broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

Archive for the month “May, 2016”

School is out….forever?

The above picture is me trying to recreate my kindergarten school photo.  The sweater is a darker shade of blue, but I did try to add a small blue bow.  So, there I am after my M.S. in teaching and again at the beginning of it all.   I actually took the photo last fall, as I knew that this past fall was going to be a very special school year.  It was going to be the last year at St. Scholastica!  St. Scholastica where…so long ago…I began my undergraduate degree.  This is where I ended my master’s degree!  Those gray towers represent so many harsh, lonely winters and long, empty days.  I struggled with my first degree.  I did not make a single friend at CSS.  Not one.  I worked full time and went to school full time…and lived with my family.  Plus, I lacked the social skills to make friends back then.  Yuck.  I’ve come a long way from those lonely first years of college.

One week ago, I did my capstone presentation.  After adding up all of the points from the entire program, I calculated that I completed the program with 99.33% of the points available in all of my classes.  That feels nice.  This year, I only missed 1.25 points between the classes I took.  I missed .25 points for using the wrong font on my header.  That also feels nice.  I feel validated by numbers.  As for the capstone presentation, it was pretty easy.  It was just a short presentation on a data project that I completed this semester.  The project was a content analysis of three world history textbooks, wherein I analyzed the content using James Bank’s 17 point Checklist for Evaluating Materials.  The checklist is a 17 criteria diversity checklist which uses Likert Scale which rates book on a scale of one to six based upon their coverage of women’s history, African American history, ethnic minorities, linguistic minorities, social classes, etc.   The rating is fairly subjective and was designed for American history materials.  I adapted the language of the checklist to say “core society” instead of “U.S. Society” so that it would be more applicable for world history courses.   In this sense, the project draws a little from Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory, as well as Multicultural Education. The three books that I rated did pretty terribly, but interestingly, the book used in an AP World History course performed the worse.  The project ended up being 90 pages and was far from perfect.  However, it was fun to sit down and analyze how history is presented in textbooks.

With this, I am done.  It is odd.  I have been in school a long time.  Being in school has become a way of life.  I know this makes me odd.  It certainly makes me in debt.  This is my second masters.  This follows two bachelor degrees.  Usually, I am looking to the future.  What classes will I take in the fall?  What degree will I pursue next?  Instead, I am done.  Done and without direction.  I even made my first student loan payment last week.  It is like a new era of the normal life.  The life that everyone else lives.  Normal people do not go to school forever.  I have even come to learn that normal people think you are bizarre if you go to school forever.  It is so bizarre that I really don’t advertise it.  Of course, I write about it here and feel proud of it.  In other ways, I feel ashamed.

I feel a little sad.  I used to dream of having dozens of degrees before I die.  I could be a botanist or environmental scientist.  How about an art degree?  What about English?  Another Masters Degree?  Why not try a M.A. in History next time.  The sky is the limit.  Down the road there would be a Ph.d in something.  I would be an eccentric old polymath.   My brother mocked me for even wanting to be a polymath.  I am not trapped in a delusion of grandeur, I just want to know everything.  I want to collect degrees like some old ladies collect porcelain clowns. The reality is that this would amount to so much debt that it would be both irresponsible if not impossible.   So, I feel sad as I put this dream on the shelf for a while.

Oh, it isn’t an impossible dream.  There are ways to go to school without debt.  I could pay for a class here and there and at a glacial pace collect more degrees if that is what I find suits me.   Some master’s programs are funded, so there is always that.  And, I could always work at a university and take free classes that way.   There are ways.  But for now, I think it is time for some time off.

I wonder what is wrong with me.  Some people might suppose that a person who stays in school forever is trying to escape the real world.  But, I have lived in the real world.  I’ve usually worked full time while in school.  I have hobbies and am involved in activism/community.  This is my real world.   Some people might also suppose that I need to show off or have something to prove.  That could be somewhat true.  My self esteem may be tied to getting A’s.   But, I don’t really show off.  At a certain point, there is too much education.  Education is an embarrassment!  And, I don’t want people to feel inferior to me, so if I meet a stranger, I don’t usually talk about schooling.  I recognize that it is a privilege.  I have the ability to conform to educational settings.  I don’t have children.  I don’t have responsibilities.  I can assume debt without consequence to anyone but myself.  And, from time to time, the costs may be defrayed by scholarships or graduate assistantships.

At some level, I connect school with progress.  I feel that if I am not in school, I will become a sloppy thinker with a dopey mind.  School keeps me sharp.  It forces me to read things and do things that I wouldn’t on my own.  On my own, I read and learn, but do not typically write papers or do projects.    I am afraid that if I am not in school, I will become lazy or stagnant.   Also, school gives me a goal to work on.  I know that in X number of years or X number of credits, a degree will be done.  Life does not provide the same predictable benchmarks for achievement.   What’s more, school seems full of choice and possibility.   I could study almost anything.  I could become knowledgeable in a smorgasbord of disciplines.  What a wonderful idea!

To be fair,  school does not make me better or smarter.  I have forgotten many things over the years.  But, I feel that I know a little about a lot.  I can make connections between things, even if I can’t remember all of the details.  It isn’t worth the price of tuition.  Why bother at all?  I think it has symbolic value.   Education doles out rewards in symbols.  Some are letters:, A, B, C and some are numbers, like GPA and percentages.   It is a strange currency that means little outside the institution itself.  I’m addicted to these rewards, like a trained dolphin to fish.  School is a place where I feel competent.

With that said, I meet the end of the school year with sadness and fear.   There is some relief mixed in, sure.  It is nice to be done.  Most people probably feel accomplishment.  I only feel hunger for what is next.  Unfortunately, I don’t know.  It saddens my heart to think that next fall will come and there will be no classes!  There will be dry autumn leaves, but no new educational beginnings.  Short, crisp days but no new school clothes and supplies.  No early mornings with frost on the windows of my car.  No picking out new classes.  Just…the other things.  Amorphous time that is not marked by semesters or academic years.  No “nice job”, A plus, due dates, cohorts, or flash cards.   Just all the other things that were there all along.  More of those things.  More time.  Less stress.

