Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding - Built Up Like Christmas And Over Just As Fast. Or Is It?

I must admit that I really looked forward to the nuptial arrangement of Sir William and Kate at Westminster Abbey. I have had passing obsessions with Princess Diana with my youth, my likely due to the fact that my mother had a lasting obsession herself. I have faint memories of a "Dress Up Doll Diana!" book as a child, one that I never cut up to actually use due to the fact that it was, intuitively, an object to be revered and handled with care. In fact, it still sits on my bookshelf, untouched as ever. It is the very acknowledgement that it remains untouched that provides insight into the way I have handled the royal wedding and all the media clamor that it has entailed. Around the nation, eyes remain peeled and glued to television screens, eager to observe every move of the couple. The question behind each set of eyes, however, is the same - Why? Why, despite our rationale that all of this has been blown out of proportion, are we so desperate to not miss a second of it? "It doesn't impact out lives; there are greater issues at hand," we say to each other. But in our homes, on our computers, even on the newspapers littering our kitchen tables, stand William and Kate, photograph after photograph, article after article. And we hunger to take it in.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I have a theory. First of all, we all remember Princess Diana - the regal, beautiful woman who took it upon herself to be the strongest woman she could while in a position that most conform within to cling to semblance of comfort. We watched her death - the controversy. We were trained to revere. We knew we had witnessed something horrific, something out of control. And the explanations we received left something to be desired.
My mother and I watched the Lifetime movies. Diana became a symbol. I'm not sure what she became a symbol of, but she magically transformed from being a Princess met with a tragic end into a legend - how could something so awful happen to someone of such a status? The royal family of afar became shrouded in darkness. And we watched as her children grew out into the light.
Now, William old enough to marry. . . will the woman he chooses live up to her role? Does she know what she's getting herself into? The same old questions tie into a tired line of dialogue. So why do we all seem to care so much?

Today, the Huffington Post ran an article by Paul Raushenbush entitled, "The Royal Wedding as Sacrament." A few things that Raushenbush stated really rang true to me, and put into perspective exactly why many of us may be acting in such a manner contradictory to our guiding principle.
"Weddings are intrinsically hopeful acts. Yet they are also realistic. Within the very liturgy of marriage there is acknowledgment of sickness and poverty, and the certainty of death. Standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace were individuals who have seen great sorrow and the absence of the groom's mother was a reminder of the fragility both of weddings and of life itself. In the face of all this, the liturgy of marriage involves a forceful assertion of the value and necessity of commitment to the future with mutual support and unity, even within the face of adversity."
Not only does Raushenbush touch on the significance of the wedding in relation to Princess Diana - he reminds us of our mortality. The royal wedding may not be a turning point in all of our lives, an event so monumental that we, ourselves, will be forever altered. What it is, however, is a reminder to all of us that there is hope in this world just as there is tragedy. We may not relate to Will and Kate, but what we can relate to is the symbolic value their matrimony lends to England. In a world where "sickness and poverty" are threatening greater pockets of the population, here is a moment of light on which all can concentrate. Even William and Kate are reminded of their fate; for their lives are the ones that truly are changing, and with their vows comes the promise to each other to remain faithful till death. Raushenbush asks us to do the same, if only in our religious lives:
"The sacrament of marriage includes the blessing of God's providence. Within the ornate language of the liturgy of matrimony shines a deep longing that God will strengthen the ties that bind the couple to one another and bring them peace. Perhaps what we are all longing for when we watch this beautiful spectacle is to remember God's blessing on our own lives, to help reconcile our own relationships and bring peace to our fractured world."
One needn't believe in such a God to take a lesson from Raushenbush's words. The royal wedding just may serve as an unconscious reminder that life goes on. Acknowledge our strength now. Life is not a hurdle, but an invitation to cross the finish line into a new beginning - motivation to tie together our loose ends in the same way William and Kate tie their lives together now.

Perhaps I and all of my female sisters out there have just developed a princess complex better left unexplored. Or maybe there really is something greater going on beneath the gossip and glamour of a new princess being introduced to the world.
Rest in Peace, Di

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" Westminster - Then Take Them Off and Call it a Day

While the debate over abortion and the relentlessly false vilification of Planned Parenthood rattled the nation to the point of seemingly imminent government collapse, my little corner of the world here at McDaniel College took a morsel of time out of the monotonous daily grind of campus life to "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" - the "international men's march to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence."

Presented by the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County, fliers handed out to the surrounding community read the following:
"Each year, an ever-increasing number of men, women and their families are joining Walk a Mile in Her Shoes . . . Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is a fun opportunity for men to educate the community about a very serious subject and to rally the community to take action to prevent sexual violence." 
"There is an old saying: "You can't really understand another persons' experience until you've walked a mile in their shoes." Walk a Mile in Her Shoes asks men to literally walk one mile in women's high-heeled shoes. It's not easy walking in these shoes, but it's fun and it gets the community to talk about something that's really difficult to talk about:  gender relations and sexual violence."
"It's critical to open up communication about sexual violence. While hidden away, it's immune to cure. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get people talking. People unfamiliar with it often don't even want to know it exists. It's ugly. People that have experienced it themselves want to forget about it. How do you get them talking now, so they can prevent it from happening? And after it's happened, how do you get them to talk about it so they can recover?"
"Walk a Mile in Her Shoes provides several opportunities to get people talking. For preventive education, it helps men better understand and appreciate women's experiences, thus changing perspectives, helping improve gender relationships and decreasing the potential for violence. For healing, it informs the community that services are available for recovery. It demonstrates that men are willing and able to be courageous partners with women in making the world a safer place." 
 As a member of Gamma Sigma Sigma, a sorority lending services to the event, I got a firsthand look at what was taking place, as well as the attitudes of those involved. While I couldn't have been happier that McDaniel College staff, from the president to a few members of faculty, were taking time out of their Spring weekend to tramp around Main Street in hideously oversized high-heels, waving around signs of solidarity, I almost felt as though it was showing more than it could speak for. What would happen if a rape victim had walked up to one of these men after the walk? What would happen if a student had no where else to go, but felt that, after seeing one of her coaches taking part in the walk, she could go to him  and confide in him what had happened to her? Cars lined the streets, the drivers inside with their faces plastered to the windows, eager to see what was going on. A policeman on a segway followed the group along, stopping to give parking citations along the way. But was anyone really thinking about the tragedy of what their were raising awareness for?
To my knowledge, no one involved was made aware of information to give in the case that someone should confront them with the desire to voice a problem from personal experience, or in the quest for help. No meetings were held to better equip these people with tools for becoming a person of support. No connections were made with the local women's shelter or advocacy groups. So while the walk unquestionably raised awareness, did it really open any channel of communication? I don't believe so.

