As a teenager, I often hear about how reckless and ignorant teenagers are. This stems from the fact that we are not yet adults, but are not given the leniency that is given to children when it comes to world news. We are expected to keep our grades up while doing extra curriculars and have an exciting social life. The busy schedules that come with being a teenager makes some adults think that we have little interest or knowledge about real world issues. This is a common misunderstanding because when given the chance, teens can give a great deal of insight into the world we live in and are more than willing to express their political opinions. Our opinions and thoughts on politics are often dismissed due to "not knowing" anything and "not having lived long enough to have life experience", however, the internet we are seemingly so addicted to gives us the tools we need to make informed decisions about society. Social media is a great way to connect with friends, but it is also a great way to see different points of view on many issues. News articles and information on politics are readily available, and it is almost impossible to go through them without ending up with some knowledge and an opinion. The elections this year have most of the world talking about who will be our next president, and this does not exclude teens. The political decisions made by the generation before us will mostly affect us, and that interests us greatly. Wanting to live in a country that is good for us is something that every person wants, regardless of age.There are, of course, some teenagers that have no clue what is going on in the world around them, but there are also adults like that. Ignorance does not just apply to teenagers, and the idea that we are the only ignorant ones is absolutely absurd. By junior or senior year of high school we are expected to know what we want to do with our lives, we have to know where we will study for our degrees and how we will pay for it. If we are expected to know who we are and what we want, why are our opinions seen as invalid? How come we can't know who we support in politics and what our country needs? Teens are used to learning and are eager to express ideas and help come up with solutions to the world's problems. We are ready to talk about our views and ideas if adults are ready to listen.
It is quite possible to say that the United States has never seen such a time of divisiveness, partisanship, and extreme animosity of those on different sides of the political spectrum. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are saturated with posts of political opinions and are matched with comments that express not only disagreement but too often, words of hatred. Many who cannot understand others' political beliefs rarely even respect them.
As a female, Republican, college student, I feel I receive the most confusion from others regarding my political opinions. Whenever I post or write something supporting a conservative or expressing my right-leaning beliefs and I see a comment has been left, I almost always know what words their comment will begin with. Or in conversation, if I make my beliefs known and someone begins to respond, I can practically hear the words before they leave their mouth.
"As a woman…"
This initial phrase is often followed by a question, generally surrounding how I could publicly support a Republican candidate or maintain conservative beliefs. "As a woman, how can you support Donald Trump?" or "As a woman, how can you support pro-life policies?" and, my personal favorite, "As a woman, how did you not want Hillary for president?"
Although I understand their sentiment, I cannot respect it. Yes, being a woman is a part of who I am, but it in no way determines who I am. My sex has not and will not adjudicate my goals, my passions, or my work. It will not influence the way in which I think or the way in which I express those thoughts. Further, your mention of my sex as the primary logic for condemning such expressions will not change my adherence to defending what I share. Nor should it.
To conduct your questioning of my politics by inferring that my sex should influence my ideology is not only offensive, it's sexist.
It disregards my other qualifications and renders them worthless. It disregards my work as a student of political science. It disregards my hours of research dedicated to writing about politics. It disregards my creativity as an author and my knowledge of the subjects I choose to discuss. It disregards the fundamental human right I possess to form my own opinion and my Constitutional right to express that opinion freely with others. And most notably, it disregards that I am an individual. An individual capable of forming my own opinions and being brave enough to share those with the world at the risk of receiving backlash and criticism. All I ask is for respect of that bravery and respect for my qualifications.
Words are powerful. They can be used to inspire, unite, and revolutionize. Yet, they can be abused, and too comfortably are. Opening a dialogue of political debate by confining me to my gender restricts the productivity of that debate from the start. Those simple but potent words overlook my identity and label me as a stereotype destined to fit into a mold. They indicate that in our debate, you cannot look past my sex. That you will not be receptive to what I have to say if it doesn't fit into what I should be saying, "as a woman."
That is the issue with politics today. The media and our politicians, those who are meant to encourage and protect democracy, divide us into these stereotypes. We are too often told that because we are female, because we are young adults, because we are a minority, because we are middle-aged males without college degrees, that we are meant to vote and to feel one way, and any other way is misguided. Before a conversation has begun, we are divided against our will. Too many of us fail to inform ourselves of the issues and construct opinions that are entirely our own, unencumbered by what the mainstream tells us we are meant to believe.
We, as a people, have become limited to these classifications. Are we not more than a demographic?
As a student of political science, seeking to enter a workforce dominated by men, yes, I am a woman, but foremost I am a scholar, I am a leader, and I am autonomous. I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.
This week, I'm writing another meditation, this time on Emmett Rensin's "The Alien and Mundane," published in The Believer on June 7, 2017. An in-depth look into the "alien" and "mundane" ways we grieve, it starts off, like most of his articles, in a very riveting way: Rensin had a friend at the University of Chicago whose mother died when she was little, and although she finished mourning long ago, "she had not yet overcome the need to mourn. I never saw her more disturbed than on the day she realized...it was the anniversary of her mother's death. She had nearly forgotten." She wasn't crying for her mother, but rather Rensin "saw her cry for her guilt."
