fitness

On being an introvert: it’s all about how you recharge your batteries

What do you need to do to recharge your batteries? I just came off of days and days and days of talking and interacting. And I. Am. Drained. When that happens, I want, need, even crave time alone (or at least with someone who I can be alone with and doesn’t need me to talk to them). That’s because, contrary to what some people assume, I’m actually an introvert.

Ten years ago at a leadership training workshop that I was mandated to take when I became department chair, I learned that I’m an introvert. This sort of surprised me because I’m also a fairly social person. I always thought of introverts as not so social. But it turns out it’s all about what you need to recharge your batteries. At the workshop they said that the defining difference that sets introverts apart from extroverts is that introverts need alone-time in order to re-energize.

In the Life Hack article, “5 Things You Should Know about Introverts,” the author puts it like this:

Think about two different types of battery: a solar-powered battery and a regular phone battery.

The solar-powered battery thrives from being out in the sun all day and being out doing things. It builds up its energy and keeps it going all night. The phone battery gets slowly drained out and about on a daily basis and so needs charging when you get home and you leave it alone.

Extroverts recharge their energy by being around other people and social interactions while being alone drains them. Introverts are simply the opposite. Social interactions, however fun and awesome which they are, drain our battery limit and so we need alone time or relaxation time to charge ourselves up again.

Extroverts are the solar batteries that gain energy when they’re out and about; introverts are the phone batteries that are operating at 5% by the end of the day and need to be left alone to recharge. When you put it that way, I’m clearly an introvert.

If I’ve had a busy week of interacting with people, especially if it’s involved small talk, which I find excruciating, the number one thing I want to do is spend time alone doing something quiet. That might be running or knitting or walking by the river or driving on empty roads or adult colouring (which I don’t do for the result but for the activity itself) or writing or meditating or reading or watching a movie or napping or sitting quietly with a cup of tea. Whatever it is, it has to be a single-tasking thing, not a multi-tasking thing, or it doesn’t recharge me.

I think this also explains why I’m not a fan of the telephone.

I’m reassured lately as there is more information out there about introverts and one of the biggest and most liberating messages for people who have us in their lives is: don’t take our need for space personally. It’s absolutely not personal. I’ve literally had relationships end because the other person simply could not grasp that this need is not negotiable and had nothing to do with them. If I need that time, I need that time. It’s always been like that. And I’m not going to apologize for it either. One of my favourite things about traveling is that I can be alone and unreachable for at least some of the time (and I’ve got a fairly good formula now for ensuring that I do not have someone in the seat beside me on an airplane unless the plane is full; Plan B: earbuds).

Renald and I both have this need for time alone, and early in our relationship we got really good at asserting that need and allowing each other to assert it without taking it personally. It all started one summer on the sailboat. I realized that I was feeling drained as all hell, despite that we were on vacation on the water (which you would think would be relaxing). The reason I felt drained is that I felt as if I was always “on call.” I would just settle into writing or reading or painting (back then I fiddled with water colours) or lounging on the deck, when Renald would call out for me to help him with something, or engage me in a conversation, or whatever.

We instituted this thing called “personal time.” A personal day or morning or afternoon was a time on the boat where we were under no obligation to interact with the other at all. I didn’t have to talk, prepare meals, pass the socket wrench, write down items on the grocery list, grab him a towel…nothing. And similarly he didn’t have to do for me. It was an opportunity to be on the boat as if alone even if we weren’t technically alone. It was the most freeing thing we could have done. By the end of a personal day, we both felt recharged and ready to spend time together again.

The fact is, of all the people in the world whom I can spend time with and not feel drained, Renald most fits that description. I’m almost positive it’s because of the space we’ve made for personal time. Even now, with him living on the boat and us seeing each other every few months for only for a few days or weeks at a time, we still do our personal time and personal days when we get together. Just because we only have a couple of weeks together doesn’t change the basic need for alone-time to recharge. We’re also good at spending time together and not needing to talk, which is another rarity that goes a long way.

