An open letter to my former dentist

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Ed. note: This is guest post from Kiera Butler. Kiera is a senior editor at Mother Jones. Her first book, which is about 4-H, will be published in October 2014. 

Dear Dr. B.,

I’m writing to tell you why I’m taking my business to different dental office. Let me explain:

The last time I had my teeth cleaned at your office, your hygienist told me that the bonding on two of my teeth was coming off, and that I should come back so that you could fix it.

So I made an appointment to do just that. I asked you to take a look at the bonding, and you did. Then you took off your glasses and said, “Forget the bonding for a minute. Let’s have some fun.” 

You asked me if I ever felt like no one was paying attention to me when I was in a group, or if I was shy about talking to people.

“No,” I replied. “I’m a journalist. I love talking to people.”

You said that you suspected that my colleagues were ignoring me—and that maybe I should try to observe this behavior over the next few weeks. If I did feel ignored, you said, you knew why: my smile.

“You have bunny teeth,” you said. “It’s distracting.”

You took out your camera and asked me to smile. Then you took a few photos.

You applied some plastic goop called composite to my teeth, which you then dried with what looked like a UV light. When you were done, you asked me to smile again and took more photos. Then you showed me both sets of pictures, and led me over to a mirror where you asked me to admire my fixed smile. You had closed two small gaps and made my teeth more evenly sized.

Even though I could barely see a difference (and honestly didn’t care enough to look that closely) I told you that I liked how it looked, because it seemed like the easiest thing to do.

You told me that the composite made me look more “refined.” Then you told me about two women patients whose smiles you had fixed. One of them had been out of work, and the very afternoon that she left your office, she went on a job interview and got an offer. The other woman’s boss asked her to manage “a team of 36 people” right after you worked on her teeth.

“Does the same thing happen to men?” I asked.

You told me that you wouldn’t know, because men are not as chatty with you as women.

I told you that I had to get back to work, so you removed the composite from my teeth. While I was lying down in the chair with my mouth open, you told me that if you fixed my smile, you firmly believed that I would start “dressing better.” I would also wear more make-up, you predicted. You told me that I was a beautiful woman, but that my smile was distracting.

On my way out, as I was saying goodbye, you told me that I was smiling with my mouth closed, and that you guessed it was because I was feeling self-conscious about my smile. “We can fix that right up,” you said. “Sorry I made you nervous!”

“You couldn’t make me nervous,” I said. I wanted to say more, but that would have meant that I had to stand there and keep talking to you. And I never wanted to talk to you again.

But it wasn’t because you had made me nervous about my smile. It was because I was offended by your use of the tired and sexist old sales technique of making a female customer feel bad about her appearance so that she will buy something.

As sexual harassment goes, it could have been so much worse. You didn’t grab my butt, or even give me the “ol’ elevator eyes” that they talk about in sexual harassment training videos. But it is shit like this—behavior and comments that just barely stay on the right side of the harassment line—that we let slide. And that makes the people who do this kind of thing believe that they can get away with it. And that’s a problem.

Can I stop you from behaving unethically with the rest of your patients? No. But I can certainly stop giving you my business. And that is exactly what I will do.

And about those “bunny teeth?” I think I’ll keep them, thanks.

Sincerely,

Kiera Butler

Money as a Social Construction

We all know that, on some basic level, money is purely symbolic.  It only works because everyone collectively agrees to participate in the fantasy that a dollar bill is worth a dollar, whatever that is.  Moreover, most of our money these days is purely electronic, represented by ones and zeros and real only in the most abstract sense possible.

Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post offered another way of thinking about money as a social construction: how much it costs to make it.  None of our coins are actually worth what they cost, and pennies and nickels are worth quite a bit less.

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The excess cost of producing pennies and nickels means a budget deficit for the Treasury. In 2013, producing the coins cost the government $105 million dollars above and beyond the coins’ value.

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Interestingly, moves to eliminate pennies have been successfully opposed by the zinc industry for years, illustrating another sociological phenomenon: the power of corporations to shape government decisions.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

Riddle: The Dream Job

I know how much everybody likes my riddles, especially the ones that have to do with me. I like them, too, so here is one:

No matter how much we like our professions and our lives, many of us have a secret childish fantasy about a dream career we haven’t pursued for many objective reasons but still fantasize about. I know a very brilliant academic in her fifties who secretly thinks it would have been amazing to be a pilot or a flight attendant. Another academic still has fantasies of having his own ice-cream cart. Somebody imagines herself as a model or a movie star. Somebody else fantasizes of being an astronaut.

I also have such a secret fantasy for a profession for which I’m not qualified at any level. I avidly watch the reality TV shows where representatives of this profession appear and imagine myself as one of them. I think there is nothing more glamorous and fun than working in this field.

So here is Question 1: what is my fantasy profession?

And Question 2: do you have one?


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Russian Internet and TV

Putin made a statement today that the Internet is a product of the CIA created to control the world. This is why, he explained, Russia needs its own Internet and if American companies (Facebook, YouTube, WordPress, etc) want to be accessible to Russian users, they need to move their servers to Russia.

