Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fun Home

Searching for words to describe the fantasticness of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is almost futile, but I'm going to try. The closest I can come to fully explaining its power and mystique was actually written by someone else; Rebekah (I'm quoting without permission here, as always) described the book thusly:
I related so well to her childhood even though it has few actual parallels to mine.
It's true. The familial situation described in Fun Home has very little relation to my own. My father is not a closet homosexual. My parents did not wait until my sisters and I were older to take interest in us. My parents, while almost perpetually antagonistic, are not in what could best be described as an all out war zone. My father, aside from his fastidious wardrobe and shoe requirements, has little in common with Bruce Bechdel. And yet, there is something strangely familiar about the story she tells; almost as if I'd known it before I read it, and that this was just a talented hand awakening that universally shared knowledge. I think that feeling of forgotten nostalgia for a story I had never before encountered was well-served by Bechdel's technique of nonlinear story telling. The way the story bobs and weaves, the way the narrative jumps from place and time and back again, with renewed knowledge and a slightly different perspective, helps reinforce those important moments.

The story itself - and how Bechdel writes it - is a wonderment. It captivates, it draws from the literature of Fitzgerald and James Joyce, from Greek myth and Camus and Wilde and Proust and Henry James and Shakespeare. And the visuals are equally magnificent, with its HR Pufnstuff lunch boxes and Wind in the Willows coloring books and illustrated maps. And there are revelations that wash over the reader, like the dual nature of Alison and her father:
Not only were we inverts. We were inversions of one another. While I was trying to compensate for something unmanly in him... ...He was attempting to express something feminine through me. It was a war of cross-purposes and so doomed to perpetual escalation. Between us lay a slender demilitarized zone -- our shared reverence for masculine beauty. But I wanted the muscles and tweed like my father wanted the velvet and pearls -- subjectively, for myself.
The book both manages to condemn Bruce Bechdel's sex with teenage boys and empathize with his predicament of being a gay man in the 1950s; it does so by turning a darker eye to her father's predilections in hindsight than there was when she experienced those moments the first time around, like the beach trips and camping trips with Bruce Bechdel's preferred boy babysitters. But it allows that sympathy through letters Bruce wrote to Alison, letters that demonstrated his own dire straits and how captive he felt to the heteronormative life, and how constricting and stifling that world was. That doesn't mean that there is not plenty of sympathy for Helen Bechdel, Alison's mother. She is allowed her own voice as well, though since the story primarily functions and Bechdel's examination of herself and her father, their relationship, and their strangely parallel paths through life, she is more of a minor character flitting in the background than the full-fledged conundrum of Bruce Bechdel.

Fun Home also tackles, albeit mostly in passing and obliquely, some of the troubling aspects of something as simple as the skewed expectations when it comes to parenting in terms of gender. Says Bechdel:
Although I'm good at enumerating my father's flaws, it's hard for me to sustain much anger at him. I expect this is partly because he's dead, and partly because the bar is lower for fathers than for mothers. My mother must have bathed me hundreds of times. But it's my father rinsing me off with the purple metal cup that I remember most clearly.
That, and why she labels her father as gay (which he most certainly could have been, with no attraction to women at all) instead of bisexual:
Perhaps my eagerness to claim him as 'gay' in the way I am 'gay', as opposed to bisexual or some other category, is just a way of keeping him to myself.
are both moving to me and help me understand both Alison Bechdel as a person and the narrative her story takes as a comic book. The second one puzzled me most when I first heard talk about Fun Home, and I'd heard talk long before John showed the book to me and MediaMaven then excitedly stole it from the pocket of John's coat and exclaimed that it was so good that once she finished, she wanted to start it again to pick up on all the things that she missed - and that I had to read it, pronto (this sentiment, by the way, is horribly paraphrased, since Dave & Buster's is hardly an ideal location for really hearing someone - or taking notes). Unless someone labels himself or herself, I personally think it is a bit presumptuous to label them based on our own preferences or even inferences. It is easy to see Bruce Bechdel as simply a gay man who trapped himself and his wife in an unfulfilling marriage containing infidelity, deceit, and shoplifting. It is easy to assume that the love letters he wrote Helen Bechdel were simply Bruce Bechdel imitating Fitzgerald and his relationship with Zelda (which should have been a sign of things to come, much like Alison Bechdel contends that meeting during a production of Taming of the Shrew was a "harbinger of my parents' later marriage). But it is possible that he loved his wife, and was attracted to his wife - but was more attracted to men and had more of a desire to be with men. Alison Bechdel's explanation that picking a box for her father had as much to do with her and her need to hold onto him as it did with her father's history was both intensely personal and moving.

And this brings me to Rebekah's point about relating to this disparate childhood. The more personal Alison Bechdel gets, the more universal her story becomes. I may not have a father entrenched in the art of home decorating and skilled in mortuary sciences, but there is something that connects her crazy childhood to my differently crazy childhood. Perhaps it is the presence of books in both of our developments that connect us. But while that is helpful, I think it is simply her openness. In the face of such descriptions of her feelings in regard to this time of life and how those feelings connect to a moment at once separate and connected, I instinctively do the same. When she draws and narrates her father's insistence on barrettes, I can't help but think about my own rebellions against having my hair in ponytails; the difference being, of course, that my parents acquiesced almost as soon as I made my protest known. Unlike many memoirs, I didn't lose interest when the subject grew out of childhood. I have, in the past, skipped chapters revolving around adolescence in memoirs, mostly because they tend to be the same set of stories and those are the stories I find least compelling.

Part of the openness of Fun Home has to do with the medium it embodies. Without the function of a comic book, it could have still been a profoundly moving work. But seeing the people and how they progressed through life, witnessing how the narration accompanied and beefed up the movement within the panels themselves, and even just the postures and facial expressions of all the people the book encompassed made it that much more of a worthwhile experience. Fun Home is a perfect marriage of both mediums, and that alone would have made it a wonderful read. The fact that Alison Bechdel is so ridiculously talented when it comes to weaving her tale is icing on the cake.

(Cross-posted at WitWar, but without the pictures because wordpress confounds me.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Amber Benson Has A Blog!

Amber Benson, best known to me as the woman who played Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has a blog! Awesomeness!

Also, at some point today or tomorrow I'll have a post up about Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I'll give a short review here though: it is incredible, and everyone should read it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Newsflash: Chris Matthews - Still a Jackass

Seriously, Chris Matthews needs to take some logic classes, some women's studies classes, and maybe some law and history classes before he is allowed to grace television screens again. Why? Well, because Matthews seems to have some trouble discerning the difference between a nation enforcing a strict number of children and a nation providing the opportunity for its citizens to make an informed choice about the number of children they want to have. After all, first he declared that the $200 million dollars of the economic stimulus package set aside for family planning reminded him of China:

And now he's going on about how actually funding family planning is the federal government regulating the amount of children we can all have.

