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In recent years, I’ve come upon references to the concept of emotional triggers and “trigger warnings”..

The origin of this concept was in reference to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, where reminders of a traumatic event in a person’s past life would generate a temporary episode or flashback of emotional and/or physical reactions that interfered with the person’s mental health and normal daily functioning. Part of treatment for PTSD was to try to avoid situations that might typically set off one of these episodes.

But in more recent years, this concept has been co-opted by social justice warriors and others to refer to reminders of events or circumstances that might be upsetting, unpleasant, offensive, or merely a disagreement with events or circumstances that do not meet the criteria of the psychiatric definition of a mental health trauma.

For example, I read a message board thread about marital infidelity that warned readers of “possible triggers”. In another place online, it was implied that talking about class issues and poverty around someone who had grown up poor could be “triggering”. I’ve read about transgender people objecting to women talking about their biological functions: menstruation, pregnancy, etc, because they find it “triggering”.

But just what do they mean by “triggering” in such instances? Do they really think that being reminded of something unpleasant is going to generate a full blown episode of going to emotional pieces? Or do they actually find normal sadness or feeling upset comparable to a PTSD flashback?

I’ve seen the implications that others should walk on tiptoes around such people and always treat them with kid gloves as if they were emotionally and mentally fragile and might have a meltdown if they are confronted by anything upsetting, unpleasant, or something that offends them.

As for myself, my mother died suddenly when I was 13, an age that I really needed having my mother around. This event left a hole in my life that can never be refilled. Sometimes, to this day, I’ll read or hear things that reminds me of that event and I’ll be briefly sad and shed some tears. But I don’t allow this event from many years ago to define my life, nor do I expect to go out of my way to avoid reminders of it. Feeling sad about it from time to time is just part of my life and I’m not going to go to pieces about it. And I do not expect other people to avoid talking in front of me about their mothers, about death, and other things that might remind me of it.

Whatever happened to valuing emotional resilience and working through issues? Is it mentally healthy to avoid ever being sad, upset, offended, or even being challenged by disagreements? Is it helpful to go through life wrapped up in bubble wrap and expecting others to walk on eggshells around you in case you might be upset by something that might “trigger” you? I say not. Negative emotions are a part of life and working through the issues that upset us make us stronger in the long run.

(Note that I am NOT including PTSD or other events that do meet the criteria of a true psychological trauma that might generate actual flashbacks that interfere with a person’s mental health, but, rather, to lesser events that might make a person upset, sad, or offended.)

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Sex Stereotyped Marketing

Recently, I read an article on Huffington Post about how women “have to” pay more for female versions of common products.  Several women left comments pointing out that they circumvent this sexist pricing system by sensibly buying the male versions of the product093c0505b4debbb1224b4a693898ce04.

But none of the comments asked the obvious question of why do we need separate versions of such mundane products for men and women in the first place?

Why do we need gender-bombed products that “match” and call attention to our sex?  Do manufacturers of these mundane products think that people need constant little reminders of what sex they are?  Using the pictured example, did the razor manufacturer think that women might try to shave their faces rather than their legs if they use a blue razor (that they paid less for)?

In a larger sense, why does everything we do, think, say, feel, use, or express have to correlate to or “match” our sex?  Why does society think we need these constant reminders of what sex we are?

For the majority of activities people do in their everyday lives, their sex is no more relevant to those activities than their race or nationality is, so why the need for all the specifically gendered versions of what are neutral items?

One could argue that offering pink-ified versions of many products is simply another choice  that appeals to different tastes and personalities.  To some extent, this is true, but these products are not simply another choice among many others; they are specifically marketed to women only.  Isn’t it funny how ALL women are supposed to just looooooooove pink things?  And that men aren’t?

For adults, who should have the maturity to see stereotyping for what it is and are able to choose whatever products they want, however colored or labeled, without questioning their womanhood or manhood, such marketing is mostly relatively harmless, if redundant.  That is, save for the discriminatory pricing, which women can easily avoid by refusing to buy the “ladies’ auxiliary” versions.

