Archive for the 'Human Oddities' Category


NS August 13th, 2009

As much as I welcome debate  and am passionate about the issues that mean a lot to me, and as often as I am willing to call people out on their shitty behaviour or words, sometimes it all gets to be too much. When I read such misogynist, hateful, spiteful crap, day in and day out, occassionally it gets to me.  For a moment, even for a day, I feel defeated. I think why the hell do I bother? Why do I do this to myself, get so worked up and invest so much time in arguing with people who are likely to never change their attitude? Why are they so filled with hate and ignorance and superiority? How do people get to be this way? What do they get out of it? Do they outnumber the good amongst us?

Usually, my response is anger and indignation but sometimes the vitriol directed at people just trying to go about their lives stops me in my tracks and just makes me feel hopeless instead. I mean, how do you respond to something as hateful and juvenile as this? And I already know the answer to that — you can’t. But by god it’s hard not to seethe with helplessness when a total stranger says such horrible things about something you cherish and fight relentlessly to protect and promote. Sometimes, it’s just too much.

So for once, my mouth is getting a rest (and my fingers, from typing) and instead my eyes and heavy heart will bear the brunt of my discontent. I wish I could always be stronger and better and just shrug every last comment off, but there’s always one that is the proverbial straw on this camel’s back and the only way to get out of the desert is to empty the wells and start again.

Tomorrow,  I’ll be back to fight. But tonight, I can’t take reading anymore ignorant drivel. So I’m going to turn the computer off now, walk up to my bed, snuggle my beautiful baby, and forget that such ugliness exists.

Wake me when all the assholes have gone, please.

Socialism fever: America is dying

NS August 10th, 2009

I got this email from a family member yesterday, who was passing it on from a friend of a friend. As I sat there reading the forwarded message, which was written by an American woman who’d received health care while visiting Scotland last month, I found myself growing very angry and depressingly sad. This woman used her story to “prove” that socialized medicine doesn’t work, is inhumane and utterly inferior to the system in the USA. I almost couldn’t make it to the end of the email and had to stop myself from Replying All and letting loose with a detailed response. Instead, I’m posting it here.

This is what was contained in the email:

I, Karen Sparks, found myself in need of hospitalization and surgery while I was visiting Scotland in July 2009.  I had a critical health issue and had emergency surgery  within 7 hours of admittance to the UK National Health Care system at the Royal Aberdeen Infirmary for a septic knee.
My first stop was a dingy ward room to speak to a doctor to evaluate me.  There were people there waiting to get a bed in the hospital for treatment, but no beds were available to them until someone else left.  I had some tests done and then i was sent to my bed upstairs. I was fortunate to get one. It was a shock to me to be put in a ward room with 6 other women.  I had not saw that since I was a child.  I was being told I would soon have my surgery by a doctor who was not going to be my surgeon.  I never ever saw the person who operated on me.  I only saw doctors and interns who had been in a general meeting about the surgerys of that night. That is not any way to get any clear answers to your questions or fears.  You really don't know anything when you are there.
My husband was beside himself and followed the gurney to wait to talk to the surgeon.  As we got to the elevator the nurse told my husband he could not come down to surgery and there are no provisions for waiting during surgery. He could see me the next day at 2pm visiting hours! It was now 10:30PM. You do not get public relations in government health care systems.
Now he had to call home and tell my mother ,who was worried sick, he did not know a thing about how I made it through surgery and wouldn't until the next afternoon. He did hide out in the hospital during my surgery but did not know anything about how I did, all he saw was me going back to my ward. Actually you never see any doctors as a family member unless you get lucky and they come speak to them at visiting hours, but you have to ask.  It makes you feel totally at their mercy without much say in your own life or treatment.
I was assigned to a womens orthopedic ward with 6 beds, all full, three whose ages were 93, 87,and 85, all of which had broken hips.  Those elderly women laid in their beds NO LESS than five, yes I said 5 days, before they took them to surgery to fix those hips.  The doctors would come in most every day and tell them that they were not an emergency situation and maybe tomorrow we will have time.
I had an IV port in my arm from surgery and it was used to main line my antibiotics by syringes.  You took oral pain pills, no drip Iv's to sustain you. If you couldn't eat and drink on your own to sustain yourself you got weaker which I saw the elderly do. I don't know if my 93 year old roommate made it through her surgery. I never saw her again after they took her to "theater".
The pain of those aged women lying with badly broken bones, in  bed getting joustled about all week in the name of cleanliness was cruel and depressing.  I am sure they did not care to get a bath or clean sheets by the sounds of their protests and crys. They wanted medical help!  As sick as I was I knew I was the lucky one.
Remember we are are closer to the United Kingdom than any other country in the world by the way we live and have compassion. They are living with this horrible health system and we could be next if the powers in Washington force it  upon us.
I don't believe any of us are going to want a national socialized health care.  Everyone will suffer except those in control who set it up for the masses.Do you want your family member lying in a bed suffering for days because they aren't precieved as an emergency?  Yes it is expensive to have health insurance in the United States but we do have health care that far outweighs what I saw in the United Kingdom.
God bless and help us to keep our leading doctors, specialists  and  research doctors.  We will loose all of that with the new reform and the rest of the world depends on us to be leaders in health care and prevention.  They come here to our doctors and hospitals when they
can not get a life saving procedure in a timely fashion in their socialized country of health care.We are the United States of America and we need to start protecting our valuable human resourses, the citizens of The United States of America.  Wake up before it is too late America!

