On Being a Chicken Vegetarian

Much like this pokemon, I trained to be a vegetarian.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year now. It’s been a long 2-year struggle, where I evolved from a weekend vegetarian, to weekday, to full time. Even now, I go weak at the knees for tuna fish and sushi. I decided to make this lifestyle change, at first because I had a partner who encouraged me, and then, when I moved to Atlanta, I committed 100% (give or take 30%) to no-meat meals.

There are loads of reasons why I changed my diet: to prove that I could, to eat consciously, to be healthy, to lose weight, to be Green, for animal rights, because obesity runs in the family, for my well being, to stave off cancer/heart disease/diabetes, to save money, to protest animal factory farms, because vegetarians have higher IQs, and more…

Oh, there’s that reason, too.

When people ask me why I chose to be a vegetarian, my brain lights up. I pull any one of those answers from a hat and sell my story. Then the meat-headed investigation: How do you get your protein? I hear that’s really unhealthy. I love meat too much! I’m a natural meat-eater. Are you healthy? How can you do that? Do you eat turkey? No… I’m serious… can you eat turkey? I answer these questions to the best of my ability and cross my fingers that said individuals don’t ask me about my thoughts on Vegan lifestyles. If you think the intolerance for vegetarians is judgmental, I pity the soft-hearted vegans.

I DARE you to call him a hippie…

Regardless of how prepared I am for these questions, my face will always flush, I feel flustered and frustrated, and stutter my way through a response. I have no confidence, whatsoever, when it comes to defending my choice. This insecurity is a little unfamiliar to me, an active, queer, feminist, liberal arts graduate student. Where’s my pride? Where’s my fire? Why am I so anxious about being judged for my diet, of all things?

Eating, in general, makes me nervous. What I eat, the amount I eat, how long I eat, how I make my food, what I make my food with, snacking, gorging, nomming, starving…the whole process makes me hands so clammy that I can hardly hold my cutlery. These feelings come from my parents, for the most part: my mother is a picky eater and my father has been on every diet that was ever published in a book, all of which he owns. Since I’ve become a vegetarian, though, my diet has made me feel less like a loser: I only eat ONE sleeve of oreos, I cook and bake most of my foods, switched from canola/vegetable oil to slighter amounts of olive oil, discovered the beauty of tofu and shallots. I love cooking now like I had never loved it before.

My favorite vegetarian bible book thus far, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, is home to favorite food-quote: “Stories about food are stories about us—our history and our values.” This puts me at ease, because I feel as if I’ve begun a new chapter. I want to write a meaningful story with my food, and the past year was filled with a lot of french fry fights, drive-by cheese shootings, cookiebrowniecupcake craves, and plenty, PLENTY of cheeseburger desires. I can’t shake off my intense want for certain meat foods. Lately, all I can think about is diving into a pool of corndogs. But that can be part of my food-story, where I approach a carnival-feast mountain and choose to go around it instead of climbing up and sinking in.

A Night at the Opera

Thanks for the parking lot pizzas

A few nights ago, I woke up at 3.30 in the morning to chants of “USA! USA! USA!,” a fight about a spilled drink, and the sound of voices that all together hummed like a swarm of tracker jackers. Wednesday night was College Night at the ever-so-famous Opera club; this being the week before the universities start up again, the club was packed with 18+ -year-olds. On the one hand, these nights are the hellacious reason why I never get a full night’s sleep Wednesday through Saturday. The fights, the shouts, the traffic, and the police lights all add up at about 3.00 in the morning and do not release me to sleep until 4.30, when the garbage truck makes its daily rumble through the ally.

On the other hand, club culture fascinates me. I am not really one to go clubbing unless it’s with my friends—I’m known for my wild and choreographed fits of fist bumps combined with bunny hops. But the clubs here in Atlanta are serious business and not the place to run your shopping cart moves or “Working on the farm” dance routine. No, the women get dressed up in outfits that must be stitched into their legs to keep them from riding up and the men never really seemed interested in dancing, only watching. The drinks are beyond expensive, the cover charge only applies to the modestly dressed women and every single man, and the music at one club competes with the music from another as if their respective DJ are kickboxing each other in the very street that divides them.

After a quick search on my library’s website, I realized that clubbing is far more complex than going out and dancing your woes away. Gender, race, sexuality, and class constructs are being built, challenged, then re-built, even as the clubbers wait in line. Men and women are expected to act a certain way, agreeing to a kind of unspoken exchange: that if a woman prepares herself in such a way that pleases the men, she gets the opportunity to have her night paid for. The men, in turn, vie for the distinction of being the least creepy guy there (an academic term, I’m sure) and entertain the women with dancing, anecdotes, treats, etc.