And it would seem that many people do, indeed, get it, if the snarky reviews left on Amazon for the product below are any indication.   As one reviewer said

r-BIC-PEN-FOR-HER-WOMEN-REVIEWS-large570“Finally! For years I’ve had to rely on pencils, or at worst, a twig and some drops of my feminine blood to write down recipes (the only thing a lady should be writing ever). I had despaired of ever being able to write down said recipes in a permanent manner, though my men-folk assured me that I ‘shouldn’t worry yer pretty little head.’ But, AT LAST! Bic, the great liberator, has released a womanly pen that my gentle baby hands can use without fear of unlady-like callouses and bruises. Thank you, Bic!”

But it becomes less funny or harmless when toys, particularly those previously marketed as sex-neutral, are now offered in special, pink and purple versions just to girls.  Suddenly, the standard, original sex-neutral version has become a “boys’ toy”.

Children, whose cognitive functions are not yet fully developed, cannot see stereotyping for what it is as easily as adults can185c9df6700b9a5d80305cf58430b03e.  They are given the message that boys are regular, standard people and that girls are “other”, “different”, and “auxiliary”.

The picture to the left compares  Lego as marketed in 1981 and in 2014, using the same person in both pictures.  In 1981, the year I become a mother, non-sexist child raising was a current philosophy with progressive parents and some advertisers responded by including girls, as well as boys, in promoting standard, sex-neutral toys.

Indeed, even when I was a little kid in the 60s, before there was even a word for non-sexist child raising, Lego was not specifically marketed to boys and I enjoyed playing with them, giving nary a thought whether this toy “matched” my sex.

But, at some point, instead of simply just adding pink and purple bricks to the standard Legos, Lego introduced a separate girls’ version, ending their previous marketing of the standard version for all kids.  Instead of fostering the creativity which lies within each child, regardless of sex, the current marketing strategy sends a regressive message to children about fitting in to stereotyped gender roles.

As Rachel Giordano, the model for the 1981 ad, said in 2014:

“In 1981, LEGOs were ‘Universal Building Sets’ and that’s exactly what they were…for boys and girls. Toys are supposed to foster creativity. But nowadays, it seems that a lot more toys already have messages built into them before a child even opens the pink or blue package. In 1981, LEGOs were simple and gender-neutral, and the creativity of the child produced the message. In 2014, it’s the reverse: the toy delivers a message to the child, and this message is weirdly about gender.”

She went on to say when asked what is wrong with a separate girls’ version of Lego:

“Because gender segmenting toys interferes with a child’s own creative expression. I know that how I played as a girl shaped who I am today. It contributed to me becoming a physician and inspired me to want to help others achieve health and wellness. I co-own two medical centers in Seattle. Doctor kits used to be for all children, but now they are on the boys’ aisle. I simply believe that they should be marketed to all children again, and the same with LEGOs and other toys.”

As Lori Day concluded in her article:

Let’s give all children a world of play that includes all colors and all possibilities, and let’s market it that way. What do we have to lose, besides stereotypes?

Indeed.  Along with reviving non-sexist child raising, if children are given all sorts of toys, not specifically marketed to one sex or the other, they will be better equipped as adults to see stereotypes for what they are when confronted with them in advertising and in society in general and to make choices according to their own personalities.

A common euphemism I see all the time in the media occurs in references about who is having sex with who, as in “Celebrity A is sleeping with Celebrity B” or “I need to be in love with someone first before I can sleep with them.”

No! I’m sorry, but people don’t get into bed together in order to SNORE together. They go to bed to HAVE SEX.

It’s 2015 and there’s no need for this wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed euphemism.   Be direct and say what you really mean: “Celebrity A is having sex with Celebrity B” or “I need to be in love with someone first before I can have sex with them.”

It’s clear and to the point and it’s not vulgar or excessively descriptive.  One doesn’t need to use the F bomb in order to be direct.

Let’s consign “sleeping with” to the dustbin of history.

I was having a discussion with someone who mentioned that another person is a “classically trained musician”. I hear this expression from time to time and wonder just exactly what one means by this, which sounds rather pretentious and hoity-toity to me.  I know someone who tells others he is a “classically trained musician” because he was once in the high school band and took private lessons on his instrument while in high school, but who has not performed in any capacity since that time. I roll my eyes every time I see him do it.

To give some background, I have formal training in music; it was my major when I attended university. Before that, I received formal instruction on the piano, flute, and French horn, both privately and in school and qualified for the regional band, comprised of musicians from several different schools in the area.  I did not attend a prestigious university for music, though I was accepted by one (Berklee).

