all hail intern-boy!

First, housekeeping. I’ve been really busy and haven’t been posting for a while. However, I’m leaving one of my jobs in order to focus more time on the bookstores project, which also means the blog. So all of those ideas I’ve been storing up over the last month should come blurting out sooner or later.

Second, the blogging. My job (that I’m staying at) is with an affordable housing developer. My department is about nine people, all of us women, and the office as a whole is about 85% women. We don’t talk about the gender dynamic all that much; we generally make fun of city agencies or talk about food. But this summer, we had an intern – a 25-year-old man completing his BA after having spent a few years in the military. And this is where it gets weird. Let me emphasize that the women in my department are people I have huge respect for: they are smart, competent, multi-talented women who take on difficult tasks and handle them well. As far as I could tell, this was pretty much how they saw each other, too. But as soon as our intern showed up, suddenly they started saying all these stupid things, like “oh, it’s great to have some more balance around here!” or “oh good, now you can replace the water jug on the cooler!” (which, for the record, I have done more or less weekly for months) or the simple “it’s great to have a man around!”

I was flabbergasted. Seriously? Great to have more balance? What, like having someone around who’s never heard of a tax credit, to balance out the expertise and experience on staff? Great to have someone who came in hung over every day, to balance out the responsible way the rest of us treat our jobs? It’s still always a surprise to me when women – especially those who have such fabulous other women around them – still fawn over undeserving men.*

The most dumbfounding comment was from the only other under-30 woman in the office. “He’s so sensitive!” she exclaimed to me. “That time when we were [cooking and serving dinner to a group of low-income teens] at the campsite, he totally offered to help serve the rice!” Yes, because the fact that the rest of us volunteered to cook, transport, heat, and serve dinner to 75 kids was just, you know, normal! It was another moment when it became clear to me just how man-oriented our general culture is, and how far apart the bars are for men’s and women’s behaviors.
*I don’t mean to rag too hard on the intern; he was helpful, and the first three months in our department can be completely bewildering (I do remember that). But seriously. He didn’t have a tenth of the professional worth that any of the women in the department did, and yet they treated him like a king.

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How do you foster community while there’s a baby crying?

One of my jobs is at a community agency that serves mostly LGBTQ folks, where, among other things, I provide childcare at our drop-in center. The childcare space is off the lobby, and has a half-door that I usually leave open – like I did tonight, while I was in there with 4 children under the age of four. At one point, while we were all in the second room (with no access to the entrance door), the infant fell and started screaming bloody murder. I took her into the front room to calm her, and while she continued screaming, the other children wandered in to check out the action. Her cries also attracted the attention of someone else who was hanging out in the front lobby – a middle-aged man who came over to the half-door and kind of poked his head in. I barely made eye contact with this man, more intent on calming the screaming infant and getting the other kids back on track. So I turned away from the door and asked the other children to go back into the other room and find their snacks, and followed them in with the baby – who, distracted by the movement of the children, magically stopped crying.

I feel uneasy about how I acted toward the curious man tonight. My first priority as a childcare provider is for the kids’ well-being, which I accomplished by herding the kids into the back room (and also by not involving a stranger in an already-stressful situation.) And in the past, I’ve had strange characters invite themselves into the childcare, invading the children’s and my privacy. So I’m clear that I did the right thing tonight. What makes me uneasy is this: most of the folks that hang out in the lobby of this community agency are struggling with homelessness, mental illness, HIV infection, and other things that bring about social stigma. I’m sure that the clean, pretty mommies with their clean, pretty babies regularly shun these folks on the street, and I feel like I acted like the clean pretties tonight.

I know I didn’t act based on prejudice (I would have steered the children into the back room regardless of anyone being at the door), but part of being a community agency is supporting the people on the margins, not replaying the same stereotypes (i.e. middle-aged gay man as child molester) that harm these folks every day. It weighs on me that my actions came out looking like actions based on stereotype and prejudice.

Are all Hollywood movies this bad?

I just finished watching Boondock Saints, because my sister said she loves it.  We have rather, uh, different taste, but I try to build bridges where I can, so I watched this movie with crossed fingers, hoping for a couple of jokes or something that we could share.  Unfortunately, I got nothing.  The plot made no sense, one of the main characters seemed to have no actual reason to be there, characterization was both overdone and patchy, jokes were tired, and the plot conventions were so patched-together that it bordered on post-modern pastiche.  But with that list, I could be talking about any Hollywood action flick.  What really stood out for me in this one was this fascinating, contradictory homoerotic homophobia.

The main cop (the big fancy smart one from the FBI, not one of the dinky small-town Boston donut-feeders) is gay.  However, at no less than two separate points in the movie does he insult the gay men around him by calling them, first, “fag,” and second, “fairy.”  Mattilda (a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore) has a lot to say about the imperatives of masculinity for gay men, so I’ll step off of that soapbox.  But the really special part of Boondock Saints is that it sets up a completely contradictory trilogy of male-male relationships.  So there are the Boston cops, who are straight-up homophobes, and whose homophobia is meant to be shared with the audience.  (There’s plenty of flouncing and opera from the FBI investigator.)  Then there’s Mr. FBI, who denigrates the despicable femininity of the gay men around him.  And THEN there’s the vigilante duo (which becomes, briefly, a trio), who share meaningful looks, save either other’s lives, spend all their time together, and show each other unwavering committment and – dare I say it? – love.  So really, what all of this is saying is that men should be (1) highly masculine (like the smart FBI cop, like the vigilante duo); (2) NOT GAY because ew; (3) be completely oriented towards their relationships with other men (indeed, the vigilante brothers never even actually speak to any women during the entire movie); and (4) somehow accomplish all of these things simultaneously.  No wonder the movie was all over the place – it was impossible to create coherent characters with that set of statutes.

I won’t even really get into how the movie imagined women (kill pimps because pimps are bad!  but sex workers are stupid sluttish whores who deserve to get beaten up!  but don’t touch their boobs when they pass out! but it’s totally justified to kill their johns because they are dirty and bad!).

The only saving grace was visual: the vigilante twins were cute as hell, and the Boston backdrop was wonderful.  But hell, did they butcher a Boston accent…

New Favorite Book

I just finished Stacey D’Erasmo’s Tea, a book recommended to me long ago that I’d kept putting off. I mean, a book centering around a mother’s suicide? Who wants to read about that?

Turns out I was missing out. Tea is a stunningly beautiful, emotionally honest, and meticulously crafted novel. Its narrator, Isabel, was so thoroughly believable that I could not only identify with her – I mean really, who hasn’t been a 22-year-old dyke/experimental feminist filmmaker/ideologue with a haircutting girlfriend? – but also see her from the outside, with a little perspective. I thought the dialogue, both inner and outer, was a particularly strong point. Not big on plot, if that’s what you’re after, but it’s really nice to read a novel that has both craft and a feminist narrator.

I’ll keep posting reviews as I find good books.

content coming soon…

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