Rolling in Russian

Many students with a cosmopolitan bend tend to learn a second language in the course of higher education. There are plenty of great reasons that an American would want to learn a second language, and different motivations might move one toward different tongues. People who want to learn an elegant/trendy language seem to try their hand at French of German. Those who want something immediately applicable tend toward Spanish (a sensible choice). I am no exception to this, and since I have entered a more liberal arts focused school and program, I’ve had a chance to learn. What did I pick? As the title probably gives away, I have spent the last year learning Russian, the only Critical Language offered by my university and certainly the most difficult. My Slavic studying has not been easy, especially at the outset. Or the middle. Or recently as I try to maintain my linguistics over the summer. So, why am I putting so much effort into this? How about I start at the beginning. I have always been at least vaguely interested in Russia. Maybe it was the constant and cartoonish caricatures of Soviets and Russians that have persisted from my parents and grandparents childhoods into my own generation. Maybe it’s the interesting cultural niche that slavic identity fills as part of Europe that also resents the West. I don’t really know the exact root, but I can tell you that Russia was a point of interest when the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology helped me find a better path for my life (that didn’t involve Mines itself). While at Mines I was fortunate enough to have a class for International Security taught by Dr. John Dreyer, who himself has a background in Russian. The final project was an exercise wherein we role-played various international forces relevant to the Syrian crisis, and I lept at the chance to represent Russia. Okay, I wasn’t Putin here, but I had a lot of fun as Dmitri Medvedev and my typical compulsion toward learning threw me into way more information than necessary about the Russian Federation, and its history. So, while I realized the direction I wanted to take my life Russia was present. Being more specific, I realized I want to serve my country in the way my passions as an individual would work best, and right now I believe that will be representing American interests as either a diplomat or in the Intelligence Community. To get there it is extraordinarily advantageous to study abroad; however, I don’t come from a family background that can pay for my schooling, little loan studying in a different country. So, that got me looking straight toward an experience a friend of mine had, the Critical Language Scholarship. While she went to India for a year to study Hindi, a quick browsing of the scholarships available languages and their associated requirements sent me down a different rabbit hole. You guessed it, Russian. This is the part of the story that reveals the ambition in my nature, I took it because it seemed the best strategic choice to get a study abroad opportunity. By no means am I the only person from a working class background with high goals and good grades. So, if I want a shot at a competitive scholarship, I have to beat out a lot of people who are equally qualified. As I said, I was already interested in Russian history, but frankly I could say that about a lot of other countries and cultures; however, the Russian CLS requires at least two years of college study, the most of any language offered (along with Japanese and Chinese). Presumably, people without dedication will have been weeded out by that point (I know some from my own Russian class have done so already). I don’t hold this against anyone, Russian is really hard. They use a completely different alphabet. And grammar. And basically no Americans soak Russians so Preston is hard. Really, learning a new language is hard in general. Some research shows that learning a new language can literally change the physical condition of a child’s brain, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that long study sessions have led to extraordinary headaches like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Here’s the thing though, I’m not just working because I want a career in that direction. This struggle to thrive has led me into a true love of the Russian language. I won’t lie, part of my enjoyment that is the status of intelligence I feel is conveyed to me; I have yet to see someone who is not impressed to know I am learning Russian. Beyond that, there is something satisfying and beautiful about the sounds afforded by the language. Russian is considered an angry language, but it really has an elegance reserved for a trained ear. I like to joke about the fact that you can’t actually write “Jordan” in Russian, which lacks a direct equivalent of “J”, so I have so substitute a “D” noise and a character (Ж) that makes a noise like “Zh” so my name sounds more like Digiorno than Jordan. That’s just fine because that noise is divine. It is often said that we appreciate the things that require a lot of work more than the things easily gained. I think that extends to knowledge as well. If I’m being honest, my abilities with the language are much closer to a schoolchild than Leo Tolstoy, but that’s okay. I think my favorite thing about learning a language is that I cannot hope to be done. My Russian professor (who I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned yet because Prof. Dulyanova is the absolute best) has been learning English since she was much younger than me, and she still slips up on occasion. That’s because even if one is able to speak at a native level, there are always words one doesn’t know and language never stops changing. So, I have undertaken a project one cannon hope to completely finish. But I have learned to enjoy the struggle.

