Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Jessica" Isn't Clean

Risk® has decided that it would be better for business to exclude women from its base. Seriously. The board game now asks if you're "man enough", and the on-line version does something... ...rather strange. From Sociological Images
First of all, you have to choose a nickname. I tried a series of names: "Fred", "Thomas" and "Patrick" went through fine, but if I tried "Melissa" "Jessica" or "Natasha", the system wouldn't accept them, and I was told to "Keep it clean, please."
Whoa. I didn't know "Jessica", "Melissa", "Natasha" or "Lisa" are in any way dirty - unless, of course, being a girl is dirty.

I don't play Risk. The only game I'll play that takes more than 6 hours to finish is Monopoly®. I get bored, restless, and lose all interest. But a lot of women I know truly enjoy games like Risk.  And it sucks that they are being completely excluded from this world; it sucks that a game that had previously been neutral in its box has chosen to become genderized, and has chosen to play to the basest cliches of what guys are interested in. I especially liked one of the comments, which declared "I'm sure it's not their attempt to alienate female customers. this game is a slow game in some circle [sic] and they are only trying to win people over". Brilliant deduction! Of course, women don't count as "people". That would just be silly. And making women feel completely unwelcome is the best way to win them over. Obviously, this is some nifty marketing tool based on reverse psychology.

What really miffs me is that this isn't even the first time Hasbro has blatantly played to gender stereotypes. I was already upset with them over the Queen Frostine thing, where they downgraded her to "Princess Frostine", sassed her up, and made her skinnier and way pink. Who thinks "pink" when they think of frost? Who, I ask you? No more. I've already written my angry letter about Candy Land, but now I'm writing another one about Risk. And I'm boycotting Hasbro, until Risk returns to being overtly gender neutral and possibly until Queen Frostine once again looks like she's ruling over a frosty land of winter and snow and hasn't accidentally fallen into a vat of cotton candy.

It's going to be Apples to Apples from here on out.

H/T to Feministing.

Dr. Horrible DVD

Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog is available for pre-order, to be released on December 19. The run time is listed at 100 minutes, meaning tons of extras! YAY! I've been jokingly telling my friends and family that they're all getting clothing from The Gap this Christmas, due to my getting cash back if I order through E-Bates and the fact that my Gap Card gives me gift certificates. But now, they will be getting Gap sweaters and Dr. Horrible! I'm not entirely sure if each of my immediate family members actually needs Dr. Horrible, but that is kind of beside the point. Right?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Why Feminism Is Still Relevant: Upskirting Incidents

One of the first Friday Feminist Fuck You videos I saw made by the women of Feministing dealt with public perverts. I think it may have been one of the first ones they actually did. I loved it. I was horrified by the first incident they talked about, that being a 16 year old who put on a skirt, went to a Target, had a man stick a camera up her skirt, and then had no legal recourse because she had no "reasonable expectation of privacy":

As Tracy Clark-Flory makes clear in her recent article addressing the subject, "In non-legalese: Wear a skirt in public, and you might just get a camera in the crotch." The article is incredible, both moving and scary. It definitely makes me want to think twice about wearing skirts or sundresses, and while I've always been more at home in a pair of jeans, I do love my skirts and dresses. And what makes matters worse is that concerns about "upskirting" are often boiled down to the most ridiculous of arguments. Like this one from John Morris, general counsel for the Center of Democracy & Technology: "If you don't want to be photographed walking down the street, don't walk down the street - it's a public street". That is the kind of response that minimizes the impact this has on women, on their autonomy, on their feelings of safety, and their rights as human beings not to be reduced to body parts and sexual objects as soon as they step out of the door in the morning. The idea that there is some debate about whether or not upskirting (or "downblousing") actually violates privacy and privacy laws is ludicrous. As Harper Jean Tobin writes at Polymorphous Perversity,
"Of course they do. How do we know? Consider the analogous situation of the bathroom stall. The bathroom itself is a public place. The stall is, typically, not completely closed off from the rest of the bathroom; its walls do not extend all the way to the floor or ceiling. Others could certainly peep over or under. Yet most of us would agree that there is a general, reasonable, and fairly strong expectation of privacy in the closed stall. This has often come up in Fourth Amendment cases, and court generally agree that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the stall (though they sometimes disagree about how it applies to many situations involving law enforcement searches and surveillance).

When you wear a skirt on the street, the parts of your body covered by the skirt are like all of you when you're in a bathroom stall. Your deliberate concealment creates a reasonable expectation of privacy as to the parts concealed, even if someone could go out of their way to peek. This doesn't seem to me to be a difficult question."
What upskirting demonstrates is something many women know all too well: that women are still considered, in some way shape or form, to be public property. That women are still second-class, are still worth less, and whose thoughts and feelings and autonomy still remain unconsidered by a whole swath of society. No, not every man is someone who would stick a camera under a girl's skirt and click. I would venture many men don't fall into that category. No, not every man is someone who would even contemplate catcalling a woman or thinking it is a complement. Again, I would venture that many men wouldn't. But that doesn't change the fact that it is not considered a societal issue, and the men who do engage in these activities are more often than not left out of the equation as we once again discuss women and women's behavior as being the root cause of their own strife. That is what John Morris' comment does; it puts the onus on women not to be made victims of upskirting. It says, "Well, you should expect to be photographed (or harassed, or catcalled, or leered at, or touched) if you leave the house."

And unfortunately, that is the dominant viewpoint of society; for instance, there are comments on Feministing from a man (KeithIrwin) who claims "There are times when I consider myself very proud to label myself a feminist male" but who had previously said on the same thread, "saying things like 'I don't want someone to take a picture of my crotch, so they shouldn't be able to, period' is why people sometimes assume that feminist is a synonym for fascist". Wha? Saying that I have a right to my privacy and to not be violated by someone sticking a camera in a place that had I been walking down the street with it exposed I could be charged with indecent exposure is fascist? How fucking clueless can a person get? Seriously now. How fucking privileged can a person be to not recognize that women have a right to be enraged by the very thought that they are susceptible to this sort of violation, to be enraged by the act of this sort of violation, and to declare unequivocally that this violation is unacceptable? How is that in any way fascist? Oh, this must be a definition of fascism I'm not aware of, where just by suggesting that a man doesn't have the automatic right to my body means that I am exercising strong autocratic or dictatorial control! The idea that this man may otherwise hold feminist notions is slightly frightening to me, because this one statement - along with conflating someone taking a picture of your hair with having someone shove a camera toward your crotch - belies the very truth of feminism; that being the radical idea that women have a fundamental right to personal autonomy, that women have the right to walk down a street without being accosted or threatened, and that women - as human beings - have the inherent right to be seen first and foremost as human beings and not simply as sex objects or dismembered body parts there for male pleasure, the male gaze, or male approval (or, for that matter, female approval).

Here's the thing: I'm not one to pull the "you don't know what it is like" card, because I find it more than slightly wall-building and a bit condescending and doesn't exactly open up the conversation toward a more mutually satisfactory debate. It basically shuts conversation down; and I am, beyond all else, a conversator (and a word maker-upper, but that's a whole other post). But guys like Keith really don't know what it is like. Guys in general usually have a hard time understanding what it is like to live in a world that constantly seeks to strip bits and pieces from you throughout your outdoorsy travels. I don't think I've ever been upskirted. But that doesn't mean that I haven't been, and it doesn't mean that I don't now worry about it happening. It doesn't mean that Karen Simoncelli, who was upskirted, hasn't suffered from it, describing her situation as:
"'I had to have my fiance for about a whole year walk me in and out of our house... ...I have had a loaded gun next to my bed ever since. I constantly think someone is following me.' She says she'll stare at a small sliver of her bedroom window that isn't covered by the blinds and become convinced that 'someone is watching me, someone is looking'."
Upskirting is just another way of asserting power over a subject, as Professor of political science Susan Gallagher states. It is another way of making women feel, like Karen Simoncelli, unsafe. It is just another example of what Gwen Stefani described in "I'm Just a Girl". This world continually seeks to force women to hold a man's hand. And although every individual upskirt picture snapper is individually to blame, this is also a societal issue. Because we as a society do not take these assaults against women very seriously. Because these assaults, in their various forms, have become engrained as normalized behavior. And that is the bigger issue. Because even if we manage to do what Japan did and require every single camera phone to make an extra loud shutter sounds, the reasons why this behavior is prevalent (and in some cases rampant) are still very much present. And so, I leave you with "I'm Just A Girl", both because I like it and because it is still so very relevant:

Part 1 of the series.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day Watching

Every Thanksgiving, I watch the Macy's Day Parade, but there are a whole bunch of other turkey day specials that go hand in hand with this yearly event as well! So, here's a list of what I'll be watching and some of what I already watched yesterday (because I'm impatient).

