Thursday, March 28, 2013

Analysis of Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Sacrilege": What Sins are in Your Bed?

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs released a new video for their single "Sacrilege" this week. I was already in love with this single, a powerfully voiced song with simple repetitive lyrics that hints at the New Orleans inspiration for the upcoming album Mosquito.

The song has very few lyrics. It starts out with a woman singing that she's "fallen from the sky, falling for a guy." The guy has a "halo round his head" and they say they have "feathers in our bed." The rest of the song is a repetition of this melodically crooned intro and the words "Sacrilege, sacrilege, sacrilege you say" sung with increasing power and passion.

Alone, the song brings into question our cultural assumptions about sex, purity, and sin. Taken with the video, though, it does more than question those assumptions; it indicts them.

You should watch it. Maybe twice. (Edit: Okay, more than twice. See the update at the end on a major mistake I made in this analysis.) 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My Students are Not My "Customers"

During a day of peer review, I sat at the front of the classroom watching students critique each other's papers. For once, things were going smoothly, and I prefer not to intervene unless it's necessary. The point of peer review is that they hear from each other, so as long as they're on topic and being polite, I try to leave them alone.

Things were going so well that I pulled out a stack of in-class writings to grade while they worked*. From the back of the room, a student who had a habit of being verbally disruptive in class called out, "What do you have up there?" Not knowing he was even talking to me, I continued grading. He then called out again, "Hey, teacher, what you have there?" I looked up, puzzled, replied with a simple, "Papers, but why don't you worry about what you're working on?" He then said, "Papers for this class? Because you're on our dime, so it better be for this class." I was taken aback by his rudeness, but I stayed calm and told him, "You worry about what you're doing. I'll worry about what I'm doing." He didn't say any more, and I talked to him about appropriate classroom behavior after class.

His attitude, though, and the idea that I was "on his dime" is one that is becoming increasingly popular on college campuses. Students are now seen as "customers." The buzz word is everywhere. College staff wear IDs to provide better "customer service" and campuses need to adapt to their "customer's needs."


I have no problem with campuses adapting to meet students or people wearing ID badges to be identifiable for students, but I have a big problem with those things happening for "customers."

I worked in customer service. I was a "customer service manager" for a big retail store during undergrad. I have served beer and burgers and cleared tables. I have handed sacks of greasy fries and milkshakes out drive-thru windows. I know a lot about the relationship employees have to "customers."

Customers are something to placate, to nod and smile at through gritted teeth, sometimes to fear. As a cashier, I was frequently screamed at by customers and unable to do anything about it for fear of losing my job. A customer once gave me a ten-minute lecture for "squishing" his bag of spinach (when all I did was place it at the top while bagging his groceries). A drunken customer once leaned over a service desk counter and took a swing at me. Customers have cussed me out, blamed me for things I didn't do, and threatened me.

Of course, these were not the majority of customers. Most customers were perfectly fine people. Many were even polite, amazing people. Some customers made even a day slinging burgers feel worthwhile and fun. But the thing about customers is that they have the power, and everyone in the relationship knows it. "The customer is always right" is a cliche for a reason. They are bringing their business into an establishment and the employees within that establishment are merely a means to an end, a delivery system for the product.

That cannot be what teaching is.

My customers saw me as subordinate to them. My students need to see me as someone with knowledge and experience they can learn from. My customers saw me as a means to an end. My students need to see me as a collaborator in their accrual of knowledge. My customers saw me as someone who could be threatened by their displeasure. My students need to see me as someone who cannot be knocked down by their displeasure, especially when that displeasure is about the standards for classroom performance or behavior.

Effective teaching is first and foremost a relationship. Those relationships differ because of individual's teaching philosophies and particular sets of students. Some teachers may see themselves as authorities on their subjects while others view themselves as collaborators. Some teachers may waver between different relational vantage points throughout their career or even throughout their day. But underlying all of these styles is a relationship between students and teachers based on mutual respect and shared goals that involves a bilateral growth. In effective teaching, teachers become better teachers, students become better students, and everyone becomes a better person.

That effective, mutual relationship does not happen when students are viewed as "customers." I've had customers, and I've had students. I assure you that you do not want me confusing the two.

*Edited to add: This post is getting a lot more traffic than I anticipated, and I've seen some comments about it on some of the sites it's being shared. I don't mind criticism, but I want to be clear that I don't "just sit in front of my students and grade papers." I have a hard time just letting students be during peer review, and I know from experience and research that giving them the room to breathe during that particular classroom activity after designing it and implementing it is the best course of action. I was looking at the papers for maybe five to seven minutes out of an hour and fifteen minute class so that I wouldn't be hovering at students' elbows as they tried to do the work they needed to be doing. I was present and immediately reactive to any questions from any of the groups as they worked. I very much value the time that I have in the classroom and would never see it as an opportunity to do "busy work" while my students suffer the consequences of an ineffective classroom. My classroom is an active place full of a combination of discussion, lecture, group work, and silent writing. Sometimes my classes work better than others, but I am always an engaged participant in the environment. I used this particular example because I thought it captured the tone well (the student saying I was "on his dime"), not because I think students should keep themselves busy while I do other work.

Update: After the conversation this post has generated, I wrote a follow-up post to bring in some other voices.

Photo: Kathy Montgomery

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Guest Post: Foreigners, expats, and laowais: What do you call someone living abroad?

Today we have a guest post from Amanda on how living abroad has impacted the way she looks at her identity. 

In my whole life I don’t think I ever used the word “foreigner” to refer to a person (except for the band) until I moved to China. In America, we have a strong immigrant culture and an extremely diverse population. Seeing someone with a different skin color from myself or with a different accent doesn’t mean they are any less American than me. If I see a Chinese person walking down the street, I would just assume he was an American citizen. I would have no way of knowing he wasn’t unless he told me. Unfortunately in China, “foreigner” is the common term when referring to anyone living here who wasn’t born here and sometimes it really bothers me. But I don’t know what I should be called instead.

Even though immigrants aren’t new to China, they are still a stark minority. And the more rural the area, the more likely you are to stand out if you aren’t Chinese. Usually the stares, the smiles, the “can I take a picture with you?” don’t bother me, but nothing will rile my ire faster than a child pointing at me in the supermarket and saying with a voice loud enough for everyone to hear: “laowai!” – foreigner.

I don’t really like the word “foreigner” when referring to people. I have always thought of the word “foreign” as meaning “something that doesn’t belong.” For example, if I get a splinter, my finger will natural expel the “foreign” object because it doesn’t belong there. Or if a concept is completely “foreign” to me, it is something I can’t understand. But I do belong in China and I am easy to comprehend. I live here; I work here; I am part of my community; this is my home. I am not a “foreigner.”

