You know how you go to look something up online and you wind up on Wikipedia, and by the time you have clicked links from one article to another, hours have gone by? (If not: that happens to me more often than I’d like.) Yesterday through today has been a similar kind of one-to-another hopscotch, but this time with music on youtube. I used to be pretty into folk music in my late teens/early 20s, and this was a revisit that reminded my why I enjoyed it so much.
“It’s My Way” came out in 1964, right around the time the Beatles landed in the U.S. She’s 74 now, and in addition to making music in a bunch of genres, she has been an amazing activist.
From there I went on to Buffy Saint Marie’s appearance on Pete Seeger’s TV show Rainbow Quest in 1965, singing “Cindy” as a duet.
This made me start thinking about Pete Seeger (look how young he was!) and his amazing career, which also blended music with social justice work. Then I started thinking about Americana, bluegrass, and country music. This is country music to me; despite taking guilty pleasure in watching Nashville, most of that music seems more like indie stuff or pop of one stripe or another.
I got a copy of Rise Up Singing back in 1988 when it came out, the first summer I worked at the ADK Loj. I was 16 and had never been to the mountains, had never been to camp, had never really been around people with liberal politics (I was a Reagan supporter like the rest of my family then), and had never, well, just about anything. The illicit Winds of the People was used at campfire singalongs after work, and when Rise Up Singing came out we all bought copies to support the cause (and to have more copies of the songbook).
The first recording I had of Pete Seeger was on a mix tape the following summer, back at ADK Loj again. A mix tape for the kitchen crew contained “Darling Corey,” sandwiched between songs by Michelle Shocked and Tracy Chapman, iirc.
Thinking of Pete Seeger, I was reminded of his death last year, about 6 months after his wife Toshi. That made me pull up and play the memorial concert that was put on after his death, outside at Lincoln Center.
If you’ve ever seen A Mighty Wind, it’s kind of like that, but real, and more diverse, and with all the musicians really committed to social justice. Some of the singers have amazing vocal talents, while others warble a bit. Many have grown old, but the younger generations are there as well, because Pete and Toshi Seeger were basically like the glue of the folk/music for social change community.
Pete Seeger wrote way more songs that you’d recognize than you would ever guess.
It’s weird to think about how different music discovery was then, how getting an album from a catalog sight unseen was so normal… these days I rarely buy anything without listening to a sample or two online. It’s also weird to think that if someone linked me to the Ladyslipper site today, I would be really unlikely to buy anything because it looks kind of cheesy/not up to date and doesn’t have any descriptions. My memories of getting the new Ladyslipper catalog are so much warmer — hand-drawn illustrations and oovy-groovy woman-positive imagery graced the pages packed the CD listings (now that I think about it, just as inexpertly as on the website, just a lot cooler), and I would devote an entire afternoon to leafing through it and placing an order when it arrived.
By the time the memorial concert was over I had cried at least 4 times. That got me thinking about the power of songs and lyrics and other music that was equally powerful, and I started thinking about Crosby, Stills & Nash. Also, since Judy Collins had opened the tribute, I wanted to hear Suite Judy Blue Eyes. I wound up on a live version from 2012, 43 years after they first released it.
That led to the 1991 concert they did as a tribute to Bill Graham in San Francisco.
Their lyrics are just amazing.
Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.
When I think about the lyrics in most of the indie pop/rock I have listened to the past 15 years or so, I have to wonder how much of it will hold up or be relevant in 40 years. Not so much, I think. I mean, I do give a fuck about an oxford comma,
but that sentiment isn’t exactly a timeless piece of universal truth, you know?
While on the amazing lyricist train, I had to play the concert in Central Park by Simon and Garfunkel from 1981.
Then I went back to the Pete Seeger memorial concert and listened to the part where Peter Yarrow led a singalong of Down by the Riverside and If I Had a Hammer.
Even if you never heard of Peter Yarrow, or Pete Seeger, or Kim & Reggie Harris, or Holly Near, or Judy Collins, or any of the rest of the performers, if that segment doesn’t touch you, you are made of ice. I think I’m going back to folk music.