1) A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. I love how Peppermint Patty invites herself over the Charlie Brown's on Thanksgiving Day, and then brings along Marcie and Franklin. I love Charlie Brown's and Linus' exchange, when Charlie Brown says, "I can't cook a Thanksgiving dinner! All I can make is cold cereal and maybe toast", and Linus responds with, "That's right. I've seen you make toast". I always wonder how even that blockhead Charlie Brown could screw up toast. I also enjoy Linus trying to make a historical connection to the current fight between Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown and getting shot down by Patty saying, "No, it's not like that at all". But mostly, I love Snoopy helping to make the popcorn and the toast and serving it with jellybeans and pretzel sticks when he had an actual turkey cooking in his doghouse. Aside from the disturbing part of feeding the turkey to Woodstock, the fact that the dog could make a turkey and chose not to share it with the rest of the neighborhood is just hilarious to me. Of course, Linus and Charlie Brown never asked if he could - or was - making a turkey either.

2) Sports Night's Thespis. The episode is brilliant. From the frozen turkey on the light grid to this exchange:
Dana: My whole family's coming to New York. 18 people.
Natalie: And this is your first time making the dinner by yourself.
Dana: Yes.
Natalie: It's a rite of passage into adulthood.
Dana: Yes.
Kim: It's a time for giving thanks. A time to share in the warm embrace of family.
Dana: Right.
Natalie: You don't want to take any crap from your mother.
Dana: I really don't.
Aaron Sorkin has a tendency to pontificate during pretty much every moment, but Thespis is pitch perfect between the true spirit of being thankful and whacky hijinks that routinely plague any ghostly visitation. Isaac dealing with his daughter's placenta previa, Casey and Danny's anniversary fight, and Dana's turkey woes all highlight different interpersonal relationships, and all revolve around the idea of pointing out what is important by Thespis mocking what is not.

3) WKRP in Cincinnati's Turkey's Away: A Thanksgiving turkey drop goes very, incredibly wrong for the radio station gang, leading to outright hilarity.

I highly recommend watching the whole thing; Les makes it, especially with lines like, "The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement!"

4) Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Pangs. A made family celebrating a day with pie and fighting vengeful spirits. The gang's all together, and it's great. They also get into the nitty gritty of the holiday, by both aptly describing what it is:
Anya: I love a ritual sacrifice.
Buffy: It's not really a one of those.
Anya: To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie.
And its problematic nature:
Professor Gerhardt (in the background): And that's why it's appropriate that the ground-breaking for the UC Sunnydale Cultural Partnership Center is taking place so soon before Thanksgiving. Because that's what the melting pot is about - contributions from all cultures, making our culture stronger.
Willow: What a load of horse hooey.
Buffy: We have a counterpoint?
Willow: Yeah. Thanksgiving isn't about the blending of two cultures. It's about one culture wiping out another. And then they make animated specials about the part where, with the maize and the big, big belt buckles. They don't show you the next scene, where all the bison die and Squanto takes a musketball in the stomach
The episode isn't a shining beacon of cultural sensitivity, but it does present arguments from the different factions and also incorporates my own personal philosophy of "What happened in the past is something we should work to correct and acknowledge and the original 'everyone was happy when the pilgrims came to stay' meme is a sham, but it is a sham with yams and good family moments that should be taken and celebrated for their own right". Plus, it's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and no holiday of mine is complete without the corresponding episode.

5) Chuck, Chuck vs. The Nemesis. A newbie but a goodie. I'm holding on to Chuck tight, since Ned left me, and I love this episode for both the Buy More Thanksgiving preparations and the combined Bartowski and Morgan Thanksgiving. The whole thing, between preparations for Black Friday, Chuck dealing with his ex-best friend, and the actual dinner is incredibly funny.

6) Chuck, Chuck vs. The Gravitron. An even newer newbie but a goodie. Just Morgan's face when Ellie throws out the dry-run turkey is worth watching the episode for (though between this and Sports Night, I really have to start wondering how many people actually make dry-run turkeys before the big day). Captain Awesome continues his awesome streak, and Big Mike's defense of Buy More from robbers is incredible.

7) The West Wing, Shibboleth. Between CJ having to pick a turkey to be pardoned, and President Bartlet's incredulity that a high school student would not know that it was not in his power to actually pardon a turkey, the episode is a home run.

8) The West Wing, Indians in the Lobby. Aside from the plot the episode title is taken from, President Bartlet discovering there is a Butterball hotline is wonderful. As is his pretending to be a regular citizen while calling it to discover whether or not it is safe to cook his oyster stuffing inside his turkey or if he should make it separately.

Editing to Add:

9) Friends, The One Where Ross Got High. I usually don't like Friends very much. But I love this episode from start to finish. I love Monica and Ross' mom's response to all of the friends' outbursts, from Rachel putting beef in the trifle to Phoebe being in love with Jacque Cousteau to Joey wanting to go to Ross having done drugs and every other secret the siblings launch at each other in under a minute. 

Have a happy and fulfilling Thanksgiving. And watch some television.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why I Like Thanksgiving

As most everyone who knows me is aware, I'm pretty liberal. I'm not saying I'm the most liberal person out there, but I'm pretty comfortable in the left. I've also got the bowl-a-plenty of the "white liberal guilt" with a healthy heaping of "Catholic guilt", even though I am not now nor have ever been technically Catholic. I went to Catholic kindergarden, but that's as far as that went. I'm pretty sure I picked up that guilt simply because even though my extended family is made up almost entirely of lapsed Catholics and former Catholics who now revile the Church (the second Vatican council traumatized my father) and at least one person who was excommunicated, they still engage in the cultural practice of the guilt. Which is, I think, one of the worst things to take away from the religion, but probably also now part of the familial culture. And I know that Thanksgiving is really not the best holiday in the world, as it celebrates the beginning of the end for many indigenous cultures.

I know that many tribes are now extinct, that the settlers broke many treaties, that the land my house is built on is more than likely ill-gotten gains. And I feel relatively badly about it all. I think that we should all be aware of this history, and we should know about things like the Trail of Tears and the history of land-grabbing and how the American government forced different tribes to share not only the smallest pieces of land they could manage but also the least rich. We should be well-aware that even today, "Indian reservations... [are] some of the poorest and most crime-plagued communities in America". We should be aware of the fact that white America tried to strip these groups of people of their culture, that white Americans tried to Anglicize them; and we should recognize that after the dominant white culture did all of this, we bought - as if in a tizzy - photographs of Frank Rinehart and others that depicted the dying gasps of that culture out of a sense of nostalgia. We should be aware that the plays of Pilgrims and Indians we put on in elementary school, in our paper bag costumes (of course, that could have just been my school), is as far from an accurate description as one could get for what actually went down.

But that, for me, is separate from the modern holiday. That doesn't mean we shouldn't know about it. But I feel the same way about marriage. It isn't like marriage is an institution that has always been about true love; it isn't like there haven't been women oppressed, or beaten, or killed within the bounds of matrimony. It isn't like marriage wasn't about gaining lands. It isn't like marriage hasn't been the tool of the patriarchy. And I think we should know that, especially those on the side of "traditional family values". I think we should all be aware that the modern marriage is a relatively new invention, and that sometimes what came before was less than pleasant. But since the modern marriage is, generally speaking, a different animal all together, there is the ability to celebrate it when two people decide that they do want to tie that knot. Same thing with Thanksgiving. The modern Thanksgiving is less about the historical event of breaking bread between Native Americans and Pilgrims and more about family. It is a time of year to gather, and eat. From Sports Night:
Jeremy: You get to see your family, what, twice a year? Savor it. Your mother's going to love you whether or not you screw up the turkey.
Dana: My mother's going to annoy me whether or not I screw up the turkey.
Jeremy: Which leads us to the conclusion that you mother loves you, even though she annoys you; and it's Thanksgiving, so which do you want to focus on?
Just like the ghost Thespis, whose name is also the title of the episode that exchange is from, Thanksgiving helps us recognize what is truly important in life. It isn't the turkey or the pumpkin bread or the sweet potatoes; it is a day, set aside, for all of us to recognize what we are truly blessed (in a secular sense, though for some also religious) to have in our lives. It is a day to recognize the importance of family. Thanksgiving is a holiday that transcends its blighted past, as is true of so many other things. It is there to remind us to "say a few words; you make a gesture; remember an important date. Small price to pay for what you get in return. For what you get in return, it's a steal. The rest is all vanity". It is our job to remember how we got here as a nation - both the good and the bad. But it is Thanksgiving's job, and holidays like it, to remind us that what we get in return for being part of a family - blood or made -  for being thankful and being giving is absolutely a steal.

