Driving the truck

I will be driving a 17′ moving truck tomorrow, through not-overwide city streets. I’m not looking forward to it. The first time I drove a vehicle that size was five months ago, when we last moved.* I hated it then; I like driving little, zippy cars, cars that feel like just a really big metal suit with an engine, cars like my much-lamented Yaris. Driving the truck was big and clunky and slow.

Oh, and scary. Did I mention scary? Driving that giant thing along narrow streets, getting lost, having to loop around and try again, not being sure of the dimensions and constantly worried that I was going to hit something or someone with the ponderous mass I was steering… By the time I got that truck home my shoulders were already sore from tension, and I hadn’t started carrying any boxes yet.

Those who know me know that I have a competence ego as big as any man’s. (Well, not any man’s, there are plenty of men and women too who are worse off than me. What I’m saying is I fall solidly under the male-typical arc of the bell curve.) I wanna do it myself, I wanna figure it out without help, and I get prickly if unwanted assistance is offered. I’m not sure what magic ingredients in my genetics and upbringing gave rise to this delusion, but I truly do believe that I am capable of learning to do anything and everything, without direct assistance from anybody else. Now I’m a grownup, so like most of us with an overblown competence ego, I’ve learned that sometimes I do indeed need help, sometimes other people will do something better than I will even if I try really, really hard, and that my worth as a person is not lessened by either of these truths.**

In the last couple of years, though, I’ve thought more deeply about gender roles, and played more deliberately with adopting both masculine and feminine roles in different situations. So five months ago, driving that beast of a truck through crowded Decatur streets, gritting my teeth and trying to deny my fear, because dammit, I am competent and I can do things like drive giant trucks — it occured to me that if I wanted to, I could put on my “girly” hat and say to the boyfriend, in a quavering little voice, “Driving the truck was really scary, will you do it for the rest of the trip?” Because in the feminine role, it is totally okay to not want to drive giant trucks down tiny city streets. Being too scared or simply feeling incapable is not a weakness in the feminine role. I could admit to that feeling and continue undiminished.

It was an interesting moment of appreciating the different freedoms available to the gender-conforming on both sides. In the masculine “I can do it” role, I would have to push back against my fear, ignore it or overcome it and drive the damn truck: saying I couldn’t was not a viable option. On the plus side, I would walk away with greater competency, because in truth I could drive the truck, and the more I did it the less scary it would get. In the feminine “please help me” role, I would have the freedom to acknowledge my feelings, to say, “Whoa, that is a big-ass truck and driving it here is scary!” I would also have the freedom to let go and let someone else do the task that I felt very uncomfortable doing.

What I actually did, when I got the truck home to Shaun, was report this whole chain of thought to him. And he did drive the truck for most of the rest of the move, which was nice for me. And there was a big difference between taking on the feminine “Please help me” role because it was the only one available to me, and taking it on after consideration and in full acknowledgement that I could go the other way if I chose.

And here’s where part of that difference comes in. My original plan was for tomorrow’s move to be Thursday’s move, and for Shaun and me to go together to the truck rental place, and for him to do all the truck-driving. But due to circumstances entirely within my control***, we have to move on Wednesday instead which means I have to get the truck by myself. It’s the best of a number of bad options, and so I’m going to have to suck it up and channel my dudely competence ego, telling myself that not only can I drive a stupidly huge vehicle, but I can do it in a city I’ve never driven before, and it will be no problem because I am awesome and can do anything.

It’s good to be able to push through fears and anxieties. It’s good to be able to acknowledge them and let someone else carry the load. And it’s especially good to be able to do either one, depending on what’s best for my family.

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Bitter personal rants section

* You notice that, that our last move was five months ago? And it was a particularly hellish one, so that both of us are suffering some post-traumatic issues as we pack up all our things yet again. Moving again so soon wasn’t in the plan, and it just goes to show you that all that stuff your mom and dad said about negotiating clearly with people you’re going to be working/living with, and steering clear of situations with a lot of inherent volatility, were very smart. Going to be tiresomely grownup about such things in the future.