No, Chris. If the government wanted to regulate the amount of children we could have, birth control would be mandated, not simply available. The government was actually doing something truly democratic, and allowing even more freedom to choose whether or not a woman (or a couple) wanted kids, or if they wanted more kids, or if they wanted kids some time in the future but not right now. The choice part of family planning is what is missing from China's one child policy, and is what would be missing if this were actually a government program aimed at regulating who could have kids and when.

Ashlee Simpson Kind of... ...Rocks

I know, I'm kind of shocked too (though in the interest of full disclosure, I do have to say that I have some songs from her debut album on my iPod - like Pieces of Me; hey, I never claimed to be cool).  Why does she rock? Well, for this:
How can we expect teenage girls to love and respect themselves in an environment where we criticize a size 2 figure?
Right on, Ashlee! Right there, she took a single incident, that being Fox's interest in Jessica Simpson's weight, and turned it into a societal issue. I'm kind of in awe of her right now, especially for the bolded part:
I am completely disgusted by the headlines concerning my sister's weight. A week after the inauguration and with such a feeling of hope in the air for our country, I find it completely embarrassing and belittling to all women to read about a woman's weight or figure as a headline on Fox News.

All women come in different shapes, sizes, and forms and just because you're a celebrity, there shouldn't be a different standard.
That woman deserves major kudos and a "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" t-shirt. Maybe she'll go after the destructive nature of photoshopping celebrity covers next!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dear Keith Olbermann,

Metaphors work much better if you don't explain every intrinsic detail of them, down to what each part of said metaphor refers to in its real world application. That's the whole point of a metaphor, to obliquely reference the situation at hand. This?

Misses the point of the function of the metaphor. As does your even more detailed, possibly footnoted, explanation during Countdown's intro:
"The football is bipartisan action in the time of crisis, this time the stimulus package. The Charlie Brown character is the president. Lucy, pulling the football away - again, is the Republican Party."
Look, Keith, I know you have a tendency to err on the side of pomposity, and I even like that about you. But you know who else had a tendency to err on the side of pomposity and still managed to make a workable Charlie Brown-Football reference? Aaron Sorkin:
BARTLET: You know what you are? You are the Charlie Brown of missile defense. The Pentagon is Lucy.
It was funny, and succinct. And yes, he was able to extrapolate on the details later:
LEO: I'm not familiar with the reference.

BARTLET: Peanuts. Charlie Brown.

LEO: I've heard of them. I'm just not conversant in them.


LEO: I've never read the comics.

BARTLET: Leo, were you born at age 55?

LEO: I know there's a dog.

BARTLET: Charlie Brown wanted to kick a football and Lucy would hold it, except she'd pull it away at the last minute and Charlie Brown would fall on his butt.

LEO: That's funny?

BARTLET: No, but each time Lucy would find a way to convince Charlie Brown that this time she wouldn't pull the ball away. But she would and, once again, Charlie Brown would fall on his butt.

LEO: And that's funny?

BARTLET: It's satirical.

LEO: What's it satirizing?

BARTLET: The DOD bringing you to the Situation Room every time they run a new missile test so that you come to me and tell me how great it works so I'll put money in the NMD system.
because he was a talented guy with a knack for dialogue. You, Keith, you're no Aaron Sorkin. I know that must be hard for you to believe, but you're not. Nor are you writing a drama where conversation is paramount. You're hosting a liberally slanted opinion show; and you've just got to learn to trust that your audience is not made up of Leo McGarrys but of people who have not only read Peanuts but have seen at least one of the holiday specials in their lifetimes. Trust the audience, Keith. We'll do some of the work for you. And if you don't trust the audience and continue to explain your metaphors down to the most infinitesimal detail, I'm going to have to assume that you just really don't understand how metaphors work.

Television and the Gendered Narratives

Many times in television and movies, women characters exist not so much for their own edification but to facilitate the journey of the male character. It is unfortunate, but women characters are often less than fully formed. Many times, the men are the active, and the women are the reactive. In many situations, men know best; and all of these things are problems. I bring this up to answer this query:
So what's your opinion of House, M.D.? Cuddy, Cameron and Hadley (better known as Thirteen)all seem to be positive role models in terms of their professional careers, at least.
I love House, mostly the first 3 seasons. I haven't seen a lot of this current season, because everyone else in my house has given up on the guy and there are only two televisions - and I never get to use them singularly by product of being the one person in the house without a constant partner (there are some benefits to be a twin or married in the television acquisition department). House is well written; House is witty, and interesting, and doesn't try to make its characters saints or even sympathetic. Gregory House is an atheist - though as much as I love that I do wonder if characters like House are part of the PR problem, since House is also a bit of a dick. But that doesn't mean House is problem free; it has never been problem free. Cuddy may be in charge in theory, but that doesn't stop her from being, at times, as well constructed as a piece of tissue paper - or House from insulting her sexual history, her dress sense, her intelligence, and her life in general before almost always getting his way. It doesn't stop Cuddy from messing up the cases she does become involved in, like when her handyman fell off her roof. This isn't an issue unique to House, as my one of my favorite writers ever, Aaron Sorkin, has the same propensity for making men the smarter sex, and women the hapless creatures who need men's guidance:
Men Are from Mars — and Smarter: At least that’s the world according to Sorkin. A favorite plot device was to have one character explain a complicated political issue to another. It almost always was a Smart Man explaining to an Ignorant Woman: Sam explaining the census to CJ (who gushed about how smart he is); Josh explaining many, many things to Donna.
The same sort of instance has apparently reared its ugly head on House, in a more blatant and, for my money, stems from an even more privileged perspective:
The biggest issue with this whole plot development is just how much of who Hadley is and how she develops is based on a man and how he manipulates her. She made the choice not to disclose her sexuality in the workplace but the straight male had no problem with declaring that she was bisexual. Forget about her agency to choose how and to who her sexuality should become known, all that we need is a smart man to figure everyone out. When she goes on her “self-destruct” mission it is Foreman who partly comes to the rescue. He offers her placement in a drug treatment study and admonishes her on giving up. When he feels she is not participating in the study to his liking he breaks into her home and checks up on her medication. When she is having trouble dealing with a more advanced patient who brings back painful memories of her mother he forces her to deal with the situation. Finally, when the fact that she has a terminal disease makes her less willing to be in a relationship, he arranges for her to “see” how well one patient is doing on the treatment.
 That doesn't make it any less problematic for House, but it does make it more of a systemic failure than a House failure. And it doesn't stop me from watching and enjoying the show on its own merits. In many ways, House and many of the male characters are complex and are three-dimensional. The women are categorically less interesting; it feels like the writers don't know how to write women - which is a problem that Bryan Fuller also said he has, and thus writes women with guy names (like Chuck) in order to connect to the character more easily. I should mention that I was highly offended and almost gave up on Pushing Daisies and Bryan Fuller - and only didn't because I was at a screening of the show with a friend. And while I'm happy I didn't, because I love Pushing Daisies, I'm still disgruntled at that comment.