How about “immigrant?” In America, we have immigrants, but these are people who come to America to live, become citizens, and stay. In China, very few people who move here, even long-term, stay permanently. Last year, columnist Mark Kitto wrote a viral post about “why you’ll never be Chinese” in his manifesto about leaving China (even though that was a year ago and he is still tooling around). In it, he talks about how even people who marry locals, have kids, run businesses, and stay in China for decades are never really accepted. In fact, I have heard several of my friends say “eventually, we all go home.” This is probably true in my case as well. Even though I have no plans to return to America now, I can see it happening someday. So I guess I’m not an immigrant.

The term I am most comfortable with, but I still have issues with, would be “expat,” short for “expatriate.” “Expatriate” literally means “one who lives outside his own country.” I’m generally ok with this term because it’s basically true; I don’t live in the country of my birth or citizenship. But it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. “Ex,” obviously, means “former” – I am formerly from America. But I am still of that country. Many people think that expats leave their native lands because we hate them. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I have a much stronger appreciation for America after living in China. It’s easy to call America polluted when you haven’t lived in a place where the smog is so bad that you don’t see the sun for four months straight. It’s easy to criticize America’s schools when you haven’t seen 12-year olds slaving away for fourteen hours a day, seven days a week to get those slightly higher test scores than American kids. I don’t think it is possible to ever really understand just how great America is until you look at it from the outside. I think if you really love your native country, you should leave it for a while to gain a new perspective. Author G. K. Chesterton once wrote that “the whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” There really is nothing sweeter than getting off that plane at the Orlando airport every year and being somewhere familiar, even if it has changed somewhat.

So what do you call someone living abroad? While “expat” is the safest bet, I don’t know that there is a word to clearly define us. But I don’t really like to be defined anyway.

Amanda has been living and writing in China for nearly three years. You can read more about her experiences at her website, Two Americans in China.

Editor's note: Amanda has also taken her experiences living (and cooking) abroad and turned them into a fun project that promises to fuse her cultural experiences in delicious ways. She has promised us enough dumpling variations to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner from main course to dessert, and you can support her Kickstarter project to do so. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What Does Rape Culture Teach Us About Men?

I just wrote a whole post full of links on rape culture because fighting with friends over victim-blaming and rape apologia is starting to wear me out. As I was reading through those posts, I couldn't help but think about how often we ignore what rape culture teaches us about men.


Women are told from a very early age that we need to be active in preventing our own assaults. We are taught to avoid going out alone, never leave our drinks unattended, keep our car keys in our hands like claws, not open the door for strangers, check identification of repairmen, look in the back seat of our cars before we get in them, avoid empty parking lots, never go out after dark, not accept a ride from a stranger, not wear our hair in a ponytail, always carry umbrellas, ignore the sounds of crying babies as they may be traps, not wear short shorts, and keep an eye on strange men and note their features in case we have to describe them later. 

Public health campaign
The message is loud and clear to women that we need to be afraid. It's a message reiterated not just in warnings, but also in statistics. One in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. That number is even higher for minority women (1 in 3 Native American women will be sexually assaulted) or on a college campus. Two-thirds of rapists are someone the victim knows, often a friend. 

Here's comedian Ever Mainard using humor to demonstrate the way women are taught to fear the men around them:

Here's Wanda Sykes' take on the pressure of constantly having to protect our valuable vaginas:

Because of rape culture, we continue to place the responsibility on women to not get raped. We tell women that as long as they are aware of their surroundings and take all of the right steps, they'll be safe . . . or at least as safe as they can be in this terrifying world full of scary men. Then, when rape does occur, we talk about the men who were "lured" into the act (even if that's multiple grown men raping an 11-year-old girl). We talk about the "ruined" lives of once "promising" athletes who made a decision to rape an unconscious girl. 

The message is clear: men just can't help themselves. They're all would-be rapists just waiting for the opportune moment. That nice man who helped you carry your bags up the steps? He's probably just scoping your door to see how easily he can break in to assault you later. That man jogging in the park behind you on your early morning run? He's probably waiting until you get to a secluded part of the path to drag you off. The friends you're out drinking with? They can't be trusted, so if your girl friends want to leave before you do, you better call it a night. 

Men should be outraged at the way that rape culture portrays them. Men should be marching in the street right along with Slutwalkers and protesters in much higher numbers than they currently are. 

If you believe that women who don't protect their precious vaginas are all "asking for it," what you're really saying is that men are incapable of controlling their sexual urges. You're saying that men are beasts. You're saying that men are vile, filthy criminals just waiting for an opening. 

I know better. 

I know many, many men who are good and kind and respectful. I know many men who would never think that a lack of a "no" means "yes." I bet you know these men, too.

We spend a lot of time focusing on what rape culture does to women because it often leaves us fearful and paranoid. It makes us afraid of strangers and suspicious of friends. It puts us in a constant state of alert that is stressful and terrifying. We should definitely be talking about these things.

But we need to talk about what it does to men, too. It desensitizes them to the responsibility of assault, which is why something as simple as the Don't Be That Guy campaign has been so effective.

Yes, there are people out there who are truly predatory rapists. These people consciously set out to violate others. They are the people we're trained to fear, and they exist.

But they do not exist in every stranger's face, and they do not even exist in every rapist. Many rapists have been so poorly trained in what rape is that they do not know they have committed it. This does not excuse their behavior. The responsibility to be a respectful participant in healthy, consensual sexual activity is on every sexually active individual.

That's a responsibility that virtually all of the men I know can handle, but rape culture is denying them the chance to take it. It's time we give it back.

Related Links:

Essential Concepts: How Patriarchy and Rape Culture Hurt Men

Tony Porter's TED Talk "A Call to Men"

Rape Culture and Its Effect on Men

On Shoveling Snow and How Patriarchy Hurts Men Too

Why Men Need Feminism Too (Really, You Do!)

Rape Culture: What Are You Doing to Fight It?

I wasn't going to write about the Steubenville case, but I have seen so many people blame this young woman for what happened to her that I have seriously thought about deactivating my personal Facebook account. Learning that so many of my friends are blaming this victim is not easy. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just not know, to just go about my day assuming that my friends have the common decency to assume that a woman who is unconscious should not be penetrated and that anyone who does so is committing a crime.