Schools out!  For now.  Probably not forever.


Maybe I won’t shelve the dream of being a weird old lady who secretly has degrees in everything.  It is hard to shelve the dream.  The shelf is already full of books.  Would you rather it be shelved with porcelain clowns?




My Two Cents on Two Twenty Five Cent Books


The Superior Public Library hosted its annual book sale a few weeks ago.  Usually I pick up way too many books, but this year was pretty modest.  This is partially because the house I live in has over 2,000 books and there isn’t much space for more.  With that said, I picked up the following two books for 25 cents.  Here is my two cents on two twenty five cent books:

Beyond Beef-The Rise and Fall of Cattle Culture by Jeremy Rifkin, 1994

I had some misgivings about the book because it was from 1994.  I thought that the book would be about factory farming and all the horrors of meat consumption.  There is nothing wrong with this.  However, I thought that if it was about these things, it would be dated and inaccurate.  While this is one aspect of the book, the book is more of a multifaceted history of beef.  Therefore, I think that a meat eater and vegetarian could be both frustrated and pleased with the book.  The following are some of the ideas that I found the most interesting about the book:

Beef and Patriarchy:

A vegetarian or vegan feminist reader might enjoy the connections between beef and patriarchy in the book.  Basically, the book posits that beginning in about 4000 BC, nomadic herders from the Pontic Steppes conquered Europe.  Over three thousand years there were several waves of conquest, which introduced cattle culture to Europe.  This also introduced private property in the form of cattle and as such, more patriarchal social relations.  Prior to this, Europeans were more agrarian, female centered, and less warlike.  Essentially, this perspective is part of the Kurgan Hypothesis of where Indo-Europeans came from.

The author posits that beef as movable wealth was a form of proto-capitalism, but this isn’t elaborated upon in the two chapters on this topic.  I would have liked to see this argument developed and what the author meant by proto-capitalism.  Capitalism is based upon private property, but so is any deeply stratified society.  This does raise some interesting questions about the relationship between animals, property, and patriarchy.  Perhaps it is nice to think that at one time Europeans were more peaceful, collective, agrarian, and equal.  Then, suddenly invaders came on horses with herds of cattle…plundering, destroying, and introducing property/patriarchy.  Modern Europeans are descendants of those plunderers.

A knee jerk reaction to this is, “Aha, beef is terrible.  Beef is the food of patriarchy!” I certainly had this reaction.  But, many things could have and probably did serve as the basis of early private property: land and other kinds of animals for instance.  In this sense, an aversion to beef on the basis of its connection to private property can only be a kind of guilt by association.  And, the book points out that the relationship between humans and cows has changed over history.  For instance, the book argues that over time cows became sacred in Hinduism because of their value for fuel, housing material, fertilizer, and dairy, as well as depleted land resources, popular unrest against beef eating overlords, and Buddhist influences.  The book also notes that cows can be symbolic of fertility, bounty, and the feminine divine.  In this very materialistic perspective, the relationship between humans and animals is based upon economic relationships and necessities.

The book later discusses the relationship between gender and meat.  Like clothing, hair styles, emotional patterns, and career choices, food is gendered.  There are foods that are seen as masculine and foods that are viewed as feminine.  It is not because of an inherent characteristic in the food, but rather, because of such things as the function and value of the food in society.  Unsurprisingly, salads, diet food, and vegetable based foods are viewed as feminine.  Steaks as masculine.  The book spends a chapter or so discussing this.  Again, the chapter is short and this topic could be explored at greater length.  It made me wonder what should be done about this?  Meat is idealized because it is associated with masculinity, which is valued over femininity.  The nihilist in me does not want anyone to idealize anything.  We could unhappily eat gray mush and endlessly contemplate our meaningless existence.  The feminist in me recoils at anything that promotes a masculinity based upon conquest, subjugation, mastery of nature, and rugged individualism.  The socialist in me wants what is sustainable and equitable for the environment and society.  These three ideas run around in circles, like dogs chasing each other’s tails.  Conclusion: dismantle gender, don’t idealize foods, think about nature and the future of society.

 Beef and Ecological Imperialism:

Another interesting thread in the book was the association between beef and imperialism.  Basically, the book argues that one reason or at least benefit of slaughtering all of the bison was so that the West could be used as pastureland for the beef industry.  There were definitely some startling passages about the slaughter of bison and the subjugation of Native Americans.  It is no wonder why many Native Americans feel that their fate is connected to the fate of animals.  They have been.  The book included stories of tribes looking for the last buffalo so that they could perform certain ceremonies, but found none.  It is hard to imagine how such a dramatic and quick change in something that was taken for granted as plentiful and central to survival is suddenly entirely gone.  Can we imagine that?  It would be like the sudden end of electricity or automobiles.

Europeans introduced cattle to the Americas pretty early on, letting them go wild for future colonization efforts.  The cattle themselves introduced invasive grasses that are now taken for granted as having always been here.  So, we really changed the landscape.  Like aliens terraforming a new planet…we introduced our animals and plants at the expense of what…AND WHO… was there.  Again, in reading this there is a tendency to hate cattle as a symbol of conquest.  Really, the book did a good job introducing me to new ways of thinking about cattle.  However, this is again guilt by association.  Cattle didn’t ask to come here.  They have no adversarial relationship with bison.  The fault is with European conquest.  Of course, it isn’t always easy to separate a symbol from an action, event, or system.  Cattle did not ask to replace bison.  Red, white, and blue did not ask to be colors on our flag.  Bald eagles did not ask to be our national bird.  Cattle are not widely seen as a symbol of conquest.  Though, it seems reasonable that those who relate to this symbolism might have an aversion to beef in the same way a socialist probably doesn’t wear patriotic clothing and a Lutheran does not keep statues of Mary in their home.  These things can always be explained away, but if something has a symbolic meaning that a person doesn’t want to associate with…it is challenging to navigate the expression of the self (i.e. it’s just a nice statue) with the perceived meaning of the self (i.e. you worship Mary! Catholic!).