House is problematic in the way above, but also for the reason articulated by MaggieElizabeth, a poster at Television Without Pity:
Ninety percent of the time, the woman gets to be the normal one.
Sure, she's competent, she's tough, and she's strong -- but she's ordinary, and all the while she's surrounded by weird and unpredictable male characters with funny, charismatic personalities.
House is the eccentric; he's the genius, he's the mastermind, he's the guy who does not conform to society's standards and doesn't have to because he's so damn brilliant. Cuddy may have been the youngest Chief of Medicine around, but she is still nothing special when compared to Gregory House. This isn't House's problem, not really. I'm not advocating a world in which men are always the normal ones and women get to be the weird, charismatic unpredictable ones. Just like the problem with a movie isn't that it in particular can't pass the Bechdel Test, but that most don't. The problem isn't that Star Wars in particular doesn't have two women discussing something other than men; the problem is that a significant portion of the films made don't. The problem isn't that House is a surly misanthrope genius, but that there are a bevy of male characters in House's shoes and very few women. The problem with the genius man or the man with incredible gifts is that there is no counterbalance. The Pie Maker on Pushing Daisies with his power to wake the dead; Chuck from Chuck having the incredible ability to see and remember hundreds of data-encrypted pictures; House; Walter Bishop; the guy on The Mentalist; the guy on Lie to Me; the guy on The Eleventh Hour; the guy on Journeyman. The women who are on these shows are sometimes capable, sometimes not, but almost always ordinary as well.

There is the odd show, most often made by Joss Whedon, that has the opposite, where the normal character in question is a guy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer's eccentric characters or characters with phenomenal powers were mostly women; Buffy herself, obviously, but also Willow and Tara and even Dawn. Xander and Giles were the normal ones. On the spin off Angel, Angel had superhuman powers, due to being a vampire; but there was also Cordelia, who had visions, and Fred - who was not only a genius but also socially awkward from years of being sequestered in a hellish alternate dimension. Wesley remained normal throughout the show's run, and Gunn - though there was some mojo in the 5th season - also remained an average guy. Firefly had River as the extraordinary one. And some shows aren't made by Joss. Bones has Temperance Brennan as the eccentric super-genius, and Seeley Booth as the every man, the intelligent guy who is still, even without virtue of being compared to Brennan, ordinary. Battlestar Galactica has Starbuck as the best pilot, and the one having prophetic visions. But these shows (most of which are off the air) don't carry enough weight to strike a proper counterbalance to the overall spectrum of shows where the opposite is true. And that is the issue with most of these problems. On their own, a show with stronger male characters, or smarter male characters, is not inherently problematic. But when most shows employ that narrative, it becomes more so.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bad Grammar And Mistaken Conclusions

"The cast he sports on his left wrist is a result of his refusal to take a Breathalyzer test after his car crash/DUI bust."
Don't judge me! I was bored and poking around tabloid sites. That may be because the only reading material at work are tabloids, and I perpetually forget my Newsweek, and I know that is just an excuse and that I suck. With all that in mind, though, the above sentence cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged and uncorrected. It is from a little column about Shia LaBeouf (again, no judging), and it lends to the mistaken conclusion that the cast on his wrist is the result of refusing to take a Breathalyzer test. Instead, the cast is a result of the same accident in which LaBeouf refused to take a Breathalyzer test,  and he had his license suspended as a result of that refusal. The original sentence sounds more like Shia LaBeouf got roughed up by some officers after failing to comply, which is just wrong. And yes, I am pathetic.

Le Sigh

This is the show that has replaced my beloved Pushing Daisies:

Instead of quirky fun with the Pie Maker and Kristin Chenoweth and Chi McBride, there's yet another 'reality' show on the air. I'm kind of disgusted and appalled, and this post helps explain why.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fringe and The Exceptional Female

I have an odd relationship with the show Fringe; I don't find it to be particularly good - or compelling. I have no real reason to like it, having never seen a full episode of either Felicity or Alias. I never watched much Dawson's Creek, so Joshua Jackson isn't as big a draw as it is for others. The dialogue is, at times, painful. The names given to the various nefarious institutions and individuals by the FBI ("The Pattern", "The Observer") are often unimaginative - and also painful. And yet, something keeps pulling me back in. I actually want to see the new episode. Not live, of course; but via Hulu, the show is palatable. It is my new guilty pleasure (my last one was Bedford Diaries, but that was pretty much summed up by the name Milo Ventimiglia). And when the main character, Olivia Dunham, was captured after a rather poor escape/fight attempt, I was prepared for it to become my former guilty pleasure. I anticipated an episode of Olivia in captivity and enduring valiantly various procedures, with her friends and colleagues desperately trying to track her down to save her at some point later on in the episode. But the show - and Olivia - surprised me. She escaped; and not far into the episode, but before the end of the teaser. She escaped, and she had the foresight to grab some evidence from the facility and bury it as well. She orchestrated her own rescue, before many people even knew anything was wrong in the first place.

That was pretty amazing to see; and the show does manage to have aspects that make it pretty good, from the "woman as main character" part of it. Olivia is confident; she is good at her job; she doesn't allow any negative perceptions of her devotion, her skill, or her person to go unchallenged. And she frequently proves that no matter what aspect of her the person in question deems unlikable or unprofessional, her methods work. She works. And she is tough; unlike the eponymous character Sarah Connor of The Sarah Connor Chronicles (played by Lena Headey), Anna Torv actually looks tough. She's still a twig, but she is intense; she looks like she could take anyone down that tried to stand in her way. She had a relationship with her partner, but that does not detract from her good standing in the FBI. And her closest companion even in the period of time before we are shown is a man. And there seems to be no sexual component to their relationship.

