Category Archives: philosophy

Michael and Amanda

by Amorina Kingdon


For the first time in a decade, as I jogged along the seawall in Victoria this morning, I thought about my ex-boyfriend Michael and my then-friend Amanda. Specifically, I found myself thinking about their interactions, their intense dislike of each other, and how a few conversations with them left unexpected, deep imprints on me.

Michael was my first serious boyfriend in university. He was an engineering student from moneyed West Vancouver stock. He prized rationality, action, and logic. He was an impressive person, and everyone thought so. He knew his single malt scotch, introduced us all to sushi, built a bar in his dorm room, was not afraid to confront anyone, and once, he yelled at a cabbie for leaving the meter running while he ran to a bank machine.

Amanda was my dorm-mate during first year, and then roommate in a shared house. She prized loyalty, creativity and music knowledge. An overweight girl in pyjama pants, she walked imperiously, was an only child, and tried to solve conflict by starting small, (a tactic us girls are all taught is polite, and later grow up to find the rest of the world derides as ‘passive aggression’). She could, however, be remarkably direct if need be. A dedicated film student, she had an encyclopaedic knowledge of filmography, and called herself the ‘floor mother’ in res even though no one else did. She also complained… a lot – about her weight, her house, or why she was still single.

On the surface, the reasons for their animosity were that Amanda’s complaints made her a negative person, Michael didn’t like her, and since she found him cold and unsympathetic, it drove their mutual dislike even further. She had few traits that made her ‘likeable’ — he possessed many traits that commanded respect.

“Why do you hate her so much?” I asked Michael, one day.

“She’s completely negative, she’s always complaining but expects everyone else to bend over backwards to make her feel better.” Michael said. He moved sharply, economically, wrapping a scarf and getting his keys.

“She doesn’t,” I say. “She just feels like you don’t like her.”

“I don’t,” he said.

“You don’t try,” I say, frustrated. Even though I am nominally on his side, I still feel the need to try and explain, defend my friend, because deep down inside, I know I am more like her than I am like him. If he can think this way about someone not too dissimilar to myself, what must he think about me? I think back to every offhand complaint about my weight, and imagine this same ire rising in him, this same contempt. Yet he is not someone who feels the need to expand his circle of understanding or empathy, and I start to get this twisted, tearful feeling of needing to explain something important to someone who doesn’t care.

“Why should I try?” he said. And then, “When something is wrong, I do something about it. She’s always bitching about how she’s fat, but she eats like shit. She complains she doesn’t have a boyfriend but she doesn’t try meeting people. She never actually helps herself.”

“Why do you hate him so much?” I asked her one day.

“He’s arrogant,” she said in a clipped voice. “He’s disrespectful to me in my own house.”

Like a Pavlovian trigger, the automatic, don’t-even-think-about-it phrase from my ascribed script drifted through my head, learned from millions of female pep talks and only six pre-described emotions that women were supposed to feel: you’re just jealous.

“Why don’t you guys just talk?” I said. “He’s very rational. If you explain…”

“Yeah,” she snorted, interrupting me. “Right. All he does is tell me what I’ve done wrong, what I should do better, and then shuts down the conversation unless I do those things. He doesn’t like me and he’s really, really disrespectful. In my own house.”

“He…likes you fine…” I said.

Ten years later, running along the seawall, I think about this conversation.

I do this because for the last two kilometers, I’ve been running entirely on focus; a flimsy bag of mental carrots and sticks.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

Run, bitch.

You’ll feel so good once you finish this.

Sweat is just fat crying because you’re punching it in the face.

When these give out, my body will win, and I will stop.

Jesus fuck, I hate running.

Why are you doing it then?

Because when I’m not running, I love running.

You know you COULD push yourself further. You use your brain to drive your legs. When you don’t make 5k, it’s because you quite literally don’t want it enough. Yet you want to HAVE DONE 5K. Where does the want or the need go?

I just want to be thinner.

I know. You’re always complaining about it.

Oh, fuck you. I just want to be okay as I am.

