Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sex, Age, and Objectification

I know I haven't written a blogpost in a long, long time, but several things happened this week that made me decide to take up the pen ... well, the keyboard ... once again.
For some reason, this has been the week for me to come across articles about sexism in all its forms in short order.

On one side, there is what could be called "traditional sexism", as maybe exemplified by this article by Ashley Judd. She talks about the kind objectification that we generally think of when people mention sexism. The sexually explicit threats and taunts. A woman says something you don't want to hear, or behaves in ways you don't want her to behave, so you use this tactic to "put her in her place". Ever wonder why the worst thing you can call a woman is ... well ... a woman (albeit, of course, a "deviant" woman or an "ugly" woman.) Or - worst of all - you could refer to her as part of the female anatomy. This, of course, could be seen as the culmination of successful objectification - you have turned her from a complete human being with wants, needs, flaws, dreams, skills, and wishes, into a body part you threaten to use as you please. Not only have you dismembered her and taken away her agency, but furthermore you have reinforced why you have the right to do - because she is, after all, just a woman, and if and when she misbehaves, you know just what to hold over her head to make her shut up.

Of course, this particular article also serves as a good starting point for thinking about the specific nature of online interactions, and the intersection between online "life" and sexual harassment. In other words, would all these people using sexualized and gendered threats and insults online feel equally comfortable saying the same words to a woman's face - and what would be less disturbing: if the answer to this question was yes, or if it was no? Has social media, and this new way of interacting with each other, propagated this kind of behavior, or are we simply seeing more unfiltered thoughts, but thoughts that have always been there and have always been widespread, even before the advent of the internet? 

From there, it is only a short step to thinking about human nature. What is it that leads us to think it is ok to treat others this way? Why do we think we can violate another human being's bodily autonomy and integrity with threats of violence, or actual violence? And where in our messed-up history have we gotten sex and violence mixed up so profoundly? How did we end up taking something like sex, which is supposed to be about respect, appreciation, pleasure, and intimacy, and have turned it into one of the nastiest weapons, one of the most common and most effective ways to violate, humiliate, and degrade another person. I know many people, especially feminist authors and scholars, have said that rape and sexual assault are not actually about sex but rather about power, and that makes sense. On the other hand, we are deliberately using sex as the means to establish this power structure - which does indicate that, as a species, there is something fundamentally wrong with us. 

Of course, you can't talk about degradation, humiliation and violence without at least acknowledging how we treat other, non-human beings. In other words, the only way to end the objectification of other humans may be ending the objectification of non-humans first. If it is ok for me to objectify a cow simply because she is a cow and I am not, who is to say that I am not going to objectify another human being by the same logic (for example, because she is female and I am not)?

In addition to all these already "rosy" thoughts, I came across an article written a few months ago about the complicated intersection between sexism and ageism
Everyone knows that the rules of aging are different for men and women. Think what you may about Madonna, but she is not doing anything that men of her age haven't been doing for decades - and nobody cares. Mick Jagger or Robert Redford can be "sex symbols" way past their 60s, but if a woman in her 50s presents herself as a sexual being, she gets ridiculed. Now you can argue that this is just Madonna, and that she is not the norm when it comes to middle-aged women (which is true), but in the end, that is not the point. The point is that we have a double-standard for men and women. This double-standard starts in early childhood and remains in place through young adulthood and middle-age all the way into old age. The biggest perfidy, though, is how the double standard changes over the course of our lives.

What does this mean? It means that, as a young girl, you are supposed to be well-behaved, pleasant, calm, clean and quiet. As a young woman, you are supposed to be attractive (but God forbid you actually have sex! Make men fantasize about having sex with you, but don't express desire yourself or you are a slut!), sexy, smart (but not too smart or it interferes with your attractiveness!), and once you enter middle-age, you are supposed to disappear.

What does that mean, you may wonder? It means that, as soon as your body does not (or no longer) conform to this standard of youthful beauty, because it is too "ugly", too "fat", or too "old" (see how you will always be "too" something? Too smart, too loud, too bitchy, too fat, too old, too boring, too ... fill in the blank). If you think about it, this demand for women past a certain age (what that exact age is fluctuates a bit, but seems to hover somewhere between 38 and 42) to become invisible is simply the continuation of the sexual objectification is described above. Your body, the object at someone else's disposal, is not supposed to belong to an autonomous being with wishes and desires. What could drive home the point about your worth being tied to an impossible standard of youthful beauty better than the experience of having your worth disappear overnight. We all need to be seen. It is, I would argue, one of the most fundamental needs of human beings - to be seen for who we are. What does it tell you about power structures in our society if we can take away another person's visibility for no reason other than that they have lived for more than x number of years? What could teach them about their inherent worthlessness better than ridicule as an accepted response to the expression of their own needs and desires?

