Notes from the Serious Side

I’ve noticed draft posts are piling up.  Lately, I just can’t bring myself to write the in-depth Serious Side posts I used to.  It’s partly because I’m just busier now.  There’s more that I want to do.  I never had to juggle more than one main thing at a time.  If I was in school, that was it.  If I was working, that was it.  Granted, now I’m not officially in a degree-earning program, but aside from work, I go to a weekly Japanese class, and have to keep up with the JET Program’s correspondence Japanese course.  I hardly ever draw now, so when I do have a piece to work on, I want to give it my full attention.  Things like planning trips home take up space in my mind, if not all that much time.  And of course, it takes a while to write posts for my JET-specific blog.

Given all that, I could shut down this blog.  I was on the verge of doing so, because I also thought, “I’m tired of fighting.  I’m tired of trying to be a calm voice against racism and sexism in the maelstrom of hatred and ignorance that people unleash on the internet shielded by anonymity.”  But then I remembered something I truly believe: it’s important to put the message out there.  If even just one reads this blog and finds the Serious Side useful (or the Light-Hearted Side amusing), then it was worth it.  I’m trying.

So, given the constraints stated in the first paragraph, I decided that it would be better to at least make my points in brief rather than not at all.  Therefore, I present four things that have been weighing on my mind.

The “I’m a _____ so I can’t be ______” Belief

A while ago I read a comment on a blog where the commenter said that she hated female doctors because they’re always on power trips, then went on to say “I’m a woman so I’m not sexist.”  Riiiiight.

First of all, power trips aren’t exclusive to female doctors.  Male doctors go on them, too.  Second of all, you don’t have to be a man to be a sexist.  You can be a woman and be sexist against men, or, more commonly, against other women.  Sexism would not survive in this world if half the population wasn’t letting its beliefs continue into the future.  Every time a woman says stuff like that and truly means it, she is supporting sexism.  Every time a woman says, “Oh, I can’t lift this, I need a man to come help me,” rather than saying, “I can’t lift this, I need someone stronger to help me,” she is supporting sexism.  Every time a woman speaks about “masculine” and “feminine” as if these things were absolute, rather than the changing social constructs that they are, she is supporting sexism.  There are many women who say such things with a straight face; they’re not joking at all.  They’ve been so thoroughly conditioned to believe that men and women should live in the strict confines of gender roles.

It’s the same with racist jokes. If I said a really hateful joke about Hispanic people and meant it, I couldn’t say, “I’m Hispanic so I’m not racist.”  Of course I’d be racist!  To look at it most bluntly: think of the Boondocks character Uncle Ruckus.  He’s black (or has “reverse vitiligo” as he says), but that doesn’t make him any less racist against black people. Ruckus may be a cartoon character, but there are people like him in the world (they’re just not as obvious as Ruckus).  The “I’m a ____ so I’m not ____” argument just doesn’t hold water.

Ethnocentrism vs. Cultural Relativism

It’s not good to be an ethnocentric, but I think people are using cultural relativism the wrong way.  For example, on a discussion across some GACKT fanblogs about whether or not GACKT was a chauvanist, many commenters told a native Japanese person, “oh, thank you for explaining the Japanese view to us non-Japanese.”  This irked me, because while it’s possible that the Japanese author’s view reflects the majority of mainstream Japanese society, it’s impossible for it to represent all of it.  We should never take just one person’s word as law when they’re talking about something so vast. While there’s certainly validity to what one person tells us from their experience, we can’t just sit back and say “okay, that’s how it is for an entire country.”  Especially when the conclusion they come to is as insipid as “that’s just the way it is.”  No, nothing just is. Sometimes things start for no reason, or by accident, but large numbers of people don’t continue doing something for hundreds of years if it doesn’t serve a purpose.  It may be a purpose that’s hard to see if you don’t think about it, but the purpose is there, and it’s not necessarily a purpose that benefits all parties involved.

And speaking of hundreds of years…

Using “Tradition” as a Defense of One’s Arguments

If you think about it, what is tradition?  It’s the last thing that people remember.  What I hate about the tradition defense is that people usually use it to mean something has gone on for hundreds, even thousands of years, when it’s possible it may be relatively new.  For example, did you know that the color blue used to be for girls and that pink was for boys? (Read this article to learn more: The power of pink) Another “tradition”: has Japanese always had distinct speech patterns for men and women?  (Read these articles to learn more: “Be Careful Not to Bend Your Gender in Japanese” and this page reviewing books by Orie Endo, a sociolinguist studying gendered language in Japanese.)  There’s few things in life that we could truly say, “it’s always been done that way.” I’m thinking mainly of biological functions such as urination, defecation, and sex, but hell, even these things are done in different ways around the world and across time!