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Moving up

If it isn’t obvious already, I really, really like Lin Manuel-Miranda’s musical Hamilton. I’m not the only one by a long shot, but I feel I am drawing more inspiration from the Treasury Secretary by the day. In particular, I really like The Hamilton Mixtape’s “Wrote My Way Out” by Nas, Dave East, and Lin. I’m certainly coming from a significantly better situation that a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman, but I feel the burn of ambition in me every day.

In the Midwest it can be easy to fall in line. Not in an obedience sense, the Libertarian streak will prevent that, but just to fall in the rut of day to daily life. There’s nothing wrong with that life. Many generations and even more people of my family have done that very happily.

My parents are wonderful role models, and I think they are really happy with the life they made for themselves, but I would go absolutely insane under the same circumstances. The only time the family travels is for sports. Once again, they love that, and that’s awesome for them. But there’s a lot of world out there, and I can’t see all of it from the bleachers.

There’s a reason you can’t find a town in South Dakota where we know no one. If you come to the heart of our family, Whitewood, then everyone knows us, it’s hard not to. If I wanted to, I could follow in my dad’s footsteps, go to BHSU for a Business degree, and eventually take over my grandpa’s company, A-1 Construction, Inc. That’s a good life to live. I don’t want it.

Why do I work hard? My generation is more competitive than ever before. We are more likely to take unpaid internships, and we have a lot of serious economic issues in our future. If I want to get further than my parents, I have to work harder.

My career goal is to be a foreign service officer with the State Department. Basically I want to serve my country and travel at the same time. I speak conversational Spanish, and that is obviously a valuable language  right now, but it isn’t as strong of a higher point for me. Hamilton read politics and spoke French, I read politics and learn Russian. I started learning the tongue before we started cozying up with Putin and installed his declared friend as our Secretary of State, but it’s a critical language. And with two years experience, I can get sent to a Russian speaking country for free while also getting an in with my dream job.

Regardless of whether or not that works out, I’ve always wanted to join the Peace Corps, and they can send me to the Ukraine. It might be a warzone by that point, but whatever. I’ll get there. That will be a huge step toward my larger plans. Here’s the thing, none of those are easily obtained. Even if learning Russian was easy, all of those jobs are competitive to get into and even harder to climb the ladder. So I’ll keep on working. And eventually, I’ll write my way out of here.

Volante Fall 2016

SD legislative sessions too short (9/6/2016)

You don’t need to fear me, but you probably should (9/11/2016)

Virtual reality may be the next art form (9/18/2016)

Swipe right for feelings (9/26/2016)

Students have options to consider outside the two-party system (10/2/2016)

School Rivalries (10/10/16)

Domestic violence display reinforces silence for male victims (10/17/2016)

Cell phone plan prices are unreasonable (10/24/2016)

USD should provide greater outreach for male rape survivors (10/30/2016)

Printing is Outdated and Expensive (11/7/2016)

Virtual assistants need an update (11/14/2016)

Check before you share (12/6/2016)

