Tuesday, September 23, 2014

HeForShe and HeAndShe

Recently Emma Watson spoke before the United Nations to unveil and describe her HeForShe campaign, which is asking men to sign up on their website to show a commitment to supporting gender equality. There have been the usual critiques of the ideas which she presented, and of the motivations of Ms. Watson herself (as well as some pathetic attempts to shame her with threats of leaking compromising photos of the young woman), and even some who have suggested that we should instead use the "HeAndShe" hashtag as a more appropriate banner for the fight for gender equality. 

While I do not often describe myself as a feminist*, I take issue with the central arguments behind those who have offered the HeAndShe alternative, as it implies that men and women can advocate for equality equally. But that's the problem, isn't it? If women and men could advocate for themselves and each other equally, we wouldn't even be talking about equality - it would have been attained. 

The reason HeForShe is important is specifically because we aren't equal yet. I may choose to say I am a humanist rather than a feminist, but my objection to the term is purely semantic, as I believe it's important to support feminism's guiding principles, even if I don't always agree with every feminist. 

To best illustrate my point, I think of it in the following way:

A man and a woman begin a journey together.
As they walk, their paths deviate.
Eventually the man ends up at the top of a hill, from which he can see far off into the distance. He remarks about the breathtaking view.
The woman has tried to climb the same hill, but there were challenges she couldn’t overcome, and the man did not always reach back to help her, so she is only halfway to the top.
She wants to climb up to the top of the hill to be with the man and see the view for herself, but the constant setbacks and challenges have worn her down, and she knows it will take much, much longer to get there on her own.
She waves and calls out to the man, asking him to help her get to the top of the hill.

HeAndShe implies either that the man does not need to help the woman get to the top of the hill, or worse, that the man and the woman are already on top of the hill together.

HeForShe stands for the man doing whatever he can to help the woman get to the top of the hill.

There are those who say that HeForShe puts "women and children first". No it doesn't. It means that men should be active participants in achieving equality for women, so that they can both enjoy the view from the hill. Sure, we could just dig in our heels and let women fight their way to the top on their own, but what does that say about us? I won't stand idly by if someone, anyone, is genuinely asking for the same rights I, and others, already have and I am in a position to help. 

This was a deliberately simplistic example, and no I don't pretend to have all the answers or to imply that men aren't also suffering in certain areas or face no gender bias, or that those who are transgender or questioning don't have their own unique challenges. All of those problems exist, and it's not going to be an easy solution, but I agree with Ms. Watson's overriding philosophy, and I feel that we need to start with the most obvious problems first, and right now if we're going to expect women to advocate for both genders equally, we first need to help get them up the hill. 

If you still support #HeAndShe, I have a suggestion for you! Perhaps we can and should re-purpose the #HeAndShe hashtag as the rallying cry for both men and women to advocate equally for those who are transgender or questioning. Imagine a world where everyone stands on the hill together, regardless of who they identify as. What a world that would be!

If you are a man who believes that we need to be active participants in securing equal rights for women, you can sign up at the HeForShe campaign's website here: HeForShe's Website
* I personally prefer to champion gender equality under the umbrella of humanism, because gender equality is a HUMAN right, and also because I don't see the issue as a binary equation but rather I believe people's identities exist on a three axis spectrum of gender, orientation and biology. I don't dislike the term feminist, I simply find it doesn't adequately describe my own philosophy.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Barefoot 365

Last year, I started seeing some of my friends and colleagues posting some of their personal photos to their social media feeds with the hashtag #Project365. Being a bit of a voyeur, I always enjoy seeing pieces of other people's lives, and some of the images my friends had posted were quite breathtaking. I looked into it some more and realized that this was not just a random thing my fellow tweeters and facebookers were doing, but there was actually an entire website based around this concept of taking and posting an image a day for a year.

When I thought about the scarcity of my New Year's resolutions for 2014 (see my previous post below), I made a pledge just over a week ago, that I would participate in my own #Project365. But being that, as a barefooter, I have a rather particular and unique take on life, I thought it would be a good opportunity to do some outreach as a barefooter, and have launched #Barefoot365.

My project is deliberately designed to show a year in the life of a barefooter. Most times, my barefooting is mundane. But other times, it's not. The point is not for me to show how "cool" or how "brave" or how "smart" barefooting is. My goal, is to show just how "ordinary" being barefoot is.

People who don't know me, and who meet me for the very first time, are almost always full of questions about my barefooting:

How do you do that?

Why do you do that?

What is it all about?

And I sometimes feel like these questions are really, really unusual. Because I honestly cannot see how someone can look at me doing something that is completely natural for our species, and ask such questions seriously. In truth, it kind of saddens me that we have climbed so far away from our origins that questions like this seem necessary to many people when they're confronted with something as innate to our species as living barefoot.