If you search the internet for “what introverts need” you get lots of articles that are trying to explain their needs to non-introverts. In “10 Things Anyone Who Loves an Introvert Needs to Know,” besides taking the need for time alone seriously, there are lots of other things that resonated with me big time. Like that we do better in deeper conversations than small talk. Does anyone actually enjoy small talk? I don’t even understand it. Also, “sometimes silence actually is golden.” On occasion you can amp up the personal time with silent time. It’s a little added bonus that intensifies the recharge. Why does everyone feel the need to talk so much? Silence isn’t necessarily awkward if you just let it be.

The other thing I’ve read about introverts is that it might take us a bit to warm up, but then we’re good. I often have people who don’t know me so well say I’m “serious.” I know I come across that way, and that quiet “serious” people can even seem unapproachable (it’s easy to project all sorts of things onto quiet people). But I’m actually fairly cheerful and light-hearted. Yes I’m quiet and perhaps reserved. It’s not the same thing as unapproachable.

Another that resonates: “we might need more low-key nights at home than you do.” I consider a night in to be an incredible luxury. It’s more restful than a night out. That’s not to say I never want to go out. But it drains me more than it energizes me.

Image description: Cartoon of an extrovert and an introvert, each with dark hair and a blue long sleeved t-shirt. On the left, the extrovert looks very sad and his thought bubble reads I'm staying in tonight." On the right, the introvert looks elated, smiling and arms up in the air, and his thought bubble says, "I'm staying in tonight"
Image description: Cartoon of an extrovert and an introvert, each with dark hair and a blue long sleeved t-shirt. On the left, the extrovert looks very sad and his thought bubble reads I’m staying in tonight.” On the right, the introvert looks elated, smiling and arms up in the air, and his thought bubble says, “I’m staying in tonight”

So where do other people stand with me? I love my friends and enjoy spending time with them. I do best one on one or in small groups of people whom I know well. Larger groups of new people challenge me more and leave me tired. Good conversation that flows easily works for me; I like it and can be quite chatty. My favourite people to spend time with are people whom I can chat with and also who understand when I’m done, when it’s time to let me read or knit or write or listen to music or watch a movie etc.

In my little running group of Anita and Julie, I’m the least talkative. Quite some time ago I explained to them that there would come a moment in most long runs, especially in half marathons or half marathon training, when I would cease talking altogether. They were welcome to keep chatting but I would not be participating in the conversation because hey, I only have so much energy and interacting uses it up. It felt liberating to say that out loud and not be judged for it.

It’s been a really long road for me to accept and understand what I need to do to feel grounded. Time alone is one of the things I need for that and I’m sure many (25-50% of the population, evidently) can relate. It’s the only way I know to truly recharge my batteries and if I don’t get the opportunity I can feel it. I will reach a point where I literally cannot talk to anyone and just need to crawl into bed, curl up under the covers, and close my eyes.

How do you recharge your batteries? Are you more introvert than extrovert?

Image description: drawing of a white sign with a wood stake driven into the grass against a blue sky. Sign says: "INTROVERTS UNIT we're here we're uncomfortable & we want to go home."
Image description: drawing of a white sign with a wood stake driven into the grass against a blue sky. Sign says: “INTROVERTS UNIT we’re here we’re uncomfortable & we want to go home.”

 

 

 

 

fitness

Bodies can surprise you (Guest post by Rebecca Kukla) #halfmarathon

a selfie of Joseph Rees and Rebecca Kukla
Joseph Rees (left) and Rebecca Kukla (right)

By Rebecca Kukla

On Saturday, I ran my third half-marathon, the Potomac River Run. Both of the other times I trained for a half-marathon, I was incredibly disciplined about training, driven largely by a fear of collapsing half-way through the course. I had all sorts of rituals: not only an elaborate weekly schedule of four to five runs, but much fussing over the details of my playlist, purchasing new shoes, collecting up the perfect set of snacks, planning out my water breaks, and so forth.