Several of the articles go on to discuss female subjugation and the degradation to women in this exchange; but if anything, it might be an uneven deal in favor of women. Since the early 1900s, women went to dance clubs dressed in the best their pitiful wages could afford them and sought out men to buy them food, drinks, and tickets with their still-pitiful-but-at-least-twice-as-much-wages, so that they could all participate in a popular culture.* They drew inspiration for their outfits, hairstyles and make-up, dance moves, and attitudes from a variety of sources, including the high-Victorian ladies, brothel houses, or across class lines. Over 100 years later, this is still a tradition perpetuated by this club culture. “Ladies Free of Charge,” “Ladies Nights,” and an atmosphere that encourages women to hook up with men were as typical of clubs in 1903 as in 2012, even though women now are making significantly more money (let’s compare the $.16 made in CA in 1916 to the $8.00 in 2008… you can’t even buy a caramel at the Walgreen’s with $.16). This implies that they are more capable than ever of buying their own drinks, covering their own admissions; they no longer need to rely on their partners to finance a night of booty shaking and regrettable facebook pictures.

Drop it, drop it low, ladies

I know this is probably a fantastically over-optimistic way of looking at a culture that puts the female body on display, reduced to a piece of curvacious meat; that encourages sexual abuse and rape (BFD, right Todd Akin?!); promotes hetero-norm social laws, slut shaming, and a generally distorted and big-bosomed image of what femininity ought to look and act like. I am still amazed that these age-old traditions persist. While we seek to close the pay-gap between men and women in the work force, social behavior still seems to be leaps and bounds behind rhetoric when it comes to gender equity. “Anything you can do, I can pay for, too” appears as an unlikely slogan for the next pussy riot.

Don’t Buy Me a Drink: Girls and the Guys Who Buy Them Stuff

I'm good. Thanks though, T Pain!

We all know I’m kind of a feminist, even though I’m as reluctant to admit that as I am to admit that I kind of love ABC’s latest well-produced skim-latte froth of rhinestone twangin’ television, GCB. So it’s hardly a surprise that Kat and I have had an ongoing discussion about a classic topic of feminist whinging for about a month now: the eternal conundrum of men buying you stuff.

The discussion pivots on two particular conversations. The first occurred when I mentioned that I’d met a guy I was, in the parlance of our times, hollerin’ at. “Make sure you get him to buy you dinner first!” Kat warned. The second occurred when I mentioned I was looking forward to getting drunk that night, because it was a day ending in y. “What you need to do is get guys to buy you drinks,” Kat said. I know Kat means well, and she was only trying to help me have fun and drink cheap. But in the pursuit of making girls and guys treat each other with a little less awfulness, I’m curious about the effect of these default assumptions.

Our first conversation negotiated the assumption that a guy should buy a girl dinner before trying to get her out of her sparkly tissue of a dress. Kat probably meant that a girl should get to know a guy better — by eating a meal with him, perhaps — before taking him home with her.  The idea that a dude should plonk down some cash before leaning in and puckering up is hardly uncommon. It’s present in the second situation that triggered our debate: implying that I should use a man’s generosity to chase a buzz when I can very well buy my own drinks reinforces the assumption that guys should buy pretty girls things, basically for no reason.

By implying a guy should buy you dinner before going in for a kiss frames a really backward kind of transaction in regards to women and their ability to want sex and choose it rationally. You are never obligated to sleep with anyone in any situation you don’t clearly, distinctly want. And okay, maybe a guy is trying to get you to like him by being nice and buying you a drink. But by subscribing to the idea that he is obligated to buy you something before you can be expected to kiss him back is kind of like him thinking he shouldn’t have to marry you unless you have a dowry of silver spoons and blanket chests to bring with you into the marriage.

That's nice of you, but I can buy my own drinks.

The problem here is not magnanimous guys who buy a round for the table, or non-sexual or non-romantic relationships. Buying drinks for each other is awesome! But a woman should be able to want sex, say it, and get it without the man buying her anything — or her friends telling her she’s easy because she didn’t get a $12 salad in addition to the main course (if you know what I mean). If you are interested in the guy, you shouldn’t manipulate him into buying you things just because it’s in your arsenal of feminine whiles. If you aren’t interested in a guy and you let him buy you a drink, you are reinforcing the idea that women are conniving, unkind, and only want sex if it’s about something else.

The assumption goes that girls can only want sex if it will make a guy date them, or if it will make a guy tell them they are pretty, or if it will make a guy buy them shit. One of the most important tasks of feminism is to challenge the idea that sex for women is always about something other than sex. It’s a pervasive assumption — one that is, stated frankly, demeaning and backward and wrong. A man does not need to buy you a drink before you can want him. In addition to making sex a capitalist transaction, it also robs a woman of her ability to want sex without everyone thinking she really wants love/validation/a free salad.

You Don’t Complete Me

Be your own whole sandwich.

