Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Princess for Jesus

In Biblically conservative Christian culture, I keep running into endless invocations of Princess-hood as a lure for self-esteem and confidence in young girls.  God knows (ha ha) when you're raising daughters and trying to sell them that "man is the head of woman" tradition, the bitter pill needs some kind of sugary coating.

Christian Living and Bible study books with this theme abound.  You are a Daughter of the King.  The King of Heaven. You are therefore a princess.  High ranking, important, wealthy.

The invocation of the wealth is not deceptive, since the authors and leaders make it quite clear that we're talking about the treasures of heaven, not the ephemeral gold and stores of earth.

But from that point on, the Christian Princess Culture is pulling a bait-and-switch.  It tells little girls their worth and excellence but does it to keep females in the subordinate position that so many New Testament passages pound into literalists who consider Paul and other letter writers to be channeling THE very Word of Very God.  Women are to be subject to men.

The misunderstanding held by little girls raised on the adventurous and romantic kid culture, which they're encouraged to act out with tulle and tiaras, is fully exploited with this Daughter Of The King bait. Girls think princesses have power along with that high rank.  That they have privilege and freedom.

In truth, ask any royal or aristocratic renaissance woman just how much power she had.

She was bought and sold.  She was lucky if she got an education, though the wealthiest did.  But she was a bargaining chip for property or political alliance.  She could not choose her husband or her way of life, and if she was to be "given" to the church, she could not marry or become a mother at all.

As recently as 1921, Princess Mary  (the only daughter of George V and Queen Mary) was forbidden to marry the man of her choice.  He was a duke not only of suitable rank, but of no family "difficulties" of suspect inheritable traits.   No, his only dealbreaking quality was that he was not rich enough -- quite rich but not rich enough -- and she was therefore forced to ally with the much wealthier family that was chosen for her.  It's said to have been a major row, after which she finally acquiesced and married the chosen Duke, who was an OK guy and a chance to get out of the house, and this was considered an admirable case of bowing to Duty. Today, the royal ranks would salivate over such a suitable choice as the forbidden duke.  But that was 1921. What princesses went through from time immemorial eroded only that gradually.

As recently as the 1950's, Princess Margaret had to give up the divorced man she loved, or give up her right and that of her children to a place in the succession. As recently as 1981, the pressure was still strong for any woman who married the Prince of Wales to give her virginity to him alone and never "know" another, a requirement that eliminated a couple of the PofW's serious girlfriends and had his parents pressuring him to ally with a 19-year-old.  The results were tragic.

But each was a small sign of progress, in that it was a stage in the slow erosion of using women as chattels.  By Princess Mary's time, she could at least marry an English aristocrat and was not used for political alliance with a foreign prince she'd never met.  By Princess Margaret's time, she could at least choose, even a commoner, if he met the slowly loosening list of requirements. 

In worldly life princesses have more freedom, but fundamentalist culture lures girls with the Princesshood they know from fairy tales, and then switches it for the retrograde form; the true state in which they are expected to live, serene in their certainty of a place in heaven, but expected to embrace rule by men in this life. In heaven there may be equality, but here, you are to follow, obey, submit, and consider it a privilege to do so for your King. Yes, fairy tales in both print and film are loaded with obedience by girls, but once you get your Handsome Prince, your days of serving, sweeping and being locked in towers without freedom to ride away are over.  Restraints will now come from noblesse oblige, not your gender, and your reward comes at your wedding, not at the end of life.

The base problem is a primitive concept that everything on earth is in a linear hierarchy;  that difference can't be equal.  Many smiling Christian conservatives have sincerely and reasonably told me that wifely submission is simple practicality:  "Somebody has to be the boss."

Another favorite is to point to the whole Ephesians 5 passage which certainly makes the role of a man more one of tremendous responsibility than of profligate privilege, and then to say "Hey, look at the demand made on husbands!  Who has the harder job?"  But it's quite clearly assigned to the gender considered more able to do it.  You can say, and you'd be right, that all Christians are called to a difficult and sacrificial life, but there's no escape from the message that males are made of better stuff.

