It seems like every day there is a new health fad people are talking about on Facebook, mentioning in the office, or being made into a documentary of questionable truth value. Many, if not all, of these play on our deep wish to be in control of bodies that simply refuse to do as we say. And in a society that is deeply unjust, that is facing increasing anxiety about climate change, fears of nuclear war due to a certain orange monster, and unreasonable capitalistic expectations when it comes to labour and work/life boundaries (or lack there of) these fads gain traction quickly. We all want that magic bullet that will insulate us from disease, pain, and suffering. And most of us are not trained in evidence-based medicine. Very few of us, unfortunately, are given the tools to properly evaluate health claims. So I’m offering a crash course in evaluating health (or other scientific, but I’ll focus on health) claims. Continue reading “How Do You Evaluate Health Claims?”
[CN: Discussion of violence against women, racism]
There are a few courses I took in undergrad and grad school that have especially stuck with me through the years. One that I think about often was an upper-level Women’s Studies course called Monstrous Women which looked at the ways we frame women who transgress the bounds that society places before them. And how women who fail to perform “womanhood” adequately (whether through eschewing motherhood, being overtly aggressive, responding to male violence with violence) are transformed into “monsters”–both as a control mechanism and because we don’t know how to reconcile women who don’t perform mainstream womanhood in our brains.
I also think about a class I took in grad school that was, in theory, about mental health policy, but that spent much more time interrogating the construct of mental illness. How it’s been used as a control mechanism through the years, especially against women and people of colour.
What I’ve been thinking about lately, informed by the thinking done in and about those three classes (and a larger body of feminist and critical theory, along with front-line experience working with people labeled with a variety of mental health diagnoses often used as a reason to dismiss their complaints rather than attend to their needs) is how the construct of mental illness works in another, almost opposite, way to exercise control and maintain power.
See, we often think about the use of mental health diagnoses as ways to keep certain people quiet–see “hysterical” women through the ages, see the ways we gaslight people of colour when they relate their experiences of racism. Suggesting, both subtly and not, that they’re overly sensitive, that they’re making things up, that maybe there’s something wrong with the way they see the world.
But we also use mental health diagnoses (generally armchair) to obscure the power relations that maintain certain people in power (patriarchy, white supremacy, colonization, ableism, capitalism).
What I’ve realized is that we call people “crazy” when they make existing power relationships explicit. We accept routine misogyny and violence against women up to a point–and that point is apparently taking a gun and perpetrating a mass shooting. Elliott Rodger? Clearly he’s mentally ill. His history of misogyny, patriarchal entitlement, and fucking manifesto about why he’s targeting women can’t be the explanation. Why? Because it lays bare patriarchy in a way that demands action. Thus, mentally ill.
Man after man after man who performs a mass shooting due to some real or perceived slight from a woman in his life? Must be crazy! But man after man after man after man who kills his wife/girlfriend/partner? That’s just a one-off tragedy (that happens all the time).
When we talk about someone like Jian Ghomeshi who, like many perpetrators, is a serial perpetrator, if we are able to overcome the patriarchal impulse to call 20+ women liars in favour of protecting a scumbag, we’re often met with claims of mental illness. There must be something wrong with him! He’s mentally ill! He’s craaazy.
It can’t be, of course, that he is taking the non-consent routinely taught to men and boys in this culture, the entitlement to women’s bodies, the extreme violence against women increasingly normalized in mainstream porn, and making it explicit, unavoidable, and un-defendable. No, it must be that he’s “crazy.”
When we talk about someone like Rachel Dolezal, there are two general paths to defending her. There are those who build a dangerous, transphobic, and incorrect bridge between being trans and appropriating a racialized identity. And there are those who claim she must be crazy.
Because Rachel Dolezal lays bare white privilege and cultural appropriation. She takes existing societal power structures (the safety, access, and privilege of whiteness; the routine stealing of cultural, intellectual, and creative work by people of colour–especially Black people in America–by white people for profit and, for lack of a better word, cred) and makes them visible.
And, again, by making them visible she makes them explicit, unavoidable, and un-defendable.
But power will do anything to maintain power. And thus we label these transgressors “crazy.” Not because we are so horrified by their actions–remember, these actions happen in smaller, more easily ignored ways every second of every day–but because their actions betray the unspoken pact to keep power invisible.
*Just a quick note that this rush to label people who transgress and do harm thereby laying harmful systems of power bare “crazy” is inherently ableist and that people with mental health issues are far (far far) more likely to be victims of violence than to perpetrate it.
One of the biggest learnings I’ve taken from therapy and probably the thing I share the most with others is the idea of nurturing vs indulgence when it comes to self-care.
Often when we see self-care talked about on the internet or talk about it amongst friends we’re talking about indulgence. These are the things that feel fabulous in the moment (wine and Netflix, cake, leaving the sink full of dishes for tomorrow) but don’t necessarily set us up for success and sustainability long term.
Nurturing self-care, on the other hand, is a lot less fun. It’s going to therapy, setting healthy boundaries, prepping your lunch the night before, going to bed early, washing the pile of laundry in the corner so you have something to wear this week. These are things that aren’t generally much fun but set you up for the long term.
Ideally we’ve got a good balance of mostly nurturing self-care with some indulgence thrown in–there is certainly space for Netflix (ask me how I’ve spent my Sunday morning!) and ice cream, but we need a base of healthy, sustainable habits to keep us going in our jobs, our activism, the onslaught of horrible news coming rapid-fire out of the US, and just our lives more generally.
What that looks like will be different for everyone, and sometimes the same activity might fit nurturance and indulgence at different times depending on what else is going on in your life.
I try to make active decisions around indulgent self-care but sometimes I find myself three episodes into something with a bowl of popcorn before I stop to ask myself “Is this indulgence or nurturance? What do I need right now?”
