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Infidelity and Me

7 Apr

This post is going to be ridiculously meta, because apparently that’s how the internet works now. So I’m going to be writing about someone’s input on someone’s opinion on someone else’s article, and how I relate to it all. META.

First up, this story got the wheels spinning in my head just because I recognized the situation from personal experience: http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7779961/bobby-petrino-arkansas-razorbacks-placed-paid-leave-apologizes-relationship

And then this blog post was published earlier this week, which called out an (admittedly boastful and bitchy) article about being The Other Woman: http://nataliaantonova.com/2012/03/24/lisa-taddeo-cheating-power-and-sexy-ladies/

The links to the links are all on Natalia’s blog, but if you don’t feel like diving too far into this clusterfuck, here’s a quick and dirty version: A woman named Lisa Taddeo wrote a fake-edgy, sophomoric, really mean-spirited article about what it’s like to be the woman that men cheat with, in which she blasted the wives of the men she screws and blames them for the actions of their cheating husbands. She does all this under the guise of laying bare “Why We Cheat,” when in reality, she just comes off like every stereotype of an ignorant, selfish homewrecker.

I thought I’d offer a little insight on what being The Other Woman is actually like.

Women are sort of conditioned to see other women as threats, competition, etc. As with society in general, the easiest way to absolve yourself of guilt when harming another person emotionally is to dehumanize them. We’ve succeed in making every aspect of human existence into a commodity – what we eat, who we fuck, what we listen to. There isn’t a single aspect of anyone’s so-called “identity” that isn’t constructed on some level by a capitalist system, one that idealizes the concept of ownership and makes us all into hyenas scrapping over pieces of meat. This is why you turn on Jerry Springer (or whatever trash the kids watch these days, Jersey Shore I guess) and hear women screaming at each other about “my man!”

You know, I can admit to really loathing women for a long time and completely being part of the problem. A Women’s Studies professor would definitely call me a “tool of the patriarchy” and in many senses, I was and still am. I saw women who lambasted men for nothing, for leaving their underwear on the floor, or for leaving the toilet seat up, and I would think, “What a stupid fucking thing to get worked up about. No wonder men whine about bitches.”

I’d like to think that I’m somehow above all of that crap, and that I avoided thinking “Oh, that bitch treats her husband like shit, so he’s justified in fucking me instead,” but I didn’t. I thought all of those things that Taddeo brags about in her piece. But they never really sat right with me, and there was always a nagging Pac-Man of guilt that chomped away from the very beginning. I wanted to believe that the wife of the man I was screwing somehow deserved what she got, that she brought it on herself by not being perfect for him the way I clearly was, etc. Man, did I want to believe that. I never could buy it, though, and the self-loathing started to aggregate.

And then…he did the same thing to me. Concocted a woe-is-me tale for yet another woman, only this time I was the bitch, the one who wasn’t good enough, the easily replaceable imported Chinese TV that you can just throw away when you decide to “upgrade” because this model has “better features” and “doesn’t require upkeep.” And I thought, shit, this is karma. This is what it’s like to be on the other side. And when that happened, I wanted to call the ex-wife of the man who had just made me into an “ex” and apologize to her. I very nearly did it, too. But I didn’t, because I didn’t want her to feel like she had to pity me. This is a story for another day, but – I loved her children. They were his children too, and I loved them. To this day, the thing that guts me the most is that I will never see those kids again.

And once, when that man’s ex-wife told me, “My kids are going to grow up without a father because of you,” I wanted to say, no, he’ll be their father, he’ll be there for them. I was wrong about that, but so was she – it’s not because of me that they may grow up without their dad.

You can go ahead and call me a whore, terrible human being, whatever. Get it all out. Any nasty name you can think of to call me, I guarantee you I called myself a long time ago. This self-hate train is long and it ran through my life for the entirety of my relationship. I never confronted the demons from making a choice to be complicit in the destruction of a family. I make a little bit of progress with this every day, but I may never truly forgive myself.

No one tells you this stuff when you become The Other Woman. It is not all fancy dresses and jewelry and secret bank accounts and road trips to the next town so no one sees you together. There is no “Mistress Handbook” that they give out down at Homewrecking Whore Junction.

I have myself convinced that I will never comply with a cheater’s insecurities again, but to be honest, I really don’t know. All I can do is keep morphing into a REAL feminist, the kind who loves men and loves women equally and doesn’t assign blame based on body parts. If this experience taught me anything, it’s that society loves to pit women against one another and make us all into “frenemies” (god I hate trendy portmanteaus) who only pretend to commiserate. We’re human beings first, and we should be treated as such.