March Against Rape Culture and Gender Inequality - 2

But I didn't deactivate my account. So what do I do now? Do I get into an individual Facebook flame war with every person who posts a status about how this woman was "asking for it"? Do I ignore them? Unfriend them? 

I don't want to create an echo chamber for myself. I need to be reminded that even the simple concept of consent has somehow been relegated to the margins of mainstream culture. I need to know that many, many people think that men just "can't help themselves" and that the responsibility is on rape victims to not get raped. 

But I also cannot get into an individual argument with every person who thinks that way, and I can't reinvent the wheel when so many people smarter and more eloquent than me have already done such good work, so I'm going to use this post as a place to gather the links I wish and hope these friends will read. 

If you think that the Steubenville verdict was too harsh, if you think that a woman in a short skirt is asking for it, if you think that a woman who is drunk isn't taking responsibility for her own violation, if you think that women shouldn't go out at night, if you think that women need to carry guns in order to prevent rape, please read these:

Rape Culture and "Asking For It"

"Asking For It" by Jessica Valenti in The Nation: "But making women responsible for men’s sexuality isn’t just about excusing rape and sexual harassment. It’s a cultural rule that enforces the idea that this is a man’s world—women just live in it."

"What is Consent?" from Vassar College's Sexual Assault Violence Prevention: "Consent is when one person agrees to or gives permission to another person to do something. It means agreeing to an action based on your knowledge of what that action involves, its likely consequences and having the option of saying no. The absence of 'no' does not mean 'yes'."

"Don't Be That Guy" A Canadian public awareness campaign about consent. Read about how effective it's been here.

Poster from Don't Be That Guy campaign. 

"Jam" a video by sex educator Karen B.K. Chan suggesting that we reframe metaphors for sex into the concept of a musical "jam." Like jamming, it can only happen if everyone is enthusiastically consenting to the act. Otherwise, it's not sex.

"Will Your Son Be a Rapist?" a post by PhD in Parenting (full disclosure, I'm cited in it) discussing how we should talk about consent with our children. 

"New York Times' Rape-Friendly Reporting" Mother Jones demonstrates how the reporting of a 2011 case where an 11-year-old was gang raped by multiple adult men focuses on how the girl was "asking for it."

"Women Do Not Need Guns to Protect Themselves from Rape" Policy Mic looks at the renewed push for using guns as rape prevention.

There's a petition at We the People urging a mandatory discussion of consent in all public school health or sex ed classes. 

On Steubenville

"On Steubenville High School & Teaching Boys Not to Rape" by Avital Norman Nathman: "Nobody wants to think of their son as a potential sexual assaulter. I know I don’t. I look at my sweet, sweet son and I know in my heart that he would never hurt a fellow human being, let alone violate and disrespect them in the way this 16-year-old victim was subjected to. But I’m also not living in a fantasy bubble. I’m sure the mothers and fathers of the boys involved thought their sons weren’t capable of such horrific, violating actions either. In fact, most of the town is still in denial, and they’re not the only ones."

"Steubenville Makes Rape Culture Harder to Deny" from The Raw Story: "Even after the verdict, there continued to be immense support for this belief that raping someone is not a crime so much as just fun times that the victim has no right to protest."

"25 Things Our Sons Need to Know About Manhood" from A Holy Experience: This Christian perspective explains that "When the prevailing thinking is boys will be boys — girls will be garbage.
And that is never the heart of God."

"CNN's Steubenville Coverage Matches 2011 'Onion' Athlete-Rape Parody Video" Thought Catalog takes a look at how close CNN's real-life coverage got to a parody that shows how pervasive rape culture is. 

"Responses to the Steubenville Verdict Reveal Rape Culture" Sociological Images has a round-up of some of the disturbing responses to this case and a set of even more links that discuss the problems. 

Rape Statistics

RAINN stats show that someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. every two minutes and that 1 in 6 women will be victimized in their lifetimes. This is not a rare problem. Also, 54% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. 

The Independent published an infographic of what conviction rates look like:

"50 Actual Facts About Rape"- Quick, easy-to-understand facts and some resources to learn more from The Huffington Post. 

Please add any relevant links or resources in the comments. 

Photo: CMCarterSS

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Links!)

Since my last links round-up, I've gotten my broken computer back from Geek Squad (without losing any data-yay!) and had my wisdom teeth removed. The wisdom tooth recovery left me on pain meds that made me too foggy to do academic work or work work, but not too groggy to read blogs! All that to say that I have a lot of links for this week! Here's what I've read lately that's made me smile (The Good), cry (The Bad), and think (The Curious). Feel free to share anything you've been reading/writing in the comments!

The Good

This Salon post discusses an American Journal of Public Health study that shows how doula presence can reduce maternal complications and save taxpayers lots of money . . . if Medicaid will cover them. 

Tori over at Anytime Yoga has a cute, short post about her students and her love of crayons. 

Lauren at Hobo Mama has some great tips on how to have a successful road trip when you have little ones in tow. 

This one's a little old because it was hidden in my broken computer's bookmarks, but Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock did a show together. And they discussed going on tour! That should happen. Now. Right now. Here's Chappelle's ad for Samuel Jackson beer (lots of f-bombs):

Ellie over at Musing Mama has an excellent post on how to lay the foundation for a healthy racial identity for toddlers:
Young children don’t need to hear about racism yet. Preschoolers don’t need to hear about slavery or to overhear a dinner conversation about the racist comment a coworker made. Hearing about racism this early can be confusing, because young children simply don’t have the cognitive or coping skills yet to make sense of it. These early years are a time to make sure our kids feel really great about themselves and introducing doubts (“Some people don’t like my brown skin") can undermine that.
Everyday Feminism has a post on how to exercise for your body instead of against it:
Just yesterday, a man told me that over the past few weeks he has been watching me run on the treadmill, and that if I’m wondering why I haven’t lost any weight, it’s because pure cardio doesn’t burn enough fat. 
This interaction really embodies all of the struggles that I face as a kind-of-curvy lady who also loves to exercise. 
He not only assumed that I was looking for unsolicited feedback concerning my exercise preferences and routine, but he made the unilateral assumption that as a kind-of-curvy lady, I was only on the treadmill to lose weight.
Pink stopped a show in the middle of a performance because she noticed a little girl in the crowd crying. Watch the video. It's sweet.

This Disney princess parody is amazing:

The Bad

A Connecticut Fox affiliate reports on International Women's Day by showing footage zoomed in on women's breasts. 

That student suing because she says being white kept her from getting into college? Well, turns out it has more to do with her not meeting the minimum standards than being white. 

The picture of student debt is not getting any rosier. 

