Tag Archives: stereotypes

How My Husband Got Me Hooked on Buffy

Twenty years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a TV show with a target audience of teen girls. My husband, despite not being a teen girl,  turned me (also not a teen girl) on to the show and got me hooked.

I had seen the movie and wasn’t that impressed. It was silly fun, with a classic over-the-top death scene acted by Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman). There was also an appearance by a very young Hilary Swank, and Donald Sutherland played the Slayer’s mentor. But not anything I’d ever want to see again.

So when a television series appeared, I ignored it.

But my husband didn’t. He became a fan.

He wasn’t one of those fans who sits people down in front of a TV and says, “Here! You have to watch 15 episodes of this amazing show!” (This would be appropriate for Firefly, another show that, like Buffy, was the brainchild of Joss Whedon, except that it never made it to 15 episodes.)

No, he was more subtle than that. He’d be watching the show and invite me to join him. “I don’t think so,” I would reply. Still, I would see a few minutes of the show as I passed through the living room.

And then one day I caught a scene from an episode in which Buffy was working at a fast-food establishment where employees had been disappearing and the food had a “secret ingredient.”

“Hah!” I thought. “This is so predictable!”

Then the top of a little old lady’s head came off, a monster emerged, and tried to eat Buffy. The secret ingredient in the meat turned out to be meat flavoring, which was being added to non-meat patties.

That sharp left turn caught me. Maybe this show did have some wit and style.

I still didn’t pay a lot of attention until the show went off the air. When it went into reruns, I could watch one episode a day and follow the story arcs (yes, it had them) and found out that Buffy was more than just teen-girl-kills-monster-of-the-week pop fluff.

It had bite. (Sorry.)

Joss Whedon has said that the show was about female empowerment. Instead of being a stereotypical victim-of-a-vampire, Buffy is the strong, capable hero who defeats evil, aided by her “Scooby Gang” of mostly female sidekicks.

Except those sidekicks have story arcs of their own. For example, Willow is a witch who dabbles in black magic in addition to the good kind. But magic, it seems, can become an addiction. Multiple episodes follow Willow as she goes from magic tweaking, to heavy involvement, to jonesing, to a destructive habit that wrecks her relationships with those around her (and almost destroys the earth).

Buffy used the basic vampire/monster plot to comment on common events in a young person’s life – high school, dating, freshman roommates, binge drinking (which turned students into cave people) – as well as topics like the aforementioned addiction, teen suicide, performance-enhancing drugs, and various shades of morality.

And the dialogue! I’m a language junkie. I don’t deny it. And in addition to the then-current teen slang, the show had its own idiom, known as “Buffy Speak.”

TV Tropes describes it thus:

[It] can give the sense of a teenaged group’s special jargon or argot without necessarily imitating anything actually found in the real world. Slang language, especially for the younger set, tends to change at warp speed. Buffy Speak allows a level of timelessness…. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BuffySpeak

And here’s a scholarly article about it: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/08/buffy-the-vampire-slayer/

(Speaking of dialogue, Buffy also featured some break-the-mold episodes, including one in which no one can speak and one in which everyone sings their lines, musical-style, with dancing.)

Was it the feminist subtext? The busting of stereotypes and tired plots? The playful language? The hunky vampires? Perhaps the secret to my eventually becoming a fan of Buffy is the fact that, despite my chronological age, I’ve got a 14-year-old living inside my head (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-g1). And maybe my husband knew that.

Although I don’t want to speculate who’s living inside his head.

Field of Female Dreams: Reimagining Films

There has been a flurry of “gender-swapping” in movies lately. In particular, women are now playing superheroes and more active roles in action films – roles that would formerly have been taken by men.

The most obvious example is the recent Ghostbusters movie, in which the heroes played in the original 1984 film by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson were in 2016 reenvisioned and played by Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones.

(It’s beside the point whether the film should have been remade, when the original film is now a classic and was nearly perfect just the way it was. I hate movies that are treated like that: See Bedazzled, Psycho, Ben-Hur, The Pink Panther.… but I digress.)

Action and comedy films seem to be the usual targets of this treatment, and there’s a reason for that. Action and broad comedy are at heart fantasy movies, about things that could never happen in the real world. When you’ve got things that can’t happen anyway, the gender of the person they can’t happen to is largely irrelevant.