If you read Robin Korth's essay that I linked to above, you may have been surprised by the cruelty and callousness with which the man she calls Dave informed her of her unacceptability as a sexual being. She, he told her, did not conform to his standard of beauty, because she was too old. He informed her what she could do to make herself look younger - and thus more desirable to him.  She writes: "He was totally oblivious to the viciousness of his words. He had turned me into an object to be dressed and positioned to provide satisfaction for his ideas of what female sexual perfection should be." This could be the textbook definition of objectification: for him, her body is an object he has the right to use for his pleasure, and if she does not make it appealing (that is to say, young) enough for him to find her acceptable, she immediately becomes invisible. 

What is, then, the logical consequence of the way we teach young women that their worth is defined by their sexual desirability and then teach them that their worth will disappear when they dare to age? I am sure you guessed it - they will try everything in their power to keep their bodies "young". Plastic surgery, body "re-contouring", breast "enhancements" ... all these are natural consequences of objectification. To add insult to injury, women who torture themselves with botox and surgeries only end up being ridiculed for it. The ultimate punishment: demean human beings for trying to conform to a standard that was impossible to reach in the first place.

So what should we take away from this? Is there some great lesson to be learned from Ashley Judd and Robin Korth? Maybe. If so, the message is that true beauty comes in many shapes, forms, sizes, and ages, and those who are superficial enough treat others this way are not worthy of your time and affection anyway. How much more satisfying and rewarding our relationships would be if we simply related to each other as individuals, truly saw others in their all their unique, glorious, flawed beauty, and treated each other with dignity, kindness, and respect.

So in the end, I think one of the root causes of all this cruelty and objectification we encounter even (or especially?) in what should be our most intimate (and thus safe) relationships has to do with who we view other people.

To put it simply, our lives have become so economized, so governed by business transactions, that we have become unable to relate to others without applying the same principles. A relationship, especially a romantic relationship, thus becomes a business deal. What can you do for me? What can I get out of this? We evaluate and we judge. Instead of trying to connect, for the sake of closeness and intimacy, we connect because we want to own, because we want to possess, because we don't want to be alone, because we want to feel validated, because we want another person to tell us we are loved and important and special. We see them as an investment, thus we basically see them as an object to be used. One of the ways this mindset materializes is through objectification, as discussed above. We - especially women - are trained to "trade" sex for affection. We are trained to not actually want sex, but to use it as a bargaining chip. Men are told that they are allowed to judge the "merchandise" they are investing in. Of course, this has been so internalized that women judge and evaluate other women in the same way. We have accepted that youthful, conventional beauty is our currency, and thus we judge our own and each other's worth based on it.

So how can we get away from this? I have no answer. I know that it took me many years to see these things. It took me many years to realize that it is ok not to want what most others seem to want. It took me many years to realize that the only relationships - may they be friendships or romantic connections or both - worth having are the ones that are based on respect, freedom, and trust. In fact, we are so conditioned to think our worth depends on being partnered that we rarely stop to examine why we should want to form close, intimate ties with someone. Is convenience and convention really a good basis? Shouldn't we try to create a life that we are simply happy to live, on our own and according to our own rules so that, when we choose to connect deeply, to share ourselves intimately, we know we are doing it out of affection and not out of fear? 

These are not easy questions to ask ourselves, and engrained behaviors are hard to shake - they are hard to see. Furthermore, who wants to admit to themselves that they are doing things simply because they have been trained to? I had a couple of long relationships back to back when I was in my early and mid-twenties, and after the last one in that string ended, I decided to do some serious soul-searching. Why was it that I thought I should be out looking for someone, when I was really quite happy on my own? Why did I feel guilty for not dreaming of marriage and children? Why did I feel like others pitied me? Did I pity myself? I realized, after much reflection and meditation, and hours spent writing down what I wanted and felt, hours spent acknowledging, maybe for the first time, some of the wishes and desires that I had kept hidden from myself, that I did not pity myself. I did not feel incomplete, but I did feel like I should be feeling these things. Messed up, I know. I decided then and there that I would never again enter a relationship out of convention or because I wanted to avoid the endless questions ("Have you found someone?") and pitying looks. I promised myself that I would only choose to share myself for the right reasons from now on - out of affection, love, and the wish to connect deeply with that particular individual. I have stuck to this rule ever since, and my life has been that much easier and my connections with others that much more fulfilling. Would a change in perspective, similar to the one I had, help us end objectification in all its forms? Probably not by itself, but it would put us on the right track - towards seeing others as individuals with gifts, flaws, desires, wishes, and traumas, and it would ensure that we see them as souls to connect with because of what we have to give, and not because of what we hope (or expect) to get.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

We Cry

Wir weinen (we cry). Outpourings of a different kind, in German and in English.