Karen T Sparks
Bartlesville Oklahoma

Well, Karen, let me tell  you something: you are a propaganda pusher. You are ignorant, arrogant beyond belief and your “concern” for the “citizens of the United States of America” is a facade. What you *really* care about is covering your own ass. You, as a fully insured person with enough material wealth to be traveling abroad, don’t want things to change FOR YOU. You don’t give a rat’s ass about the 40 million Americans without any health insurance, or the millions more who are underinsured. You speak only to those fortunate enough to have jobs or pensions with good health benefits attached; those middle class and educated enough to have access to the state-of-the-art facilities your pampered ass is used to being in. You consider health care a business and you are a customer whose needs and demands must be met and satisfied at all times. And as long as that happens, you’re happy.

How DARE you take your one isolated experience of socialised health care  and use it to make direct comparisons and predictions for what health care reform would mean for America? How DARE you tell me, an American citizen who went uninsured for several years because I couldn’t afford it and now, as a UK resident with instant and unlimited access to health care based on my status as a HUMAN BEING instead of as PAYING CUSTOMER, that I’m the one missing out? How DARE you tell the people who arent insured, or who don’t have adequate insurance, that they don’t matter, so long as you get your clean, private room and your husband gets his own personal PR agent to hold his hand while he waits for news of your progress?

You say you were confused, your questions unanswered. Do you think that perhaps it had more to do with the fact that you were already in an unfamiliar environment, in an unfamiliar system in a foreign country, than with the system itself? That perhaps because of that, you were too scared and unsure of yourselves to ask the proper questions? That perhaps you were too arrogant to bother asking them at all, too shocked that someone wasn’t spoon feeding it to you through an IV drip so you didn’t have to do any work at all? Because that’s what you want, right? To lie back and let the doctors do their work on your behalf, sure that they have your best interests at heart since you’re a goddamn American citizen and therefore the best, most worthy patient in the world?

Karen T. Sparks, socialised medicine isn’t sick…you are. And I’ll tell you why.

