Every year, the EDGE Foundation seeks out “the most complex and sophisticated minds” and asks them a single question. Since we, at the Bureau, consider our minds to be both complex and sophisticated, we decided to take a crack at this year’s question: What have you changed your mind about? Why?
I used to think feminism was really stupid. That might sound odd for a woman to say, but I don’t think that it’s unusual for men and women in my age group to agree. I was of the opinion that the Women’s Rights Movement was over and done with. I’m glad it happened, but get over it. I am treated equally to males in school, work, and social situations.
That said there are many times when I feel unsafe or threatened just because I am a woman. Almost every time I am walking alone in the dark (and sometimes in daylight), I am honked at or yelled at in a way that makes my adrenaline overload. I form a fist in one hand, have my phone ready in the other, and quicken my pace. To the best of my knowledge, this does not happen often to men. I discussed the “honking at girls” fetish with a male classmate in high school who liked to do this. He described it as a way to let a woman know you thought they were attractive, and he didn’t think it was a big deal.
For one, how do you even know if it’s a woman in the dark and how can you tell what she looks like? Secondly, it is an extremely threatening gesture to honk and yell at a woman or group of women. Do you think this behavior makes me wish you’d pull over so I can give you my phone number?
After experiencing yet another honking episode while walking home alone from a friend’s last night, I began to think about my level of independence. I would have felt much safer if I had been walking with a male friend. I realize it’s common sense to always walk with a friend or group in the dark, but it annoys the hell out of me that it might not be so necessary if I weren’t a girl.
If you’re a honker, you should quit it. As for feminism, I’m considering joining up.
Universal Health Care
I used to think that free health care was a silly idea. The costs would weigh down our economy, burdened by an aging, retired population. It’s currently a problem in Europe.
But as it stands now, our health care system is bloated, and unless we put the squeeze on providers, we’ll never see an affordable trip to the doctor’s office.
Maybe it’s the focus health care reform has received from this presidential race, the influence of Michael Moore’s surprisingly convincing documentary Sicko, or my own selfish fear of losing my paycheck to COBRA when I graduate from college, but I suddenly find it ridiculous that the United States is the only developed economy that doesn’t guarantee health care as a right of citizenship.
I suppose this doesn’t resolve the fact that Europe’s elderly carry a heavy financial burden on the working population, but our neighbors across the Atlantic seem to be doing just fine regardless. And there’s probably something inherently backwards when we see keeping people alive as a problem.
Fiction is Essential and Relevant
As a college student I’ve had a lot of time to consider my English literature major (which I dropped just recently). In the beginning, I had justified the study of fiction as one of extreme importance—that the literary canon contained the secrets of existence and truth, if I could only read them all. My hesitance towards this viewpoint began to wane as I was subjected to literary criticism. To be a literary critic means to examine a work with extreme detail; I have been taught that every word and comma is critical in meaning and expression. At the same time I had an impending sense of irrelevance when reading about how Sarah Orne Jewett’s A Country of the Pointed Firs is a curious expression of empire and racial purity. I shrugged off the notion, but with each new class, the feeling resurged, stronger than before. I slunk further into my chair, weighed down by a wasting sense of irrelevance.
I eventually had to confront it. Why is fiction—namely classic, canonized fiction—so essential and worthy of obsessive study?
I came to realize that fiction isn’t imperative or relevant: I don’t need to read everything to achieve a state of Howard Bloomian wisdom. This change of mind was refreshing and a lifted burden. Instead, fiction has become something purely aesthetic: There is nothing essential in determining literary themes—it’s simply the self-extracted meaning that remains. It’s not about character or plot but the self-created sense of significance that determines worth. When you finish a novel, all that remains is the quiet conversation between you and the work. Once I understood the necessity of finding my own significance in a work—whether meaningful or not—the clumsy trappings of literary criticism left me. That sense of literary duty that has undermined me for so long has left.
Instead of persecuting a work in pursuit of its significance, I am free.