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Occupy V-Day: The Greatest Love Of All

by Jose Vilson on February 14, 2012

in Jose

Whitney Houston

This is part of the OccupyVDay movement, sponsored by Samhita Mukhopadhyay. I found out about it via Jennifer Pozner and didn’t think I would, but Ms. Houston inspired this. Rest in peace.

Until a few years ago, Valentine’s Day worsened everything I knew about love.

My first crush was this girl named Barbara in the second grade. Whether it was her low key demeanor, cherubic face, or her dulcet voice, I knew I had to send her a card and a small box of chocolates to let her know my feelings towards her. Sure enough, the other Jose in the classroom (Jose L, because namesakes have to take on their last initials) felt the same way. We didn’t compete for long because she disappeared to another school soon after.

My second crush happened in the fifth grade with a girl who, by all measures, people considered way out of my league. When Valentine’s Day came, instead of actually asking her to be my Valentine directly, I sent her a copy of The Bodyguard Soundtrack on tape. This endeavor was a fail of epic proportions: not only did the tape come on too strong, but I didn’t learn my lesson in the least.

My third crush didn’t come until sixth grade. I missed Valentine’s Day, so I waited until way after graduation to talk to her. The problem is, I gave her a mixtape of songs that reminded me of our elementary school years together, and a flower … then ran away. The present me watches the movie of the kid me screaming “NOOO!!!!!” Not only did I not even give her a chance to respond, I didn’t even talk to her until her graduation. By then, she had already developed the most frigid of shoulders.

During my middle school years, I went to an all-boys school, normally a safe haven from the pressures of relationships with the opposite sex, but the school had a sister school a few blocks away. We also had a school counselor who I had a bit of a crush on. After asking my mom for a spike in my allowance, I bought gifts for a good four people, none of whom had that mutual interest in building a romantic relationship. They wanted to go steady … as friends.

Sheesh.

During my high school years, I had a Valentine then, too. I crossed the barrier of actually speaking to Ana about dating. I thought I did everything right: I called her, I wrote up a card in my chicken scratch handwriting, and even gave it to her face-to-face without running away. Just one problem: I never followed through. I thought the gift would have sufficed for a few chances at getting to know her better. Alas, I only got one, and I missed it. We remained friends, but I never learned how to take it from there.

Thus, Valentine’s Day became this enigma where I stubbornly believed that, if I make a monetary investment and depreciate my self-worth, I would do the right thing by the girl / woman of my dreams. I didn’t have someone to teach me the rules of courtship, and my parents preoccupied themselves with making sure I stuck to more scholarly pursuits with lines like, “Be careful! You might get her pregnant and you don’t want that!” Add this to the social pressures from my friends who had a new girl to date every week or so, and it was enough to make me quit this relationship business completely.

It’s a psychological castration that does no favors to a young man trying to understand how all the pieces fit.

With frustrations building, I started developing the nice-guy mantra in college, a sexist idea that states “If a woman doesn’t want me specifically, then the guy she’s currently dating must be a jerk, so I must be a jerk to get her.” I didn’t know how I had turned into this monster. I had so many women around me in college who inspired me, led me, and pushed my thinking. I also knew I needed to find a solution.

Sure enough, I turned to music. I remembered this one song I used to love back in elementary school by Whitney Houston. For those who grew up in the 80s and 90s, listening to the song signaled a change of the channel because gruesome images of starving children and adults would mess with our scheduled programming. After revisiting the song, I realized it spoke to an element of spirituality and love I never understood.

Throughout our entire lives, we’re asked to show off, compete, and do for others so long as we can something in return. Our daily interactions are a commodity, the things we do an investment on some personal gain. Valentine’s Day promotions encourage those of us with no root to cling onto hopes unfounded. What might have once been an innocent  day to demonstrate and celebrate appreciate each other’s existence has turned into a billion dollar industry feeding off the insecurities and cultural neurosis of the social collective.

How often do people wonder if this holiday has become less about love and more about outbidding competitors?

Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” asks us to invest more in ourselves. The lyrics started to crack a shovel at my lack of self-love. Before we go spending hundreds of dollars for flowers that last a week if you’re lucky, we ought to spend our time and energies growing ourselves as spiritual beings. Only then can we really develop profound, meaningful relationships with others. Even if the person has neither the desire or capacity to reciprocate your love for them, your love of self carries you forward.

Compulsory gifts to our paramours and significant others can’t change that.

After learning this lesson (the hard way), I began to restructure my wayward ideas on this day. As a work in progress, I continue to find ways to spread the love throughout the year rather than this specific day. With a newborn on my lap every afternoon, I now have a responsibility to teach him about this story long before I find a book bag full of heart-shaped boxes and mixtapes.

Jose, who normally wouldn’t write about love, especially on the first day after launching my brand new website design.

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Consent

by Jose Vilson on September 13, 2011

in Jose

"Society Teaches 'Don't Get Raped' Rather Than 'Don't Rape'."

I read a story today by Kathy Dobie for GQ about the 11-year-old girl who was raped by 19 or so men ranging from ages 16 to 27 in Cleveland, TX. The crime as an isolated incident? Heinous, and as an isolated incident reeks of the sexism some of us have numbed ourselves to over the last few decades. As I dug further in the story, I saw the rapers exemplified this country’s culture, which perpetuates the perception of women as objects for a man’s pleasure. Not only did these young men believe they did nothing wrong (they all pleaded not guilty despite the plethora of video, photo, and first-hand accounts as evidence), they had a whole community who forced themselves to believe they did nothing wrong because it was their own. We definitely see elements of racial conflict here, as we see Black men and boys raping a young Latina girl.

But fuck that. It could have been any girl with any group of guys. It’s still rape.

Our culture gives too many passes to people we prize in our communities or feel like “they looked after us.” (Yes, I’m referring to athletes and fraternities in college, to start.) Some of this comes from the backlash of centuries of people treating people unlike them as sexual objects. We can discuss colonialism, the theory of manifest destiny, slave labor, and undocumented servitude under this huge umbrella. Yet, the only way some of us think they can combat these societal tragedies is to find someone (or ones) to oppress as well. We have underground cultures where women let men “run trains on them” for quasi-protection, or see themselves having to “give it up” just on the threat of physical and mental abuse by other means.

Men, if we don’t respond to this in clear terms, we are part of the problem.

I’ve never known rape first-hand, but I’ve known harassment vicariously from people very close to me. Rather than focus on the victim / survivor, I’ll focus on those who perpetrated these acts. I’ve heard of men who slap women just to gain some control over them through fear and escalated violence. I’ve seen men who pretend to love their woman, but leave tire-streak scars on their otherwise beautiful and fragile appendages. I’ve seen men psychologically abuse women who they know they can do that to because of their deteriorating health, and she stays because she feels she has no other alternative but to continue getting abused in this manner. I’ve heard men tell other men to serve up concoctions of local anti-depressants and Nyquil with Kool-Aid served in a red cup to a woman who, unbeknownst to her, will fornicate with this man whether she wants to or not. I’ve waited for police officers and judges to make proper judgements on cases like these, only to tell their local newspapers that, because the woman didn’t come naked, scarred, and intoxicated with hallucinogens on her breath as evidence of the acts, her case has no validity.

Before I continue, some men might already think that I’m some sort of apologist, and that, realistically, there are women who “look for trouble.” They dress a certain way, act a certain way, and don’t say “no” when offered sex. There are women who go to clubs under-age and get in because of how they look and the people they see. They’ve already developed a reputation in their neighborhoods for promiscuity (whether it’s false or not). If they continue down that path, they’re bound to be raped. That’s where I hold a mirror to their faces and alert them to their own fallacies. How do we still live in a country that focuses intently on the abused and not the abuser?

How does “what a person looks like” constitute tolerance permission for rape? Before we look at a person’s form or dress, look at the person’s soul. Too many women I know experienced trespassing of their persons at a young age from people within their families. Some went on to become very successful in their own right, others not. Unlike the narrative that’s often told about women who get abused early in their lives, many of them actually lead normal lives. Some of them might be your best friends, your closest colleagues, your current lover, your parent, your wife, and, in some cases, your current students.