** In leisure pursuits, where nothing but my own enjoyment is at stake, I completely revert to type and am liable to bite someone’s head off for trying to tell me “Do it this way instead.” I think 50% of Shaun’s and my fights have been caused by him trying to give me tips when I’m playing StarCraft.

*** We set our move date as the 30th because that was convenient for us, and I sort of forgot that it was end-of-month, and probably a very popular move day. As a result, I only went to reserve the truck yesterday, by which time there were none available for the 30th. Which means that instead of this:

8:00 – Wake up, eat, pack up last few things

10:00 – Pick up truck with Shaun, Shaun drives the thing, we load, drive, and unload

5:00 – Return truck, settle into new place

my moving day now looks like this:

6:00 – Wake up, eat hurried breakfast, pick up truck

8:00 – Drop truck off at home, get on train to go to work

12:00 – Finish work, sprint out of there to get earliest possible train home

1:00 – Help Shaun load all the stuff he couldn’t carry by himself, as well as all the stuff that couldn’t go on the truck yet because we needed to leave plenty of room for the big stuff; drive and unload. Do all this as fast as possible because we only have five hours left with the truck.

It’s my own damn fault for not reserving the truck sooner, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.

Slippery slopes redux

I’m listening to an episode of The Atheist Experience (#714, if you’re interested) wherein someone is tiresomely attempting to make the slippery-slope argument about gay marriage. First he tried to trap host Matt Dilahunty in hypocrisy by asking if he supported incest and/or polygamy, expecting the answer “no,” but Dilahunty gave the same answer I’ve given, which is that there’s no reason for the government to stand between consenting adults. He said he doesn’t see any reason to oppose incest between adults, provided they don’t conceive children, and he’s uncertain on polygamy (which, from a legal standpoint, I am too.)

The call then got really boneheaded as the caller alternately pretended Dilahunty hadn’t taken the wind out of his “hypocrisy” sails and accused him of supporting the slippery slope. Through the muddle one issue emerged: laws about marriage have changed in the past, and will probably continue to change in the future. The caller, and many people on the conservative side (using “conservative” here in the quite literal sense of “wanting to preserve current laws and customs”), use that fact as panic-fuel: if we change the laws about marriage in this way now, what’s to stop us from changing the laws about marriage in that way later?

What Dilahunty kept trying to communicate was that yes, laws have changed in the past, are changing in the present, and will probably change in the future, but in discussing and assessing each change, we are discussing that change only. Whether or not two women are allowed to marry is an entirely different question from whether or not two siblings should be allowed to marry, or whether or not one person should be able to marry three others, or whether or not a black person should be able to marry a white person. As society develops, ideas that were unthinkable become thinkable and then commonplace; ideas that were commonplace become suspect and then unthinkable. We change our laws to reflect our ideas. This happens all the time.

Now it’s true that most of us have a sense of morality that transcends the laws of our time. We’d better. Wherever your sense of morality comes from and however far it extends (personal, societal, humanistic, universal), the question whether to allow one form of marriage (or anything else) that we have previously disallowed still needs to be discussed on its own merits, without reference to any other form of marriage (or anything else) that is currently disallowed. The morality of allowing or not allowing same-sex couples to marry has nothing to do with the morality of allowing two siblings to marry. If, as a society, we ever being discussing the latter question, we will discuss it on its own merits.

The only thing incest, gay marriage, and polygamy have in common is that they’re all currently illegal in this country. Which makes me think that the slippery-slope argument comes from an ill-considered prejudice, an assumption that the laws and mores of one’s own time correspond to absolute morality. We’re accustomed to our society’s rules, they feel right and natural. But we are thinking beings with the ability to conceive of right and wrong apart from what feels natural to us; the ability to consider whether what “feels right” is, in fact, right by an external standard. This is an astonishing ability, one which few if any animals share to any degree. When faced with the question “Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry?” we can consider thoughtfully, weighing both the practical outcomes and the moral implications of the decision. Appealing to the slippery-slope argument is unworthy of us as a species.