I wrote this so that someone could perhaps learn something from it. Not seeking pity or comfort or anything – I’ve mostly made my peace with myself and with the situation. Learn from my mistakes, kids. And don’t let a man cheat on you. If he does, move on. Because if they do it once, they will do it again. I’ve lived that nightmare, and it would break my heart if someone I loved had to go through that same five-year emotional roller coaster.

Peace and blessings.

Off to save the world, BRB

20 Dec

This post has been a long time coming. It’s pretty personal, but what the hell. That’s what the internet is for, right? Also, this post is rated R. If you don’t want to know about my love life, don’t read it.

This is intended to be a focused discussion of certain attributes of the opposite sex, but apologies up front if it devolves into something else. I swear I’m not bitter. Maybe just a little bit.

My relations with men have been sort of bizarre as long as I can remember. By that I mean, I have almost exclusively cultivated a friendship base of men and have gagged at the idea of having “girl’s night.” It’s a character flaw – I just don’t get along with a lot of women. Maybe I’ve been brainwashed to believe that most women are the caricatures depicted in romantic comedies (*cough* Sex And the City *cough*) and therefore the notion of having to pretend to be interested in designer shoes and coveting wedding dresses before you’re even in a relationship sort of makes me ill.

(My rant on marriage as an antiquated notion is more appropriate for another time; however, it is possible to take that sort of relationship nihilism to an extreme.)

This being the case, I’ve yet to enter a relationship with a man who wasn’t a really close buddy first. I mean like drinking beers and watching football kind of buddy, not some neutered watered-down “nice guy” friendship where the chick strings the guy along and acts completely equivocal, and he stays on a short leash because he thinks she might eventually view him in a sexual light. Don’t tell me you don’t know the type. This one’s not completely a cliche, I’m afraid.

What this brings to mind is yet another form of cultural conditioning where we sort of fall into these prefabricated marketing categories of male-female relationships.  I blame Meg Ryan. Who made that bitch the be-all end-all of female idealism? Alas, I digress. This isn’t about chick flicks; it’s about the damage they inflict. Even people that claim to be totally immune to these sort of mores often wind up floundering in them.

I went through a pretty brutal breakup about 7 months ago – one that terminated a 4-year relationship that had admittedly been struggling with the distance between us. Still, it was so out of left field that I got whiplash. I think my back is still tweaked from getting the rug yanked out like that. In the same week, I received my Master’s degree and arrived home to a man who had decided to cultivate his “side project.”

By that I mean, it’s pretty shitty to cheat on your girlfriend while she’s living 2000 miles away and then wait until she moves back in with you to do the dumping so you can jump right in with the new flame. If karma is real, I have to hope that it acts quickly. But of course, it’s out of my hands. I have noticed, however, that actions like that have a way of coming back to haunt the actor.

It should not come as a surprise that I am a difficult human being to love. I am way too intellectual for my own good, often moody, incredibly passionate to a fault, and I’ve struggled with some health problems that have made me pretty unpredictable. It’s easy to lay excuses on the health issues, but the fact remains that I am now living a single life.

It kind of surprised me how much I enjoy the single thing. Women really get a shit deal when it comes to cultural conditioning regarding relationships. We’re nothing without a man to validate our existence, right? That’s really something of a non sequitur. This is why a lot of us turn into sluts. If we can’t get the emotional intimacy we’re supposed to desire, we may as well fuck our way to something resembling wholeness. Some of us don’t care how the hole gets filled, just that it does. (I’ll be here all week.)

After I came to embrace single life, I had an epiphany of sorts about this. I was in a committed relationship with a man who tenaciously encouraged me to sleep around. That was his kink. He didn’t get jealous – he got a kick out of the idea of me slutting it up.

Understandably (perhaps), this made me pretty uncomfortable. I don’t think I’m really wired for promiscuity. I like to have a good time as much as the next person, but I was having all of my physical and emotional needs met. Why was he so insistent that I sleep with other men? There is actually an entire subculture of men for whom this kink is a way of life. It got to the point where this encouragement had nothing to do with my personal satisfaction and had everything to do with me being his “property” that he was shopping around. He had always passed it off as the kink being about me, and about my personal pleasure. Nope.

When I had that lightbulb moment, it really made me think about how sadistic our society can be. Take porn and its addicts. Most mainstream porn isn’t about sex. It’s a graphic depiction of men wielding power over willing women in a pretty disturbing manner. There are some pretty shocking exposes of the porn industry that I’ve thumbed through in the past, and the stories those women tell will make your blood curdle. Because – at no time is there any meaningful physical intimacy taking place in porn. It’s psychological torture. It’s debased. It asks women how low they’re willing to stoop, and then demands that they go even lower. It reaches a point where it fails to be empowering to women, stops allowing women to take charge of their sexuality, and becomes instead patriarchy in sadistic action, forcing obedience and personal degradation from the women who participate.