Other Ideas:
 Throughout the book, beef is associated with many things.  Beef, or meat in general, is discussed in its relationship to social classes.  For much of history and much of the world, meat was not eaten much my lower classes.  Women and children ate it even less.  Meat was also connected to race and warfare.  There were some interesting passages about how British people viewed their racial superiority as evidenced by their meat consumption.  In the refrigerator logic of Social Darwinism, superior people eat meat because they are higher on the food chain.  Thus, British people looked down upon their imperial subjects as lessers, partially because of their plant based diets. The British even attributed their military successes to their larger rations of meat.  There was even a weird quote from the head of Japan’s McDonalds, Den Fujita, that if Japanese people eat beef for 1,000 years, they will conquer the world and grow blond hair.  Thus, a common thread in the book is the long connection between cattle and conquest.

There are other ideas as well.  Attention is given to factory farming and the rise of McDonalds.  This itself is connected to Taylorism or quick, rational, efficient production.  Horrors of factory farms are given attention.  I am alienated from the production of meat, I can only shiver at the thought of rotten meat, pus, and feces mixed into sausages and hamburgers. Yikes!

The information on hamburgers was quite interesting.  The book observes that hamburgers are deconstructed meat.  This is true, as hamburgers really don’t resemble any particular part or aspect of a cow.  The burger itself could be made from many cows.  This very aspect of the hamburger has historically made them so palatable to me.  They are not a fatty, bony, cow part that advertises its existence as an animal.  It is like red and brown Play Doh.  But, interestingly, many people don’t want their meat to look like living animals.  For instance, people don’t want fish that have eyes and heads.  In contrast, in medieval times, animals were reconstructed.  Bird feathers were put back onto the bird carcass to create the illusion of a living animal.

The book was a hodgepodge of ideas.  Each chapter was short and no topic was visited for very long, though there were themes.  The goal of the book was to make a case for giving up beef or meat, but the goal was not always overt.  Arguments were not followed to their logical end and ideas were not given enough depth to support some arguments.  So, perhaps the book tried to do too much with too many different ideas and histories.  I don’t think that anyone would read the book and give up beef.  Someone who is already against meat might have a few new ideas to think about.  The conclusion did not seem to flow from the rest of the book, as the conclusion was that more people would question beef eating and work towards a kinder, gentler, more sustainable world.  The flaw of this was that the book never made a convincing argument that beef was the problem.  There is a cart load of problems: Imperialism, conquest, capitalism, and corporate agriculture…but the cart is hardly ox driven.  Thus, the idea that giving up meat will solve these problems is odd.  It is also odd that people would magically reach this conclusion without a social movement or social upheaval.  Thus, while I like that the book covered a lot of economic and historical topics, I dislike that it does not question economic systems which meat is a part of.  In this way, it is materialist, but not Marxist.   Because the materialism is not given direction by any theories regarding social movements or social change, there is no gelatin to hold the ideas and history together.  That is my beef with  Beyond Beef-The Rise and Fall of Cattle Culture  and far too many meat metaphors.

Book Review Two:  The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages

The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages- by Joyce Salisbury, 1994
Have you ever wondered what people in the Middle Ages thought about animals?  I hadn’t either until I saw this gem of a book.  Like Beyond Beef, this book was written in 1994.  It is also a book about meat, but this time, without a political agenda.  This book is much shorter and tighter than Beyond Beef.  The thesis of the book is that throughout the Middle Ages, people came to view animals as less different than humans and humans as less different than animals.  The book is pretty short and sticks to building this thesis, making it a tighter narrative than Beyond Beef.  
To begin, the book discusses how Europeans viewed animals in the Early Middle ages, which has some echoes to today.  Back then, animals were seen as separate and beneath humans.  They were created for humans or in the very least, humans were created above them.  In this understanding, animals had value inasmuch as they had use value.  Since they had tremendous use value as food, labor, and transportation, there were many laws to protect animals from theft or misuse.  But, they did not have value for their being living things with any independent value as a life form.  This view makes sense, in that it was a pretty agriculturally centered world so animals had value based upon their usage in this arena.  At the same time, religious views played an interesting role in shaping how people related to animals.  For instance, when there was a larger population in Europe and less land, there were more fasting days in the Catholic calendar.  It is also interesting how Monks ate fetal or just born rabbits as a way to circumvent fasting rules, as this was not considered meat.  Perhaps the criteria was life began with breath, so fetal or just born life could be taken.  Certain kinds of meats were viewed as corrupting forces.  As such, young men were told not to eat rabbit as this would make them promiscuous.  Oddly enough, people believed that hares grew an extra anus for every year they were alive as a sign of their promiscuous nature.  I feel that some of these old fashioned, silly ideas are still with us.  For example, when I wanted to become a vegetarian, my parents told me that God made animals for us to eat them.  This is a very Middle Ages idea!  Even the concept of you are what you eat, which isn’t taken too seriously today, has a Middle Age history.  Finally, the weird things that people give up for Lent, such as Pepsi and Facebook, probably result in no more suffering than baby bunny eating monks endured when they fasted.

