Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Pick (of the Litter): Negotiating the Mysogyny in Online Dating

***To the men who are thinking of suing me for eluding to your story and identity in this blog post, I should sue you for malpractice and using a false identity.  Think twice before delivering the side swipe and casting the first stone.

Though on exclusively different topics, when outlining the sketch for this blog post, the song "The Charade" by D'Angelo and the Vanguard came to mind. Throughout reading this post, think of the following lyrics from the song's chorus:

"All we wanted was a chance to talk
'Stead we only got outlined in chalk
Feet have bled a million miles we've walked
Revealing at the end of the day, the charade"
-D'Angelo and The Vanguard's "The Charade" (2014) from the album "Black Messiah"

Despite speaking out against the countless acts of police brutality committed against Black people in this country in recent years, this song, for me, resonates deeply with the subject matter covered in this post.

Recently, opposed to severe apprehension, I trusted impulse and went on a date with someone I met online.  This, for me, is extremely out of character but I allowed my physical attraction for this "someone" to rule out over my checklist of things I look for in a guy.  We went out and had an amazing time, so I thought based on his reactions and responses to everything happening around us that night.  I truly thought that I connected with this guy.  He even did something for me that I've always wanted but was afraid to ask for or have been steered away from wanting it:  he paid for everything!  Usually when I go out on a date, the guy either expects us to go "dutch" or if he pays, he expects a Nobel prize winner's set of lifelong accolades.  The evening ended with him confessing to me the following:  he wants a relationship, he wants to pursue me, he really likes me and that he would see me in a couple of days.  Though plans were not solidified, he inquired about my schedule for a particular day and said that if he wasn't able to come up on that day, he could come up later in the week.  We then chatted for the rest of the night as he was on the road headed home.  The last I heard from him was about a week ago via a "Good Morning" text message.

A true chameleon, he went from Casanova to Houdini!  If anyone is looking for actors, you should cast this guy because he can play a series of roles.  And how great of a performance he gave on the night of our date and the numerous text message conversations and phone calls prior, I am confident that he can produce some EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) award-winning performances. And believe me, I really didn't need this performance - as it was a first date.  I blame the disappearing act on his lack of maturity and his fear of being honest with me and stating that he's not interested.  For those who are looking for a man who can pull off mid-to-late 30s (he says that he's in his late 30s but after doing the math and adding up his years in the area and when he attended college and graduate school, he comes across as much older), he'll be worth every penny invested.

I went in with zero expectations - - again, wasn't sure about going on this date because I don't like to explore anything with anyone solely on physical appearance because, for me, there's usually nothing more there.  Honestly, I'm more turned on by intellect and personality for looks can fade quickly and if you've had my experience with online dating, those looks could possibly belong to someone other than the person you've been communicating with.

So many times in the past, and I can blame myself for this a little bit because I'm bad at weeding out damaged "goods" or troublemakers, I've gone out with guys whom I met online who either 1) lied about their age by like 15+ years, 2) looked NOTHING like their profile photo or other pictures they've posted (one guy who I met years ago looked so different from the photo he posted, when we met up in person, I wondered if he was even related to the guy in the picture, for, compared to him in the flesh and him in cyberspace, it looked like he went to Walmart, picked out a cheap frame and scanned the stock photo that was in the frame to use it as his profile photo), 3) barely disclosed any information on themselves, 4) pretty much lied about everything in their profile.  I remember reading several articles a while back that stated that men are expected to lie about their age and their physical appearance (i.e., Ask Men, The Huffington Post, Jezebel) and that women who lie about their physical appearance, whether posting a photo that has her at 5 or 10 pounds lighter or anything that may be only slightly different from what she looks like at the time of the first date, should be branded with a scarlet "P" ("P" is for "Poser") for life.  Why the disparity?!

If I were to hire Patty Stranger from Bravo's "The Millionaire Matchmaker", she would tell me my picker is all wrong.  I would have to strongly disagree with her because 1) according to society, I should be married by now and I have to marry the first thing that falls onto my lap or I'll be a spinster for the rest of my life and 2) by going off the portrayal this guy gave me, he would have been the perfect match for me.  Because I usually go by what guys give me, which tends to be stellar performances of the type of man I'd like to marry and bury (for I believe in the wedding vow "till death do us part"), if I were to date the guy in the online profile, he would be a catch!