Indulgence is wonderful and fun and can help recharge, but if I’m staying up too late on a work night to do something indulgent I’m going to feel it the next day and probably not be pleased with Past Me’s choices. When I find myself doing something indulgent past the point of self-care–that is, it feels good in the moment but I’ll regret it tomorrow–I try to call on my Gentle Parent Voice to help steer me toward better choices.
My feeling is that a lot of people are struggling with self-care in general these days, and are likely leaning more on the indulgent side than the nurturant side when they can manage self-care at all. That is kind of to be expected. Indulgent self-care is a lot easier and a lot more fun. So I just wanted to give a gentle reminder that it’s the not so fun, not so easy self-care that sets us up for sustainable mental and physical health, and that provides us the habits that keep us going.
In an effort to support nurturant self-care and thanks to Xshadyside Gyms in Pittsburgh I’m hosting a giveaway for a $25 (USD) gift certificate to Dick’s Sporting Goods. Whether you need a new sports bra or yoga block or running shorts or cute AF running tights, all you gotta do to be entered in the giveaway is comment below with EITHER what you would buy if you won the gift card OR some kind of self-care you do regularly (indulgent or nurturant).
Here’s the fine print: Xshadyside Gyms in Pittsburgh are providing the gift certificate and, in lieu of payment to me for hosting the giveaway, have generously made a donation to an organization of my choice. The giveaway is open to everyone and will be open until February 26th when a winner will be chosen at random.
**UPDATE: The giveaway is being extended to Saturday, March 4th. Comment below to be entered!**
My preliminary thought as a monster is made leader of one of the most influential countries in the world is that there is work to be done. Some of that work, yes, is grieving, and being afraid, and being angry, and letting yourself feel whatever you need to feel. But once you’ve felt (or while you feel), there are many concrete steps to be taken now, tomorrow, and over the next four years. Below you’ll find concrete actions of resistance we can all take. Many are collected from other writers and organizers and thinkers on the internet, some are my own thoughts. Not all of these will be appropriate, safe, or doable for everybody, but I’m offering as wide a diversity of tactics as I can pull together because it is a diversity of tactics that makes for effective resistance. Continue reading “There Is Hope In Resistance: Concrete Actions in the Face of Fascism”
I’m obsessed with neoliberalism. I’m fascinated by it as an ideology, and I’m fascinated by how successful it’s been in such a short time. Mostly, I’m fascinated by how pervasive it is–infecting every corner of life in the Western world–and yet how successfully it has remained invisible.
Like it’s brother capitalism, it’s become an ideology that just is. Ask most people what neoliberalism is and they’ll shrug. But ask them their views on government’s role in society, on privatization, on healthcare or welfare or trade and they’ll be either espousing or critiquing neoliberalism.
Because it’s become the toxic water we swim in–that is, invisible yet fundamental to shaping how we live–I thought it might be useful to offer a little primer on neoliberalism as well as some of the ways we see its impacts. Especially because a lot of writing on neoliberalism is far from accessible, and that is one of the ways we remain unable to fight it. When we don’t have language for what we’re fighting, nor the full scope of the problem, it’s hard–if not impossible–to mount an effective and broad opposition.
So first, what is neoliberalism? It’s a political ideology (that is, a way of understanding, organizing, and governing the world) that emphasizes and prizes individualism over collectivism and encourages consumption as a source of identity and the primary way that we engage with society. Continue reading “A Primer on Neoliberalism”
If you listen to as many podcasts as I do, you’ve no doubt heard ads for the new Huawei Fit. The copy goes something like this:
“The fitness tracker for every BODY. You don’t have to be a super fit athlete, the Huawei fitness tracker is designed to meet you where you’re at.” Continue reading “Beware the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: On Empowering Language and New Year Marketing”
I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. I especially don’t believe in New Year’s goals meant to make us feel shitty about ourselves. I won’t be fasting in the new year, hitting the gym twice as hard, drinking only green drinks, or doing any number of well-marketed plans that use empowering, appropriated, language to get at the same destructive message: You’re not good enough as you are and you need to starve/punish/contort yourself into something alien and acceptable. Instead, I’m offering a few reminders to myself and anyone else who might need them. Continue reading “New Year’s Reminders”
If you spend any kind of time on Instagram, Pinterest, or any kind of lifestyle blog you’ve seen it. If you spend time in gentrifying, up-and-coming neighbourhoods. If you find yourself drawn to handmade, locally produced, sustainably harvested, dead-wood salvaged, cold-pressed, you’ve seen it.
As we see racists and rapists and homophobes and trans-antagonists and all sorts of bigots and their hateful ideologies emboldened we need to act. But the reality of being in some axis (or axes) of privilege is that we have to actively unlearn a lot of toxic shit and then we have to learn how to engage wisely and productively.
Recognizing that a lot of people–especially a lot of white people–want to do something but that a lot of us have never learned how to talk about these kinds of things I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned in my years as an educator and activist.
Now, I want to be clear: This is for when you are engaging as an ally, not when you are personally impacted. If you are personally impacted you react however you need to react in that moment and later. Whatever way your body reacts is wise and productive. Continue reading “Strategies for Talking to Fellow White People (and Other Privileged Folks)”
If you have found your way to this blog you are likely, like me, devastated. And afraid. You made it through a never-ending campaign of bigotry and hatred and boasts of sexual predation only to be faced with four more years of it, with an emboldened contingent of racists and misogynists and rapists who will see themselves reflected in the White House come January.
I’ve shared a few thoughts about what this means and, if you’re a fellow white person, you may not like them. But please, please don’t turn away. Please read it and if you find yourself angry or defensive sit with it. Continue reading “In the wake of catastrophe, a few thoughts”