And yet, I am still hesitant to place Fringe as a show in the "feminist friendly" airspace of television. I wish that I could. There are so few shows and movies that actually qualify. And the show does manage to pass that famous Rule; Olivia speaks to Astrid and Nina really only about the cases in question and rarely even touches upon her personal life with anyone except her friend Charlie. But here is really one of the places this show utterly fails. There are only two other women present in the show who are even recurring characters. This last episode introduced us to Olivia's sister (who will presumably be staying for longer than the one episode); but in the whole of the FBI, in the lab scenes, on the ground, everywhere, there is a dearth of women. Forget women of adequate roles, but women in general are scarce in the various institutions. And with Astrid being relegated to the lab even though she is a federal agent and Olivia's assistant, we are left with only Olivia as a dynamic and (semi) three-dimensional character. Nina, the shadowy woman in a seat of power in a suspicious organization, is also relegated to scenes primarily taking place in her office. Which lends to the reading of Olivia as the exceptional female character.

In Olivia, we have a full character; a character with wants and desires and strengths and weaknesses. She's not a particularly compelling, but most of the characters - by virtue of the writing - have more in common with cardboard than humanity in general (I should point out that this aspect seems to be evolving, but whether the writing is actually getting better or I'm just getting more used to it is up in the air). However, with no other woman characters around her she ends up looking more like an exception to the rule rather than an example of one. Instead of showing that women are capable, we see that Olivia is capable. Instead of really recognizing that women have a place in these different, historically male-dominated, fields, we only see that Olivia has a place in these fields. Olivia and her place on television is not truly all that progressive or awe inspiring. After all, we've had Julie Barnes from The Mod Squad and Emma Peel from The Avengers. And it is somewhat frustrating that there is only one bright woman in the presence of men who are more than bright, who are by any conceivable test intellectual giants. That juxtaposition only further highlights Olivia's exceptional femaleness, and how even being an exceptional female does not place her in the upper tiers of empirical greatness. And if Olivia looks like an idiot savant next to Walter and Peter Bishop, Astrid disappears entirely due to being merely a "just a". Walter betrays her trust and doses her against her will and without her knowledge? She is back in the lab acting buddy-buddy again over the course of the next episode, her trauma and her story ignored in order to further examine Walter and Walter's motivations. Because while Astrid is just a woman and Olivia is the exceptional female, Walter is unequivocally exceptional.

Contrast this show to Bones, another Fox show not truly rooted in the reality of science, and the difference is incredible. There is a truly exceptional character on Bones, who happens  to be female. And she is in the presence of other brilliant minds, several of them also female. She interacts with them, and their stories are also highlighted. Angela is an expert in her own right, and exists separate from the other characters as well as in conjunction with them. Cam's addition is a comparable achievement. There are other women who are studying to do what Brennan does. There are women present in the FBI; there are women present in almost every arena the show traverses, from the lab to the people investigating the crimes scenes to the prosecution. Brennan travels in a world replete with women - and men. There is a healthy mix not present in Fringe. And Fringe is less for it. All of this lends itself to one conclusion: Olivia Dunham may be in the running toward becoming someone we can look to as a feminist icon, but Fringe itself is not a feminist enterprise. Its lack of women amid a plethora of men is a detraction from the show it could be. And that, the conventional invisibility of women, is upsetting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"As Long As We're Human, There Will Always Be More Work To Do"

Jay Smooth always makes me smile:

And also? Manages to sum up the whole thing. He's just so damn articulate.

When I Teared Up

"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers."
- President Barack Obama

As an atheistic apatheist (not only do I not believe there's a god but that I honestly don't care), being included in an inaugural address is a pretty big deal for me. I mean, I have had people stop talking to me because of my atheism; I have been mistaken for a Satanist due to my atheism; and more than once people have reacted as if I've betrayed them in some way by being an atheist and not Catholic like they normally assume. To be included in the bigger picture, to have my nonbelief offered up as a strength for our nation, is pretty moving for me. It gives me hope that one day, being an atheist won't be something that elicits a horrified reaction; it gives me hope that one day, being an atheist won't immediately be equated with the opposite of goodness; that being an atheist won't immediately make someone assume that I am not trustworthy, or a liar, or that I am a thing to be pitied; that I am only an atheist because I don't want to own up to my sinful ways, and if I only knew of the glory of God, that I would be saved.

One of the stories on Talk of the Nation on the 15th was about atheism and the advertising of it in a public square, focusing mainly on the bus ads that had been present in D.C. during the Christmas season, proclaiming that we should be good "for goodness' sake". The idea behind this discussion was atheist activism, how others felt about it, and if there were more atheists now than ever before. I don't know if there are; I honestly don't care if there are. It doesn't make any difference to me if we make up 2% of the population or 50% of the population. What I do want is for atheism to be recognized as a perfectly valid belief. I don't know if bus ads or billboards or a mention in an inaugural address is enough to do that, to validate a belief that goes against the core beliefs held by many in the nation. But it is a start, and it does make me feel a bit more accepted.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why I Love My Sister

i mean, when would you need a gps to make a story?
1. "i arrived to the party on time and we had fun."
2. "we arrived at the party late because we thought we had to take a right on the road a few blocks down. we ended up with a bunch of hippie's at a nudist party. subsequently, they began arguing about how many emissions our car gave off per mile. so we then rolled up the windows afraid of being impaled with whatever hippes have to hit you with. we switched the cd from the clash in the cd player to simon and garfunkel and they chilled, thinking we were just materialistic hippies. they gave us wheat grass drinks and all natural fruits. they honored us for being so young and a little worldly and said we would convert in time. we then turned around and waving goodbye to out new friends who excepted us for our clothed and transportation choices. pretty strange, huh?" and then a conversation of follow-up questions would follow about our crazy pre-party extravaganza.
that's why gps's lame.
I think my love for her is pretty self-explanatory after that, but I'll add that she's fifteen and that these are the things she writes to me throughout the day.

Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist, Part Deux

I actually have been working on my New Year's Resolutions. I now know how to say "I am a gas station attendant" thanks to crispybenfranklin (putting me that much closer to actually being fluent in another language!), I am working out a list of who to donate to and when (January being for National Broadcasting, in which I gave money to NPR, CPTV, and Chicago Public Radio), I subscribed to The Nation Magazine, and I wrote a blogpost for the shared blog! It isn't the post John actually wanted from me for Wit War, but it is a post nonetheless. An excerpt:

I've seen the movie; I've read my friends' reviews of the book. And now I've read the book (a book I conveniently stole from another friend, who needs the book back due to it being a library book). And I have to say, I'm pretty glad I saw the movie before I read the book; otherwise, I would not have been interested in seeing the movie in the least. Which puts me in the minority among my co-bloggers, who liked the book more than the film. I started reading it while at the friend's house I then liberated it from, and I was immediately drawn in to its teen-pretentiousness, and its less than stellar writing. And this may partially be because I have really never been into YA novels; I was reading The Odyssey when I was in fifth grade, so I kind of missed this important book category. But my initial review of the book is this (and it helps if you've seen Sports Night to appreciate the inflection of the words): "Took two people to write that [book]?" Now, Isaac was speaking of the song Happy Birthday, but I think the incredulity of his response still stands.