Porn culture produces men who become enamored with the cult of the slut. It short-circuits the part of their brain that wants them to treat a woman as an equal (you know, as a human being and not an object) and instead turns her into a vector for his pleasure and dominance. It assigns value to sluts for their body parts and ability to shop said parts around.

I realize how man-hating this probably sounds. There’s probably not much I could do to convince the gentle reader that I am not, in fact, a man-hater. I would never generalize the entire species based on the actions of one. There is a bigger issue at work here. That issue is the reality that society itself has become completely devoid of compassion. You’d think this would be obvious the way American society has worked really hard to develop its “blame the victim” ethos, but a lot of people seem to think that this is a logical conclusion. Blame yourself for being poor! Clearly it’s something you did! Yep, because it’s my fault my $100,000 worth of degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

This attitude has really taken root, I believe, in part because of the sadism of porn culture. Shit, we can’t even have healthy sexual relationships because the prevailing imagery depicts women getting their asses ripped open by hordes of men. I’ve sort of begun to think there’s something a bit wrong with someone who gets a rise out of that stuff.

My point with all this is how impactful these images that hit the mainstream can be. I really used to think porn was harmless; I did. I’ve begun to rethink that position a bit. Not that I’m ardently against it, but then again, this goes back to my ability to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality, glossy porn shoots from the actual awkward sweatiness of sex. As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of people who lack the ability to discern what is fantasy from how they should behave. I can see the fun in some of it; I’m a highly visual person, so I get that. But I also recognize it’s not the norm. We’ve effectively brainwashed our culture into believing this is real life.

Porn has contributed to this patriarchal idealism in the sense that men begin to think this is okay. I mean, there is nothing healthy about only getting it up if your girlfriend is off sacrificing her dignity to random strangers. Obviously a distinctly modern problem – a product of the imagery that we are incessantly bombarded with in the name of getting a few rocks off. We’ve come full-circle as a culture: so sexually repressed that sexual deviance is out in the open.

The only thing that is going to solve this is if people can learn to discern reality from the barrage of garbage that saturates their days. But the longer I take in the zeitgeist, the more depressed I get about the situation. I wish that we were free to openly acknowledge one another’s humanness. I wish that healthy sexual relationships were normal. I wish this freaking dialectical nightmare of a country would just realize there’s always more to the story, and not to just swallow everything you see wholesale.

Anyway, this one was long and opinionated. Thoughts?

Cultural Critique FTW

14 Nov

I’m taking a class called Studies in Hip-Hop.  It’s the first time the course has been offered at my university, and I am pretty sure I am the only graduate student in the course, but I am constantly impressed with the insight and intelligence of the undergrads around me.  This is the first non-music course (and by that I mean, not taken as an MUS course designation in a School of Music; this particular class is taught under African-American Studies) that I have taken since my undergrad at Pittsburg State.  So, naturally, I’ve been carrying a bit of a bias against non-music students because my brushes with them in Gen Eds at PSU were…disappointing.

The kind of student who takes a college course on hip hop obviously has strong opinions about it, and the class is a very diverse group, both ethnically and educationally.  What I dig most about this class, though, is that generally speaking, everyone is well-read and intelligent when it comes to discussing and debating the topic at hand.  The professor is a literature expert, treating hip-hop as poetry.  Since I’m coming at hip-hop from the perspective of a music scholar, this attention to rap as literature is fascinating.

Some would argue that it’s not music.  I will stop short of saying you are wrong – but I fervently disagree.  Is it sound organized through time?  Yep.  Then it’s music.  Does it make you want to move your ass?  Then it’s music.  Is it a reflection of cultural mores, a snapshot of one individual’s perspective presented as art?  Then it’s definitely music, because music says something – even if there are no words.

(I will pause here to note that this may be a less-than-popular opinion among my fellow jazz scholars, many of whom take the Wynton Marsalis approach to all things hip-hop and declare that if it doesn’t align with several narrow criteria, it cannot be a true expression of the vernacular.  Well…sorry Wynton.  There’s no crying in musicology.)

Our midterm project in the course was to write an essay that investigated the cultural theories of one of the books we read.  I chose to write on Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost.  This is a book by a self-proclaimed hip-hop feminist, one who sincerely grapples with the negative portrayal of women in hip hop and the racial identity it provides.  (If you don’t know what a chickenhead is, Google it.  Sorry mom, I didn’t name the book.)