But let’s take a look at a more “serious” fantasy movie – Field of Dreams. To recap briefly, the story involves an Iowa farmer who is suddenly compelled to build a full-size baseball field on his property so that the ghosts of a baseball team can play out their redemption. There is a small part for a female, who gets one incidental subplot as an activist at a school board meeting. But her main role is to be supportive and say things like, “I don’t know, honey,” but quickly come around to enabling his ridiculous dream, even though it means nearly losing their home and land.

It was a wildly popular movie, especially with men and baseball fans.

And it could never be gender-swapped.

Imagine a film in which a wife has a crazy fantasy dream that requires giving up everything the couple has been working for all their lives, with no guarantee of ever getting it back. Now imagine that the husband stands steadfastly by, encourages her, signs the mortgage papers, and supports not simply her decisions, but her fantastic delusions.

You can’t do it. The movie couldn’t be made. No one could write it and make it believable (even within the parameters of a basically unbelievable plot).

A man with a crazy dream is an underdog hero who deserves a stand-by-your-man woman. A woman with a crazy dream is – just crazy. She wouldn’t get past turning under the first crop before being carted off for psychiatric help. At some point in the movie, divorce would ensue.

Of course there are women in real life who accomplish great things and men who support and encourage them – take Amelia Earhart, for example. But these are different situations from Field of Dreams. Wealthy magnate bankrolls wife’s brave struggle is a different trope altogether, especially when it happened in real life.

Nor can female “Cinderella” movies be gender-swapped. Just try to envision Pretty Man instead of Pretty Woman. You can’t argue that American Gigolo is the opposite-sex version, either. Richard Gere’s motivation in that one is clearly not to find an ideal wife (or to find a woman and make her into a perfect wife). It’s a gritty murder mystery with lots of sex, not a lighter-than-popcorn whore-makes-good success story. Richard Gere is the fantasy “prize” in Pretty Woman, not an accused murderer.

Note: This is not true of all rom-coms. You could make a case for Working Girl/Working Boy, in which the mailroom clod gets a makeover and lands a top job and the luscious female reward. In fact, it’s been done.

But do this exercise: Take any of your favorite movies and see if they could even remotely be envisioned gender-swapped. Lord of the Rings? Chicago? Beauty and the Beast? It tells you something about the movie.

Of course, there are plenty of movies that could be gender-swapped: It’s a Wonderful Life has been. Avatar, possibly could be. Beverly Hills Cop, hell yeah!

Not that I’m saying all these films should be gender-swapped. I’m just asking you to think, “What if they were?”

 

Romancing the Body

Romance novels have changed since I used to read them. (Yes, I am here publically admitting that I did once read what I called “tempestuous” novels because the cover blurbs always started, “The tempestuous saga of an innocent young woman and the pirate she couldn’t live without.” Hey, I was 16. But I digress.)

The covers of the novels, which were also called “bodice-rippers” back then, usually featured a picture of a man and a woman, with him ripping open her bodice (duh). The man always looked like Fabio (or a fair imitation), with lovely flowing locks, a square chin, an intent gaze, and an irresistible (apparently) sneer. The woman was slim, beautiful, and wearing a dress with a bodice (again, duh). She could be soft and yielding or, more often, fiery and tempestuous. If you knew about such things, you could sometimes guess the era in which the tempest played out by the details of the clothing, but usually not. An open, puffy-sleeved shirt and a ripped bodice don’t really convey that much information.

The point is, the cover art generally featured two figures, a man and a woman, with some indication of conflict and/or passion between them.

Not anymore.

I’ve noticed that these days, romance novels tend to have cover art that features a man only.

And not just any sort of man. He will have the physique of a bodybuilder, a hairless chest (I wrote about that once: http://wp.me/p4e9wS-9P), no shirt (or one that exposes the entire torso), tight jeans, and not much else. He could be a bodybuilder or a cowboy or a firefighter or a musician or (I suppose) a beach bum, or even – remotely possibly – a business tycoon on his day off.

But he has no face.

Where a face should be, there is a shadow, or a hat. Or the picture is simply cropped so that the cover doesn’t involve even a hint of a face.

What does this say about women and the men they are attracted to?

In sexual politics, there is a thing called “the male gaze.” It refers to how television and movies and advertising and just about everything else present females that will be pleasing to a man who is looking at them. How women react to the images doesn’t matter. (This can also be called “heteronormative,” but you didn’t come here for a sociology lesson.) The “male gaze” reinforces the idea that stereotypical males value women only for what’s between their neck and their navel, as the saying goes. (Or their neck and their knees, to be more accurate.)

