Category Archives: morals

What Writers Can Glean from “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Writing MoralsIn my latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine, I summarize the Crazy response to The Wolf of Wall Street, and tackle the Good that might come from ethically-precarious art.
An excerpt:

Criticisms of The Wolf of Wall Street both devalue viewers—by assuming they can handle only moralistic tales—and esteem them, by providing immediate evidence of their astonishing critical thinking skills. The film’s critics affirm the necessity of moral-ethical conversations while simultaneously proving we’re capable of having them. This irony is ridiculous.

It’s also empowering.

Snag some motivation to “go write your way into controversy”…

Check it out and comment at the original post here.

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Using Words

“As long as I can, I will take what I feel, use it to face what I am able to know, find language, and write what I think must be written for the freedom and dignity of women.”


AndreaonCrete1966MI don’t agree with everything 
Andrea Dworkin has written, but this, yes. Yes.

Taken from “My Life As a Writer,” in Life and Death.

 

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On the obscene… from (the widely-censored) Henry Miller

The most insistent question put to the writer of “obscene” literature is: why did you have to use such language? […]

Someone has said that  “the literary artist, having attained understanding, communicates that understanding to his readers. That understanding, whether of sexual or other matters, is certain to come into conflict with popular beliefs, fears and taboos, because these are, for the most part, based on error.” […]

People who would be revolted by drawings in Ecce Homo will gaze unblushingly at African pottery or sculpture no matter how much their taste or morals may be offended. In the same spirit they are inclined to be more tolerant of the obscene works of ancient authors. Why? Because even the dullest are capable of admitting to themselves that other epochs might, justifiably or not, have enjoyed other customs, other morals. As for the creative spirits of their own epoch, however, freedom of expression is always interpreted as license. The artist must conform to the current, and usually hypocritical, attitude of the majority. He must be original, courageous, inspiring and all that – but never too disturbing. He must say Yes while saying No. […]

It was demanded of [mankind] to know love, experience union and communion, and thus achieve liberation from the wheel of life and death. But we have chosen to remain this side of Paradise […] In a profound sense we are forever delaying the act. We flirt with destiny and lull ourselves to sleep with myth. We die in the throes of our own tragic legends […] If there is anything which deserves to be called “obscene” it is this oblique, glancing confrontation with the mysteries, this walking up to the edge of the abyss, enjoying all the ecstasies of vertigo and yet refusing to yield to the spell of the unknown.

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sometimes, “staying together for the kids” needs to suck it

Note: I’m in a (long!) marriage that I love, and I don’t have kids. That said:

this will be greatMany of my friends are contemplating divorce. And I’ve noticed that, when kids are involved, a super-sized ever-present argument gets touted about how parents should “stick it out for the kids.” If you’ve experienced a more nuanced approach to divorce with kids, hooray. This blog isn’t for you. For the rest of us, imma punch the “stick it out” thing in the face.

The cultural assumption is that, if parents base their divorce decision on what’s best for their children, they’ll of course decide to stay together. Um.

As if kids are only or primarily benefitted by living with the same two people for 18 years, even if those people don’t like one another. Even if, and even if in subtle ways, those people routinely inflict emotional harm on one another. Even if those two people are never able to find fulfillment as human beings, and thus never able to model fulfillment-finding to their kids. As if no positive impact can possibly result from two adults’ divorce and subsequent happiness-finding. (And I’m not just talking about marriages that involve an abusive or addicted spouse.)

HOWDY KIDSI readily acknowledge that some couples consider divorce, decide to stay together “for the kids,” and find later that they’ve fallen in love again. That’s great! But it’s not the rule, so let’s move on. Of course divorce can be bad for kids. But so can staying together, for different – but equally significant – reasons. Let’s not make this simpler than it is.

Ultimately, good models for deep, respectful, fulfilling, intimate human relationships may be the best possible gifts a child can receive from her parents. So here’s this:

Dear Parents Considering Divorce,

Your children won’t be fooled by the fact that you live in the same house or sleep in the same bed. Instead, they will learn what to expect out of a relationship by watching yours. They’ll glean ideas about what they’re worthy of, what they should tolerate, what they’re allowed (and not allowed) to hope for, etc. Because of this, it’s possible that the best gift you can give your children is to model what it looks like to believe you’re worth being loved for your whole self, and not just for the sake of tradition, a promise, or some ideal familial construction. Sometimes, such modeling requires divorce. More than having everyone under one roof, it’s possible that your children will prefer to learn how to respect themselves and their dreams, by watching you do it.

xo,
tg

The ideal is of course that parents can be personally fulfilled and stay together. But when they can’t, we must admit that sometimes, it’s divorce that allows for possibilities, love, and fruitful Life Education for children. Sometimes, the best parenting move is to move on from a relationship that fails to model the potential inherent in human intimacy. Yes, children of toughing-it-out parents get a model of commitment, perseverance, and sacrifice, and this is worthy of respect. But let’s not pretend the “perseverance model” is automatically the one a child needs – or later appreciates – most.

hey kids! we hopeFor one thing, (this rarely gets heard), the choice to tolerate one another “for the kids” may turn into a Great Burden of Guilt that your children take up once they recognize the choice you made (and why). That’s too much for any child to have on her head, even if it takes her years to see it.

Two, the choice to “persevere and sacrifice” may model – disastrously – the idea that a longterm relationship is not a situation in which individuals can or should expect to be fully loved, fully respected, and/or fully themselves – at least not if they have kids.

I’m not saying that by choosing to stay together, parents are always and necessarily committing themselves to misery. In fact, there’s good reason to hope that couples at the brink of divorce can come back from it more loving, more respectful of one another, and able to present even more solid examples to their children of fulfillment, connection, vitality, and commitment. When this happens, it’s beautiful.