I decided to post my essay, because Dr. B read a large section of it to the class and told them that it is good enough to be published.  He pulled me aside and told me this before reading it, and he was genuinely excited at the prospect of my writing.  It was a good feeling.  Rather than wait to try and go through the steps to get the essay published, possibly in a journal that no one can access outside of academia, I want to post it because everyone should be able to read it.

I reference another book in the essay – Confessions of a Video Vixen.  This is a book written by a woman who was famous in hip-hop and professional athlete circles for putting out.  That’s being polite.

I think you can get the point of the essay without having read either of the books.  So here it is, my first shot at cultural critique outside of musicology since I started my scholarly journey.

*****

Joan Morgan’s Chickenheads

Joan Morgan’s book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost is a study in paradoxes. It confronts intellectualism in a world of vernacular. It delves into the misogyny of a culture that eagerly consumes the hearts and souls of young women who want to belong. It deftly explores the treacherous social currents that women, particularly black women, must navigate in the era of in-your-face media, relentless hypersexuality, and impossible beauty standards. Morgan tackles a variety of issues all in relation to how they affect a feminist worldview.

Even amongst fellow African Americans, Morgan is met with skepticism and derision for sticking to her guns. She illustrates the manner in which hip hop culture exploits young women by offering them success and attention not for their individual worth, but for their willingness to take off their clothes and perform sex acts to satisfy the libidinous, virile rap star. With these actions done in the interest of “keeping it real,” this dichotomy disturbs her and causes her to question both herself and the idiosyncrasies of hip hop culture.

Morgan indicates at the beginning of her book that she was born to feminism – that it was a part of her life from the very beginning. Her mother, aunts, and the mothers of friends were all “black warrior women (35)” and their accomplishments and achievements were not considered extraordinary – simply routine. When Morgan reaches college, her feminist reality goes slightly askew, taking on a vanilla tinge. She comments that “feminism definitely felt like white women’s shit (36).” Black women, she observes, have bigger fish to fry in the discrimination department and don’t seem to be too interested in protecting their gender identities as much as their racial identities.

But Morgan’s main argument, articulated throughout the book, is made clear at this point – that black women, no matter how much misogyny they suffer at the hands of their brothers, cannot cross the color line. They cannot deviate from racial loyalties – even if these loyalties cause them harm. They must stay loyal to their race at all costs, even if this means giving up their identities as women. This is a dangerous and unfair position, yet it is where Morgan argues that black women are pressured to exist. This is the paradox and the thesis that drives Morgan’s book. She is seeking a means to gather all of these contradictory threads and spin them into something coherent, something that honors race as well as gender.

Morgan opines, “I needed a feminism that would allow us to continue loving ourselves and the brothers who hurt us without letting race loyalty buy us early tombstones (36).” Demanding that black men defend their women with the same passion and determination that they defend their race, she sets a high bar for her “brothers.”

Racism, Morgan tells us, is by its very nature a force that requires a unified front in opposition (36). A black woman expressing disgust at her treatment at the hands of her brothers can be viewed as nothing more than a tool of the white establishment to undermine the cause from within. And Morgan encounters this sentiment, even from reasonably intelligent, educated black men.

As is a common tactic of anti-feminists, the man she mentions even lobs the accusation of “lesbian” at Morgan. She humorously counters these sort of statements: “For a second I couldn’t tell what pissed me off more, the assumption that any woman who is willing to call a black man out on his shit must be eating pussy or his depiction of me as a brainwashed Sappho, waving the American flag in one hand and a castrated black male penis in the other (42-43).”

She correctly observes that weak-minded men often resort to these tropes to combat any threat to their gender hierarchy, and that these same men see feminism as an effort by the white hegemony to turn loyal black women against men by transforming them into self-hating lesbians.

Morgan uses the “f-word” to refer to feminism, implying that it is tantamount to profanity by its very existence. And of course she does this sarcastically, poking fun at the very people who would write her off as an indoctrinated lesbian for daring to value herself as much as she values black men. The hip hop culture, particularly in recent years, has been notoriously reluctant to value women as human beings, depicting them with the same regard one would have for a piece of jewelry or a bottle of Courvoisier. So Morgan’s struggle to reconcile her self-worth with her racial and cultural identity – the street cred of the hood – overlaps very well with these hip hop trends.

That culture of sex and partying has as its poster child “a twelve-year-old girl whose titties and ass grew faster than her self-esteem (49).” Early in the book, Morgan relates a story about being taunted for daring to be well-groomed and articulate. The girl confronting her seems to believe that Morgan is not “hood” enough and therefore deserves a beating. These are powerful stereotypes that can consume even the very people who should fight them. Morgan’s book is a powerful testament to why black men and women should care about how the culture depicts females. It is far too easy for young girls to become saturated with images about tying their individuality and their worth up in hypermasculine thug culture.