I realized a few things about Michael and Amanda, all in a rush:

Amanda’s complaints were born of an inward dialogue that society had taught her to have with herself, which didn’t reflect her true thoughts. Her complaints didn’t reflect a desire for change. They were something else.

Michael, the sort of person for whom the world could sport a sticker saying “For us, by us”, took her at her word, because for him, action was always possible and never restricted. He presumed Amanda had the agency to solve her own problems, and his ire was a product of according her the rights and freedoms of his world.

But Michael could never know what it was like to be Amanda: working under a different set of expectations, and far from the ideal.

Amanda could never know what it was like to be Michael: someone for whom aggression can usually net results and admiration; someone for whom ‘likeability’, that nebulous nothing-quality, was not necessarily a factor in his friendships, his jobs, or his happiness. He wasn’t expected to be likeable, only to engender respect. A man of action in every sense of the word, surrounded by frustrating, inexplicably hamstrung girls.arguing[1]

The expectations stemming from their gender caused these two people to find themselves in a power struggle – a struggle for likeability on her part and respect on his – which ended in dismissal and contempt on his part, and hatred and impotent rage on hers.

What does any of this have to do with feminism?

Amanda was a perfectly average person for whom, due to her age and gender, likeability trumped any other form of social necessity, and self-deprecation was the only acceptable way to discuss herself. I have observed that quiet self-esteem is a fleetingly rare thing for most girls or young women. Consciously or unconsciously, women are typically considered public objects, and opinions on their every physical and character trait, on their likeability, are publicly traded commodities.

Amanda knew that everyone noticed her weight, her singledom, the state of her house: those were the only things that they needed to know to assess whether they liked her. When she happened to come up on the wrong side on all counts…she was, quite literally, not good enough.

But the truth was…. she liked being single. She didn’t want to spend 6 shitty months losing 40 pounds. And deep down, she didn’t really care if the domicile was less than spotless. That was the truth of her, and she didn’t hate herself as much as she led us to assume. But because she was female, she had to either meet these expectations, or explain why she wasn’t.

And for most people, the quickest way to a) acknowledge a failure to meet an expectation and b) express your desire to rectify it, is with a complaint. In fact, for most women, that’s what a complaint is. It’s not, as is commonly misunderstood, simply ‘being negative’, nor is it asking others to do something about it for you. It’s a direct reflection of the expectations you feel guilty for failing to meet.

Michael, on the other hand, had already met his set of expectations. He was six feet tall, lean and tight-tendoned, his weight never fluctuated. He was attending a prestigious program, he had money and a near-guarantee of continuing to make more. He didn’t need to be single or attached, he didn’t need to be anything physically other than ‘not too fat’, and the state of his house was assumed to be something far beneath what he needed to worry about. He didn’t need to do anything to achieve social acceptance other than to be smart enough, be aggressive, and finish his degree. (All things, note, that Amanda was doing too. But none of which weighed in any balance for her – not while weight, status and cleanliness were on the scale).

Michael was okay in society’s eyes when he rolled out of bed. He had nothing to apologize for; and therefore, nothing to complain about. He assumed the same was true of everyone; therefore Amanda, who wouldn’t ‘help herself’, engendered his contempt.  He felt no need to be nice to Amanda for courtesy’s sake, because he did not need her– her presence, approval, or lack thereof had no effect on his ability to exercise his will.

Amanda felt a need to be nice to Michael as a default, because to do otherwise would be unlikeable. His disdain would mean cruel verbal sallies that rendered her weakened and emotionally vulnerable, while the same conflict did not take anything from him. And she had been raised to believe she must be the social lubricant, the default positive, in all social interactions.

Michael would come to our house without feeling the need to talk to Amanda, or ask if it was too late or too early, or if he could use the kitchen. Because to him, she was an unlikable girl, she didn’t merit social status, or respect. Therefore, Michael gave nary a thought to niceties that would have kept their animosity to a low simmer.

