Friday, 20 June 2008

Heartless bitch

What writer's block: I can't even get the thank you notes out for my party. (They're coming guys, I swear. Meanwhile, b/c cards and pressies got separated, could people please confirm what they gave me?) I'm struggling through a serious post at the moment, and am struggling against inertia on writing shorter, lighter posts whilst the more serious ones sort themselves out.

I feel like living proof of the first part of Newton's first law of motion: an object at rest shall remain at rest. Boy, do I need an unbalanced force...

...and I got it in the form of an email that I might have missed, if I didn't check my spam email so carefully.

A few weeks ago, just after my real (not official) birthday, I applied to become a member at this site. I honestly didn't think I'd make it, since I had to offer up my blog as well as a short essay as proof of the quality mentioned.

I knew that if I hadn't made it by the next round of site updates, I hadn't made it. So I kept checking.

Tuesday morning, I pumped my fist as I saw an email from the website in my spam box. When I opened it, I proudly read:

* SAVE THIS MESSAGE FOR FUTURE REFERENCE*


OFFICIAL Heartless Bitch!


Congratulations! You have just become an official member of Heartless Bitches International: The sauciest, ass-kickingest, fiercest Web site this side of the continental divide! We make NO apologies for who we are, and we take NO prisoners.

Some or all of your comments (from your application) have been added to the pages of Real Life Heartless Bitches

Check and see if you were singled out for "Exemplary Heartless Bitchitude"!

YESSSSSSSSSSSSS! If you want to read most of the application, it's here.

Bless one of my friends, when I told her, she said I was anything but a heartless bitch.

If the phrase is used in a particular way, perhaps. I don't take advantage of others; I'm not a prick tease; I don't say things to take pleasure in someone else's pain - people aren't commodities to me. If that had been what the site was about, I wouldn't have touched it with a barge pole.

But if you read some of the member statements, you'll see something else:

"I'm not going to change for anyone but myself. I refuse to live by anyone else's standards but MINE and MINE alone."

"Define yourself. If you let someone else do it for you, imagine your disappointment when you find out they're wrong."

"Trust your gut. Know what's important to you and don't let anybody fuck with it. And never, never, never give up your power."

"I guess what really makes me a Heartless Bitch, is my uncompromising feelings towards blind faith (which I guess includes blind patriotism), hatred (especially racism), objectifying men, women, animals; laziness especially when it comes to thinking, and superficiality-(not to be confused with politeness)."

And then there's mine, of course:

"Why be a sun god when you can be Hekate or Isis? Strength, creativity, compassion - join the dark side!"

So why call it "Heartless bitches"? How many times has a woman been called a 'bitch' for speaking her mind? For standing up for what she believes in? Called 'heartless' because she won't give way to someone else's requests or needs? She's seen as not nurturing enough, not caring enough, when all she is doing is drawing boundaries.

Fuck that. To quote Christina Aguilera:

So, what, am I not supposed to have an opinion?
Should I keep quiet just because I'm a woman?
Call me a 'bitch' 'cause I speak what's on my mind
Guess it's easier for you to swallow if I sat and smiled
...
This is for my girls all around the world (Around the world)
Who have come across a man that don't respect your worth
Thinkin' all women should be seen not heard
So what do we do girls? shout louder!
Lettin 'em know we're gonna stand our ground (Stand our ground)

So lift your hands high and wave 'em proud

Take a deep breath and say it loud
Never can, never will
Can't hold us down

So, what, am I not supposed to say what I'm saying -
Are you offended with the message I'm bringin'?
Call me whatever 'cause your words don't mean a thing
Guess you ain't even man enough to handle what I sing

I'm fascinated by how uncomfortable my pleasure in being a member of this group made some of my friends - both male and female. It was almost as if I'd betrayed them by not remaining the warm and fuzzy friend that they know and love.

But I'm not sure they understand that I can *be* that warm, fuzzy and caring friend if and *only* if I'm in touch with my dark side: the side that could put a gun to the temple of a Taliban warrior and pull the trigger without flinching; the side that can tear a strip off someone in anger; the part that wishes natural selection would eliminate various members of the human race; the part fascinated by the darker side of human nature. That dark side of me doesn't negate the light but *completes* it, balances it - gives it depth. Embracing the darkness gives the light texture, endowing it with a far more interesting quality - think of an eclipse.

Not acknowledging all aspects of ourselves means that nothing we do is real. It means that we are forever at the mercy of someone else's rules, someone else's approval and that we are constantly lying about who we are. I'm not saying we need to act on it - remember, most eclipses aren't total -but we need to be conversant with those sides of ourselves; otherwise we never act consciously, and those repressed/ignored sides control us rather than the other way round.