I have two children and don’t work outside the home. I take care of them while my husband works to pay our mortgage and bills. We are very fortunate to be able to do this, and we know it. Many people need two incomes to even make their basic payments. We are blessed, and lucky. My husband likes his job but if he didn’t, he would be free to go out and look for another where he’d be happier. He can change jobs without endangering his family’s ability to access health care. He could even lose his job and we’d be okay. If worse came to worst and we had to sell our house and move in with family, at least we’d know that our health wasn’t compromised or that we’d be bankrupted in the process of making sure it wasn’t. We wouldn’t have to sit up at night with a sick and feverish child, agonising over whether to see how it goes a little longer or rush her into the hospital, thinking about what it’s going to cost us instead of focusing on getting our daughter well again.

When I went into the hospital to have my first baby, I didn’t have to fill out a bunch of insurance forms while I was in labour or sign a consent form allowing the doctors to perform a zillion procedures and interventions so that they could guarantee a perfect outcome and reduce the chance that I’d sue them. Because that’s what Americans do, right? If something goes wrong, they sue. If their hospital “experience” wasnt’ what they feel they paid for, they get a lawyer and they sue the shit out of the doctor, the nurse, the hospital, the janitor…whoever they can cut down with their merciless need to blame someone for all of life’s ills. You pride yourselves on your work ethic and bootstraps mentality, don’t you? You think you’re the greatest nation in the world and that you can do anything if you set your minds to it or are paying top dollar for it. You, and others like you, have gotten so above yourselves and stuck your heads so far up our own self-congratulatory asses that you have no time for things like Nature, or Death or Human Fallibility. You want only Service, Results and Accountability. Having a health care system based on ability to pay has turned you into clients, not patients, and your health care practitioners into business owners concerned only with the bottom line.

When I had my second child, I had a choice in where and how I gave birth. I wasn’t treated as a pod carrying a precious “pre-born person” who had more rights than me. Since I was healthy and having a baby is a natural process, I was given the option to give birth at home. I had two midwives in attendance and no drugs. No IV drip, no scalpel, no monitors or wires strapped to me, no paperwork to fill out. I birthed a baby and they were there in case anything went wrong. It didn’t.

I got one-to-one care and they even came back every couple day for the next few weeks to check on me and the baby so I didn’t have to get myself together and take a newborn baby into a doctor’s office full of sick people. Not once was I asked how I was paying or for proof that I had a right to receive their care. I was treated as a person, not a “customer.” Me and my baby were the bottom line, not what procedures and length of stay my insurance would cover.

Don’t get me wrong, the national health service here is not perfect. There are longer waiting times for non-life-threatening procedures and cleanliness and understaffing can be a problem. These problems are transparent because they are government run and therefore constantly in the public eye, up for scrutiny, as they should be. Though an imperfect system, the NHS is always striving to improve. The American system is not perfect either, though. There are mistakes and long waits and dirty hospitals and not enough staff to go around and aged women are left in pain on gurneys and alone on hospital beds. You just don’t know about it because you don’t have to frequent the facilities where these problems are more prevalent. You don’t see this because you have insurance, and good coverage at that. You are blind to the inadequate care that millions and millions of Americans receive (or don’t receive at all) because they aren’t  valued top-paying customers. You are in the VIP room of health care;  you are so blind to your privilege that you don’t know any other room even exists.

You may have noticed that I keep using the pronoun ‘they’ when talking about Americans, and that I must not identify as one. Well, I was born and raised in America. I will always be American. I love my country. But I hate the mentalities of many of its citizens and how it is run. This resistance to change is a resistance to criticise yourselves. And a society that cannot criticise itself and work to change for the better — to evolve and grow as a nation — is not a healthy one, nor one that I want to be a part of. Callous disregard for such as basic human right as the right to health care is not something I want to be a part of anymore. As much as I miss my family and the land of my childhood, and as many good qualities as America has, I can never go back. I can never go back because it is not the country I thought it was. It is so sick that it doesn’t even KNOW it’s sick and refuses to take any medicine. All the pleading and cajoling in the world won’t make that bitter pill go down, as sad as that is. So like any sane person who can’t take anymore, I proclaim to wash my hands of it. Let them get sick and die in their millions then! I won’t be witness to it anymore. I’m finished.