The rest of it is here, if you are so inclined.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Camera Obscura

This post is going to be short and sweet, because I'm rather exhausted. But I resolved to post once a day, and post once a day I shall - even though I've already fallen off of the wagon a couple of times. Oh well. Anyway, today I managed to get to The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum to see The Silent Echo Chamber exhibit I was so excited about. And that was definitely interesting. The difference between John McCain and Barack Obama in those moments before going live were definitely interesting, what with John McCain not blinking (okay, he blinked; but the metaphor is apt) and Obama sitting there serenely reading the paper. And it was well worth the 4 bucks I paid to see it; but there was a part of another exhibit that was infinitely cooler. Well, two parts. One part was a series of 8 1/2 by 11 pieces that each dealt with typefaces and different modes of communicating an often repeated line in the work; it took up an entire wall and was pretty damn cool. But the other was a room housing a Camera Obscura, the point of which was to emphasize The Aldrich's mission statement; that being "look. look again". I'd never heard of a camera obscura before today, but they're pretty awesome. I highly recommend reading up about their history, and finding yourself a public one to view as well. And though for a bit I thought I was involved in some crazy psych experiment - mostly because I have that thought often as I go through my normal day - when I was still encompassed in blackness and the people I was sharing the room with started gushing about how incredible the experience was, as soon as my eyes adjusted I was just as in awe as they were. And after spending a good amount of time in the calm darkness watching inverted images of the world outside play out in front of my eyes, I was treated to a shadow puppet show by one half of a gay couple who wandered in to the room. And while the camera obscura did its job in making me take in a scene I would have normally not paid much heed to, I was almost more impressed with how objects of art like this create an interactive experience - and sometimes lead to moments of shared enjoyment, even when those moments are more facilitated by the art form at hand than directly attributable to the message that art from is attempting to convey.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Barack Obama: Superfeminist?

I have mixed feelings about the Ms. cover featuring Barack Obama:

I understand the Superman reference, and that is part of the problem. Obama has already been deified too much, made into a superhuman figure too many times. I suppose he could be something of a Teflon president, like Reagan was; but these sorts of inflated expectations could also cause unearned resentment and disappointment when Obama fails, as he will inevitably, to cure cancer and global warming, and restart the global economic markets in his first six months in office. Obama is an impressive individual, but Superman he is not.

Which leads me to my second issue with the cover, and that is that Obama may very well be a feminist, but he is not a Superfeminist. And it grates my cheese to have him portrayed as this superhero of feminism when he has not, as of yet, done or said anything superheroic. I love him in the "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" tee shirt; but the imagery that accompanies it, the Superman look there, only further highlights the minimal involvement cookie system we've got going on in terms of men and their accomplishments or ideals. It is very much like the Marlin thing in Finding Nemo to me; Marlin is the best dad in the ocean because he goes to get Nemo; he's a Superdad! But if Marlin had been a Marlena, she would have just been doing what women and mothers are expected to do.

I love that my president will be feminist-friendly, and feminist to boot. To tell you the truth, seeing the cover gave me a sense of hope and pride - both of which I had before, in abundance, but that were made all the stronger. But it still is somewhat "gah" worthy for me, to have this as the cover. He isn't a savior, of feminism or of humanity. And it is eye-rolling to me for Barack Obama to be Superized when other, more superfeminists, go without their Superfeminist covers because they're women and we expect more from them for the bare minimum of feminist actions and statements.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dollhouse TV Spot

They're lucky I'm already there, because this promo does little for me.

In other news, I've become increasingly concerned about Eliza Dushku's range.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday's The Hump Day, Right?

Work sucks, and I'm very, incredibly, mind-numbingly tired. So here's Chris Hayes:

This statement sums up how I feel about the whole thing: "That's what's so vicious about the entire logic that has guided this from the beginning; it's that if there are people who act unlawfully, the law no longer applies. Which is on its face absurd, right? I mean, the whole point of the law is to create a frame work to deal with people who violate it."

And I agree with him when he says, "I will say that I found it incredibly offensive that he referred to it as a symbol. The fact of the matter is there are actual people who were actually kidnapped and actually held and actually tortured away from their actual family members. So there is nothing symbolic about what has happened to the people in Guantanamo."

But at the same time, Dick Cheney is about half right as well; Guantanamo Bay is not just a symbol. The reason the Left is up in arms is not just because Guantanamo is symbolic of the Bush disregard for rule of law - unless it is their law - and lack of respect for civil liberties. But the fact of the matter is that while the reason for the outrage is the fact that there are actual people who have actually been tortured, with the benefit of this process actually discrediting the United States in the global community, it is also symbolic of a power structure gone horribly awry. Guantanamo also represents a greater injustice, or rather a series of greater injustices. There is the injustice of actually torturing people; and then there is the injustice paid to those who have actually been affected by terrorist acts allegedly perpetrated by the detainees at Gitmo. After all, because the military engaged in tactics that were tantamount to torture, Susan Crawford - the woman who decides who stands trial at Gitmo - has dropped charges against Muhammed al-Qahtani, the alleged 20th 9/11 hijacker. And although I am with Chris Hayes completely in that it is incredibly offensive and unacceptable for anyone to be tortured in the name of America's safety, it is almost more offensive for actual justice to be stymied because of that torture. Gitmo is a symbol as well as a terrible institution. It is the symbol of much of what went wrong in the Bush administration. It is bad enough to decide that the end justifies the means when those means include betraying some of the country's core values; it is just that much worse when the ends one has betrayed those values for turn out to be nothing more than an ideological mirage. Gitmo is just one example of the intersection of that insult to injury; it is also one of the most glaring.

Monday, January 12, 2009

This May Explain My Desire To Learn A Language

... After years of not giving a good damn either way:

Plus, I want a Calvin & Hobbes sled. It would be fun!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

First Sarah Haskins, And Now Some Chris Hayes

First, I have to say that I'm not loving Keith Olbermann's suit and tie combination in the first video. I usually think he's a pretty snazzy dresser (I like the grey suit-white dress shirt-purple tie combo in the second video), or that he at least has a really good wardrobe supervisor. But that yellowy brown striped tie? Not of the good. Now, onto Chris Hayes, who seemed to be tripping over his own tongue.
I gotta say, I like anyone who juxtaposes "talking a lot of smack" with the word "capitulate" within a sentence. And I agree with both he and Keith Olbermann here. The Democrats won! Why are they then being oddly obstinate? Is it just something akin to the post-Christmas letdown that occurs in my house, where they were all excited for election day and are now grumpy and cranky and sleep-deprived while being overly sugared? Because I don't really remember Harry Reid standing up too often to President Bush. And while I agree with what Reid said, in that Senate Democrats need to work with Senate Republicans and that Reid doesn't work for Obama, I think it is kind of odd that he felt the need to state that outright, right now. And I do love Hayes' eye roll at Reid's assertion that he will be Majority leader until 2015.