It was also interesting to learn how breeds of animals and uses for animals changed over time.  For instance, the book said that Germanic tribes were very fond of pig meat and that in the early middle ages, pigs were allowed to wander and forage in forests.  With time and changes in property, pigs were enclosed in pens.  Also, sheep were mostly used for meat during the early Middle Ages, and only with the introduction of Mediterranean breeds of sheep with heavier wool did they begin to be used more for textiles.  The book also described the rituals surrounding hunts and how dogs were fed special animal parts from a fancy glove as a reward for the hunt or how hawks and dogs were trained to work together to take down larger prey, like cranes.  The breeding and value of horses was also discussed at length.  Like cars today, the coloration and unique markings of a horse became a status symbol.  This was all pretty fascinating.  Also interesting was the evolution of food taboos.  Christians wanted to differentiate themselves from Pagans, which is why they made it taboo to eat horses as this was viewed as a pagan practice.  Likewise, eating animals that gruesomely bled out was also taboo, perhaps a throwback from Jewish dietary laws. Eating raw meat was also viewed as taboo.

I didn’t care for the chapter about sexuality and animals.  It was mildly interesting to learn about laws and punishments for bestiality, but I thought that the book could do without this chapter.  It didn’t add much to the book or the narrative that over time, humans began to see themselves as more animal like and animals as more human.  The book became a bit more interesting again when it discussed myths and stories about animals.  These stories about animals were connected to social relationships.  For instance, animals were used in fables to teach lessons about a person’s place in society.  Fables were used in churches as part of the sermon, as they were popular and easy to understand.  Though, over time secular fables became more popular as well.  Also over time, the types of animals in the stories shifted, with a growing popularity of apes.  Salisbury believed that fables might have helped people to imagine themselves as more animal like and animals more human, though these characters.  There were also a few examples of Saints which according to legend preached to animals or showed exceptional kindness.  This also indicates a shift from a merely utilitarian view of animals.  There was also a growing interest in Bestiaries, or guidebooks which depicted some animal/human hybrids.

While the book maintains a tight and easy to follow thesis, it does not support this thesis adequately.  To support the thesis would require a systematic cultural analysis of 10 centuries and diverse regions.  The book mostly focuses on England, France, and Germany.  It is not clear which years or time periods are discussed throughout the book.  I would like much more social context.  Also, the approach to the supporting the thesis is pretty mixed.  Much of the book focuses on changing ideas, but I would like more political, religious, and economic context.  Why did these changes happen?  Why would viewing animals as more like humans benefit 14th century societies over 4th century societies?  The book is lacking a strong material grounding.  Instead, it flits around between ideas, finally settling on fables.  While a content analysis of fables is provided, it still leaves me wondering why the fables changed over time.  The stories that we tell have a social purpose.  They way that humans relate to animals has some social logic (or at least had some social logic at one time).  With that said, I am not entirely convinced by the thesis.

Still, the book is entertaining and fun.  It provides some interesting tidbits to consider.  If nothing else, it made me consider how we relate to animals today.  Modern relationships to animals are complex and contradictory.  Some farmers continue to have a utilitarian view of livestock.  There are imaginary lines between animals that can be eaten (cows) and those that cannot (dogs).  There are class, gender, and racial lines of how animals are related to.  Cats are seen as feminine.  Steak is masculine.  Girls love ponies.  African Americans do not have the same opportunities to experience wilderness and wild animals.  While science has taught us that humans are indeed animals, this is still hard for people to accept.  It is hard to accept that humans might not be as special and above the rest of nature.  Evolution is still controversial.  So, accepting our connection to animals is still an incomplete process.

What is to be Danced? The Belly Dance and Cultural Appropriation Question


What is to be Danced? The Belly Dance and Cultural Appropriation Question.


“Oh no, someone let an uncomfortable feminist argument out of the bottle!”

I am going to be honest here. I love to travel. I love to try new things. Historically, I have collected hobbies like some people collect Dragon Ball Z Action Figures, stamps, and nail polish colors. Wait, I’ve collected those too. I am curious about the world and cultures. I have worn clothing that was inspired by ethnic styles. In the late 1990s, I wore a bindi a few times, as it was the trend then and because I imagined that it made me look like I was a superhero that could blast magical magenta lasers from the gemstone. I drew a comic book wherein I did exactly this. I suck.

So, when I talk about cultural appropriation, it is not because I am riding on some high horse looking down on people. It is because I have a carbon footprint that looks like Godzilla walked by. It is because I want to partake in cultures. It is also because I don’t want to be a terrible white person who stomps on people of color. There is already a lot of stomping in the world.

Thus, this leads me to my latest quandary. Is belly dancing a form of cultural appropriation? In 2014, Randa Jarrar, a Palestinian American writer, wrote a controversial article for Slate, wherein she argued that it was cultural appropriation. Jarrar expressed frustration that white women were basically performing Arab drag by dressing up in costumes that caricatured Arab women. She said that growing up in the Middle East, the belly dance (Raqs Sharqi) clothing she remembered was more conservative and women who perform belly dances professionally were looked down upon. She viewed belly dancing as a performance of women for women, done at parties and weddings. When men were present, the dancing was less playful. Because of the stigma of public performance, she observed that white women were being hired to perform in Egypt. In all, she mostly felt angered by the shameless Arab face performance of white women, who she said sometimes adopted Arab sounding performance names and Arab inspired costumes.

In response to her opinion, the internet exploded with articles and blog posts defending cultural appropriation, cultural borrowing, and belly dancing. This is not a literature review of those articles, but in reading some of responses I saw a jumbled discourse of the power, privilege, and entitlement on the dismissive end of the spectrum and appreciation, art, expression, and feminism on the apologetic end of the spectrum. For the most part, it was hard to find many voices who agreed with her. Roughly, here are a few common arguments against her argument:


Impossible to Avoid Argument: On this side, it seems that a theme was that cultural appropriation is hard to define and no one owns culture. Cultural borrowings are a part of all societies. If a person were to try to avoid cultural appropriation, it would involve extremes like avoiding coffee, potatoes, and algebra. The merit of this argument is that the world is so interconnected by globalization that it is impossible to avoid appropriation. The outcome of this would be extreme isolation between peoples and the policing of cultural boundaries. Main Critique: This is true, but this also evades tough questions about racism, imperialism, and entitlement.