Except, I can’t turn away. My family and my friends still live there, and my children are American citizens, too. One day we’d like to move back and allow them to experience that part of their heritage — MY heritage — but I refuse to take them to a place that doesn’t value their health as a right, but a privilege. It would be like taking a step backwards in time after having seen the future. I won’t make them feel like second-class citizens if they are not fortunate enough to have good jobs with good insurance, or force them to stay in jobs they hate so they can go to the doctor when they need to. I’d rather never see my homeland again then expose them to a system that disregards its most vulnerable citizens in such a callous way. I’d want them to know the beauty and the aching kindnesses that I know are somewhere underneath all the layers of fear and hate, but I don’t think Iv’e got the strength, or enough shovels, to dig them out.

So, Karen T. Sparks, I will take my socialised health care over the American system any day of the week. I am saddened and angered that people such as yourself , who I’m sure are caring and kind, can be taken in by the propaganda and be blind to the changes that are needed. It takes courage and humanity to move from a hierarchical system to a more equitable one and I guess in that department, America is sorely lacking. The land of the free and the home of the brave, indeed. You’re so shackled by the IDEA of freedom that you don’t even know what it is anymore. Those of us living under socialised health care don’t need or want your pity. It is us who pity you.

God bless America? God save America.

Stick to the mall, sweetheart

NS July 27th, 2009

[Warning: This is a vent about some crap said about certain happenings and goings-on at BlogHer, and I wasn't even there. If that pisses you off, or if you're totally uninterested, look away. I'm just a rantin']

Unless you’ve been under a rock (i.e. aren’t on Twitter), you’ll know that this past weekend was the BlogHer conference in Chicago, an annual event where female bloggers (and a few dudes!) from across the globe come together to explore issues relating to that funny little thing we call the blogosphere. People agonised over what to wear, who to room with and which parties to go to. To be honest, I was sick of hearing about BlogHer from the excited participants before it began and I wasn’t even attending! That’s more to do with my curmudgeonliness than anything else, and perhaps a pinch of jealousy, but when one’s Twitter stream is filled up with news of it for days, it can get a bit old.

Anyway, from what I gathered through reading others’ accounts, it’s kind of like a combination sorority function/business luncheon, with everyone broken into “tribes” to network and party with like-minded folks. There are tears, laughs, arguments, drunken escapades, inspiring speeches…and an endless array of free crap from the companies sponsoring it. These freebies are called ‘swag’ and apparently many of those at BlogHer were acting like flesh-eating zombies who don’t mind throwing an elbow or baring teeth to get to their prey…the free shit.
Particularly greedy in their swag-lust were the mommy bloggers, according to attendee Motherhood Uncensored in her post entitled “Not all bloggers are like that.” Many of the commenters agreed with her: mommy blogging has become very ugly indeed, and those who aren’t money-hungry soul-suckers would be best to avoid that label until Respect and Decency are brought back to the mommy blogosphere. They all applauded the introduction of a concept called “Blogging with Integrity” that was heralded at the conference and encouraged one another to embrace it to counteract the crazy swag-snatching whores.

Now, I realise that it must’ve been annoying, even infuriating, to be run over by these bloggers’ lust for more stuff, and that it is frustrating to see blogging turned into one big circle jerk of self-promotion (because I hate it too, I really do), but I get annoyed when I read stuff like this because guess what? Just because we’re all bloggers and mothers doesn’t mean we all operate under the same “rules of engagement” as one commenter suggested, nor do we have the same desires and goals. It certainly doesn’t mean we have to tow the line in deference to some kind of pack mentality that says what each of us does, we all do; what each of us says, we all say. Bullshit! It’s thinking like that that strips away womens’ individuality and makes us all part of some pseudo “team” that we’re each supposed to morally conform to and represent. Just like ‘sluts’ in the 50s and 60s who gave all women everywhere a bad name with their loose ways (ahem) and the feminist career women of the 70s and 80s who were an affront to “regular women” (ha!), bundling us all together and taking individual actions as indicative of an entire gender’s motives is not really progressive, or inclusive of differences among us. We are already constantly pressured to be bastions of morality, warned that if we fall outside of what makes us look good as a whole, our integrity, reputations and self-respect as individuals are at stake; not least of all with other women. It’s very similar to arguments for “female purity” by virginity-preserving crusaders, funnily enough.