So, I'm putting aside the liberal guilt about this one day, eating some mashed potatoes, and hanging out with some of the people I love and appreciate most in this world. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Final Fours and "Women's" Final Fours

On Saturday, I went to a UConn Women's Basketball game, because I love college basketball and I love women's college basketball more than men's, and because I love UConn's women's team probably more than any other team. It was a blow out, as can happen when one women's team is ranked #1 and the other team is unranked. But that gave me time to look at the banners adorning the XL Center. 
Pretty, aren't they? What struck me, though, was the difference in the emblems of the Men's winning banners and the Women's winning banners. Here are the two competing emblems from 2004, the year both the UConn Men's basketball team and Women's basketball team won the NCAA National Championship:

The Men's banner just says "NCAA Final Four"; the Women's banner explicitly says "NCAA Women's Final Four". This goes directly to what Habladora was saying in her Gender and Profession: Lady Doctors and Male Nurses post. Men are considered the norm when it comes to basketball players. Therefore, the banner doesn't have to explicitly say "Men", because when someone says "basketball player", we generally think of a man. In certain cases, like lady doctors and male nurses, I generally think we should leave gender out of the discussion, because it is a signifier of something out of the ordinary. It doesn't help change who we picture as doctors or nurses; it just modifies the automatic picture that appears at the mention of "doctor" or "nurse". For something like a Final Four appearance, though, I think we should take a different tactic. 

It is a competition, and two separate ones. For that reason, I would like for both the men's Final Four emblem and the women's Final Four emblem to indicate gender. Because right now, it seems as though the ungendered Final Four is the "real" Final Four, and the women's Final Four is an afterthought or less of a concern. And that is true; outside of Connecticut and Tennessee, many women's college basketball teams struggle to gain an audience; and women's teams in general can still suffer at schools like UConn and Tennessee, schools that have one outstanding women's program but whose other programs don't obtain that excellence year after year. Although I'm into language and words and how language and words shape our world and our lives, I wouldn't go so far as to say that making the gendered distinctions among Final Fours will suddenly revolutionize women's sports and make them as recognized and popular and respected as men's sports. But I do think it will help, even just a little bit, even just mostly subconsciously. Because even though it is a little thing, the little things add up; and although the wording on a sports championship banner is a very little thing, it is a representation of the gendered aspect in sports and other professions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

They Cancelled My Frikkin' Show (Or, An Ode To The Piemaker)

"Two roads diverge in a wood, and I took the road less traveled by and they CANCELLED MY FRIKKIN' SHOW. I totally shoulda took the road that had all those people on it. Damn." - Joss Whedon

I think that is the best eulogy for shows that fall beyond the perimeters of normal television, and then suffer the blow of cancellation. Sure, there are plenty of shows that fall directly within those parameters and are also cancelled. But there is less heartbreak and less sorrow, because as much as a person may have liked that one Law & Order that bit the dust, there are three others still on the air, along with a wide array of CSIs and other procedural shows as well. I mourn the shows that take the road less traveled by, the shows that have some quirk, that are cutesy, that are bright and bold; those shows that qualify for the "Best Show On TV You're Not Watching" cover of TV Guide - if they even still do that any more. Many of the shows I fall in love with are in this camp; though oddly enough, not the show Joss Whedon was talking about, which was Angel: the Series and which ran for 5 seasons. That is much longer than what Sports Night got, what Firefly got, and what Pushing Daisies will ultimately get. Yes, they cancelled my frikkin' show. And more than part of the reason is because it took the road less travelled by.

The myriad of ways Pushing Daisies took the road less travelled by is really quite huge. Even with the handy narrator (who could be a dirt road all his own, especially since he was a Pooh Bear narrator and not a Desperate Housewives narrator), the show is hard to follow. The twists and turns and intricacies of the plot are numerous, and the show moves along at a breakneck pace. For those who miss one week, the secondary tension between two characters will have been completely changed, because they were adults about it and actually talked it out. The primary tension[s] of the show really rarely change between each set of characters, since they deal with the unlikely gift of being able to bring back people from the dead and the fact that particular gift along one of the people who most recently benefited from said gift are secrets kept from the majority of the cast.

Then there is the language the show uses, and the rhythm of the dialogue. Language is one of those joys in life for me. I love almost anything written well. I'm working my way (slowly but surely) through Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections right now, and I hate a majority of the characters; the thing that compels me to read is the fact that it is just so well written. The words and sentences carry the reader along, until a promise to read only a chapter is broken numerous times. The show is like that in terms of language, though it has a one up (or a 6-up) on The Corrections in that it actually has likable - even lovable - characters. I recently got the first season DVDs of Pushing Daisies, and I am torn between a need to pop in the next disk right away, and drawing out the experience in order to best savor the 22 episodes I'm ultimately going to get. There are wonderful lines like, "Now where'd I put that rat's ass I could give?" And at the end of every episode, I can remember delighting in any number of lines, but the amount of them and the speed at which they are delivered makes it infinitely difficult to remember them all.

The other road incredibly sparsely travelled is the very idea for the show. A guy who can wake the dead and who spends his days making pies of everlasting fruit. That doesn't seem like a premise that will automatically draw the crowds in, no matter how cute Lee Pace is. The premise is even more out there, I think, than cowboys in space or behind the scenes at a sports show. The joys of breaking away from the pack is that your creation is unique and stands out amongst all others. The problem with breaking away from the pack is that people do like that well travelled road. And not always for reasons one would suspect. I myself wondered if I should keep watching Pushing Daisies, not because I didn't want to enjoy its wonderment any longer but because I wanted to break up with it before the networks could make it break up with me. It is a lonely thing to become emotionally invested in a piece of entertainment and then have it leave you suddenly - and apparently on a cliffhanger (damn you, Bryan Fuller!). One of the reasons to stay with a tried and true formula is that there is no moment when you resent Knight Rider, deeply, and its fans because it has survived to live another day when your show has not. There is no moment when you deride those fans because they chose to watch a silly show about a talking car, whereas you decided to watch a show about a guy who touches dead things and makes them alive again - which could in no way be considered silly. There is no moment when you wonder why, with all of the faults and problems and stupidity (not that I've ever actually seen Knight Rider) of that other show, why did it and its relationship with its fans survive while your show - your perfect, beautiful, shiny, bright, and exquisitely costumed show - is no more.

Alas, that is the trouble of taking the road less traveled by. It makes you an old and embittered television watcher far before your time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

(Fictional) Feminist Icon: Xander Harris

Although I myself tend to focus more on feminist women, I think that feminist men are a valid - and more than that, necessary - part of the feminist movement. Feminists need to be of both genders; and they are. Feminism, after all, isn't about just getting women a piece of the pie we call life, what with crazy requirements like rights to equal pay and freedom from sexual harassment; it is about baking an entirely new pie, and it is about challenging and reshaping gender expectancies and norms. In other ways but especially this way, men are a vital part of the movement. Without men who both respect and like women who challenge gender roles and identify as feminists and challenge gender roles themselves, half of the battle will never truly be won. As long as engaging in feminine activities is still seen as mock-worthy or less-than, we will not have truly succeeded in becoming an equal sex instead of just the second sex. In this way, Xander Harris makes an exceptional feminist icon, because in order to change the world we don't just need girls like, say, Matilda. We need boys who are not only okay but appreciative of girls like Matilda, and other feminists of different strands and strengths and interests. We need boys who don't feel the need to be a macho man, and who are willing to have a woman as a leader.

Xander Harris is one of Buffy Summers' two best friends.  From the beginning, Xander has no problem accepting Buffy's role as the group's primary (and in the first season, really only) fighter. He responds to Buffy's position as a Slayer with nary a comment about the extraordinary circumstances of a girl being a fighter or a leader. Instead, he just accepts it, telling a captured friend, "It's cool; Buffy's like a superhero". The show also demonstrates some of Xander's feminist credentials by his casual acceptance of and outward gratitude for Buffy's frequent rescues, thanking her in some instances and in another saying, "I have a plan. We wait. Buffy saves us". Xander is both aware and comfortable with his role as back up, understanding that the majority of the fighting will be done by Buffy herself. He is able to enthusiastically be a "slayerette" and not the lead, going so far as to declare that "I laugh in the face of danger. Then I hide until it goes away." And he is incredibly aware that his strength is not brute force but something different. Xander has several shining moments on the show in terms of fights; but they normally revolve around either being around as back up, or as playing to his own strengths. A Chandler-esque character, Xander is more verbal than physical. And so some of his greatest moments in the series in any light reflect that particular trait. He is able to talk a recently zombified classmate out of blowing up the school, telling the delinquent that, "Being blowed up isn't walking around and drinking with your buddies dead. It's little bits being swept up by a janitor dead and I don't think you're ready for that" while standing in front of the only exit. He isn't overly macho in the scene, or full of bravado. As he says, "I like the quiet".