Now, I'm not saying EVERY strong opinion/dislike is indicative of problems with shadow. For example, I'm anti-death penalty for various reasons - but I *can listen to* the arguments FOR the death penalty without feeling threatened or unduly upset. I used to be pro death penalty and have thought about, understand the passion on and am happy to HEAR both sides. Yes, I have a strong opinion, but it's integrated. Ditto my very orthodox Catholic friend, John Ferris (who deserves an entry of his own), who disagrees with me very strongly on many things, but actually *listens* and remains unthreatened by my counterarguments. He has even said he learns a great deal from them. So do I - we have the BEST conversations; ones I think evangelicals would refer to as 'anointed'.

On the other hand, if one looks at those who follow rules most rigidly and are most threatened by challenge, we often find gaping holes in their integrity and an unsettling *amorality*. Taking a look at the Newman Society, they follow liturgical rules to the letter and parrot Catholic teaching on everything endlessly. You don't have to look too closely to see the breathtaking callousness/nastiness with which they treat other people, priests and laity alike, until they need to use them to achieve their own ends. Look at the 'love and light and no darkness'/'we don't believe in status' evangelicals, and you'll find plenty of anger, competitiveness and jockeying for position. Religious people may attack secular society for being selfish, but I've never seen narcissism on this scale outside religion. Denying it and driving it underground takes a natural regard for self, which might otherwise integrate itself into a healthy personality, hardens it, and turns it into narcissism.

Frankly, I'd rather be a heartless bitch. Moral rigidity is never a real position...as noted by others, it is an exoskeleton created to contain internal chaos. But exoskeletons, hard as they seem, are brittle (and crunch nicely underfoot, says the HB in me). They will never have the strength and flexibility of an endoskeleton.

True strength and support always starts from within.

And all that leaves aside the gifts of the dark side: depth, real power, authenticity, soul, a touch of wildness and mystery, the ability to laugh at yourself and stand up for others. We all need to go there and cheer eachother on as we do.

*Grins ruefully at self* This morning, I realised I could have put this all so much more simply: we're like orange juice cartons. The concentrate - with its richness and flavour - is at the bottom...very often, we can be a little thin, without so much flavour, at the top.

To have full richness and flavour all the way through, we need to remember to shake before opening.

8 comments:

Ariel said...

Beautifully said, she'enedra.

Once again, congratulations on your new Heartless Bitch status. I think their website is a really good one; they're strong people who have a good sense of equity and don't suffer fools gladly. You are in good company.

I really like what you say about depth and texture here - I know we've discussed this a lot, so of what you've said is familiar, but I don't think you've ever said it quite as eloquently as you have here.

For myself, as you know, I've always been drawn to darkness and shadows, and (for various outdated reasons) I've also always been compelled to mask it, with highly unfortunate results. I'm working on it.

Darkness is not evil; it is, in fact, essential for true light to exist. It's neither good nor evil; it simply is, and it can be given moral evaluation only upon its application: it's what one does with darkness that makes it good or evil. The same is true of light.

Thanks for this.

Ari.xx

Anonymous said...

You are neither heartless, nor a bitch - so when I first saw you had been accepted to be in this group, I was wondering what was going on...

Your explanation made things very clear, and in that sense, it seems an ideal group for someone of your intellect and integrity.

Thanks, yet again, for a stimulating read.

Pius_X said...

Okay, let's get some things into the open: 1) How many Newman Society events have you been too in the last five years? 2) How many members of the Newman Society have you met? 3) How many Newman Society members do you know well?

Over the last academic year the Newman Society's events consistently got more people than any other Chaplaincy event, in Michaelmas and Hillary Terms the Society regularly got more than 20 people to dine with the speakers, and several times dinner had to be moved to accomodate everyone who wished to attend.

If you wish to criticise individuals go ahead, but if you wish to criticise the Society I think your readers have a right to know your familiarity with it.

Irim said...

Fair questions.

I know most of the members at least slightly through church; over the years, I've known several well; your former president (Hilary 2008) is a very good friend of mine.

Let's get something straight here: my issue is NOT with their being conservative/traditional. I may not agree with everything (more like almost anything) they say, but it's the same with very good friends of mine (including Oratorian priests) - differences of opinion are there to be discussed and make for fabulous evenings.

My issue is with their behaviour. I've heard eyewitness accounts of men who publicly denounce homosexuality snuggling on the sofa after a drink or two (in vino veritas, remember?); disregard for rules they think they're above; bullying; letters to bishops complaining of 'liturgical abuse' should a priest raise the chalice a cm too high.