Now, on the covers of romance novels, we have images that are meant to appeal to the female gaze. And what do they show? Besides torsos, I mean?

They show that publishers – or at least their marketing departments – are trying to appeal to the “female gaze.” And they think that gaze rests on the same areas as men’s gazes. To appeal to the romance reader, they think, men should be manscaped and body-sculpted, physical as all get-out. And anonymous.

It may be true that some women do long for anonymous sex these days and that romance novels increasingly sell sex. And it may be that the female gaze is as superficial and body-conscious as the male gaze. Maybe that’s the way it is for women who read romance novels. Maybe the publishers know their audience.

As for me, the things I look for in a man are all above the neck – bright, witty, creative men with facial hair. (In fact, three of those qualities are not just above the neck, but above the eyebrows. And I’ll disregard a guy’s lack of facial hair if the other three qualities are strong.)

That’s what’s romantic as far as I’m concerned. And sexy. But I suppose it doesn’t sell books.

 

 

Crashing Political Parties

By the time this post is up, President Trump will have been inaugurated and many parties will have held many parties. And a lot of people have a lot to say about that, on both sides.

Because that’s what there are – two sides. Apparently, this is one situation in which there is no middle ground. For or against. Admiring or appalled. People who attempt to take a middle position – wait and see – are derided as “the problem” themselves, or apologists, or pie-in-the-sky dreamers. Any suggestion that we try to understand the other side (whichever that is) and their problems is met with a resounding “No! Why should I?”

I have been steering clear of the fray. I voted, and I have an opinion regarding the outcome. Those who know me well probably have no trouble guessing for whom I voted and what I think of the outcome. But I have avoided posting about it on my Facebook timeline or here (though I did write a few quasi-political posts – http://wp.me/p4e9wS-ol, http://wp.me/p4e9wS-qv, http://wp.me/p4e9wS-o2). I knew that my opinions were not likely to change anyone else’s opinions. I have used sources to refute some misconceptions and fake news, but since the threads went on without anyone noticing my contributions, that hardly counts.

I refused to get involved in the ugliness before the inauguration, and I refuse to now. My decision to stay out of the – I hesitate to call it a discussion –  may have cost me friends. There has certainly been a lot of if-you’re-not-for-us-you’re-against-us thinking, and if I do not declare myself, I become, in some minds, against everyone else.

Many people use the argument that a person’s blog or Facebook page is like a party the person is hosting, and the host is entitled to say anything he or she wants. This is as good an analogy as many others. But its corollary is that I do not have to remain at the party, or accept invitations to future parties. (I do agree that a person who behaves boorishly at a party can or should be ejected, but that tends to lead to really boring parties, with everyone nodding and shouting the same thing.)

When most of the invitations I see are to ad hominem parties (attacking a person instead of her or his relevant behavior, statement, stance, or action) and ones where only one opinion may be shouted, I prefer to play online bingo. I have taken a break from social media (except to post my blogs) a couple of times last year, and I feel another such fit coming on.

I don’t have a problem with online “parties” that involve sharing verifiable information or organizing to oppose a perceived injustice by legal means. But have you noticed how many suggestions are of the “hang ’em high” variety? I’m not talking about just one end of the political spectrum, either. One may be more likely to invoke firearms as a solution, but both are “sharing” in the gloating and finger-pointing and obscene memes and vulgar nicknames. I refuse to engage in dialogue with anyone who says either “rethuglicans” or “libtards.”

I understand the need to vent when one is disillusioned, outraged, insulted, ignored, or otherwise upset. Doing that venting in public, or even at one’s own party (which the virtual neighbors can “hear”) is no doubt satisfying, especially if one is particularly clever at inventing epithets. But it does no good, and only makes the divisions wider.

Yes, yes, I know I can just keep scrolling, but not without seeing hateful memes and pictures at the very least. I feel the same way about them as I do about photos of abused animals: I don’t want to see the carnage even if I support the cause. But I digress.

Blogger Jim Wright (www.stonekettle.com) often says,”If you want better government, be better citizens.”

I would add, “If you want better parties, be a better host. Or guest.”

Let’s Talk: Policing Women’s Voices

Women’s voices are important. Anymore, few people deny that women have something to say.