The “We live in a rotten age” Belief

It’s a joke to think of older people saying “Back in my day ~.”  But lots of people believe it, I think.  Lately, GACKT has been saying that in his blog.  But you know what?  People have been saying that for at least one thousand years! Read the Tale of Genji, what do you find?  Characters constantly saying, “we live in an age of inferior men,” “an age of decline,” etc.  Read the Old Testament, what do you find?  “We live in corrupt times.”  I should think the Earth would have already been destroyed if we’ve been in an age of decline since the time these texts were written.  Do we really want to go back to eras of rampant imperialism, colonization, enslavement, disease? To a time when feces flowed freely in major cities? To a time when people believed a woman could get pregnant if she slept under a full moon?  In other words, to times when ignorance was defended and reasoning punished?  No thanks! If you say, people in the past had morals, I want you to seriously think about what you’re saying. In the late 1700s we had Africans enslaved by those who became known as “whites.” In the 1800s, we had Chinese turned into opium addicts so the British could have tea to give the workers in the factories during the Industrial Revolution, to keep them awake during 14 hour shifts.  In the 1900s we had all manner of horrific occurences: the Holocaust, experiments on the Tuskegee Airmen, Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army…and for as long as there has been a concept of power and property, a small percentage of the population lives in luxury through the hard work of starving masses.  This is the superior morality of the past? BULLSHIT.

Yes, we have heinous problems in this world.  But pining after a past viewed through romantic rose-tinted glasses doesn’t provide answers.  I don’t think it’s that we’re currently living in a rotten age,  I think the concept of morality is relatively new to human history, and we simply haven’t worked out the kinks.  Perhaps we never will, because our circumstances keep changing, changing the dynamics of certain problems.  It’s not that anyone has lived in “an age of inferior men,” it’s that the majority of human beings are satisfied with being average, and if everyone strove to be above average and accomplished it, than that higher level would become the new “average,” so in short, there would always be a lot less “extraordinary” people than “average” people.  If you really think about it, there’s only a very small fraction of people that are either extraordinary or completly worthless.  Most of us are just average.  That is, afterall, the definition of average.

Well, that’s what’s been on mind lately.

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5 thoughts on “Notes from the Serious Side

  1. Thiiiiiiisss.

    ALSO LONG COMMENT WILL BE LONG. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

    I think what really irks me is that the whole thing started from my translating Gackt’s comments about -kun and -chan and how he’d fight with a girlfriend who talked to him from an equal point of view. Then I mentioned as an aside that he’d said the three steps behind thing- cue controversy over that, excused_early explaining her perspective on “three steps behind”, everyone going “Phew, well I guess that means he’s totally not sexist then”…and, the fact that he won’t let his own girlfriend talk to him as an equal is just completely ignored. I facepalm’d -_-

    Well, I do think we should listen to a Japanese persons explanation of the culture before we make judgment, and if they don’t feel oppressed by it, it’s not our business to make them feel that way. But, like you said, if something is sexist that doesn’t magically make it not sexist.

    As far as pining for the good old days goes, the first thing that comes to mind is a blog I occasionally read called Art of Manliness. I guess you’d say they’re about “traditional manliness”, in the sense of chivalry, etiquette, physical fitness, standards of personal care and responsibility, but they’re reasonably good at also acknowledging that the progress made by women since the 50’s is a GOOD THING, and sexist crap in the comments tends to get countered by the owner and other readers pretty quickly (though not always). Anyway, I found their article on nostalgia pretty interesting (http://artofmanliness.com/2010/01/24/in-defense-of-nostaglia).

    “An unhealthy nostalgia thinks everything was better in the past, and impedes cultural progress with constant hand wringing about the modern age. Healthy nostalgia is grateful for the modern advances that have made life better, but misses some things from the past and works to bring them back.

    Ideally, what should happen is that each generation should take what was best from the generation before it and add it as a brick in the foundation of the culture, discarding the dross and ever stacking together the lessons we’ve learned, the things that have really worked best. This way the culture becomes stronger and stronger over time.”

