big buts at the train tracks

Jon Henner

Jon Henner
November 26
full time father, full time deaf activist, some times writer, most times thinker, all times wandering.


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JUNE 22, 2009 5:27PM

Answering Mary Wollstonecraft's Questions

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Note:  A few weeks ago, Mary Wollstonecraft asked that I fill out her interview questions.  Things became busy for me and I ended up not writing for almost a month.  A few nights ago, I finally came around and sacrificed some sleep for the sake of answering the questions.




Do you mind telling me some basic things about yourself--age, sex, where you live, where you grew up, any siblings, any children, where you attended school. ? Feel free to say as little or as much as you like.

I’m a 26 year old male, living in the southwest, but I grew up in the Chicago area.  I was mainstreamed or integrated for the entirety of my pre-colligiate years.  For most of primary school, I was in self-contained classrooms, which means that although I was in a mainstreamed program, solely certified teachers of the deaf orchestrated my education.  After primary school, the powers that be allowed me to be integrated for the duration of my middle school years, but those same powers forced me to attend another mainstreamed program for high school.  They didn’t want to pay for an interpreter.  I later went to Gallaudet University, the world’s only university for the Deaf, but left because I disliked the audism apparent there.  I eventually graduated with a BA in Philosophy from Illinois State University, and a MS in Psychology from Walden University.

Currently, I’m a stay at home dad for my two year old son.

Do you think men and women are different? How much is biology, how much is socialization?

This is a very difficult question to answer in brief.  Psychologists generally feel that the nature/nurture debate is pretty much bupkus.  Our behavior is a combination of both genetic effects and environmental effects.  It’s silly to believe that men and women are completely the same because we’re chemically and biologically different; however, it’s important to note that at no point is different better.

What were your parents like? How much equality existed in their marriage?

I grew up in a relatively traditional family.  Both my parents worked full time, but it was pretty clear that my mom did most of the domestic chores.  I’m not sure how their marriage was.  Deaf people tend to miss verbal social cues and my parents are very good at hiding visual social cues.  But, they’ve been married for 40 years this winter.  They must be doing something right.

How much are you involved with kids right now--your own children, friends' and relatives' children, volunteer work, as a career?

I don’t do other people’s kids.  I don’t like ‘em.  They’re small, fragile, annoying, and I’m always afraid that if I interact with one, I’ll be accused of varying forms of abuse.  But, I’m a stay at home Dad for my own son.

 What jobs have you had? Please remember to  include all caregiving jobs--e.g, babysitting, parenting, elder care.

I’ve had a lot of jobs of little note.  But, for a few months, I worked as a supervisor in a group home.  The home was populated with adults, each of which had a variety of disabilities.  I was selected for that particular group home because some of the residents, in addition to their varying psychological, physical, and behavioral challenges, had varying degrees of hearing loss.  One of the residents responded poorly to his hearing caretakers and often mutilated himself when he couldn’t communicate.  After two reconstructive surgeries, the group home owners finally got it into their collective heads to hire some deaf workers.

What’s really sad was that it took permanent injuries before the boss-folks realized that communicating with a deaf person is pretty vital.

I’ve also worked as a teacher’s aide, and a wrestling coach.

At what stage was the women's movement when you were a child and teen?  Were members of your family involved? Was it talked about at home and in school?

I really came of age during the 90s.  This was when Hillary Clinton was the First Lady and had to bake cookies in order to be accepted by the general population.  If I recall my studies correctly, this time period was when the second wave was gradually being replaced by what would be called the third wave of feminism.  As far as I know, none of my immediate family members were directly involved in the feminist movement, but some of my outer family members were.

I don’t really recall whether or not feminism was taught in primary and secondary schools.  It was something that I had to explore for myself, and I admit that there were many pitfalls.

 When did  you first notice sexism, whether directed at you or anyone else? Do you  ever find yourself being a sexist? Has anyone else accused you of sexism?