His verbosity comes in handy in other, more intimate cases as well. He is at times angry and tempestuous; he isn't a perfect guy or friend. But when the chips are down, he is there when it counts. And he is unafraid of showing the full gamut of emotions and opening up to friends. He bucks up Buffy by saying, "Let me tell you something, when it's dark and I'm all alone and I'm scared or freaked out or whatever, I always think 'What would Buffy do?' You're my hero." His sexual escapades also align him with what would be considered the typically feminine response, and the show does not belittle or mock him for it. The show in general is more about sex within the confines of an emotionally satisfying relationship than simple bed-hopping, and Xander does not buck the trend. The first time he has sex, he is the passive party. The second time he has sex, Anya, his eventual girlfriend, disrobes in front of him as he gets her a cran-apple juice box. She explains that they should have sex and then move on to their separate lives. Xander, in a bit of shock tells her, "It's just we hardly know each other. I mean I like you. And you have a certain directness that I admire. But sexual interc-- What you're talking about, well -- and I'm actually turning into a woman as I say this -- but it's about expressing something. And accepting consequences". Although the speech contains some problematic language, it is made less so by the fact that "woman" is not a less-than in the circle Xander runs in. Women and womenly emotions are not derided or seen as weak. Xander accepts and verbalizes that for him, sex is more than simply physical sensations. It is an example of Xander both exemplifying a stereotypical feminine quality and highlights how that is not a negative.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Xander is the fact that he is friends with a girl he has a crush on. In many shows - and in many instances in life - the relationship between a guy and his crush is not a true friendship. Instead of seeing Buffy as "a girl to hang out with on a pursuit of potential future bliss", Xander simply sees her as "my best friend whom I also have a crush on". The differences between the two positions is huge. Xander reacts less than well to Buffy's rejection, yes. But he gets over it, in the very same episode and in the very same day. He deals with her rejection without losing her friendship. He handles the fact that she likes another guy, and continues to do best friendly things with her like watch Indian musicals and hanging out at the local club and at her house and in general. Instead of disappearing or believing that Buffy "owed" him something for the friendship ( unlike Jeff Fecke's Nice Guy ®, who believes girls "used him for emotional intimacy without reciprocating, in kind, with physical intimacy"), Xander stayed Buffy's friend because he values her as something more than a potential girlfriend. He values her as a person, and he loves her both romantically and platonically. And that is seriously feminist, and kind of radical for most forms of media. An example to the contrary would be Marty on Gilmore Girls, but he is far from the only one. And that "radical" nature makes Xander one hell of a (fictional) feminist icon in my book.

(Parts one, two, and three of the series.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"I... Will... Ask About That"

Habladora and I have become lax regarding our competition. Feministing beat us to the latest Sarah Haskins' video of hilarity again! How are we ever going to hold our obsessed heads high again? Oh well.

I have to say, the only car commercial of the pack that ever really hit me before as being incredibly, almost uncomfortably odd, is that one about having your car turn you on. I don't want to be turned on by my car. I just want it to do its vroom vroom thing (something my car, sadly, has not been doing consistently as of late). I will admit to liking the Volkswagen commercials featuring Brooke Shields though. 

Why Feminism Is Still Relevant: Girls and Research and ADHD

As I've mentioned before, I listen to Talk of the Nation daily during my workday, along with a variety of other programs ranging from those I have to listen to with my earbuds in and those that I can listen to on my iPod's docking stereo without worry. Tuesday's Talk of the Nation, the second hour had Allison Stewart and her guest, Steven Hinshaw - Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of California Berkley - tackling the issue of ADHD diagnosis in girls as opposed to boys. One of the interesting things the program brought into sharp focus for me was how ADHD is seen as a boys' illness. When girls have ADHD, they are less likely to be diagnosed because there is a widespread belief, among clinicians and parents, that ADHD does not effect girls. Before it is even available, ADHD is taken off of the table of potential culprits. Another issue Steven Hinshaw made mention of is the type of ADHD girls are more likely to have. According to Hinshaw,
"For some girls, the behaviors look pretty similar to the stereotypic boy. There's out of seat behavior and fidgeting; but often in girls, there isn't that overt behavior. There's a kind of spaciness... inability to focus, doesn't seem to hear or listen to things, real problems organizing, and the typical girl like this suffers in silence for all too many years."
One of the things not mentioned on the program but that immediately came to my mind is that some of that may be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all simply because it fits stereotypical girl behavior, and not girls with behavioral or psychiatric problems but regular girls. Girls, especially if one is blonde, are practically expected to be spacey. Girls have the airheaded stereotype fed to them so often it is a wonder any girl with ADHD even contemplates there being something wrong with her. We are fed those images of girls who can't, or don't, concentrate; girls who are more interested in boys and make up and the latest fashion trends than they are in school  - or, as in an episode of Burn Notice and separate but similar episode of Monk, almost certain death. A girl who felt odd about being so spacey could easily find 5 or 10 examples of how that was normal girl behavior simply by flicking through the television channels. And so would parents and teachers and doctors.

What Steven Hinshaw makes clear is that "all of the disorders of childhood that are behavioral or emotional or psychiatric appear more in boys", but what he also makes clear early and then often is this: "...boys with ADHD... are 99% of those studied... ...What we don't know very much at all yet is what are the long term outcomes in girls because there's only been literally a handful of longitudinal studies past childhood. And those studies - including ours here in Berkley, some on the East Coast, a couple in Europe - suggest that (a) girls can and do get ADHD and (b) when they do, in the adolescent years, as with all girls, there's a risk for anxiety, depression, and eating symptoms (A/N: I assume he means eating disorder symptoms). Girls with ADHD have more of that risk."  This is why feminism is still very much a viable movement, and why it is still very necessary. And this is what finally gets Allison worked up (sidenote: Crankosaur, if you're reading this, what do you think of Allison Stewart as a fill-in for Neal Conan? Because I think she's doing a terrific job). She says,
"I want to take off my host and journalist hat for a moment and put on my concerned citizen hat. When we were researching this story and talking about this story, I found myself just a little bit angry that there wasn't more research about girls, that there are all these young women and girls out there struggling with this problem and there hasn't been a whole lot of attention paid to it."
You and me both, Allison. Except in my case, I'm not just a little bit angry. I'm a lot angry. And more than part of that anger stems from the fact that men and boys, and white men and boys, are the default for humanity - always. Even when someone is anonymous, the general idea of them is as a man until it is proven otherwise. I can't even be incredibly angry at the researchers and the people funding these studies, because it isn't a personal myopic issue but a systemic one. This isn't just a bunch of idiot scientists who were too caught up in their own gender to recognize that there was a whole 51% of the population being left out in the cold; this goes to the very core of how we think and how we see the world and everyone in it.

And Hinsahw's reply, while emphasizing his own progressiveness and his own perspective of the inherent unfairness and inequality of this situation, doesn't do much to make my world view change very much at all. He contends,
"Well, I think this is a problem that has been noticed way beyond ADHD for some time now, maybe not long enough. Back in the early 90s, as I got research grants from the national institutes of health and press releases were put out and alerts to investigators, 'if you're studying heart disease, you've got to include females in your sample as well as males.' Females get afflicted by cardiovascular illness, but most of the research was on men, so we do have a sex or gender bias in a lot of areas of research. Now, as I mentioned in the outset, for the behavioral and emotional problems of childhood, boys are more at risk than girls, maybe 3 to 1 for ADHD, maybe 4 to 1 for autism; but the research was being done at 10 to 1, or 20 to 1, or 50 to 1. We need to raise our consciousness. We need to recognize that many of these conditions, both biomedical and psychiatric, are pretty much equal opportunity  - across races and ethnic groups, across the sexes - and we need to have researchers and clinicians and the citizenry realize and demand that attention is paid clinically and in terms of basic research so that we don't neglect a group really in need of treatment because of our stereotypes and our stigmas."
The thing that stands out for me is that although the ratios for most of these disorders is 3 to 1 or 4 to 1, the ratio for this research is out of this world and highly stacked against women. Those are abysmal odds. Those are depressing odds. And those are odds that make women seem insignificant in terms of interest and worth. This is why feminism is still very much needed. This is why we need more enlightened men working in these fields like Steven Hinshaw. But this is also why we need more women in these fields, and I would venture more minorities as well. In order for women to be a concern, perhaps we need to simply have more women be the ones doing the research. Perhaps one of the very real issues here is simply a lack of diversity at the upper levels of scientific research; and so when a man looks across a room and he is merely met with more men, his thoughts naturally do not drift beyond that homogeneous interest group. Either way, this is something that we need to recognize as being a valid issue, and cause for concern. Either way, this is something we need to highlight and point to, and bring as much attention to as possible. Because this is only one reason out of the many for why feminism is still a necessity in the lives of women, but it is a compelling one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why Do Men Care What Women Want?