This time was different. Partly it was because for the first time I was not going to be running with my wonderful friends, FFI bloggers Tracy and Anita, so I didn’t have our shared enthusiasm and peer pressure keeping me on track. Two of the four in the group of us who planned to run this race together dropped out. My remaining racing buddy, Joseph, while a dear friend, was a man in his 20s who can run twice as fast as me while drunk and with a giant sea turtle strapped to his back. Partly it was because this year I am commuting between New York and Washington, DC every single week and taking a full graduate course load on top of my full-time academic job, and still training in two other sports, which in New York involves commuting to my boxing gym an hour and fifteen minutes in each direction almost every day. Something had to give. I was overwhelmed.

I ended up doing something like two thirds of my planned runs, and many of those I cut short or did at a slower pace than I planned because I was just exhausted or out of time or both. A couple of weeks I skipped altogether, because of travel, family illnesses and who knows what.

Long story short, by the time race day came, I had given up on any hope of a PR. I felt totally unprepared, and my trial 21K two weeks earlier had been my worst time ever. All was chaos. I forgot my running belt in New York. I woke up the morning of the race and realized I had no snacks to bring, and had done nothing to update my tired playlist since my last race. I had no idea where the course was. Indeed, we got lost three separate times on our way to the race. I wrongly thought that the race ended in the middle of DC, so I left all my things in my boyfriend’s car and planned to take the metro home at the end, but once we arrived we found out the course was actually an out-and-back. We were stranded in the chilly forest with no coats, and we had no way of getting home from the wilds of Maryland where we had been dropped off.

When I looked at the course, my heart sunk further. The promotional materials had promised a totally flat, fast course. I had assumed it would be a smooth running path along the river. One glance showed me that the course was actually a rough, uneven trail, and that the organizers’ conception of ‘completely flat’ was significantly different from mine. Mentally, I adjusted my finishing time up yet farther. We found out there were no bathrooms and no mile markers on the course. We had no water and no snacks. We started to joke about leaving and getting brunch instead. The colder we got, the less joke-y our jokes became.

Finally the race began, and I took off at what I thought was a light slow jog, trying to warm up slowly, as is my practice. After half a mile, my app informed me that I was pacing slightly faster than what was supposed to be my target pace – the pace I had long since given up hope of achieving anyhow. I was surprised and assumed GPS error. But no, after a mile I was still at that same pace. I considered slowing down on purpose so as not to burn out, but really it felt like I was just jogging comfortably. I couldn’t see any benefit to slowing down. I decided that I’d just keep up that pace as long as it was comfortable. I wouldn’t speed up, and I’d slow down or take a walk break if I needed to. I assumed I would need to, since I was pacing just around 9 minutes a mile, which is quite fast, for me. (I have very very little legs!)

I kept running, and I never felt the need to slow down. Water stations came and went, and I felt no need for them. There were some small hills, but they didn’t make me want to break stride. I made it to the halfway mark in just moments under an hour, and decided it was time to re-up my expectations. I had long wanted to finish a half-marathon in under two hours, and I was on track to do it! So I decided to just stay on pace and not slow down or walk unless I really needed to. And I didn’t. My pace was weirdly consistent, mile after mile. I made it through the whole race without a water or a walk break of any kind, and cruised through the finish line just seconds under 2:00, giving me a PR and meeting a goal that had felt totally unreachable a week before.

As I sat with my friend at the finish line, the overly enthusiastic guy with the microphone whose job it is to keep everyone ‘amped’ called out, “And Rebecca Kukla wins a prize!” I was baffled. I went up and asked, “Why, what did I win?” “YOU WIN A HAT!” he bellowed into the mic. “Um, that’s great, but why did I win a hat? What for?” “BECAUSE YOU’RE AWESOME,” he roared back. “Thanks!” I said. “But seriously, I don’t understand what I did that’s awesome. What did I win?” “YOU WIN A HAT!” he yelled back happily. I gave up and took the hat, which I dearly needed, since as I noted we were cold. The next day I found out that I had won second in my age group! I still don’t quite understand how that’s possible, but I did! It was a good day to be a woman in my 40s! I never expected to win any kind of prize for running, especially not yesterday.