Why, then, are so many people distracted from what women say by how they say it?

voice2There are two kinds of criticism of women’s voice: voice policing and tone policing. Note that both imply that someone is monitoring women’s speech and “policing” it – telling them what is permissible, or at least what standards they must adhere to if they want to be heard, listened to, and taken seriously.


Voice Policing.
Do you find women’s voices shrill, hesitant, un-confident, not authoritative, or childish? Then you might be one of the voice police.

The voice police pay attention to the vocal characteristics of women’s speech and judge them on supposedly unattractive or ineffective qualities. Let’s be clear. There’s nothing wrong with finding an individual woman’s speech unappealing – too nasal, too soft, too pretentious. It’s when a trait is ascribed to all women – or to a broad subgroup, such as young women – that is problematic. And judging women as a group negatively based on the sounds of their voices is a form of discrimination, especially  it leads to fewer job opportunities.

Two examples of vocal characteristics that raise the hackles on many are “upspeak” or “uptalk” and “vocal fry.”

“Uptalk” is the tendency for vocal pitch to go up at the end of sentences making everything sound like a question. Many people find that this makes the speaker sound insecure. Some even find that it hurts women in their careers, since they read it as lack of confidence. It is also associated with the much-deplored “Valley Girl” speech patterns of the early 2000s. (I must confess that I personally find uptalk annoying, but not enough to “correct” someone who does it.)

“Vocal fry” is the voice pattern that has replaced uptalk as the annoyance of the moment. In some ways the opposite of uptalk, vocal fry involves lowering the voice and speaking with a creaky or gravelly sound. I am told that the Kardashian family do this, but I hear it in Mila Kunis’s whiskey commercials.

The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/30/vocal-fry-jobs-women_n_5417810.html) discussed the findings of a study that supports the idea that vocal fry harms a woman’s career (other than Mila Kunis’s, I mean).

When evaluating job candidates, participants preferred normal-voiced women 86 percent of the time, and normal-voiced men 83 percent of the time. Vocal fry also appeared to most negatively affect the trustworthiness score.

I have to wonder how many men find that vocal fry suggests untrustworthiness because they hear it as a sexual come-on inappropriate in a business setting. (Let’s also note that the authors of the study contrasted vocal friers with “normal-voiced” women, which implies that vocal fry is abnormal.)

But did you notice that the study refers to men’s vocal fry as well?

In an NPR interview (http://www.npr.org/2015/07/23/425608745/from-upspeak-to-vocal-fry-are-we-policing-young-womens-voices) Stanford linguistics professor Penny Eckert points out:

The complaints about female upspeak and vocal fry ignore the fact that men also engage in those habits. “People are busy policing women’s language and nobody is policing older or younger men’s language. The biggest users of vocal fry traditionally have been men, and it still is; men in the U.K, for instance. And it’s considered kind of a sign of hyper-masculinity,” Eckert notes.

She argues that “women shouldn’t have to change their voices to suit society.”

Tone Policing. Tone policing is another matter, and the more troubling of the two. The Urban Dictionary (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=tone%20police) defines “tone police” as

…people who focus on (and critique) how something is said, ignoring whether or not it is true. They will discard a true statement simply because they don’t like how it was presented.

This is particularly noticeable regarding women in the public eye (or ear). During the recent election season, you often heard Hillary Clinton’s voice described as “shrill” or “nagging.” Her messages often took second place to how her voice was perceived. And protestors or those who are angry about a situation are told to “calm down,” “stop being so angry,” or “not make such a big deal of it.”

Feminists, women (and men) of color, and young people are often the objects of tone policing. In its definition of tone police, the Urban Dictionary gives this example of the underlying sentiment: “You might be right, but since I don’t like how you said it, I demand you apologize!”

An opinion piece in a tumblr blog (http://tooyoungforthelivingdead.tumblr.com/tone-policing) explains:

Tone policing is the ultimate derailing tactic. When you tone police, you automatically shift the focus of the conversation away from what you or someone else did that was wrong, and onto the other person and their reaction. … It dismisses the other person’s position by framing it as being emotional and therefore irrational.

In cases of oppression, aggression, and discounting, being calm is not the automatic response, or even the appropriate one. The post goes on to explain:

When someone says something oppressive — that can be a racist slur, an ableist stereotype, a misogynist dismissal, an invalidation of identity/experiences, being asked invasive and entitled questions, and so on – it feels like being slapped in the face…And, frankly, it’s cruel and ridiculous to expect a person to be calm and polite in response to an act of oppression.

