The female roots of my family tree

This morning, I woke up at my mom’s house. She and I spent an evening out together yesterday — dinner, coffee, a short lecture about the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and then the BNC’s ballet performance of Don Quixote at Place-des-Arts. It was our way of celebrating Mother’s Day (which is actually today here in Canada). With the memories of the previous evening’s performance running through my head, the first thing I experienced this morning as I reflected was a sense of pride.

We’re not Cuban or any other kind of Latin American by any means, but we share the same Iberian passion, heart, and exuberance that the dancers of the BNC displayed last night, and that honestly all Hispanic people display on a daily basis. But seeing it on stage in all the sumptuous finery of classical ballet was a pivotal moment for me, I think. From the music featuring tambourines and castanets and the distinct rhythms of Spanish dances right up to the sheer joy and love of life expressed in the movements of the dancers, Don Quixote put me in touch with a side of my heritage that I’ve never really felt connected to before.

My Spanish heritage is something I don’t often consider — I have always been first and foremost a Canadian, even before I became a citizen, and of course Filipino culture reigned supreme at home — but lately it’s been creeping to the foreground of my thoughts. I’ve been thinking a lot more about my identity, which is probably why I’ve finally started poking into the Spanish and Spanish-influenced chapters of my family history. And, as it turns out, much of what links me to these roots comes from the women of my family.

Although the hot Iberian blood runs on both sides, I know more about my mother’s side of the family than my father’s. The primary factor playing into this imbalance of knowledge is that my mother’s family were all in Canada when I was growing up, including my maternal grandmother who was full to bursting of family history. By marriage she was a Gomez but by birth she was a Garcia, a direct descendant of the Mercado-Alonso union that would become known as the Rizal family, and so the family history is extremely well documented and archived. They were blessed with an abundance of daughters but only two sons, though they’re more well-known of course for the legacy of José Rizal than they are for anything their daughters did.

But that doesn’t mean any of them, or any of the ladies to follow, led boring and insignificant lives. Thanks to my maternal grandmother, whom we referred to as “Lola” in our family, my earliest recollections include stories of the great-grand-women of the family: women whose most formative and defining moments were in harrowing experiences such as world wars and civil uproar; women who, for their time, experienced the privileges of education, personal wealth, and careers — things that we today believe are normal components of the everyday life of a modern woman, but back then were considered to be firmly in the domain of menfolk; women who, in short, have created for my sisters and me an unbroken legacy of strength, grit, and resilience tempered by love, kindness, and faith.

Sometimes it’s hard to live up to that kind of family history. Here I am at twenty-six and I feel like I’m in a pretty good place in my life; at any rate, I’m more comfortable with myself and more loving and accepting of who I am now than I ever have been. But although I’ve been down the foundations of my adult life for the last few years when I compare myself to the women of my family tree when they were my age, I always feel like I’m found left for wanting in their presence. But then I remember that you can’t compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter twenty — and the fact of the matter is, my world is very different from the worlds of these ladies, so of course it makes sense that my story is being written at a markedly different pace.

I often wonder (and honestly, worry) if I’ll ever be able to be as strong, poised, gracious, confident, and beautiful as the women of my family before me. Even when I compare myself to my sisters I find myself in a brief panic over the thought that I’ll never be anything remotely like them.

There’s a quote that I’ve seen everywhere on social media today and I’ve been pondering on it while I’ve been preparing to write this, and by putting those thoughts alongside my insecurities in the face of my feminine legacy, I’ve realized something important: it doesn’t matter if my experiences at age twenty-six aren’t quite as earth-shattering and life-changing as those of the women before me, or that I’m nowhere near as well-established in my life and my career as they were at this age.

What truly matters is that the iron-clad strength of their souls that allowed them stand upright in their convictions and the passion that burned in their hearts to fuel their lives was passed on to me, along with many examples of what one may accomplish if one looks life straight in the the eye and never backs down. It doesn’t matter how I do it myself, just that I harness that strength and passion in my own bones and heart, and live life to the fullest as they did…in the best way I know how. That is how I might live up this legacy and embrace this heritage of mine.

