Saturday, April 21, 2018

Rant of the Month: Appalling Selfishness and The Myth of “Emotional Labor”

The Big Stressful Yearly Event I referenced in last week’s “post” went off beautifully if I do say so myself, and I met my primary goal of not getting sick or shattering a bone prior to it. Maybe because of said BSYE I am especially sensitive to certain things right now, but I find myself increasingly perturbed by what I believe is becoming a pervasive trend: Appalling selfishness in the guise of self-liberty. I’ve noticed for some time articles about and references to something called “emotional labor," a term that is now used in certain circles to describe any act a woman performs for the good of another human being, including her own children. In fact, I found one particularly egregious article on a Website That Shall Not Be Named, listing no less than fifty ways “people expect emotional labor from women.” I was shocked to see things on this list that we used to consider just common human decency, such as being a good host to your out-of-town guests, supporting your colleagues, mentoring the young, brokering conflict peacefully, helping your neighbors in need, and taking responsibility for your social behavior. I find it alarming that basic acts of human decency are now demonized as “emotional labor.”

Before I go on to rant about the general culture of selfishness, I want to address more specifically the way that the term “emotional labor” is used in reference to women, mostly because I’m sick of seeing whiny articles about it by women who are seemingly incapable of sticking up for themselves, lamenting how tired and put-upon they are because of expectations that they perform emotional labor. I consider my traditionally “feminine” qualities, such as a desire for interpersonal harmony, concern for other’s well-being, empathy, and the impulse to help those in need to be strengths. I resent that the acts which stem from these qualities are being demeaned with the condescending label of “emotional labor,” as if I have no agency over how I choose to move through the world. I'm not blindly reacting to "societal expectations"--I'm acting from a place of authentic desire to nurture others. If women are tired, put-upon and unfairly overburdened, first of all, welcome to life on Planet Earth, and secondly, the issue does not lie with our impulse to nurture, it lies with our lack of boundary-setting. We are either free and autonomous humans, or we are not. The last time I checked, women are pretty darn free in American society, and presumably at liberty to set boundaries, ask for support, and decide for ourselves if and when it’s appropriate to put our own needs above others. We are not helpless victims of so-called societal expectations, most of which I’m convinced women make up themselves anyway. Somehow, I just don’t believe there is a cabal of men in a shady back room, puffing on cigars and plotting all the ways in which society shall deem to siphon off the lion’s share of women’s emotional energy. They’re too busy being similarly tired, put-upon and unfairly overburdened.

On the heels of all of this, I came across another article entitled “Goodbye to the Tyranny of Thank You Notes”, all about how haaaaaarrrrd and inconvenient it is to dash off a few sentences of thanks to the person who took time out of their day to thoughtfully pick out a gift for you, wrap it nicely, and deliver it to your self-aggrandizing party. Further fueling my ire was a story I heard about a comedian presenter at an awards banquet who basically ripped the entire event to shreds and made the whole thing all about him and the petty suffering having to present the awards caused him. Presumably, he was paid to do this and agreed to it, but instead of honoring the event and being respectful, he chose to make it a platform to showcase his sarcastic “wit,” with no consideration to how this was going to make the award recipients feel. Nonetheless, this comedian was hailed as some sort of pop culture folk hero, because it’s so funny to crap all over people who work hard and just want one night out of the year to celebrate their successes.

I get it. The id is a powerful thing. It’s hard to not be a hedonistic jerk. Putting our own immediate desires aside and exercising emotional self-control requires discipline and sometimes even a little bit of sacrifice. It’s inconvenient to think about the needs and feelings of others. It requires energy and thoughtfulness and effort, and none of that is fun or self-glorifying. But when I start seeing articles describing the expectation of thank-you notes as “tyrannical,” it sets off my Impending Breakdown of Society alarm bells. It’s extremely disheartening that the long-standing and once sacred tenant of being decent and charitable towards others is now considered a tool of oppression.