Wir weinen. Ohne Tränen weinen wir, durch Erkenntnis zu Stein erstarrt. Die Zeit spült über uns hinweg, ein stetiger Strom. Er spült die Ecken rund und ebnet die Furchen und Kanten. Wir verschwinden, lösen uns auf. Der Himmel vergießt rote Tränen, ein Strom von Blut, das aus den Wolken quillt. Wer blutet? Im Panzerhemd reiten wir in die Schlacht, jeden Tag eine neue Schlacht, jeden Tag ein neuer Feind. Und zugleich immer derselbe, wir kennen ihn und doch erkennen wir ihn nicht. Er tötet unsere Seelen durch Kälte. Wir erfrieren in Gleichgültigkeit. Wir ersticken in Stille, denn wir haben unsere Stimme verloren. Oder haben wir sie nie gefunden? Wir kämpfen ohne Aussicht, doch wir kämpfen um uns. Wer aufgibt, hat verloren. Wer aufgibt, ist verloren. Verliert sich oder findet sich nie. Wer sind wir? Wir sind die Kinder dieser Welt, die Kinder Gottes, die Kinder der Tränen. Wir kommen aus dem Nebel, aus dem Vergessen und doch dürfen wir nicht vergessen. Erinnern ist leben, ohne Vergangenheit haben wir keine Zukunft. Wir sind die Zukunft und die Vergangenheit, das Gestern, das Heute und das Morgen zugleich. Und doch sind wir nichts. Wir sind ewig und vergänglich, wir sind Licht und Dunkel. Wir sind und doch sind wir nicht. Alles strömt, fließt, gleitet und wir mit ihm. Wir wissen nicht, wohin wir gehen. Wir sind viele und doch sind wir allein, jeder mit sich, jeder für sich, gefangen in sich selbst, gefangen vor sich selbst. 
Wir sind Krieger und Bekriegte, sind Leben und Tod. Wir sind Blinde und doch können wir sehen. Wir sind Sehende und doch sind wir blind. Unsere Seele verbrennt, aus Angst zu erfrieren. Feuer und Eis leben in unserer Brust. Wir sind Gottes Tränen, zum Leben erwacht. Wir wollen lieben und doch lieben wir nicht. Wir wollen nicht hassen und doch hassen wir. Wir sind alle anders und doch alle gleich. Was uns trennt, verbindet uns. Was uns verbindet, trennt uns. Wir sind Wasser und Luft, wir sind Meer und Sturm. Wir sind Anker und Segel, Fleisch und Schwert. Wir verletzen die anderen und mit ihnen uns. Auf der Erde verwurzelt schweben wir über den Wolken, zerissen. Unser stummer Schrei hallt über die Erde, doch wir hören uns nicht. Das Leid macht uns taub und der Schmerz macht uns stumm. Wir drehen die Messer in den Wunden, jeden Tag. Wir wollen die Welt verändern, aber nicht uns. Die Erde zuckt und bebt und die Verzweiflung brennt tiefe Furchen auf ihrem Weg ins Meer. Jemand steht uns im Weg. Wer ist es? Wir erkennen ihn nicht, denn sein Gesicht ist im Nebel verborgen. Er wendet sich ab und verschwindet. Wir selbst sind es. Wir wollen alles wissen, nur nicht, wer wir sind. Angst fesselt die Träume und erwürgt uns von innen. Wenn die Träume sterben, sterben wir mit ihnen.  Ein Eiszapfen im Herz schwelt mit kalter Glut. Wut ist wie Feuer, das verzehrt, Liebe wie Feuer, das wärmt. Gleichgültigkeit macht die Herzen taub und blind, wir bemerken den Hass nicht mehr, wir bemerken das Leid nicht mehr und nicht den Schmerz. Wir sind die Kinder der Freude und der Trauer. Hinter uns die Wüste und vor uns das Meer kämpfen wir verbissen für unser Paradies. Zu oft kämpfen wir gegen Verbündete und der Feind lacht, genährt durch Demütigung und Blut. Wenn wir das andere hassen, hassen wir uns. Hass vergiftet und Gleichgültigkeit erstickt. Wir kommen aus dem Nebel, doch wohin gehen wir? Ins Licht oder ins Dunkel? Wir sind die Kinder der Tränen. Tränen der Verzweiflung oder Tränen der Freude?