I saw someone talking about James Marion Sims and the murder of slave children in an online comment. I went to look him up because I'd never heard of this before. It's seriously one of the worst things I've ever read. There's a statue of this man in Central Park. Here's an overview of some of his practices:
Sims also argued that the movement of the skull bones during a protracted birth contributed to trismus. Clearly designating patients by class and race, Sims began to exercise his freedom to experiment on the enslaved infants. He took custody of them and with a shoemaker's awl, a pointed tool used for making holes in leather, tried to pry the bones of their skulls into proper alignment. According to his published articles, this procedure was only practiced on enslaved African babies. Because he "owned" these poor, innocent children, he had free access to their bodies for autopsies, which he usually performed immediately after death. Sims routinely blamed "slave mothers and nurses for infant suffering, especially through their ignorance."

The Curious 

This post asks if good grammar can get you further in the workplace even as it recognizes that grammar is a contextual, shifting concept. 

Alison Gopnik has a TED Talk on what the world looks like to babies:

Here's an excellent post on the important conversation we're ignoring in those "guns prevent rape" arguments:
Even if we begin with the massive assumption that all women are okay with carrying firearms and with shooting or threatening to shoot potential rapists, arming women in order to prevent rape carries some major legal pitfalls.
Here's another great post from Tori at Anytime Yoga questioning the use of the phrase "all bodies are beautiful":
Sometimes I think of my body as beautiful; a lot of times I do not. And I am okay with both of those. Moreover, whether or not people perceive me as beautiful does not matter in terms of how I fundamentally expect they should treat me.
A friend of mine who follows MMA has been keeping me up-to-date on the controversy surrounding a transgender fighter. Some other fighters have refused matches with her, citing an "unfair advantage." This article examines that potential advantage medically, but I have to wonder why some advantages are perceived as unfair (especially when they can be tied to our cultural constructs of gender) while other are just considered part of individual variation.

Feministing has an interesting post on feminism and the radical housewife.

Fit and Feminist has a thought-provoking post on what we risk when we encourage women to tear each other down:
The whole notion of jealousy arises from this idea of scarcity, that there’s only so many crumbs of attention and power and sex to go around, and so we should do what we can to get as much of it as possible lest we get screwed out of getting any at all. In the process, we end up screwed anyway, because we get so wrapped up in trying to get one over each other that we fail to notice that we are in fact fighting over crumbs.

Writing Opportunities 

I know this isn't technically Good, Bad, or Curious, but I ran across a couple of writing opportunities I wanted to share. 

There's a collection of visions of a feminist utopia in the works. 

What have you been reading?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Interracial Dating and "Good" Black Men

I know I'm about to open a can of worms with this post, so I'm going to tread carefully.

I was sent an email asking if I would be interested in sharing the following infographic on my blog. I am assuming that the marketing team for this site came across my blog because I talk about race and interracial relationships and are soliciting requests from a number of blogs that meet those criteria. Anyway, here's the infographic they requested I share with you:

Where Are All The Good Single Black Men
Via: Best Black Dating Sites

After receiving it, I did some searching and found it being linked to several articles around the web citing it as evidence that there are only three "good" Black men for every 100 Black women. That certainly is an attention-grabbing headline. 

As a white woman married to a Black man, I am sensitive to this conversation. I try really hard not to be dismissive of conversations about how Black women feel about this particular interracial pairing, and I am definitely not trying to be dismissive of the fact that there are power dynamics in play when it comes to why white men and Black women don't pair up in the same numbers. These are all conversations we should have, but they are societal, systemic conversations. When they turn to my individual relationship (as they have on occasion in the past), I am less open to talking. To ask me to justify or defend my ten-year relationship with my husband along racial lines is unacceptable, and I won't play.

That said, it is my personal relationship that made me react the way I did to this infographic. If I had not been a white woman married to a black man, I probably would have just read through it and then moved on. But because this infographic makes some assumptions about people in relationships such as mine, I bristled. Upon bristling, I did some further examination of the statistics presented in this infographic.

The place where I first got confused by their data is box number three. It ostensibly eliminates Black men from the pool who are not interested in Black women, but it does so by eliminating the 8.5% of Black men who are married to white women. I agree that these men shouldn't be considered in the "Black single men" pool, but only because they are not single. They are married. Shouldn't all married men be eliminated?

Otherwise, we're saying that married men are still eligible as potential mates. Technically, this is true as those men could divorce their current spouses. But if that's the case, the Black men married to white women could just as easily divorce their spouses as a Black man married to any other race of woman, so it doesn't make sense to single them out exclusively (even though this article somehow conflates being married to a white woman as evidence that the Black man "aggressively pursued" her. Shudder.) Being married to a white woman definitely indicates that a man is no longer available, but it does not indicate that he is "not interested" in Black women anymore than it indicates that he is no longer interested in any woman other than his wife.

If we are going to compare single Black men to single Black women, we need to eliminate everyone who's married, which means that we actually need to change the initial numbers in this chart.

The total Black population (according to 2011 census data) is 18.2 million men to 20.8 million women. Of those, 28.3% of the women (about 4.6 million) and 35% of the men (about 4.7 million) are married. The actual number of single Black men to single Black women (before we start eliminating for the other boxes on the chart) is 13.5 million to 16.2 million (83 Black men for every 100 Black women).

From there, we can take their statistic that we need to eliminate a net 2% loss for men because more men are "exclusively homosexual" than women. (Though, to be fair, I think we should argue that since there are more women who identify as bisexual, that means that we need to adjust the numbers in both directions because those women could potentially be removed from the pool by finding their mates in other women). To not quibble, though, fine, we'll reduce two more percentage points. Now there are 81 Black men for every 100 Black women.

All of the rest of the qualifiers are too one sided to be of any use. They eliminate all of the Black men who have ever been to jail because someone who has been incarcerated is no longer "good." Setting aside social questions over whether this is a fair reason to eliminate someone, what about all of the women who have also been incarcerated. Don't the qualifications need to hold steady on both sides of this equation? Black women have a 3.6% chance of going to prison (and since this infographic rounds up Black men's chances from 28.5% to 30%, let's just go ahead and call it 4%). Now there are 51 Black men for 96 Black women.

