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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Book By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Whose Title Will Surely Turn off Some Readers So I'll Let You Find Out When You Read It

Did you know that your boy Howie has some self-esteem issues? Seems like a surprise, I know, what with all of the different ways I try to win approval of friends, family, and strangers through various social media platforms. Performing for you I'm like a desperate dolphin trying to balance a ball on his nose when everyone quietly thinks that he should leave that particular performance for the seals. "Like, he's kind of balancing it, which I guess is OK for a dolphin. I mean. It's cute that he tries."

Honestly, "it's cute that he tries" would probably be a pretty exciting compliment to receive at this point. Others would be "hey I read your blog," or "I acknowledge your physically existing and taking up resources." Even an "excuse me" to get around me would be a very pleasing recognition of my occupying space.

The upshot of this is twofold. One: it means I continue to post updates on this blog with little to no feedback. Two: I feel pressure to read books. And not just books, but important books. Blog-worthy books. In the end I think that both of these things end up being positive outlets for a near-crippling condition of general anxiety about being in a world that, for the most part, neither recognizes nor cares about my existence. The blog, however unread, is a fairly pleasant way to pass the time and practice writing. The reading has been life-changing, eye-opening, and maybe the best thing I've done in my life in the last (checks to see when my youngest was born) seven-and-a-half years or so.

I've read books for my whole life, tons of them, but there's something about the directed, conscious reading that I've done in the past three years that has elevated it from a hobby to a necessity. I don't know how I would interact with a world that often seems random and uncaring without it, honestly.

You like hard drugs, I get it. I'm glad that drugs work for you, but for me they have long ago lost their flavor. Spreading buttery cocaine on my morning toast is but a ritual to return me to my daily status-quo at this point. That fleeting high a long-lost memory. Once the Ghostbusters claimed "busting makes me feel good." Then they busted to feel anything. Now they bust those ghosts to feel nothing. Chew on that, reader.

No, friend, it is in the tomes where I find the strength to continue on. There is no limit to the assortment in which words can be placed, and books have managed to consistently surprise and delight me. Take, for example, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's slim, 49-page book We Should All Be Feminists. It's hardly a book. More like a long pamphlet. In its published form it resembles an instruction manual for a smart phone. But while learning how to better use your smartphone is a descent into madness and unproductivity, learning how to be aware of the toxic effect of culture on more than half the people who live on this here Earth will help put you in a position to help reverse it.
Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.
Don't want to spend $2 on the Kindle store? you can listen to it for free here:

If you're lucky you get to see a commercial for Zootopia first. Doesn't that look great? Oh my gosh.

If you're like me, and Adichie herself, you've been raised to associate feminism with lots of negative things. Many of them that did not happen. In We Should All Be Feminists we read a pleasant, breezy explanation for why those things are wrong. Maybe by the end of this you still disagree, but at least you'll have an idea of what feminists fight for.

Listen, I'm a wizard with words. I'm the Tom Brady of treatise, the dean of donnybrook, the queen of quarrels. So when I say that I can't even describe how done I am with people assuming they know what feminism is and then proceeding to tear apart some grotesque mockery, just believe me. You guys, I am so done. 

Adichie makes a joke about it: "At some point I was a Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men and Who Likes to Wear Lip Gloss and High Heels for Herself and Not For Men." You know what you call a woman like that? Feminist. You know what you call any woman who wants to live her own life unobstructed by societal obstacles? A feminist.

So I talked earlier about my self-esteem, remember that? Well here's an interesting by-product of systematic oppression: it hurts both sides.
But by far the worst thing we do to males—by making them feel they have to be hard—is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is. And then we do a much greater disservice to girls, because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of males. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.
Here's a shot in the dark: maybe when we get dudes in militias taking over wildlife refuges it's less because of "government tyranny" and more about proving to each other how tough and powerful they are. And what if that's because we've decided as a culture to idolize the white male with a gun to the point of fetishism? Men have been sold this idea that in order to be found acceptable as a sexual partner they have to prove some kind of derring-do, and we're in a society where swashbuckling options are increasingly scarce.

Basically, aside from actual war, what men have nowadays to test their mettle against other men in the arena of physical combat to prove their worth are the structured battles simulated in sports, hunting, and online-multiplayer-shooter-shooty-shoot-other-guys-in-the-face war games. It's no wonder male gamers are so toxic when confronted with female gamers in the online space. It's because they are not only failing to beat other men at these pursuits, but women as well.
Now manbabies who can speed run Mario but haven't figured out how to close the deal in real life obsess about being an "alpha" and stay up all night swapping pick-up-artist stories that they stole from the letters section of the magazines they bought from behind the beaded curtain. All in response to what they consider the end of chivalry. When men held open doors for women and in return the women had their babies out of sheer politeness.

From a wildlife biologist point of view, there is a very, very simple equation when it comes to mate selection. The longer a female carries their young, and the more initial care their young requires after birth, the more selective they are about partners. This is why birds have such complicated mating rituals and attractive plumage, because it's frickin hard to sit on a nest for months and then teach a useless lump of feathers how to fly. You can't waste that time and effort on crappy genes.

Human babies have big ridiculous heads and are literally useless for years after birth. Some of us for decades. Some have still not fledged the nest and blame that fact on nameless, faceless women who refuse to knock on their door, navigate their complex series of anti government traps and bunkers for when Obama comes to take their guns, and volunteer their wombs to baby-making. These women only like jerks, they say. And I'm a nice guy! A nice guy who just spent 18 hours online targeting and harassing women I don't know because of a video game review they wrote once.

These guys are trying to fight for the right to catcall. Even though they already technically have it because of the 1st Amendment or whatever, they want to do it without social shaming. Listen. Speaking of cats, we have one who sometimes does not like getting pets. My kids will insist on petting her, even though she meows at them angrily and slinks away. This is a constant thing.

Pet her.
But isn't that her I'll scratch you face?

"But cats like pets," you say.
"Right, but this one doesn't. Sometimes. She sometimes doesn't like pets."
"If I were a cat, I would love pets."
"Great. That's great. I'm glad we know this about each other now. I feel like we've gotten much closer. But this one doesn't."
"But petting is nice. My cat loves pets. I'll bet your cat secretly wants pets. If your cat doesn't like pets why is she so cute all the time? It's like she's begging for it."
"I'm going to take a deep breath here and look at you with a withering glare. Do you see it?"
"I see it."

Last quote. You guys, this book is 49 pages more and I can't stop finding great things to tell you, even though you have certainly, certainly, watched the whole video by now.
Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.
Let's get working.