The Wrong Time to Get Philosophical

As I mentioned before, I participate in this program (that will remain unnamed) where I get offered free stuff to write reviews. You get a list twice a month and it usually contains a few very expensive really cool items and many cheaper items. Of course, everybody snaps up the expensive stuff the second it appears, so you need to have very fast mouse-clicking skills. The goal is to grab the cool things first and think later.

So the last time around, I open my list and see that it has this extremely expensive and totally beautiful baby-feeding chair that costs $600. And, of course, instead of just grabbing it immediately, I decided that this was a good moment for me to consider the existential question of whether I want to have children. I mean, I haven’t been able to make the decision in the past 35 years. What are the chances that extra 2 minutes would help, seriously?

Of course, while I was trying to arrive at this momentous decision, people without existential hangups snapped up the chairs.

And now I’m sans the chair and sans a decision.

Now, am I an idiot, or am I a complete idiot?

An Impossible Standard of Beauty

“Our culture promotes and imposes an impossible standard of beauty on women,” people often say. “I’m expected to be a skinny, wrinkle-free, modelesque type of woman all the time because this is the only kind of female appearance that our culture accepts. This is causing me all kinds of suffering!”

Well, actually, our culture does nothing of the kind. You are simply confusing culture with trash. The culture of our Western civilization bears no relationship to the junk you are choosing to consume in its place. True culture, the one that has withstood the test of time, has nothing to do with impossible beauty standards. And the best thing is that you can gain access to it for a low price of. . . well, to be honest, for the most part, you can access it for free. Here are just a few examples.

1. “Magazines are filled with photos of air-brushed stick-thin models!” That is very true. However, your Vogue and Cosmo are not “culture.” They are trashy magazines that will end up on a garbage heap at the end of the month. Instead of obsessing over them, why not turn, for example, to the immortal art of Peter Paul Rubens.

Three Graces

This incredibly beautiful painting is what our culture has cherished, treasured and worshipped for centuries. Vogue and Cosmo are not being exhibited at the El Prado museum, while this piece of art is. Generations of people have stood in front of this painting with tears of admiration in their eyes. A crowd of people is standing in front of it right now with bated breath. You can do that, too, and forget about trashy magazines.

2. “Music videos show impossibly beautiful thin singers like Beyonce. I’ll never be able to look like she does!” With all due respect to Beyonce’s fans, performers like her are a dime a dozen. They come, they go, and we forget their names the second they stop performing. Why not turn, instead, to the magnificent art of Montserrat Caballé?

Caballé is not a “conventional beauty” by any standards. Her gift, however, is absolutely unique. Opera singers, for the most part, are not know for being thin. So if your consumption of culture makes you think of dieting, why not turn to opera? If this beautiful art does not convince you that weight means nothing, then I don’t think anything will.

3. “You only see very thin actresses with regular features and perfect makeup in the movies!” That’s not true, either. Maybe it’s time for you to realize that the garbage produced by Hollywood has nothing to do with the masterpieces of world cinema.

This is Natalia Gundareva, my absolutely most favorite actress in the universe. She died in 2005, which is a huge loss for the cinematographic art everywhere.

The photo is from one of her best roles in the film Autumn Marathon that you can find here. Actually, all of her performances were magnificent. Gundareva was not a conventional beauty and she was never thin. Actually, I look a lot like her and have the same body type. (When N.’s mother asked him what I looked like, he said I looked like Gundareva. This was the best compliment I could have ever received.)

Or take, for example, one of Spain’s leading actresses Carmen Maura.


This is how she looks on her brilliant role in the film The Promise. You could be watching her outstanding performances instead of insipid films starring the incredibly talentless Jennifer Anniston.

People ask me how I manage to be so much at peace with my body when society keeps telling me that my body type is ugly. The truth is, though, that society has immortalized the paintings of Rubens and the acting of Sara Bernhardt, and not inane TV shows and glossy magazines. If you choose to consume the performances of Rihanna and J Lo instead of all the available alternatives, whom can you blame other than yourself for limiting your reality so much?

How to Raise a Teenager?, Part II

4. This is not about you. There will be days (or weeks) where all you get from your teenager will be a resentful glare, an eye roll, and – if you are lucky – an angry growl. The teenager will address you with completely spontaneous, “I hate you!” on regular occasions. Remember: it isn’t you he hates. It’s the hormonal storm that is driving him nuts and that he can’t verbalize or comprehend. Please, see point 1 of the first post in this series for suggestions as to what to do.

5. Provide assistance that is being asked of you. Don’t try to correct the teenager’s mess-ups according to what you think will be a good way to do so. At this point, the help that matters is the kind that has been explicitly asked of you.

A real-life example: Once, Molly called me on the phone at 11 pm.

“My boyfriend is a jerk!” she declared. “Can you tell him he is a jerk and scream at him if I hand him the phone?”