We cry. Without tears we cry, turned to stone by realization. Time washes over us, a continuous stream. It smoothes corners until they are round and evens out grooves and sharp edges. We disappear, dissolve. The sky is shedding red tears, a stream of blood oozing out of the clouds. In a coat of mail we ride into battle, every day a new battle, every day a new enemy. And at the same time always the same one, we know him but we don’t recognize him. He kills our souls with coldness. We freeze to death through indifference. We suffocate in silence, we have lost our voice. Or have we never found it? We fight without a prospect, but we fight for ourselves. She who gives up has lost. She who gives up is lost. Loses herself or never finds herself. Who are we? We are the children of this world, the children of god, the children of tears. We come from fog, from oblivion, but we are not allowed to forget. Remembering is life, no future without past. We are the future and the past, simultaneously yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And still we are nothing. We are eternal and ephemeral, we are light and darkness. We are and yet we are not. Everything flows, streams, floats, and we with it. We don’t know where we are going. We are many, and still we are alone, everyone with herself, everyone for herself, imprisoned within herself, imprisoned before herself. We are attackers and attacked, life and death. We are blind and yet we see. We are seeing and yet we are blind. Our souls burn, for fear of freezing to death. Fire and ice live in our chest. We are god’s tears come to life. We want to love and yet we don’t love. We don’t want to hate and yet we hate. We are all different and yet we are all the same. What separates us, connects us. What connects us, separates us. We are water and air, sea and storm. We are anchor and sail, flesh and sword. We hurt others and with them ourselves. Rooted in earth, we float above the clouds. Our silent screams echo across the earth, but we do not hear ourselves. Suffering makes us deaf and pain makes us mute. We turn the knife in the wound everyday. We want to change the world, but not ourselves. The earth twitches and trembles and desperation burns deep grooves on her way to the ocean. Someone is standing in our way. Who is it? We do not recognize him, his face is hidden in the fog. He turns and disappears. He is us. We want to know everything except who we are. Fear shackles our dreams, and chokes us from within. When dreams die, we die with them. An icicle in the heart smolders with cold embers. Rage is like fire that consumes, love like fire that warms. Indifference makes the hearts deaf and blind, we no longer notice the hate, we no longer notice the suffering, or the pain. We are the children of joy and sorrow. Behind us the desert, in front of us the sea, we doggedly fight for our paradise. Too often we battle our allies, and the enemy laughs, nourished by humiliation and blood. When we hate the other, we hate ourselves. Hate poisons and indifference suffocates. We come from the fog, but where are we going? Into the light or into the darkness? We are the children of tears. Tears of desperation or tears of joy? 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"I'd Rather Be A Hammer Than A Nail" ...

When did we come to live in a world where empathy is equated with weakness? Where caring is seen as irrational and somehow inferior? And what does it mean for us to live in a world like that?

Our beliefs and convictions about the world shape how we see it, and consequently also how it is. In other words, we create, in a very real sense, the world we live in. If we believe it to be a hostile place, where you have to take advantage of others, or be taken advantage of, that is the kind of place it will be. If we think that you have to be ruthless and selfish to be successful, that is how it will be. If we think that being successful means taking as much as we can from as many others as we can, that will become the reality we face. This is the purest self-fulfilling prophecy there is. 

A little while ago I encountered, in the deepest depths of the internet, a discussion about humanity's deepest fear. People were discussing what we, as a species, were most afraid of. Answers included the usual suspects: death, the unknown, fear. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that we are, in fact, most afraid of vulnerability. To make yourself vulnerable means to give someone else the power to hurt you. It means to give someone else power, period. And given the world we have created for ourselves, we can reasonably expect that the others will use that power against us. Every time you tell someone about your fears and insecurities, you risk them using that knowledge against you. To throw your words back in your face, to put a finger in the wound when you least expect it, because you have just told them where it hurts the most, where that chink in your armor is located.