At this point, the Internet is the only communication medium where the people of Russia can express themselves freely.

I’m watching a lot of Ukrainian and Russian TV these days and what strikes me as very curious is how calm and respectful Ukrainian TV programs are in comparison with the utter hysteria of Russian TV channels. Pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian Ukrainians speak in calm, reasonable voices, nobody yells, interrupts, or insults anybody else. Everybody switches from Ukrainian to Russian and back easily, nobody gets shutdown for unpopular opinions. You’d think, based on this contrast, that Russia is the country invaded by Ukraine because the degree of how completely unhinged everybody is on Russian TV. s


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Your Daily Poem: Franny Choi

Ed. note: For National Poetry Month, we’re highlighting one feminist poem each day in April. See the whole series here.

Today’s poem is “To the Man Who Shouted ‘I Like Pork Fried Rice’ at Me on the Street” by Franny Choi.

To the Man Who Shouted “I Like Pork Fried Rice” at Me on the Street

you want to eat me
out. right. what does it taste like
you want to eat me right out
of these jeans & into something
a little cheaper. more digestible.
more bite-sized. more thank you

come: i am greasy
for you. i slick my hair with msg
every morning. i’m bad for you.
got some red-light district between
your teeth. what does it
taste like: a takeout box
between my legs.
plastic bag lady. flimsy white fork
to snap in half. dispose of me.

taste like dried squid. lips puffy
with salt. lips brimming
with foreign so call me
pork. curly-tailed obscenity
been playing in the mud. dirty meat.
worms in your stomach. give you

a fever. dead meat. butchered girl
chopped up & cradled
in styrofoam. you candid cannibal.
you want me bite-sized
no eyes clogging your throat.

but i’ve been watching
from the slaughterhouse. ever since
you named me edible. tossed in
a cookie at the end. lucky man.
go & take what’s yours.
name yourself archaeologist but

listen carefully
to the squelches in
your teeth & hear my sow squeal
scream murder between
molars. watch salt awaken
writhe, synapse.
watch me kick
back to life. watch me tentacles
& teeth. watch me
resurrected electric.

what does it
taste like: revenge
squirming alive in your mouth
strangling you quiet
from the inside out.

This poem originally appeared in Poetry Magazine, March 2014 and appears here with permission from the author.

sm-bio Syreeta McFadden is a co-curator of Poets In Unexpected Places.

The shamanic wound


The meaning of the shamanic wound -- or what Bataille terms "impalement" -- is that it forces a break with the biological as the principle of structuring reality.  Shamans don't care for progeneration, as a rule.

But looked at from the other direction, allowing one's life to be driven by organic, biological principles feeds into a determinism not unlike that which afflicts dead matter.  After all, the human life cycle is predictable and, in a deadening and deadly sense, rather normative.

To break with the structure of biological determinism releases energy.  The deterministic flow of life may stop but the individual him- or herself becomes vitalized.

That is why I think the current trend toward biologism (seeing everything in the light of the inevitability of progeneration) is negative.  So long as one's energies are travelling along these normative, predetermined pathways, one cannot even understand the meanings that shamanic types are trying to impart.





Modalities of sacrifice

Subjectivity

To me, subjectivity has always much to do with the development of one's sense of beauty, line, harmony.   I do not see it as the same as having an opinion.   No doubt about it, I have always been late in having opinions anyway, because they seemed rather ugly, crude excrescences, without any explicable rhyme or reason.  They were simply there.  And they mostly belonged to other people.  And I had to deal with them.   But mostly they got in the way of my attempt to see the underlying connections between things.   There were structural connections and there were causal connections and there were connections that either maintained or disrupted harmony -- or reorganised it.   These took a while to see, but they were worth the work, because everything became richer when one understood these semi-hidden factors.

So it was that I developed my subjectivity.

But then, much later I learned that I had taken an unusual path.  When most people spoke of subjectivity, what they meant was their crude, untrained opinion.  For instance, I might instantly take a dislike to someone because of some feature on their face, or the way they disappointed my ideals, or because they don't look like they belong here.

To be able to be arbitary and rampant in the face of fate and to feel that anything one feels and wants to express is automatically justified -- this is what most people understand by "subjectivity".

And there are others who view the term almost entirely pejoratively, as they consider themselves to be objectivists, only interested in the facts.   But, if they're only interested in the facts, then they have no option but to measure, ascertain and give all credence to others basic opinions, since these are obvious facts.  That is to say, in the contemporary world, everybody has an opinion.

The most objective types are those who bow down to the force of others' untrained, undirected and unthought-through opinions.  For instance, hammering down on asylum seekers trying to enter Australia is the pattern of those who recognise that a strong train of opinion must certainly be catered to.   Anyone who succeeds in politics these days must submit to this measure of objectivity.
 
Ultimately, then, objectivity and extreme but untrained opinionatedness are one and the same in that they lead in the same direction -- Only, one is on a micro level and the other then appears as a broader political fact.

"Blood debt"

Don’t fight yourself