Sexy female characters: what she said

Megan Rosalarian Gedris said what I think about female characterization and sexiness better than I ever could. She’s referring specifically to comic book characters, where the problem is particularly rampant, but you see in every male-dominated narrative genre.

Like I’ve said before, it’s not sexiness we have a problem with, but the overt and constant sexualization that is only applied to women. And it’s this male created brand of “female empowerment” that we’ve been fed over and over and over that we’re sick of.

When a blogger I read then said offhandedly that “a woman’s sexuality is arguably her greatest economic asset” I about lost my shit. (I was already arguing with him about issues related to gender, sexuality, and economics, but that’s another point.) The problem is endemic. It’s just not true, guys. Women have tons of avenues of power and influence open to them, from physical strength to intellectual strength to traiend skills to personal charisma. Yes, sex appeal is a source of power, and that’s fine and good and inevitable, but it’s not the only one or the best one or (for most women) the strongest one. The fact that most fictional media are dominated by het males dramatically reduces the scope of female potential into “this kind of sexy” or “that kind of sexy.”

Male characters have diversity in their designs. Big, small, muscular, fat, skinny, pretty, ugly, sometimes really gross. If you removed the heads of the female comic characters, would you be able to tell the difference between any of them? Diversity in female comic characters is: are her boobs D or DD, and exactly how much of them is she showing?

Half the people are women. There are as many different kinds of women as men, and as many ways for women to be awesome. Fiction writers everywhere need to be conscientious that the worlds they create reflect that reality.

Also, be sure to check out her cross-dressed superhero pictures.

Acceptance of non-monogamy should improve monogamy

When I talk about polyamory and other forms of honest, egalitarian non-monogamy, what negative responses I get can generally be sorted into three categories. There’s “I think that’s morally/spiritually wrong,” there’s “I don’t think it can ever really work,” and there’s “I value monogamy for myself, and I think non-monogamy undermines it.” This post addresses the third category: it’s for people who are vaguely uncomfortable with the idea of non-monogamous relationships, because they themselves want a monogamous relationship and the feel like maybe their potential for relationships will be undermined if non-monogamy is widely accepted.

They have a bit of a point. If, ten or twenty years from now, polyamory, open relationships, and everything in between are socially accepted and widely understood, then people who don’t really want a monogamous relationship will be removed from the monogamous dating pool. The likelihood (for someone who wants a monogamous relationship) of meeting someone you really like, connect really well with, but who doesn’t want to get married and have a single partner for the rest of their lives goes up. And that will suck for the monos.

But there’s a flip side, and it’s this: people who don’t really want a monogamous relationship will be removed from the monogamous dating pool. Which means that people who really want to enjoy new partners occasionally, people who can’t cope with the occasional dry spells of married life, and people who can fall deeply in love with one person while remaining deeply in love with someone else, are less likely to end up married to a hard-core naturally monogamous person. Which is better for everybody concerned.

It should be obvious that the “monogamy is natural for humans” argument and the “if people are free to be non-monogamous, it’ll undermine monogamy” argument are mutually exclusive. If monogamy is natural for humans, most of them will choose it even if non-monogamy is a socially acceptable option. Trying to make both arguments at once only works if you hold some kind of “what you want is bad for you” worldview. In this area, I don’t. I’ve seen too many healthy, caring, mature people in various kinds of non-monogamous relationships — I’ve dated several of them — to do anything but scoff at the idea that non-monogamy is somehow intrinsically unhealthy, selfish, or immature.

Of course mono/poly relationships can work too, if both partners are committed to working hard and extending beyond what feels natural to them for the sake of their beloved. But accidental, unaware, unhappy mono/poly relationships are tragic to me. People who got married because they loved their partner and that’s what you do when you love someone, but who desperately want the freedom to also explore other relationships; people who have tunnel-vision when they’re in love and are heartbroken because they think their partner’s ability to look at other people means they don’t really love them; both these kinds of people would benefit from understanding non-monogamy as a valid lifestyle choice, and making an informed decision about what kind of relationship to have, and what kind of person to have it with.