One commenter on this post emphasized this by saying: “Your actions reflect on all of us,” in reference to not only the consumer-crazed women but a blogger named Esther who tried to bring her nursing baby into an evening cocktail party thrown by Nikon and then, when she was turned away, vented her frustration on Twitter with a tongue-in-cheek #nikonhatesbabies tag. This was viewed nearly as contemptuously as the gift-grabbers. The entitlement! The gall! The humanity!

Considering the fact that the baby was nursing and Esther was presumably not a Chicagoan with childcare right around the corner, what choice did she have except to go with her baby or miss out? She was remiss in not checking beforehand and says so herself in the comments section, but she figured a babe-in-arms dependent on her for nutrition and unable to run around or destroy anything AT A WOMEN’S EVENT would be okay — it may be poor social etiquette, given our disdain for children in adult spaces (and I do think there are some lines to be drawn, though not nearly as many as currently exist) but is it really so horrifying? And if so, what does that say about how we segregate adults from chlidren and, subsequently, mothers from the general public, particularly those who are breastfeeding? They are particularly affected by these lines in the sand about where is and is not an acceptable place to bring a baby because for them it is not as simple as “Get a babysitter,” the expression always thrown around in these types of conversation.

Class privilege in assuming one can afford and locate an out-of-town babysitter aside, Esther’s only ‘crime’ was thinking she could mix parenting with having fun and networking. From what I’ve read, she was initially (and understandably) disappointed that she didn’t get to go but she wasn’t asking for special treatment, she just made an honest mistake in thinking that her baby would be welcome there. But even though Esther had already expressed misgivings for her mistake and said that she had talked to Nikon and all had been smoothed over, the disparaging comments still came rolling in.

“Some mommy bloggers are so self righteous.”

“[I] cringed every time I read a blog post this weekend where bloggers said about taking children seemingly with no sitter of some sort in tow. It’s a blogger convention, not Sesame Street.”

“It’s pretty shocking that anyone thinks that it is okay to take a baby to a cocktail party.”

“Why would you bring a baby to a loud party, anyway? With alcohol, and candles, and so many people, and loud music and voices, and people smoking? [What sordid things could a baby do with alcohol and candles, pray tell? Unless you're saying mothers can't be trusted to drink responsibily around their children? And it's illegal to smoke indoors in Chicago, so that wouldn't have been an issue at all]Give me a break.”

“A private party is not the mall.”

So breastfeeding women (and anyone who can’t afford or find a babysitter) should just stick to Sesame Street and the mall while the more glamorous ladies with nannies get drunk on daiquiris and congratulate themselves on “thinking ahead” (i.e. being middle class and not being restricted by a nursing infant’s needs or their incomes)? Okay, got it.

And if THAT is what constitutes good “mommy blogging” these days, I want no part of it either.