One of my earliest memories is asking my first grade teacher why things were called “man-made” rather than “people-made.”  I’ve always had a strong sense of justice and I’ve always felt that people should be treated fairly regardless of gender, race, creed, class, sexuality, and disability.  But, since children are a rather self-absorbed breed (They can’t help it.  Their minds literally cannot perceive outside of themselves), I tended to notice when sexism was directed at me.

When I was in primary school, “Take your Daughter to Work Day” really took off.  My father used to take my sister to see his work.  When I asked if I could come, I was informed that the day was only for girls.  There never was a “Take your Son to Work Day” so I never got to see my Dad at his job.  It was something I resented at the time, and I still do regret that I never got to see my Dad work.  Looking back, I see that the gender wars my parents were fighting were passed on to us.  I was only collateral damage. 

Often, during gym class, teams were divvied up according to gender.  The girls really enjoyed the boys vs girls aspect of it.  Not many of the boys did.  If the girls won, we were all subject to anywhere from a few hours to a week of boasts about how girls were so much better than boys at everything.  But, if the girls lost, and they did most of the time, none of us felt good.  There’s no joy in stomping a girl’s team.  And, even during the course of the game, we were never sure what to do with them or ourselves.  If we guarded a girl vigorously, we were told that we were picking on the weaker sex (a common complaint from many of the girls, not just the teachers), or we were mocked by the other boys for not giving the girls a chance.  But, if we went easy on the girls, we all felt like we were being sexist.  It really was a no-win situation.

To this day, I truly detest gender-based contests.

I’ll go on a bit of a tangent, here. I have a disability, so by virtue of that, I’m somewhat exempt from carrying the entire burden of being a white, abled male, but my son is a very perfect little white boy.  He doesn’t deserve to be collateral damage in our generation’s gender wars.  He will be, though.  That makes me sad.

Do you think boys are as constrained by sexual stereotypes than girls? 

These days, women are granted more flexibility to explore the full spectrum of their sexuality.  Some argue that this spectrum exists only to please or attract men, but we cannot assume that the motivation for exploring is the same for every woman.

There is no argument though, both men and women denigrate that any man who tries to explore the entirety of his sexuality.  Very little room is afforded a man who wants to receive or be feminine. 

Do you identify yourself as a feminist or a masculist?  Did you change your mind as you got older?

Neither.  I am a humanist.  Both feminists and masculists have behaved in ways that turned me off both movements.  At one point, I considered myself a feminist.  In college, I grew weary of the “all men are bad” perspective many feminists had.  I understand being angry, but generalizing an entire gender is an ineffective way of reasoning and ridiculous to boot.  I also developed an intense distaste for what I perceived to be hypocrisy in many feminist women.

Many feminists complain about the treatment they receive from men, but seem to have no problem discriminating against me as a disabled person.  Certain types of discrimination are not more problematic than others.  Once we start quantifying the severity of any type of discrimination, we begin minimizing the sensitivities of varying people.  For example, is it worse to be called “Sugar Tits” or “Deaf and Dumb?”  Is it worse to have your ass pinched, or to be shoved from behind because someone thought you were ignoring them?

And we really need to stop posting audio or video that comments on discrimination, while refusing to provide transcripts or subtitles.  I mean, come on people.  The hypocrisy burns. 

I admit I have problems distinguishing being discriminated against as a deaf person and discriminating against a woman, as a man.  When I respond emotionally to many feminist postings on OS, I tend to react as a deaf person who feels discriminated against by abled people, rather than as a man who may have oppressed women.  My experiences are as a whole, rather than separate components of my identity.  So, when I deal with these types of postings, I have to sort out the types of discrimination in my head.  If she's discriminating against me as a deaf person, and I'm discriminating against her as a woman, which discrimination is worse?  Do they cancel each other out?  How do we find common ground in our automatic oppression?  I try to nudge the women who make those kind of feminist postings towards the entire opression spectrum, but I haven't had much success thus far.  Many of these women can only see gendered lines because that's the whole of their experiences.  I get that, I do.  But, it is a headache for me.