Are we still hanging on to that swill?  We should so have outgrown that need to rank every single shred of Creation, especially when it concerns the human soul.  Isn't US politics alone proof of gender equality in susceptibility to the crassest forms of corruption?

A life well lived by anybody, Believer or Un-, is often about selflessness, and nothing about abandoning the whole genital basis for who bosses whom needs to lead to a self-centered existence.

Personally I'm not a believer in wifely submission, or in the necessity of obeying Paul of Tarsus in order to be a Christian.  I know that's a shock, since I hid it so well.  Maybe I should provide a little break, here, while you recover.

But I'm also not about telling anybody how they should live or what they should believe.  I don't have all, or even many, of life's answers.

My objection here is that this Christian Princess thing is not an honest way to teach the principles. Attracting girls with something they think is about happily-ever-after and freedom, when it's really about lifelong submission and obedience, crosses the line between correcting a misconception and exploiting it.

But further, "prince" and "princess" are about status in society.  They are about some people being higher and others lower. I don't think appealing to the natural craving kids have to be special and superior is the right message for teaching the Christian life.

Sure, you're teaching the Sunday School class that every single kid in it, as a child of the Heavenly King, is equally a prince or princess; smart, cute, dumpy or unpopular, rich or poor.  But a royalty metaphor carries the strong implication that there is an Us and a Them, and that We are superior in some hierarchy.  Royalty is above the common folk in social structure, which is the only context in which the labels have any meaning.

This is so not a right or accurate depiction of the concept of God's love for the humanity that we're claiming is all, every one, made in His image.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The stunning power of a lie

Not that I kept a neat desk...

This is the story of how my librarian career ended, so it has some library management explanations and might have a moderately high boredom factor.

It started with a crazy person. It often does.

By the time it finished, an army of participants had fought, had sat through meetings or had sent in a spy to report back, had conferred and mailed letters and been threatened and been forced to quit. That last one was me.

The library management stuff:  into the early 1990s, long after many libraries, and most with our high circulation, had computerized, we had a manual paper card system for tracking 10,000+ books per month.

We were a branch library. The main library had one full time and two part-time checker-in-ers for their circulation, while we had one. But our branch, in a high-demand fast-growing resort / retirement area, had a lot more checkouts. We always had stacks of books with lost cards. Computerized checkout/checkin virtually eliminates that problem, but old-time paper cards are a constant "can't check this in" nightmare.

Our lone circulation clerk, with more work than the 3 employees at Main Branch had, was overwhelmed.

The Friends of the Library was a big and active organization and they provided volunteer help with check-ins, among many other things. If problem check-ins had not piled up relentlessly, maybe this controversy would never have happened, but evil will find a crack to come through, so I’m not so sure.

For purposes of the post, I’ll call our lone circulation clerk Martha.

Meanwhile back at the management level, the boss decided to operate with flex time. For clerical tasks, you could come in early, or in off-hours, and leave early, or take those hours at a long lunch. Everybody had to take a turn running the checkout, or reference question, desks, but as long as you were present for any such scheduled time, your back-room clerical work could be done on flex time, if you put in your allotted hours.

That’s the setup. Martha worked like a rescue dog. She would start working at 7AM, and leave to pick the kids up or keep medical appointments. So did clerical workers at the main branch. Everybody liked it. It was a way to manage job and family.

One volunteer, call her Leona, decided she hated -- and I don’t use that word casually -- Martha. Out of the blue, and I suspect a brain tumor or other perception skewer, she developed a hatred and paranoia of Martha that was pretty amazing to watch.

The power of lies comes not from liars, but from good people. The ones who really can’t believe people make up such things. They’re not so naive that they deny exaggeration happens, and they understand that data can be incomplete and misinterpreted. But they just do not believe that such a big hate campaign could be based on nothing at all. They’re too nice. They don’t understand how evil people think.

