Thursday, November 28, 2013

Objectify Women and Protect Immigrants! All With American Apparel

As some of you may know, I am the office manager at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.  Part of my job includes ordering merchandise for our small bookstore/gift shop.  I have no background in retail and had no idea how difficult this part of my job would be. There are many elements to this I could discuss but what has really been alive for me lately is the world of clothing and the controversy around organic, made in the USA, sweatshops, fossil fuel and consumerism.

So I basically have to decide with every item I order how universally likable is said object, will people buy it and how much will people pay for it.   Holy shit!  You ask 100 different people what they think about a particular item of clothing for example and you get 100 different answers.  I took on the task of ordering new sweatshirts and long sleeve t-shirts for the fall/winter seasons.  This included deciding which sweatshirts to buy and what image to put on them.  As the director said to me one day, I was fun at first and then it got to be not so fun as it took up more and more work time, brain power and kept me up at night ("what if everyone hates them and I wasted thousands of dollars??!!").

The logo stuff took time and some hounding of contributing artists.  But more painfully I had to figure out where to order the blank sweatshirts from.  Here at Green Gulch using organic products is very important so we have often used the company Econscious for our clothing needs.  And they are pretty good.  Their website says all the right things.  For the sake of the environment I do believe organic is better.  Not using petrochemical fertilizer is simply better.  Chemical fertilizers are toxic and they get into ground water, kill animals and poison people who come into contact with them.  Things can get a little sticky when you start to look at certifying organizations and their actual standards (see QAI, the world's largest organic certfier) standards are known to be broken or sometimes like in the case of China, they do not allow foreigners to inspect their farms and the US agency must rely on a contracted third (fourth) party certifier. There are great certifying boards in the US, often times local to certain areas, but if a farm uses them it is often on top of using the USDA "McCertifier".  This is one of the problems with all of our products coming from overseas, it is often much more difficult to monitor quality, working conditions, employee payment, etc. even when organic.

Yikes! At least she looks like she weighs more than 90lbs?
Which brings me to American Apparel.  This is where I have to come back to the buddhist concept of "holding two truths."  American Apparel was founded in the '80s by Dov Charney who is dedicated to a model of local manufacturing of goods.  On the one had you've got this guy who has had several lawsuits filed against him for a variety of types of misconduct in which the claims are pretty heinous and he also uses horrid advertising that objectifies and sexualizes women to the extreme (see right) but on the other hand he is doing something no one else is doing: producing mainstream clothing IN THE UNITED STATES. In fair working conditions, with decent pay and benefits and the fact that the production is local allows for a level of transparency just not possible in foreign countries.  They even do their own garment dying in SoCal, which brings just one more step of the process into the realm of humane treatment.

So when Megan at the Feminist Current blog mentions in many places, how disgusting the founder is and her general abhorrence of the existence of AmApp, I feel guilty!  After much time debating the merits of various options (availability, fit, feel, colors, organic, made in US) I chose one sweatshirt from Econscious and one from American Apparel.  I think my partner was a bit disturbed that I paid more money for a sweatshirt that wasn't even organic but I do think there's merit to Made in the USA.  And my only option for doing that is to simultaneously support fair working conditions and the exploitation of women.  Not so clean.  It never is.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Too Messed Up to be a Zen Master (or Justin Beiber)

Hi y'all it's been a while but I got sufficiently fired up the other night that my inspiration has come back.

San Francisco Zen Center hosted an event Friday night at the Jewish Community Center in SF. It was a "conversation" between premier Buddhist scholar, Dr. Robert Thurman (maybe better known in some circles as Uma Thurman's dad), Zen Center president Susan O'Connell and local therapist Dr. David Bullard.  The title of the event was "Embracing the Disappointments of Intimacy: How Buddhist Ideas Can Help Relationships."  Sounds cool right?  I think people are thirsty for these kinds of discussions.  People like me, who are into this zen practice, are trying to figure out how to apply the teachings to our everyday lives.  And as humans, relationships are a central, if not The central, theme in our lives.  They open up and touch every emotion we have.  So we need help!  We want to be better to our loved ones and even better to those we don't love so much.

I'm glad I went to the talk and I could say a lot about how the discussion could have been better.  To keep it short I will say I would have liked the conversation to have stayed on topic.  Robert Thurman had a lot to say and often what he said was loosely related at best.  At worst, you could say he hijacked the stage and went of on some rants.

But here's where my beef lay and here are some of the questions it inspired. At one point early in the evening the subject of sex came up, as often does in conversations about intimacy.  This was in relation to falling in love and the tendency to get totally consumed by this other person.  Dr. Thurman says he wants to share some wisdom he heard from Sasaki Roshi and goes on to casually acknowledge that he's currently being accused of some sexual "misdeeds."  (I have included one link but there are many) He might have even chuckled to himself when he said it!  Dr. Thurman went on to say "but he's still a great master."  And continued to share some of Sasaki's teachings about sex!  Including something about when people first fall in love they stay all wrapped up in the bedroom for a few days but they can't stay like that forever, and eventually someone "has to clean the sheets.'  Fucking gross! (please excuse my language).  It will never be okay to be casual about a spiritual leader taking advantage of his congregants.  And I also feel like it will never be ok to condone "teachings" from a criminal about the very behavior they are being accused of misusing.  That is just messed up and it's a head game for people who are vulnerable, seeking, and deeply exploring their own psyche.

Which leads me to the question, how messed up do you have to be to lose your "Zen Master" membership card?  In the discussion of spiritual teachers gone wild, it is often mentioned that these behaviors are mistakes and these people aren't gods, they are still human beings, and they still offer some great insights that are really helpful for a lot of people.  But I think we have to draw a line somewhere.  Our brains are set to compartmentalize the world around us. I'm not sure it is so easy for a lot of us to separate a Zen teacher's good teachings from shitty teachings.  Of course they will make mistakes, this issue will never go away, but we can do our best to protect people.  Letting him slide because he was a "great master" is how this mess continued for so long in the first place.

On a, I would argue, somewhat related note.  Here's a link to a hot of the press story of Justin Beiber's visit to a brothel.  I do think all of this is related because it falls into "rape culture."  The devaluing and sexualizing of women that is supported by many seemingly harmless things, like Dr. Robert Thurman subtly approving of Sasaki Roshi's behavior by still regarding him as a great master.  How would that make his victims feel?  Invalidated perhaps? And then you have celebrities like Justin Beiber and Miley Cyrus who are these extreme examples of the symptoms of a sick society.  We can argue that they aren't good examples because they are not regular people but what are the kids watching every day?  Justin Beiber running out of a brothel covered in a bed sheet and Miley Cyrus getting nasty with a sledgehammer on video.  It all gets into the mind and shapes it, sometimes in obvious ways and sometimes less.