I also know they made Yaqoob's life a living hell when he was president and held committee meetings, making decisions behind his back, trying to sabotage his agenda. God forbid any of them should actually HAVE TALKED TO HIM ABOUT IT.

You don't f**k with my friends.

I have witnessed them ceaselessly mock people who don't agree with them; anyone, even the priests or bishops they claim to respect, is fair game. They're Oxford students, for God's sake, did no one teach them the art of genuine intellectual discussion/argument? Mockery is what you use when you don't have a leg to stand on.

I have also been on the receiving end of some of their shocking behaviour: once, at dinner with Yaqoob, several of them rang him ceaselessly, insisting that they come over for the Friday evening. Yaqoob patiently made it very clear he had guests, long after the time even Mother Teresa would have boxed their ears. Guess what? They showed up anyway, unwanted, unwelcome in an MCR that wasn't their own. One of them SAT DOWN AND STARTED EATING YAQOOB'S FOOD.

Even when members of the NS are in other venues, they are almost always universally disliked. The sending down of one member caused jubilation in circles you can't even dream of.

The problem is, no one wants to deal with them, so they get away with it.

Leaving aside Jeremy Fairhead, who was absolutely right in cutting them off, let's have a look at how those who should be sympathetic to the Newman Society's aims feel, shall we? The Oratorians.

Generally, the Oratorians see the NS as useful for altar servers and laughingstocks. You read that right. You are an endless source of material for Oratorian comedy. I've also heard some of the most colourful adjectives precede "Newman Society" come out of Oratorian mouths.

They tolerate you, at best. Contrary to popular Newman Society belief, they don't see you as a source of wisdom on liturgy or theology. They see you coming and they roll their eyes.

Frankly, they need several straight-talking Saffas to come and tell the NS what's what. In my fantasies, it's Os Du Randt.

So don't tell me the Newman Society doesn't have a well-deserved reputation for being difficult, hypocritical and downright nasty.

I do too, but at least I don't pretend to be something I'm not.

Ariel said...

You speak your mind and don't pull punches, nor do you suffer fools gladly. If that makes you difficult and nasty, well, so be it. But you're no hypocrite. I can't think of anyone who deserves the label less.

I once dated a former NS president, back when I was still a Christian. He had already left the Church (and is now Russian Orthodox), but I have to say, he was still hypocritical, demanding, and rather intolerant (he poked fun at almost anyone who disagreed with him on something), and he had a truly prodigious sense of entitlement.

Ari.xx

pius_x said...

As a foreword to this I would like to state that I do not believe the all actions of members of the Society.

Let's deal with the specific questions I asked first. 1) You didn't answer, well for the benefit of readers I can say that I have never seen you at an event and I have been a quite a few. 2) Your answer was that you have met 'most'; I find this answer quite surprising because at least half of the people who have regularly attended events over the last year do not go to the Oratory, and even of those who regularly attend the Oratory lots have no idea who you are. 3) You identified one person in particular in recent years whom you know well.

It is certainly my contention, and your statements don't convince me otherwise, that most of the regular members of the Society are unknown to you. The few people you do know who are involved you only know in passing. In truth, you have little idea about the Newman Society, its members, activities, or ethos, yet this doesn't seem to stop you mouthing off.

What 'rules' exactly has the Society disregarded? Why is writing to bishops to warn of liturgical abuses (something, in fact, the late Pope instructed members of the lay faithful to do as their duty) a bad thing? How has the Society bullied anyone?

You cite the specific example of Yaqoob, I am really quite surprised that you are so taken in by one sides view of the events. When members of the committee had members of the royal family phoning them up to say what a shambles planning had been, when Yaqoob was uncontactable and unwilling to discuss things with the committee, when he flounced around like a self-important prig and wouldn't even deign to answer questions posed by people, you may understand the actions of certain people.

How exactly did Jeremy Fairhead cut-off the Society? You seem to have absolutely no idea what your talking about.

To be quite honest not only do I not trust you on the opinions of the Oratorians, for I have heard them describe you in terms I wouldn't use for my worst enemy, and not only does their community have two former Presidents whose actions in office would make current members look angelic, but they are laughing stocks themselves.

The main issue I have is that you have taken the actions of several people and characterised a Society with many, many more members. A Society that you yourself have little interaction with apart from the mythical tales of a prima donna.

Irim said...

[As a foreword to this I would like to state that I do not believe the all actions of members of the Society.]

I misread this the first time and was ready to come out fighting, but stepped back and re-read it. What I think I hear you saying is that you don't believe in all the actions of the society. Fair dues. I'm happy to take that as a premise.