I remember a friend telling me how she ended a relationship because she feared that her boyfriend was about to break up with her, and she wanted to be the one doing the breaking up. She did not want to be the nail. I remember years of holding in my feelings, afraid that if I expressed them, the people I cared about would no longer like me, or that they would use the insights into my soul to hurt and manipulate me. To some extent, we all wear a mask, in a desperate attempt to remain in control. It is ironic, in a way, that so many of us seem to strive for intimacy of some kind, for a connection with another being, while at the same time being terrified of allowing ourselves to be seen in our flawed vulnerability. That is why we posture. We put on a show. We succumb to "peer pressure". We tell our young men to "man up". We are ashamed of tears. We distrust. Not too long ago, I was riding on the bus. After most of the other passengers had disembarked, and only a few of us remained, a woman asked me if I had a cell phone. My first reaction was to say no, because I thought of all the instances that are reported in the news where people are taken advantage of. They allow a stranger to use their phone only to have their phone stolen. They take out their wallet to give someone change only to have that person grab the wallet and run of. So I said, no, I don't think I have my phone with me. And then I thought: is that really the kind of world you want? A world where, if you ask someone for a small favor, they will automatically say no, because they expect you to take advantage of their kindness. And so I changed my mind. I told the woman I would check and see if my phone was in my backpack. I let her use the phone to make a call. And nothing bad happened to me - quite the contrary.

Some of the indifference we see towards the immense suffering of humans and non-humans is certainly due simple complacency - life is easier if we don't stop to contemplate the consequences of our actions. Some of it is due to a sort of denial that allows us to continue living in a profoundly inhumane system with our soul intact. And some of it is due to our misperception of what it means to be strong. Our whole system is built on the exploitation of the vulnerable - the "weak" - humans, and especially non-humans. We tell ourselves that we have a right to exploit, torture, and kill millions of non-human animals simply because we can. Because we are "stronger" than they are. But isn't kindness and compassion the greatest form of strength, in a world where empathy is equated with weakness?

Does this mean that we should trust blindly? Bare our heart and soul for everyone to see? Let people use and abuse us time and again? No. It simply means that maybe we can imagine a world where we don't have to choose between being a hammer or being a nail. A world where we can be neither. And maybe we can try to create that world, by overcoming our fear of being vulnerable - and by not taking advantage of those who dare to be vulnerable in our presence.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Small Lives

Small lives. That is the name of a story (poem? collection of thoughts?) I wrote a while ago, during one of my less happy days. Most of the things I write are somewhat sad. Some are even dark. There is no better way of overcoming negative emotions than to put them down on paper. At least for me there isn't. And so today I decided to translate one of my stories (poems? collections of thoughts?) into English, and put it out there for the world to see (or at least for those of you who read this!). So here it is. It's called "Small Lives". I am posting the German original, followed by the best English translation I could manage. Feel free to tell me what you think by leaving a comment. Over time, I might feel brave enough to post more of my creations.

Kleine Leben

Sein Leben ist ein kleines Leben. 
Er träumt kleine Träume. 
Sich die warme Sonne auf den Pelz scheinen lassen. 
Im Gras liegen und die Wolken beobachten. 
Einen trockenen Platz zum Schlafen und immer genug zu essen.
Frei zu sein von Angst und Schmerzen, umgeben von denen, die er liebt.
Sein kleines Leben ist nichts wert.
Sagen wir.
Er ist nur ein Tier.
Hat keine Gefühle.
Kein Bewusstsein.
Sein Leben ist ein kleines Leben und kleine Leben zählen nicht.
Weil es so viele gibt.
Kleine Leben.
Mit kleinen Träumen.
Die er hat.
Aber nicht haben kann, weil er ein Tier ist.
Und Tiere haben keine Träume.
Aber das weiß er nicht.
Deswegen sitzt er da, in seinem Käfig, umgeben von Dunkelheit und Angst und Gestank und Schmerz.
Tagein, tagaus sitzt er da. Und träumt.

Mein Leben ist ein kleines Leben.
Ich träume kleine Träume.
Mir die warme Sonne auf den Haut scheinen lassen. 
Im Gras liegen und die Wolken beobachten. 
Einen trockenen Platz zum Schlafen und immer genug zu essen.
Frei zu sein von Angst und Schmerzen, umgeben von denen, die ich liebe.
Mein kleines Leben ist etwas wert, zumindest ein bisschen.
Sagen wir.
Auch ich bin ein Tier, aber ein anderes Tier.
Aber ich habe Gefühle.
Ein Bewusstsein.
Mein Leben ist ein kleines Leben, aber es zählt, zumindest ein bisschen.
Obwohl es so viele gibt.
Aber eben nur ein bisschen.
Kleine Leben.
Mit kleinen Träumen.
Die ich habe, genau wie er.
Aber die er nicht haben darf, weil er nicht so ist wie ich.
Tiere haben keine Träume. Zumindest solche Tiere nicht.
Aber das weiß er nicht.
Und ich auch nicht.
Aber wir müssen es lernen, er und ich.
Und dann, wenn wir es gelernt haben, dann hören wir auf zu träumen.
Wir beide.
Weil wir es nicht mehr können. Wir haben keine Träume mehr.