What’s the moral of the story? I think just that bodies can surprise you. Who knows why they do what they do. All our neurotic efforts to discipline them and make them predictable are built on an underlying morass of chaos and contingency. I woke up the next morning, post-race, and felt great. I was in the gym boxing by 10 am. I have no idea why that all went so well. But goodness, there’s no better feeling than your body suddenly becoming dramatically more powerful and able than you had any right to expect!

Rebecca Kukla is Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University, and also a graduate student in urban geography at CUNY-Hunter College. She is a competitive boxer and powerlifter, a dedicated bike commuter, and a runner of wildly varying enthusiasm. She lives in Washington, DC with a passel of excellent human and non-human animals.

Uncategorized

Knee pain, I hate you, but look, there’s our book

This blog isn’t all sweetness and light, glitter and unicorns, puppies and rainbows.

There are sad things, hard things in our lives too. And I’ve written about lots of those sad things. Mostly death and also about autumn sadness. See Struggling with September Sadness.

Nine years ago this week, my sister died and I still struggle. Since we started the blog, my father died and so did both of my parents-in-law.

See On counting almonds, searching for Devil’s Claw, and remembering Avis.

See On “special weather,” bike commuting, and missing certain people.

See One of the hardest parts of getting older.

The list goes on. Sarah’s mother, who I felt I was just getting to know, died. Rob’s mother died.

I also lost two dogs, one to cancer and the other drowned. That’s a lot of death. And I don’t have happy views about death. I think death is bad.

Despite holding a lot of dire views about death and its badness, and having very sad things happen, I’m generally a happy person. My cheerfulness is robust and irrational. I joke with my teenagers about hedonistic nihilism. None of it has any greater meaning but that doesn’t mean there isn’t beauty in the world and a lot of pleasure to be had along the way.

Lately though I’m less happy. And the twin causes of my misery are far less serious than death.

First, it was the hot flashes, accompanied of course by middle of the night dread and anxiety. That’s gotten better now I know what’s going on. No panic, less dread, I just go back to sleep.

Second, on came the knee pain. I’ve been struggling with knee pain for years. I’ve been doing physio for years. I ran the Pride 5 km with knee pain and I ride my bike from Toronto to Montreal with knee pain.

Lately though it’s been getting a lot worse. I’m still able to ride and I’m still able to hike. It hurts most at night, in bed. I can’t go to sleep and then when I get to sleep I wake up in pain. I’ve had an MRI. I’ve seen the knee surgeon.

It’s not really fixable. It’s osteoarthritis. Severe grade cartiledge degradation, is what the MRI showed.

I’m not anywhere near ready for knee surgery. Just ibuprofen, ice, and physio.

I’m in pain and I hate this.

So it’s back to physio. It’s not a particularly exciting training goal but my goal for this winter is focusing on minimizing knee pain. Woohoo!

I’ve been reading lots about the connection between menopause and osteoarthritis.

See Why More Women Have Osteoarthritis and Osteoarthritis associated with estrogen deficiency.

I wish I had more exciting news. Complaining about sore knees doesn’t make for the most exciting of blog posts.

As a result of my sore knees, I’m starting to get unsolicited advice from people about weight loss. Interestingly, I don’t hear that so much from medical professionals. The physio people say they see as many thin people for osteoarthritis as they do overweight people. They also worry, with good reason, that people who set out to lose weight often end up weighing more.

So, definitely physio. Maybe, maybe lose some weight. I don’t know. I’m going to keep riding over the winter, logging some hours on the indoor trainer too. I’ve also started weight training with a personal trainer. (I’ll blog about that too.)

On the bright side, I’m excited about our book!

Mark your calendars and hold the date. Saturday afternoon, April 28, 2 pm, at the Landon Branch of the London Public Library. See you there!

fitness · holidays

Halloween fitness inspiration: spookspo?

