Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: August 2010 (page 1 of 3)

What is it about today’s 20-somethings?

A week ago, the New York Times (that paper I love to hate) ran a rather interesting 10-pager entitled “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”  The author, Robin Marantz Henig draws on a few examples from real life and pop culture–young people trying to make a living from blogging, haha, remaining “untethered to permanent homes”–to set up a premise that twentysomethings are taking too long to “reach adulthood,” then asserts the claim that this is signaling the dawning of a new life stage: “emerging adulthood.”

The piece indeed has some fascinating insights from the social science community, but problematically, the entire concept is based on the traditional definition of “adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child.

I think this is a premise worthy of some deep analysis.  Let’s dig in, shall we?

The first three elements of adulthood, according to the article, are pretty reasonable: 1) Finish school – (pretty universal), 2) Leave home (again, fairly universal, at least in the US), and, 3) Become financially independent (even if you don’t skip the first too, #3 is pretty much expected).

But 4 and 5–get married and have children?  Let’s think about this.  Forty, hell, even twenty years ago, women choosing not to get married or have babies (or to not get married and have babies, or to get married and not have babies) were stigmatized.  Still are, in many places.  I’m not going to make judgments on how best to raise a child, but whatever the answer to that is, we should still be thrilled about having so many options.  Women work, and their husbands stay home with the kids.  Women have kids with long-term non-married partners.  Women choose the “traditional” route and do the whole marriage-kids-picket fence thing.  The best part?  It’s their choice.

So this takes us back to milestones one through three.  In my world, there’s no excuse for not finishing high school, but college isn’t for everyone.  Nevertheless, enrollment numbers seem to be on the rise, so I wouldn’t say kids are particularly struggling with that facet of life.

But what about leaving home?  Lots of articles lately, in the Times and elsewhere, focus on this whole “failure to launch” issue: kids finish college and move back in, or never leave in the first place.  Leaving home, in my opinion, isn’t a necessity, and it is absolutely cultural.  In many other places, and in cultures here at home, kids finish school and go to work, all the while living with family.  It’s a pretty Anglocentric thing to assume kids should leave the house at 18.

So what’s left?  Financial independence.  What’s stopping twentysomethings?  Two things, only one of which is their fault.  The first, of course, is the obvious: the economy.  With so many unemployed and underemployed older adults, teens are getting the shaft on traditionally teenage jobs, which means they have little to no work experience when they finish school.

The second thing, of course, is unrealistic expectations, which is really the only thing in this entire article that is completely true and unique to this generation.  These young’uns are growing up with the expectation that they can be whatever they want–regardless of skill, talent, or education.  Part of that, in my opinion, is absolutely lovely…I have an amazing career I couldn’t have dreamed about on only a BA degree, and yet, here I am (I am, however, working on my MA).  I totally dreamed myself here.  But at the same time, ain’t gonna happen for everyone, and parents need to stop handing out awards, patting their kids on the back for a job poorly done, etc., and start preparing their kids for the reality outside.

So in the end, I find the whole premise of achieving milestones to reach adulthood terribly problematic.  And I know that I will never reach some of them myself.  I don’t want to own a home; I believe (like Walt Disney did) that renting is a better choice.  I want to live in a city, with my significant other (whether or not we decide to get married), and have a cat.  I don’t want children (never have).  I might go out three nights a week a la Carrie Bradshaw.

I also think this Anglocentric concept of adulthood can’t be applied to everyone (heh, Anglos included).  Don’t get me wrong…I’m all for independence.  I don’t think “helicopter parents” are doing anyone any favors, and I think independence–particularly financial independence–at a young age can only set one up for success.  But at the same time, there is nothing wrong with being close to one’s family.  A young person can still live with parents, work a full-time job, and be independent.

There’s something to be said for finding one’s own way in the world, but that means each one choosing what’s right for him or herself.  And what’s “right” comes in many packages.

(If you have an opinion on this, the awesome Jessie Rosen is collecting them)

This isn’t fear, this is hate.

Not too long ago, at the late end of a conference day in some faraway country, I was having a beer with a journalist whose work (and choice of journalistic employers) I respect.  Palestine being much the topic of the day, our conversation started there and quickly evolved into media bias and American perceptions of the Middle East, Arabs, and Muslims.

Though we tended to agree on media biases for the most part, my counterpart felt that human perception, American perception, was not so skewed.  He explained that, in his experience, mostly in the Midwest, he’d never come across anti-Arab or anti-Muslim rhetoric; that people were more likely to be completely ignorant of the Israeli-Palestinian issue than take one side or the other, and that he thought I was taking it too far.

I thought about his words for a long time; he was honest about his experience, and his truth wasn’t that far from mine: Neither growing up, nor now, have I heard many anti-Muslim sentiments. Sure, I’ve heard the ol’ “free the women from the veil” rhetoric, and support for the war, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen firsthand the kinds of sentiment we’re now seeing in the media.   That’s what makes it so shocking to me.

One in five Americans thinks Obama is a Muslim. 61% oppose an Islamic cultural center in an historically Muslim neighborhood. 56% view Islam unfavorably. Three months after that particular conversation in that faraway land, I’m left wondering: Who are these people? Three months after that evening, and I don’t think my conversation partner could have been more wrong.

“Islamophobia” was an accurate term immediately after 9/11.  However unjustified, people were afraid, and Islam was an easy target.  There were lots of questions from many different people, myself included, about what had caused people do something so horrific.  The study of Arabic immediately began to increase in the U.S.  Study abroad programs to the Middle East and North Africa picked up rather quickly (I did mine in 2004, just three years later).  People wanted to understand (they also wanted to join forces with the government against our “enemies,” but there’s only so much one can fit into a single blog post).