So please, everyone—women and men alike--RSVP to invitations in a timely manner, write your thank-you notes, extend a helping hand to your neighbor, and be a gracious host to your guests. I know those things are a drag and a bummer and a dreadful burden, but frankly, we don’t have much more to hang onto right now, and I’m getting a pretty worried about what will happen when they go.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Emotional Bubble Dome, Minecraft Haiku

Every year around this time, at least one of my posts references The Big Stressful Yearly Event that I run every year around this time. The last two years, just before the BSYE, some physical calamity or another has befallen me—last year, I was death sick and only got through emceeing it thanks to half a bottle of Dayquil and an Echinacea drip, and the year before I threw my back out so badly that I could barely stand up. This year, I am determined not to get sick or otherwise damage a major body part, and as such, I have been trying to keep my stress levels down….waaaaay, waaay down. I’ve limited my exposure to the news, run through my checklists repeatedly, told myself it’s all about it having fun and that no one will notice small mistakes, and visualized the venue looking   beautiful, complete with joyful, happy guests. This weekend, I stayed cloistered indoors to avoid any incidental exposure to roving cold germs, listened to the “Spa Heaven” Pandora station, and played hours of Minecraft. In other words, I’ve enclosed myself in an emotional bubble dome, with only the whack of a pick ax and the whistle of a pan flute for company. I like it here, and I don’t want to leave.

They say write what you know, so here for your poetic pleasure are some Minecraft-based haikus. That’s about all I can manage for a post today, after all, I am a delicate little hot house flower this week and must not strain myself in any way. Enjoy!


Peacefully fishing   
Suddenly, an explosion!
Damnable Creeper.


Weird priest villagers
Trade for ghastly zombie flesh
Precious emeralds.


Hark! Sunset is nigh
Yet I am far from my bed.
Run from the spider!


So much cobblestone
So little room in my trunk.
Time for a new house!


In deep underground
I seek the rarest diamonds  
Damn! Death by lava.

Also, here is an unrelated funny video (to make up for the lack of actual post content,) which brilliantly summarizes how I feel about the current state of tech start-ups:


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Grand Unified Theory of Craft-Based Niceness, Also, Am I Too Stupid for Video Games?

I would like to address the video game question first. Having grown weary of the gloom, snow, and general hardscrabble-ness of Skyrim’s ancient Norway, I decided to temporarily trade it in for the gloom, snow and general hardscrabble-ness of 1850’s London when the game “Thief” recently went on sale through Steam. And boy, do I feel stupid. It took me a full hour to play through Thief’s twenty-minute tutorial. Then, I fumbled halfway through the first chapter before going back to replay the entire tutorial again, replete with a furrowed brow and an online keyboard-control guide at the ready. I’m still not fully in the swing of it. I keep accidentally shooting off water arrows when I don’t need to and getting caught doing perfectly innocent things like sneaking into a jewelry store after hours (just in case I wanted to find something nice for my lady-friend, okay? Geez. It doesn’t all have to be nefarious.) The whole venture made me wonder if age, stress, and overindulgence in processed meat products has at last made me too stupid for video games. Could it be that I have finally risen to level of my own incompetence and am now doomed to play only Bejeweled and Mahjong? I suppose it’s no matter. My general incompetence aside, “Thief” is actually a very decent game. It’s got great voice acting, beautiful visuals, and a solid story line, although you wouldn’t know it from the whiny, teeth-gnashing reviews dashed off by the die-hard classic “Thief” fans who reviled it on Steam for no good reason. I’ve decided gamers are crazy, myself included, although I still don’t think I’m fully qualified to call myself a “gamer.” Also, Mr. Typist totally Game-Mansplained me when he pointed out that the reason I got caught by the guards after-hours in the jewelry store was because I was “running around in there like a bull on crack.” Phtt. Whatever, dude. Just go back to your Minecraft and leave me alone.

That indulgence out of the way, I think I have found the key to world peace and the end of war: Crafting! I got some much-overdue and much-needed “chick time” with my dear friend Frankie last week, during which we fully nerded-out on all things crafty, including her new, gloriously-addicting Addi Express knitting machine, for which I practically ignored her in favor of during my entire visit. (Sorry, Frankie! You know I love you, but…damn…that Addi knitting machine is quite the mistress.) Frankie was very understanding, though, and let me leave with a random, round, sock-like concoction which I have no idea what to do with, but which I am inordinately proud of having made with my own two hands on her machine. Then, I came home and found a Facebook invite to a punch-rug hobby group from Frankie. And, OMG—these are the nicest, sweetest, and most supportive people I have ever encountered. I don’t know what their political affiliation is, nor do I care (having no absolutely no political affiliation of my own anymore anyway), and I don’t care about their world view or who they voted for. I just know that they are all great fans of the delicate art of punch-rug making, and super-supportive. Every photo of a work-in-progress gets hundreds of likes, and all anyone wants to talk about is the intricacies of yarn and cloth and needle calibration. It’s glorious. It makes me think that if people could only strive to bond over shared joys rather than shared grievances, the world would become a better place very quickly. So please, everyone—reach out to those who share your hobbyist joys, and let that be your guide to friendship, bonding, and the oncoming of world peace. 

--Kristen McHenry