Jared A Muscat
Over the 2008 – 2009 school year I had the distinct privilege of working alongside some of the most intelligent and dedicated individuals at UC San Diego. Their passion, commitment, wisdom, and work ethic amazed me and inspired something within me that I hadn’t yet been able to find. Now for the unexpected part, at least if you are a typical US citizen and are like me, a white guy: these colleagues, the ones who best impressed and inspired me were women.
My mother rose me from a young age to respect and treat women in the sincerest of manners. I know that is a bit cliche, but it is the history of my life, and thus needs to be stated and explained. She told me every little important anecdote that a young man needs to find the woman of his dreams. I mean the small things from, “always open the door for a lady,” to the most important and necessary, like, “remember that a woman is a human, and she is just as smart, if not more so.”
From my first girlfriend in 2nd grade to the anonymous student I opened the door for in between meetings, my mom’s messages have remained embedded into my brain and my actions. I have always made it not only a point to follow these actions and these lessons, but to make certain it they were noticed (I needed to make certain Momason saw).
I keep this up because you would have to be a complete idiot to say that the day-to-day living of men and women in modern (or any era) US culture is equal. It’s harder for women, both physically and mentally. If you don’t agree, I’ve got gloves. Meet me at the flag pole, 4: 30 pm. So, the majority of my colleagues are attractive females whom I see as incredible activists and role models, holding them in an echelon I very rarely place humans, and have held true to everything my mom taught me…I am an incredible feminist! Right?
Well, let’s explore that, shall we?
As I said, the majority of my colleagues are women. In fact in one organization I work as a part of, the core team consists of 10 students, only 3 (myself included) of which are male. Add to that the fact that the 3 the interns I work with are all female as well…and you begin to see the point. Or, just to prove it one step further, in another organization, one of our main functioning bodies features one male…myself. All these women are the most incredible humans you could imagine: wise, loving, passionate, determined, positive, friendly, the list goes on. But, then I walk through the rest of my day, and things get a bit interesting.
I could write this article for about 200 pages, which I might do some day, but for this moment I will refrain. I will simply break down my most rehearsed and meaningful day-to-day activities (outside of the necessities: eat, sleep, drink): surfing, music, and literature.
First, music. I don’t have musical talent outside of having hips that can move to any rhythm you throw at me and the flexibility to back it. That said, music is my day’s happiness. It is quite often that the first task of my day revolves around selecting the most perfect song to set my day’s course. So, let’s look at these musicians: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Grateful Dead, Zeppelin, the Cold War Kids, Matt Costa, the Shins, Seth Petterson, the Mattson 2…all white, all men.
So what? Why the pattern? Why does it matter? These are not bad musicians unworthy of the honor of getting me out of bed. They are all geniuses in their own form. But, you could definitely say it is interesting that I just stated music is the one thing which I control all day every day, so it must be relevant that I am mainly listening to white dudes. And that some are influences outside of just their musical talent (they hang on the wall).
And so, how did it get like this? To start, most of my friends from growing up are white guys; I grew up in an upper middle class family in Catholic school. My parents were in love with Bruce Springsteen and Simon & Garfunkel. Someone once told me that rap had bad lyrics, less soulful at least. Then took me to a high school dance with modern pop music and priests standing on the edge watching out for the naughty girls. And, I am white. But wait…I listen to all sorts of other stuff. I love reggae, love jazz, a women’s voice is perhaps my true favorite, and no matter what they say, I like Michael Jackson’s music. In fact, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix are on some walls of the apartment, hell Earth Wind & Fire are front and center in the living room. Let me check the vinyl player to see what I last listened to, hang on a sec…o rad, the Grateful Dead.
The point being this: my main music interests happen to be white males. Why? For all intents and purposes it is because of the culture I grew up in, these were the artists that were tossed at me at a young age and they were the music styles I first enjoyed. I was told these were the great musicians and decided that it was true. I didn’t look too much when I was young, I was more concerned with understanding the lyrics of Springsteen and Neil Young than I was in finding new music. Then, in high school I found some underground rap. Since then I have worked to expand my musical library and become well versed in the beautiful music of the world. Not in an attempt to leave the white man behind, but rather to listen to more, to be captivated by more, to understand more of the world.
All that said. There is something to be said for the fact that my favorite musicians, the ones I have sketched out and listened to more times than any other, are all white men. Am I mad at myself? No, but curious, and if you know me…curiosity makes me write (kind of like anger). Now that you are bored and not laughing, next topic. Literature.
My love of literature is deep. I read, I write, I admire, I am driven by it. My favorite musicians (regardless of skin color) are poets who found the connection of word to musical note. My favorite activists have a pen, be it in the form of letter, speech, meeting…they have a pen. I didn’t think much about who these people were until a month or so ago when a good friend of mine was over and said to me, after I showed off my extensively weak library, “do you have any female writers in there?” I responded “Of course.” Then looked to make certain. I was not lying, but barely. The female writer was from a prior academic course, the books I had bought to enjoy were all by men. In the top 5, 3 are white.