Every woman knows a Michael. I imagine that many, if not most, women catch themselves, from time to time, complaining without fully understanding, or believing, their own words. Usually, it’s about something they feel guilty over failing to do – often, failing to even want to do. Many women then hear a rebuking voice in their head, and pinpoint the exact person who would say some version of “Stop complaining. Just do something about it.”

And when logic fails to give a reason to ignore the voice, perhaps the following might: you are operating under a different set of expectations.

I ran until I cycled through every motivational thought I had and I couldn’t summon the energy to give a shit anymore. I ran five kilometers today, which is about 400 calories, or about a tenth of a pound. Do you like me better for knowing that? Maybe to you, it’s a benchmark that helps count towards my likeability.

But for me, that’s a direct measure of how much appropriation of society’s standards I can sustain. It was a beautiful, blue, oceanic day. I should have walked.


No Way Out But Through


by Tova Kardonne

To do pretty much anything in music you start out learning songs. Lots and lots of songs. The process becomes quite familiar. It has stages; it has features. First, a new song seems more like a collection of sounds that happened to get thrown together, none of which connect to each other. Then, if you’re into this kind of thing, you look at why those sounds do connect, and you begin to see how the song hangs together as a structure. (Some people skip this part, or do it without realizing it.) Last, a song is really a part of my repertoire when it feels, from the moment it proclaims itself in its opening notes, like it’s drawn onwards inexorably to its end; like it always existed, like the composer could never have made any other choice, like it’s a living creature whose parts are all as much a part of it as my body parts are a part of me.


Then it loops in my head for days, sometimes weeks. Should so much as a single note wander through my consciousness, however tangentially provoked, there it goes: the whole thing, from beginning to end, because now the damn thing draws me onwards inexorably to its end, like it always existed, like I have no choice, like it’s a living thing whose parts can’t be severed from each other.


Sometimes that’s wonderful. Every time I repeat the song, its beauties are a little clearer, more poignant. The way the sounds interlock reveals more, to more parts of my mind. It reaches me more deeply; it teaches me how it has changed the world. Alternately, it can be frickin’ annoying.


So here’s the thing; this process is not confined to music. Take, for example, writing a feminist article. How does it go again?


Ah yes.


PHASE 1) A collection of sounds:

Something strikes you as peculiar. You brush it off. It strikes you again. On the same spot—you begin to get a bit bruised on that spot. You begin to notice it happening a lot. You wonder why it keeps happening. You come up with a reason; it’s contradicted by experience. You come up with different reason; it’s contradicted again. You let it go. The peculiar thing happens again. You think; is this peculiar thing all that peculiar? You ask someone about it. They’ve noticed it, too. They came up with a reason of their own. It may or may not convince you; but it adds an angle you hadn’t thought of before. You ask someone else; they don’t think it’s peculiar at all; you wonder why you thought it was. You ask someone else; they’ve never noticed it. Then the peculiar thing happens twelve more times in rapid succession. It’s now downright weird that some people don’t notice it. You wonder, why do I see it when that person doesn’t? And then, why does another person see it, but find it normal? And what about the other person, who both sees it and thinks it’s peculiar, like me? What’s the deal here? Because it’s no fun. Somewhere in the process, you figure out you don’t like it, this peculiar thing. It’s not just weird, it’s unpleasant. And it keeps happening. It’s not logical for it to keep happening, when the people you’ve asked about it regard it with feelings ranging from indifference to dislike. Well, then, there should be no trouble changing it. Possibly, it’s no big deal. So, you start pointing it out, and telling people you don’t like it. Suddenly, you’re getting yelled at. The people who think it doesn’t exist are mad at you for persisting in saying it does. The people who think it isn’t peculiar think you’re putting them down for not thinking it’s peculiar. The people who think it’s peculiar are behaving very strangely indeed. Sometimes they say, “oh, what a good idea! I should let people know I don’t like it either.” Sometimes, however, they say, “If I can put up with it, you should put up with it. See all those people getting mad? I don’t want you to make me their target.” Then, you are in a pickle.


PHASE 2: It kind of hangs together.