Equal Means Equal

Recently, I came across the image below on Facebook, shared by a friend of mine.
Seem Reasonable?
The two of us have discussed women’s rights in the past, and almost unilaterally agree. As many of you know by now, I consider myself a male feminist. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there are certain injustices toward men deal with that women don’t receive. I want equal rights for both genders. As far as I’m concerned, if both are going to have equal rights, then there should be the maximum amount of rights possible. The sort of with us or against us mentality that seems to dictate neo-feminism is something that should not be allowed to continue.
Gender differences in society are not like race differences in society. In America, seemingly every statistic is in favor of the white majority. Speaking as someone in almost every majority, I am not worried about police brutality because of my race, I don’t lose sleep worrying how my community will react to my faith. However, I do worry about what would happen if I ever had to fight for my child in court. Gender is a different story from race.
Let me clarify something. In my humble opinion, there does need to be more progress for women’s rights. The point of everything I’m saying within this is that both men and women need progress for their rights. Though there are more difficulties facing women, but that does not mean that men should be ignored.
Let me examine a bit of precedent behind that statement. Specifically I want to look at Karen DeCrow, who passed away last year. At one point DeCrow was the President of the National Organization for Women. As an attorney, she was able to win many court cases in favor of feminism, and was considered a major leader of the feminist cause in the 1970s and 1980s. That wasn’t all she did, though. Not seeing feminism and masculanism as mutually exclusive, DeCrow actually argued some major cases in favor of men’s rights. For instance, she argued that if a woman has the right to opt out of parenthood through an abortion, then a man should have the right to opt out as well, and leave the process. This incited a large amount of backlash from feminists claiming she was supporting the stereotype of the cruel seductress using her feminine whiles to trick a man into becoming her husband. In reality, DeCrow simply believed that men are no given advantages in every aspect of society. I agree with her. It’s not that there aren’t gender differences that negatively affect women, it’s that there are things that negatively affect men and women.
Marriage is something that is cited as putting women at a disadvantage; however, marriage is a broad thing that has effects on many parts of life. The idea often goes that after being married more work is expected of married women than men, so despite the fact that women and men both have jobs, women do more work on the whole. That is not true. On average men in 2011 spent an average of 47 hours between work and household duties while women spent 39. While it is true that women are far more likely to be stay at home mom’s, I have one myself, that is largely because there is a societal perception that men can’t or shouldn’t be stay at home fathers. When a family starts, many fathers want to stay at home and help the mother of their child raise their child. Unfortunately, the University of Oregon found that only 10-15% of men have that option. Is this a worse harm to men, than the glass ceiling is to women? No. No it is not. That doesn’t mean this should be changed for men.
Let’s look beyond successful relationships though. Crumbling marriages are surprisingly harmful to men. First, let’s look back to the children. Child custody battles do not go well for men. The Census Bureau stated in 2011 that less than 20% of custodial parents are fathers. Anecdotally, when a relative of mine entered a custody battle, one of the first things his attorney told him was that he was unlikely to win because few judges will grant custody to men. There’s no reason to assume that mothers are better than fathers. In fact, Texas A&M found that father’s are very important to childhood development. While a child being able to have both parents is obviously preferable, there is no reason to grant women preference. It is a horrible to think that there are good men who can’t get custody of their children because of gender.

Men can also be called on to do further service to their country than women. It took a ridiculously long time for women to be able to serve in combat areas in the US military. It is insulting to assert that women aren’t capable of things that men are. In all seriousness, I truly believe most women are more suited than me to serve in combat scenarios. So, why don’t they sign up for selective service? While women can opt in to the selective service, it should be mandatory. Men and women ought to have unilaterally equal rights. Rights come with responsibilities. The draft is a necessary evil and if men have the responsibility of defending their country, then so do women.
Something I hate is the portrayal of women in many forms of media. People have learned that sex sells, and so female characters are often portrayed as being there just for visual appeal, or else as only a love interest. That’s not only sexist, but also poor writing. Want to know what else I hate? The portrayal of men in media. Starting at the beginning let’s think of children’s television. There’s a family with three children, two of whom are boys. One is smart and unpopular, the other cuts class to hang out with his numerous friends. Sound familiar? How many shows can you think of where the coolest person/protagonist on the show is a dumb boy? While this problem can certainly extend to women, I can think of very few male characters who are portrayed as intelligent as well as broadly liked, and that is a problem I still have. Just look at the 90’s TV hit Friends. You have three main guys. Two are intelligent. Ross is portrayed as socially challenged because he’s intelligent. The second half of that set is Chandler. Chandler doesn’t win many points socially so he has to resort to humor to get support. Finally, there is Joey. Joey is not smart, but he fares all the better for it usually. He is better looking, gets more girls with less effort, and is generally liked. Regardless of age, we all have an innate desire for acceptance, and we will follow the models set forth to get it. That can translate to problems down the road.
Education is more important for success than ever before. Since 1994, both men and women of all races have become more likely to attend college, a great thing for the progress of our country; however, Pew Research found disparity of gender enrollments has grown. In 1994 women led men in enrollment by a whopping 2%. Small enough that I would call it negligible. That number is up to 13%. College is not for everybody, man or woman. But presuming men and women will want similar jobs at similar rates, there should not be nearly so large a gap. I’m not saying that media portrayal is the only cause of this disparity. Other potential sources cited by Pew include disciplinary disparity towards boys and girls in schools, as well as barrier of entry to the work force, but if every character a boy or man can identify with is unmotivated toward success, what more can you really expect?
Finally, let me address one of the most hot button issues I can. Sexual and relationship violence are monstrosities. The idea of having humanity stripped on such a basic level is horrifying to me. In my mind, rapists are some of the lowliest human beings on the planet because of the way they treat another human being, and I don’t feel sorry for saying that. Anyone harmed in such a way deserves every support they can get. So, why don’t men? If you are reading this and thinking that I’m going off on a tangent about something that isn’t a real problem, then you’re part of the problem. Sorry, now let me explain.
Men get raped. Shocking? Men can be raped by both other men as well as women. In fact, the National Crime Victimization Survey found that roughly 38% of rapes take place against men, which was confirmed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That’s no paltry amount of victims. So, why is the perception that only women get raped? It’s because men are less likely to report being raped. The idea is that men always want to get laid, so why would they ever say no? Many men won’t even realize they have been raped, thinking they somehow gave consent without realizing it. According to Brown University, men are unlikely to report being raped because there is the societal perception that men need to be able to protect themselves at all times from anything.