He labels these types of mourning "guilty mourners." On forums all over the internet and self-help books all over Barnes & Noble bookshelves, people all over the world grieve not for the lost or the tragedy, but for their guilt. They are "worried that they are heartless freaks. They worry because they believe they are getting over total disaster with too much ease. The world has changed forever, they insist, but they keep forgetting. One woman on a message board wrote about her first response to the Twin Towers burning on September 11, 2001, as the towers were still burning on TV: "Oh, this is really going to fuck up my date tonight."
Everyone, in these forums, asks the same question: "Is there something wrong with me?"
Sigmund Freud in "Mourning and Melancholia," examines the question of grief. For him, this condition of banality and mundane is the "redirection of the conscious mind"and "a work of mourning." This is described as "healthy mourning," where we "divest the dead of their importance." "The fact is...when the work of mourning is completed, the ego becomes free and uninhibited again." We start to worry about food, work, and other everyday concerns. Freud explains that the only alternative to feeling this way is melancholia, and melancholy is "the failure to mourn" which sometimes results in suicide.
However, if we applied rules of Freud's work universally to the human condition, we would clearly be in a lot of trouble. But we can learn from his differentiation between healthy mourning and melancholy. "The guilty mourner is troubled, more troubled than they are by death itself, because there is something narratively backward in their healing." Simply put, it's not what we expect from mourning - to be mourning our own guilt instead of what actually happened. The Freud narrative is the alternative, that "the return of the mundane is not the failure of action, but the action itself."
Rensin returns with another example, this one one of the extreme. He uses a case from when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a "catastrophe for which there was no language....not a violence anybody knew to be possible." Even in this, as shown in John Hersey's "Hiroshima," we see the mundane form of grieving one character, Dr. Fujii, was in an extraordinary amount of pain from his burns. But his first remark to another person was that "he looked like a beggar, dressed as he was in nothing but torn and bloody underwear."
Another character featured in "Hiroshima," Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, walked across a ruined street in the middle of the burning city. He saw that houses were destoyed, people were screaming for help under many of the ones that were burning. But he ran past them to find his wife - and the only thing he says upon seeing her is "Oh, you are safe." Reverend Tanimoto and his wife go their separate ways, and Tanimoto realizes that he pays more attention to the mundane of his family than to the devastation of the city. "After all of this, it is odd to remember that he has an ordinary life. But he does."
Rensin then references the story of Jo Ann Beard, a colleague of five people who had died in the 1991 University of Iowa Shootings. She goes into work on Friday and has to leave work early - she needs to take care of her dog, who is old and sick. After she leaves, a graduate student then kills five of her colleagues and then kills himself.
Beard knows that "the word changes," but nevertheless, the shooting is only "a brief intrusion. It is a brief atrocity, dispassionately related in a single section, up-ending the whole essay." After the brief moment of terrifying grief, life goes to a new type of normal - she returns back to the couch she's sleeping in, still taking care of her dog, "just as they were before."
"We don't struggle over the pit of melancholia, tempted by our grief. Ordinary life can't help digesting tragedy. The mundane sees the alien and consumes it, just swallows it up." Rensin goes on to note that the mundane conquering the melancholy of the alien is not a distraction, but a sign of something more.
The mundane is not the absence of grief, but the processing of it before we are ready to actually be melancholy. "These banalities are at odds with whatever catastrophe is at hand, and the fixation on them functions as a distraction, or as a necessary element of mourning, or as a sin, until the catastrophe can be processed and absorbed into a reunified experience of life." In both stories of Hersey and Beard, life goes on, regardless of whatever catastrophes happen, but there are two different ways that life goes on. For Hersey, "life goes on, but there is no 'return' from something like the atomic bomb." For Beard, "one returns to the mundane because there is nowhere else to return."
We feel guilty about not being melancholy, about seemingly not grieving. And this terrifies us. "The mourner who asks, Why am I so preoccupied with the normal? is asking, really, Is this normal now?" This guilt is not a trap to not grieve, but rather a warning. Tragedy is around us everywhere. How much time would we truly have if we were to mourn every single injustice and devastation in the world, from school shootings seemingly every other week to tsunamis and earthquakes that kill thousands? The mundane, for better or worse, teaches us to survive. "Has the world changed so much and so suddenly that I can no longer even feel the difference? the guilty ask. The answer is yes, and it is happening, has happened, all the time."
I distinctly remember last December when I came home for winter break. My mom picked me up from LaGuardia airport, and immediately I noticed there was something different - her voice was more hoarse, there were new scars around her neck. "I have thyroid cancer, and just had surgery," she said.
"Oh," was all I responded.
We moved on, and I talked about what it was like at school, and how things were at home, from topics as mundane as the latest issue with our car to whether I was eating well at school. I know now that that was how I grieved upon finding out the news. The mundane is a survival mechanism - not a lack of empathy.
"Things are fine," she said. "Just worry about school and make sure you're eating right."
"Oh. Okay," I said.
I woke up at 3 a.m. the other night, shaking, uncertain what about but just with the sense that something was dreadfully wrong, that the new normal maybe shouldn't be the new normal. For me, the mundane is the precursor to the melancholy - and sometimes, we grieve by not grieving. We feel guilty about our lack of mourning. We put off the melancholy for a later time because sometimes we're not ready yet.