There is now an Issue. There is now a Political Stand to make, an Activist Position to take. You now have a label. That label has a definition, not the one in the dictionary, but one that everyone seems to know anyway, which means they believe they know more about you than you ever told them. The things they believe about you aren’t nice. You must now defend yourself. Most of the time, that means Formulating a Theory. You can’t just say, look, there’s this peculiar thing, it happens a lot, I don’t like it, and no one knows why it has to happen. Your Theory must be airtight. Because if it isn’t, then none of your experiences of the peculiar thing are believed. You are told that you wanted to see this peculiar thing where no peculiar thing existed. Above all, your Theory must justify your dislike of the peculiar thing. You must be prepared to call it an Absolute Wrong, even an Expression of Evil, to be taken seriously as a problem, but then you get accused of calling perfectly well-meaning people Wrong and Evil. You remember your first theory, that first reason you came up with; how naïve it seems, now. You remember your second theory; how it didn’t quite fit the facts as you’d encountered them. You remember asking people about your peculiar experiences; you remember who understood, who didn’t, and who denied you’d had those experiences at all. You begin to notice that the identity of the people you asked seems to have a relationship with what they see. It now seems clear that, whether other people see it or not, this peculiar thing is very much their problem, too.


PHASE 3: Build it into your world.

If you were me before this site, then you would come to a solitary conclusion, and implement it in your daily interactions. I prefer direct communication, but I understand indirect communication; I cannot endure bad-faith interactions. If given the choice, I’ll be as direct as I can, and if my interlocutor refuses to meet me open-heartedly to communicate, I’ll find a way to never communicate with that person again. Case closed.


But if you’re me these days, you write an article about it. You nail it right to the wall: what seems peculiar, what is unpleasant about it, whether it’s merely unpleasant or actually wrong, and, if it’s wrong, why the wrongness is anybody’s concern. On ambitious days, you’ll include what can be done about it. And it’s this last phase that leads almost inevitably to:


PHASE 4: It plays in your head all the time:

This is my problem today. In writing these articles, I’ve learned this peculiar song so well, I can sing it by heart at the drop of a hat. I once believed that it was all a misunderstanding, that could be corrected with a little clear discussion. But there has been name-calling, since then, there have been insults. My rationality has been dismissed, my professional skills have been maligned, my integrity has been called into question and simultaneously taken advantage of. I can tell you all the whys and wherefores of my Theories, I can answer all the accusations. I am ready for the gig; the public awaits. But in the meantime, I need to keep all the facts at the ready. I can’t ever be without the evidence. Just in learning what the real, objective, feet-on-the-ground problem is, in formulating my Theory, in writing it all out and making it lucid and explicit and figuring out what I have to say about it, I have made it my constant companion.


Oh, I’m no more angry than I was before. I was probably more angry when it was all an unexplored body of evidence, rather than the corpse on the table, dissected and understood. That sense of not being able to take time out of my daily grind to communicate, to find another option besides walking away, that was intensely frustrating. So I’m not frustrated; I have made it a part of my life: to discuss, to formulate, to take apart and examine the peculiarities that make life strange in our special form of patriarchy. Also to think of solutions, to figure out where to go from here. But should a single note play, however tangentially related to my feminist siren song, then the whole problem, in all its ugly intractability, with all the insults and betrayals, from within my communities and without, come rushing back.

But having gotten this far in, there’s no way out but through.

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I Suppose I Must Look Like Something

by Tova Kardonne


image by Francesca Woodman

The process of blowing one’s nose is fairly magical. Or maybe it seems to be so to me,  because of what I like to call my Vortex Zone. Bring anything too close to my head,  like a tissue, and it disappears into an unobserved void. I have this whole elaborate faith requiring that the tissues and things are still there, even when the evidence is merely inferential— the same goes for my neck. I have only indirect evidence of my neck. As my fingers approach the spot where I believe my neck to be, THEY disappear, too. Very convenient, no? I should rather say my reputed neck. My alleged neck. Sure, mirrors are interesting devices. But why insist that only the flat ones tell true? New-fangled demontoys. They can be conned. I’ll never know what’s really down there.