My cell phone runs out of juice all the time, and I don’t realize it until those moments when I need to call/text someone or when I need to hit up Google Authenticator for 2fa. When I’m out and about, I use it as a computer mostly for things like looking up something that came up in conversation that we can’t quite remember. I don’t have notifications set for all the sites and email accounts and slack channels and stuff that bombard me when I am on my laptop. I usually feel (because of the things people in the tech community say to me when they see me so blasé about mobile availability and my resistance to enabling all the push notifications) like a lone wolf luddite in a forest of cell-addicted people. When friends or colleagues constantly break eye contact to check their phones sitting on the tables in front of them I think it is super rude (though I also think it is an actual addiction and they don’t do it any more consciously than someone else might bite their nails). So I really loved this article today. I’m not a lone wolf luddite! :)
Go ahead and write off 20 percent of your day. You’re going to spend it gazing into your phone.
Even when we’re not actually using our phones, they still distract. A recent study found that performance on basic tests of attention gets worse if a cellphone is merely visible nearby.
“Engagement” is a common business goal for the design of so many websites, apps, and services. We lure people in and try to figure out how to get them to stay. We tell ourselves that our goal is to “delight” users, but I think we’ve lost the thread of what the word actually means. We seem to think it means keeping people distracted and busy. When you say “engagement,” I now hear “theft of attention.”
I still follow the Savannah Morning News on Twitter. Since I’m not on Twitter that often and when I am there are always at least a couple of people in my timeline who are ranting or RTing a storm, I don’t tend to see Savannah News tweets all that often. I will say that I don’t like how often the tweet is someone’s mugshot, telling of another arrest, or how often it’s a young man with brown skin, because I know for a fact there are plenty of young caucasian men committing crimes in Savannah, but I don’t usually see those mugshots in my timeline. But maybe it’s just my timing, and if I were on Twitter all the time, I would see a balance of mugshots. I suppose it’s possible. Anyway, the reason I still follow the Savannah Morning News is that my mom is still in Savannah, and I still have a lot of affection for Savannah and Tybee, and sometimes they post something that I might want to read. A big storm washing out the Tybee road, a baby whale off Tybee, the death of a rescued turtle at the Tybee Marine Science Center, controversy over trying to get rid of Orange Crush from the Tybee Beach, that sort of thing. I don’t usually click on obituaries, but this time I did.
Tenique Gadson’s facebook header. Her feed is filled with positivity and thanks (and God), and her energy and spirit make you (or me, at least) want to be a better person.
I never met her, but I’d seen her name many times in relation to non-profits in Savannah (17 miles from the city of Tybee, where I lived) that were devoted to helping low-income people/families. When I started acupuncture school and we had to talk about where we might open a community acupuncture clinic in the future to help provide affordable healthcare to low-income/oppressed communities, I immediately thought of Savannah, and Teinique Gadson was the kind of person that I expected to be emailing in a few years if I did decide to head back there. Anyway, she did a lot of work that helped a lot of people, and probably didn’t get paid anywhere near what she was worth, as is the case with most community non-profits. I’m sorry her life ended so soon, both for her and her family, and for the Savannah communities that benefited from her efforts. I hope that some of the people she helped were inspired by her and might choose to give back to the community in kind. Since in addition to the work she did herself helping individuals she also did a ton of volunteer wrangling, I’m pretty sure there will be people carry on in her tradition.
So I clicked through to read this obituary. It mentioned her involvement as a teen with Youth Futures, and how it led her into community-building as a career and into the Executive Director position at the Neighborhood Improvement Association. I hadn’t known much about her background, just her current activity, so I would have liked to read more than 2 sentences about how she got there. I mean, this was an impressive woman, and an inspiring one. I wanted the obituary to outline her accomplishments and challenges and paint a real picture of this person who was so important to so many people in the community. That’s what obits usually do for civic leaders. But it didn’t, really. Then it quoted the previous ED of the NIA, Edward Chisholm, and I was super bummed. He’s also an impressive person who does a lot for the community, but here’s the quote:
Chisolm said he identified Gadson early for her intelligence and as a “person who cared about the organization, the work.”