The rumors started. Martha wasn’t putting in her hours, Ruth would not discipline her for it. Leona spread this falsehood through the ranks of the Friends of the Library, and from there to most of the community. It went like a wildfire.

I, being Ruth and the Branch manager, explained that Martha was putting in not only all her hours but more, and that flex time meant that it was not always obvious to volunteers when she’d worked.

One day when Leona was coming in to volunteer, Martha said to me, “I know she thinks I don’t do my job. I’ll be working out there where she can see me.”

This worried me. I in turn kept an eye on both of them for the entire shift. To my relief, everyone performed blamelessly and no altercations occurred. The shift ended, Leona went home.

2 days later, Leona came to me with fire in her eyes. Maybe I wasn’t willing to supervise Martha, said Leona, but SHE had worked alongside Martha the other day and Martha had slacked off and jabbered with another clerk, and if I did not do something, Leona was gonna bloody well go to the Library Board about it.

Not only was it completely fabricated -- Martha had worked steadily -- but the other clerk she was accused of jabbering with had not even been at work that day.

I was not dumb enough to think getting rid of Leona would stop the destruction.  It was, I knew, likely to enrage her further, but one thing it would do was to confine her lies to previous events, and not to give her any chance to claim she’d gathered more fake data.

I also wasn’t dumb enough to fight insanity with logic, so I didn’t accuse her of lying. I said it made no sense for her to keep spending time in a situation that made her so unhappy, and maybe she’d rather stop volunteering. She left. Some people drink. I ate two chocolate bars. I knew it wasn’t over.

Over and over, other volunteers came to me with their “concerns.” I wrote letters. I explained in person. Once in awhile the listener would say, "Oh!  I didn't know it worked like that."   But sending out that little truth seemed to have no power over the sending-out of the lie.  It was spitting against the wind.

The nice ones just could not believe that rumors so pervasive and rampant had no basis. "Where there’s smoke, there’s fire."

If I could accomplish one damnblasted thing in my life, it would be to vanquish that moronic and baseless little saying from the culture forever.

It is an analogy that is not an analogy.

It’s a statement about the physics of fire that has no application, none, to human interactions. Hate can say anything and its pronouncements become Truth.

I went to my boss with two possible solutions.

"There’s no documentation of the hours employees put in," I told her. "I can’t prove on paper that Martha put in all the hours she claims. Maybe we just need to end flex time altogether and have everybody come in 9-6."

 “Oh no, we all like flex time, it’s a good thing for everybody.”

I was inclined to agree. "Well, OK," I said, "we could allow flex time AND satisfy critics, if we put in a time clock."

She winced and said, “Oh, I hate to give up our honor system.”

Me: "There’s bad feeling and accusations here, and I’m willing to do any solution."

Her:  “Let me think about this and see if I can come up with any ideas.”

On the viciousness went.   Finally Leona convinced the Friends of the Library President to hold a meeting with our local Library Board of Trustees member (the county board over the libraries), and all the volunteers -- a big group, including not only volunteers who worked on site, but others who ran the Friends book sale and did other things.

The Friends Prez sent us all letters, time and place to be our library meeting room, that we’d meet and talk out the issues and a county board member would hear it all.

The group filled our meeting room.

Unknown to this Friends President, her Secretary-Treasurer -- buddy of Leona -- sent out another letter to the members promising them that I, the branch manager who they were complaining about, would NOT be present. She guaranteed it.

The Friends President did not know the Secretary had assumed this illegal authority. I showed up at the meeting and met an outraged half-dozen out of the hundred or so -- Leona and her posse -- who said that if I was going to be there, they’d walk out.

The trustee told me to leave instead.  My spy (not everybody was against me, Martha or the truth)  told me the attacks against Martha were vicious, and I was blamed for allowing her to slack off.  Nothing I didn't know.

In a phone call a few days later, the Trustee urged me to begin compiling a disciplinary file on Martha, to the end of firing her if the god damnable Public demanded it. He acknowledged that she didn't deserve it.  Three reports had to be in the file before termination could be done.