When we get to the one about obesity, we definitely need to examine it more closely. First of all, it's appalling to suggest that someone cannot be obese and attractive and it's downright statistically untrue to suggest that someone cannot be obese and fit. In fact, most people who are very muscular would show up as obese on the BMI chart. Furthermore, I think it's very unfair to ask that a mate be "good" by meeting qualifications that we don't meet ourselves. Doesn't that mean that we would have to reduce the number of eligible women using the same standards? If we eliminate all of the obese men, then we have to eliminate all of the obese women, too. They eliminated 24% of Black men for being obese, but their source doesn't have comparable numbers for women. Using this chart instead, I'll eliminate 39% of Black men and 59% of Black women. Now we have 12 Black men for 37 Black women. Of course, this kind of math does nothing to take into account that many of those people may have already been eliminated for the previous categories, but I'm trying to match the (il)logic of the original infographic.

The rest of the qualifiers need to be applied equally, too. If one person is required to have a job and make $30,000 a year to be considered a "good" potential mate, then shouldn't the other person in the equation meet the same standards?

In short, separating off any two groups of people for comparison puts them in a numerator/denominator relationship. If you then start applying filters to the numerator but do nothing to the denominator, you are of course going to end up with a very low ratio of numerator to denominator by the end. (Dr. Boyce Watkins demonstrates a similar takedown of this "study" in this post).

If you take a group of 100 women without any qualifiers whatsoever and then you start applying arbitrary standards to the group of 100 men to reduce them, you are going to end up with more women than men. Period. Always. Every time. No matter what.

Using this logic, I could make any two groups of people look like they are in a crisis. I could show that there are hardly any "good" white women in comparison to the total number of white men. I could show that there are hardly any "good" male infants in comparison to the total number of female infants. Adding qualifiers to one group without adding any to the other will always end with a lop-sided ratio. This isn't statistics; this is sensationalism. It may have done a good job of grabbing a few headlines, but it does nothing to shine light on what may very well be a social situation worth discussing.

There, I shared it. People are probably going to stop emailing me things, huh?

What's the Line Between Lying and Whining on Social Media?

Sarah Emily Tuttle-Singer has a great post at Kveller on why we need to quit telling lies on Facebook. She illustrates what she means by showing the difference between the Facebook version of her Saturday morning (shining hair and smile, peaceful walk with the kids, dancing to Red Hot Chili Peppers) and the real-life one (chocolate cake for breakfast, an embarrassing moment where her daughter noticed her tampon, envying friends on Facebook but pressing "like" on their statuses).

She argues that "by only sharing the cute and cuddly moments, I ignore the importance of the raw and the real hours that are spent in the trenches making mistakes and learning from them."

Damn. That's true, isn't it?

One of the beautiful things about social media is that it enlivens our communities, expanding them beyond the borders of our families, geographical constraints, or even physical meetings. If it takes a village to raise a child (or write a dissertation, or bake the best chocolate cake, or get ahead in a competitive field, or anything, really) then we have broadened the borders of our villages through technology, and it should be easier than ever.

Chocolate Cake Hostess Homage
Let's crowdsource this problem, shall we?
We have a wealth of knowledge, support, and experience literally at our fingertips. No one with internet access should ever have to feel alone. It should be easier than it has ever been at any point in human history to find our tribes and build connections within them.

But this lying thing. That's going to hinder that.

If we feel the pressure to constantly give a shining, perfect version of our lives, then we aren't really letting anyone in. We can't share all that knowledge, support, and experience because the sanitized (and, dare I say, Photoshopped) version of ourselves can't let on that we've had it.

When it comes to the cultural narratives we construct, we do a more global disservice as well. By showing parenthood to be all dance parties and long walks, we make parents who aren't experiencing it that way (read: everyone) feel like they're doing it wrong. That makes them less likely to share their own real experiences and further sends the message that we have to edit ourselves into perfection before we can present ourselves to the world. It's a never-ending cycle.

So, let's all stop lying on Facebook. Problem solved, right?

Well . . . not so fast.

See, there's an opposite problem on Facebook that I think deserves equal attention. I'm sure that you all have this person in your feed, and I'm sure that many of us have been guilty of being this person from time to time. The Facebook Debbie Downer. The person who's projected social media reality is so negative that just seeing a post is enough to bring your whole day down. I'm not talking about someone who is having a genuinely bad day/week/month or in the middle of a crisis. I'm talking about the person who only posts their negative experiences and posts them all, no matter how mundane. If this person's favorite newspaper article was too coffee-stained to read, that's post-worthy. If this person stepped in gum on the way to work, it's getting tweeted. If this person's kid has a runny nose, you're getting pictures, perhaps with various Instagram filters so that you get the full gravity of the situation.

This person is certainly not editing their life down to its grandest moments, but isn't it still lying on Facebook?

All of our lives are complicated mixes of the good and the bad. At some moments, the good outweighs the bad. At others, we're on the wrong end of karmic balance. If social media is a projection of ourselves, then it will necessarily reflect that balance.

Since it is only a projection of ourselves, though, it won't reflect that balance fully. We always make choices about what we share with the world (whether it's in person or on the comptuer), but social media allows us to make those choices more carefully. If my hair's a mess, I can't choose who sees it while I'm out in public, but I can choose whether I post a picture of it on Facebook. I can't choose whether my kid wipes her runny nose down the front of my shirt in the middle of dinner in front of my co-workers, but I can choose whether I tell you about it on Twitter.

We all have to find our own personal way to balance that out. We're going to look more or less polished, more or less negative, more or less positive. The projections we create in our online worlds will never be complete versions of ourselves, but we can make sure that they are proportional.

I'm thinking of this today because yesterday was not a good day. It was one of those days in parenting when I felt like throwing in the towel. "You win," I wanted to scream to the universe. "Come get me tomorrow!"

What I put on social media was this:
Facebook: Today was one of those days. I've got a sick kid whose illness manifested in ways disgusting (think Linda Blair and pea soup) and insane (think Linda Blair climbing down the stairs backward). I am exhausted, gross, and mentally checked out. I think it's time to watch some zombies. 
Twitter: Words of encouragement for someone who has had one of those UTTERLY EXHAUSTING days of parenting? I'm asking "for a friend."
In both posts, I was trying to be light-hearted. I was trying to balance out the absolutely negative, grumpy, exhausted, angry thing I actually felt with the generally upbeat projection I usually have.

What I didn't put in those posts, though, was the full truth. I didn't say that my daughter had woke me up at three in the morning with projectile vomit, some of which landed in my mouth, and then I went to work, still in pain from the oral surgery I had three days before but unable to take pain meds if I wanted to teach, and then I came home early so I could sit with my daughter while my husband went to work, and that she then proceeded to stay awake for three straight hours when she should have been napping, and that she spent those three hours alternating between running around the room throwing things, hitting me in the jaw (which was still sore from the surgery), kicking me in the ribs, and screaming, and that I was literally crying by the time she finally fell asleep.