“I taught her everything I knew,” he said, adding that he “basically hand-picked her. She was very, very insightful, very smart with great ideas. She loved people.”
I like to think that Mr. Chisolm didn’t mean to turn a tribute to Ms. Gadson into self-congratulatory praise about his acumen as a mentor. I like to think that the reporter didn’t realize he just changed the focus of the story from the amazing woman who died to the man who is still living. I like to think these things, because if they’re true it means that these guys don’t subconsciously think that the male accomplishment of recognizing talent trumps the female accomplishment of having and using talent. But it’s Savannah. It’s the U.S. And we are continually socialized this way. So I doubt they thought they were saying or doing anything disrespectful, and I’d guess that Ms. Gadson herself would have been touched to hear Mr. Chisholm say how special she was.
The next time they’re talking about someone special, though, I hope they’ll stick to the part about how special that person was, and not how awesome someone else was for recognizing it. Probably there are some people reading this thinking that I’m too sensitive, that having a great man say in public that he recognized a woman (or anyone) as a worthy successor is high praise indeed. Erm, sure, but there are better ways to laud a mentee than to congratulate the mentor. It could have said something more like:
Chisolm said Gadson distinguished herself early with her intelligence and as a “person who cared about the organization, the work.”
“She absorbed everything that was available to learn, and when it was time to choose my successor as Executive Director of the NIA, she was the only pick,” he said, adding that, “She was very, very insightful, very smart with great ideas. She loved people.”
I know that this is a small thing. That it’s a couple of words. That compared to what’s going on in Baltimore and Nepal right now, this is nothing. But Teinique Gadson kicked serious ass, and those couple of words do make a difference. And for women to be recognized equally for the work they do, one of the things that needs to happen is for men to stop taking credit for discovering them.
An additional post went up on the Savannah Morning News site this morning so that former mayor Otis Johnson could add his praise of Ms. Godson. As Johnson was one of the leaders of the Youth Futures program that gave Ms. Godson her start, it made sense. He said:
“She was evidence of what we were trying to do with the Youth Futures Authority,” Johnson said, adding she came to the authority as a young person and worked her way up to director of NIA where she was a founding member.
“I have always been very proud of her progress,” Johnson said. “She was a sterling example of what we were trying to do and did do, at the Youth Futures Authority.”
“It really distresses me greatly that she was taken away at such an early age.”
Being inside a womb by myself, I was never included in group address. Also, I don’t think my parents were the kind of people who talked to the belly or played music to increase fetal development. It was the 70s. While pregnant with me, my mom smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish (her words).
“Be a good girl.”
“You’re such a pretty girl.”
As a very little kid, the only mixed-gender group I was part of was the group with my two older brothers. We mostly were referred to as a group as kids, not guys, so while I was frequently referred to as a girl (and frequently a little girl) when addressed directly, the group address usually ignored gender.
“Boys and girls, stand for the pledge [of allegiance].”
“Attention, boys and girls!”
“Okay, kids, line up in pairs.”
“Everyone, blah blah blah.”
As kids in school, we were frequently referred to as boys and girls* by adults. Individually, we were just referred to by name. Kids referring to each other used names individually, and I want to say the plural you for groups without an extra noun. /me thinks backs to elementary school and asking a group of kids to do something. Yeah, mostly the plural you. Very occasionally there would be a, “Hey, you gu-uys,” exclamation, but that was mostly imitation of tv, not a form of address that we used with each other in conversation.
All Boys: “Those boys are jerks.”
All Girls: “Those girls are mean.”
Boys and Girls: “What are those guys doing over there?”
As we grew into adolescence, you guys started making more of an appearance, and adoption rates were skyscraper-high. We referred to boys and girls all the time, but in direct address had started adding guys to the lexicon, including when a group included both genders. This was the turning point for the language in my personal history of you guys as plural noun of direct address. Here’s how it seemed to break down.
He, him, that boy, [name]
Them, those boys
She, her, that girl, [name]
Them, those girls
You, boys, guys
You, girls, guys
In some cases we’d still use the specific-gendered plural noun, like to ask, “Hey, boys, do you want to play kickball with us?” But, most often, guys was becoming the norm for male plural direct address and for plural mixed-gender references of any sort.