In fact, invalidating a person’s experience by telling her or him to “calm down” or not to “get so worked up” or even “where’s your sense of humor?” will not – and should not – have the desired effect, though it may end the interaction. (As I once heard it expressed, “Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down when told to calm down.”)

Voice policing and tone policing are difficult to notice until someone points them out. Let’s try to remember that the message – the content – is the most important piece of the act of speech. Let’s try not to let the sound of speech overwhelm the substance.

Who’s Stupid Now?

For television commercials to work, someone has to be stupid. (Besides the ad agencies and the viewers, that is.)Sales man

The basic “storyline” of most commercials is this: Someone has a problem. The advertiser solves the problem. And the peasants rejoice.

The person with the problem must be portrayed as a real idiot who can’t solve the problem alone.

But who the idiot is has evolved.

In the 50s and 60s, women were stupid. The poor little housewife was unable to conquer soap scum, ring-around-the-collar, or (my favorite) “house-itosis.” In steps Mr. Clean or that little guy in a boat (never mind the unconscious symbolism of that) floating in the toilet or a giant lumberjack to pat her on the head and say, “There, there, little lady. I can show you how to perform simple household tasks.”

Even if there was no male special effect to provide enlightenment, there was always a male voice-over announcer to dispense wisdom and cleaning products.

That was the paradigm: Men saving women from old or newly invented problems, mostly cleaning-related.

Then came the 70s and 80s, with the liberation of women, who were now allowed to smoke pretty flower-decorated cigarettes and wear slacks while they cleaned.

Men were the stupid ones, who needed to be saved by a female (or female announcer) because they were too clueless and incompetent to wipe up a spill, treat their own diarrhea, or wash a glass without leaving the social horror of spots and streaks. Women to the rescue! All those lessons they learned from men in the 50s and 60s were now boomeranging on the men who, suddenly faced with the reality of household chores that they were learning to “help with” needed the tender guidance of a woman, the house and family expert. She would shake her head in pity at the helpless male and swoop in to demonstrate the mysteries of scouring powder, which is, after all, fairly easy to operate.

Child care in particular left men befuddled, holding a baby at arm’s length and wailing louder than the infant, “What do I do?” A woman shakes her head and informs him. “You wipe the mud off his hands, you lovable dope. And while you’re at it, stuff some green or brown mush in his face so he can spit it on the walls that you have no idea how to clean either.”

My husband despised those years and those commercials. “Why do they always make the men look like boobs?” he would cry. (Women were having their own problems with ads and boobs, but never mind that for now.) He had a point, of course, but I couldn’t muster much sympathy. There were still giant lumberjacks showing up in my kitchen from time to time. Those guys were worse than roaches, which needed a friendly male exterminator to do the lethal deed.

Then came the 80s and 90s. Who got to be stupid then? Both men and women. Who got to save the day? Their children, of course!

Particularly when technology was involved, but also in cases of breakfast cereal crisis, tots and tykes were taking over and bailing out their floundering parents. The kids knew everything and the parents knew nothing. And while there was a grain of truth in the idea that tweens and teens were generally more tech-savvy than your average parent, grown-ups did after all increasingly use technology at work outside the home and were required to know how to plug it in by themselves. But, hey, role reversal was amusing, and the sight of kids shaking their heads at clueless parents would surely motivate people of all ages to buy, buy, buy. (The ad people had by this time discovered that children were a consumer force in their own right and spent their money on more than just bubble gum.)

So, where are we now? We’ve run through stupid women, stupid men, and stupid adults. What could possibly be left?

That’s right. Stupid humans. Apparently all homo sapiens are now so dim that we have to have origami rabbits to teach us how to save money and bears to teach us to wipe our own asses.

Next it’ll be aliens teaching us how to not destroy our own planet.

Wait. We really need that.

Hungry Children: A One-Act Play

Sharing food with the needy

[Setting: The Halls of Power]

Guy in Suit: The media keep saying that there are hungry children in America.

Other Guy in Suit: Let them eat dinner.

Bleeding-Heart: That’s the problem. They don’t have dinner to eat. Or even breakfast maybe.

GIS: We already give them lunch at school. That’s five days a week.

B-H: Unless they’re absent or on vacation or a snow day.

OGIS: Then it’s the parents’ problem.

GIS: Why do schoolchildren have so many vacations, anyway? We don’t get all those vacations.

B-H: Uh, yes you do.