And so:

“Here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.” 

Making myself whole again

I know I can be rather cynical and snarky sometimes, even though I know that neither looks good on anyone. It’s been something that I’ve been trying hard to change for the past few months – one of those resolutions I made when I moved out of my old apartment, along with moving forward instead of being rooted facing the past and leaving the past behind me where it belongs.

It seems to be the year of friends-in-couples moving in, becoming engaged, getting married, and having babies (many of whom I grew up with, including childhood friends and one of my own siblings). This weekend alone there were two weddings in my social circle, in addition to one happening last week and three more set for two weekends from now. There have been a fair number of first wedding anniversaries, too. My social network feeds are full of newborns in pink or blue hospital tuques and booties or of babies still in the “X months old” stage doing all their adorable drooly “firsts,” while the friends who aren’t quite there yet are posting photos of the new keys leading to cohabitational dwellings or of joined hands, one of which is now adorned by a dazzling ring.

And here I am – single, when a year ago I had stars in my eyes and hopes in my heart for all of these things with the person I thought was going to be The One. I would by lying if I told you I no longer swallow the bitter pill of breaking up whenever something reminds me that I’m single in the midst of all these happy couples in various stages of their relationships. I would be lying if I told you I no longer stop dead in my tracks in the middle of any given day because it hits me like a ton of bricks – that the dead-certain journey and destination I thought I had in my last relationships was, alas, just another one of those runaway trains.

It’s not like I can’t get out of bed in the morning and make it through the day, or that I have to keep faking smiles and fighting back tears. Trust me, I’m okay with things. Really.

But any love that you lose that you felt with all your heart, believed in with all the faith in your soul, and hoped for in any prayer is going to leave deeper cuts than you’d like to admit, right?

However, admitting to this is part of the healing, and after a long winter, fleeting spring, and sweltering summer, here I am in autumn, single and finally admitting to the fact that maybe I’m not quite as healed up yet as I’d like to have everyone believe.  I’m working on it, though.  Really.

I have never doubted that I made the right decision and, when sitting in Mass today listening to Father’s homily, I was reminded of that fact. You see, I’ve spent the last few weeks in a pretty rough patch that stretched across all aspects of my life and I was, at one point a few days ago, so close to tipping over the edge of regret and self-pity. But today’s Gospel included that bit about cutting off or tearing out the appendages that cause you to stumble – and as much as I had loved and cared about the other half of my last relationship, by the time it ended there was too much stumbling on both sides of the equation for it to have been healthy, on any level, for either of us.

But none of it was wasted time for me, because I was able to grow and I was able to learn over its duration, and coming out of it with that growth and knowledge gave me the foundation I needed to rebuild myself.

“There are many loves in this world,” as the saying goes, “but never the same love twice.” Even if you end up with somebody from a past relationship, it’s still a new kind of love because you’ve both grown and changed in that time apart.  I know I will never have that love – or any past love, for that matter – again, and I’ve come to accept that. However, when love does find me again, I know that it will be the right one if I go into it as a whole person and hold on to it for good reasons – reasons that don’t involve the fear of being alone, the desire to be adequate enough for somebody to take notice, or any one of the other things that played into why any of my past relationships happened.

In the meantime, though, I’m choosing to see singlehood as a blessing…because really, it is. It suits me at this point in my life, and for once I am in the right frame of mind to be doing things for myself on my own terms. It’s not selfish of me to do things by myself or spend money on myself if that’s going to improve who I am and make me a better, stronger, and more whole individual. It’s not cynical of me to hide certain posts from my news feeds that make me feel inadequate, unworthy, or unsuccessful simply because I am not in the same position as many of my friends and acquaintances, for that’s removing unintentional negativity from my immediate vicinity.

And it’s not spiteful of me to say I would never go back to any of my past relationships to recapture what they were, because if a relationship doesn’t make two people grow closer together towards a common goal, it’s not the right relationship. I’m single right now because I have not yet found the right relationship, and part of the reason is because I’m still a little too rough around the edges to be the best partner I can be for the kind of man I know I want – and I think that I’ll know who he is when he forgives me for taking so long to make my way to him.

