The New Russia: Book Review

By David Michael Newstead.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s book, The New Russia, offers a glimpse at history from a decidedly rare point of view. Few Russian leaders have lived for so long after their time in office. So then, few others could ever provide the kind of perspective that Gorbachev gives as he reflects on the end of Communism and his last day in the Kremlin to the tumultuous years that followed and events right up to the present day. Of those first years after Communism, he lists off a string of crises that plagued the nation as it transitioned to a new form of government.

  • The collapse of the Soviet Union; the rolling back of democracy in almost all the republics; chaos in the economy, exploited by the greediest and most unscrupulous, who succeeded in plunging almost everyone else into poverty; ethnic conflicts and bloodshed in Russia and other republics; and, finally, the shelling of the Supreme Soviet of Russia in October 1993.

The book is filled with letters, speeches, photographs, and interview excerpts from throughout these years. But in all, it shows a man trying to defend the decisions he made and watching from the sidelines at the people who came to power after him, for better or worse. He explores the war in Chechnya, the economic turmoil throughout the 1990s, the eventual rise of Vladimir Putin, NATO expansion, the rollback of democratic reforms, the war with Georgia, Ukraine, and more. As Gorbachev thought about the past as well as the present, two passages stuck out at me.

  • Already I was aware of just how deeply rooted the legacy of totalitarianism was, in our traditions, in people’s mindset and morality. It had seeped into almost every pore of the social organism. That deeply troubled me in those days and, more than 20 years later, still does.
  • We are living in the twenty-first century, a century of new technologies and new challenges. Conservative ideology has no answer to these. Traditional, conservative values do, along with others, have their place in society. But where have conservative policies taken us in the history of Russia? They have led, as a rule, to stagnation followed by upheaval. Sometimes the years of stagnation have been relatively prosperous, living off reforms carried through earlier and favorable external factors. Sooner or later, however, that energy runs out, the external factors change.

Interview with a Feminist

By David Michael Newstead.

With women’s rights at the forefront of politics, I’ve been trying to reach out to different people I know: to ask questions, learn more, and to get their perspectives on gender issues in America. Recently, I had the chance to speak with my friend, Charity Sperringer, about the role feminism has played in her life. Charity is a committed feminist living in Washington, D.C. where she’s started a feminist book club to delve into many of these issues. Our conversation is below.

David Newstead: When and how did you first become a feminist?

Charity Sperringer: First of all, I am in no way an expert to all things pertaining to feminism. If you asked me prior to the book club’s humble beginnings in December 2014, I may have not considered myself a feminist. Now that I know what being a feminist entails (thanks to the diversity of texts and open discussions from the book club members!), I would say I’ve only recently been the feminist I want to be – the one who advocates for feminism beyond my own personal gains.

I have been entering traditionally male dominated spaces since I was young because I didn’t understand the typical female trajectory that society expects from women. Some examples include taking advanced level statistics among a class of males because I knew that having a woman question statistics was rare in panel discussions and of course playing video games and watching animes with my brothers while growing up. This is partial to having been raised with expectations similar to my older brother and partial to being told by society to be someone that I wanted/would like to challenge. That’s one way of looking at feminism, in a personal way.

In college I dated a man who was vocal that he was a feminist. I didn’t know what that meant for a man to do that. He wanted to fight for equality for all races, genders, and sexualities. He also worked for the ACLU and dated women before me who were passionate about acting for others. That’s another way to look at feminism and the way I aspire to be.

I can’t forget about entering the private sector and leaving the non-profit sector. That’s when I started the book club. That was a whammy for realizing work place inequality. The book club was a safe space to discuss whatever we wanted. I was immersed with mostly women previously at non-profits, then I jumped into an area dominated by men in leadership and unfortunately with ulterior motives. I still work in a mostly male dominated environment and am constantly presented with scenarios that are laughably about me being a female rather than my abilities or qualities.

David: Do you feel like that becoming a feminist has changed you as a person? If so, how? Are there any examples from your personal or professional life that you’d feel comfortable sharing?