GIS: Oh. Well, never mind that now. We were talking about tax cuts…uh, job creators…uh, feeding children. That was it.

OGIS: Suppose the media are right?

GIS: The media are never right unless we tell them what to say.

OGIS: Well, just suppose. For a minute. OK? The problem I see is that it looks good for us to feed poor, hungry, starving American children. By the way, are they as pitiful-looking as poor, starving foreign children?

GIS: Probably not. You were saying?

OGIS: If there are hungry children, and we do need to feed them, how are we supposed to do that without feeding the lousy, lazy, good-for-nothing moochers at the same time?

GIS: Ah, yes, the parents. If we give the parents anything, it should be one bag of rice and one bag of beans. And — hey — they could feed their kids that too.

B-H: But children need good nutrition — fruits and vegetables and vitamins and minerals and enough to keep them full and healthy.

OGIS: Hey, we have plenty of minerals left over after fracking. Won’t those do?

B-H: No.

GIS: But if we give kids all that fancy food, what’s to keep the parents from eating it?

OGIS: Or selling it for booze or cigarettes or drugs?

GIS: Think about that! The drug dealers would be getting all the good nutrition. Then they could run faster from the police.

OGIS: We can’t have that, now can we?

B-H: But…the hungry children? Remember? Eating at most one meal a day, five days a week, when school is in session?

GIS: That’s plenty. I heard American children are obese, anyway. They could stand to lose a little weight.

[Curtain]

 

I thought it was time to revisit this post when my husband and I visited IHOP for their No Kid Hungry promotion, which raised money for www.nokidhungry.org. (You can donate at their website. I did. Besides buying all those pancakes.)

I was also reminded of a conversation I had with someone who works in the education sector. She was at a conference, talking with a group of teachers. One of them mentioned how many snow days they had that year and my friend responded, “Oh, boy! I bet the kids loved that!” There was an awkward silence. Finally, one of the teachers spoke up. “On a snow day,” she said, “many kids don’t get to eat. The only real meal that they get is at school.”

My friend had never thought about that, and neither had I. We both came from times and places when there was always food in the fridge and a hot dinner on the table. Sometimes we forget that life isn’t like that for everyone.

In this election year, we’ll hear a lot about welfare and funding for schools and improvements in educational policy. Childhood hunger may not be mentioned, but it is intimately tied up with all those issues.

You can donate to local food banks and charities. You can work with nokidhungry.org. Or you can leave it up to the Guys in Suits, for whatever they think it’s worth.

Sapiosexual Seeks Same

cropped-heartbrain.jpg

If I were ever to write a personals ad, this is what it would say:

Sapiosexual Seeks Same

for friendship and conversation. If you like literature, science, trivia, genre fiction, cats, humor, journalism, artistic pursuits, creativity, and above all intelligence, I’d like to meet you. Race, appearance, gender identity unimportant. Prefer non-smokers. I’m open-minded. Are you?

Of course, I’m not going to write a personals ad, since I’m married, have been for 30 years, and barely socialize as it is. Polyamory is not an option at this point.

But there you have it. I don’t care about muscles, status, income, or what kind of car a man drives. I want someone who is bright, witty, and creative. Preferably with facial hair, although I will let that slide if everything else meets my criteria.

That describes my husband, my past boyfriends (even the disastrous ones), and my male friends, past and present. We are all interested in, attracted to, aroused by intelligence. That’s what “sapiosexual” means.

(It once occurred to me that the qualities I look for in a man are all above the neck. In fact, three of them – the most important – are above the eyebrows.)

Female sapiosexuals sometimes have a hard time finding someone to socialize with, date, love, and even marry. Part of this, I fear, is due to the ruthless socializing of women in what makes a man desirable – no fatties, no baldies, all the things you regularly see in personals ads. There is less of that among sapiosexual women, as many of them have learned to look past the physical in the search for the intellectual.

Many men are intimidated by sapiosexual women. First, many of us don’t meet the media’s idealized standards of beauty. (Let’s face it, hardly anyone does, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re apt to be very lonely.) We have large vocabularies and wide interests, and probably know more than a prospective male friend does on at least one subject. Many of us can and do hold our own in arguments.

These traits lead us to be seen as know-it-alls – Hermione Granger types – who don’t know how to have fun and don’t want anyone else to have fun either. The know-it-all complaint can be true, I must admit, but sapiosexual women do indeed know how to have fun. It’s just that our opinions about what is fun, like so much else about us, diverges from the norm. We have fun in conversations. We enjoy variety and newness. We appreciate learning something new and being challenged. We even enjoy doing those things in bed.