In my daily (obsessive) traversing of the web, I came across an article by Kay S. Hymowitz; there were many problems with this article, from the idea that we are in a postfeminist world (more on one of the many examples for why that is emphatically not true later) to this idea that men are so cranky with women because The Rules of Dating are no longer set in stone. One of the more infuriating sentences of the article, for me, was this one:
the opportunities for heartbreak and humiliation are legion. Under these harsh conditions, young men are looking for a new framework for understanding what (or, as they might put it, WTF) women want.
Here's what I'm looking to understand: why do you care? Seriously now. Maybe it is just the fact that most of the men I am friends with are in happy, committed relationships (at least, I assume from the smiles and the moving in together that they're happy...), but there is a total disconnect for me in this idea that a guy needs to know what women want. First, there is this idea that a guy could ever know what "women" want, as if we are some monolithic group that holds monthly meetings meant to decide what expectations and desires to harbor. We don't; what I want out of life is different from what the married femmes want. And those married women don't all want the same things either. That is life. But the real question shouldn't be What Women Want. Even if there was a monolithic, monthly meeting, that should never really be a guy's concern - just as What Men Want shouldn't be a single woman's concern.

The real question is "What do I want?" Because without that question being answered, even for the moment, there is no way a person will be satisfied in a relationship. If a man (or woman) tailors his (or her) responses to the opposite (or same) sex companion in order to not be alone, or in order to get some sex, or in order to have a dinner companion, then that man (or woman) will not have their own needs met (unless those needs were simply to not be alone, to get some sex, or to have a dinner with someone). That brings me to this gem of a line:
The woman may be hoping for a hookup, but she may also be looking for a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or a temporary place to live. She may want one thing in November and another by Christmas.
And if the guy (or girl) in question doesn't know what he (or she) wants, this could be a problem. Not knowing if the girl across the room is looking for a hookup, a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or just a place to crash is very much a problem if the guy in question is looking to change his response depending upon what the girl wants. But if the guy knows all he wants that night is a one night stand and is upfront about it, half of the hard part is over. Because now, he doesn't have to tailor his responses to what That Woman Wants. He can come to the table saying, "This is what I want", and that is a good thing. And maybe he'll find a woman who wants that same thing that night, and maybe he won't. Maybe he'll find that woman the next night.

The thing is, everyone is going to have bad dating experiences. On a planet with 6 billion people and change, not everyone is going to be compatible, and not everyone is going to want the same thing at exactly the same time. The problem with some of the guys who wrote into Hymowitz to complain about those horrible women is that they seem to be missing the synapse that tells them that. They are missing that bit of common sense that would tell them even if they are looking for a relationship and they find a woman who also would like to pursue a relationship, they may not be compatible. That he may want a housewife, and she's on the fast track to being a high powered lawyer. Or that he's looking for someone with similar aspirations, and her greatest aspiration is to head the local PTA. That's just how life goes.

I think Jeff Fecke says it best when he says,
"The older I get, the more I believe that women and men are a mystery to each other only because we are constantly told from birth that women and men are a mystery to each other, who speak different languages and are unable to actually communicate. It turns out that men and women are a lot alike. There may be minor differences, but nothing that can't be figured out by asking questions. Indeed, much of the trouble in relationships could be solved by teaching our children that if they have questions about that boy or girl they're interested in dating, the best thing to do is just bite the bullet and go ask them. And that if they get asked an honest question, then give an honest answer. Instead, we teach boys and girls that they have to deal with girls and boys through an elaborate system of games and deception. It's a wonder any relationships work at all."
I can't help but agree. And I can't help but think that many of the men who are bent out of shape over the lack of concrete and inalienable Rules would have been bent out of shape over the state of women for one reason or another anyway. Because any group of people who believes that there should be concrete and inalienable rules for dealing with another (incredibly large) group of people obviously doesn't think very much of that second group. Because if that first group acknowledged that women were humans and humans are complex, they would know that there is no single rulebook for figuring them out.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Happy People Don't Kill Their Husbands; They Just Don't""

How awesome is this? Music you love can do more than get you all boppy. Apparently, "In addition to giving you you a bit of a mental rush, believe it or not, it may have been doing your heart some good as well", according to Talk of the Nation Science Friday (11/14). Listening to music you enjoy can dilate your blood vessels. What I find really cool about this study is that it truly centers around music that brings you pleasure personally, and not like that "listening to Mozart when you're pregnant helps the baby's brain development" thought. So if listening to The Cure or Metallica or Nine Inch Nails is what gets you to your happy place, then that is the music you should be listening to for heart health.

What I also found very interesting about the story was the idea of "emotional desensitisation" the scientist talked about, and how a person should rotate favorite happy songs (or albums) so that it is heard only once every two weeks or so for the endorphins to be released at the same intensity. The title of the post, by the way, comes from Legally Blonde and Elle's fabulous defense of the murder suspect (who works out a lot), saying, "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don't kill their husbands. They just don't!" Whenever I hear anything about endorphins, that is what immediately pops into my head. Anyway, to get back on topic here, I find that to be rather apt. I know that I tend to fall in love with songs and albums, and listen to them constantly, getting that "high" off of them, until the high starts to decrease and one day it just stops working. Just this morning on the way to work, I went through about three cds - my Stranger Than Fiction soundtrack, my Disturbia soundtrack (I have a major thing for soundtracks, okay? I'm looking into getting help), and my London Calling cd (which generally always does the trick) - before I finally hit one that didn't leave me listless and ever more disenchanted with my Monday morning commute. That one was Elvis. I listened to "Love Me Tender", "Suspicious Minds", and "A Little Less Conversation" (the remix version) a couple of times before I pulled in the garage this morning, and because it has been a long time since I last listened to Elvis, it did the trick. This whole idea of switching out cds is going to be a bit difficult for me, as I tend to leave one cd in my player until I am absolutely sick of it (as my best friend can attest, having once heard the Disturbia soundtrack about 3 times in a row on one car trip). But I'm going to do my best, because I want the endorphins. I don't exercise and can't eat chocolate, so this is my last, best chance at heart health - aside from the Cheerios, of course.

"Now Let's Go Get Our Damn Equal Rights"

I love Wanda Sykes. I just think she's amazing. And here's more proof of her absolute amazingness. I want her marriage to be recognized everywhere in the United States too.

(Ganked from Shakesville.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why We Believe What We Believe (And How)

Over the summer, I saw Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull because I love Indiana Jones, I love Harrison Ford, I love Shia LaBeouf, and I had faith that Steven Spielberg would be able to stop George Lucas from doing anything that would destroy the Indiana franchise. And I enjoyed it. I mean, I wasn't enamored; but at the same time I didn't have as adverse a reaction to it as I did to Episode II, where I sat in the theatre with the silently horrified thought of, "I don't like this. Tell me I don't like this. Are the other ones like this? The other ones can't be like this" racing on repeat through my head. This may not sound like a ringing endorsement of The Crystal Skull, and it isn't. On my personal list of Indy films, it comes in before Temple of Doom sheerly because Temple of Doom was gross, boring, and had a heroine whose main purpose seemed to be to perforate my eardrums. There are iconic moments to Temple of Doom, but those aren't enough to make me ever want to see the movie again.

But I started really thinking about why Crystal Skull didn't match up to Raiders or Last Crusade. And although there are many reasons for it to not measure up, the major one, for me, is the suspension of disbelief. It was harder for me to believe that there were supreme alien life forms who came down to earth and left their crystal skulls that hummed and could impart knowledge to humans than it was for me to believe that there was a chest that could kill anyone who did not avert their eyes or a wooden chalice that could take ordinary water and make it the elixir of everlasting life that could also heal a bullet wound. Those two ideas have a weight, a gravitas, a solemn power, to them - whereas alien life forms just seem silly. And this differentiation would make sense, if I weren't an atheist. I'm an atheist born to atheist parents, who did their best to allow me to pick my own path. That meant doing things like sending me to Catholic kindergarden, which profoundly messed with my ability to tell my right from my left (because everyone writes with their right hand, even if they happened to be, as I am, left handed). But the religion thing didn't stick; and I didn't become an anti-theist. For the most part, I'm not even straight up atheist; that's not to say I'm agnostic. The closest thing that really defines what I am is an apatheist, because I don't believe in anything, and more importantly I don't care. I don't want to infringe on anyone else's beliefs, but I don't want to be inundated with them either. Whether or not there is a God or alien life doesn't really impact my every day life, and I go days without the thought of God or there not being a God, and weeks without contemplating the alien question.