I come across profiles of men who look nothing in comparison to the women they describe that they want to be with.  For men who say they want a "white/Caucasian," "slender or athletic," long hair, light eyed, well-kept, attractive, petite princess, I see Shrek in the profile picture - someone who looks like they haven't seen a bath since bathe as a child (or even their first baptism), someone who, according to societal standards, would not be deemed "attractive," or someone who looks straight up like a beast!  Though I'm not attractive by societal standards (being a Black woman with natural hair and full-figured, I'm okay with that), I have higher expectations for a guy who feels comfortable with publicly proclaiming that these physical attributes are what they look for.  Whereas with me and some women whom I talked with about dating online, I feel like we do look for our equivalent in education, socio-economic status and an all-around good guy who is looking to treat his woman like a queen, which, for me, does not even account for physical appearance. Along with my physical stature, I try to be up front as possible about who I am (education and job industry) without giving away too much (stalkers or identity thefts, anyone?!) because I've been told that other than what I look like, my intelligence, goals and aspirations make me intimidating to most men. Again, why the disparity?!

I've always also wondered why respect and communication skills get tossed to the waste side with online dating as well.  From my personal experience, men go from "hello" to here's a picture of my erect penis, let me see your "tits" in a millisecond.  And, some of the men's first lines to me, I don't even feel comfortable quoting them here because they might get me banned from the internet for an eternity because they're just that foul.  Why do we treat the other person on the end of our form of communication as an avatar or an object?!  Isn't that what having access to pornography is for?!  No need for engagement - one can easily get off sans expectations from the other person.  Since I've never attempted to date women online, I'm curious as to if women resort to similar modes of communication with men online.

Returning back to "The Charade," think about the many things that we're coached about on a daily basis from the numerous sources inundated in our lives including media, family, friends, and ourselves.  From in the womb via gender norms as they are introduced through clothered clothing, gender assigned toys and behaviors, we're taught to "be" certain ways in order to be accepted by others.  I've been told many times that I'm not married at the ripe ol' age of mid-30s because I fight against society's expectations of me.  I may be deemed as overeducated, overweight not a desirable race and ethnicity (think about which ones are assumed by choice) but I'm pretty happy with who I am, what I've become and who I will continue to become.  I strongly believe that the culture of online dating, even beyond old fashioned dating rules, is dictated by how we're expected to exist.  If we do not conform to what mainstream culture deems as desirable, we're to expect subpar treatment.  This leads me to believe that this is why men, even if they are not attractive and have every trait women are taught to want, will fight tooth and nail to get what they've been taught to want (well, in many cases, some are told that they need it) and women should wait for their white horse with perfect prince on top - translation:  men will get what they want by any means necessary and women, will have to cope with maybe not getting anything you're expected to want or need as I've been told numerous times (settle with life if you don't get married, even though that is something that you really want).  The costumes and personas we wear on a daily basis, whether it be for work, for entertainment, or even for ourselves keep us from living lives to our fullest potential and for allowing what's right and healthy to emerge into our lives.  So, Mr. "Houdini" and other men who deemed me unfit for mating, I wish you adieu and I do hope that you find what you're looking for.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Romanticizing Fantasy and Our 'Relationship' with "50 Shades of Grey"

A still of Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) from the film, 50 Shades of Grey

While there continues to be a running tab of disputes as to whether or not 50 Shades of Grey is great literature and how it handles its subject matter, we can all agree that E.L. James' book sparked necessary conversations in popular culture.  The purpose of this blog post is for me to work out my angst around the question:  "why 50 Shades?"

I am extremely interested in how cultural products become iconic empires, especially one like 50 Shades of Grey - a book that covers some pretty controversial material and one that some have deemed poorly written.  Billed as erotica, E.L. James' novel explores BDSM (which many have argued that its depiction marginalizes those in this community even more) and straight female sexuality (orgasms and all).  I had to point out that it specifically highlights "straight female sexuality" because it still remains a taboo topic in today's society.  I've read the book and saw the film opening weekend in order to get a better understanding as to why this franchise blew up even beyond itself.  50 Shades of Grey has taken off so much and so fast to where Target is carrying a line of merchandise inspired by the book and film!