I don’t however, fall for just anyone who is bright, witty, creative and has facial hair. I try to avoid intellectual bullies and nose-looker-downers, those who wield their intelligence as a weapon to intimidate, humiliate, or dominate. You know, those people who glare and shout, “It’s pronounced ‘dis-sect,’ not ‘dy-sect’! TWO esses!” when you’re still in the middle of your sentence.

No, in addition to the above-mentioned traits, I want someone who’s kind. Believe it or not, kindness can be compatible with intelligence.

And let’s not forget that there are different kinds of intelligence. Some people, like me, are word people, who gather information by reading. You often hear readers put down others who watch a lot of television. But some people process information visually or in other ways. Also, some people forego college degrees to practice and improve their creative skills. And some people, like my husband, are experts on people and how they interact. I’ve learned a lot from him.

Where do you find sapiosexuals? Nearly anywhere. If you limit yourself to colleges and think tanks, you’re missing a lot of possibilities. I have known sapiosexuals who work as tow truck or front loader drivers, parks and rec workers, and restaurant managers. I have met them at work and at science fiction conventions (always a place rife with sapiosexuals). I have found them at folk music concerts and house parties. I found my husband outside a food tent at a music festival.

Is there a sexual component to sapiosexual relationships? Absolutely. Despite the stereotype of the brainy nerd who never gets laid, a sapiosexual can be physically as well as intellectually stimulating. Many a relationship has started with a mutual interest in poetry and ended up in bed.

And that’s the point. Sapiosexuals may have a hard time finding fulfilling relationships – whether friends, flirtations, lovers, or marriage partners. But when they do, it’s something special.

The Other Bipolar Disorder

I have bipolar disorder type 2. This is my story.

First, some background. Bipolar disorder used to be called manic-depressive illness, and many people still know and refer to it that way. The term “bipolar” reflects the concept that there are two extremes to the continuum of mood disorders, and some people swing dramatically from one to the other. According to this definition, clinical depression by itself is “unipolar” – occupying only one end of the spectrum.

Depression is to ordinary grief or sadness as a broken leg is to a splinter. Depression sucks the life from a person, mutes all emotions except misery, denies any possibility of joy or even contentment, makes life seem meaningless or impossible. This is hell.

Mania is to ordinary happiness as diving off a cliff is to diving off a diving board. Mania brings exhilaration, ambition, confidence, abandon, and invincibility, with no brakes. It is hell on wheels.

Oscillating between the two extremes – that’s bipolar disorder, type 1. It is a very serious illness. Left untreated, it can cause destruction of families, careers, and more. It can lead to psychosis or suicide.

The treatments for it are no picnic either. Bipolar disorder that severe often requires hospitalization. If the symptoms can be controlled with medication such as lithium or newer formulations, the patients must have frequent blood tests to assure that the drug is present in the right quantity. Electroshock is also a possibility, especially for deep, drug-resistant depression.

When I was (incorrectly) diagnosed with unipolar depression, I used to wish that I were bipolar, on the theory that at least then I could accomplish something. Boy, was I wrong about that. Plans made in mania never come to fruition. They are started, rethought, abandoned, exchanged for something grander, and ultimately fizzle out when the mania wears off.

My diagnosis actually made some sense at the time, as I never experienced anything like the manic highs. All I got were depressive lows.

This leads us at last to bipolar disorder, type 2. Some people think of bipolar 2 as “Bipolar Lite.” The mood swings are not as extreme, the lows less debilitating, the highs less overwhelming. The person with bipolar 2 stays closer to a baseline of normal mood, but still experiences swings back and forth.

Technically the mini-lows are called dysthymia and the mini-highs are called hypomania. In my case, the lows were just as low as in unipolar depression, but I never got the mini-jags of buoyancy that accompany hypomania. Instead, these feelings, came out sideways – as anxiety.

My brain was still racing with little control but in a different direction. Instead of elation and purpose, I was beset by in worries, fears, and catastrophizing.

One of the difficulties with treating bipolar disorder of either type is trying to find a medication or a combination of medications that will level out the person’s moods. Usually this requires more than one drug, and finding the right mix or cocktail of chemicals takes usually requires more than one drug. It takes a great deal of trial and error. In the meantime, the mood swings continue.