But I’m on the right track now, I think, with all the things I’m doing to make the most out of my current state of singledom, and I’m sure that for the right guy that counts for something.

A toast to a happy couple

It’s hard not to think about weddings right now. For the past year I’ve received invitations to a number of weddings, including my brother’s and, just recently, that of a very dear friend. Hers is the second I’ve been invited to since my brother’s nuptials in April and I’m fairly certain it won’t be the last I’ll get before the year is out. And although she is a fairly recent addition to my circle of friends she has – quite quickly – found a permanent place in the innermost circle of confidants.

Unfortunately, because of time and distance and logistics, I won’t be able to make it to this wedding. I know a lot of people would be aghast to hear I won’t be present at the wedding of a person I consider one of my dearest friends, but I think the fact that she understands my predicaments is a testament in and of itself to how amazing she really is.  And while I won’t be present to make a speech when they get married in October, I’m still able to share what this particular set of nuptials means to me as a friend of the happy couple.

The invitation arrived today in the mail, though I didn’t get it out of the box until this evening as I was coming back up from loading something into another best friend’s trunk. The “something” in question is the Ex-Box I wrote about some months ago – the Indiana Jones Crate of my last relationship. Although I didn’t open the Ex-Box before handing it off to said best friend, I still know exactly what’s inside it…and I was thinking about all of those things when I saw that I’d received my friend’s wedding invitation.

I wish I had something dramatic to share with you about my reaction to the invitation. After all, I’d just mentally spent several minutes going over the contents of the Ex-Box – and almost against my will, because memories like that have a strange way of making you helpless and hapless in their presence. And I probably would have had every excuse and reason to fly off the handle upon receiving this invitation tonight, for she is marrying the younger brother of the Ex whose Box I sent to my friend’s house this evening.

But the truth is, I didn’t react in a way that would be worthy of Greek Choruses, and I don’t think I ever will about this particular wedding. I don’t see it as the day my ex-boyfriend’s younger brother marries one of my closest friends. I see it as the day two wonderful people will be starting a life together – a life they have worked so hard on and for which they have built with strong, solid foundations through every shared experience.

When I, the single half of this friendship, look at my friend and her fiancé, I don’t feel that deep twinge of envy that other young women might feel when they look at their engaged friends. I look at them and I see two people who are complete on their own and bring two whole people into one love. I see a young modern woman who is intelligent, independent, and strong – yet still feminine and gentle enough to bring out the best qualities in her hardworking, devoted, and golden-hearted young man. I see a couple that is on the same page and in each other’s hearts right next to God. I see two people who can do anything on their own, but when they’re together are truly unstoppable.

This is a relationship that’s been years in the making, and they’ve come through so much together over those years. I have only been a part of their lives for a short while, but I am so privileged and blessed to know their story, and to know them on my own terms.

If anything, being included on their guest list has reminded me that I am my own person – that my presence in somebody’s life is not contingent on me still being with the person who brought me into that life in the first place. It’s reminded me that the opinions some people might have of me aren’t the opinions of others, and that the people I cherish the most in the world will always welcome me and relate to me on their own terms. It’s reminded me that I as an individual am more than any relationship I was in before or ever will be a part of in the future – that my individuality, not my relationships, is what makes me worthy of the friendship and love of remarkable people.

Concerning my own, and still-theoretical, wedding day there are three non-negotiable elements for me. The first: that I sincerely hope that at least one person making a speech will open with the words, “Mawage. Mawage is what bwings us together today.” The second: that I will be wearing a white pair of Chucks with satin bows as laces, but they won’t be bedazzled. The third: that I will be walking myself down the aisle, because in my adult life what makes me happiest is being entirely self-made – being my own darn self.

And that’s the most important part, I think: being my own damn self and bringing the very best of what that is into my Happily Ever After, if and when it finally happens.