The “chickenheads” in the title are Morgan’s antithesis, the women against whom she finds herself competing for men and success. Morgan laments those late nights when she is “tearful and frightened that achieving all our mothers wanted us to – great educations, careers, financial, and emotional independence – has made us wholly undesirable to the men who are supposed to be our counterparts? Men whose fascination with chickenheads leave us convinced they have no interest in dating, let alone marrying, their equals (58)?”

This underscores the plight of the “video ho” – valued only for her physical attributes and ability to shake her ass. A woman with an education, self-respect, ambition beyond Prada shoes is useless to the marketers of the hip hop aesthetic. What started as a means of unique self-expression has blossomed into a diamond-encrusted industry of sex, sin and good times.

Towards the end of the book, Morgan confronts her relationship with the chickenheads. She states her biases and her jealousy of the apparent ease with which women of little substance seem to snare men into their fold, while those women of color who “do the right thing” and make themselves into educated, ambitious intellectuals are simply not desirable. Far from being a position of elitism, Morgan’s statements seem to have a fascination about them. She expresses a genuine curiosity for the phenomenology of the chickenhead, and the cultural messages that are distributed to young girls in their formative years. Why does society publicize, but not respect, the chickenhead? And why does it openly reject, but profess to admire, the intellectual woman who uses her brain instead of her breasts to construct a life worthy of living?

The corporate values of hip hop revolve around sex, money, and power, and the effective marketing of all of these things. The power of the corporate state has always hinged upon the ability to convince average people that they, too, can someday have the Benz, the bling, and the Cristal. Never mind that this is a fantasy achieved only by those with the luck to conform to a corporate prototype. Hip hop culture depicts black men as gangstas dripping with chains and women, and these women as mere toys to be played with by the men.

Morgan is attempting to find traction for her intellectual views and self-worth in this world – where black authenticity is derived from ridiculous stereotypes and the images conjured up by advertising executives. This is a world where a black woman’s only value is found in her measurements and willingness to writhe for waiting cameras. Some women, like Karrine Steffans, find themselves eagerly absorbing this value system and willingly playing the role of the video ho.

To drag another paradox into the mix, let’s contrast the tragedy of Karrine Steffans with Morgan’s pained but ultimately optimistic book. Steffans’ book reads like a narcissistic train-wreck, with pure egomania driving every page. However, if we contrast the value systems of the two women, we can almost excuse the drastic differences in behavior and concept of worth. Morgan is raised among strong black women. She sees them as the rule, not the exception, and carries their strength with her as she matures into a woman, always feeding her intellect and herself first.

Steffans is raised by a woman who demonstrates to her daughter how to become a parasite, relying on men for succor and doing whatever is necessary to hold the attention of someone with money and power. In turn, Steffans grows up to seek out only those people with these attributes, even becoming sexually aroused by the thought of the tremendous clout held by some of her “conquests.” So the dichotomy of the stories doesn’t come as a shock. If anything, Steffans’ book completely underscores everything that Morgan is attempting to say, from the opposite side of the fence. Steffans is more of a “tool of the white man,” a plaything of the corporate agenda, than Morgan could ever be.

Comparing the books of these two women, we have a primer on the worst case scenario, and also on a faint glimmer of hope. Morgan is fighting to save the souls of black women from falling into the hands of the chickenheads – she is the anti-Karrine Steffans. She is not afraid to admit that race matters, but also that gender matters just as much; that how a woman views herself and other women is just as important as driving a Mercedes or flashing diamond earrings.

Steffans’ book is a disturbing cautionary tale, the chronicle of how the pressures and messages of the hip hop economy do lasting damage to young black women, and how too many of them are sucked into a spiral of sex, money, and authority. The reasons for this are clearly articulated by Morgan: the war against racism is the responsibility of both genders. It cannot be won if one side is demeaning the other through garish displays of skin. Feminism, far from being “white women’s shit,” is central to the pursuit of racial quality. Encouraging the sort of behavior that made Karrine Steffans famous truly does nothing more than widen the gulf between “society” and the “Other.”

It is much easier to see an individual as subhuman if all they are is a dancing video ho – as long as this kind of imagery stands and is part of the corporate agenda, there will always be issues of racism. That is the lesson of Morgan’s book, and the inadvertent lesson of Steffans’ book – self-worth is not a crime or a radical act. It is an essential component of human existence. Until corporate agendas stop stripping it away, there will be more books like these to underscore the emptiness.