The Electric Company-style, “Hey, you gu-uys!” got a little resurgence in this period when The Goonies came out, too.
Teens — 40
You guys had come to mean any group of people, regardless of gender. It was used on me all the time, and I used it on others. That said, you guys still also served as a plural of specifically male people. In a mixed group, context would determine the intent.
“Are you guys going to Carolyn’s party after the football game?”
Here, you guys meant all members of the group, any gender. (Because everyone was supposed to go to Carolyn’s party.)
“You guys have it so much easier when you have to pee while we’re snowshoeing.”
Even though the group was mixed-gender, the comment was directed only at the men in the group, based on anatomy and its relation to heavy snow gear. Yes, guys = penises in this case.
Occasionally people used gendered plural terms on me like girls, ladies, or gals. I disliked them all.
Girls sounded like a group of little kids, and by the time I was 16 I didn’t like being called by this label, even though I sometimes still referred to myself (pretty often) or groups of women (rarely) this way.
Ladies had all kinds of specific connotations about class, abilities, and weaknesses. I always hated it, and tried never to use it. Primary exception was a brief stint in 1998 when a group of co-workers (including me) would break into Ladies’ Night on a regular basis.
Don’t even get me started on what an unappealing word gals is. My first boyfriend’s mom used to say gals all the time, and I flinched every single time.
During this period of time, ongoing socialization around the term you guys and experience parsing its intent based on context caused me to take this as a fluid language thing, and I was never bothered by being included in this form address. I certainly used it constantly on others, including all-female groups. Oddly, while I didn’t mind being included in you guys in direct address at all, I really disliked it when default singular male pronouns like him/his were used in a situation that could apply to me. Despite being a hardcore feminist, I couldn’t quite get on the hir bandwagon, because I thought it was kind of dumb — it looked like a typo for hair or his when written, and since no one around me had ever said it out loud, my reader’s vocabulary assumed it was a homonym for either her or here, which was just confusing.
Aside: during the teens and twenties portion of this period (when I was pretty flat-chested), in the handful of times when my hair was cut very short, I was frequently misgendered and called a boy or a man.
Holy moly, gender diversity explosion and feminist apocalypse and mass confusion.
More awareness seeped into the general population (or at least my portion of it) about transgender issues, non-binary gender identity, etc. People (in some circles, anyway) started paying more attention to pronouns and how they fit with gender identity. At AdaCamp, a conference for women in open tech (woman was later defined as, “someone who identifies as a woman in a way that is significant to them,” to be more inclusive) attendees were asked to put their preferred pronouns on their name badges to prevent misgendering in conversation.
The “singular they” became a hot topic, with heads butted between modern grammarians and people referencing Shakespeare’s use as evidence of correctness. I started seeing ze and zir and other gender-neutral pronouns I had no idea how to pronounce. I decided the singular they was a good path when in doubt.
Backlash against you guys started in earnest (again, in my corner of demography). At first, I thought it was kind of silly. For 40 years, you guys had meant any group of people! Common usage, changing definitions, etc. In that same time I’d definitely seen other words change meaning or connotation, so why was you guys being accused of erasing women from the narrative, when it was so harmless and widely understood? That’s what I thought to myself.
Then, at the end of a dev cycle that had included several women developers, a male developer said, “Congrats, bros,” when the release went live and I really didn’t like it. Would “Congrats, guys” have been better? I thought so. Guys had clearly acquired an ungendered usage over time (in my opinion), whereas bros was definitely gendered, and in tech was gendered in such a way as to be pretty problematic (read: sexist dude who thinks women’s role in tech = booth babes or video game rape victims), right? So guys was still okay? Guys vs. bros aside, even though though I had been one of the people pushing for more diversity (including welcoming language) in the project, I was too intimidated by the guy (yes, an actual guy) who had congratulated the dev bros, because I just didn’t have the energy that day to defend against the backlash I expected if I were to bring up that bros wasn’t inclusive language. Why was it all so exhausting and complicated? Argh!