Did my online networks need to know that? Was I lying on Facebook? Surely some mom out there somewhere would sympathize, but just writing it out (even now, a day later) makes me feel tired all over again. I like the ability to filter out pieces of my life because sometimes they aren't pieces that I want to dwell on either.

Where do we draw those lines? Can you tell the truth on social media without telling the whole truth? Are you lying on Facebook?

3rd Blogiversary!

Balancing Jane is three years old today!


I am always amazed that what started as a project I thought no one would ever seen has grown into a place where I've built a community and sense of identity. Blogging has been the one place where I get to wear all of my hats at the same time, even as they shift and change. I really appreciate the insight and support I get from everyone who reads this blog. To date, Balancing Jane has gotten over 260,000 page views, and it's now averaging about 20,000 a month! Thank you!

To help celebrate three years of blogging, here's a list of some of my favorite posts from different stages of this blog:


My goals for the future are to continue getting more tech-savvy, especially when it comes to incorporating images into my posts (and that might mean making myself take some more pictures as well).

My main goal, though, is to continue creating an active community. If you'd like to help me reach that goal, I'd love for you to join and share Balancing Jane. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus.

Photo: Aih.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Let's Talk about Developmental College Classes

Last week, I published a survey asking for feedback on the public view of remedial/developmental education at the college level. I got a lot of excellent responses (thank you all for your feedback!) and want to spend a little time sorting through them.

Obviously, I have some personal motivation behind doing such a survey. I teach developmental writing classes. When I first started graduate school, I knew that I wanted to work with adults, but the more involved I got in education, the more drawn I was to developmental education. I am (mock me if you must) a true, perhaps hopelessly naive, believer in education as a driving force for equality, and I believe that every person deserves the opportunity to seek an education. As much as I have appreciated and personally grown within institutions with cut-off scores and minimum GPA standards, I knew that my personal teaching philosophy was taking me toward open admissions. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to learn, and I wanted to be in a place that put that belief into action.

After working in a series of positions that were designed to help underprepared students get ready for undergraduate classes, I am now working full-time as a community college English instructor teaching developmental writing. This means that students whose test scores indicate they are not ready for college-level composition have to take one or two (depending on the score) classes before they can take a class that gets them college credit. There are similar classes for reading and math. Most students who test into one developmental course also test into others in different subjects. There are a lot of students whose first year or two are devoted solely to these "catch-up" classes.

Notebook Rings (for June 1, 2010) [75/365]

I love my job. 

There's no "but" or qualifier to the end of that. I truly love it. I love seeing students grow as writers and become more confident in their abilities. I love the way that they surprise and inform me. I love the stories they write and the perspectives they bring to the table during class discussion. I love that every single day is new and interesting and that my work feels rewarding and tangible. I feel blessed to have this opportunity, and I look forward to doing it for quite some time. 

What I didn't realize as I got into this career, though, was the way that developmental (also called "remedial") education is viewed by the public. I have had many people assume that I am using this job as a "stepping stone" to work in a "real" college (seriously, they use those words). I have been told that I'm doing "God's work" as if I am stepping into a war zone every day. I have had people (even some within the field) tell me that I will get burnt out, and I hear them and listen because there are some emotional challenges to doing this work that take a real toll. More than anything, though, I've heard and read and seen people write these students off. The statistics for success from this group are grim, especially when viewed through the most common lens: number of students who graduate. If you read about developmental education in the news, it is usually linked to the word "crisis."

Some Facts

To make sure we're all starting on the same page, I'd like to kick us off with some facts about developmental education. 
  • For the 2007-2008 academic year, 20% of first-year college students took developmental courses. These numbers vary dramatically by race (19.9% of white students, 30.2% of African American students, 29% of Hispanic students, 22.5% of Pacific Islander students, and 27.5% of students of two or more races). (Source: National Journal)
  • More than a third (37%) of first- and second-year college students took developmental courses in 2008, including 47.3% of African American students, 45.1% of Hispanics, and 43.9% of Native Americans. (Source: National Journal)
  • Many states restrict admission and funding for students needing developmental education. Some states do not allow students testing as needing even one remedial course to enroll in state four-year schools. Other states are phasing out these courses or considering proposals to charge the public high school systems for every student who needs remedial coursework. (Sources: Times-Picayune, The Review of Higher Education)
  • One state considering charging high schools for under-prepreared students is Florida, where the cost of developmental education is on the rise and 54% of students are testing as unprepared by the state's college placement exam. (Source: State Impact)
  • Fewer than 50% of students who test into these courses finish developmental coursework. Fewer than 25% of them go on to complete a certificate or degree within eight years. (Source: NCSL)

Survey Overview

  • Responses: 35 people responded after I sent it out on this blog, over my personal and blog Facebook pages, and my blog Twitter account. 
  • The split was almost 50-50 between people who had experience with developmental education as a student, teacher, or administrator (18) and those who had not (17). 
  • On a scale of 1 (negative) to 10 (positive), the average view of developmental education was a 6.46 with little difference between those who had experience (6.78) and those who did not (6.12). 
  • The majority of respondents (27, 77%) think that students testing into developmental-level education should receive the help they need to succeed. Four respondents (11%) believe remediation should take place before a student enrolls in college. Four respondents (11%)  believe that too many students are currently labeled as "remedial." 

How Do We View the Students?

  • Twenty-nine respondents (83%) view the students as poorly prepared by previous education. 
  • Just under half (46%) of respondents view the students as hard working, and that number is steady between those who have experience with developmental education and those who do not. 
  • Half of those who have had experience with developmental education said they viewed the students as brave. Only 35% of those without experience saw them as brave. 
  • None of the respondents believes that these students should not be in college

How Do We View the Teachers?

  • 77% of respondents (27) believe that developmental education teachers have a difficult job
  • 69% of respondents (24) believe that developmental education teachers provide an important educational service
  • None of the respondents believe that developmental education teachers have an easy job
  • 66% of respondents (23) believe that developmental education teachers are dedicated to student success
  • 20% of respondents (7) believe that these teachers will get burnt out
  • 20% of respondents (7) believe that these teachers have a rewarding job
  • 17% of respondents (6) believe these teachers are using the job as a step toward a better position. 