It is commendable that the nation is coming together on the idea that men could better understand women by being put in their shoes. But the goal must transcend the literal representation - which, if you think about it, is a little bit of an insult to what needs to be happening in reality - and really aim to educate men and organize local groups in the name of of all the issues the movement is seeking to prevent.
(Not to mention the fact that the only McDaniel students involved in the walk were either Gamma Sigma Sigma sign-carrying volunteers, or football players that had been appealed to by their coach to wear heels as they walked down the street.

A week-long celebration of the McDaniel Allies club has taken over the campus this past week. Why did something like this not occur in the name of "Gender Relations & Sexual Violence" the week prior to the  walk? Because it's easier to have a "fun opportunity for men" that to truly address what many men are guilty of - possibly even the same men walking down Main Street with their heels duct-taped to their feet.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Marijuana and the Workplace, Twenty Years Later

I greet every morning from the front steps of my university dormitory - cigarette in hand, eyes squinting from the sunlight reflected off of the snow. This morning I brought a book outside with me for the occasion, "No More Nice Girls:  Countercultural Essays" by Ellen Willis (1992). Scanning the table of contents for a chapter that I could immediately relate to without too much mental investment, I quickly paged to an essay titled, "The Drug War:  From Vision to Vice".
The argument made within the essay revolved around the reality of mandatory drug testing within the workplace, and the confused stigma surrounding marijuana and the "enlightening" effects of the psychedelic drug scene.
The argument breaks down into a simple question: Is it right or wrong to mandate drug tests in the work place and, in the event that it is, what stigma will users of marijuana be faced with by their peers? Disclaimer: I'll explore this question while avoiding the larger issue of legalization; of course one could argue that mandatory workplace testing would be okay if it didn't target pot smokers. After all, some people are even prescribed it. But legalization is a far larger argument than is necessary here when discussing Willis' article.
I do disagree with mandatory drug testing in every workplace. There are, however, many positions that require alertness, swiftness, complete mental and mobile control. Those who work in factories, construction, or other environments where heavy machinery or manual labor is involved need to be their best. The problem with this, however, is that these are the same positions that often cause injury. This is where over the counter narcotics come on the scene. 
Should an employ be put in the situation where their job could be lost because their ingesting a prescribed, narcotic painkiller for job-related (even not job-related, for that matter) injuries? When the results of the test come back and they test positive for opiates, will the company be lenient? Will employees be able to bring documentation regarding what prescriptions they are on and why? Probably not, based on the fact that employers test for those drugs as well, which is really none of their business if said employee is not working in a safety sensitive position.
More frightening is the possibility of suspicion based testing, wherein an employee could be summoned for God knows what reasons. But back to the case presented in the article, which focuses specifically on marijuana.
If an employee is not working in a safety sensitive area as mentioned above, using marijuana for medical purposes should not be a problem in my opinion. Some people can't take narcotic painkillers (which show up on drug tests under just as much suspicion) and marijuana is the only choice for reliable pain relief.
Does marijuana have a bad rap? Of course. Flocks of fledgling activists, joints rolled and stacked in the pockets of their distressed second-hand flannel, don't exactly portray the most convincing of arguments while waving posters of giant pot leafs around. But ultimately, the only opinion that matters is that of the law.
It all basically boils down to the fact that the opinion of marijuana a decade into the new millennium is not what it was when Willis was growing up, nor what it was at the time of her parents ascent into adulthood. Marijuana is not viewed, on the large public scale, as a substance capable of taking the human mind into previous unexplored places. It is not something that people merely use in the privacy of their own homes to turn on, tune in and drop out. The reality of the situation is that there are thousands of people driving around in the cars right at this second, only holding their pieces to the lips when the coast is clear. There are people in the fast food industry indulging while on their breaks so that they're high enough to not give a shit about how boring their job is. There are people who are mentally addicted and cannot function without. All of these factors culminate to show that, yes, marijuana has become more of a vice than a visionary tool. But only for those who allow it to be. Sadly, it is these people that make the stakes more trying for those who smoke responsibly, who separate the work environment from their home life and seek great depth from life, not great escape.
Until everyone can follow in such seekers' footsteps, drug testing in the workplace remains somewhat of a necessary evil, albeit one that could use several major adjustments. And whether you dream of higher levels of being or you're running from reality so fast you don't see the edge before you fall, when it's your turn for testing, there will be no escape at all.

In conclusion, I am forced to admire Willis for including an essay on such a controversial topic in an anthology written as early as 1992. Today, news stations can barely bring up legalization without screaming at each other from the digital boxes that hold their talking heads. Mothers riot over MTV's pathetic attempt at bringing the edge to America with the regrettable remake of "Skins". For being a countercultural topic in 1992, should we not be ready to face issues such as this almost twenty years later?