Halloween is this Tuesday, but the celebrations have already gotten underway.  Runners and cyclists and even kayakers have been getting into the spooky spirit of the season.  My Halloween plans include going trick-or-treating with my friend Deb and her family, riding my bike over there and back dressed as Queen Elizabeth (well, sort of).  In case you were still unsure of what to do that might combine your interests in fitness, fun, and Halloween costumes, here are some images that I hope will be inspiring (or at least amusing).  I start with a surprise– try kayaking in a very large pumpkin.  Think it’s not possible?  Well, think again.

The Tualatin West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta start line (I think), with lots of people inside pumpkins with paddles (and wearing life vests for safety, of course).
The Tualatin West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta start line (I think), with lots of people inside pumpkins with paddles (and wearing life vests for safety, of course).

Tualatin, Oregon hosted a Giant Pumpkin Regatta last weekend, but maybe you could get some folks together to host your own.  We at Fit is a Feminist Issue do not recommend paddling in a pumpkin in open ocean– please use your own good judgment…

If you prefer your Halloween paddling to be more conventional (that is, you want to use a boat), you can trick out your kayak nicely.  Here’s one woman who did just that:

A woman in a purple kayak, dressed in a witch hat, green makeup, life vest (safety first!), with a skull on the bow.
A woman in a purple kayak, dressed in a witch hat, green makeup, life vest (safety first!), with a skull on the bow.

And then there’s cycling.

Options for biking while costumed are vast in number.  It’s cyclocross season where I live, and there are costume races this weekend.  Last year I rode in the Orchard Cross cyclocross costume race, and it was nothing but outrageous fun.  Here’s a picture of my friend Steph (she’s in the T. Rex costume, one of two T Rexs in the race) riding the course in a small pack:

A group of costumed cyclists on a cyclocross course, with a T.Rex on the left.
A group of costumed cyclists on a cyclocross course, with a T.Rex on the left.

If you prefer riding on the road, there are loads of Halloween bike rides.  I’ve done the one in Boston a few times and blogged about it here.  There’s nothing like riding at night with about 500 other friendly cyclists, all bedecked in spooky finery.  If you’re worried that your handlebar or helmet lights won’t be enough, you can always accessorize like this guy did:

Boston Halloween bike ride participant, with illuminated tubes wrapped around his torso, standing by his bike at night.
Boston Halloween bike ride participant, with illuminated tubes wrapped around his torso, standing by his bike at night.

 

And then there are the runners.

The family that runs together is incredible together. Family of four-- one man and three women-- dressed in Incredibles outfits with racing numbers.
The family that runs together is incredible together. Family of four– one man and three women– dressed in Incredibles outfits with racing numbers.

There are loads of Halloween running road races.  According to Running USA, Halloween is the number two most popular time for road races (with US Thanksgiving in the number one spot). There were reportedly 733,576 finishers in 2015.  I’m not (soooo not!) a runner, but I see ads for these races, and they look like a blast.  I mean, don’t you want to cross the finish line with these folks?  I almost do.

 

A merry band of multicolored costumed folks (red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple, plus leprechaun) crossing the finish line at a road race.
A merry band of multicolored costumed folks (red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple, plus leprechaun) crossing the finish line at a road race.

Of course there are many many activities I’ve left untouched.  There are Halloween yoga classes (worthy of its own post, but gotta save something for later), soccer games, spooky trail runs and walks, and goodness knows what else.

Hey readers– what sort of Halloween activities have you done?  Have you done a sport or activity bedecked in costume?  How was it?  We’d love to hear from you.

 

martial arts · training

Getting My Brain to Trust Me

I find it challenging not to over-think my movements in Taekwondo.*

There’s a certain stage of practice that requires me to think a lot about how my body moves. I need to say the ‘choreography’ of each step aloud to myself so I can make sure I get all the pieces in the right place. If I don’t verbally walk myself through the movements, it’s nearly impossible for me to learn something new.

Here’s my foot in side kick position. If I am doing this as part of a new technique, you can rest assured that if I have remembered to pull my toes back and point them down, I will have forgotten to breathe, or lean, or do some other crucial part.