But when this isn’t possible, we must admit that children will suffer regardless. If parents divorce, the family is broken and life irrevocably disrupted. If parents instead “suck it up” in a hopeless situation, children grow up in the context of a relationship defined by mere functional co-parenting and personal martyrdom. Let’s not pretend the latter is unequivocally preferable.

The divorce + kids quandary is the grief-worthy result of broken-down love – of lives that shift, evolve, and/or cease to connect. It is complex and imprecise. We have to be wary of simplistic black/white notions of what it means to wrestle with love that isn’t working.

i just love an easy solutionDivorce is not always (or even often) the best solution. Sometimes it’s just the selfish, easy one. In such cases, marrieds should swallow our pride, work hard, get help, and press on. (So been there.) But we must also be willing to recognize when our perseverance isn’t yielding a healthier marriage. And if that sad point comes (here’s hoping it won’t), we must refuse simplistic solutions where kids are involved.

The suck-it-up-for-the-kids message is everywhere, and many parents have swallowed it blindly. So I’m agitating for nuance. Hear me roar. There’s remarkably little said about the negative impacts – on children – of parents’ forfeiture of a fulfilling intimate relationship… And of the positive impacts – on children – of parting ways. So:

I reject the assumption that divorce is always selfish,
that having a parent who actively pursues his/her personal fulfillment is a loss for his/her child (I find this notion particularly heinous),
and that parent-Togetherness is always best for a child.

I suggest that watching a parent esteem him or herself enough to work toward self-fulfillment, respectful intimacy, and a healthy partnership may be the best gift a child could receive. (How else will s/he learn that it’s possible? Or how to do it?)

When love is broken, children will be hurt – either via divorce or via f*cked up ideas about self-fulfillment and intimate relationships. In either case, these children will require healing. Let’s respect their inevitable aches enough to recognize they’re far from simple.

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Dear Parents. Stop Saying Miley Was Degrading Herself.

miley + miley

Okay. It’s true that many women who use their bodies to make money ARE degraded, by others or themselves. It’s true that many women don’t have a choice in this, and/or don’t believe they’re worth anything “better.” And our desire to change the socio-cultural situation for the benefit of such women is admirable, and necessary.

But we must not fool ourselves that any woman who uses her body sexually is motivated by low self-esteem or poor morals. This assumption is simply another way to dehumanize the woman while feeling good about ourselves. By expressing disappointment in Miley’s decision to “degrade herself,” we access a rush of moral, psychological, or even feminist superiority, which can feel great. But such superiority relies on a willful skirting of Cyrus’ intellect, agency, and personhood. How do we know that she has degraded herself? And how CAN we know, unless we allow the woman to be a person – and to speak for herself?

The assumption that any woman who uses her body sexually is diminished as a person is a sign of our ongoing dissociation of female sexuality from humanity and agency. If we perceive female sexuality as “dirty,” “impure,” and/or intended strictly for male enjoyment, then the viewing of it all out in the open, seemingly of a woman’s own volition, will be troubling to us.

And it’s this very perception of female sexuality that we must question – particularly in a culture that, for men, readily embraces desire, lust, and a “healthy sex-drive” as symptoms of being fully alive. For women, when publicly revealed, these are symptoms of debasement, slutty-ness, and embarrassment.

i shall take herWhen it comes to women, we tend to think, Obviously, this sexy-fied woman is incapable of thinking or speaking for herself. So I’ll assume I’m the more intelligent, self-esteemed, morally-sound person, and blindly project onto this woman the degradation I’d feel if I were in her place. I won’t ASK her, or leave room for the possibility that she thinks differently (let alone intelligently!) about her work. Instead, because she’s using her body in a sexual manner, I’ll assume she doesn’t know what she’s doing, doesn’t know who she is, doesn’t have good guidance, doesn’t have sound life goals, and certainly that she doesn’t have anything to tell me. In fact, I’ll assume she needs me. If only I could be her mentor!!

I’m not saying Cyrus was legitimately empowered, or that she was expressing her full agency as opposed to playing to the entertainment industry or to a sense of needing to shake off her Disney persona.
I’m just saying we don’t know. And we don’t seem to care to wonder.

It seems to me that, aside from transgressing cultural boundaries as a means of gaining media chatter, what Cyrus did on stage was: sing, dance, communicate a love of sex, touch herself sexually, touch others sexually, and make it clear that she’s a sexual being who’s sexually available. Men do this all the time, including on network TV, and no one blinks. Such men may be perceived as “sleazy” or as “douchebags,” but they’re not pitied. We don’t assume they lack control, agency, or brains. We don’t assume they need us.

We can’t know what led to Cyrus’ choices without treating her like a human being with a brain. That we assume her performance precludes humanity and intelligence – or removes her right to be perceived as a human being with thoughts – reveals volumes about our inability to reconcile a woman’s sexuality with her personhood.

A man can be overtly sexual, even sleazy, and yet be perceived by society as a human being who thinks for himself. I’m troubled that this is so rarely the case with women.

–> Idea time, hooray! <–
If you think Miley Cyrus’ performance was degrading, and if you also feel the need to discuss this with your children, consider describing your perception AS a perception, rather than speaking for someone you don’t know: “This would be degrading to me, and here’s why.” Consider communicating that, as a grown, successful woman, Miley Cyrus can make her own choices, and that we don’t know why she made this particular one. Don’t be afraid to say, “I wonder why she chose this? It’d be interesting to ask her, don’t you think?”
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I want to be numbered among the heretics

It’s the heretic who’s out without her jacket,
skirt above the knees, showing her bruises,
saying, I dare someone to say it’s okay. Try it.

The heretic won’t settle out of court,
dress suicide as martyrdom,
praise the impotence of silence.

It’s the heretic who spits out the communion wine
if it tastes of poison

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