Politics vs. Practicality

This is another one that I’ve only just started to think about, on a topic about which I am more that a little bit ambivalent. We’ll see how this post goes.

However, first things first, I want to tell a bit of a story. On some forums I used to participate in some people from New Zealand posted about how they were planning on vacationing in the US and were anxious about dealing with tips. Tip culture was entirely foreign to them and they had no idea who should be tipped or how much or why the US worked that way. Then one person in particular started to talk about how the entire tip culture that involves paying people very small amounts of money so that they depend on people being willing to pay more than what they technically owe was wrong, and how he thought the US shouldn’t do things that way.

The americans who read these posts interpreted them as him claiming that he was not going to participate in the tip culture, and immediately posted to say that regardless of his feelings on the matter it was important to play along. That not tipping harms the wrong people, the people who are paid so very little, and because of that tips must be figured into the costs of things ahead of time.

The New Zealander who had been complaining about tip culture read their responses as a defense of tip culture – as though they were saying that the system is right. As such, he more firmly rooted himself in what he was saying, which lead to the americans rooting themselves more firmly in what they were saying and it just kept going. Eventually someone was able to point out exactly what was going on and where the miscommunication was happening, and suddenly everyone was able to understand each other. It was a collision of politics and practicality, and I think it really let me see how easy it is for people to mistake them. Or, alternatively, how important it is to be very clear in which of the two things you are talking about.

Ok, back to the subject matter at hand, and how this relates to Asperger’s/autism. (I wonder why AS is almost always capitalized, which autism generally isn’t. hrm) So I recently came across a new blog called Double Rainbow by Caroline Narby.  I have been finding her blog posts very interesting to read, but I also feel that there have been more collisions of politics and practicality going on.  I’ll try to highlight a few examples.

Narby wrote a post about the book “Aspergers and Girls.”  A none too flattering one, at that.  At one point, she takes on an author who talked about how girls should shave and said in response “Yes, teenage girls who don’t shave are likely to be teased and humiliated—which is wrong. Anyone might choose to shave or not, but the expectation that women their legs and underarms is arbitrary and oppressive.”

This is true.  I agree completely with Narby.  On the other hand, and I not 100% sure that the author was intending to defend a culture that pushes women to eliminate their body hair.  It could also be that she was explaining a culture that pushes women to eliminate their body hair, and saying that playing along with this culture is a way to avoid negative responses from people.  Which is also true, however much it is also unfortunate.

Another example is regarding the New York Times article “Navigating Love and Autism.”  One line from the article goes, “Her [Kirsten’s] blunt tip on dating success: “A lot of it is how you dress. I found people don’t flirt with me if I wear big man pants and a rainbow sweatshirt.””

Narby’s response to this is, “Gender normativity and backhanded homophobia in one “blunt tip.” […] Not only are gay, lesbian, and trans* autists ignored and erased in the piece, we’re actively shamed. […] There must have been young adults who are gay and/or genderqueer or trans*, or who are unsure of and are exploring their identities. The message they received was not that they are not alone and are worthy of love, but that they are undesirable.”

Once again, I find myself with mixed feelings, and once again on some level I find myself agreeing with both parties.  On a purely practical level, putting aside issues of what is or is not right, Kirsten is correct, especially for teenagers.  Conforming to gender norms widens one’s dating pool and makes the process easier.  Narby is also correct; it is important to remember that not everyone is the same, and it isn’t right to say that conforming to gender essentialism is the correct way to be.  That said, I really doubt that Kirsten was thinking along those lines.

I have no idea if the people in either of the examples I mentioned were intending to defend oppressive systems or claim that there is only one right way for women to be.  It certainly appears to me that Narby read them that way, though.  In which case, other people probably did too.  Ultimately, I think it’s really important for any such discussion to have room for both the politics and the practicalities, and that people need to be really super clear on which one they are intending to communicate about.  Both areas are important to explore, and ultimately people need to make their own choices about whether they prefer to stand by their own self-expression or conform to a world that is not always welcoming to significant differences, or, more probably, find a balance between the two.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Politics vs. Practicality

  1. Yes, it is important to keep seeing both sides of the equation and I like how you’ve illustrated the dilemma!

    However, what my mother always said with regards to conforming, “if you do that to attract a partner you’re going to end up with a conformist partner!” So her advice was to dress myself in whatever I felt most “me” in to find that very rare person who would be specifically attracted to me. Overall, not a bad attitude to have.