However, when it comes to actually pulling the pieces together, I have to stop thinking and just do. That does not come easily to me. I often end up so focused on accomplishing one part of the movement that I forget to let my body do the things it knows how to do. If I am learning a new kick, I will concentrate on getting my foot in place but I will forget to breathe out at the right point. If I am trying a different punch combination, I will focus on my hands and forget to lean my head away to avoid a blow.

I know that this is part of my learning process, but it would a whole lot easier if I could just layer on the new things without (temporarily) losing any of the old ones.

Even though I know that my mind gets in the way of my movements, it still takes a lot of effort to turn off my thinking and just move. Right now, a combination of perfectionism and a lack of trust in my body is impeding me.

I don’t want to just do a new move any old way, I want to get it right. I want to feel good about the results. I want to be in control of what I’m doing.

Despite the fact that I have been doing Taekwondo for 8 years now, my brain still doesn’t trust that my body knows its stuff. My mind doesn’t quite believe that my body understands how to move, that it can take direction and learn new things.

So, my brain hangs on tightly. It wants me to learn, to ‘get it.’ But, it focuses so clearly on just one aspect of the new move that it prevents me from actually ‘getting it’, it keeps me from pulling all the pieces together.

I know that, with practice, I always reach a point where there the mental process becomes automatic. Or, at least,I reach a point where I am not conscious of the commentary any more. Yet, no matter how many times I am successful after I give up that mental control of my movements, my mind still resists.

This is a different sort of challenge for me in Taekwondo. This isn’t about trying to learn a new physical thing, it’s about changing a mental pattern. Like I said above, I know part of it has to do with me wanting to do it ‘right’ and not wanting to look foolish by making a mistake. Mostly, though, it’s a habit. It’s me being used to living in my head and forgetting to trust my body to do what I ask it to.

I’m not sure how to work on that. If my experience so far hasn’t taught me to stop over-thinking at Taekwondo, then I don’t think it will just *happen.* Perhaps some sort of mental practice, meditation, for example, would be beneficial.

I’m going to to try it and let you know what happens.

In the meantime, if you have any tips, let me know!

KI-YA!

*Anyone who knows me is laughing right now because this is the understatement of the year. And it’s not just Taekwondo, I am a champion over-thinker. I could compete in the over-thinking Olympics.

equality · fitness · sex · weight lifting

Thoughts about fitness, consent, and pleasure

*Trigger warning: this post discusses issues around sexual violence and consent.

Regular readers of FFI know I’m an avid cyclist and sometime internet dater; what you may or may not know is that in my work life I’m a theatre scholar – I teach, write about, and regularly attend live shows of all kinds. It’s a huge privilege to be able to say, as I did on a recent Friday afternoon, “I have to leave my desk and take the train into town to see a play!”

That particular play is called Asking For It; is a piece of “verbatim” theatre – that is, theatre composed of interview material gathered, with full consent of participants, by the author and star of the show, Ellie Moon. Its jumping-off point was the media storm surrounding the now-disgraced CBC Radio host and popular member of Toronto’s arts community, Jian Ghomeshi, who between 2014 and 2016 was tried both in a court of law, and in the court of public opinion, for physical violence against women during sexual encounters. (I won’t go over the details of the case here, except to say that it turned out to be a textbook example of how the law treats women in situations like this one; if I had to send you to some sources for a primer, I would choose this one, and this one.)

hr_AskingforIt-hero-duotone

The promotional image for Asking For It, by Ellie Moon (Nightwood Theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest in Toronto). The image shows a white woman (Ellie), both alluring and fierce, looking into the camera. Her long hair blows gently in the wind. Her neck bears a tattoo that reads “shocking to some”. The background is a sepia tone.

Moon was living in England when the scandal around Ghomeshi broke, but she was back in Canada as a jobbing actor when he went to trial. She found herself, as a result of the issues in the air, wondering about her own sexual preferences, those of others, and why we are not good at talking openly with one another about either sexual pleasure or sexual consent. The show asks: “How do we convey, and experience, sexual consent in 2017?” Using her interview material, transcripts from social media, and her own reflections (as a sexually active woman and a performer in the show) Moon creates a complex image of the ambiguities and ambivalences that shadow what we do and do not want to happen in private sexual encounters, and what we do and do not want to talk about afterward.