So the idea that certain forms of belief in the supernatural deserve more weight and respect than others is a little strange to me, and yet I find myself subconsciously doing just that. Those culturally appropriate beliefs in the supernatural garner more respect than others. How often do we react with sympathy or respect to someone who claims they've been 'visited' by the spirit of a loved one who has passed on? How often do we offer that same sympathy or respect to someone who claims to 'know' that the truth is out there, Mulder-style? The same sort of thing goes down when we are discussing different religions. One of the recent community posts at Feministing is by a Mormon feminist, who discusses her feelings of duality and also her reaction to the protests of her church by gay rights activists. It is an interesting post, but what is also interesting are many of the comments left there. Some comments question the ability to be part of a patriarchal religion that oppresses the rights of women and homosexuals and be a feminist at the same time. Others outright state the inability to marry both. But what is interesting are the comments that mirror OhMissJulie's struggle to be both Mormon and feminist and Muslim feminists who undergo the same sort of balancing act. And while there are those who were calling for OhMissJulie to renounce Mormonism, calling for someone to renounce their Islamic faith would not be so readily acceptable. And I think part of that stems from how we see Mormonism in this country; for the most part, Mormonism is still seen as something of a crack religion. We can still make jokes about Mormons like we do about Scientologists. We don't grant them access to the same tier as "respectable" religions, just as we don't grant the same respect to the theory that aliens could exist and sustain human contact as we do the idea that a man who had been dead for three days could rise again.

Why I find this interesting, aside from being on the outside looking in at this phenomena than holding allegiance to any one religion or alien theory, is that new scientific research suggests that all of these impulses stem from the same place, brain activity-wise. In a Newsweek article, "Why We Believe", scientists examine why we not only place our faith in the supernatural, but also often actually and actively see and feel the paranormal - things like the hairs raising on the back of your neck when you're out for a walk or seeing the Virgin Mary's face on a slice of toast. According to scientists, one answer lays in the evolutionary function of the "hypersensitive agency-detection device"; the theory being that the presence of a living being is "something we default to when what we perceive could be alive or inanimate." Or, "Whether it's a rock formation or a hungry bear, it's better to assume it's a hungry bear". We believe in the feeling of being watched because it was safer to do so than to assume we were being paranoid. We see faces on toast because our brain instinctively seeks out faces, and also habitually "takes messy, incomplete input and turns it into a meaningful, complete picture".

All of this suggests that those who believe that aliens are real, do abduct people, and did help build Stonehenge and were the inspiration for the sculptures on Easter Island are not crazy; their belief stems from the same place as someone who believes angels are among us. It is our cultural reaction to those different beliefs that place them in the "acceptable" or "not acceptable" columns. And that suggests that crystal skulls should be just as plausible to an atheist as chalices that can heal and arks that can destroy. And yet, I imagine that it will be quite a while before that is true, even with articles like Newsweek explaining the phenomena of false positives and how the brain is to blame for our belief in the irrational.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"As Long As I Can Have The Panda..."

Several things come out of this conversation between Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly. One is that my crush on Jon Stewart continues unabated. I love this:
"The tradition in America is a progression of individual freedoms. You know what the tradition of America would say? Gay marriage is the next step in the progression. That's the tradition of America. You're misrepresenting the tradition."
What also crystalized for me is how there is often a game of 'chicken' in these matters. It is what bothers me about the cry of identity politics. And it is what bothers me about Bill O'Reilly's statement, "The problem with you is you see it through a prism-", to which Jon Stewart adroitly responded, "Of rational thought!" The problem with the prism statement is this: we all have our prisms. One of my English teachers in high school continually said, "Half of what you get out of a piece of literature is what the author put in it; the other half is what you bring to it". And it is true for many things in life, and not just literature. No one in this world is wholly and completely unbiased, objective, or rational. We all come to the table through our unique, and sometimes contradictory, prisms. The issue is not that we have them. The issue is the game we all play toward objectivity, and the meme that states objectivity is not only key but also obtainable. That position grants whomever claims that the other side is playing into identity politics or seeing the world through whatever prism perceived objectivity. They immediately get, even without meaning to, the high ground - because they were objective enough to recognize someone else's experience. This becomes a problem, especially with matters of gender and politics.

It becomes a problem with gender because men have, historically, been seen as the more unemotional, objective gender. Women were (and are) seen as emotional, irrational, and unable to reach that objectivity needed to truly and competently and rationally comprehend and debate matters of importance. One needs to look no farther than this election to see that. There were plenty of sniping about Hillary Clinton's menopause, but nary a hint that, at 47, Obama may suddenly be hit with a midlife crisis and decide that instead of being president of the United States, he would like to try his hand at raising Alpacas. This is a problem; that isn't to say that those who state identity politics may play a part in someone's candidate of choice is out and out wrong. But without an acknowledgement of one's own personal prism, the announcement that A likes C because of a mutual B comes across as something else entirely. The conversation shifts to A's defense or repudiation of B or the liking of C. This comes across in this interview. Bill O'Reilly obviously comes to the conversation through less than objective means. He has his own biases, his own experiences, and his own vision that color and influence how he perceives the world around him. But that is ignored; whitewashed. There is no problem with Bill O'Reilly; the problem lays wholly with Jon Stewart, and the fact that Jon Stewart sees it through a prism. The implicit statement is that since the problem is that Jon Stewart sees the situation through a prism, Bill O'Reilly and other right-thinking people do not. And it would be the same even if we cut out the word problem, if the statement were merely, "You see it through a prism", because that once again implies that Bill O'Reilly does not.

Identity politics and personal prisms can be discussed on an intellectual level; the idea of an objectiveless world, a world without any Truths with a capital T - or if there are, the inability to properly perceive them without any perversion - is one we need to seriously consider. But I question the importance, or even the relevance, of claiming someone comes to a stance based on identity politics or even declaring that someone comes to the table via a prism because that, to me, is like pointing out to someone that they have skin. We can (and should) discuss what that prism means and whether or not the opinions and stances taken through it are right or the correct course of action; the pros of preventative suntan lotion versus the corrective care of aloe, in keeping with the skin metaphor. But declaring that someone has one seems banal and mundane and more than a little condescending, even if that person is willing to admit their own prism in turn. Because that first person may have misidentified why A likes C.  It may not be because of a mutual B at all, but because C has Z. After all, Jon Stewart may not feel this way because he lives in Greenwich Village or because he's a 5'7" Jew, but because of some other reason. There are liberal-leaning people even in Alabama, and Bill seems to not consider that. At the very least, Jon Stewart's political leanings may be what keep him in Greenwich Village, instead of packing up and moving to Sarah Palin's so-called "real" America.

The complexity of identities and of what makes a prism are generally ignored in these conversations. It gets boiled down to the base and readily visible components of race or gender - or, in the case of Bill O'Reilly, geographical location. And that is as aggravating as it is understandable, because we live in a soundbite culture and identity and one's prism can largely be influenced by a product of unconscious and indescribable impulses. Because identity may be one of the keys to a person's decisions, but what goes into how that person identifies is remarkably complex. Take, for instance, the first hour of the 11/13 Talk of the Nation podcast, with Andrea Seabrook and Dawn Turner Trice; they discussed how many white Americans claimed to personally identify with Barack Obama. That is obviously a kind of identity politics, and it could come down to, if it were mostly white men saying it, gender. But the question of what kind of identity politics came into play in this sort of instance harkens to that idea of a more complex formation of identity than the usual emblems of this declaration usually do. And that is important. Is identity politics a catch-all? Are you engaged in identity politics if you identify with the philosophy of someone's tax plan? In many cases and in many situations, identity politics is used as a disparaging assessment of support; and if we are to truly give IP its due, we have to both acknowledge its historic negative uses and what wisdom it can generate, if properly used, in the future.