It is not a man’s fault that he is raped anymore than it is a woman’s fault. Victim blaming has no productivity. That’s not the way the problem is handled, unfortunately. As highlighted by House of Cards, rape is a major problem in the military. In fact, military statistics show that over half of the victims are male, and 38 men are raped daily in the military. In interviews with GQ some men opened up about their experiences. I admire their courage for speaking out. A man formerly in the Navy named Steve Stovey was bound, blindfolded, and sodomized by three men the day before his father would come to ride on the ship with Stovey. He didn’t say anything for fear of shaming his father. Had Stovey reported the incident, the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of the time would not only have had his attackers kicked out of the military, but also Stovey himself. Trent Smith allowed was scared to fight back because his assailant was a ranking officer, and he feared reprimand. And those who report are, like civilian men, met with skepticism. A man going by the name Neal reported being raped to his doctor. The doctor responded “Son, men don’t get raped.” For more accounts, follow the link to the GQ article. This perception is wrong.

LeBeouf wore a paper bag for the project.

Want a high profile example? Look at Shia LeBeouf. If you didn’t hear, Shia LeBeouf was raped during a performance art project called “#IAMSORRY.” Viewers got to see LeBeouf in a room in private with Shia. LeBeouf has opened up about the experience with the magazine Dazed. LeBeouf stated that a woman came in and whipped him for ten minutes, and then proceeded to rape him. The most insulting part? People are questioning whether he was raped at all. Evidence shows that what he says is true, but that doesn’t stop people from saying that he couldn’t be raped. In fact, CNN newscaster Piers Morgan wrote a series of Tweets victim-shaming tweets toward LeBeouf. Morgan said “Shia LeBeouf’s claim to have been raped is truly pathetic & demeans real rape victims. Grow up, you silly little man.” If being whipped, stripped, and forced to have sex isn’t a real rape, then what is? If a woman had this happen to her, it wouldn’t be a question if she had been raped. I know the threat of sexual assault is greater for women. I’m not challenging that. What I’m saying is that the fact that this is even a question is an insult.
The societal perception of masculinity needs to change. Men can be raped. Men are not always strong. Men don’t are just as important can be smart and likable. Fathers are just as important as mothers.
As I said at the beginning of this, I truly believe that women have more social rights issues than men. I think to say that men are dealt the worse hand would be ridiculous. My problem is the asssertation that men do not face any damages to our rights. My problem is the idea that if you support the rights of men, then you must be a misogynist. I’m not. I just support human rights. If we are to support equal rights, then we need to remember that equal means equal, and the rights of one should not be prioritized over the rights of another. If you are bothered by the societal harms to men, and thus are a feminist, I encourage you to also be a masculinist.

For more information on anything I talked about, follow the links scattered throughout. If you have any thoughts, leave a comment below.