It’s Art Argument: On this side, dance is art. Art is creative and expressive. The rules of cultural appropriation do not apply to art. If belly dance is performed well and taken seriously as an art, then women will grow in their respect of Middle Eastern cultures as they deepen their knowledge of dance, instruments, language, and dance history. Critique: This is true, who wants to censor art and learning? But, art is not inherently benign. Art is political and promotes meaning. What if the art sends the message that imperialism is okay?

It’s Feminism Argument: Belly dancing empowers women by allowing them to express themselves, explore their identities, accept their bodies, spend time with other women, etc. Some pagan feminists believe that belly dancing is an ancient form of dance that celebrates the feminine divine. Belly dancing builds community and sisterhood. Critique: Wonderful. I truly want this for women. But, what if some women feel that the dance does not respect their culture? What if they feel mocked or marginalized? Feminism isn’t about community and self-actualization of some women at the expense of the community and self-actualization of other women.

Unfortunately, what is lacking is a Marxist feminist answer to cultural appropriation. Here I am…a Marxist feminist, trying to make sense of what is a very difficult question. In the spirit of Lenin I shall ask…

What is to be danced?

I have mulled it over and I don’t think that Marxism can really take a position on dance. Dance is part of the superstructure, or the culture that sits on the economy. Dance evolves over time as society changes. It is entirely possible that the pagan feminists are right and there have been gyrating dances since the dawn of time. These early dances might have celebrated fertility, women, female power, etc. This sort of dance might have been characteristic of a matriarchal or matrilineal society wherein women were valued and equal. But, this is capitalism. This is the heart of the beast of capitalism: the USA. Capitalism has reached all over the globe. In doing so it has subjugated other cultures as it has integrated other economies. It is no wonder that in our globalized capitalist society that we would have a taste for the foods, cultures, dances, and languages of other places. We have had a long time to become exposed to these things through imperialism and colonization. Historically, the West has had the power to discover and take. At the same time, we are oppressed by capitalism. We want to escape. We want to travel. We want joy and fun. We want to celebrate and dance!

Without capitalism, we wouldn’t really know about belly dancing. We’d be feudal peasants who perhaps know only of our own village. In the 18th and 19th century, Europeans travelled to the Ottoman Empire and saw dancers perform. Harems really captured the imagination of Europeans. Now, in our Orientalist imagination, harems are places where women dance around for sultans. In my understanding, harems were places for women. Here, women danced for women and most of them never met the sultan. Harems were guarded by eunuchs because men weren’t trusted. Really, it was a female space. To varying degrees it was a way for women to exert some measure of control over the sultan. But, this shouldn’t be idealized as feminist space or power. The women were trafficked from across the empire. Around the same time that Europe was exposed to belly dancing, it was exposed to many things as it expanded into new territories. This era saw a rise in Orientalism, or art, music, literature, and ideas which popularized certain images of the East. The east was exotic and erotic. Having this vision of the east probably made it easier to conquer it, as it was a backwards place, yet exciting places, with strange values.

Belly dancing as an art is deeply connected to capitalism’s global nature. Belly dancing became popular in the United States in the late 1800s through our World’s Fair, at a time when we were just sinking our milk teeth into global imperialism. It appealed to orientalism. Even at that time, it was performance for an orientalist audience rather than a traditional folk art. The dance shimmied across the globe. It was shaped by U.S. Hollywood movies, returned to Egypt, repackaged, returned to the United States through immigrants, and reshaped. Modern belly dance draws from many cultures. It is a simulacrum. That is, a copy of a copy of a copy. A simulacra, according to Baudrillard, is something which has no origin or is a caricature. Of course, real people contributed to the development of belly dancing through teaching, shaping, performing, and costuming of the dance. Some of these people were indeed Arab American.

As workers were are alienated from the production of things. We don’t control how things are made. We buy them in the market place, where they appear magically from far off places. Where did that coffee come from? Who grew it? How was it roasted? What is the process? So it is with the thousands of things we consume. Since capitalism is so global and everything just appears so magically, it is no wonder that there are so many international things to consume. At the same time, being American is also pretty frustrating. For a progressive person, America is a place of religion, racism, inequality, Donald Trump, endless war, professional wrestling, snow mobiles, and Happy Meals. A taste for international foods and activities seems like a lovely alternative.

This leads to the problem.   Miss Progressive doesn’t want to learn square dancing and eat corn dogs at the county fair. These things represent America. OR, maybe she feels bad about her body. Belly dancing liberates her from the fat shaming. She feels sexy again. Or, maybe she meets some friends. It sure is lonely taking care of the kids. And, these women are fun and cool. They have tattoos. They aren’t afraid of the Middle East. They might even deeply respect the dance. Women are oppressed. All women are oppressed. In the land of plenty and scarcity, there is a tendency to escape or try to escape our oppression through consumption and identity. Dance is an escape. Can we blame women for wanting some joy in the world?! My god, if I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution. Thanks for the perfect quote, Emma Goldman.


Okay, so Lenin asked the classic question, what is to be done…not what is to be danced. This is about forming a vanguard party for the purpose of spreading revolutionary ideas to workers. I am not sophisticated nor creative enough to tie belly dancing to the vanguard party. But, I can tie this argument to a basic question which revolutionaries must ask themselves. The question is: how do I make a revolution?

This probably sounds bloody and terrible to my readers. So, maybe a less dramatic sounding question is how do I make significant change in society? From a Marxist perspective, capitalism just has to go. To this end, workers just have to be organized. This is because the entire economic is run by workers and would cease to function without the consent to work. Because of our service economy, maybe workers don’t seem that powerful. Oh nooos who will make the hamburgers?! Think instead, who will run hospitals, schools, drive trains and buses, harvest food, ship the food, can the food, make the weapons, remove the garbage, purify the water, and so on and so on. No other group in society wields the power of workers. But, not just workers. Ties must be made to social movements. A socialist revolution must also be a revolution that wins the hearts and minds of all oppressed people: women, gays, lesbians, transgendered people, ethnic and racial minorities. Capitalism depends upon racism, sexism, and homophobia to function. These things divide people. This divides workers.