Kleine Leben eben.
Davon gibt es so viele.

Small Lives

His life is a small life. 
He dreams small dreams.
To let the sun warm his fur.
To lie in the grass and watch the clouds pass by.
To have a dry place to sleep and always enough to eat.
To be free of fear and pain, surrounded by those he loves.
His small life isn’t worth anything.
We say.
He is only an animal.
He has no feelings.
No consciousness.
His life is a small life, and small lives don’t count.
Because there are so many.
Small lives.
With small dreams.
Which he has.
But he can’t have them, because he is an animal.
And animals don’t have dreams.
But he doesn’t know that.
That’s why he is sitting there, in his cage, surrounded by darkness and fear and stench and pain.
Day in, day out he sits there. And dreams.

My life is a small life.
I dream small dreams.
To let the sun warm my skin.
To lie in the grass and watch the clouds pass by.
To have a dry place to sleep and always enough to eat.
To be free of fear and pain, surrounded by those I love.
My small life is worth something, at least a little bit.
We say.
I am an animal, too, but a different kind of animal.
But I have feelings.
A consciousness.
My life is a small life, but it counts, at least a little bit.
Despite the fact that there are so many.
But only a little bit.
Small lives.
With small dreams.
Which I have, just like him.
Which he isn’t allowed to have, because he isn’t like me.
Animals don’t have dreams. At least not animals like him.
But he doesn’t know that.
And neither do I.
But we have to learn, he and I.
And then, when we’ve learned it, we’ll stop dreaming.
Both of us.
Because we can’t do it anymore. We have no dreams left.

Small lives.
There are so many.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Up-Cycle, Re-Cycle, Re-Purpose ... Making a Jewelry Holder

As I was procrastinating on the internet a little while ago, I found this blog entry on A Time For Everything about a crafts project: a self-made jewelry holder, made out of an old tray.

I really liked the idea, but I did not have a tray at hand, so I decided to improvise a little bit. I stuck with the wooden spools and the little boxes to hold odds and ends, but I used a basked instead of the tray. Here are some pictures of the finished product:

I wrapped the foam board in the cat-print fabric first, then covered the top with the chocolate-brown burlap. Earrings can be hung directly from the burlap, which makes them very accessible, and also looks good. I store the backs of the earrings in one of the little boxes on the bottom.

I attached a spool to the outside of the basket as well, for longer necklaces. The spools are attached by inserting a plastic screw anchor in the hole in the center of the spool. Then, the screw is fitted with a washer, to distribute pressure over a bigger area of the basket, and minimize the chance of the screw breaking through the basket when weight is applied to the spool. You can see the washer in the picture below - I used one when fixing the spool to the side of the basket as well.

If I make another one of these, I want to paint the spools in either an off-white, or a very light shade of teal.

The little boxes are wrapped in teal fabric. I glued the lids to the bottom of the boxes and wrapped them in the same chocolate-colored burlap. They are perfect for small earrings, rings, pendants, and bracelets.

And ... it even matches this piece of "cat furniture" - Dana and Scully's favorite cardboard box, visually improved by the addition of the very same fabric.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Eating Vegan in Madison - Pizza

Pizza may not seem like the most "natural" vegan food (after all, don't people eat pizza mainly for the cheese?!?!?), but I have come to realize that vegan pizza is actually quite delicious! In fact, simply cheese-less pizza, without any vegan cheese, may be my favorite yet. I used to think pizza "without cheese" would not be worth eating, but once you try it, you will find that all the other toppings, as well as the sauce, are in fact "drowned out" by cheese. You will experience a much richer, more nuanced pizza when you leave off the cheese.

That being said, Madison is actually pretty great when it comes to all varieties of vegan pizza - the cheese-less kind as well as the kind boasting vegan cheese. Here's a list of places that offer vegan pizza in the area:

Ian's Pizza: Ian's offers a number of vegan options. A variety of their pizzas can easily be ordered vegan - dairy cheese is then simply replaced by Daiya cheese. Even Ian's classics, such as their "Macaroni and Cheese"-pie, can be ordered vegan any time. From time to time, their weekly specialty pies will include vegan options, which makes it possible to order vegan pizza by the slice, without having to order a whole pizza. Ian's also recently started a "Vegan Pizza Night" on Monday nights (at their downtown location), where vegan slices are available. Ian's also delivers.