But, I also understand and am sympathetic to these questions, and that is why I am hoping that my #Barefoot365 project will show just how usual my unusualness really is. :-)

You can find and follow this project at the following link: Barefoot Matthew's #Barefoot 365

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Looking Forward to 2014

As I look ahead to 2014, there are two major things that I hope to accomplish this year, so I guess you could call them my resolutions. They are:

  1. Finish writing my book.
  2. Get back into yoga.
I posted these to Twitter, but Twitter is so fleeting that I felt that I needed to also record them here if I was to have any hope of garnering the willpower it will take to accomplish these goals. Fortunately, I'm already well on my way with the first goal of completing my book, as I've used the two weeks that I've had off of work to get really deep into editing the first of the dozen chapters I've already written. I've also been brainstorming the rest of the chapters to get the book to the stopping point that I would like for the first volume. Yes, volume, as in I hope to turn this story into a series of books. I am not focused on that longer term goal yet, though. I first want to get one book written, see how well it's received and then go from there. I like my own writing, and the few people who have read some of my work have consistently complimented me on my writing, so I'm hopeful that this hobby will take off and maybe even launch me in a new direction. The cosmos knows I've been needing something like that for a while.

I'm not going to reveal much about the story of my book yet...even though I've written a dozen chapters (technically there are more, but some of them exist only in a Molskine notebook on my desk) I feel as though it's still too early in the process, and the feedback I've received and hope to continue to receive will likely shift the details of my story somewhat. But I can say that thematically it's a story about holding on to one's humanity; to hope and love and strength in the face of overwhelming challenges.

The second goal shouldn't be too daunting, but I've been procrastinating about it already for a while now. It's hard enough to find physical activities that I enjoy anyway, but I think part of the reason I've been sitting on my hands on this goal for so long is that no matter what physical activity I attempt to get into, I invariably end up with some kind of chronic injury that sidelines me temporarily. Then once it heals up, which usually takes at least a couple of months, my motivation to get back to it has completely evaporated. Example: Three years ago, I was doing yoga once a week and I began to notice a pain in my wrist when doing the downward dog or plank pose. When I checked it out with my doctor, it turned out I had developed a painful cyst in my wrist, and had to get it excised by a surgeon. Recovery took months, including physical therapy to regain the strength I'd lost. By then, I was gun-shy about going back to it.

I know it's entirely possible that the two incidents were unrelated (my cyst could very well have simply been work-related), but this was just the latest in a very long string of injuries I've sustained or noticed while trying to be physical. It's been so bad that I sometimes come to think of myself as "Mr. Glass" from the movie Unbreakable. I should probably take a lesson from my first goal and not get discouraged like that, and work harder to get past my challenges in this regard. I just don't know what I can do when my body is consistently and clearly telling me that being active is a surefire way for me to get hurt.

I guess from the fact that I now feel better about my year ahead, just from having blogged about all of this, maybe I should add "Blogging more" to my list of resolutions this year. I've been somewhat reserved with my blog because a lot of the things that are on my mind end up crossing the line into either the realm of my personal life, or my career, and I don't know that anyone cares to read my petty complaints and observations about my life or work. 

With regards to personal stuff, I never like talking much about my family life to the Internet, as it just feels disrespectful to them for some reason. So when I talk about personal stuff it's usually about things that affect only me, but then if I post like that all the time I feel like people will think I'm just pining to be "swinging single guy" or something, which I'm not. I think part of the reason I fear these things is that many of my most intense interests tend towards the more controversial subjects, like religion, sex and sexuality, and politics. It's tough to find the balance in my blogging between showing myself as a responsible husband and father, and speaking out about the things that interest me most.

Nor do I necessarily want to paint myself as a troublemaker if I am griping about something to do with my job or career (of which there are plenty of topics to choose from, unfortunately), or even if I'm saying something positive, I often feel like I might say something that I probably shouldn't say outside of official channels. I've got drafts of posts you wouldn't believe in this regard. But I'm extremely protective of keeping my job, and so I say nothing at all. 

And lastly, I'm a wordy person. I write a lot. I write, then I edit, then I write some more, then I edit again. Literally, it can sometimes take me an hour to write a single email. Not kidding. I'm not particularly good with communicating my thoughts the first time, so I iterate a lot. The same holds for me when writing blog entries, and so I expect that writing a single blog post will take a minimum of an hour, and I don't always feel like I will have the time (This one clocked at just shy of 40 minutes - hey, that's improvement!). But as I am now writing more with my book, maybe brevity is a skill I'll begin to pick up on soon.

So, maybe between the two goals outlined above, I'll have more than enough other good things to blog about here besides work this year. I hope everyone had a Happy New Year and is looking forward to a good 2014.