Relating to oppressed groups isn’t always easy. There is a lot of false consciousness or bad ideas in the world. I am a product of society and as such, my head is full of a lot of society’s bad ideas. But, if there is one rule of being an ally to these groups it is probably: don’t be a dick.

How do you avoid being a dick?

  1. Listen to oppressed people.

Okay, sounds good. But they say different things! Some don’t even think racism exists any more.


  1. Listen to the vanguard of oppressed people.

Listen to the people who you think are in motion. Who are the activists? The radicals? They probably can give you some clues about how to treat them with dignity and be true allies.


  1. What if they say that I can’t belly dance? Or Celebrate the Day of the Dead? Or wear dreadlocks?

These are personal choices. There is no golden rule to what is and what is or is not cultural appropriation. But, listen to the arguments. Consider the offense it may cause. Consider how it shapes your relationship with this group of people. If Arab women feel that belly dancing is appropriation, then consider how you could work with them to make it better and more just. Isn’t that the nice thing to do?

  1. Weigh/Learn about the issue:

In the end, Jarrar issued another statement. In this, she said belly dancing isn’t that important. The really important thing were things like the appropriation of Palestinian land. She was upset that her article was given so much attention when she had written more substantive things. The appropriation of a dance is far less important than the detainment of thousands of Palestinians who protest Israel’s occupation of their land or the collective punishment of Palestinians who cannot leave Gaza and the West Bank.


  1. Consider Oppression

Since there are no hard and fast rules about how to live one’s life and politics should not be reduced to personal choices anyway, the big question is the movement. The big picture is not the food you eat, clothes you wear, or hobbies you participate in. It is the oppression. The oppression of women must end. To do this, we must build a feminist movement. This is a circle. To build a movement, we need allies. To have allies, we can’t be jerks. We are all oppressed. We all have to work together. It is easy to think that feminism means freedom and choice, but the heart of feminism is ending the systematic oppression of women. This means that some of our freedoms and choices do impact others.



Belly dancing is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. I wrestle with it. Knowing what I know, or thinking what I think, should I do it as an activity? Having been raised in the United States, I like to think I can do whatever I want. I have freedom to choose. The world is a marketplace. It is hard to shake off that consciousness. I don’t want an austere, colorless life that lacks culture. I think the worst offense is probably the racialized costume. In this sense, perhaps I would be comfortable taking classes or practicing it at home, but would not want to wear a costume. I can’t shake the desire to learn and explore. The imperialist urge to sample the world.  I have tried to be involved with a local Palestine group and with an Islamophobia action that happened in Superior. The boundaries of my life are to think about my actions and do the best that I can to be an ally to women. I will do what I can to be the best that I can in those respects. I will dance in the revolution, but my steps will be cautious and thoughtful.


A Communist’s Impressions of Captain America: Civil War

I make it no secret that I am a communist.  But, I am also a dork.  I like comic book movies. With age, I have given up a lot of the dorky pursuits such as collecting action figures, my obsessive love of Dragon Ball Z, and creating comic books for my friends.  Still, I am glad that I can find joy in going to a Marvel movie…alone….for a 11 pm showing.  There is a certain satisfaction that the only solo movie goer in the theater was a female bodied person in her mid thirties.

With that said, I have never been a fan of Captain America.  Obviously, he wears patriotic colors, fought in WWII, has this “Greatest Generation” shtick, and well…represents U.S. interests.   I hated the first Captain America movie as it played up good old patriotic Captain America…fightin’ Nazis…the most.  Not that I am against fighting Nazis.  But, the United States did not play a wholesome good guy role in WWII or any war…nor can it.  While Captain America fought Nazis, or secretly Hydra (groan), with his multiracial Howling Commandos, the U.S. was detaining Japanese citizens and socialists at home.  We were alright with dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese, but not okay bombing infrastructure that supported concentration camps.  Corporations like Coca-Cola, General Electric, GM, and Ford were content to continue reap enormous profits from Nazi Germany through the 1930s and into the 40s through subsidiaries.  I won’t belabor this point as it is not central to the review.  The basic idea is that there was no “good war.”   While I have certainly benefited from being an American, one of the first terrible realizations that I had when I was in college was…well, we are a really awful country in how we relate to the rest of the world.  We have supported dictators and overthrown democratically elected leaders.  Our relative often comfort comes at the expense of others.  Yada, yada, not patriotic…not into Captain America.

At the same time, through the Marvel movies I have come to like Captain America.  As a character, he is pretty nice.  He is polite, square, loyal, honest, and consistent.  The movies have also raised interesting questions.  They make me think more than say Antman and Deadpool did (except maybe think that I was not going to see those movies a second time).  I appreciated that Captain America: Civil War gave me things to think about.  I wouldn’t have anything to post about if it hadn’t!

Thought One-The UN Myth:

Back in my early college days, I had to face the fact that the U.S. was involved in some bad things in the world.  That stinks!  What should I do?  I know, turn to the UN.  The United Nations sounds benign.  It’s pale blue, olive branch framed globe flag looks so peaceful.  It is made up of all the countries of the world…working together for peace and human rights.  My political evolution in support of the UN evolved again when I thought… “Wait, the security council has five permanent members who were the “victors” of WWII and this body can determine peacekeeping/military activities and sanctions.”  That stinks.  And while it seems alright to send internationalist soldiers into situations, these soldiers do many of the same things as soldiers who do not wear pastel blue hats: engage in rape, prostitution (even of children), torture, and other war crimes.   And while the UN may seem like a counter balance against the United States, it has been pretty toothless in standing against any of the United States’ military/foreign policy actions in the world.  Sometimes it is nice to say things like…wow, almost every country in the world has voted on like 20 resolutions about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians or almost every country in the world was against the United States when we did “fill in the blank”, at the end of the day the UN consistently serves the interests of imperialist powers OR, can do nothing to stop these interests.

