Let Them Read Books

It’s been a depressing week here in Indiana.  The state legislature passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the governor is set to sign it into law today.  This new law means that businesses can choose not to serve gay people if it goes against their religious beliefs.  It will also create a whole host of other potential problems.  It’s sickening, it really is.  So – if you’re thinking of coming to a conference in Indiana – don’t.  If you’re thinking of vacationing here – don’t.  Just boycott us and our backward ways all together.  And then send an email to Governor Pence telling him why.

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Of course, this isn’t really what I want to write about at all.  But in a strange way, it’s related.  I want to write about the importance of books in children’s lives – all books, any books.  I know some parents will disagree with me.  I’m hoping I can change their minds.

Would I let my third grade daughter (hypothetically – I don’t have a daughter) read “Fifty Shades of Grey”?  Yes.  Yes I would.  Would I read that book?  No.  Life is too short for me at this point to read such trash.  Why, then, let my daughter (or son) read it?  For a number of reasons.  I don’t want to censor them at all, because you never know what will spark a kid’s imagination.  You never know what will get them hooked on books and learning.  Even reading trash may do that.  And will they understand everything they read? Maybe not, but they will get something from it.  I would also argue that if they don’t find it engrossing in some way, they will put it down.  Maybe, to your infinite relief, they will stop reading “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  But censoring what books kids read sends a dangerous message – that learning should be controlled.  It shouldn’t be.

I, myself, was a precocious reader.  I read “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume in second grade.  Did I understand it?  You betcha.  Was I too young?  Maybe not.  I would argue the messages young girls get from TV, video games, and movies are far more problematic.  Even second graders are aware of looming adolescence, as I was, and it didn’t do any harm to learn about it.

judy blume

I also read “Clan of the Cave Bear” by Jean M. Auel in fifth grade.  It haunts me to this day.  Is that a bad thing?  I don’t think so.  Yes, kids are incredibly impressionable.  Little sponges.  And yes I remember that book vividly unlike the book I read two weeks ago.  But it sparked something in me.  As literature should, it taught me something about the human condition, even in its primitive state.

clan of the cave bear

Reading literature (here I mean literary fiction) teaches empathy, as several recent studies have shown.  Here is where I relate what kids are reading to Indiana’s RFRA and Governor Pence – READING TEACHES EMPATHY.  It teaches us to feel for other people, people who may be different from us.  It gives us a sense of justice.  Literature helps us to understand ourselves, and that is the beginning to understanding others and the world around us.

It was disheartening to me to hear about a friend of a friend complain that her son was being required to read one of the “Little House on the Prairie” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  She said, “What does that have to do with my son or his life?”  It has everything to do with his life – because it might get him interested in something new, something that some day may take over his life in a good way.  Might lead him to do great things.  And, of course, it will teach him something about history, about hardship, about the lives of others and might make him a better human being.

It is dangerous and undermining to our very humanity to believe that only books that are “relatable” to our existence should be read.  There was a very good article in The New Yorker about this, called “The Scourge of ‘Relatability'”.  It’s important stuff.  (Thanks to Osvaldo for posting on Facebook!)  We need to understand so much about the world, and reading about different people, cultures, histories etc. etc. is a good place to start.

I also want to argue that reading dark material to children is a good idea.  An article by Jill Eisenberg in a blog called “The Open Book” – “Why I Love to Read Sad and Dark Books to Children (and You Should Too)” also makes this point.  (Thanks Marah for posting this on Facebook!)  I don’t subscribe to the view that everything around children should be happy happy joy joy.  Children need to understand the sad stuff in life – so they are prepared to deal with things in a complex way.  So they can be empathetic.  So they don’t dismiss their own feelings.  For so many reasons.

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I want to see the new “Cinderella” movie.  It’s gotten good reviews, and good for Kenneth Brannagh for making a movie that is genuine and not ironic, with a wink wink to the audience.  I hate that shit.  It is the same story as the Disney animated movie from the 1950s.  Same happy ending.  That’s fine.  It’s Charles Perrault’s version as well.  But there’s another version – the Brothers Grimm, where Cinderella does NOT forgive her stepmother or stepsisters, and where birds peck out their eyes at the end of the story.  Children should read this version too.  My problem with Disney is that it has a monopoly in our culture.  It’s the ONLY version kids and their parents know.  Did you know that the original  The Little Mermaid does not have a happy ending?  Kids need to know that there’s not always a happy ending, no prince in sight, and life might work out anyway.  We need a greater understanding of how complicated life can be, how glorious, how wonderful, how miserable, how sad – we need it all, to make us better, to make us more fulfilled, to help our problem solving skills.  We need to understand the dark as well as the light, and literature can do this for us and our children.

