Jean Barker

Hot Button Tantrums

2012-11-30 14:09

Jean Barker

I've lived my whole life knowing that my physical weakness could easily place me in a situation where some asshole could harm me sexually. My movements and actions are limited by fear. Whether I've been raped or not isn't the issue.

I remember losing my virginity and thinking: "Ha! Beat you to it, rapists!" Call me weird, but I'm not kidding about that.

So you won't be surprised when I tell you that, as I sat listening to some filmmaker friends discussing their favourite rape scenes the other day, I freaked out a little. They picked the most horrific, anti-rape options as I sat silent, counting to 10 over and over again.  I was angry just hearing the concept tossed around. Insane? Of course. Normal? Completely. I only know to count to 10 because of the social devastation my anger over this issue has wrought in the past. For me, it's the worst kind of intimate bullying.

Isratine?! How dare you!

I have all kinds of friends in South Africa. When we discuss Israel and Palestine we tend to treat both parties as problematic - and argue a lot. Thing is, we have little to no massive stake in it even though some of us are Jewish or Muslim. South Africans I know don't seem to see the territory as a second home. Yes, we have opinions, and yes, there are frequent pro-Palestine protests and pro-Israeli responses. But thanks to Israel's friendly relationship with the old apartheid state, the issue is open to discussion. Not so in the USA...

So big shock time for me when I posted an article (by another writer) on Facebook about South African communities asking for goods produced in contested territories in Gaza to be labelled as such. Someone who I'd considered a friend for years accused me of being anti-Semitic (sic – the term incorporates Palestinians too) among other things. It's taken me about three months to realise she wasn't really such an asshole. I'd just innocently hit her 6-year-old hotspot. Her grandma survived the WWII holocaust. Any criticism of the State of Israel felt instantly anti-Jewish to her... like the beginning of another massacre. Added to this, she'd been raised all her life in the "birthright" mentality that basically would result, if carried out, in everybody except American Indians leaving America. My criticism went against her entire world. And so, BOOM!

Logic has nothing to do with her feelings - no more than logic has anything to do with mine. I unfriended her in my fury.

The fiscal social cliff

Which brings us in one giant segue to the big news in the USA right now.

"The Fiscal Cliff" is a maybe-fake crisis recently nicknamed in 2010, popularised by Federal Reserve Bank chair Ben Bernanke, and gleefully repeated ad nauseam by media from NPR to Fox, all of whom are bereft of sensational chitter now that the presidential election is over and Palestine and Israel called an uneasy truce. I say maybe-fake because there's no way President Obama's gonna let this happen, even if he has to kick it down the road until after Christmas.

But this crisis, and the horrifying suggestions that households earning over R2m a year should pay more tax, has conservative Americans calling Obama socialist. Which means nothing because they don't know what socialism is. It's not like it's taught in schools except as Bogeyman from North Korea. America was more socialist, in many ways, in the 1950s, than it is now. For most Americans, "socialism" conjures up images of uniformed workers slaving away in fields and - gasp!! - having only one kind of pasta to buy.

Sure, Obama won the election. It's bizarre to me that he only won with just over half the vote - and Romney got over 47% of the vote. So 47% of Americans think a guy with Romney's party's stance on 47% of America, rape, abortion and social security is a good idea? Wow... I guess I need to count to 10 again. Somehow I got from social security via Isratine to rape. And BOOM.

Don't play with my toy
I was making fun of Republicans on a Republican friend's Facebook page about a month before the election. An acquaintance of my friend replied:
"Hey, I don't like this comment. Please remove it."
I responded: "Who are you? And who do you think you are?"
And he replied: "A Republican."
I really felt like I was in primary school.

The day we grow up is the day we learn to share our toys. Freedom of speech is one of those toys, American buddy. But who am I, the person who can't have a rational conversation about rape, to talk? Who am I, the person who unfriended a friend rather than persuade her to apologise to me?

Acknowledging why we react like kids to important issues may be the beginning of maturity. Because there are millions of battles to fight in the world, and yet most of us pick just a few, and we pick them for a reason that's usually personal, taught to us from birth... and often selfish.

The best thing kids can be is open to anything. The worst thing an adult can be is only open to what they learned as kids. Most people stop thinking completely as they grow up - and that, I know, is dangerous.

So, belatedly, in the spirit of "16 Days of Activism": What's the thing that makes you nuts? And what's your personal (possibly selfish) motivation?

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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