But I would never think to describe myself as a “classically trained musician”, though instruction in classical music was most certainly part of my education.  My Facebook profile includes which university I attended and my major and that’s it.  I allow people to draw whatever conclusions they wish from that.   If asked, I would say that I have “formal musical training”, which is factual without pretentious euphemism.  Similarly, if I were currently a working  musician, I would never think of describing myself as an “artist”, which I also find unnecessary and euphemistic.  Musician is a perfectly respectful title that needs no embellishment and is a more specific description, too.

And despite being a formally trained musician,  the world is full of top drawer musicians who have no formal training at all, “classical” or otherwise, whose talent I could never hope to match.

Let’s quit using this unhelpful, vague, and elitist phrase and let the music speak for itself.

Media Distractions

Today, on Facebook, I saw a viral post several times on my Newsfeed about President Obama with a coffee cup in his hand while saluting a Marine standing by his helicopter.   The comments were predictably knee-jerk from both conservatives and liberals.  Most conservatives claimed he was being deliberately disrespectful to the Marine, some even going so far as to say he was never taught how to act properly in public as a child. (It boggles my mind the thought processes some people have, so quick to jump to conclusions and make up stuff they have absolutely no knowledge about.)LatteSalute-298x300

Just as predictably, some liberals responded with this similar image of former President George Bush during his presidency.

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But most people, both liberal and conservative, missed the point.  Though neither Obama, nor Bush gave a proper salute, I give them both the benefit of the doubt that neither man meant to be intentionally disrespectful.  It’s a perfectly fair and reasonable assumption that doesn’t require one to like either man nor agree with their politics.

More to the point,  it’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. We can’t allow the media to manipulate us into getting all worked up over minor matters that distract us from paying attention to the major matters that should concern us. The media gets off on stirring up crap and fanning the flames of the “Us vs Them” mentality.  And, all too predictably, too many people fell for this tactic, hook, line, and sinker.   We need to stop falling for this kind of distracting and divisive nonsense and stop making mountains out of molehills.  Imagine what could be done if people got this indignant about things that really matter.

Recently, on Facebook, I saw two posts on different pages that expressed a typical feminist view of women, which I find woefully naive.

Namely, both pages put forth the idea that increased female involvement in two different types of situations would have brought about a totally different and better outcome.

The first page put forth the notion that had there been more female police officers in Ferguson, Missouri during the demonstrations following the shooting of Michael Brown, the situation would have turned out much differently.

The second page posted a quote from Coretta Scott King, which expressed the idea that if just 10 percent more women voted, there would be an end to budget cuts to programs benefiting women and children.

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While I sympathize with the benign intentions of those who assert these ideas, such ideas are naive and don’t take human nature (which isn’t sex-specific) into account.

Such notions stem from the strain of feminism known as gender essentialist or “difference feminism”, best represented by the work of feminist Carol Gilligan.

In short, gender essentialist feminism agrees with conservatives that gender roles are innate, but part ways with them in asserting that stereotyped “femininity” is not inferior to stereotyped “masculinity” and is, in some ways, superior and that women should celebrate and value such differences. It also asserts that women, simply for the fact of being female, have something special and different to offer in public life than men do.

But women are not special snowflakes with superior capacity for caring, morals, or ethics. That’s a terribly heavy burden place on an entire group of people who are, at base, just as fallibly human as men are.

We are no more all alike than men are. We run the gamut of personality, character, and political opinions and are just as likely to vote against our own interests, be racist, and have a mix of character flaws and virtues, just like men do. Character and the lack thereof are not sex-linked traits.

I think the feminist Carol Tavris had a much better handle on the matter when she stated that “women are not the better sex, the inferior sex, or the opposite sex” in her 1992 book, “The Mismeasure of Woman”.

In other words, women are just as fallibly human as men are and there is very little you can reliably predict about how any individual woman will act, believe, feel, or say based on just her sex alone.  Like men, we are not generic representatives of our sex.

(Author’s note — In the “About” section of this blog, I noted that though I’m a liberal, I am not particularly politically correct. The post that follows is an example of that assertion. Though my intent is not to offend, I know that offense will be inevitable with such a loaded topic. Such is often the price of honestly expressing one’s opinion – I can’t please everyone.