There’s a reason we have laws against this sort of stuff, because, if we look at this idea of consent, it’s the understanding that the person with whom you’re about to have consensual activities with mostly acknowledges the consequences of crossing this threshold with you. They have an understanding of their bodies in general, and, until such time, our society ought to set boundaries on our boys and girls (with or without parents). Little girls, by such definition, can’t consent to this sort of activity, and women, upon arriving at the ability to consent, should have the choice as to whom they let within their gates.

Without caveats. Otherwise, “no” is “no.” And if you think the opposite of “no” is silence, you’re dead wrong.

Mr. Vilson, who isn’t a lawyer, but hopes this made sense to people reading this before I calm myself down now …

p.s. – I do acknowledge that rape happens with and across other gender types, but I just wanted to hone in on this one, because we still don’t talk about it enough.

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Sugar, Spice, and Other Items We Should Never Mix

by Jose Vilson on May 25, 2010

in Jose

Bad Sugar

Bad Sugar

“They say you can’t turn a bad girl good, but once a good girl’s gone bad, she’s gone forever.” – Jay-Z, “Song Cry”

Five years ago, when I first used this quote for my former blog, I wrote about my relationships with the opposite sex, and pondered whether the adversities of the ones I’d met and dated left them bitter to any man. I was a “nice guy” then, and didn’t care too much about hearing about baggage, preferring to implicitly pontificate about letting all that go and giving a nice guy a chance. In my myopic view, I only saw these complaints as self-defeating, hallow, and trite. Even after witnessing the struggles my mother had with certain men in her life, I turned callous to some women’s predicaments.

Nowadays, after my experiences in education, I quickly grew to see the vile nature of relationships between boys and girls, and their older counterparts. The rampant “playing around,” teasing, and the lack of consequences on many parties’ ends develops into dangerous relationships in the future. People say that it makes girls stronger to deal with certain crap, but it makes them emotionally debilitated.

We need less of that.

I have a couple of girls in my class whose attitudes simply reek. For many, their auras give off poison and no one even wants to speak in their general direction, much less have conversation with them. One of them I’ve known for three years, and the other for two, and for both, there’s a sense that they’re both on a downward spiral into a place where there is no reproach for them. The sweet, hard-working girls I knew at glimpses of their lives became embroiled in mess after desensitizing mess. It pains me that they neither wish to have anyone reach out to them or have any real ambitions for anything besides making it to the next day.

Upon reflecting on this, and my long day with the two girls who’ve found tranquility in reading books in the back of my classroom (in my math class), I spotted one of them getting on the train. As a fellow teacher and I tried to encourage her in a setting where she had no one around her, she sounded (relatively) rational, and she had an even temper. She almost looked like the girl who I always believed was in there, but a big part of me saw that I wouldn’t get this version of her under normal circumstances.

It dawned on me then that at this stage in her life, she’s not receptive to anyone, even as they’re trying to help her. She respects our efforts, but she fully recognizes that the time and place she’s at now doesn’t fit with what I can provide as her teacher. Moments like this make me grimace as I type this. It’s not that she’s a bad girl or a good girl; it’s that she’s simply not ready, and when she is, she will.

Now, I think about the women who I once pontificated about, and am immediately humbled. Time and place are ingredients we don’t always have control over, and that’s what makes life bittersweet.

Mr. Vilson, whose chin gets checked whenever ego is involved …

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Ada Lovelace and Why Well-Behaved Women Never Make It In My Circle

March 26, 2009 Jose
Stereotypical Cartoon from the 1900's about Women's Suffrage

In the early 1800s, a woman by the name of Augusta Ada King, countess of Lovelace (commonly known as Ada Lovelace), wrote a “program” for Charles Babbage that would work for a “computer” that he hadn’t even created yet. She’s widely credited as the first computer programmer, and even had the first major computer named […]

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Ladies Need Love, Too

March 13, 2008

Mike Jackson once dedicated himself to a lady in his life.I’d like to extend a similar offer. Today, after a little contemplation in school, I realized how blessed I am to have the women in my life, and how they set a precedent for not only how I interact with women who are complete strangers, […]

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