Monday, January 21, 2008

The People's Dance

So last weekend i had the wonderful experience of going to The People's Dance Party. It took place at a community rec center and had been put together by a group of people who like to dance but don't like clubs. We were a small group but represented many ages, skin colors, and abilities. No one, except for maybe a seven year old boy, was a very good dancer. Everyone had fun. Afterwards I commented to the friends I had gone there with that you have to unlearn a certain inhibition, a certain need to be "cool" in order to dance like that and enjoy it. All three of us in our late twenties had to admit we hadn't unlearned whatever that was - but we were working on it. Personally I tried to ignore my feelings of self-consciousness and enjoy the music and watching others enjoy what they were doing. In many ways or little dance party was an act of defiance against all the expectations and demands our society/culture make. We were going to dance and enjoy it, no matter what others may think. and in the process of getting comfortable with ourselves dancing, we got comfortable with everyone else dancing - a brief euphoric four hours perhaps, but i am still going to chalk this one up as a victory against "the man"


Do you remember those long days in highschool of squirming and shifting in the hard plastic, metal or fiberglass chair while looking longingly at the teacher's cushy plush chairs? This "chair hierarchy" can be found in most schools including colleges and universities where students will unquestioningly spend hours in discomfort while the teacher or professor lounges in luxury. This is one of the many ways institutions of education teach us to accept authority and hierarchy without question or critique. It also sends a clear message about how students are valued.

For me, things like the chair differential and the authoritarian style of teaching did wonders in getting me to accept, even crave hierarchy and authority. I must admit that when participating in a graduate school program that was supposed to be more student centered and involved lots of sitting in circles and having discussions, i loved my economics class that was almost strictly lecture style. In my post graduate wanderings from job to volunteer program and from city to city I have often longed for a job at a place like McDonalds where they just told me what to do, and i could do it. It frightens me to realize now how much a seek this authority and hierarchy. I feel it when i am in a bookstore looking for the book that is just going to tell me how to save the world, a list of instructions that require no independent or creative thought. Which leads me to the flip side of this. How much have i lost in terms of my own ability to "think outside the box" of instruction and authority? I find myself now having to "unlearn authority" in order to question it and stand against it. This unlearning is proving to be quite the challenge.

As a teacher now I am constantly aware of the way that myself and the school I work at enforce authority. At times it feels like we put more energy into authority than into learning and it frightens me. I am always on the lookout for ways to make space in the curriculum for questioning what goes on at school and in the city outside the school walls. However, this requires the unlearning of my own need for authority. When I am not willing to question or criticize authority, how can i possibly expect the same from my students?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Makeup Confessions

So I did it. I spent a ridiculous amount of money on makeup. My first "real" batch of makeup at age 27 almost 28. Why is this a confession? Because ever since high school I have held very firm principles against makeup. It was at that time that I started to understand makeup to be yet another part of the consumer machine that drives this country. Actually, I think i just wanted to be beautiful naturally, with whatever God had given me. But I was also resisting an entire industry that thrives on telling women that they are not good enough as they are, that they have to spend exorbitant amounts of money covering up their true selves to be made acceptable and pleasing to society.

This whole industry of course starts with the beauty myth which says that women are defined and valued almost solely on face values (beauty or sex value), and that the only path to true happiness and fulfillment comes in being beautiful enough to be chosen by prince charming and taken to the place of happily ever after. As a child and even a teenager, I awaited my "Cinderella" moment, when the unnoticed girl, me, would suddenly transform into a real beauty who outshone everyone around. Part of my not wearing makeup was in anticipation of that transformation. Another part was a burgeoning awareness of the forces that try to control women and keep them so worried about their faces that they have little time, energy, or money to put into more important things.

Anyway, this is all to say that in spite of my strongly held principles against buying into the consumerist ideology that spending money on masking myself can make me happy, i still grew up in a conventional white middle class home and world that i have not been able to break free from, and in moments of weakness, the desire for beauty and acceptance can be overwhelming. My brain can tell me one thing, i can rant and rave about the evils of the makeup industry, and yet there is still a part of me that wants to take part. One of the many struggles of living in a world that is so screwed up. You want to change it, and at the same time, you have to live in it. Small defeats like this one could lend someone to throw in the towel and stop resisting the status quo, for now i am going to chalk this one up to contradiction, continue to think about it and challenge it, and also have a little grace and forgiveness with myself.