Anyway, in the movie, in order to make superheroes accountable, the Avengers must sign that they agree to follow the Sokovia Accords.  Basically, about 112 countries have signed an accord that states that the Avengers will be overseen by the UN.  In an interesting twist, the UN will oversee the Avengers directly.  So, decisions will not go through the Security Council.  Rather, the entire General Assembly will vote on every single issue that they decide to send the Avengers to do.  Tony Stark is for this.  Captain America is not.  Thus, the catalyst for the civil war between the Avengers.  Captain America’s critique seems based upon a distrust of large organizations (from his Hydra and Shield experiences) and the fact that organizations or countries can change their minds.  It isn’t a critique of multilateralism or the UN.

If I was an Avenger, I would side with Captain America, though it is because I do not buy into the myth of the UN or multilateralism.  This same theme came up in the Batman v. Superman film.  Again, it seems that people often believe that it is better for a coalition to promote “justice” in the world than an individual or an individual nation state.  However, coalitions of nations can do the same injustices if they are guided by the interests of imperialism.  Hence, the invasion of Iraq would have been no more just had it been approved by the United Nations.  While this would have had a veneer of internationalism and neutrality, but would have been the profit motivated invasion of a sovereign country all the same.  In this same way, the actions of NATO are no better than those of the U.S., even if allies are involved.  In short, the Avengers should have indeed been skeptical about being overseen by the UN.

Though I am pretty curious, who were the 80-85 countries who did not support the Sokovia accords and why?!  Who doesn’t want to oversee the Avengers or superheroes in general?  Did Latveria vote against it for fear Dr. Doom would have to answer to the UN?  Did Genosha vote against it?  Is Genosha a country in the Avengers?   How about real countries?  The Avengers seem to serve U.S. interests, so it seems anti-American countries would want the Avengers to be overseen by an international body.  Maybe those who did not support the accords were countries such as the Maldives and Kiribati, who were upset that time was being wasted on the stupid accords rather than coming up with a solution to climate change.  “You built an underwater prison to house super heroes.  Super.  Underwater is where we will be if we can’t stop climate change” says the delegate from Kiribati.

Thought Two: Black Lives Matter

I appreciated that a black woman confronted Ironman about her dead son.  Her son died because the Avengers could not keep Sokovia safe.  Of course, to make the death more tragic, the son must be the son of a middle class black woman who works for the State Department.  The son was in Sokovia to do volunteer work.  Had the son been a criminal or from a lower class, his story would not have been as tragic to white viewers.  The message here is that black lives matter so long as the black people talk and act like middle class white people.  Still, I liked that Tony Stark thought that the woman was reaching for a gun rather than for a photograph.  I think this represented the fact that because of her skin color, he thought she might be dangerous.  It was only when she identified herself as a member of the upper middle class, she assured him that she could be trusted.  It is possible that the movie wanted to show African Americans in a positive light by highlighting the fact that the son was a volunteer rather than giving him a less favorable story.

At the same time, I was also glad that the movie decided not to follow the trope that black characters must die.  I thought that Iron Patriot was going to die.  I felt pretty bad as the death was horrific.  He fell from the sky when Vision accidentally destroyed his suit’s functionality.  I thought he would be a splatter spot on the ground.  Instead, he was disabled by the fall.  His life mattered to Tony Stark and I felt that there was a genuine message that he wasn’t an expendable character (even if he is a pretty marginal character).

Generally, the black characters acted like white characters.  The Marvel movies approach race with color blindness.  Racism is never depicted, which perpetuates racism by sending a message that everyone is the same, race doesn’t matter, and everyone can be friends and equals.  Everyone can be friends and equals, but to do this…people need to be allies and collaborators in ending racism.

I do appreciate that the movie featured three black characters.  Black Panther was given a larger role than I expected.   Wakanda is an idealized African nation full of jungles, minerals, and lacking poverty.  It is quaint.  It never had to fight a bloody war of independence against Portugal or France.  It has a monarchy.  Color blind Africa is just like us!    No pesky AIDs or legacies of colonialism.  Well, it has survived by extreme isolationism to protect its secrets and avoid the plunder of its valuable vibranium.  So, if you read between the lines perhaps it is not untouched by European power.

Thought Three: Cold War Cool

I liked the stronger Cold War themes in the film. To clarify, I am a Trotskyist, which means I am a critic of the Soviet Union. It is considered a degenerated worker state. Still, I have a soft spot for the USSR. The movie has a scene that takes place in December, 1991. My attention was glued to the screen and I was flooded with bittersweet feelings about the end of the USSR. It is Winter Soldiers final mission for the USSR/Hydra. The movie is ambiguous about the relationship between the USSR and Hydra. In this mission, Winter Soldier kills Tony Stark’s parents! He steals a serum from them so that more super soldiers can be made. The soldiers remain in a frozen state in Siberia. It is assumed that with the collapse of the Soviet Union the program was forgotten. Still, it is a nice story line and one that I have used in my own books (that I have not released to the public). It captures my imagination. It is eerie when Winter Soldier falls under the control of some handler when a sequence of Russian words are spoken. Plus, he is a cool character. A metal arm with a red star on it! Awesome!

Winter Soldier is so interesting. Although this is not part of his Marvel cinematic universe identity, he represents Stalinism to me. So, this Stalinist super soldier killed the billionaire parents of Tony Stark. That is a pretty big blow to capitalism, at least on the level of individuals. Like the degenerated worker state, he is brain damaged. To subdue his free will, he must undergo terrible mental control and torture. This is all in the interest of fighting for the USSR and fighting Captain America. The bureaucratic and nightmarish state was an outcome of war and survival. Trotsky predicted that the USSR would either have a political revolution to overthrow the bureaucratic caste or that the USSR would return to capitalism. Winter Soldier in the film is a Cold War relic that can’t shake off the past. He can’t return to being Bucky Barnes, an American and patriot. Instead, he chooses to freeze his body in the end, so that he can avoid harming others. Perhaps legacies of the Cold War are not easily overcome. At the very least, the United States continues to have an adversarial relationship with Russia. Russia has a weak capitalist economy, but punches above its weight when it comes to foreign policy. So, it remains a villain as it refuses to be relegated to the periphery of nations.