It’s a superb show, but why am I talking about it here?

For me, fitness isn’t just about building muscle, climbing hills on my bike, or stretching my aching hamstrings in yoga. It’s not only about eating yummy green things (and yummy chocolate things), getting proper sleep, and trying to drink less. It’s also about feeling safe, feeling joy, and feeling cared for in bed, when I’m not in bed alone. So while, as a theatre scholar, I was struck by the skill evident in Moon’s production and her adept use of the verbatim genre, as a woman interested in fitness and wellness (my own and that of others), I found the show struck some deeper chords.

Social messages these days try to make consent appear very clear-cut: no means no. And it absolutely does. But feeling consent, conveying consent, and expressing the shift from consent to non-consent when you’re deep into it can be a great deal more murky than the prevailing winds want to suggest – which can lead in turn to feelings of confusion and shame for men, women, and those who identify as non-binary alike. This is a large part of what Moon and her co-performers get into during Asking For It, and I found the labour of their honest reflection useful, moving, and also a bit of a relief.

Logo_ConsentIsSexy

A pink button against a denim jacket reads: “Ask First. Make it Sexy. Consent is sexy. consentissexy.net.”

What happens, for example, when we’ve having loads of fun, but then suddenly, for one partner, something shifts? Whose responsibility is it to stop? How do we stop and not make things “weird”? Why do some of us (usually, women) feel such a need to keep things “light” (rather than “weird”) – and at what cost?

I had this experience not too long ago: I found myself crying into my pillow while my partner was behind me. We had been having fun, and then, suddenly, I was not. I felt such shame; the tears followed. He was unaware of the tears; I was fighting them because I didn’t know whether or not I was still consenting to what was going on, and that was making me even more anxious. (Note: he did not do anything for which he did not have my permission.) I cared about his experience and I didn’t want to hurt him; I also knew he didn’t want to hurt me. Eventually I told him to stop and went into the bathroom; when I returned, we sat and talked it through. After that, everything was absolutely fine.

This is an example of consensual sex working very well indeed – we talked it through; everything was absolutely fine – but it’s also an example of the complexities consent always presents in the moment-to-moment-ness of sexual encounters in the real world. Was it my job to tell him to stop? His to check in with me? Mine to give him signs that problems were surfacing? I have no solid answers to these questions. I think ideally he would have checked when I stopped being responsive, and I would have demonstrated more openly that I was starting to experience discomfort. But I know for certain that neither of us wanted to hurt the other – both of us wanted to consent to pleasure in one another, and we had / we did.

I also have no doubt that I was able to express my growing non-consent, eventually though imperfectly, because I am in my 40s and I now have a strong sense of myself as an independent sexual subject. Had I been in my 20s, and especially myself in my 20s, I’m pretty sure it would not have gone as well.

Which makes me worry a lot about my students.

Then there’s the question of where each partner’s responsibility lies in the acts of asking for, giving, and receiving consent before we even get going. Yes, in heterosexual situations men typically hold the balance of power, and so should always ask to make sure consent is intended (rather than simply assumed on their part). After all, violence in relation to sex is about power: social, historical, and physical.

But power does not always break down along expected gender lines, even in heterosexual situations.

In the sexual relationship I have with the man in the anecdote above, power is surprisingly balanced; we weigh similar amounts and are similarly strong, and our personal identifications (based on gender, ethnicity, race, and class) mean that in some key ways I am culturally more privileged than he is. Further, I initiate our sexual encounters at least as often, if not more often, than he does. Given these factors, I consider it my responsibility to ask his consent before I move too far forward; we do this playfully, thanks to a rapport built up over time (and thanks to our mutually compatible senses of humour).