Charity: Yes, owning the label “feminist” has changed me. I have more open discussions about gender, race, equality, access, and history with coworkers, family members, my boyfriend (also a feminist) and friends. I’m referred to as the liberal or the feminist at work now and am completely comfortable with it – whereas before I was hesitant to accept it because I associated it with women who knew more about being a female than I did. Now that I’ve built this identity, I have former colleagues from school ask me questions about impacts on women of policies and I have coworkers who send me events and news articles they think would be of interest to me. It just so happens that it’s a great time to be a feminist! Making it ok to be labeled as a feminist is a bizarre step towards the goal that I’ll take. Letting people know that feminism entails equality in addition to WHY with examples of inequality to illustrate, and what the next steps are – this is more meaningful. As I said, I’m no expert in feminism and I hope other people don’t feel that they have to be to consider themselves as a feminist. If I have to be that person in the office to encourage dialogue, I’ll be that person. Every office should have that person.

David: What do you think are the best ways of addressing negative and toxic forms of masculinity?

Charity: Some great ways to address negative and toxic forms of masculinity are to address them head-on. This is something I admit need to do more so at the workplace when I’m confronted with scenarios of male colleague using language to belittle me because I’m a female (calling me “sexy”, referring to me as “little girl”, laughing at my female colleague for getting harassed on the street as a “china doll”, and more). I’m also trying to be more patient to the males in my office who defer to violence as the answer to understand why they approach difficult scenarios this way. I’ll let you know how this method works. Talking to your male partner, father, brother about negative and toxic forms of masculinity is also important so that they can carry these conversations back to their male buds and relatives. Lastly, accepting males when they aren’t traditionally masculine and letting them know you appreciate their qualities is important. Everyone just wants validation.

David: In closing, what’s the main challenge or challenges confronting feminism right now and how should they be addressed?

Charity: Can I have a less weighty question? Haha. I think it’s pretty basic and not even substantial to the critical principles of it – getting people on board that it means equality and not special privileges for women. And that you can be a Republican and also a feminist. Kind of like you can be a Democrat or a Republican and think that trafficking humans is wrong. Unfortunately “feminism” denotes “female” and starts fun, circular and ceaseless conversations about why feminism doesn’t mean equality among everyone. How to address this? Discussing inequality can be enough to get people on board with tackling it. And then you can say GOTCHA! You’re a feminist! But also, getting males into the conversation of feminism.

Toxic Masculinity Reader

Beasts of No Nation

From Al Jazeera: #MasculinitySoFragile

The Origins of #MasculinitySoFragile

#MasculinitySoFragile Goes Viral

Angry White Men: A Book Review

Angry White Men: Author Interview

A Look at Mass Shootings in America

A Conversation with Paul Elam

Review: The Mask You Live In

The Angry White Man Election

Masculinity Isn’t Misogyny

Re-watching American Psycho

Countering Street Harassment

#MasculinitySoFragile: Post-Election Edition

Men Without Work: A Book Review

American History X Revisited

 

 

How Social Media Became Forbidden Planet

By David Michael Newstead.

What if a machine could manifest people’s thoughts? In the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (and the Crichton novel Sphere), scientists stumble onto a device like this. It’s of alien origins and it materializes thoughts into reality. Powerful and with limitless potential, the machine could make the world a better place. But instead of this device leading to a new and enlightened chapter in history, it just amplifies the worst parts of people’s psyche: fear, anger, paranoia. In the story, violence and chaos quickly ensue as the characters’ unconscious runs amok.

Unfortunately, the social media landscape is starting to look a lot like Forbidden Planet, more dangerous than it is enlightening. But when platforms like Twitter and Facebook first launched, the idea that they would one day be overrun with rabid misogynists, white supremacists, stalkers, personalized threats, and propaganda would have seemed far-fetched. We have this notion, after all, that technology always makes things better. In this case though, it’s like social media removed the polite veneer that masks everything under the surface of our culture: swallow materialism, intense insecurity, sexism, and racism. The problem didn’t start overnight, of course. No one joined Twitter thinking they were going to get doxed. But like a tidal wave, problems began moving from the comment section into the real world. And vice versa. Now, the carefree early days of social networking seem wildly naïve. And our optimistic vision of an interconnected world may be the biggest piece of science fiction of them all.

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