Keeping up appearances in hairy situations

Summer is in full swing here in Montreal, which means the season of sleeveless tops and cute shorts has arrived. I’m going to let all the menfolk in on a little secret: all that lovely smooth skin you see everywhere during the summer months doesn’t just magically happen overnight. For most ladies, getting rid of hair and peach fuzz isn’t just a weekly or bi-weekly ordeal. It’s an obsession – to the point where whole aisles are dedicated to the pursuit of achieving baby-soft, silky-smooth bodies DIY-style in addition to such services being offered at pretty much every salon and spa in the city. And with so many options available, it’s no wonder that beauty bloggers and vloggers flood the interwebs with reviews on all of these products and services.

Somewhere in the plethora of hair removal products and techniques there’s an effective solution for every woman. From investing in electrolysis treatments to just not giving a care about body hair, every woman I know has her own way of handling body hair.

Unfortunately for me, I still haven’t found the perfect, 100% foolproof routine for all the hair I’ve got from the nose down. My main problem is that I have very fair skin covered by very dark hair in a few different textures on my body, and on top of that I’m one of those women who just want pretty much everything from the nose down to be perfectly smooth. For every area where I’ve wanted to get rid of unwanted hair, I’ve needed a different method…which means I’ve had a few experiences with hair removal that maybe didn’t quite turn out how they were supposed to.

Like that one time when I decided to throw out the razor for my underarms and wax them instead. So, out came the large wax strips for the dreaded armpit tape-and-tear. What followed next was not worth enduring ever again because when a wax strip leaves so much wax behind that you end up sealing your arm shut to your body you really end up questioning your intelligence and sanity. Yes, you read that right: after removing the wax strip, I put my arm down and promptly sealed it shut at the armpit…as in, I could not move my upper arm at all. It looked like I was halfway out of a straitjacket and dancing the funky chicken as I panicked in my tiny bathroom. I ended up having to lie down on a towel on the bathroom floor with a kitchen funnel stuck in between my arm and my body, pouring shower oil into my armpit in the hopes that it would help. In the end, it did work and I didn’t have to use deodorant that day because that shower oil smelled amazing…but will I ever put a wax strip near my underarms ever again? Aw, hell no. Any kind of oil is too expensive to be used on a regular basis in this fashion, especially when it smells really nice and comes from some exotic country.

My arm hair is particularly dark but very fine so you’d think wax would be highly effective here. But this is me we’re talking about here and I only narrowly avoided repeating the great armpit incident when I attempted to wax away my arm hair. Enter the era of the epilator, whose motorized wheel of hundreds of tweezer heads evokes images of the Sarlaac. While it is highly effective – I still use this on my arms and on my upper lip – it hurts. It’s more irritatingly painful than getting inked, and when it’s yanking out hair on sensitive areas like inner arms and upper lips, you can’t really help but whimper. The good thing is that it’s louder than a machine gun so nobody will hear you express your pain and anger at this highly effective tool. (However, if you live with guys like I did when I first used my epilator, you might walk out of your room or bathroom to a living room of very odd glances and awkward silences.)

The first time I had my eyebrows threaded at a salon, it hurt so much that I cried and ended up looking like a wet raccoon. Luckily the aesthetician was very nice and redid my eye makeup for me, but it was still pretty embarrassing. I wasn’t ugly-crying in the middle of the salon, and I wasn’t even emotionally distraught when I walked in. However, threading hurts like a bitch. And public tears are always awkward, and there’s no way to make them any less awkward whenever they do happen for whatever reason, even if the reason is because you’re trying to look good for a date. But wait, there’s more! In an attempt to avoid a repeat performance at the salon, I went on YouTube to watch tutorials on threading your own brows at home. An hour later, a mild string burn on my fingers and my forehead and lopsided eyebrows were all I had to show for my efforts. I guess there are some indignities through which we must suffer in public to be beautiful, and threading might be one of them.