There were two other aspects of this interview that really caught my attention, and since this post has gotten burdensomely long for anyone reading, I'll highlight them quickly. One is this: "The right in this country has got this mythology pinned down that... ...being religious means you're good. It doesn't mean you're good. It just means you go to church." Right on, Jon Stewart. I have often been somewhat insulted by the injection of religion into the litmus test politicians must endure. In order to be elected to public office in this country, one must be religious - and outwardly so. Hell, Elizabeth Dole's reelection campaign put out an ad asserting that Kay Hagan took "Godless money", and insinuated that she was in the atheist interest group's pockets, and a potential atheist herself. Kay Hagan, being a Sunday School teacher, was dismissive of the ad and confirmed that she was not an atheist. But if she had been, she would have never had a chance in national politics. And that is rather disheartening to me. It is just one more way in which Barack Obama, a religious man who lists the Bible as the most influential book in his life, is so not a victory for the truly secular left and still represents the tight grip of religiosity in American political life. And while religiousness is not a bad thing, the idea that the absence of religiousness is bad is very much a negative aspect of American life.

The other thing is the title of this post. I find it to be rather representative of a couple of things: one, the ridiculousness of labels, especially ill-fitting ones; and two, the dismal state of education in our country. Bill needs to get back to school, or visit a zoo or something if he thinks that teddy bear was a panda.

Editing to add Keith Olbermann's response to the panda/teddy bear mix up, largely because he has cute and seemingly cuddly baby panda bears on video to demonstrate the difference (and who among us can resist adorable baby pandas?):

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Power Of The Dollar

Watching CBS Evening News tonight with Katie Couric, I saw a feature about Gay Rights activists and their fight against Prop. 8. Those supporters of same sex marriage are posting "the names and businesses who gave money to help Proposition 8 pass" on the internet, and are arranging boycotts of those businesses. I think this is a brilliant move, though I am of two minds about California allowing all donations to be public knowledge. On the one hand, I firmly believe that one should be proud of what one donates to and willing to accept the consequences of that affiliation. If anyone wants to know, I would gladly rattle off the (many) organizations and charities I give to and why. At the same time, there is something akin to the "sure the government can tap my phones, because I have nothing to hide" to the whole thing. That, however, is an entirely separate issue from what Gay Rights activists are doing with that information. My parents have long believed - and practiced the belief - that in a capitalist society, one of the greater powers one has is the power of the dollar. If a person does not agree with a company, if a person has a problem with a company or business's practices or policies, the best way to create change is to not buy.

My parents have their own blacklist of sorts, ranging from people like Nestle (for the marketing of their baby formula in developing nations) to Exxon (for their response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill) to countless others. Obviously, Nestle is still around and Exxon is making more money than ever, but the principle remains. Do not contribute to the wealth of people who actively work against your ethics or interests. Those people on the so-called "blacklists" created by supporters of gay marriage rights actively worked against the rights and interests of gay rights activists; and those activists have the right - since the information is public knowledge (and especially since the Yes on Prop 8 tried to use the same list to garner donations from companies who had contributed to No on 8 campaigns by threatening to reveal them as proponents of gay marriage) - to both not contribute to those companies and people. And they should have the right to alert the rest of the community as well, so that those supportive of gay rights but not active in the movement can decide what to do with their dollars as well. And those who were anti-gay rights may find a new place to grant patronage.

And then there is the opposition, both those who appeared on the list and those supporters who are uncomfortable with the tactics:

I have several issues with the video. One, for Chris Li (or Lee; CBS isn't sure about the spelling either): you're wrong. When you say, "This sort of blacklist should only appear in communist countries, should not be found in the United States", you demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding about both what this blacklist is and what the United States stands for. If the government were perpetuating this blacklist effort, or pressuring others to blacklist those supporters of Yes on 8 (as it did during McCarthyism), you would be wholly correct; that would be behavior wholly unbecoming of a democratic republic. But this blacklist is being perpetuated by individual organizations not affiliated with the government of the United States; those groups are very much within their own Constitutional rights to call your ass out on what they see as homophobic and bigoted donations. That's how a free society operates. Those on the side that gay marriage should be legal can decide to not redistribute their wealth to those who feel otherwise.

Another point of interest is this idea of 'Free Speech'. It is really the crux of Chris Li (or Lee)'s argument, and it was the prominent idea on the signs being waved by the demonstrators in Sacramento in support of Scott Eckern. There seems to be this strange and adolescent idea that free speech should really be free, and without consequence. That one should be able to say and do anything without feeling the burdens of their actions. And that is wholly incorrect. A person can say whatever they like, within reason. But that same person must also take responsibility for what they have said; they must own it. Free speech is never truly free; what I write here could negatively impact my life, just as what I write here could (and I feel has) positively impacted my life. If someone I would want to be friends with reads something here that is controversial or that they disagree with, they are fully within their rights to limit their contact with me. So too do those people organizing this boycott have the right to not shop in those stores or hire that engineer or go to that theater. That is how the whole thing works. We have to have courage of our convictions when we begin making public statements, whether through money or through dialogue. I donate money to the ACLU. I donate money to Emily's List and Planned Parenthood and Heifer International, and countless others. That is my freedom of speech at work, every time I donate a dollar to an organization. And if I lived in California (and worked in a service industry) and a pro-lifer didn't want to buy the merchandise I was selling, that is their right and their expression of free speech. It goes both ways, and we can't expect to be only positively impacted by our actions. It is cowardly to think so, and it is remarkably self-involved to believe it - or believe that one should be immune from the consequences of one's decisions.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"This Tiny, Symbolic, Semantical Grain of Happiness"

I've been seeing The Countdown's latest Special Comment pop up everywhere today, but on the off-chance anyone's missed it:

I love it. I said so on Oh, You're a FEMINIST (and my comment may still be awaiting approval), and I'll say so here. I like Keith Olbermann and I enjoy The Countdown, even as I often feel he's gone too far and stridently in the direction of the left. Some of the things he chooses to care about baffle me, as in the case with the supposed Sarah Palin on SNL incidents (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, all the better; I wish I didn't know what I was talking about - thanks, Keith). I've often thought that if one of the editors of The Nation Magazine is the one telling you to chill out on the crazy leftist agenda, maybe you've gone too far from time to time. But as I said, I like him; and I agree with the underlying principles in much of what he says, no matter how much I sometimes - good naturedly - roll my eyes at the voraciousness of his comments. However, this special comment is special in that I genuinely feel emotionally moved by his perspective. I not only agree, but I feel as though Keith Olbermann has hit the right note in which to express this opinion. It isn't strident or overly sanctimonious. There is no bluster or waving of the finger but a genuine concern and disappointment over this election decision. I'm one who feels as if weddings and the ceremonies are practices in frivolity, and that those things are ridiculous. But I wish the people who desire to participate in them no ill will; I'm not anti-marriage. And, as Olbermann states, it is a "semantical grain of happiness", so why, in the name of anything one holds dear, would anyone wish to bar someone from such a pursuit? And so, hats off to Keith Olbermann and his special comment on a disappointing loss.

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Music

At work, I spend my day surrounded by insurance policies and listening to various podcasts. I get my Bill Moyers fix, my daily update on what I need to know about the economy going wrong (Planet Money), a short burst of politics (The Political Rewind), a longer burst of politics (It's All Politics), national news (Talk of the Nation), and other random stuff (like This American Life and Addicted to Race). But what I've really become insanely addicted to are music podcasts. I've been loving Musicheads and All Songs Considered (and Second Stage). This is bad, both for my coworkers and my bank account, because I have been falling in love with music like woah for the last two weeks now. I've also become slightly infatuated with a guy who happens to favor the same Ryan Adams record I do (Heartbreaker), but that is a different story.

What I really love is when bands are mentioned in both of the main podcasts about music I listen to. I'm looking forward to Paul McCartney's new release, for instance, because it was mentioned favorably on both shows; released under the band name "The Fireman", it is McCartney's venture into electronica. His newest album with this project - from the brief snippet allotted on All Songs Considered and Musicheads sounded incredibly interesting. And unlike most of my impressions of electronica, it sounded warm - as if there was an actual human being creating the music I was listening to. The closest thing I could equate this to would be Madonna's "Ray of Light", and even though I love that album it still seems like a weak comparison.