I also like the relationship between Captain America and Winter Soldier. Captain America is a dedicated friend. The movie is not really about holding super heroes accountable, but about friendship. Captain America almost kills Iron Man over Winter Soldier. So, in this way there is real love conveyed in the relationship. Captain America knew all the bad things that Winter Soldier had done, but forgave him and risked his life to protect him. The love between men in the Marvel movies is always more compelling than the love between men and women. I felt that the love was sort of like Thor and Loki’s brotherly love. They are two men who are on opposite sides of a fight, or at least should be. I also think because the characters are portrayed as equals or near equals, it is easier to be moved by their friendship. I don’t feel touched by the relationships between Thor and Jane or Captain America and Agent Carter. These relationships are boring and expected. Of course, despite the closeness, heteronormativity is protected through banter wherein Captain America remembers a time wherein Winter Soldier spent all their money on a red headed woman at the fair. Winter Soldier also nods in support of Captain America’s kiss with Agent Carter. Nope, nothing queer here. Just a lot of attractive guys hanging out, being fit, having close friendships, and keeping female characters busy doing other things. Granted, I don’t really want to “ship” any characters. I wouldn’t mind more variety in sexualities and genders. I would also like it if women could have such compelling relationships with men or with each other.


Really, I liked the movie.

It gave me plenty to think about and it was entertaining. I would say that it was the best Captain America movie and one of the best in the franchise. The stakes felt higher. The villain was not an overpowered robot or god, but a frustrated human being. There were several times wherein I was surprised by a turn of events. Instead of good versus evil, the boundaries were blurry. Because of the large cast of heroes, it certainly felt like an Avengers movie. The movie was much more emotional. For me, in a way it felt more like the Illiad than Antman. There are deep friendships and possible deaths. Like the Greek tale, it really was about the relationships between men, with little attention to female characters. In a way, to me this shows me how hard it is to imagine deep relationships between men and women. Women aren’t comrades to men. Black Widow is a friend, but a femme fetale who can’t be trusted. Scarlet Witch is a girlfriend to Vision. Agent Carter is a cheerleader.

Thankfully, I am a communist…so I get to be a comrade by default.




Never Alone…in Patriarchy

I do many things alone. I go out to eat alone. I shop alone. I go to fitness classes alone. I go to movies alone. I hike alone. I ski alone. I travel alone.   I  even went to my Senior Prom alone!  I can’t say that I am perfectly comfortable being alone. There are many times that I have just stayed home (alone) rather than go through the trouble of going out alone. Company creates momentum. Company has expectations. Company is also a comfort in unfamiliar situations. While I do things with other people as well, it is the alone time that has got me thinking. As an observation, the vacuum of being alone is always quickly filled by patriarchy.

Let me explain. I am traveling alone again. As I travel alone, I find myself in male spaces and in the male gaze. For instance, I am not an invisible person who ghostlike wanders the streets of Old San Juan. No, I am an object to be called out to, told that I am pretty, followed, harassed, and haunted. These catcalls and compliments are a cultural thing, but it reminds me that I am not alone. My space is invaded. I am sure if I was with a group of females, we might all experience the same. So, maybe it is not only that I am alone. It is a combination of alone and female bodied. More than this, if I consider some of the things I fear the most when traveling the things that pop into my mind tend to be crimes such as sexual assault, being robbed, being threatened with a weapon, or otherwise victimized. In these imagined concerns, the perpetrator is male. Sometimes I walk faster or turn the other way when I see some men. This isn’t to say that a woman could not commit such a crime, but within the context of patriarchy, males are socialized to act more violently and aggressively. When I am alone, I am not really alone, as I am kept company by a sense of fear wrought by the wrongs of patriarchy.   If I am not particularly afraid, then I am still haunted by patriarchy in other ways, though mostly all through its distorted relationships between men and women.   It may not be catcalls, but simple conversations wherein I wonder if I the man who is talking to wants to talk as equal human beings or if he is only talking to me so that he can make some sexual or romantic connection.

I wonder how others experience being alone. Informally, I have been tracking who I see when I am alone. Each time I went cross country skiing/snow shoeing alone this winter, I only met men who were out alone. But, surely women go out in the woods alone too. I also mostly met men when hiking, including finding a homeless man in the Superior municipal forest. When I eat alone, usually if there are other loners they are also men (elderly men). I have also only noted solo men at movies. Of course, this is a small sample and other variables could come into play (such as skiing certain places and watching super hero movies). And, I am probably not paying attention to the solitary women on the Lake Walk or at coffee shops. So, I am more attuned to the lack of females when…..there is a lack of females. But, it does make me wonder if women are less likely to venture out alone. What are the perimeters of patriarchy?

The first perimeter is fear, violence, rape culture, and male dominated spaces. This keeps women from venturing out alone, as a woman who takes risks (going out at night, walking down an alley, going into a bad part of town, keeping bad company) will be blamed for whatever happens to her. The second perimeter is the traditional social roles of women. Women tend to not be alone…as they are with often with others (children, husbands, their aging parents) as caregivers. A solitary woman has either shunned her traditional role as a caregiver or is escaping caregiving for a moment. Thirdly, when a woman finally is alone-patriarchy closes in again-like a circle of crocodiles-through masculinity’s watchful gaze and sexist (or heteronormative) stilted interactions.

My recent time alone has brought this to mind. Until recently I hadn’t considered what it means to be alone in patriarchy. To me, it means…never really being alone.


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