Then there was that time when I nearly concussed myself in an attempt to neaten up my bikini zone. Apparently posing like Captain Morgan in your tub while simultaneously doing yoga on an old bathtub mat doesn’t excuse you from the laws of physics. Luckily I wasn’t physically hurt, but even though I didn’t have an audience to witness that spectacular display of bathroom-capades my pride was significantly bruised. I still don’t vote for bush, but until I stop being such a chicken and book an appointment to get a professional wax job done I really hope the new adhesive ducks do their job.

As for leg hair…well, when you’re a girl who gets five o’clock shadow on her legs, it’s always an uphill battle. Once again, I found myself thoroughly sick and tired of always using a razor to get rid of all that stubborn leg hair. This was after the armpit waxing incident and since I don’t have thigh gaps I really didn’t want to tempt fate by buying wax strips because I was pretty sure I would end up with my legs glued shut. So, what did I try instead? That stinky, itchy, goopy stuff known as depilatory cream. I wasn’t able to do anything while I had this stuff smeared all over my legs, so I ended up lying on my bed with my legs up in the air, all the while trying to ignore the burning itch that I had to endure for the longest fifteen minutes of my life. Oh, and then when I washed it off, I realized that while itching is normal with this product, burning is not, and I had to go back to the pharmacy to get a soothing topical treatment for a mild allergic reaction to the product. Lovely.

After the struggles I’ve endured with  removing hair from my lower body, I still use a razor and shaving cream. It’s labor-intensive and has to be done frequently (though I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes putting up with a bit of stubble for one more day is highly preferable to razor burn) but I’ve come to realize that using men’s shaving products on my lady body actually works better. I think it’s because these things are designed by clever scientists to take care of Bropunzel’s facial hair. Gillette is probably the only hope I’ve got in the battle against my Amazon Bushwoman genetics. The only odd moment I’ve had with this regimen was the time a cashier asked me if I was aware that I, a female, was buying male toiletries.

Dude, after all I’ve been through in my pursuit of removing hair from all over my body, do you really think I’m okay with paying more for pink shaving cream and a matching razor to whittle it all away? But that’s a blog post for another day.

The cups runneth o’er — alas, both do!

Those of you who keep up with this blog know that I (like many other women of the current day and age) have more than one hang-up about my body – and that I recently started going to the gym at long last to try and take positive control over it.  I’m learning how to do that through a program at my gym that involves working with both a trainer and a nutritionist to learn how to combine exercise and eating to transform my lifestyle into one of healthy balance.

Having been “the fat one” for the majority of my life, I won’t deny on any terms the fact that up until now, my life has not been a healthy balance of exercise and eating.  I was never really very good at most of the team sports we were forced to play in PE class all throughout school and I also used food as an emotional crutch of sorts to make up for a lot of things that were going on in my life.

My nutritionist is big on the psychology of food – in other words, what makes us so reliant on food for more than just its nutritional value – and talking with her has illuminated a lot of interesting points in my codependent history with food.  One of the first things I realised was that my negative body image and lack of physical self-confidence is, in fact, directly related to the way I use food.

Funnily enough, it’s all down to my boobs.

Nowadays, I speak of my hefty cup size with flippant and blunt humor, but it has taken a long time for me to learn how to love my boobs.  I know it’s hard to imagine somebody not loving the fact that they have an awesome rack, but try these personal facts on for size:

  • My current cup size is not sold in regular lingerie shops
  • I didn’t reach my final cup size until a few years ago
  • I skipped the whole “training bra” stage, simply because I went from flat chest to a C-cup within a year
  • And, oh yeah, I got that first C-cup bra when I was ten

From the beginning of my school days, I was always aware that I was different.  For the first couple of years at my public elementary school, my brothers and I were among the very few dark-haired non-Caucasians in the student body.  I myself was, at the time, tall for my age (I’m five-none, which is pretty short, but when you’re that height at age nine you’re bound to stick out more than just a little), and while I wasn’t always grossly fat I was pretty sturdily-built.

When mine became literally the only pair of boobs in the third grade, the horrendous trial-by-fire known as gym class became even more of a nightmare.  From hearing the whispers from my “normal” female classmates in the girls’ changing room to the heavy dismay that settled whenever ball sports were announced (because on those days, the boys used to throw all manner of spherical athletic equipment at my chest before the teacher got mad), my boobs stuck out so much that I stuck out even more than I already did with my height and non-Caucasian face.