50 Shades of Grey is the first piece of fiction that I finished reading in a little under 2 weeks.  For those who know me well, this is a huge accomplishment because not only being a fan of mostly memoir and biographies, it takes me a long time to read anything!  And, the edition of the book that I was reading was 514 pages!!!  The dialogue, the "holy cows" and all of those "inner goddesses" made it a challenging read.  I'm not going to publicly bash the book and say that it was the worse thing I've ever read.  What I will say is that I've read much better erotica, with great dialogue and very hot sex scenes, which made reading 50 Shades of Grey even more difficult to read.  While many people I've talked to and the numerous articles I've read slam the book as being bad overall and recommending that people avoid it because of the explicit sex scenes and the issues it raises around consent, it was hard for me to read simply due to the dialogue and scenes being so badly written to where I couldn't visualize for myself what was going on.  Given my investment in the story, I owed it to myself to see the film adaptation, especially during opening weekend.

I arrived to the theatre about 30 minutes prior to the film's scheduled start time.  This was the first time that I experienced a movie theatre this quiet and so packed!  This was the 11:30 a.m. Saturday showing!  Even before the trailers, people were sitting quietly in their seats like they would before an Episcopalian or Catholic church service - Anastasia and Christian were put up on a shrine!  Taking in this whole experience was very much surprising. This is the reason I love going to the movies.

My theory behind the fandom of 50 Shades of Grey is pretty simple.  Though I could relate only slightly, I see pieces of myself in Anastasia.  A naive, inexperienced young woman allowing her first "everything" - first boyfriend and first sexual experience - to sweep her away from the realities of the world even if she knew he was the wrong man for her is definitely the way I am connected to Ana.  50 Shades of Grey forces me to recall my "firsts."  Though my first boyfriend and my first sexual experience were not with the same man nor at the same stage of my life (one came while a teenager in high school and the other in my mid-20s - have fun guessing which one happened at which time in my life), I risked my vulnerability and tore down multiple walls for these men.  I explored and experienced a range of emotional and physical intimacy in these situations because they were new to me, very exciting and very fresh.  I didn't want to believe that both men were the "spawns of Satan." Dismissing the realities hurt me in the end as these men, at this time in their lives, were very bad people.  But, I was willing to look beyond all of that because I was desperate for love and affection, something that my peers had access to for what seemed like a very long time.  Believing that many women are able to see themselves in Ana is what led over a million readers to the pages of E.L. James' 50 Shades collection.

The idea that infuriates me about this empire is how protective 50 Shades' fans are of the content of the book, so much so to where they're willing to dismiss all of its associated issues.  I've been a part of various conversations about this book including those that identify Anastasia as an iconic feminist character, as illustrated in this recent Huffington Post article, that Christian is not exhibiting abusive behavior, and that 50 Shades of Grey features an accurate representation of BDSM.  I'm sorry but I would have to disagree on all of these issues.  I do not believe that the Ana character is a feminist as she is rendered in the book and I do believe that some of the behavior Christian is exhibiting in both the book and the film could be categorized within the realms of abuse (i.e., the monitoring of her eating habits, Christian's dictatorship over Ana's birth control regiment, and the fact that, to me, it seems like Christian is only able to have sex with Ana - after she loses her virginity - when he's angry).  I understand fans wanting to defend what they love.  However, I take issue with people who are trying to make 50 Shades of Grey something it's not.

I'm one to argue that genre of fiction needs to remain as such.  It does not need to necessarily all be political.  However, when a cultural product is exposed to the masses like 50 Shades of Grey has been, one needs to have the capacity to critically engage.  My fear is that young women will see this film and take it as the gospel on how they should pursue and be pursued in relationships and what the ideal is. Unfortunately, we participate in a very impressionable society, one that allows the media to dictate how we should portray our identities, shape our lifestyles and regulate the lives of others, especially those that mainstream culture deems "unfit."  For me, 50 Shades of Grey was okay as a stand alone book.  The issues within the book didn't raise issues for me until it was adapted into a film and the emergence of its associated merchandise.