I have to say, Democrats shot themselves in the foot with the whole Roland Burris thing, but that's really all I want to say about it; and I'm hoping that what with Jesse White signing the document certifying Burris' appointment, this will all fade away into one of those crazy but innocuous stories we all tell each other in a few years if the world has managed not to go to hell in a handbasket. But while I understand not wanting to look like limp noodles going back on a promise not to seat anyone appointed by a corrupt public official, I have to imagine that it would have been more politically expedient to have just quietly done that and allowed the story to fade away rather than to allow a continuation of coverage of this whole mess. And to think, this could have been spared if only the Illinois legislature had voted to hold a special election.

The second video, about Sanjay Gupta and the lack of accountability when someone gets something wrong in a socially acceptable way. I have no real opinion about the Gupta pick one way or the other, but I do enjoy the conversation about what frustrates the Left about this whole process.

"I Forgot That I Was Brought Up Straight-Edge"

Okay, for some reason Current isn't loading well for me right now, so I'm getting my Sarah Haskins from youtube. Regardless, this is an excellent one. I like vampires. Hell, I've still got a huge crush on David Boreanaz stemming from the fact that he was Angel. But Twilight? I fail to see the appeal. Sarah Haskins' interviews, though, hold tremendous appeal.

I especially like that Daniella's mother wants illegal and immoral, and Sarah Haskins' response that Daniella is going to have a great high school life. And the infomania writer reading from Twilight for a burrito.

New Year's Resolutions

Inspired by Crankosaur's new year's resolution list, I've decided to make my own. Of course, she put hers up on January 1st, and I'm just getting around to it on the 10th. Oh well.

1) Stop procrastinating. As evidenced by my new year's resolutions being put up 10 days after the start of the new year, I have a bit of an issue with putting things off - and putting things off, and then putting them off some more.

2) Learn a foreign language. I took French in high school, but I only learned three concrete phrases; those would be "I don't know" ("Je ne sais pas"), how to order my coffee with milk and sugar and a dose of politeness ("un cafe au lait avec sucre, si vous plait" - now without the "avec sucre" part), and "Where is the bathroom?" ("Ou  sont le toilettes?"). I tried to teach myself French via Buffy the Vampire Slayer, figuring that I knew most of the episodes by heart and so if I watched it dubbed in French - and with Spanish subtitles - I could learn two languages with one television show. I failed, miserably. I was also put off by the fact that some of the episode titles are different in different languages, based on cultural differences and translational difficulties. I'm bound and determined to succeed this time around.

3) Subscribe to two of the many magazines I covet. I'm thinking probably "Bitch" and "The Nation" - though my father would prefer if I subscribed to "Ms." instead of "Bitch", because he is uncomfortable with the title of "Bitch". Since it is his house (well, technically I think it may be my mother's...) and he's going to have to continue living in this town the size of a postage stamp whereas I will hopefully one day escape, I may take his comfort levels into consideration.

4) Work out on a weekly basis. I danced at least once a week for an hour and a half to two hours from the time I was 4 to the time I was 17. At college, I walked everywhere and frequently. Now though, my physical activity is basically limited to lifting the boxes supplies come in at work - and having the little Italian ladies tell me to grab one of the men or to use the handcart, so it is both a workout and an exercise in stealthiness. At some point in my life, this will not be enough exertion to keep me healthy. So I think it may be better to start now. Maybe I'll buy my sisters the Wii Fit for their birthday and then use it myself.

5) Hammer out a list of 12 charities to give to, giving money to one charity per month. This is crucial. Right now, I'm haphazard with my giving. I have a long list of places I give money to, but I need a more concrete system of giving. Especially since every charity I give to then calls repeatedly or sends me letter after letter asking me for more money. I would love to say, "Sorry, this isn't your month. I'm giving to ____ this month. You're July's check."

6) To not buy any more clothing than is absolutely necessary. I have a lot of clothing. I don't need any more. So I have resolved to not buy an item unless it is to replace another item.

7) Use my Gap Reward points to buy clothing for charitable foundations. This ties directly in to number 6.

8) Post more on the shared blog. Right now, John's doing all the heavy lifting. That isn't fair to him, nor was it really in the original plan.

9) See my friends more often. I fall off the face of the earth for months on end sometimes, and I don't get to see my friends  - who, by way of being my friends, are actually people I like a lot. It is a sad state of affairs.

10) Write a novel. I'm going to follow Grammar Girl's advice on this and bang out a crappy novel first and put it aside for six months, during which time I will work on my 'good' (good being relative) novel. I'm going to hunker down and do this!

11) Blog daily. This one, unlike a couple of the others, seems like something I could possibly achieve, even though I already fudged by not posting on January 1st.

12) Learn an instrument. I'm thinking of buying a fairly small keyboard. I love music, and I listen to a lot of it. I've tried a couple of instruments, but since I can't read music it was a rough time. So, really this should be two resolutions - to learn how to read music and to learn an instrument. I think it would be fun, and it is supposedly excellent for maintaining mental health.

13) Volunteer somewhere. I feel like I'm frittering away my life, not contributing to the greater society around me. I want to fix that.

14) Read more. I read a lot of blogs and newspapers and magazines, but I feel like my intake of actual full length books has decreased exponentially over the years. Like, my attention span is getting shorter and shorter. I have books I want to read, and I should hop to reading them. I hate looking at books I've started but now have to start again due to the length of time that has passed from when I last even looked at said book. Blah on that, I say!

Looking at my list, one thing becomes clear: I need more time in my day.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Those Quiet Moments

Harry Shearer, better known to the public as Mr. Burns (or perhaps Ned Flanders - or even Waylon Smithers), is also an artiste. Not in that he actually puts pen or charcoal or paint to paper or canvas or anything else, but he is a modern artist. His newest exhibition is called The Silent Echo Chamber, and it is video and images of individuals in the moments before the television camera roll and we see their public facade. John McCain, Barack Obama, and Chris Matthews are all present in this exhibit. I heard about it from Talk of the Nation, and it seems like a fairly cool and inventive idea. We all know what these people look like and what they personify once the cameras are hot, but what about in those moments - those sometimes terrifying moments - before? The question of whether or not we can see anything from these public-private snippets is an interesting one; can seeing John McCain stare unerringly into the camera really tell me anything more about the man, or even myself? Or is the exhibition just a reprieve from the countless jaunty, somber, "personable", funny, and almost always vocal. In our world made up of a cacophony of sounds, it is those silent moments that are most rare. Like most modern art, The Silent Echo Chamber is probably more of a human Rorschach test than anything else. We probably only see bits of what we already assume the various people to be like rather than who they actually are, because the silence before the talk grants us very little conclusive evidence. But it still seems like an interesting venture - and it is being presented at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, so I may actually be able to go see it.