My favorite part of the survey responses has been reading the written portions where people were able to share their experiences and views. This week, I'll be using a combination of my own experiences, outside research, and these responses to do some further reflection on these topics. I'm particularly interested in looking at the following:
  • How do we place blame in developmental education, and should we be placing blame at all?
  • What's the risk of framing teaching developmental education as "difficult"? (Hint: I'll probably repeat a lot of the themes from this post about why motherhood shouldn't be called the hardest job in the world).
  • Who decides what a successful student looks like? 
Thank you so much for your responses to the survey, and I hope you'll leave some comments on this and the posts that are coming up this week! 

Photo: Brenderous

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Arts for the Uncrafty: Kiwi Crates DIY Page

I have always loved the idea of craftiness. As a child, I went through a stage where I thought quilting was the coolest thing ever (I was a weird kid, okay?) At various points in my life I have tried to get into needlepoint, crocheting, knitting, and sewing. I have bought the supplies for a variety of craft-inspired hobbies only to have them sit collecting dust on shelves until I sigh loudly as I dump them into trash bags bound for Goodwill.

At this point, I don't even try to trick myself. I smile at Pinterest boards filled with instructions on how to build your own functional cruise ship out of t-shirts and soda can tabs, but I don't bother pretending that I'm ever going to do any of them. I have friends who can do these things, so I believe that they happen in the real world; they're just outside of my wheelhouse, a wheelhouse that consists almost entirely of over-analyzing pop culture and writing overly-academic essays using ancient rhetorical terminology.

Not knowing if craftiness (or lack thereof) comes from nature or nurture, I didn't want to doom my child on both counts, so I decided it was time to try to break back into the crafts game for her sake.

That's why I was thrilled to discover that Kiwi Crates has a new DIY section, and it is amazing!

Kiwi Crate is a craft subscription service. They send monthly projects addressed to your child with a variety of activities. I haven't tried them yet because my daughter is only two and they suggest their projects for age three and up, but their projects look so great that I'm excited to try them when she gets a little older.

In the meantime, though, the DIY section has more than enough to keep us busy, and it is organized so well. You can browse projects by material, age range, or theme. There are science projects, homemade toys, and educational games. Each project comes with easy-to-follow instructions and a guide to which areas of development the activity addresses.

Beyond all of that, they're ridiculously fun, and even I--queen of discarded craft projects--can do them!

Need proof? With one run to the store for a few quick supplies, my daughter and I were able to do three of them this weekend:

Up first was the simplest. We added a few drops of paint to some shaving cream and created "paint." This was very easy to clean up and she had a lot of fun painting some paper plates. The next day, we used some in the bathtub where it was an even bigger hit. 

Painting is serious business. 

The next two projects took a little more prep. We made up a batch of Kool-Aid dyed rice and noodles. Those had to sit overnight to dry. The next morning we mixed the rice in with some plastic Easter eggs, toy animals, jewels, Easter grass, and rocks. She played with it all with some funnels and cups. She sat still with this for an hour, which in her world is the equivalent of three days. 


Then we used the noodles that we dyed to make some bracelets and necklaces. This was definitely the task the toddler had the least patience for, but she did manage to put a couple of beads on the string, and she was very pleased with her end result. 

This is what I got when I said, "Show me your bracelet."

If you, like me, are missing the crafty gene, I highly suggest you take a peek at these DIY activities. And if you are someone who's craft-inclined, I bet there are plenty of starting places that you could spin into even more amazing projects.

What's your favorite crafty thing to do? 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Oxfam: Our Food and Women's Rights

Oxfam is working hard to raise awareness about how our food is a human rights issue. In particular, they're spreading the word that many of our top food brands are missing the mark on women's rights in their supply chains, some by a positively disturbing margin.

Their Behind the Brands campaign asks us as consumers to take some simple steps to make sure that our purchases are aligned with our principles: Look. Listen. Act. We need companies to look at how they are treating the people (who are often overwhelmingly women) responsible for the supply chain. We need them to listen to the experiences of those people. Finally, we need them to act by creating policy changes to address these inequities.

Candy aisle - sideways

You can use this fantastic interactive guide to see how your favorite brands score in a number of measures. If they're not living up to your standards, then the site makes it easy to let them know.

For instance, I'm a huge fan of Ben and Jerry's ice cream (especially Phish Food. Mmm.) Ben and Jerry's has done a lot of work to make sure that their products are ethical, but they are owned by Unilever, and their policies to ensure that the women in their supply chain are treated fairly through equal pay and rights are not where they need to be.

Unilever is among the highest ranked brands in Oxfam's database (and they've even partnered with Oxfam in the past to address the treatment of farmers). Still, Oxfam's recent research into their supply chain business practices have revealed subpar wages and unfair hours in places like Vietnam. 

These huge, over-arching companies have a tremendous impact on the global economy. They employ millions of people across the world, and their policies and practices can set standards that will be followed all around the globe. As consumers of these products, we are part of this chain, and it is our responsibility to make sure that our links are as strong as they can be. 

See where your favorite brands rank and make sure that you let those companies know when they're enacting policies you approve of and where they need to make changes. The bottom line is their bottom line, and when enough people speak out, these companies will change.   

Photo: Vilseskogen

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Atheists, Privilege, and Visibility: Who's Passing in America?

I have a couple of friends (who I hope will weigh in with some thoughts on this post) that are dealing with the public backlash against atheists (or even just against anyone who dares to say that they're not Christians).

This Examiner article from 2012 explains that while nearly 20% of Americans are non-believers, only 2% identify themselves as "atheist." A majority of Americans polled in 2007 (53%) said that they would not vote for an atheist. I've personally heard several people say that they "don't trust" atheists because they don't have a moral compass.


It's no wonder that so few people would want to voluntarily take on a label that's going to immediately demonize them in the eyes of so many of their peers. Ending oppression, though, often requires people to personally connect with someone from the oppressed group, and as long as people can imagine that they don't know any atheists, it's much easier to keep envisioning them as a set of stereotypes rather than actual people. That's why there are now campaigns within the atheist community encouraging its members to "come out."

That rhetoric is of course borrowed from the gay community. Reading these atheists campaigns reminded me of the scene from Milk where Harvey Milk encourages his friends to call their families and come out as gay. "They vote for us two to one," he explains, "if they know they know one of us."

I am not gay, and I am a theist, so these two particular systems of oppression do not have a direct impact on my personal life. However, I believe that all systems of oppression are intertwined, and I do care about them on a personal level. Thinking about how important it is to be able to be honest and public with your identity left me sorting through some different systems of oppression.

Here's a quick chart (based off of one I saw from a diversity class and by no means meant to be all-inclusive) of binary oppressions in American culture.