I had always been a big eater, but not having many friends anymore at school meant that an early childhood of energetic playing with the neighbor-kids was quickly replaced by the more solitary life brought by books, music, and art.  I was also eating more and more out of boredom and comfort than out of hunger and necessity.  Not surprisingly, it was around this time that I started gaining weight quickly.

At first, I was pretty upset about it because suddenly I was actually fat and the meaner ones in my class were pointing that out, too, in addition to everything else.  But all of a sudden I was just “the fat girl,” simply because the sudden growth underneath my C-cups had rendered my breasts entirely irrelevant.  And any woman out there with a big chest will agree with me when I say that having anything render a large cup size irrelevant has to be pretty staggeringly huge indeed.

It seemed easier to me to deal with being larger than everyone else all over than simply just in one specific area, and hiding behind food and my weight became normal for me.  It wasn’t until my long—term health became an actual issue that I actually started facing up to my responsibilities towards myself concerning food and exercise, but even with all of this new and amazing help and all of this strong motivation I have to be perfectly honest.  I have to say that those childhood experiences at school made my psychological reliance on food a lot worse than it would’ve been had I grown up with an age-appropriate body, and that it’s going to be the hardest part of this journey.

Last week, though, I think I was able to get over the first hurdle on that particular stretch.  I was attempting to use the battle ropes in the way my trainer had demonstrated to me and five other women during a group training circuit, and found doing it a hell of a lot more difficult than it looked.  Noticing my struggle, my trainer came up to me and, with a firm but gentle hand, guided my upper body into the correct position.

“Your back has to be straight,” she said.  “Straight, like the way you stand when you’re proud!  And you should be proud – proud of yourself and proud of your body.”

Later on my way out, I found that walking with anything slightly less than a ramrod-straight back made everything hurt even more than it did already, and as I stiffly walked by reception she stopped me and made me look at my faint reflection in the glass doors.

“Stay proud,” she said, “because it looks even better when you’re in normal clothes.”

Reading between the lines and using your grey matter when it comes to Fifty Shades

With its first incarnation being Twilight fanfiction devoured ravenously by Twilight Moms, Fifty Shades was first introduced the world as “mommy porn” – erotica that “primarily appeals to the sensibilities of mothers and housewives.”  I’m not exactly sure that the average housewife or mother is bored or frustrated enough with her own sex life to find Fifty Shades fulfilling on multiple levels of eroticism.  As saccharinely escapist as some of their novels tend to be, the bulk of the Harlequin Empire is made up of books that more than adequately spice up boudoir reading without resorting to the extremely graphic, violent, or manipulative methods that drive Fifty Shades.  All in all, I suppose that what I’m trying to say here is that I find the fact that it is so popular rather disturbing and, quite frankly, horrifyingly telling of the current state of the human condition.

Obviously I am not a fan – in the slightest iota – of EL James and Fifty Shades of Grey, but it’s not because I’m a practising Catholic abstaining from pre-marital sex.  Always a fine example of curiosity killing the cat, I decided to read the book when it came out in order to be able to see what all the fuss was about, and defend my preconception of it as a forest-killing, dumbed-down excuse for a novel.  Already knowing that its origins were in Twilight fanfiction, I was expecting it to be horrible.

That being said, I was horrified at how horrible it actually was.  From its constant deviation from some of the most basic grammatical structures (comma-spliced sentence fragments can be found in abundance here) to the more devastating consequences of its carnally-driven plot, there is nothing edifying on any page.  If any part of it had been marketed as what not to do in a relationship, then maybe I’d have less of a problem with how this book has taken the world by storm.

But no part of this book is marketed as such by any of the powers that put it in widespread public existence, which leads me to question how much of modern humanity actually thinks about what it reads anymore.