Though I have issues with 50 Shades of Grey, I'm not one to call for protests against fiction unless it is clear that it's audiences/readers will be harmed by the material.  I completely disagree with those who say that others should boycott the film for I think that the reasons behind the boycott are misogynistic.  I applaud E.L. James for doing something that should have happened a long time ago: putting erotica, a genre I find liberating for women as they are able to explore sexuality and fantasy on their own terms, this entrenched into the dominant discourse.  I do understand why erotica's foremothers, like Zane and Megan Hart (whose books I've read and LOVE), were not given similar exposure as the worlds they render are not complete 'escapes' as they deal with trauma and real-life situations in a way that E.L. James seems to avoid.  While I won't judge anyone for "canonizing" 50 Shades of Grey, I do request that you allow it to be what it is, ask some deep questions about it, i.e., why did E.L. James write a character, Ana, who refuses to explore masturbation (a serious discussion about women having full control of their bodies and sexual pleasure), and that you expose yourself to other writers within the genre - for raising your consciousness in this way will open your worlds up to so much more!  BTW, I highly recommend reading Megan Hart's Broken:  there are some extremely steamy (and more realistic) sex scenes in this book!

The trailer for the film, Addicted (2014).

*** While researching for this blog post, I stumbled across a trailer for the film, Addicted, which is based on Zane's novel of the same title.  Up until this point, I've NEVER heard of it yet it was "released to theatres" as it says in posts that I'm reading online.  I really need to find this film, watch it and then write about it!

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Importance of a Story: A Response to Crowdfunding

How many of you out there remember the Ice Bucket Challenge from 2014? I hope a lot of people do because it received national (I'm thinking even international attention) and raised over $100 million towards ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) research. And, the challenge was accomplished via social media. I'm very impressed that this effort raised so much money in a short period of time all because of one person's story.

See, I was initially approached to participate in the challenge. I declined. I elected not to participate because while asking around about what the challenge was for, who chose dumping a bucket of ice water over one's head as the way to meet the challenge, why ice water, what does ice water symbolize, and other questions that I hope people are asking themselves before they donate, I received zero response. I only got grief for questioning my participation.

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference for work: the CASE District I Conference in Boston (CASE stands for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education).  Nancy Frates was one of the keynote speakers during the conference.  She is the mother of Pete Frates, the gentleman whose story initially sparked the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Titled "Team Frate Train and Why the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Went Viral", Mrs. Frates' speech touched upon her son's story, the start of fundraising efforts, and the campaign that became Team Frate Train.  Listening to the "conductor" directly, I felt ashamed that I didn't jump onboard the first time the call was announced.

* Please check out Nancy Frates' TED Talk above.

The story was so compelling and very personal.  Mrs. Frates talked about her son's journey through college baseball and the brief professional career that followed, his diagnosis, the deterioration of his neurological system, and the impact ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) has had on Pete and his family, including his newlywed status.  This story pulled at my heart strings to the point that I, in the near future once finances allow, will donate to the ALS Foundation.

The purpose of this post is to emphasis the importance of a story.

I'd like to think of myself as an informed consumer and someone who wants to be actively involved in social change.  To effectively do this, I absolutely have to know what I'm attaching my name to.

I approach philanthropy similar to that of the funders on the ABC show, Shark Tank.  They're not necessarily participating in philanthropy yet the concept of the show mirrors the essence of it.  They hear a story, see a demonstration (in most cases) and get to know the product and its creators prior to offering funding.  I don't have the type of money that these sponsors have but I strive to offer my time, talent, and treasure (whether it's through the form of a monetary contribution, volunteering or serving on a board of directors for a nonprofit organization).  

I feel like being "in the know" of whatever you're contributing to makes for sustained involvement, which helps to improve the conditions that these types of initiatives are raising money for.  I believe that while crowdfunding is a great initiative overall and is getting people involved on equal footing in giving back with no barriers or prejudices towards socioeconomic status, I advocate for being educated on what you're donating to.  For your name is attached to those efforts as well.

The next time a link to a Go Fund Me campaign (or some other crowdfunding) campaign comes across your social media feed, please do your research prior to contributing and also before asking other to join the bandwagon.  And, for those who are preparing crowd funding pages, be prepared to share your story - in a compelling way in order to move hearts and motivate others to feel as passionate and attached to your cause equally as you and others closest to you.  While a small step, these sheer minutes, in most cases, seconds, will lead towards smarter and more effective philanthropy.