Molly’s boyfriend was always extremely polite and respectful to me. As for me, contrary to what people might believe after reading my blog, I don’t walk around insulting people and screaming at them. However, if that’s what the kid needed at that point, that’s what I had to provide. She passed the phone to the boyfriend.

“You stupid MF, FY from here to hell!” I ranted. “You, horrible, nasty jerk!” I swore at the poor guy for five minutes and then asked him to give the phone to Molly.

“Cool,” she said. “Thanks.”

When she came back home, I didn’t ask any questions, of course. (See rule 1.)

“My boyfriend and I made up,” she informed me. “Thanks for putting him in his place.”

It is very difficult to restrain oneself from lecturing and sharing one’s profound wisdom. You have to do that, though, if you want to preserve your relationship with the kid and not just have them call you on Christmas and Mother’s Day.

How to Raise a Teenager?, Part I

At the age of 22, I was left penniless after a bad divorce in a new country whose language I barely spoke. On the day that happened, my 16-year-old sister came to live with me. She had gone through the trauma of emigration 3 months before and was starting to go to a CEGEP (a Canadian pre-university college type program) where she was the youngest kid of all. She also had to study in a language she never had a chance to speak before. We were so poor that going to Tim Horton’s was the most extravagant, chic thing we could imagine. And it was also the best time ever in our lives.

I had to come up with ways of dealing with the typical teenage stuff pretty much overnight. I believe I did exceptionally well. Today, my sister, let’s call her Molly,  is 29. She is an entrepreneur, a brilliant businesswoman, a professional, a true intellectual, and a wonderful mother. I messed up quite a bit in the process of bringing her up but, overall, my results are really great. We are best friends today, which is significant, given that most people fail to maintain closeness with people they raised during the difficult teenage years.

So here are the principles of dealing with a teenager that I arrived at for myself:

1. The most important thing one can do when dealing with a teenager is uphold the three wise monkeys principle: I see nothing, I hear nothing, I say nothing. The poor kid is going through intense hormonal changes. She can’t help being in a vile mood most of the time. All one can do is breathe in and look the other way.

2. But what if she gets in trouble??? Yes, the teenager will get in trouble. That’s pretty much a given. S/he will either get involved with a bad crowd, or get drunk, or experiment with drugs, or get into debt, or stay out all night, or let the grades slip, or antagonize the teachers, or start dating some horrible person (or two, or three, or fifteen.) If everything goes the way it should, the teenager will do all of these things and, probably, all at the same time. This is a sure sign that, until now, your parenting has been really good.

Teenage years are the time of figuring things out, trying on different roles, and messing up. People who didn’t have all these experience during their adolescence will try to catch up later. And the later one lives through a teenage rebellion, the more painful and damaging it is. I’ve seen people who begin their teenage rebellion at the age of 40, and that is a sad sight to see.

3. But what if this teenage experimentation destroys her life??? When a person is 14+ years old, it is way too late to inculcate any foundational moral and ethical principles in them. This had to be done before. It is way too late to start lecturing a person at this age. Also, you need to remember that part of rebellion is doing precisely what the parental authorities specifically prohibit one from doing. Your kid needs to play at rejecting your way of being as a necessary step on the way of figuring out who they are.

I remember when I was 15-17, I rejected the experience of my bookish father by not reading. At all. Books and learning were an anathema to me. I would almost give my father heart attacks by loudly declaring, “Books are stooooopid!” Now, twenty years later, I’m a professor of literature. As we can see, this was simply a stage I had to go through to figure out if reading was something I needed outside of my father’s influence.

Feeling Like a Whore

According to the following, I must be a boy:

I was mortified to ask the Pharmacist for Plan B. I felt like a complete whore for having consensual sex where the condom just happened to break. In this country, if you are a girl who acknowledges her sexuality, you feel like whore by default.

I never felt “like a whore” in my life. I don’t know that “a whore” should have some special feelings that are inaccessible to not whores. I also never felt that my happy acknowledgment of my sexuality needed to make me feel “like a whore.” Until a feminist blog told me that I should feel that way, or I will somehow magically stop being female.

I’m perfectly fine with anybody narrating their experiences of feeling like whores (although I do question the terminology, which I find degrading to women). What bothers me is this attempt to suggest that everybody who doesn’t feel the same is not fully female. The desire to grant women acceptance into womanhood on the basis of how much or how little they have been victimized is very disturbing.

I was born a woman. I don’t need to pass daily exams as to whether I count as one. Both Liberals and Conservatives keep coming up with definitions of womanhood that exclude me and many other women. Maybe we should stop trying to define women? We are all different. We all feel differently. We all count.

Taking Requests

August is a very important month for bloggers. It is usually the month when one can raise the blog’s readership dramatically. If a blogger misses this opportunity, the next one might not come for months.

For this reason, I will now be accepting requests for topics for posts. Is there anything you want to know or want me to blog about?

Please leave questions and requests in the comment section.