The band whose album I impulsively bought off of iTunes, though, is another find I credit with its cross exposure. I'm From Barcelona is a band I first heard of on All Songs Considered. The band sounded interesting, especially the song Headphones. One of the podcasts, I think it was Musicheads (and it could have even been the guy who appreciates Heartbreaker), mentions that the song is practically begging to be made into an iPod commercial. And it is true. It is catchy, and probably my favorite song on the album. The other songs are well worth a listen as well. Oddly modern while sounding at the same time vaguely seventies, the music works. It has a full sound and strange lyrics. And it makes me insanely happy. So, for that reason, I thought I'd talk about them here. And show the one video I could find, their single "Paper Planes":

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Populist Minstrelsy

Chris Hayes makes essentially the same point I made yesterday, at some point in the last 3 days on The Countdown. Being a working gal again, I haven't gotten to see the show in "real" time, which equals sad for me, because I like seeing Keith Olbermann get all blusteringly upset about things. Anyway, Chris Hayes, making my point more succinctly and wittily:

George Orwell's Diaries

George Orwell's diaries have been turned into a blog, 70 years after they had been written. Awesomeness. It's going into the blogroll along the side, but I wanted to highlight it here because it is both an innovative use of blogging and because Orwell has become such a looming figure in our own perceptions of the way our world has been formed and the way politics works. It is extremely cool to see a man who cared so much about words having his words come alive, in a way, again.

I would also recommend reading the Newsweek article about him. It was both interesting and informative, and where I found out about the blog.

Profanity and Feminism

I'm not a fan of using profanity; I don't mind being around it, and it doesn't faze me in many circumstances to hear it. My mother can swear like a sailor, and one of my sister's favorite words from the age of 2 through a couple of years ago was "damn". But in general, I don't like swearing; this is because when I say "fuck" or a couple of other curse words, I sound stilted and fake. "Damn" rolls off the tongue, but even a mild one like "shit" tends to get stuck somewhere along the way up the vocal chords, making me sound more like a teenager trying to sound edgy and dangerous than someone who is legitimately and mundanely just shooting the breeze. That impression is one I would like to avoid, so I never get enough practice in the cursing in order to actually sound like it is a natural function of my vocabulary.

Demeaning someone through curses also doesn't work very well for me, for a different reason. Too much heavy hitting profanity geared toward diminishing men go back to the guy's mother. Yes, there is the 'dick' insult - and although I am not always successful, I do attempt to avoid that one on the basis that I don't want to be called the female equivalent - but generally, insults for men are more about their mothers than themselves. "Bastard" is less about the behavior of the guy in question than it is about his questionable conception, and is thus more about his mother's morality than his own shortcomings. "Son of a bitch" is fairly self-explanatory in terms of its own problematic nature. We generally aren't really calling the mother of the man we're swearing at a bitch, but that doesn't change the fact that the biggest insult for a guy is still not really about him but about the person who birthed him. Curses toward women are another thing entirely. I'm not a fan of the reappropriation of words. I read Bitch Magazine and am planning on subscribing, but I don't think that reclaiming the word "bitch" is the way to go. It may feel empowering to turn it around, Tina Fey style, and say, "You know what? Yes, I am a bitch". But at the end of the day, it is still a way to demean and diminish women, and it is still used by men as an insult and as a reason to not pay a woman any mind - or to hate her. "She's just a bitch". Same thing with "cunt". Reappropriating these words makes less sense when those in a society who traditionally used those words as insult continue to do so.

What also is damaging is women who will call each other these names out of this trend toward weakening the words' traditional meanings. One of the areas in which I actually disagree with Jessica Valenti is this one. In "Full Frontal Feminism", she writes, "We have to take the power out of sexual insults like 'whore' and 'slut'. There aren't many feminists my age who don't remember musician Kathleen Hanna - of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre fame - scrawling SLUT across her stomach as a way to reclaim the word". The word slut has been co-opted by society as a sign of voraciousness: 'coffee slut', 'TV slut' (I myself describe myself as a "spoiler whore" and a "trailer whore", which is very much in this same vein). Because of this, many use these words in jest or affectionately. But the sting is still not removed from the word, no matter how friendly we smile the word or how many stomachs we scribble it on. And that is because the word 'slut', even in its voracious use, even in its subversive text, still says something fundamentally about the way women's sexuality is perceived as opposed to men.

Men can be referred to as guy-slut or man-whore, but even in those cases it is perceived as a sign of sexual stamina and something to be if not proud of then at least not shamed about. Making words like these jokes and in all good fun seems to be more harmful than good, because now when someone is called a slut or a whore or a bitch or a cunt, there is no recourse of action. There is an ambiguity present where the word, used by the exact same person, can either mean that the labeled is not a slut - or still seen as too sexually promiscuous. The implication is still there; sexually active women are still given the message that they need to be careful, to not enjoy sex too much or with too many people because the same moral double standard still applies. It has crawled further under the woodwork because of the journey toward reappropriation, but women are still judged negatively for their sexual exploits - or perceived sexual exploits.

Because of this, taking the words, removing the sting, and making it a proud proclamation of sovereignty doesn't work from me. So I'm trying hard to stop calling guys dicks and bastards, and I'd like bitch and slut to stop being applied to women as well. I think we need to embrace and/or create gender and sexuality neutral insults. So far, 'asshole' seems like the best one. We've all got them, and we generally all have moments where we are one.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sexism and Sarah Palin

For once, I agree with Sarah Palin; Palin has already been turned into a scapegoat in regards to John McCain's loss in such quarters as Fox News, and that isn't much of a surprise. Instead, it was one of those things I feared when Palin was picked as the VP nominee. Just like Geraldine Ferraro's nomination, Sarah Palin's pick was meant to energize a faltering campaign, granting it an immediate injection of progressiveness and excitement. Unfortunately for women in politics, in both situations the candidates were fighting an uphill battle before the choice for VP, and that battle only loomed larger after the pick. Which makes the VP pick a wonderful and myopic reason for failure. Mondale lost every state in the union but one (Massachusetts). John McCain has lost by 173 electoral college votes to 365, and was defeated in such Republican strongholds as Virginia and North Carolina. And it is easy to lay the blame at the feet of a woman who, frankly, will probably go down as one of the worst picks for vice-president - even ahead of Dan Quale, the guy who couldn't spell "potato" correctly. But more than Palin, it is McCain who is at fault for picking a woman with at best rudimentary knowledge of the world outside of Alaska. It is McCain and his campaign's fault for not better preparing her, for not compensating for that lack of knowledge base. And Palin is incredibly correct when she says that those within the McCain campaign who are criticizing her anonymously are "cruel. It's mean-spirited. It's immature. It's unprofessional and those guys are jerks if they came away with it, taking things out of context, and then tried to spread something on national news. It's not fair and it's not right". She's right. Those guys are jerks. And it is not fair, and it is not right.

I'm all for criticizing Palin. I don't like the woman one iota. But criticizing her anonymously, calling her a diva, diminishing her intelligence when they worked for the man who picked her, and saying she was going rogue is ridiculous. If Palin's lack of knowledge base was such a detriment, the focus should be on John McCain, the man who plucked her from obscurity and made her his vice-presidential running mate. If Palin was not prepared for or able to do the job she was selected for, the reporting should be less about her and more about McCain. Sarah Palin didn't pull a Jesse Jackson and put her own name in consideration for VP nomination. That was John McCain's choice, and if she was so unprepared as to do the job he chose her for, at the end of the day the buck stops with him. But McCain aides, as anonymous as they are, want someone not their boss to blame for losing. And instead of acknowledging that McCain the Nominee was not McCain the Maverick, instead of acknowledging that McCain's handling of several situations lacked a certain deftness and/or wisdom, and instead of acknowledging that Obama is in all probability one of the best politicians to have run for president ever (and I'm speaking of his abilities on the campaign trail, as we obviously don't know if he is going to be one of the best actual presidents), they take the easy way out and blame Palin.

And with the media still going insane over Palin's clothing, something Campbell Brown ranted about weeks ago at this point, it seems obvious to me why Palin is the prominent target. It is because she was a phenomenally bad candidate, yes. But it also seems to me that some of the critique of her, even if it were rooted in fact such as the idea that she was a superficial and lame addition to an already weakened ticket, comes out in sexist terms. It reverberates in obsession with her clothing as much as it does with the rush to report what she didn't know, without nary a shred of "What was that man thinking?" rebounding on McCain. This is all highlighted by the fact that we are still talking about this woman, and that this crazy lady is the one to say, "This is Barack Obama's time right now, and this is an historic moment in our nation and this can be a shining moment for America and our history, and look what we're talking about. Again, we're talking about my shoes and belts and skirts. It's ridiculous." It is ridiculous. It is revolting. It is the same crap that kept us focused on Hillary Clinton's array of pantsuits and what has caused more attention to be granted to Michelle Obama's dress on the night of Obama's historic win. So please, media and McCain hounds, stop making me think about and agree with Sarah Palin. Because I don't like either of those things. They're enough to put me in the padded room they reserved for Keith Olbermann in the event of a McCain victory.