At this point, my bipolar 2 disorder is fairly well controlled on medication. I still have spells of depression, but now they last at most a week, and sometimes just a day or two. Untreated, they could last months or years. I still have anxiety too, but I have the medication I take for that, so that I don’t feel like I’m about to jump out of my own skin.

Most of the time I’m fairly high-functioning. I can write, work, earn a living. I have a great marriage and a number of friends, including some who are closer than family to me. I have never been hospitalized, nor have I had electroshock (though that was a near thing). Before I got my proper diagnosis and treatment, I would have not believed this to be possible. My goal in life was simply to stay out of a psychiatric hospital as long as I could, or at least until I qualified for Social Security Disability.

I’m sharing these experiences with you today because I believe that mental disorders should not be hidden or viewed with shame and horror, as they have been in the past and sometimes still are.

It’s undeniable that there is a stigma associated with having mental illness. Going public with it entails a risk. I’ve seen the fixed-smile-back-away-slowly reaction. I’ve seen sudden turn-arounds in my work performance evaluations. But I’ve also seen the “Me too!” response. There is strength in numbers. As more of us who live with psychiatric conditions talk about it, and share our stories, the more we build understanding and perhaps encourage those who are roller-coastering to seek treatment.

So that’s the nuts and bolts of it: Bipolar disorder type 2 is a mental illness. I have it and live with it every day. I do not go around shooting people or trying to jump off buildings. I take medication for it and know that I will likely have to for the rest of my life. And I’m okay with that. I hope that eventually the rest of the world will be too.

 

Review: Furiously Happy

Buy this book!

Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess
Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess

Now I’ll tell you why.

First, despite what I wrote a previous post, Seven Reasons I Hate the Bloggess (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-56), I really respect and admire her and her writing.

Second, Furiously Happy is every bit as funny as Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s first book. It’s as raucous and uninhibited as her wildly popular blog.

Third, it’s something more.

Oh, there’s still plenty of weird taxidermy, ridiculous fights with her husband Victor, and even a bizarre travelogue of her trip to Australia. (She was not allowed to cuddle a koala, even when she dressed in a full-body koala suit, but consoled herself with the knowledge that koalas have chlamydia.)

But threaded through  her comic, idiosyncratic prose is a serious message about mental health: that we should speak up about it; acknowledge our struggles; and be determinedly, exuberantly, furiously happy when we can, in defiance of our illnesses.

Furiously Happy is a book for the millions of Americans – one in four – who struggle with mental illness, and for the millions more of their families, loved ones, and friends. It entertains and educates and defies the stigma that surrounds mental illness, without being preachy or mired in statistics.

Lawson has heard from people who have made it only as far as the parking lot of her signings because they too have severe anxiety disorders. Others have driven as much as five hours to attend one of her appearances. In her blog (thebloggess.com) and her new book, she lets people know that we are “alone together,” that even if we’re broken, we still have the capacity for magic.

At a recent book signing, Lawson was visibly nervous when she read two chapters aloud. One of these chapters was the one in which she and her mother discuss what is crazy and whether Jenny is. During the Q&A session at the signing, she took care to make the point that mental illness need not prevent people from being, as she says, furiously happy – if they keep on struggling, fighting, and trying, and especially if they have people around who understand and help.

After that she signed her book and anything else the audience brought until the entire group – which was quite large – was satisfied. No one was turned away from the signing line.

Lawson’s writing is not for everyone. Some people will be turned off by her use of profanity, and perhaps others may not appreciate the serious message that this second book contains. However, if you are looking for more rollicking, uninhibited, and unlikely (though largely true) stories, you will certainly find them here. But if that’s all you want, you may prefer to skip the serious chapters.

On the other hand, if you want to learn about mental illness with its attendant difficulties, and why it is so important to bring these topics out of the closet, as it were, then you may find the storytelling ridiculous, irreverent, or distracting. Personally, I enjoy the whole package, and it’s clear that many others do too.

Actually, the book hardly needs my endorsement. It’s been on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks now, and her book tour is drawing large and enthusiastic crowds. But I’ll recommend it anyway. You can start with her first book and find yourself drawn into the other. Or vice-versa.

You should also check out her blog, both for the content and the commenters, many of whom have found in Jenny an inspiration and in the other commenters a like-minded group of self-admitted weirdos, social outcasts, and yes, the mentally ill. That’s really been Lawson’s message all along. She just states it a little more directly in Furiously Happy.