I can’t help but feel a little disappointed when someone I’ve just met almost immediately starts rambling about the person they’re dating. “Really?” I think, “Have we already run out of things to talk about? How is it that I don’t know what you went to school for but I know that you’ve been with your boyfriend for five months and that he works as a data analyst?” To me these people are saying that the most interesting thing about them is their relationship status, which defines them more than their career, hobbies, or passions.  If I’m describing you right now, I’m sorry. But I’m also telling you to stop, just stop.

Don’t get me wrong, I think being in love is amazing. I think being excited about love is amazing! I love to hear all about my friends’ relationships and crushes, but then I already know that they prefer burritos to tacos and that Circus is their favorite Britney Spears album. If you’re dating someone, by all means talk about it. Just don’t make it the only thing you talk about, and please never refer to your partner as your “other half,” or worse yet, your “better half.” With no disrespect to Plato, living your life as though you have another half out there to complete you, and treating your relationships accordingly, is a sure way to get heartbroken, not only by your lovers but by your own expectations. This “other half” nonsense is just a romantic coverup for some serious codependency. In high school I watched the movie Me Without You, and the only thing I remember about it was Anna Friel cry-screaming the title. “There’s no me without you,” she sobbed to Michelle Williams and I froze.

That resonated with me. I had someone that there was no me without, someone I was hopelessly in teenage-love with. When we were getting along, I was happy. When we fought, I wasn’t just devastated. I was broken. I’d spend my day in a daze, trying to figure out how to make things better between us, willing to do anything for that cause. It took me years (years!) to realize it wasn’t real love, that it wasn’t even romantic. I had no identity beyond this relationship, which was unhealthy and frankly, probably made me boring as hell. I wouldn’t have loved me back either. In fact, that was the problem. I didn’t love me so I depended on someone else to do it for me. Now I see friends and strangers doing the same thing, becoming half a person to accommodate someone else. Again I say: Stop, just stop. You are your own, very whole, probably kick-ass, person. You don’t need to prove your worth by bragging about how someone totally likes you likes you, and you certainly don’t need anyone to complete you.

Ke$ha! Or, How I Learned To Love The Glitter Bomb

No matter who you are, hearing the name Ke$ha brings a very distinct picture to your brain. Based on what I’ve heard from my intellectual counterparts, most people with any taste in music see her as lacking depth due to her promotion of nonsensical partying and total debauchery. There may be some truth to the argument that K$ (K-dollar, as I lovingly call her) is just another pop star playing to the masses to make a buck, but I tend to think there is something deeper going on there. It just takes some work to see it.

Ke$ha was raised in LA by a single mother, Pebe Sebert, living off food stamps and welfare until they relocated to Nashville, where Pebe, a singer-songwriter, found success in the country music scene. Ke$ha wasn’t a Mouseketeer or Star Search contestant like her pop icon counterparts. She didn’t weasel her way into the spotlight by appearing on MTV reality shows or getting a tattoo on LA: Ink. She built her career off of co-writing some of the biggest pop hits of the last 5 years, not by making a sex tape or being the heir to one of America’s famous fortunes. Ke$ha got her start by making demos with her mom in their apartment in Nashville and passing them around to producers—the old school way of breaking into the music industry.

Ke$ha claims the title of songwriter above all else. When you really listen to Ke$ha’s lyrics, they aren’t the most intelligently-worded bits of poetry, but they say some really important things, aside from it’s okay to wake up in unknown front yards sometimes or throw up in the occasional stranger’s closet. They say things like, “We R Who We R.” I know that phrase is grammatically problematic and isn’t spelled with every letter it deserves, but it asks the listener to tell the world they deserve to be who they want to be in very few words. It promotes letting go of the world’s expectations of you and living by your own, even if that might mean brushing your teeth with a bottle of Jack everyday. Who are we to say that Ke$ha shouldn’t live her life that way? Frankly, it seems to be working out for her.

Her lyrics don’t appeal to us because they are smart. They are catchy phrases that the masses can relate to, even when others have said the same thing in more complex and sophisticated language. Even though it is simplified, the message is still relevant and important. Who ever said her intent was to appeal to the intellectual? Why does everything need to be held up to that standard? If it isn’t Nitchze, is it garbage?

Ke$ha never claimed to be anything other than what she is: a glitter glam pop princess with natural 20-something desires to party and push boundaries. She promotes sexual confidence, being comfortable in your skin and, most importantly, “not giving a fuck” what the world thinks of you. Her fan base just happens to appreciate the encouragement in simpler words than Proust or Rilke can offer. I’m a 25 year-old college grad. I’ve read Rilke and Proust. But Ke$ha’s music has still cultivated a confidence that allows me to let go of myself and dance more freely than those dudes’ musings ever did. Her lyrics have taught me that in the scheme of living up to the world’s expectations, I should have no fucks to give as long as I am making choices that foster self-expression and don’t hurt anyone.