Some bullet points and a video

NS July 13th, 2009

  • Jetlag is almost cured. Children now back to their usual bedtime and crack-of-dawn wake time. The 10am wakings were good while they lasted…for a whole two days.
  • I want to give a medal to all of the people who have successfully parented a child through the ages of two and three and lived to tell the tale. Seriously y’all, this shit takes some reserves of patience and inner strength that I may have to hire excavating equipment to find within me.
  • I am scaring myself with how many times a day I wish I could freeze The Noble Baby in his current state, at nearly 10 months old. He is so much fun right now — getting into everything, becoming really curious about the world around him and increasingly mobile (started crawling on our holiday!), babbling and starting to repeat gestures and laughing at silly faces and noises. I look at him and squeal “You are so freakin’ adorable” and coo and pinch his cheeks at least five times a day, like I’m some great spinster aunt who just looooooves babies but only ever gets to see one about once every three years and so goes completely overboard when faced with one in the flesh. I love love love this age, it is my absolute favourite. However, it does make me feel a smidgen guilty that I’m dreading him becoming a toddler because then I feel like I’m hatin’ on my daughter for being three, when it’s not her fault that she is so infuriating, annoying and troublesome 50% of the time. Must remember the other, oh-so-hilarious-and-wonderful 50% of her, too.
  • My sister is here visiting and we break out the wine between 5-6pm nearly every evening. Thank god for sisters, is all I can say, for reminding us that we don’t have to stop drinking when we have kids. And the lady can make a mean, mean cocktail. She is uber-useful, amongst her other great qualities. Love ya, sis!
  • Someone’s dog(s) keep crapping right on our front drive. I suspect it is my trashy, horrible next-door neighbours (who happen to have three huge dogs) and I have resolved today that if I discover it IS them, I am going to place the messiest, stinkiest, leakiest nappy on their front step one morning, sunny side up. So help me god, I am serious. I’m a vindictive little bitch.
  • I never get tired of the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
  • Rachel Maddow could kick Bill O’Reilly’s ass, anytime. And I really wish she would. He needs a beatdown and that news ninja is just the one to give it to him, I think.
  • My parents and husband suprised me on my 30th birthday while we were in the US by renting out the bed and breakfast where we had our wedding. I had no idea they were planning it and was truly, genuinely surprised, which is such a rarity these days. It was a spectacular walk down memory lane, to have a drink on the same roof where we had our pictures taken in our formal attire; to get in the same hot tub; to sleep (ahem) in the same bed; and eat at the same breakfast table. The owners were away and no one else was there so we had the entire place to ourselves. To kiss my husband on the steps where we said “I do” all those years ago and see our two children playing nearby was the most magical, wonderful birthday present and one I will never forget. Thank you, TNH and the Noble Parents.
  • I was skinnier immediately after giving birth to TNB than I had been since 2003. I put this down to the magic weight loss diet that is Breastfeeding and happily continued stuffing my face. Unfortunately, when a baby starts on solids and drops even just a couple of feeds, the weight piles back on. And I don’t mean a pound or two overall, I mean like a fucking freight train of fat come to roost in ma belly. That was a complete mangling of the metaphor, but you get my drift. In the last two months (since TNB started on solids in earnest, and after my American holiday), I have gained a whopping 15 lbs! I am not even joking. The trousers I used to need a belt to even keep up are now pretty snug and I feel like a stuffed sausage in my cute summer t-shirts. Right now I am rocking the baby doll shirt and yoga pants look until I can shed some of this weight and get back on track after Gluttonypalooza 2008/09. Yoga classes start on Wednesday and I’m beginning the Couch-to-5k programme a week after that. With a little work and some luck, those pounds will be shed, oh yes.
  • Finally, a really cool animation of an interview with John Lennon in 1969, by a teenage boy who snuck into his hotel room. Hat tip to the amazing and creatively rich Eris at Welcome to the Planet
  • Service with a smile

    NS June 9th, 2009

    Smile, baby!

    Why the long face, sugar pie?

    It can’t be that bad, can it?

    Let’s see a nice smile, love — go on!

    You’d be so much prettier if you smiled.

    Ooh, stay out of HER way, she looks mad!

    If you’re a woman and have ever walked down the street deep in thought, in a foul mood or with worry creasing your brow, you will most likely have heard at least one of the above, if not all of them, from strange men passing by.