What? When? How? I could easily blame this on my education, which I will. But, I will not leave it at that. I have dear poet friends who are female and have shared with me great pieces by other females. I love my friends’ work regardless of gender as I love a poets’ work regardless of gender. Why then, are my most visited poetry blogs written by my female friends and my most visited printed literature written by white men?
I am a bit broke and can’t really afford too many books. Lame. I like my friends’ poetry because they are my friends. Not true, they are not really all that much of friends, and their poetry is other worldly, as is their hero’s. Well, then it has to be this: I was raised on white male poetry, it was meant for me to identify with, and I submitted. My favorite writers: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, are all worthy of being favorite writers, but there are lot of other female writers who are equally deserving that I have yet to find or attain because I have been lazily content or to be nicer to myself, smugly and poorly euphoric. Yuck, I am getting a bit disgusted now. Let’s change topics again, I need to save face. Surfing.
To state that my favorite surfers are white men and that I am not shocked to discover that would be no insightful statement, is rather bland. Furthermore, it would be rather obvious to state that surfing is a sport mainly for those with money to afford a lot of something extra and a lot of those types of people happen to be of the white skin color. Also, it is no surprise that the majority of surfers are male (and that we all expected that) because the boys of the family are supposed to be athletic and kind of dumb, the girls are supposed to be smart and pretty (to then marry her brother’s best friend). But I write all this nonetheless because it is relevant and lays the foundation for this:
How can I live without a constant guilt of hypocrisy? I started this article telling you that I am extra polite around women because my mom told me to do so and I feel that given the rest of what they deal with in a day, guy’s staring, snickers, judgement, I feel like a little extra kindness is not a bad deal. I even said that most of these female colleagues are my role models, people I consider to be the epitome of the epitome, some even the echelon of all echelons. And yet, my walls are covered by pictures of surfers, musicians, and poets – all white, all male. Someone grab a fork, it’s time I get roasted.
But wait-is there hope? Can’t I stop myself and adorn the walls with female surfers, musicians, and poets? Can’t I buy female surf videos and female poets’ works? Do I need to?
I don’t know honestly. I had a meeting with one of my favorite UCSD female activists the other day, it was about food for an event I am coordinating and we quickly got off topic. I brought it fast to feminism because, if you can’t tell, it is on my mind, and asked her many questions in regards to the perpetuation of patriarchal society. Or in better terms, I asked her what I do that perpetuates patriarchal society. We couldn’t really tell either. It seemed as if my actions combined with their sincerity did their best to perpetuate feminism. But one can never fully tell. As she said, often times a boy holds a door for a woman as an effort of flirtation and thus is received as such. Thus, very time that I hold a door open for a woman she will not always see it solely as a kind act. Plus, if I am attracted to said woman, would I mind her flirting with me?
The point of this article is not to praise myself, although it may seem as if I have done that. The point would be to present some examples of the outcome of how many white men are raised, and furthermore to bring to life where that leaves a man concerned with this issue. A man who holds doors open with a bit of self-doubt, a man who has lost romances because he couldn’t make a first move in good conscious, a man who wonders what every women he sees thinks about the way he acts in regards to their rights and their equality. It is an interesting place, somewhat frightening, somewhat lonely, but more than anything educational…I am beginning to like it.
If you want to see this as an article of martyrdom or self love, that is your choice. I mean, I speak of the difficulty in my hypocrisy of belief and blind action. As well as painting with nice words what I do well. Yet, that is not the point. The point is to show where society has directed us, whom society has told us to love, admire, respect, and listen to: the straight white male. As a straight white male myself, this sucks. It is hard to live without guilt and it is hard to walk a balance bar of oppressing and acting on passion and wisdom. I have a lot to learn. More so, I have a lot to discover. Sure, I read women’s surf articles and follow the tour. But not like I do the men. Sure, I love Joan Baez, the Dixie Chicks, Mary Chapin Carpenter and others, but they are not on my walls nor are they a common number 1 song.
I recently became a part of a student group focused on promoting change through art. In that group, I am the only white person, the only white guy. But they don’t care, they don’t make it known, there, I don’t have skin. Well, I do. And of course they recognize that I have not lived through the difficulty many of them have lived through, but…they do not care. They take me in as an artist and an activist with a different background and something new to share. There, you can see what family and responsibility means to peers. It is with these people that I recognize my hypocrisies and can speak about them and find advice and support. It is also with my colleagues in the other organizations, the friends I have worked with for years who are also rich in the diversity of color of skin and reproductive organs, that I learn and live.
So, if you are a straight white man reading this, please do some work. Break your shell, recognize your privilege, your status, what you perpetuate and act accordingly.
And if you were wondering…I wrote this watching surf movies.
(this is dedicated to all my female friends who deal with a life I can only try and understand and still smile more than me)