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Archive for December, 2007

In line at the grocery store. Big sign in my lane says “EXPRESS LANE. TEN ITEMS OR LESS.”

Cashier: Sir, just so you know for next time, this lane is for ten items or less.

(I’m behind Sir, attempting to purchase a single item)

Sir (in line with eight year old girl): Hmph. Ten items. Fuck ten items.

Cashier: I mean, just so you know for next time.

Sir (looking rather intoxicated on closer inspection): I don’t give a…ten items…well I don’t give a…

Cashier: You know, so it’s fair for the person behind you who has only one item.

Me: Blushes, shrugs.

Sir: Whaddayou give a shit. Ten items. Fuck you. Fine then. Fuck.

(cashier rings up 20+ items and Sir swipes card)

Cashier: Um. Could you try your card one more time, sir? For some reason it didn’t go through.

Sir: Fuck. (Swipes again, swoons a little and jabs at the numbers on the punch pad).

Cashier: Thank you sir.

Sir: Mumble, mumble. Fuck. Mumble mumble (walks away with purchases and young girl).

Cashier: (Exhausted look) Sorry ma’am.

Me: I just feel so sorry for that little girl. And you.

Cashier: Sigh. Nod.

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Ever since an eighth grade art class introduction to ceramics, I have always wanted to learn to make pottery. Due to a recent windfall of extra time, I’ve finally taken it up and am really enjoying it. I like every stage, from taking a moist lump of clay and giving it a useful shape, to refining and finishing it once it’s begun to dry, and finally glazing it and sending it off for its final, irreversible firing.

Besides the quiet, Zen-like process, making pottery speaks to a part of my soul, the part that would love to see Christmas become less commercial and more traditional. The part of my soul that cringes at commercials showing iPod-toting remote controlled cars doing the caroling in place of real, live people. I love the idea of giving people useful things, things that were made by my own hands. A few years ago I taught myself how to knit, and everybody got scarves. But the truth is that I don’t really like to knit. It’s too repetitive, too tedious, and it takes too long. I’m sort of an instant gratification type, and I love to see a recognizable form, whether it be a plate, a mug or a vase, take shape in just minutes. This is the pottery Christmas, hopefully the first of many. I’m sure my family is just thrilled.

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People are funny creatures. At a time when the right wing is warning us that we need to keep vigilant lest we find ourselves wearing burqas here in the good ol’ U.S. of A, it is apparently failing to take a peek at itself in the mirror. It just might find a teenage girl who has embraced the “modesty” movement and has officially “devoted her virginity” to her father before God and her peers.

During the Cold War, the United States inserted “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance. The idea was that we wanted to show the world that it was our national spirit, not our bombs, that made us an invincible nation. A godly nation. We needed to prove to the Soviet Union that our people had superior moral and spiritual fortitude, that our hearts and minds were united and pure. We wanted to look, feel and behave differently, to make a moral case for ourselves in our quest to come out as the government truly by the people, for the people. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, was doing basically the exact same thing.

Since our focus has shifted to the Middle East, we hear daily reports of human rights abuses in the Muslim world. Young girls being murdered by their brothers, uncles and fathers in honor killings. Women being tortured and killed for allegedly not wearing their burqas correctly, or for being in the presence of an unrelated male. Even in India we hear about bride killings, where a new wife dies in a mysterious house fire, leaving the husband free to remarry and obtain a second dowry. And anywhere male sons are prized (because they are their parents’ retirement plan, whereas daughters are a financial and social liability), female infanticide and abortions of female fetuses remain a tragic human rights failure. The World Health Organization estimates that about three million girls, mainly in Africa and the Middle East, are subjected to genital mutilation each year. There is one cultural tenet that unites all of these practices: women’s bodies are not their own. They are property.

Now there is a new and growing trend in America. Christian teenage girls and their fathers are attending “Purity Dances,” which look and sound a lot like wedding ceremonies. Father and daughter walk down an aisle, daughter vows to remain chaste until marriage and father vows to “protect” his daughter’s virginity. Father gives daughter a ring. Daughter gives father a key (the key to her vagina, apparently), and father keeps the key until daughter’s wedding day, when he hands it over to the groom. According to the Chicago Tribune, one in six teen girls are signing virginity pledges. Also according to the Tribune, 88% of them will wind up having premarital sex.

American Christians are also embracing a move toward more modest dress. This I can truly get behind, as long as it is voluntary and falls into the parameters of what I would consider reasonable. Butt cracks and exposed pierced navels just aren’t what I’d consider to be attractive, and I think that women and girls (and men, for that matter) who don’t leave a single thing to the imagination are doing themselves a disservice. However, the advertising can go the other way. Girls are now announcing their chastity, with t-shirts that read “Abstinence Ave. Exit When Married,” and, even more creepy, underwear that states, “Notice: No trespassing on this property. My father is watching.” Whose property is it? The daughter’s or the father’s?

The idea of a father “owning” his daughter’s virginity is fraught with problems. What does this say about the relationship in terms of sexuality? What happens when daughters break their vows (as, apparently, 88% of them do)? Do they tell their fathers and face the possibility of being disowned? Or do they feel guilty and ashamed, in silent anguish when their fathers fork over their virginity key to their new husband, who is not their first lover? Do they feel they betrayed God and their fathers when, at as young an age as ten, they were asked to promise to remain virgins until their wedding night? Is this a fair thing to ask of such young girls? Would we even dream of asking boys to do the same?

Back to my original thoughts. We are told we have a new enemy now, an enemy that doesn’t treat its women so well. An enemy that holds double (and triple) standards, where girls are property but boys will be boys (with girls held responsible for their irresistibility). An enemy that condemns our fast and easy western lifestyle, yet when the cat’s away will often attempt to emulate it with a singular fervor.

So the Christians are buckling down and waging their reactionary cultural war. They are dressing more modestly, covering themselves up more, if you will. They are advertising their virginity with as much zeal as a prostitute advertises her lack thereof. They are conducting ceremonies wherein daughters embrace their status as sexual property in a patriarchal religious system. They are beginning to exhibit a similar world view to the very people they feel most threatened by, and they are too myopic to even realize it. Different war, same old human nature.

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