I am not playing Oppression Olympics, and I am making absolutely no comments on which system of oppression is "worse" than any other. I truly believe that all of these systems of oppression are all part of the same over-arching system, and I see an improvement in the balance of one as an improvement for the greater good of all, whether that one personally impacts me or not. 

That said, there are clearly some systems of oppression that are more visible than others, both categorically and individually. Race, for instance, is often very visible as a category, but it can be less visible for certain individuals. This is especially true for people whose racial identity is "mixed" by our racial standards (though all race is a social construct) and who shift their racial identity within several different categories. It is also evident in the history of racial passing. "Passing" is often seen as a deceitful or even cowardly thing to do, and there is a lot of tension within groups over the issue of passing. 

This is most true of oppressed groups where membership in the group is particularly visible. If you are non-white, that is usually evident to an outside observer. If you are a woman, that is usually evident as well, and the general public seems to get uncomfortable and cruel when it isn't. In fat activism, there are often battles over who gets to be considered as a member of the group, often turning into a discussion about "in-betweenies" and whether they qualify. When a group's identifying label is usually placed upon them by the public, the issue of passing becomes a touchy one indeed. 

But what about those other groups? 

Is it okay to "pass" as Christian? In our culture (at least in my experience), most people will assume you are a Christian if you don't say anything about religion. Of course, there are exceptions to this when it intersects with other systems of oppression. If you look like someone of Middle Eastern descent, for instance, the public may make assumptions about both your race and your religion, putting you on the oppressed side of two systems without even talking to you. For many people, though, simply staying quiet about religion is enough to grant you access to the privileged majority. 

This has also been true of homosexuality. It's where misguided policies like Don't Ask Don't Tell came from. While some people may make assumptions about you because of your mannerisms or style of dress, there is an accepted standard of heterosexuality that many people can gain access to whether they identify as members or not. 

This is also true for many types of disabilities. While some disabilities are readily visible, many are not. People will make assumptions that a person is able-bodied and the person is granted access to that group until they self-disclose their status or are put into a position where they are not physically able to perform a task, thus "outing" themselves. 

The reason that the larger movements around these systems of oppression are putting so much emphasis on "coming out" is because invisible passing strengthens the systems as a whole. If people can simply assume that everyone they meet is in the privileged majority, then they do not have to--as Harvey Milk put it--know anyone in the oppressed group. Not knowing is, of course, one of the privileges. Being able to not have to think about your identity in terms of where you fit or how that identity works for or against you is one of the hallmarks of privilege. Assuming that everyone else around you has the same privilege is privilege incarnate. 

And we work really, really hard as a culture to make passing easy in a lot of circumstances. Religion, I think, is the most obvious one. 

Window at Parish Church of St Peter, Frampton Cotterell, England

For most people, simply saying "I'm a Christian" is enough to appease the membership requirement. You don't need to go to church (only 31% of Americans attend regularly, and only 25% of Catholics go to weekly Mass). You don't need to read the Bible. You don't need to do anything to prove that you're a Christian (unless, again, we're butting up against other systems of oppression, as is the case with those Obama is a Muslim claims). Nearly 80% of Americans declare themselves Christians, and it is to the benefit of maintaining their privilege to not question that number too hard. The more "Christians" there are--even if just in name--the easier it is to maintain the position of power. 

Getting Personal

I said earlier that I am a theist, and that's true, but I have often wondered if I am passing as a Christian, and it sometimes makes me feel guilty. 

I've written before about my journey in faith and how it's recently led me to a Unitarian Universalist church.

If you ask me to identify my religion, I will tell you "Christian." I love the story of Jesus and believe in the principles of the faith I've found through him. I do not believe in the Bible literally, but I believe that it holds many truths about the world and our place in it. I believe that other faiths and belief systems (yes, even atheist ones) are also able to access many truths about our world and our place in it. I believe that there is a Creator, and I believe that the mysteries of the universe are much too large and people are much too flawed for any one human-made belief system to encompass them all.

Why do I take on that label? I want to believe that it is because Christianity is the best religion to encompass my beliefs and that it gives me a place to find community and guidance. Could it be, though, that I just want the privilege of belonging? Could it be that having no clean label for what I believe is too scary and putting on that label is just too easy?

Closing Thoughts

I'm most interested in what invisible passing means for our systems of oppression as a whole. If all of these systems are intertwined (and I believe they are), then allowing one to be held up without question works to ultimately strengthen them all. Calling upon people to identify themselves fully and loudly is one way to combat the pressure to invisibly pass, but it places us squarely in a dilemma of individualism vs. collectivism. 

It is for the greater good of the collective that people own up to who they are and identify fully with every group to which they belong, especially if that group is one of the oppressed ones. There is strength in numbers and even just naming an identity for what is can be empowering (see, for example, the fat activist community's emphasis on "fat" not being a pejorative term and the Black is Beautiful movement of the 1960's). 

At the same time, though, individuals are more complicated. For one thing, we are never just any one identity. We operate under an intersecting set of identities that shift throughout our lifetimes. If today I declare myself a "non-Christian theist" and two months from now declare myself a "Buddhist" and then  five years from now determine that I am a "Baptist," I could be 100% sincere and honest. That could be an accurate portrayal of my journey in faith through time. Likewise, I could today be an "able-bodied" person with full access to those privileges, spend some time using a wheelchair* after an accident, and then recover to regain my privilege and able-bodied status. I have already in my lifetime gone from being "poor" to "middle class" through luck, education, and work, but that is an unstable label that is one personal tragedy away from removal. 

I say all of that to point out that our identities are never as simple embodied in ourselves as they are when embodied in the group. The group can focus on a single facet of identity. It can focus on one system of oppression (though it should never do so to the detriment of others if it hopes to be effective) and it can focus on how people identify in the moment. 

As individuals, we carry with us our other labels and our histories. We have more at stake than a possibly temporary sense of belonging, and we have to make those choices within that more complicated framework. 

Finally, there is a difference between casually identifying with a particular group and doing activist work within in, but the line between the two can be hard to walk. When I was talking to one of my non-Christian friends about the oppression of atheists, he expressed that he didn't feel he could just be an atheist and be left alone. He felt pressure to either keep quiet about his identity or to be nearly militant in the declaration of it. For him, there was no middle ground. If he was going to identify as the oppressed, then he had to fight that oppression.  

What do you think? Are there any systems in which you are passing? When do you decide that a public declaration of identity is important?

* (Edit: a commenter let me know that "confined to a wheelchair" is an ableist statement, which I was unaware of, but recognize after having it pointed out, so I have edited this sentence in the hopes of addressing that.)

Photo: AlphaBetaUnlimited, DanieVDM