Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why do smart women defend schmucks?

I've been reading all this stuff over at Feministe about this Hugo Schwyzer person (with whom I wasn't familiar before this), and my first reaction was annoyance and dismay at seeing several women (feminists, even!) defend someone who, to me, comes across as a narcissistic schmuck. To be fair, most people there are *not* defending him, but I was unhappy that some still were. Why would women do this? I asked myself.

And then I had to admit, I've done it too. Not online, but in "real life," which is arguably worse. I've known some narcissistic schmucks in my time, and some of them immediately disgusted me, while others I befriended and defended. They could be such nice guys, you see. They were in a lot of pain, you see. But most of all, if I am to be completely honest, it was about how much they seemed to like me. Using flattery to charm people is a really basic charmer tactic which should be obvious, but I have certainly had blind spots in this area when I was the one being flattered. It seems Mr. Schwyzer does help some feminist women promote their own work, and I could see how after receiving that kind of assistance could make one less able to see Mr. Schwyzer's flaws. [It is important to note the huge heap of privilege that put Mr. Schwyzer in such a position to "help" others, because, no, I don't think it's just luck or brilliance that gave him such a relatively big platform.]

There's also the fact that Mr. Schwyzer claims to have reformed from a past that included womanizing and addiction. And I will say that forgiveness is a big part of my personal value system, so I don't think he should necessarily be written off for his past. The problem, as I see it, is that although he may be sober, he is still locked in this dynamic of trying to get adoring female attention and causing harm while doing so. Which is not very feminist.

So, while my first instinct was to join the chorus of "he sucks and you suck if you defend him," I'm trying instead to find a lesson in this (blame it on that Dalai Lama book I just read!). Here are some things I think are helpful, at least for me, in the quest to NOT be a schmuck-defender:

1) Take praise graciously, but with a grain of salt. Humans are social creatures, and if feels good when we or are work is admired by others, and that's fine. It can help give us the confidence to keep moving forward. But it isn't everything. Constructive criticism can be more helpful in terms of actual improvement. And consider the motives of the person giving the praise.

2) Forgive when possible, but don't excuse or forget. And if you want others' forgiveness, know that simply admitting the wrongs you did and feeling ashamed are not heroic acts you deserve a medal for. You don't even "deserve" the forgiveness of those you wronged. That is their decision. And then, regardless of whether you are forgiven, making amends is an active, ongoing process that doesn't end with the confession. If someone keeps apologizing while continuing their harmful behavior, call them on it, and/or remove them from your life, depending on the situation. People CAN change, and they probably need the feedback of caring but firm people to help them continue to grow. They do not need ego-stroking or to be placed in situations that will tempt them to revert to old behavior patterns (like Mr. Schwyzer's job teaching young women).

3) Examine your own internalized misogyny. This is a big one for me. I can definitely not claim to be free of the desire for male approval. I need to actively remind myself that a compliment from a man is not more valuable than a compliment from a woman. It's OK for certain men not to like me. Men don't deserve "extra credit points." It sounds ridiculous, but it's old programming I still have to fight.

4) Avoid being a schmuck by working to eliminate defensiveness. This is a huge, huge one for me. When I'm criticized, I sometimes catch myself forming my rebuttal even before the other person gets through a sentence. My husband has called me on this before. Most of the narcissistic schmucks I've known had very well constructed walls of denial built around themselves, so not even the tiniest reproach could get through. I don't want to be like this. So I think it's key to listen to criticism from people who care about me. Not random jerks or abusive people or whatever. But people who care about me have an outside perspective on me, which I can never have. I don't always have to think they're 100% correct, but I should at least listen and give it some thought.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


We're on a soup-for-dinner diet. I decided to do this in the hopes that it might counteract any holiday treat-eating. And also because the ingredients tend to be cheap. And also because most soup recipes feed us for at least two days, so I don't have to cook something new every day.

I figure I'll stick with it until we get sick of it.

So far I've made a curried red lentil and butternut squash soup, split pea soup, minestrone, and mafe (African peanut stew). We usually have homemade bread too (I have a bread machine and make a whole wheat flax bread).

I sometimes joke that I'm going to write a book called "Eat Like A Peasant," which will be all about staying healthy by eating rice and beans and soup, etc. Hey, if people want to eat like cavemen, maybe they'd go for eating like peasants, right?

(And if the first book was successful, I'd then write "Parent Like A Peasant," because I get so annoyed with the suggestion that only rich people should have kids, when many rich kids I knew had not-so-great parents and turned into depressed and annoying brats. But I digress.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Can't buy me love

I'm doing home-study courses for my massage CEUs this year. The CEU credits are required every year to renew my massage license. Usually I take hands-on classes, which have given me many useful new techniques over the years. This year, I can't be away from Anton for all of the hours a hands-on class would entail, so home-study it is. If I'd been smart, I would have done this while I was pregnant, because it's hard even to find time to read these days!

Anyway, part of my reading material is this book by the Dalai Lama, Ethics For The New Millennium. Here's a passage I especially enjoyed:

Compassion and love are not mere luxuries. As the source of both inner and external peace, they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species. On the one hand, they constitute non-violence in action. On the other, they are the source of all spiritual qualities: of forgiveness, tolerance, and all the virtues. Moreover, they are the very thing that gives meaning to our activities and makes them constructive. There is nothing amazing about being highly educated; there is nothing amazing about being rich. Only when the individual has a warm heart do these attributes become worthwhile.

I am tired of being told I should admire people simply because they have achieved some level of monetary success. The current economic disaster was caused by unchecked greed. I don't want to be another person who obsesses over money and status. I sometimes get caught up in thinking about things I could do with more money, and while that's not always a bad thing, it can make me feel inadequate and frustrated. It's important to remember what really matters.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fancy vegan

I turned 31 yesterday, and celebrated with the most decadent vegan food I've ever eaten, at Feelings Cafe's Vegan Fine Dining Festivals of Light event. It was a happy coincidence that it happened to take place on my birthday, and that my friend Cate found out about it and passed the info along to me.

Being vegan in Louisiana means cooking at home a lot, or having the occasional meal out of ethnic food or diner-type stuff. That's cool with me for the most part, but I must admit I occasionally miss my pescatarian/vegetarian days, when I could eat at Galatoire's if I wanted to (and had the money...which was rare, but did happen a few times).

The chef at Feelings definitely went for fancy with her meal, which included lentil "caviar" and an entree (fried hearts of palm stuffed with cashew cheese) so rich that it was hard to believe it was vegan. But my favorite part of the meal was what she called "Sri Lankan Borscht." It was a Linkpureed, bisque-type thing (sorry, I'm not so up on the foodie lingo), which was interesting for a borscht. It also had some Indian spices in there, and crispy little fried curry leaves. I could eat that stuff every day. I might have to fool around in my kitchen and attempt to recreate something similar.

It was also, of course, wonderful to have a nice dinner with my husband, without Anton watching and shrieking from his bouncy seat until one of us gave in and held him while attempting to eat one-handed. Ahem. Anton was with his grandma, and apparently decided it was finally time to drink pumped milk from a bottle without fussing and protesting. Good timing, kid.