2) Your answer was that you have met 'most'; I find this answer quite surprising because at least half of the people who have regularly attended events over the last year do not go to the Oratory, and even of those who regularly attend the Oratory lots have no idea who you are.]

I think you need to realise that a lot of us know eachother by face/action, not by name, and have interacted briefly without real introduction. You can 'meet'/observe someone in a conversation with multiple members. And I'm not talking just this lot; I mean over YEARS.

I do want to ask though - WHY are you spending so much energy on this? If I were a big name, fine, but I'm betting only people I know really read this. I'm not worth the effort. Going around asking people if they know me is a bit excessive for one person who tosses off the Newman Society as an example every now and then. Go have some fun or read a blog you agree with. YOu don't NEED to come here. Why do you?

[It is certainly my contention, and your statements don't convince me otherwise, that most of the regular members of the Society are unknown to you. The few people you do know who are involved you only know in passing. In truth, you have little idea about the Newman Society, its members, activities, or ethos, yet this doesn't seem to stop you mouthing off.]

Why do you care?

You may be right about my not knowing them personally - but people like Damian Thompson and conservative Catholic bloggers do the same. Do you go after them?

And as for the Newman Society, one does NOT have to know them personally to have observed them in action. Remember, I've watched them over YEARS, with different members, and the character never seems to change. The same sort of young men always gravitate towards it. That says a lot about the ethos. When the type of people who join don't change over years, something in the ethos is constant. That gives me the substance to mouth off.

[Why is writing to bishops to warn of liturgical abuses (something, in fact, the late Pope instructed members of the lay faithful to do as their duty) a bad thing?]

It's not a bad thing when they are TRUE abuses, not minor variations in practice. When Fr Jerome rolls his eyes at what an NS member constitutes abuse, you know it's not abuse. You know it's displacement activity, and someone probably needs to be paying more attention to their life.

As for the bullying and disregarding of rules, there are plenty of examples over the years. I note you didn't touch on the mocking/genuine argument point.

I know Yaqoob's faults, and had it been any other society, I'd have taken his naturally colourful description with a shaker of salt, trust me. But this sort of cloak and dagger fit into previous happenings of the society and its general character, so I believed him. And what makes you think he was my only source?

[you may understand the actions of certain people]

I know how difficult it can be to get in touch with Yaqoob. But that does NOT mean I would go behind his back.

And trust me, I can see him flouncing adorably in his lace cotta/surplice, bless him.

[How exactly did Jeremy Fairhead cut-off the Society? You seem to have absolutely no idea what your talking about.]

Yes, I do. It has been years, but he kicked some NS ass.

[To be quite honest not only do I not trust you on the opinions of the Oratorians, for I have heard them describe you in terms I wouldn't use for my worst enemy]

*Grabs your face and plants a HUGE kiss on your cheek*

You, my darling, have MADE MY DAY.

Please tell me Robert Byrne called me a c**t - it would mean something coming from a Mancunian. Richard Duffield doesn't have quite enough earthiness to make it worthwhile. Jerome, nah. Daniel or Anton, maybe, but again, not enough oomph. Joseph, Dom, Greg and Nick would all be upfront with me. At least one has called me a *bitch* - and not like it's a bad thing!

You star. Thank you! *POPULAR! you're gonna be popular!* *hums happily*

Or was it that they called me...liberal?? *Gasp*

[their community have two former Presidents whose actions in office would make current members look angelic]

*ears prick* Oh, darling, dish the dirt!! Name and shame, sweetie.

[The main issue I have is that you have taken the actions of several people and characterised a Society with many, many more members.]

Hmmm, that's probably fair, but they're the ones in the forefront, and it's up to the rest to rein them in. They're not doing the rest of the society or the cause of beautiful liturgy - which I love - any favours. Through them, a lot of people have come to feel that lovely liturgy comes with the price of very difficult personalities. And it's not just 'mythical tales' - it's 10 years of observation.

Thanks for your thoughts, though. Now, honestly, stop letting me wind you up. Put that energy towards something that makes your life happier and the world a better place.

God bless,
Irim

fr. Peter Hunter OP said...

xrThis is hilarious. I can't help recounting the story of my first, and only, attendance at a Newman Society event. I served as deacon at a Mass at which Fr. Aidan Nicholls OP presided. Afterwards, I was invited to a dinner at St Benet's where the two young men on either side of me vied to be more right-wing than thou. It ended with one of them toasting General Franco and then vomiting copiously all over my holy scapular, at which point, I made my excuses and left. Truly inspiring behaviour.