. Election Day. I was fumbling with last year’s insurance papers when I furrowed my brow for a fateful last time. Pop! The bridge of my glasses snapped in two. Both halves fell into my lap. As I futilely struggled to tape the two halves together in front of the insurance agent, I wondered, “Is this an omen? This can’t be an omen. It would be really stupid if this was an omen.”

I managed to get home and put in some contact lenses. I went to the Costco where I bought my glasses only to find out that the frames were discontinued and had to be special ordered. I tried not to wonder how the day could get any worse. That would call down an even funnier mishap, in accordance with the universal laws of comedy.

Just then, my phone rang. It was a recruiter offering me a remote work contract. I accepted right on the spot. It was the first job I had landed entirely by phone. Later that night, my parents and in-laws treated me to a pizza party and a Star Wars ice cream cake. My wife got me that multimeter I had wanted. It was a great 37th birthday.

Even so, Trump was still elected that day. In the months to follow, he would take that grand double-trailer semi-truck better known as the US government and do a few doughnuts in the parking lot. I transitioned from that remote contract to a full-time job just 20 minutes from my house. I know that day was just a bunch of coincidences, but my brain can’t help but try and arrange them into some kind of life lesson. It’s a kind of defence mechanism against insanity. The lesson here is that while some omens are true, you can’t let them distract you from what’s good in your life. Even if you don’t have the luxury of ignoring the current political climate, you’ll need the help of your friends, your family, or whatever else you have going for you to get you through the day.

I hate anti-cell phone memes.

cellphones

I want to draw your attention to this photo art exhibit. Photographer Eric Pickersgill took pictures of people looking at their smartphones and then photoshopped out the all smartphones. The effect is kind of eerie. It’s everything you want modern art exhibit to be. Even so, I really don’t like the way it’s being used. It’s being passed around on Facebook to show off our horrible addiction to cellphones and that is a reminder to get us off our horrible addiction to cell phones. I swear, the word horrible must have been used at least 3 times in the share I saw.

This is not only screed I see on Facebook (and ironically, through my phone) that you need to get off your phone. I absolutely agree that smartphones should only be looked at with consideration to those around you. Still, I feel like these blanket statements to just get off your phone, get outside, get interacting with people, they ask the wrong questions. Nobody seems to ask why are you on your cell phone? What are we looking at? What if we started talking about what was on our phones? Is it because we’d rather be somewhere else? Or we don’t get to see our friends enough? Would your opinion change if we photoshopped books into people’s hands instead? Better yet, why do we want to disturb people who are clearly enjoying themselves?

I understand the impulse to give the stink-eye to people on their phones. No one likes being ignored, and when you see a lot of people on their phones it can feel like they’re all shunning you, like you’re in some sort of fundamentalist sect. We should still be asking the right questions about this. Maybe we should be using our phones as conversation starters. All I know is that simply ringing an apocalypse bell and demanding an end to the mobile internet is not going to move the conversation forward.

Thoughts on Pokemon Go

Image used with permssion from Kimidori

Image courtesy of Kimidori

When I see the huge age range of all the people playing Pokémon Go, I’m reminded of just how huge of a cultural impact this franchise made back in the late 90’s. Pro-tip: If you get the chance, play this game with the young child. I played this game with my son in parks and hotels while on vacation, and the experience of shared wonder is nothing short of magical.

The original Pokémon video game and anime series came out when I was a teenager. I was too busy with more “adult” shows like Evangelion or Macross Plus to pay attention to this new show that was essentially for kids. I didn’t realize that for a lot of people this was their first exposure to anime. That meant seeing a cartoon that could have long and sprawling story arcs, and there were some episodes that were more about emotional relationships than hunting down the latest Pokémon. When you come from a cartoon landscape that resets the storyline every episode, you start to build a relationship with these characters and stories that lasts a lifetime, or at least until you’re tramping through a park trying to catch a poliwag on your phone.

Another thing that I love about Pokémon Go is that it is such a classically Nintendo product, even if the game was created by a separate company. It takes off-the-shelf technology, and packages it in such a way that makes the technology so much more effective than it was before. I call this technology off-the-shelf because it uses a game engine called Unity, a technology that I’ve worked with before. The closest I ever got created my own Pokémon go was causing a cube to appear in front of an iPhone 3GS’ camera and having the game blast out Europe’s The Final Countdown. This was all for an augmented reality venture that never went anywhere.

With Pokémon Go, you see a brand stretching back 20 years combining with extremely refined technical know-how to create a product that is almost changing society. The app launched in the middle of terrifying stories of mass shootings, and in parks across America, Pokemon Go players were holding an impromptu “Take back the night” vigil.

At this point in my life, I only have the time and inclination to stand on the shores of that ocean that is Pokémon, but wherever the ocean leads, I like where it’s going.

 

Charisma: It’s not just a dump stat

Social skills have always posed a puzzle for me. While I’m not exactly a shut-in, a lot of setbacks in my life, or so I’m told, can be traced back to my lack of social skills. Whether it’s a job interview that didn’t go well, or a sale that failed to happened, I’m often left asking why, and people tell me that I just need the gift of gab or the ability to sell ice to eskimos, or whatever that means. Even the smallest social situations I’ve always been envious of people who could hold a room with their stories or who never have to deal with those awkward moments of dead air. Thanks to what I’ve learned in Olivia Fox Cabane’s The Charisma Myth, I don’t have to.

We think Charisma is a natural gift because when someone does it well, we experience the results in our unconscious emotional mind. It turns out that charisma, the ability to read people and react appropriately, can be learned just like programming or playing the guitar.

Developing your charisma involves training your brain to control your body language. We have known for a long time that social skills depend on body language, but only recently have we found that all those ticks and micro-expressions on our outside depends a lot on how we treat our insides. There’s a lot of talk in the book about mindfulness and meditation. Naturally, these practices will increase your confidence, but this is different from a lot of confidence techniques that I’ve heard of in the past.

Instead of just focusing on your strengths and good qualities, the mindful approach to charisma requires that you take into account all aspects of your being, even ones that you don’t like. The way I have interpreted this is that while you may not be the best in the world at anything, maybe the best person in the room to do many other things. This especially works for me if I’m the only person in the room.

A technique I was able to use immediately was a habit of waiting two seconds before responding to anybody. If you are in a conversation and someone is talking to you, just say mississippi in your head twice before giving a response. Another technique I liked was diving into sensation. If you focus on the sensations in your extremities, you can take your focus away from your current anxieties and back to reading the current social situation.

Doing was like opening up a third eye for me. Through most of my life, I have been so focused on crafting the right response to whatever I was listening to that I was just not listening at all. For instance, if I was in one of my old tech support jobs, I might try and act contrite if the customer was mad at me. According to the charisma myth, this is not only detrimental to the control of your body language, but It can even escalate things by telegraphing to your conversation partner that they are hurting you and that they are wrong. If you have a negative expression crawl across your face at any point, people don’t think it’s you, they think it’s them.

Reading this book has made me much more comfortable in my own skin. I am much better at small talk. Even though I don’t have a script for most social situations, I at least have a stance I can take so I can observe the situation and not make a fool of myself. I still wouldn’t call myself an expert. I don’t have a daily meditation ritual, and my ability can be limited by my mood and how much sleep I’ve had. At least now I have a direction to go if I want to improve.

It sounds like magic, but it’s not. The Charisma Myth debunked a lot of ideas that I had about active listening and positive thinking. If you go the book’s website there are a few exercises you can try out. You can get better results from the actual book, but try it out and tell me know how things work out.