Then, at the Community Leadership Summit before OSCON, a woman gave a lightning talk about you guys, and how it made her feel left out/invisible when it was used as a form of address or reference when she was in a group of male developers. That made me think, “Hm. I don’t want to use language that makes people feel bad if I can avoid it.” I tried to stop saying you guys. Holy crap, so hard. Talking with Leslie at the event, she said she likes to use the word humans, but I think that sounds weird when I say it, plus I think of the Community Human Being mascot, which has always totally creeped me out.
(The “epically neutral mascot” is still referred to as he twice in this clip. Yes, sure, they could be referring to the person inside the costume, but grammatically that’s not what they said, so it comes across as default gendering.)
I tried substituting folks, y’all, people, plural you, generic heya, and other variations into my daily expressions. I probably used one of these replacements about 95% of the time. There was about 5% of the time when I forgot, or when I actually was referring to specific people who were male and used the word guys intentionally.
What happened in the 5% times? There have been a few scenarios.
Scenario 1: I caught myself and then fumbled a replacement phrase.
“Hey, you guy — er, you all, sorry, I’m trying to stop saying you guys to mean groups of people that include women — are you ready to leave for dinner?”
Result 1: A little awkward, but good-intentioned. Responses ranged from casual disinterest to nodding approval to weird looks, depending on the group.
Scenario 2: I missed it and no one noticed, including me.
“Hey, you guys, blah blah blah.”
Result 2: No one noticed, or at least no one brought it up, and since I didn’t notice either, it went uncorrected. In these cases it’s usually people who don’t care, so while I wasn’t setting the best example, I also probably wasn’t offending anyone. Unless there were people in the group who were offended but afraid to say something. Bah.
Scenario 3: I missed it, and someone other than me noticed.
Me: “Hey, you guys, blah blah blah.”
Someone Else: “Hey, you said you guys, and it made me uncomfortable.”
Result 3a: Caught! I apologized, saying something like, “Ack! I try not to do that, thanks for catching it and letting me know, it helps me remember.”
Result 3b: What? I was actually referring to a specific set of people who were male, so you guys was totally appropriate! Wasn’t it? Example: I meant Barry and Alek, and referred to them as “the systems guys,” meaning “the 2 [male] guys that handle systems on this project.” I explained this, but the idea that the group to which I was referring would always be male-only was at issue as an undercurrent around expectations of gendered jobs and hiring. My brain could follow this, but at the same time, rebelled at the thought that we have to actually remove guys from the vocabulary altogether to prevent misinterpretation. This was the situation most likely to trigger defensiveness for me.
So where does that leave the well-intentioned liberal intersectional feminist? Definitely avoiding using guys to mean a group that is mixed gender or could be mixed gender. Only using guys to refer to specific guys, and not when using any other descriptors that might be non-specific, thus tainting the specificity? I understand not wanting it used both ways (despite common usage patterns), but what’s the ruling on gender-specific usage?
[I really want to embed “I’ve Heard It Both Ways” from the Psych musical episode, but wow is USA clamped down tight on copyright and video.]
Can you have it both ways? If we say don’t use guys to mean groups including women because it assigns everyone in the group with male gender shouldn’t that mean that using guys to mean men is okay? I find it confusing and exhausting when even the specific use is seen as offensive. The fact that I want to be sensitive to how language affects others just makes it more annoying, because I care about the answer.
What’s even worse — I have typically used dudes interchangeably with guys as both a non-gendered and a gendered pronoun, so I have been trying to stop using that one, too. Even though it is super fun to say! And has a lot of really specific cultural reference points for my generation!
Oddly, when referring to multiple animals of the same sex, I totally say girls or boys instead of guys, but then that brings up a whole different set of confusing language issues around anthropomorphization and infantilization that are far too obnoxious to think about when I should be having brunch.
Have a great Sunday! :)
*Does anyone else think it’s weird that we do that? Boys and girls, I mean. Would we pick any other difference and use it to segment a group of kids (or adults, for that matter, as with ladies and gentlemen)? No wonder we grow up so obsessed with that difference. What if classes were started with, “Attention, short kids and tall kids!” Or fat/skinny, rich/poor, white/black, outgoing/shy, funny/boring, or any other binary that’s really a spectrum? Sorry, tangent.