Another exhibition, though this one easily accessible due to its on-lineness - is, which occupies a perpendicular angle to the the first exhibit in that these are photographs of private citizens in public places. Which, as the name suggests, are images of sleeping Chinese. I discovered this on Racialicious, and at first I was horribly appalled at the idea, mostly because I - in my Americentric way - thought that the pictures were being taken here. If they had been, it would have been entirely Othering, and more like a weird safari than any really meaningful work. But since the pictures are being taken in China, it becomes both less problematic and more problematic in a different way. The artist says,  
“They talk about ‘The Sleeping Giant’. About ‘The Birth of the New Super Power’ or ‘The Awakening of the Red Dragon’. Often with a strange kind of undertone, which is supposed to frighten us. The reality definitely looks more peaceful.”
It sounds as though the photographer is attempting to demystify the Chinese populace to the outside world to me. It sounds as though even while mentioning the Othering stereotypes, he's pulling from a common ground in an attempt to connect us all. No matter what our idea about China and the Chinese are, we should be able to take something from the fact that we all have to sleep and that we all look fairly similar when we sleep. There is a common humanity in sleeping by that virtue alone. Whether or not someone recognizes that when they look upon the images - or whether it is ethical to utilize a population for the intent of going beyond and behind the rhetoric - is something else entirely.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Happy Birthday, Elvis!

It's Elvis' birthday today; Elvis was the first love of my life, knocking me off of my feet when I was just learning how to walk. And I've remained enthralled ever since. Sure, when I was five I developed a deep and passionate love for Stevie Ray Vaughan, but I remained true to Elvis.
So, in honor of Elvis' 73rd birthday, I'm going to put up a couple of my favorite Elvis songs:

Love Me Tender is probably my all time favorite Elvis songs, and one of my favorite songs of all time. It makes me go all to pieces whenever I hear it. It also has a tendency to calm me right down, so I have a tendency to listen to it on the way to work.

As an atheist, I probably love Gospel music more than I should. But Amazing Grace is an awesome song; I seriously doubt anyone could really mess it up, because no matter what quality the singer's voice is, it fits in with the whole "wretch" sentiment of the song. But when someone with an incredible voice sings it, it is really magical.

My second favorite Elvis song is Suspicious Minds; I love how his voice cracks a bit on the recording, and I'm a sucker for a cracking voice (that would also be one of the reasons why I adore a Sex Pistols song - Johnny Rotten's voice cracks and it is awesome). But it also just a really cool, really catchy song - especially for the sentiment. I normally don't expect to groove to a song about bad relationships, but hey. Elvis makes it work.

The song that is responsible for reintroducing Elvis to a new generation. Plus, I really really love it. So fun to bounce to!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Which Rosie?

Interesting factoid. This Rosie:The Rosie used as a feminist icon? The Rosie that has been embraced as the Rosie of World War II America? Isn't the real Rosie. Oh, she's a riveter, and she can do it. But she "was conceived of in 1942 by an artist named J. Howard Miller. Miller was contracted by an advertising agency to create the image for Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company" and was meant for private use within Westinghouse factories. Says Jane McGrath from "Stuff You Missed In History Class", " What I read was that this Rosie, this polka dotted Rosie, could be used to discourage labor movements inside these Westinghouse factories." Which puts a different spin on Rosie the Riveter all together - at least this Rosie. So who was the well known Rosie? Well, Norman Rockwell's Rosie:
The one directly above was apparently immensely popular in the 1940s and only really fell out of favor due to the fact that it was copyrighted while the Westinghouse Rosie is not. I think she could probably take polka dot Rosie in a brawl if it came right down to it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Equality, Not Sameness - And What That Means

A friend sent me an article, thought that I would disagree with its argument, and suggested I write something on it so we could argue. What kind of person would I be - nay, what kind of friend would I be - if I were to ignore such a suggestion? Especially when he was right in that I disagree with it - vehemently. The article in question is If She Says She Wants "Equality, Not Sameness", She's Lying by Helen Rittelmeyer, and it is about inherent gender inequalities, and how "gay marriage pretends they are [equivalent], and so reinforces a falsehood that's already dangerously prevalent". I'm not even sure what I make of that argument, that gay marriage automatically declares an equality of the sexes. I'm pretty sure that argument is full of the bull and the shit for a variety of reasons, and I'll get to those a little later (later, meaning a second post). But first, for the ones about gender.

Rittelmeyer tells her readers, "If you take one idea away from this post, let it be this: Don't be fooled when feminists say they want equality, not sameness. It may sound like a concession, but it isn't one". On that point she's (partially) right. It isn't a concession. Wanting equality is different from wanting to turn the world into something depicted in the Fairly Odd Parents season 1 episode "The Same Game" - where Timmy wishes the world into a uniform grey by wanting everyone to be the same. Feminism, at its heart, celebrates differences; feminism, at its heart, allows for choices to be made. Feminism, at its heart, celebrates both the career woman and the stay at home mom as being representative of women being free to make the choice that is best for them. Feminism, at its heart, celebrates the same sort of choice for men, so men who want to be caregivers or are more comfortable with the job that allows them flexible hours are not discouraged from those jobs either by societal pressure or by that industry's own standards. The difference between "sameness" and "equality" is something that almost every student of history can describe; when Jefferson wrote "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal", would Rittelmeyer declare that Jefferson was a latent communist who meant that all men are created the same? Well, it is possible she would; I'm not too familiar with her writings, as this is the first piece I've ever read by her; but generally, the accepted reading of the line is not that all men are inherently the same - with the same talents and skills and deficiencies - but that all men are of equal worth, especially before such institutional forces like the law; that a man's place in the hierarchy of life should be determined by his own pursuits and his own luck and strengths rather than who birthed him. It is the declaration of that, and an aspiration that a man like John Adams or Andrew Jackson or Barack Obama should and can attain the highest office in the land even without being of noble birth, or having familial contacts. Obviously, it doesn't always work. Obviously, things like inherited wealth and inherited poverty and legacy privileges and racial privileges and gender privileges can greatly (and often unduly) shape the course of one's life.