    I’m a bit conflicted about this blog and Gackt’s Otoko Matsuri, because I honestly believe culturally defined gender roles do a lot of damage, but at the same time, I guess people need a sense of identity and perhaps to feel pride in who they are (hopefully without oppressing anyone else). And while the traditional male role has been at the expense of women and anyone who didn’t conform to it, I guess you can’t just dismantle it and leave men nothing to identify with. Gackt makes some worrying comments now and then, but from what I’ve heard he’s quite a bit ahead of other men in his age group in Japan. And he seems to think deeply about things and is quite good at inspiring people (not to mention, he’s not exactly “traditionally masculine” to look at himself XD). I’m kind of cautiously hopeful about the whole thing. Even though there is a part of me that would like traditional gender roles to disappear completely, I guess if human nature makes that impossible, working to positively redefine them is the next best thing…

    Um, I hope my rambling made some sense…

    • Thanks for the comment and the link to the blog “The Art of Manliness”! I will look at that blog post when I have a bit more time.

      And yes, your comment totally makes sense. The thing about gender roles is hard. I guess, if someone feels that gender is the major driving force in their lives, then that’s been their experience. I wish they would recognize that other people’s experiences may differ. I am the way I am because of many things besides my gender; my ethnicity, my hometown, and above all my class have molded me into what some would consider a “masculine” woman. But I don’t think I’m “masculine,” I think I’m someone who acted so as to succeed in a harsh environment.

      Hm, maybe I’m not making sense right now. ^_^; I’ll leave it at that.

      Thanks again for dropping by! ^_^

      • I read several posts on the Art of Manliness and have been digesting them for a few days.

        I have to say, it’s a commendable blog. The only thing that gets me, and at least one person brought it up, is that what they’re proposing men be, is also something I think women should be. Honorable, hardworking, keeping promises, taking care of themselves.

        As for the nostalgia post, it was pretty good. I understand the concept of “take what was good and build on it, leave out the bad,” but I don’t see why we have to look back on any one era as a highlight of timeless concepts like honor and a good work ethic. Since to me these things exist outside of time, it’s strange to see the imagery of the 50s glorified because the imagery is 99% middle class white. I think if they didn’t use images in their blog, I wouldn’t have gotten the feeling that I got, which was, “I like their ideas, but if the images reflect at all what they envision their ideal society as, well, I’m not in the picture.”

        In any case, I will most certainly be dropping in on Art of Manliness again, so thanks once more for sharing it!

  2. Hi,
    I came here because i have seen and liked your comments on amaiakuyume’s LJ. i was randomly scrolling down your page and decided to stop and read this.
    wow, you have my respect. i really wish there were more people like you in this world, really!
    i remember thinking exactly the same thing about the “Ethnocentrism vs. Cultural Relativism” issue, particularly regarding GACKT’s “3 steps behind” satements. while i don’t think G should be randomly bashed for thinking this, i also don’t agree with the “but japanese people are like this, so it’s non of our (ie non japanese people’s) business to comment/disagree.” type of comments. i agree that it’s important to know the actual context as completely as possible before commenting on something (it’s never good to be ignorant) but an outsider’s veiws need not be useless/unimportant. sometimes, someone who is not from within a perticular culture can give a fresh new outlook to to an issue which someone else who has been brought up within that culture may be too biased to see. so i don’t think there’s anything wrong with airing your views on japanese culture even if you are non-japanese, as long as you’re not being offensive, right? 🙂

    • Hello asliceofthemoon!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. You’re on point about an outsider being able to provide a fresh perspective. Sometimes we get so stuck in our own little worlds that we don’t question things. We assume things are the way they are “just because” when that’s not a reason at all. It reminds me of a great ad that ran several years ago. Every Christmas, when the woman cooked the roast she’d cut off a drumstick. When the daughter asks “why?” she said something like, “my mother did it this way, and her mother did it this way.” The daughter asks “why” again so the woman asks her mother. The answer: “We couldn’t afford to get a bigger oven, so I just cut a drumstick off so it would fit in.” It had nothing to do with a cooking technique or anything like that, and had the child not asked “why” the woman would’ve gone on thinking there was some reason to keep on cooking the roast like that.

      And I’m gonna have to quote GACKT and say there shouldn’t be more people like me because I can be pretty twisted. >o< I think he said that. Or maybe I've just watched too much Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. ^_^;;

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