    I don’t get it as much now that I always have children in tow (maybe because they think mothers don’t have much to smile about, or perhaps because until you’ve had a man’s children you are anyone’s to be had?) but before they came along I would get it on a regular basis. It irritated me — no, infuriated me — long before I even called myself a feminist with any enthusiasm. From the time I was old enough to be considered a sexual object (pretty much from adolescence), I’d been getting comments about my body, my face, my clothes, mood, emotions, mannerisms…you name it; if I was doing or speaking or wearing it, it would be remarked upon by men I didn’t know. I used to just find it slighly irritating and accepted that it was just “how men are.” But as I grew older and more weary of this phenomenon, so my anger grew alongside. What gave them the right to tell ME to smile, or that they liked my top (while leering at my chest) or that I’d be more pleasing to their eye and expectations if I just did x, y or z?

    It all came to a head one day several years ago when I was walking back to my downtown apartment from the grocery store. I was a full time student and working 25-30 hours a week at a bar and restaurant. I was stressed out and pissed off about something and doing the 20 minute walk home, laden with bags of food in the oppressive summer heat, wasn’t doing me any favours. On my way there I’d been told to smile no less than two times, by different men — one in a suit and with a briefcase, the other a scrawny teenage redneck type. Already on the verge of exploding in anger, I knew that one more comment would be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

    Sure enough, on my way home another man passed by in the opposite direction — all swagger and trailing the telltale scent of midday boozing — imploring me to smile while giving me the once over. I didn’t manage a tight, thin smile or just ignoring him, as I usually do. This time I hardened my scowl and shot him a look that said I was going to do no such thing. Looking bemused, he turned and followed me, again calling out, “C’mon baby, it can’t be that bad. Whatsa matter? Smile for me and you’ll feel better.” I glanced over my shoulder and took in his cocky stance and patronising words. I turned to look him in the eye and said in an even, clear voice: “Fuck off.” I saw his expression turn from one of amusement to shock and anger. I walked away quickly, my heart pounding in my chest. I’d finally stood up to one of the bullies and it felt great!

    My pride in myself was short-lived because suddenly, as I stood at the intersection waiting for the lights to change so I could cross, a voice like gravel growled into my ear, “Bitch!” and a pair of hands pushed me from behind, square in the back. I fell forward onto my knees, letting go of my grocery bags to break the fall. A car swerved to avoid hitting me and I watched as the tires whizzed by, inches from my face. My canned goods rolled out of the brown paper bags and onto the glittering asphalt, heat rising from it in visible waves that appeared to melt into the objects surrounding it. My rage bubbled to the surface and before I even had time to make a considered, conscious decision, I grabbed a tin of pastry dough that had landed beside me (those Pillsbury cinnamon rolls — American readers will know what I mean), stood up and spun around with it held aloft. I brought it down on the side of his forehead and the tin burst open with a satisfying THWACK! before the dough popped out and landed on the pavement between us. A comic moment, looking back, but not funny at all at the time.

    A small gash opened up on his forehead and blood trickled out. Nothing life-threatening, for sure, but enough to daze him and knock him back a few steps. At that point a valet across the street came running to assist and my attacker turned and fled. I must’ve looked a sight: teeth bared, flashing eyes, mangled tin in my clenched fist as I let loose a string of expletives after him. I was terrified, exhilirated, vindicated and embarrassed all at once. I wasn’t proud that I’d reacted violently to the situation but reminded myself that he could’ve gotten me killed by pushing me into traffic.

    In shock, I waved away the valet who offered to call the police, saying I just wanted to get out of there and forget about it. I went home and got ready for work, still running on adrenaline, but when I arrived late and my manager admonished me, I found my hands shaking and my eyes welling up with tears as I explained the reason for my tardiness. To this day I regret not going to the police but I figured they’d never catch the guy and was afraid that because I’d relatiated, I could get into trouble.

    The reason I’m telling you all of this is to give you some background on why I feel so strongly about being told to smile. I knew that it was a jerkface thing for men to do but I hadn’t really put my finger on why it bothered me so much and what was sinister about it until today. This post on the community boards at Feministing put another spin on the whole being told to smile thing. An excerpt below:

    (Note: I’m a customer and overhear this exchange while waiting in line.)