In recent news, I’ve been reading more often about pre-adolescent children who consider themselves transgender. Most such articles are about how the parents have unquestioningly accepted their child’s announcement at face value. They consider themselves as now having a child of the other sex, to the point of changing their names and presenting them in public as a member of the other sex, including at school and other places where officials records are kept.

While I applaud them for their hearts being in the right place and acknowledge that they mean well, I have serious reservations about such a response. With the caveat that, as a feminist, I’m glad these parents are not responding by making their child conform to the gender role stereotypes associated with their sex, I find it imprudent to apply the transgender label to children, which has far-reaching social implications to a child at this stage of cognitive development.

During the formative years, children go through a series of stages in their cognitive development before reaching adulthood. They cannot think and reason at the same level as adults until they are into their teens and, preschool children especially, are prone to “magical thinking”. That is, the belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes, or desires can influence the external world.

It is in recognition that full cognitive development in humans takes several years to reach that children are legally prohibited from voting, marrying, living independently, are treated differently from adults in the criminal justice system for the most part, and so on.

I can understand a child (and an adult, for that matter) not liking or being comfortable with the gender roles associated with your sex, as well as feeling more comfortable with the ones assigned to the other sex. I also sympathize with the feeling that one’s life might be easier or more comfortable if one was a member of the other sex and also sometimes wishing that one was the other sex.

Where the cognitive dissonance sets in for me is the conclusion that being uncomfortable with the gender role associated with one’s sex and preferring the one corresponding to the other sex means that one actually is that other sex trapped in the “wrong” body. This is where it becomes magical thinking. I simply cannot make that leap of faith. For me, it defies all notions of logic and common sense; it is Orwellian doublethink.

The idea that one would make the determination of whether one is male or female based on the obfuscatingly slippery definitions of “gender”, that differ from culture to culture and have not been consistent throughout history, makes no sense to me. The notion that such ideas of gender would trump the biological reality of sex, which does NOT differ from culture to culture and have been consistent throughout history, in such a determination is just ludicrous.

A big part of the problem is that, in recent years, people having been using the words “sex” and “gender” as if they are interchangeable words. They are not.

As I see it, whether one is male, female, or intersex, is firmly grounded in biology: genitalia, gonads, hormones, chromosomes, and skeletal structure.

Gender, which consists of roles, personality traits, and stylistic preferences assigned to and associated with one sex or the other, is a set of cultural affectations intended to merely emphasize and call attention to one’s sex. It is cultural window dressing that does not determine whether one is male or female in the first place.

I see the idea of transgenderism as reaching a conclusion based on the wrong emphasis. Rather than a challenge to sexism, I see it as, rather, a capitulation to it, in that they see the culturally and historically variable ideas of gender as being immutable, inherent, and necessary to one’s definition as male or female, rather than just accepting the biological reality of their sex.

Instead of becoming their own kind of man or woman, they choose to change themselves in order to fit the stereotyped role that feels more comfortable. If the shoe doesn’t fit, they conclude they must cut the foot, rather than change the shoe or dispense with shoes altogether.

I was a child who was not particularly comfortable with the female gender role and bristled at the idea of having to be “feminine”. I, too, felt it would be easier to be a boy and sometimes wished I was one.

But feelings aren’t facts. I understood that, despite my discomfort with what was expected out of females in our society when I was growing up, that I was female, like it or not.

Instead of deluding myself with magical thinking into believing that I actually was a male in a female body, I decided to play the cards I was dealt. I concluded that there was more than one way to be a woman and that I would decide what kind of woman I would be.

I ended up throwing out the entire “gender” script altogether, and just live according to my own individual personality, which incorporates traits and preferences from both stereotypes.

As I matured, I realized that what is now commonly referred to as “gender identity”, was simply my individual personality and, as such, it wasn’t tied into having a particular type of body. In other words, I don’t have a “gender identity”, I have a sex and I have a personality.

I was fortunate to have parents who loved me and didn’t have rigid ideas of how a girl “should” be. My childhood was happily spent as an untroubled tomboy and I grew up to be a straight woman who still does not have a particularly stereotypical “feminine” personality.

I think true liberation will come only when people feel free to be themselves and express their genuine personalities in whatever kind of body they were born with and it won’t matter so much to them what sex they are; they’ll be able to be happy either way.

Something to think about.

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