About three quarters of the way through Asking For It, Moon and fellow actor Christine Horne recreate, for the audience, an encounter from Moon’s research between her and a friend: after a boozy dinner they are on a Toronto bus. Horne’s character tells Moon she should be approaching strangers as well as friends for her project of collecting material for the play, and so Moon goes over (rather reluctantly, and bashfully) to the only other passenger on the bus, a man played by Steve McCarthy. She asks him to talk into her phone about his experiences of asking for and receiving consent; he asks her if she is coming onto him. She says no; she explains the play project and asks again for his feedback. He becomes angry, though not hostile; he is obviously frustrated and feels blindsided. Moon then admits she’s “a little bit drunk”, and he says, “can you imagine if the situations were reversed?” If he approached her on the bus, asked to talk about sex, and admitted to being tipsy? Moon is taken aback; she gets it – that image represents the opposite of the safe situation they are currently in, and they both know it – but she also, at least a little bit, gets the difference. “But I asked you,” she says quietly.

She opened with a request for consent.

I find myself thinking about these issues as a 43-year-old woman who wants to enjoy sex but also to stay safe and healthy and happy in my sexual life. I also find myself thinking about these issues as a feminist, and as a feminist teacher.

I am often asked to explain feminism to others; I don’t mind doing it, because I’ve had a lot of practice. To me, feminism means appreciating and recognizing the privilege our sex and gender identities afford in relation to others, and in conjunction with other forms of privilege or non-privilege our bodies bear.

For me, as for Moon, “feminism” is a word that means “equality”‘; sadly, “equality” is a complex concept, and we seem to be living in a moment that jettisons complexity, too frequently, in favour of the superficial. A lot of the talk around consent is actually fairly superficial: no means no, dammit! Just follow that mantra and you’ll be fine. A lot of the men in Moon’s play know this mantra, but are struggling: they think that checking in, or making sure to ask, is the sum total of their responsibility. OR, they are angry and frustrated that, in the consent game, girls seem to be getting all the joy and none of the struggle.

Yes, no means no. But can everyone say no, really?

What these guys (and, frankly, what a lot of us) miss is that it’s really not that easy, for any of us. Understanding consent as more than a word or two – understanding it as a factor of power imbalances, historical privilege, and the challenges and joys that have arisen as women have become more culturally and economically powerful players in the public sphere – means coming to grips with consent as something that needs to be constantly negotiated between sexual partners, and something that needs to be fulsomely (not superficially) expressed by both parties.

It means recognizing that some of us have more vocal power than others. That some of us feel more free than others to express what it is we want. That some of us fear speaking out, ever, about sexual feeling, because the consequences can be catastrophic.

It means talking through power and privilege, even as we talk about consent.

 

diets · eating · fitness · Throwback Thursday · weight loss

Let’s Talk about the Myth of the Skinny Vegan Bitch #tbt

Here’s a #tbt for you from four years ago. Though I would venture that veganism is more popular now than it was then, and is gaining followers all the time, myths still abound. And one of them is that you’ll get skinny real fast if you opt to eat a thoroughly plant-based diet. You won’t necessarily lose weight at all. But that’s not a reason not to try it. Another myth is that you can’t possibly retain muscle if you’re vegan. You can! I’ll write about that sometime next month. Meanwhile, enjoy this old post. I’m vegan, but I’m neither skinny nor a bitch (or so I like to think anyway)!
Tracy

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

vegan-food-cc-300x400Here’s how the first installment in the Skinny Bitch series (authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin) starts:

Are you sick and tired of being fat?  Good. If you can’t take one more day of self-loathing, you’re ready to get skinny...

This is not a diet. This is a way of life. A way to enjoy food. A way to feel healthy, clean, energized and pure. It’s time to reclaim your mind and body. It’s time to strut your skinny ass down the street liek you’re in an episode of Charlie’s Angels with some really cool song playing in the background. It’s time to prance around in a thong like you rule the world. It’s time to get skinny.

It sounds almost empowering.  Almost.

The first red flag?  If you’re full of self-loathing then…wait for it…getting skinny is the answer!  If that’s not clear from the introduction, it is made…

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