Do you think men need a masculist movement? Is the idea of "feminism" at odds with the idea of "masculism"?

We need a humanist movement.  Some feminists on Open Salon argued that true equality will only be reached when as many women rape men as men rape women.  To me, that’s a pretty negative way to measure equality and again, I need to fall back on my own experiences being discriminated against.

The other day, I was refused Exterminator services because I don’t have a phone number.  What would I do with one?  I can’t use the phone.  While things may have been different thirty years ago, how many American women today can honestly say they’ve been refused Exterminator services because they were women?  Will true equality only happen when abled people are refused Exterminator services for being abled?  What a lousy metric of equality!

I realize, of course, that not much is worse than rape.  But, rape has become kind of a trump card in gender-based discussions.  Any argument is subverted by a commenter shouting that men rape women!  Well, yeah.  And it’s bad, I know.   Where do you go from there in the general discourse?  How do you get past that tripping point?  Most women aren’t raped on a daily basis, but many disabled people are discriminated against for their disability on a near daily basis. 

I feel like I just fell into a quality vs quantity debate, using oppression as our currency. 

We need true equality for everyone, regardless of any biological and economic circumstance.

What about the condition of women around the world?

It sucks.  It also sucks for the disabled.  I try to think globally, act locally, to brutally mutilate a cliché.  At this point in my life, I’m more interested in change I can effect rather vast ideals that at the end of the day, make me feel frustrated and unfulfilled.

For Parents and Caregivers 
 If you have children, what child care arrangements have you made? Are you happy with them?  Do you believe you had real choices or were your options constrained by harsh economic reality and US family policy?

I’m a stay at home Dad.  My choices were handed to me by the economy, but I’ve always been the main caregiver for my son.  After he was born, my wife was stricken with severe post-partum depression.  It took her several months to finally realize and bond with my son.  For that duration, I took care of him.  And, when I lost my job, I simply kept on doing what I was doing, but with a formal title.

I admit that there are days when I’d rather be working than raising my son.  The stay at home dad has even less respect than a stay at home mom.  Around here, there are tons of support groups for stay at home moms.  I tried applying to them; all but one rejected me.  And that group eventually kicked me out because they couldn’t deal with having a male member.  I’ve got loads of complaints about parenting magazines that assume that only the mother is a valid member of the parent-child relationship, but that would probably lead to a several-pages rant. 

 What changes would to like to see to make the US a more family-friendly society? Do you think the conflict between career and family has gotten better or worse since you were a child?

What I want to see is paid-leave for both the mother and the father once the child is born.  I know that the mother does all the actual physical work of jettisoning the kid, but the father is an important support system.  I only had two weeks vacation available to me after my son was born.  After I went back to work, I was ragged, physically and mentally.  I was still the primary caregiver for my son because of my wife’s PPD, but I was also the caregiver for my wife.  The quality of my work plummeted and my boss soon began making comments.  If I could have stayed home a bit longer, things may have been better.  Sure, there’s FMLA, but we couldn’t afford to lose my paycheck.  FMLA works for only a small group of people.

I bet you with this economy, things are much, much worse that it was back in 2007.

How old are your parents? Do you anticipate and plan for caregiving challenges?

My parents just turned 60.  While they may be as old as dirt, they should be lively for at least another 20 years.  At that point, I think that I’ll direct them towards the nearest Del Webb and watch them compost.

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I'll clarify what I meant by providing benefits to new mothers and fathers. Paid leave should be used for all possible care-taking situations, within reason. Not everyone has children, but most workers, at some point in their lives, need to take some time off to take care of a partner/spouse, friend, or family member. But, caretaker leave shouldn't apply because someone feels the muse striking them in all the right places.

The muse can wait a couple of hours. Caretaking is a round tha' clock business.
John, I am adding these comments to my pos of your blog.
I posted this on facebook. Rated.