So read to your children, people!  Please!  And let them choose the books they want to read, whatever they may be.

Gee, I wish Governor Pence and his cronies had read more in childhood.  I wish their parents had been better.  We are all paying the price now.

 

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The Problem with Privacy

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This is a relatively new idea of mine, and I haven’t sorted it all out, but I’m inclined to say that we are beginning to have a problem with privacy in this country.  And I’m not talking about the privacy issues Edward Snowden brought up when he exposed the NSA’s egregious collecting of phone data of U.S. citizens.  As a friend pointed out, there’s a difference between privacy from government, and privacy from your fellow citizens.  I certainly don’t think that the government has a right to monitor the every day lives of its people, for the most part.  But I do believe, to some extent, that we should monitor each other, in a community-friendly kind of way.  Now, I like to pick my nose as much as the next person, and you’ll be glad to know I do that in private, and I’m also a strong introvert who needs time away from people, but I’m worried we’ve become too privacy obsessed.

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As you may know, I used to live in Saudi Arabia – the most privacy-obsessed country (maybe) in the world.  Not only are women required to be completely covered there (being kept “private” from non-family members eyes), the car windows are all shaded a very dark hue so no one can see in, restaurants have separate family seating which is private from other diners, and no one asks “How is your wife (name)?” but instead can only ask, “How is your house?”  While the family remains very important in Saudi, I wouldn’t say there is much of “community”.  No one interacts on the street, because there is no one on the street.  You don’t walk anywhere in Saudi.  The houses, even modest ones, are complete fortresses with high walls and gates.  It’s an extremely private place.  And bad things happen there, possibly because of it.  It’s not enough that Saudi women are confined and treated badly by their families, but the domestic workforce (from third world countries like Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines) is treated worse.  You don’t have to take my word for it – the United Nations writes about it every year in a report, and so too does Human Rights Watch.

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Privacy is pathological in Saudi Arabia and because of that, people do destructive things behind all those closed doors.  With no one policing their behavior, they can get away with horrendous things.  And that happens a lot of places, including in the U.S.  If we do not face the censure of our peers, I think we’re more likely to behave badly.

Take the case of the popular phone app Yik Yak.  According to an article in the NY Times, this social media venue requires no user profile, so people can post anything they want without it being traced back to them.  Not only that, but Yik Yak posts things according to geographic location, and in many cases, by college or university.  Needless to say, it’s taken college students by storm and is also being used by younger people in high schools and middle schools.  And because of the anonymity the app provides, people say some pretty horrible stuff.  The article states:  “Since the app was introduced a little more than a year ago, it has been used to issue threats of mass violence on more than a dozen college campuses, including the University of North Carolina, Michigan State University and Penn State. Racist, homophobic and misogynist “yaks” have generated controversy at many more, among them Clemson, Emory, Colgate and the University of Texas. At Kenyon College, a “yakker” proposed a gang rape at the school’s women’s center. ”

yak

Like I said, that anonymity, that kind of privacy, can lead to bad behavior.  The young founders of Yik Yak, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, have cooperated with authorities on bomb threats and such, but they steadfastly refuse to reveal the identities of anyone else.  They said they created the app for a more “democratic social media network, one where users didn’t need a large number of followers or friends to have their posts read widely.”  Buffington stated, “When we made this app, we really made it for the disenfranchised.”  Since when have fraternity members become the “disenfranchised”?

“Share your thoughts with people around you while keeping your privacy,” is the motto on the Yik Yak home page.  Since when does “democracy” mean being racist or anything else repellent?  If you say something awful, there should be consequences.  This kind of “privacy” is dangerous.  Not to mention just plain uncivil.

All actions (and words) should have consequences – either good or bad.  To “get away” with this kind of bad behavior leads to a destabilizing of a society, as in the case of Saudi Arabia.  No culture should be founded on hate.  This is very cliché of me to say, but we need more love, less hate.  More community, and less hiding behind cyber walls.  More of an opening of our hearts to people, and less of keeping to the beast within.