    Barista: “Here’s your change… have a nice day.”

    Customer: “You know, you haven’t smiled once.”

    Barista: “Sorry.”

    Customer: “I’m so sick of the attitude of people in the service industry! Is it so hard to give your customers a smile as you’re pouring water through beans? You all are so arrogant, it makes me sick!”

    Barista: *eyes begin to well up*

    Customer: “Why aren’t you smiling?!”

    Barista: “…because my father died last night.”

    How utterly horrid.

    Upon reading this and remembering my own negative associations with being told to smile, I realised that the reason some people (and not just men) feel entitled to issue this order (usually to women) is because our moods and emotions have always been open for public scrutiny. I mean, we’re the “feeling” sex, right? We wear our hearts on our sleeves and what you see is what you get, no more. So if we don’t look happy, or friendly, or eager to please, we must be miserable bitches plotting someone’s death or the snatching, seasoning and eating of small children. Ahem.

    The real issue though is that, to some assclowns, seeing an unhappy woman or one who isn’t laying herself at their feet in service and devotion is an affront to their sense of power, be it through gender privilege or class privilege or just plain obnoxiousness. We’re people pleasers, remember, or didn’t you get that memo? It’s a generalisation that is centuries old, certainly, one that hasn’t really abated even as we’ve progressed.

    The scene in the coffee shop really ticks me off, and not just because it was a grieving woman being admonished for not dancing when someone said dance. In this instance, the customer obviously had ‘service’ and ‘subservience’ confused because her attitude towards the person making her coffee was nothing short of proprietal. With her asinine words, the customer displayed a sense of entitlement to “service with a smile” from the underlings catering to her whims and desires by providing goods and services. She’s one of those people who thinks that if she walks into a restaurant or a clothing store, the assistants and servers should come running, smiles plastered on, when she snaps her fingers, falling over themselves to please her. Her idea of good service is undoubtedly where the ‘servant’ is bending over backward in order to kiss her superior ass more thoroughly and reverently.

    As we all know, service industries are often those with the least pay, status and rights. The working poor, part-timers with few rights or benefits and students fill the majority of those roles. This doesn’t include just retail and restaurant work though; even professional female-dominated fields that we might not typically count as services fall under this umbrella. Nursing, teaching, administration/clerical work, care in the community, PR, non-profit…all of these are services and all are full of women. What do they have in common, besides their propensity to be chockablock with the female of the species? They’re all areas in which the people (particularly women) are expected to cater to the customer or patient or boss, with — you guessed it — a smile.

    No one wants a nurse who does her job thoroughly but doesn’t smile, do they? We expect her to be more caring, more sympathetic, more willing to deal with the shit (literally). But do we expect the same of a male doctor when he walks into the room? Sometimes we do, but often not. If they are brusque and impersonable we may be disappointed or put off but we aren’t usually angered or shocked by it. We’ve been conditioned to be used to the idea that if men are rude or unapproachable in the professional realm, it’s usually because they are too busy, too important, too cool or merely lacking in “people skills” to have the inclination to perform niceties. If you think about it, the only areas in which we don’t use niceness and customer ass-kissing as a prerequisite for measuring success and customer satisfaction are areas which are historically male-dominated: the upper echelons of business and finance, consultant/specialist medicine, law, science, engineering and professional sports, amongst others. In these areas, we just want someone knowledgable and skiled who can get shit done. We certainly don’t criticise them harshly if they aren’t bubbly and full of smiles. Efficiency, not affability, is the key to their success.

    In the meantime, mirthless female baristas get told off for being arrogant, non-flirty and no-nonsense admin assistants don’t get promoted and women who tell strange men to leave them alone get pushed into traffic.

    What part of this ridiculous double standard is there to smile about, exactly?

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