I will make this post sticky for a while, which means it will keep appearing at the top of the front page. For new posts, scroll down a little.

Thank you for reading, commenting, linking, retweeting, and sticking around!

Women Are Turning Away From Religion

Great news:

Since 1991, the percentage of women attending church during a typical week has decreased by 11 percentage points to 44 percent, the Barna Group reported Monday (Aug. 1).
Sunday school and volunteering among women also has diminished. Two decades ago, half of all women read the Bible in a typical week — other than at religious events. Now 40 percent do.
The survey also found a marked stepping away from congregations: a 17 percentage increase in the number of women who have become “unchurched.” “For years, many church leaders have understood that ‘as go women, so goes the American church,'” wrote Barna Group founder George Barna, on his website. “Looking at the trends over the past 20 years, and especially those related to the beliefs and behavior of women, you might conclude that things are not going well for conventional Christian churches.”

I hope that women are finally catching on to the sad truth that the Fundamentalists only see us as baby-incubators who should give birth, breastfeed and shut up.

I strongly believe that women will be a lot happier if, instead of the Sunday service where they will be told how inferior they are to men, they’ll just get extra sleep, read a book, take a long bath, sunbathe, or blog about how hateful organized religions have always been towards women.

Let’s hope this wonderful trend continues!

Feminism and Capitalism

“Why don’t we hear more feminist voices criticizing capitalism?” a reader asks.

“Because there is no feminism without capitalism,” is my answer.

Before I explain why I say that, I want to clarify my definitions of both capitalism and feminism.

Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit, usually in competitive markets.

Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women.

I took both definitions from Wikipedia to make our lives easier with simple, unencumbered, unemotional definitions.

Women have historically been subjected to men for two physiological reasons:

1. Women are smaller physically and can be overpowered by the greater physical force of men.

2. Women are limited by the birth cycle. If you spend your entire life pregnant, giving birth, nursing, pregnant, giving birth, and so on, this will put you in a position of dependence towards somebody who is not similarly limited.

This is all explained in detail and beautifully by the great Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex.

Now, capitalism is a system where your physical bulk becomes completely and utterly irrelevant. A tiny, feeble, bed-ridden person can easily be the master of 10,000 giants who will follow the small person’s every command. This isn’t the feudal system where brute force rules everything and everyone. In capitalism, money becomes the decisive factor. As a result, the smaller size and the lesser physical strength of women becomes completely irrelevant. The liberatory potential of this is huge.

In a similar way, capitalism frees women from the dependence on the birth cycle. As a system driven by profit above all, it comes to fulfill the huge demand for birth control. Capitalism is always driven by competition. Which is why any product that is in demand, that can be potentially sold to a big enough group of people, will keep getting developed, improved, and offered for consumption. Birth control, formula, breast pumps, day cares, nurseries, etc. have all liberated women from depending on their physiology.

It is no coincidence that feminism and capitalism developed at the same time and at a similar pace. If the capitalism hadn’t come into existence, I am convinced that we would still see the feudal society where women had to be hidden and closely guarded or be raped routinely.

This is a topic where I welcome all kinds of disagreement because I want to see whether and how this argument can be taken apart.

Just Give Me the Exact Text of the Comment

I really love blogs that end every other post with a long explanation of what people should write in the comments. Like this one:

Commenters are strictly prohibited from criticizing each other, auditing other commenters’ choices, questioning other commenters’ circumstances, or offering advice, unless it is explicitly solicited. You are being invited to talk about your own experiences, not stand in judgment of anyone else’s.

And this one from the same blog:

By way of reminder: Comments that try to suss out what changes, exactly, were made, and even comments noting that, for example, the removal of laugh lines because they are ZOMG wrinkles actually robs a face of its character or humanity, are welcome. Discussions of how “she looks prettier/hotter/better in the candid picture” and associated commentary (which would certainly make me feel like shit if I were the person being discussed) are not. So please comment in keeping with the series’ intent, implicit in which is the question: If no one can ever be beautiful enough, then to what end is the pursuit of an elusive perfection?

I think one could streamline the whole process by publishing a list of accepted comments which readers could simply copy-paste into the comment box. Those of us who have read Ilf and Petrov’s The Golden Calf are now peeing themselves with laughter.

Through the Eyes of a Stranger: Sprinkling Madness

Please look at the mini-ravine in the photo. At night, there are 6 sprinklers servicing it. Three sprinklers on one side and three more on the other. Of course, the water rolls down immediately and the ravine is just as yellow and ugly as the unsprinkled patch of grass right next to it.

I would understand it if the sprinkles watered a flower-bed or a vegetable garden. Understanding lawn-sprinkling is harder for me but I’m willing to accept that this is a cultural heritage of the British who worship their lawns.

This mini-ravine, however, is a mystery to me. Why would anybody want to waste crazy amounts of fresh water every night to water this useless, ugly little space? This can serve no practical purpose.

Am I missing something?