I wrote in a previous post about how writing should have integrity, and part of that integrity is doing proper justice to one’s subject – which does not happen here, either with sex or with the characters portrayed.  Sex – vanilla, BDSM, or any flavor in between – is more than just mere entertainment or gratification.  There’s a lot involved in sex on all different levels of human existence, and to disregard any of them is to disregard the entire facet of humanity associated therewith.  There are countless shades of grey in the spectrum of love and sexuality, but in Fifty Shades not one of them is tinted with real love.  Also, although I have no firsthand experience with the sexual culture of BDSM, I do know that it is a much more complex, intricate, and psychologically-driven than the way EL James (mis)represents it in the trilogy.  In Fifty Shades its codes of conduct and etiquette are entirely ignored as it is stripped down to its most basic elements, which are then twisted by and embellished with James’ own half-baked ideas of what a dominant/submissive arrangement looks like…and then tastelessly marketed as “true love.”

Thrust into this morally murky bubble, the main characters lose any kind of edifying traits themselves – which is even more of a shame, in my opinion, because taken out of the context of Fifty Shades and separated from one other there actually might be some potential in both Ana Steele and Christian Grey.  Outside of Fifty Shades and apart from one another in better-written, better-researched novels, they truly could have been different.  If she’d been put through the hoops of heartbreak, doubt, and drastic change by anyone other than Christian Grey, Ana might have become a stronger, confident, and truly independent woman; thus her story could have been a proper coming-of-age.  Christian’s troubled past and sexually psychotic mind, explored by more capable and knowledgeable talent, could have put him in the running for a millennial re-envisioning of a brooding, stormy-eyed Victorian antihero who might have truly been saved by anyone other than Anastasia Steele.

Alas, both characters were forged by a mind that could do neither of them any such justice – and that, in turn, does not do anyone in the real world any justice either.  Ana as the so-called “submissive” not only belittles the struggle of any woman anywhere who has gone through the harrowing experience of an abusive and manipulative partner.  The way she keeps surrendering herself to Christian (and all his appetites), thus allowing him to actually use her for his own pleasure, within the context of EL James’ horribly skewed and extremely twisted misrepresentation of “love” undermines hard-won emancipated femininity.  On the other hand, Christian as the so-called “dominant” adds an extremely unhealthy dose of aggressive misogyny to masculine strength to the point where the male’s traditional role as “provider and protector” is twisted into “possessor and enslaver.”  In him, unconditional devotion is twisted into the skin-crawling id of a stalker; generosity is turned into bribery and guilt-manipulation; and leadership becomes an assertion of both physical and emotional power.

The way Ana allows Christian to use her body without much (if any) regard for her mind or her heart – even though she knows on some level that this is exactly what he’s doing – enforces the erroneous message to women that sex is how you win a man and keep him in your life.  His countless abuses of her, in turn, send the message to men that a woman’s admiration of a man’s strength can be twisted and bent as far as it can go in order to obtain the highest amount of gratification for him.  Her co-dependence on him and her delusions of being his “saving grace” only serve the final end of his sexual gratification, which only comes about after he has both figuratively and literally beaten her to his will.

This is the bottom line of what’s wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey:  the whole “mommy porn” demographic aside, these books have been read by young women who are much, or even exactly, like Ana.  The other part of EL James’ international audience is young, inexperienced, impressionable, and naive enough to fall into the many traps set up by Christian Grey as a horrible misrepresentation of modern masculinity and male sexuality.  There are men like Christian Grey in the real world, but they’re not intangibly contained on a page or a screen out here – and the fact that a whole slew of young women are entering the real world with the expectation or hope of finding their own Christian Grey is frightening in that flesh-and-blood abusers, manipulators, rapists, stalkers, and misogynists are enabled and even eventually legitimised by their uninformed victims’ infatuation with Christian Grey.

Just think about it for a moment:  what Christian Grey does to Ana Steele is abuse, and in some of the worst ways it could possibly be abuse.  In the real world, though many shades of grey do exist between the white of what’s right and the black of what’s wrong, when it comes to any kind of abuse there is no grey area. 