Glassnickel Pizza: I have only ever ordered Glassnickel pizza, so I cannot say much about the experience of eating in their restaurants, but their online menu is pretty vegan-friendly. The Build-Your-Own pizzas can be made vegan (the crust and some of their sauces are vegan), and you can choose to leave off the cheese, or substitute it with Daiya cheese instead. For a vegan, having pizza delivered is a rare thing, so I was very excited when Glassnickel decided to expand their vegan options.

Salvatore's Tomato Pies: This is one of my favorite places to get vegan pizza. It is a local, non-chain pizza place in Sun Prairie (just north of Madison). Salvatore's uses mainly local, organic ingredients, their crust and sauce are vegan, and they replace dairy cheese with a delicious home-made vegan cheese made of white bean puree. You can choose to veganize one of their specialty pizzas (most often, this is done with their "Mediterranean Pie") or you can opt to build your own pizza.

Pizza Brutta: This place probably offers the most authentically "italian" pizza in Madison - wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, according to their website. The "Pizza Marinara" is a naturally cheese-less option that is offered on their regular menu, and requires absolutely no alterations. Pizza Brutta offers no vegan cheese options, but you can request other pizzas to be made without cheese. If you are a fan of thin-crust, traditionally italian-style pizza (as opposed to its Americanized cousin available at Ian's and Glassnickel), this is the place for you!

If anyone has additional information or thoughts on vegan pizza in Madison, feel free to leave a comment! :)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"An Act of True Love": Why Disney's "Frozen" may be the very first truly feminist princess movie

I know I am pretty late to the game, but I only got around to watching "Frozen" recently. I have to admit, though I am a sucker for all things animated, and animated movies are certainly one of my guilty pleasures, I was in no hurry to see "Frozen" when it first came out on Thanksgiving. The reason? It's a PRINCESS movie, and (with a few exceptions), Disney's track record of creating believable female characters is pretty bad, especially when it comes to princesses. Yes, many of them show some positive, admirable qualities (I am thinking of Belle and her love of books, for example), but most of them are, in the end, saved by "Prince Charming" - and even when they are not literally being saved, the highly romanticized notion "love at first sight" permeates pretty much all Disney (princess) movies. Here are some examples:

Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are saved by a kiss. Ariel gives up her voice to be with her prince. And while Belle or Mulan or Pocahontas or Rapunzel are more independent, interesting characters, the story is still firmly centered around its "boy meets girl" aspect. So what is different in "Frozen"? 

The story revolves around the sisters Elsa and Anna, princesses in the kingdom of Arrendelle. Elsa has magical powers - the power to create ice and snow - but starts to fear her own powers after an accident that almost killed Anna. Anna is saved, but her memory of Elsa's powers is erased in the process. From them on, Elsa avoids Anna and spends most of her time locked in her room, alone, trying to conceal, control, and hide her power. She grows more and more afraid of herself and her powers. After their parents die, Elsa becomes queen of Arrendelle. That day, the gates to the castle are opened for the first time in years, and the sisters react differently: Anna with excitement, Elsa with fear. Anna falls in love with Prince Hans, who immediately proposes. When they tell Elsa about this, she becomes deeply upset, which causes her to lose control of her powers. She runs away into the mountains, but causes eternal winter to come over Arrendelle. Anna heads out to find Elsa, convince her to bring back summer, and return to Arrendelle. She is accompanied by Kristoff and his reindeer Sven. When they find and confront Elsa, she accidentally hits Anna in the heart with her magic, causing her heart to turn to ice. Kristoff takes Anna to be saved by an old troll living in the woods, but he informs them that he cannot save her, and that only an "act of true love" could melt a frozen heart.