I protested. He said, “Are you willing to face the fact that this could come down to your job or hers?”

To make a long story short, my boss (undoubtedly pressed by that same Trustee) took disciplinary action against me, by officially reporting....

....that SHE had told ME to end flex time and put every employee on the same 9-6 schedule, and that I had refused.

The good news, after I ended a 14-year relationship with this boss and this library system, is that Martha, excellent employee that she was, and a high-school educated mother of 3, survived this and kept her county job with good benefits.  Going every day to a place where people are reviling you behind your back and where volunteers are coming in with a serene countenance, while they might -- or hey, might not -- be telling their friends on the golf course what a piece of crap you are, is sheer unadulterated hell, but she had a family to support.

The other kind of good news was that we had another Trustee who took me to lunch and asked me not to quit.  Maybe she couldn't hold back the tide that had brought us to that point, but maybe she should have done bloody more before it came to that.  I liked her, but working with my boss had become impossible.  My marriage had just tanked and I had a chance to go someplace new.

My point is here in a letter to the Entire World:

If you do nothing else to change your life, demand real evidence to make judgements.

End any false idea you might still have that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” and that rumor surely has some basis.  Claims of evidence, and claims of eyewitnessing, are not evidence.  They can be completely made up.  Demand something solid.

Learn that the “common wisdom” and the “everybody knows” gossip can be, not just exaggerated .... not just misinterpreted...not just incomplete --- but baseless. Altogether, completely baseless.  Learn that lies are a powerful propaganda weapon.  Make no judgements without some hard evidence.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Heroes, villains, and celebrity divorces

Our Top Story Tonight - In a world of pain, loss and hardship for millions of struggling everyday people, we're obsessed with Tom and Katie.

Only my take on that is, possibly, not what you think.

While we're all going "With all the vital news going on, WHO the Bleep CARES?" I'm sort of honor-bound to talk about my lengthy adolescent concern with celebrity love affairs.  Some people never do it.  Others outgrow it by the end of high school, like you're spozed to. Some of us have to let it go.

It's probably a useful phase of teenage development, letting us process "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?" at a safe distance, by vesting emotionally in somebody else's life and thinking about what we'd do differently, while avoiding personal risk of that broken heart.

Many people -- I'm not allowed to say "most," but there sure are an awful lot of us -- stay in that stage of emotional development for way too long.  Only it's no longer to learn our hearts at a safe distance, but to avoid learning.  That we make flat cardboard Heroes and Villains out of them is a clue.

I speak of myself, here, and well into my middle age.  Relationships confounded me, the best evidence being that I even entered into my first marriage to a badly damaged manchild.

At the time, I was a big fan of Christian singer Amy Grant.  Grant wrote about life's hard stuff back before there was hard stuff in Christian music.  She was still young and wholesome and Perfect Role Model For Young Women blahblahblah, when she gained mainstream music fame with a song ("Find a Way") that said

   I know this life is a strange thing.
   I can't answer all the why's.
   Tragedy always finds me
   taken again by surprise.
   I could stand here an angry young woman
   taking all the pain to heart...

The same album had lyrics that said "I need you stayin' here so we can work it out," and "They're gonna hit you from all sides, better make up your mind who to, who not to listen to" (that one written by her then-husband, troubled but talented songwriter Gary Chapman).

And then she divorced.  It was time to outgrow my personal-stake-in-celebrities, not by relabeling her The Bad One, but by accepting that everybody has strengths and weaknesses.

If you don't hang around any Born Again media, you have no. freakin.  clue.  what a blowup this was, or how jawdroppingly long the vitriol continued; it went on for over a decade.   Major Whore of Babylon accusations.  Her ex remarried first, the kids are grown, her kid with her new husband is 10 years old, and still, her shattered life of 1999 has some people seething, after Eddie and Valerie, Meg and Dennis, and other collapses of longlasting relationships get shrugged off by the general public.

Next example, and I'll explain why it's similar, is Aniston.