And then a curious thing happened: The word “jihad” seemed to enter everyone’s vocabulary.  Suddenly everyone was an expert on Islam, and the more you expressed hatred of it, the further you seemed to go in counterterrorism circles, journalism (see: Fox), and conservative politics (see: most of ’em).

Cut to 2010, and with the simultaneous dumbing down of America comes the rapidly increasing hatred toward Muslims, most of which can be deemed straight up racism. The identity of “Muslim” has always been a fairly racialized one, applying in the United States mainly to Arab, South Asian, and Black communities, and taking on racial characteristics (the inimitable Fatemeh Fakhraie has an excellent piece on the racialization of Muslims here). Muslims are painted in the media with one brush: they are the turbaned or veiled brown-skinned Other, shouting in the (Arab) street. They are dirty-footed brown skinned children lobbing rocks at the civilized (insert-your-country-here) military. Muslim identity in the United States (and certainly elsewhere) has become racialized and the sentiments expressed against Muslims of late is racism.

Thus, what’s happening today can no longer be described as “Islamophobia”, it is no longer an accurate term. People aren’t scared of Muslims, they flat-out hate them. They hear shrieks from the likes of Sarah Palin and Pamela Geller and come running, machetes “blood-dripped” “Sharia” signs in hand, ready to “fight the good fight.”

Image: New York Times

But what exactly are these people fighting? Sharia? Islamic values? Brown people? Whatever Fox news told them to? In one photograph, a protester is seen wearing a Confederate flag on his shirt, a fact which leads me to believe that a) these protesters are not New Yorkers and b) they’re, as I said before, just plain racist.

As Glenn Greenwald so aptly puts it, this “mosque” debate is not simply a distraction. Rather, it is bringing to light vicious hostilities that a large percentage of the American public holds toward Muslims. As Greenwald says, “The Park51 conflict is driven by, and reflective of, a pervasive animosity toward a religious minority — one that has serious implications for how we conduct ourselves both domestically and internationally.”

I leave you not with my own thoughts (which are, in sum: I support my Muslim brothers and sisters and fear for my country) but with the words of none other than Dick Cavett, whose New York Times column left a smile on my face:

I remain amazed and really, sincerely, want to understand this. What can it be that is faulty in so many people’s thought processes, their ethics, their education, their experience of life, their understanding of their country, their what-have-you that blinds them to the fact that you can’t simultaneously maintain that you have nothing against members of any religion but are willing to penalize members of this one? Can you help me with this?

Government Filtering: Not the Answer

Awhile back, in response to a particularly naive column defending Australia’s proposed Internet filter on the basis that it will protect kids from child pornography, I wrote a piece on the HuffPost explaining why filtering isn’t the solution.  Yet, similar articles keep cropping up.  Most recently, CJ Lambert, writing for New Zealand’s 3 News, argues that “normal people” should ask their ISPs to take action:

The normal people need to start making more noise and telling their providers that they want to look at pussy cat images (and not that other kind that comes up in Google).

While I find this particular request a bit bewildering (what’s wrong with adults looking at adult porn?), I get where Lambert is coming from: She’s looking for a solution to protect her children from vicious images online.  The problem?  Government or ISP-level filtering is not the solution.  Here’s why:

1. Filtering, no matter how layered, will not block all of its intended targets.

Let’s say you wanted to implement a comprehensive government- or ISP-level filter in a country to rid the Internet of pornography.  You would first block all known URLs dealing in pornography, simple.  You would then implement DNS filtering to block domains and sub-domains known to peddle porn.  Simple as well.  You might then implement keyword filtering for any and all keywords related to pornography, in the hopes of catching every offender.  None of these options will block all porn.  It might block a great deal of it, in English (or your country’s language), but it won’t get every site.  Nevertheless, kids won’t run the risk of stumbling upon the most obvious of porn sites, so you can turn your back for a few minutes.

2. Government level filtering is not the solution to family-level problems

I empathize with Lambert’s point of view, but I most definitely do not agree with her when she says:

I hope you tin-foil helmet wearing civil libertarians factor that in when you blaze on forums about human rights and freedom of expression. The rights of kids to be safe from sickos should always be higher on the list.

I don’t have kids.  I don’t want kids.  And while I do wish for a healthy society, implementing a filter, such as that proposed in Australia, brings in a pretty serious risk of blocking more than just porn (and again, why are we trying to prohibit adults from seeing porn?).  Fact: Every single government with a filtering mechanism in place blocks more than just porn. France blocks a couple of sites about Nazism.  The UAE blocks some social networks.  And Australia’s leaked blacklist filter included the web site of a dentist (had the list been implemented, it would’ve caused unknown damage to the dentist’s business). Government level filtering is not the solution to family-level problems.  Concerned parents should pay attention to what their kids do online, urge their schools to do the same, and if they so desire, implement filtering at the home level.

3. Filtering Child Pornography Does Not Rid the World of Child Pornography

Filtering child porn at the government level means that people in a single country cannot view it.  Even if the filter was 100% effective, however, people outside of that country would still retain viewing ability.  If we’re concerned about kids, we should be concerned about all kids, not just our own, and not just our own country’s.

The problem with filters is that they block porn, but that porn still continues to be produced, and is simply pushed underground, to be traded via P2P networks, or offline, as it was in the days before the Internet.  The better solution is going after the hosts, prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law, and working to go after the most dangerous criminals: the pornographers themselves.

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