  • Hans and Anna - a new twist on an old Disney clichéYes, I'll admit it - when Princess Anna falls head over heels in love with the charming, attractive, perfect Prince Hans, I was almost appalled. Here we are, in 2014, and THAT'S what Disney is trying to sell me? The notion of falling in love with a stranger, in an instant, which creates a bond so strong and true that Prince Hans risks everything to save his Anna? The idea that finding "the one" can save you, and cure loneliness, and fill the hole in your heart created by losing the bond you once shared with your sister? But what happens when Kristoff takes Anna back to the castle, so that a kiss from Hans (an act of true love) can save her from turning to ice? Hans tells her that he never loved her. He saw her loneliness and desperation, and spotted a chance to marry her to get closer to a throne (he is 13th in line in his homeland). He picked Anna, as Elsa was utterly unapproachable, and was planning to arrange for an "accident" to kill Elsa after his wedding to Anna. He leaves Anna to die and heads out to kill Elsa, whom he has branded as a monster who killed Anna. This turn of events was utterly unexpected to me, and surprised me with its break with traditional Disney princess patterns.
  • Let it Go" - Elsa's transformation: While Anna's story is fundamentally about love, the yearning for love, and the different faces of love, Elsa's story is about individuality, fear, loneliness, and power. Elsa is afraid of her own powers. Her parents are afraid of her powers. She spends her life hidden away, trying to conceal who she is and what she is capable of, out of fear. Fear of what she could do. Fear of what she is. Fear of what others will think or say when they find out the truth. Elsa tries to keep herself hidden, and to keep everyone out, because she is afraid that others will see her for what she is - different. In her central scene, after running away from Arrendelle upon seeing her secret revealed, Elsa finally accepts who she is:  She is no longer afraid or ashamed of herself, she accepts her differences, she even embraces it. Elsa, like Anna, suffers from deep isolation and loneliness, but, unlike Anna, Elsa discovers that what she needs first and foremost is to accept herself. Elsa's isolation is caused by her fear of what others will think, but most importantly, it is caused by her fear of her own capabilities. As a young child, she embraces and celebrates her magical powers, but after the accident, she grows afraid of them. Her parents contribute to this, because they convince her that she needs to be protected from herself, and until she has managed to conceal her powers, she needs to be hidden away from everyone else, for their - and her own - protection. Elsa's story is not about finding validation in someone else, it's about accepting herself, and about not being ashamed of it.

  • "We used to be best buddies" - A bond between sisters: Despite Anna's search for romantic love - and the fact that she does end up with Kristoff in the end - the central relationship that is being explored in this movie is that between Anna and Elsa. We watch them being best friends in their childhood, we see how the accident, Elsa's fear and her subsequent rejection of Anna creates a gulf between them that seems too wide to bridge. Anna is deeply lonely, mostly because she has lost her sister, but she has no idea why. She remembers being close to Elsa, but she does not remember the accident, and so Elsa's distancing is incomprehensible to Anna. She has lost one of the most important people in her life, and she attempts to fill that void with Hans, her too-good-to-be-true love interest. Elsa pulls back from Anna out of fear and out of love. She fears that by being around her, she would endanger her sister, and so she pushes Anna away. After many movies about jealousy and competition between sisters (think "Cinderella", for example), this movie explores the idea that sisters can be close, that they can be allies, that they can care deeply for each other, and that the loss of and rejection by a sister can wound us just as deeply. The connection between Anna and Elsa does not take second place to Anna's relationship with Hans and/or Kristoff. It is, and remains, the central relationship being explored in this movie.
  • "An Act of True Love", redefined: When Anna is told that only an act of true love can save her, she and Kristoff immediately think of Hans. A kiss by Anna's true love will surely save her. So they rush her back to the cancel, only to discover that Hans does not care for Anna at all. Kristoff has left the castle after dropping Anna off, but he soon realizes that something has gone wrong, so he and Sven rush back to Arrendelle. In the meantime, Anna (with the help of Olaf, a snowman created and brought to life by Elsa's magic) realizes that Kristoff might actually love her. After all, he brought her back to the castle and then left, assuming that he was doing what was best for her, and was leaving her in the care of her true love. When they see Kristoff heading back towards to castle, Anna decides that a kiss from Kristoff might do what a kiss from Hans could not. Anna, Kristoff, Elsa, and Hans all find themselves on the frozen fjord, in the middle of a snow storm created by Elsa's emotions. Hans confronts Elsa and tells her that she has killed her sister. The shock and sadness Elsa experiences because of this revelation causes her to break down and the storm to subside. Anna sees Kristoff rushing towards her, but she also sees that Hans is about to kill Elsa, so she turns away from Hans and throws herself between Hans and Elsa, saving her sister's life. She chooses to save her sister, even though she is convinced that this means sacrificing her own life. In the end, that ends up being the act of true love that saves both Anna and Elsa. It is not a kiss, it is not being loved by someone else, it is the act of truly loving someone that melts the ice in Anna's heart. Twice, Disney leads us to believe that being kissed by a man (first Hans, then Kristoff) will be what saves Anna's life. Both times we believe them, and both times we are "disappointed". True love ends up being what Anna feels for her sister, and that feeling is what saves Anna. She saves herself, and that is a truly novel idea in the Disney universe.
So what makes "Frozen" different from even the more progressive princess movies Disney has created in the past? Partly it is the dismantling of "Prince Charming", partly it is the idea that the Princess can save herself, and does not need to be saved. But most of all, it is the fundamental redefinition of what an "act of true love" can refer to.