 

***EDIT***

One thing that I did notice when going back to read my text was that I did indeed forget add (and have since rectified) that I read the book to see what all the fuss was about — to see if it actually lived up to its acclaim as the “greatest romance novel of the generation,” and should it not do that, be able to properly defend any preconceptions of mine against the arguments of its fans who would undoubtedly (and indeed, did) defend its “merits.”

I do not mean to criticize EL James for the actual act of writing — all the shortcomings of her grammatical, characterization, and other basic storytelling mechanisms aside, the fact that she wrote something that got published is definitely more than what many other artists may ever see in their own careers. What I do criticize is the irresponsible marketing that went into selling the book, and the subsequent irresponsible consumption thereof.

Sex and anything relating to it — “vanilla” or otherwise — is a volatile subject that, when mishandled in the name of “art,” “entertainment,” or “performance,” can cause emotional and psychological damage on a wide scale. With great power comes great responsibly, and anyone who practises any craft whose fruits become as widespread and globally accessible has a responsibility towards humanity to edify it through their art, not degrade it. If a small group of people had taken Fifty Shades to heart at this scale, it wouldn’t be a terribly huge problem; however the fact of the matter is, it has spurred a whole surge of women — and men — worldwide towards a lifestyle that is not befitting of their dignity as humans. And I’m not talking about the BDSM culture, either: like I said in the original post, the relationship in Fifty Shades is one of extreme abuse that popular culture has now come to view as desirable in real life.

***

If you’re looking for other reads that explore, in more depth, why and how the Fifty Shades relationship is abusive, I highly recommend the following:  “Fifty Abusive Moments in Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Fifty Shades and the Fifty Shades is Abuse Campaign:  Dispelling the Myths,” both by mrsmanics over at The Rambling Curl.

Don’t stick up your heels, girls

((or, a young urban professional’s rant on the world’s oldest profession))

According to Reuters, the hottest headline from Wall Street is all about an intern who gave up her position in the world of finance to assume many new ones in that of porn.

Before you follow suit and trade your office pumps for stripper heels, you can read all about it.

Quite frankly, there’s nothing wrong with quitting a soul-sucking job to pursue something more fulfilling and meaningful — something that you love and can truly define you. I don’t have a problem with that.

What I do have a problem with is the fact that this young woman — who is described as being “promising” in her field, clearly has some kind of ambition, and comes from a background privileged enough to afford higher education — feels that pornography is where she will find that kind of life-changing gratification.

Why does this incite today’s post?

It means we live in a world world where a young woman who has social and professional advantages feels that her true calling is to give herself away to an industry fuelled by people who don’t care. They don’t care about who she is or where she’s coming from: they care about her body and the fact that in her search for her own gratification, it’s ended up available on the Internet for them to use for their own gratification.

It means we live in a world where women who have never had to fight for women’s civil rights believe that they’re in the moral and social right to act promiscuously, either on a personal level through recreational sex or on a more public level such as through pornography. They think this because society places the wrong kind of importance on sex, because popular culture has made women’s liberation all about morally and socially legitimising the exploitation of women.

It means that despite being able to share in all the advantages and privileges that were once exclusive to our male counterparts at all stages of life, some women today still feel that their sexuality and their bodies are the things that will make them truly successful. That’s because the adult entertainment industry is worth billions, and makes those billions by twisting the ambition of bright young women to perpetuate business.

It means we live in a world where a line exists between a hooker on the street and an adult entertainer on the screen. In other words, ours is a society that looks down its nose at some forms of prostitution while simultaneously praising others. Because in the end, trading one’s body and sexuality for money is prostitution, and therefore porn is probably the highest rung on the career ladder of the world’s oldest profession. Young women who work in pornography think it’s alright simply because the porn industry has taken sexual exploitation off the streets, prettied it up, and marketed it as entertainment.

Before I step off the soap box, I’ll leave you with this: would any of you who support this young woman’s decision be so keen to do the same if the person in question was your sister, daughter, girlfriend, or cousin? Because that’s who every girl in the pornography industry really is, once the clothes are put back on.