 

 

Oh damn, I forgot to get married

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It seems my blog readers would much rather read about homophobia, based on the statistics on my last post.  More than twice as many people read that post than any previous one.  Nothing like a big rainbow flag to get people’s attention!  In any case, I am grateful for my readers, and I hope you got my point in that last post.  But that was then, and this is now.  Now I want to write about being married, or, as in my case, not being married.

The New York Times recently published an article entitled, Study Finds More Reasons to Get and Stay Married.  Nothing can depress me further than a headline like that.  Great, just great, more reasons as to why I’ve failed and how my life will always be a mess.

The article says, “Social scientists have long known that married people tend to be happier, but they debate whether that is because marriage causes happiness or simply because happier people are more likely to get married. The new paper, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, controlled for pre-marriage happiness levels.  It concluded that being married makes people happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who remain single – particularly during the most stressful periods, like midlife crises.”

And here I am getting close to midlife (crises I’ve always had).  Seems like a good time to get married.  Alas, it’s looking bleak.  Tough to be a bleeding heart liberal in southern Indiana.  Where, if you’re signed up for something silly like OkCupid,  so many of the men answer the question, “Is homosexuality a sin?” with “Yes” and “Which is bigger, the earth or the sun?” with “The earth.”  A good friend of mine suggested that values go beyond liberal and conservative, and that I could settle down with a nice, family-friendly Republican.  I think not.

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Just as an aside here:  OkCupid gives you a percentage on how compatible you are with someone based on a shit-load of questions you can answer.  So- people scoring less than 80% are of less interest to me than those scoring over that.  It’s a bit arbitrary, I know, but OkCupid seems to know the types of questions that will trigger red flags (see paragraph above).  However, I have found that under “men looking for women” very few who have a percentage of 80% or greater.  Just a handful, really.  Out of curiosity, I looked at “women looking for women” – and bam, same thing.  Very few with 80% or higher.  Then, for the hell of it, I looked at “women looking for men” and ALMOST ALL OF THEM WERE 90% OR HIGHER.  This leads me to conclude that straight women should date straight women.

But I digress.  Back to the study and the article.

How many people do you know are married to their “best friend”?  How many marriages do you know that are wholly successful?  I know I’m dealing with a small sample, but still, it’s not many.  My parents’ marriage is perhaps the exception, but my parents are exceptional in so many ways.  They will soon have their 48th anniversary, and they are happier with each other than they’ve ever been.

So this study makes me think that only people WHO ARE EXTREMELY LUCKY will end up in a marriage like that.  It’s not easy to find someone like that, and inevitably, people will come up short.  Interestingly, the article also said divorce rates are down, contrary to popular belief.  Does that mean a lot of unhappy people are staying together?  Possibly.

I almost got married.  Really.  He was Pakistani and we met, of all places, in Saudi Arabia.  Let me tell you, it is no easy feat having an affair in The Kingdom.  A lot of life got in the way (and geographical/visa issues as well), and later I discovered him to be manipulative and controlling.  And – we were worlds apart, culturally.  I couldn’t see myself fitting in with his life in Pakistan, and I couldn’t see him fitting into my life in America.  It’s been a wholly distressing part of my life, more so because Shahid still loves me (or so he says), and continues to be a force to be reckoned with.  I am still very fond of him, but sadly, I can’t see us getting married.

The article also said that the more affluent you are, the more likely you will be married, and married happily.  The disadvantaged are even more disadvantaged in this department.  And that’s terrible, because it seems to me that if you’re dealing with poverty and everything that comes with it, you could really use a partner who is your best friend, and a much needed support system.

I also think that equality in a marriage plays a big role in whether or not it will be a happy one.  In fact, the study begins to suggest this, saying that unhappy marriages were more likely in Latin America, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

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So it’s not just finding someone to love that’s the only issue.  People are also up against socioeconomic status’ and geography.

I’m glad that there were enough people in this study to prove that marriage is a happy institution.  I’m reassured that they could find that many.  Still, for the rest of us, married and unhappy, or unmarried and unhappy, what will give?  I found it interesting that the study said it isn’t just the institution of marriage that makes people happy – that long term relationships in general with all the right factors could also be happy.  It’s the “friend” part of the relationship that is the most important, the study found.  So this in itself is encouraging.

It seems to suggest that if you have good friends, and a support system, you may be just as well off as if you were married to your “best friend.”  Researchers should do a study on THAT.