One goes through one’s day—tum-te-tum-te-tum— seeing everyone else with their nicely attached head, no obvious Vortex Zone in sight. I could be the only one with a discontinuous bit from the mid-chest on up.

Beauty and beauty-concealing modesty have a similar quality of fictitiousness to me, yet there is this one thing that makes immediate sense about covering the hair, parts of the face and back; it prevents other people from seeing more of me than I see of myself. I like that idea. Knowing that other people are more familiar with those parts than I am, I can’t help but feel a little sad. O! Dear cheek, with whom I will spend my life in intimate contact, thou shalt remain forever a relative stranger. I may write lovelorn epistles to my adam’s apple, as we are never destined to meet.

I sincerely hope we are never destined to meet.


Bodies are such long-suffering bystanders. Twisted personalities can, and often do, inhabit otherwise perfectly well-meaning elbows, scalps, and buttocks. Sometimes, I see a fist about to come down upon some object or person and I think, such loyalty from all those fingers. They stick together; they toe the line. The agitated goon inside says, “punch!” and they, the working-class digits, all unknowing of the consequences, do as they’re told. After all, that’s their job. But they do it out of love, more than anything. That, and an implicit trust that it’s for the greater good. The very skin cells that hold us together each have their own little legs. It’s true! Each individual skin cell on your hide could just up and walk away, if it really wanted to (and was relatively close to the surface, or had the consent of the skin cells which might hinder its exit). The rest of your body would be up the creek without them, but skin cells, given some rare-but-not-impossible conditions, could go la-de-da and wiggle merrily away with never a backward glance.

Frankly I don’t know why they don’t. It’s not a democracy in here, inside a human body. Sure, back room deals are made, and various parts have more say than they’d ever let on, but it’s hardly “one wiggly-bit, one vote”. This is, for all intents and purposes, a
dictatorship. If the Brain says suicide, it’s suicide for all, no matter how delighted with life some out-of-the-way, back-woods mole might be feeling. Only love can explain the solidarity, the committed togetherness of all the billions of independent wiggly-bits who clearly have very few common interests.

But to return to my original point: the Vortex Zone. I conjecture that the Vortex Zone is all the fault of the eyes. Obviously, this is another matter of faith. The Eye Hypothesis, though sketchy, allows me to go on believing so many other things I hold dear—the belief that I can tell when other people see me, for example, simply by observing their eyes; a belief that is moreover completely unprovable— that I cling to it with a blindness and a passion to rival the zealots of the late Roman period. Weak though the evidence may be, I believe that the reason the Zone is located just where it is has to do with the fact that I, like several other people whom I have properly observed, have eyes, and that the location of my eyes in my head blocks them from observing some bits that are so intimately tied to my identity; like my mouth, or the reputed source of my hair… even my eyes themselves. I fervently believe. The real source of my visual field, whatever it truly is, feels like a centre. The Vortex Zone feels—I apologize for all the intolerably fuzzy language—like the central location of me.

From whence I must need trespass into the political.

Does it not strike you as massively unfair? How DARE they? The hubris, the incorrigible pride of eyes. How dare that one measly organ fancy-shmancily set itself up as the locus of my own dear self? A famously elusive person. But what a muddled creature I am! To invent a mythical being, My Eyes, and then get mad at it for the characteristics I insist it have!

There must be another way. Can I not keep my Myth figure, but re-invent the mythology?

It almost never succeeds. Except for in Mythology.

Alrighty then.

Once upon a time, I had Eyes, located in the Vortex Zone probably known to others as my head, but of which I myself have no direct experience. These Eyes had no greater influence on my sense of presence than any other, less Mythic part. They would regularly consult with my fingers, for example, in ascertaining the shape of objects, and their distance from the rest of my body. As helpful-but-not-tyrannical organs, I liked them very much, and I inferred that any information they pass me about other people must similarly not be allowed to have too much importance.

There. That’s better.

Gargalesis (Do We Not Laugh?) by Kristan Saloky

Gargalesis (Do We Not Laugh?)
by Kristan Saloky

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