Nothing is weirder than the tabloid-intensity of Jennifer Aniston's celebrity.  She has talent, and has made some good project choices and handled them well.  But her media following, years after The Split, makes me think it has more to do with the fact the she's never remarried.

Brad and Jen were a particularly touching couple for a reason that tells you a lot about our craving to put stars on pedestals.  Neither had been married before, which isn't unheard of but is kind of rare, and let fans believe in that Great Big Commitment hugeness.

Should we admire Jen for not revving up a typical Hollywood  multi-spouse carousel?  Or is she playing the bleep out of it, doing Debbie Reynolds without the diaper pin?

I don't know, but she has been stalled as The Wronged Wife for a petrifyingly long time.  Grant, on the other hand, did remarry, and reaction to her was vicious.

What do Grant and Aniston have in common?  Not a lot personally, but that's why they demonstrate so well the A and B sides of the celebrity romance coin.  They both fall outside the pattern, but that's what reveals the pattern.

Here is how The Public wants it to happen:


innocent           guilty    
remarried          alone      
innocent    |        guilty    
       alone           remarried       


We want the parties to fit neatly into little boxes labeled Innocent and Guilty.

THEN the innocent party needs to find happiness - after a proper interval, to prove his/her serious commitment to the original marriage - so the collective psyche can believe in hope and reward for goodness.  And the (presumed) guilty party should remain single till some vaguely defined time when we're satisfied that he/she has paid the dues.

Both women have crossed their lines on the grid.  Jen, innocent party, remains in "ex" mode, past the time-to-heal date.  Grant, labeled "guilty", refused to remain in "ex" mode and moved on long before that magical indefinable date on which she would have been thought entitled.

Again, I took this mindset with me into the 1990's, so don't go thinking that I'm claiming superiority to The Public.  This stuff has power, and not just over the chronically stupid.

Just as Grant and Aniston tell us something about the roles The Public wants, Cruise and Holmes tell us how much reality we're willing to throw out, to shoehorn it into that Guilt / Innocence grid.

He is despised, she is labelled a Feminist Heroine.

The roles seem extreme, but it's more than that.  They go against the usual Guilt / Innocence pattern.  Roles are not being assigned by the usual "Adandon-er, Abandon-ee" criteria.  It's not just about smirking over the kharma - that he blindsided Nicole, so now it's his turn.  Katie would never be crowned this level of Heroine based just on that.

That he has, thus far, been a gentleman about this;  that he was stunned, after her faking it with him days before;  that he clearly genuinely loves his daughter and in fact all his kids -- not seeing much denial of any of that, and still, none of it seems to gain him a shred of good will.  One article today likened Katie to poor cult-abused Rosemary in Rosemary's Baby, and attitude toward Tom seems to make him a Hubbardist version of woman-repressing Henry the Eighth.  In fact, worse.  Nasty though Great Harry was, people believe in his genuine love for Jane Seymour, and nobody's even granting that to Tom and the mother of his third child, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

It's as though they couldn't possibly be two people who honestly tried and who managed their choices badly, or who might have actually wanted a successful family but came to major spiritual differences they can't reconcile.

Its isn't two people, it's a religious battle between rigid concepts of Good and Evil:  she's The Little Christian Girl -- Catholicism is no Fundamentalist ideal but it's in the ballpark -- Who Kneecapped Scientology.  Because the religion is despised, there's a twisted idea that its adherent deserves whatever pain is inflicted on him.  They're calling it a feminist coronation, but actually it's her perceived religious triumph people are saluting.  The couple has admirably and quietly worked out the settlement, but we're still ranting because it's about Faith itself.

What we really need is to grow up.  It's hard to do.  Especially as an adult, it's hard to detach from the celebrity love drama and stop having a personal stake in it.  I speak from experience.  But if we have to have a personal stake, making it a religious stake is both simpleminded and a disservice to the couple and their child. They are human beings, rich as hell, but not metaphors for cut-and-dried concepts of faith.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

How not to be patriotic

I mean.... No.  Just, no.

The source :
At newsstands everywhere.
Right now.