And that gendered privilege is where Rittelmeyer loses me again when she says, "Put it a different way and this becomes obvious: 'Men and women can be different, but the differences can't matter'. A pipe dream only marginally less foolish than trying to eliminate gender differences altogether". I think Rittelmeyer needs to do some fact checking; first and foremost, what needs to be checked is the idea that "men" are a homogeneous mass of sameness, and that "women" are a separate homogeneous mass of sameness. Really, haven't we ever met someone of our gender and had nothing at all in common with them other than our chromosomes/genitals? Wouldn't Rittelmeyer be a little perturbed to be grouped as the same as women like, say, me? After all, I'm one of those crazy feminists who believes in equality of the sexes! Then there's this: men and women can be different, just like women can be different from other women and men can be different from other men. But - and this is a big but - biological differences like who came out with what sex organs is not a worthwhile enough difference to deny a woman a job in a traditionally male field or a man a job in a traditionally female field. If a woman wants to be a mechanic and is good at it and can fix my car up nice, let her have at it. If a man wants to be a kindergarden teacher and is good at it and can get all of those kids to take a nap, then what argument is there for not letting him?

And then there's this other part in the equality business, the part about perception and the role it plays in wage disparity. And that is that gender inequality leads to an inequality of wages, both in the wages paid and opportunities presented in the same company (like Lilly Ledbetter vs. Goodyear) and in wages earned in traditionally masculine professions versus feminine professions (can anyone tell me the difference between a hairdresser and a barber, aside from gender, for one to make $10.68 an hour while the other pulls in $11.31?). Which in turn plays into what areas of study we push men into and women into. For instance, women were once thought to be too delicate to write anything considered serious fiction. There is a reason the Brontes wrote under male pseudonyms. So there are two issues here; one is, if there are differences among the sexes, is one ostensibly and objectively weaker as to deduce that they are, in point of fact, unequal? Or does that perception of inequality stem not from objective fact but from personal and societal prejudices?

That idea of societal prejudices deciding who is better and keener and finer and who is less is right in another statement Rittelmeyer makes, that being "If you need more evidence, consider...  ...the difference between telling a child to be more grown up and telling him (not her) to 'be a man'." That isn't evidence of gender essentialism. It is very possibly evidence that gender - and gender norms and ideals - are constructed by society, and that they must be learned. It is evidence that we put great emphasis on what we see as "guy" behavior and what we attribute to "girl" behavior. It is the same as "boys don't cry"; except, boys do, until they have it beaten into them that it is not manly to cry, that to cry is to be weak, and that emotions are weaknesses not to be entertained. We see the world through a gendered prism; we find fault with those who do not live up to our idea of what the different genders should be. A guy who likes romantic comedies is derisively called a "fag"; a girl who excels at basketball has it scribbled on the bathroom stalls that she likes "pussy". And if Rittelmeyer does not think that kind of policing of gender conformity doesn't have an affect on how people behave and how they interact with the world, then - to quote Rittelmeyer directly, "I'm at a loss". If Rittelmeyer can't see how the opposite is true, how girls are socialized to play with Barbies and boys with Matchboxes, how we gender children from the moment they emerge from the womb, how we see and construct their behaviors through the gender we interpret them as being, then again, "I'm at a loss". I will say this, though; more than a lifetime ago, the (rich, white) women were expected to faint early and often - and no doubt they did, what with the corsets. There were fainting couches, and women were not expected to overly exert themselves, lest they hurt their feeble woman brains - as The Yellow Wallpaper scarily depicts. Now? We're hating on men who take naps, because we are inherently prone to exerting ourselves; we are "wired" to clean, to see the home as the place "where the real work gets done". The reason I can't believe in gender essentialism and the inherent differences in the sexes is this very fact. The lines and definitions of what is inherent to each gender change based on time and cultural inclination.

I disagree with Rittelmeyer on yet another point, that being "A culture that cannot acknowledge gender differences has hobbled itself". I think a culture that cannot acknowledge how it creates gender differences has hobbled itself. A culture that honestly believes that the genders are inherently different has little sense of history, because if it acknowledged history it would have to acknowledge the progression and mutation of gender differences. A culture that honestly believes that genders are inherently different and unequal has less ability to prosper and to accept ideas and innovations coming from a diverse group of people. But what's more, a culture that fails to recognize the various ways gender is constructed and how one half of its population is diminished due to the perception of gendered importance fails to recognize how it has failed its own people.

As I have said before, I am not a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the "it's all nurture!" club. But that doesn't mean that I am not wary of the science surrounding gender; after all, that science has burned my gender before, and burned severely. That doesn't mean that I can't recognize how being inundated with gendered images changes my perception of myself and my abilities. It doesn't mean that I am not affected by the fact that there are so few female protagonists, and even fewer proactive female protagonists. It doesn't change the fact that Pixar - one of the biggest and most talented and most successful children's film studios - hasn't made a film with a female protagonist yet. It doesn't change the fact it took me through WALL•E to recognize that fact. It doesn't change the fact that shows and movies with female characters can very rarely pass the Bechdel Rule. And it doesn't change the fact that I have been shaped and at times neutered by gender expectations the world holds even as my parents tried valiantly to raise me in a gender neutral environment. It doesn't change the fact that in saying that I don't know how to cook, I've been declared "a princess", but it is just expected for boys not to know how to cook. These are ways our world genders us. That isn't to say that some girls aren't more girly and some boys aren't more manly - and let's just acknowledge that sad state of affairs for a moment, shall we, that feminine behavior is given a childish and diminutive description and masculine behavior is given the grown up description; that right there is an affirmation that the inequality between the genders is more societally based than biologically based. But it does demonstrate how truly entwined the two are in creating who we are and who we grow up to be.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Year Of Science

This year, the year of 2009, has been declared The Year of Science. By whom, you ask? Well, these guys. Why? Because there are a heck of a lot of scientastic anniversaries being celebrated this year. Like, Charles Darwin will have been born exactly 200 years ago this year on February 12th. Like, Origin of Species was first published November 24, 1859, making this year its 150th year in existence. Like a couple of other cool things the Brian Greene talked to Ira Flatow about on friday (if you really care all that much, listen here).

Long and short of it is, there are going to be themes and events celebrating those themes for every month of the year, because it is The Year of Science! January is the Process and Nature of Science - an intro month to the whole thing. My birthday month (October) gets Geosciences and Planet Earth; coolness. I'd recommend checking out the theme page to see what you get as well (September is Biodiversity and Conservation). And although there are no events yet planned in my neck of the woods, I'm sure that will be rectified soon. Plus, there's always the World Science Faire in New York City June 11th through the 14th. Sounds potentially fun. I'm almost considering volunteering.

And for anyone who is puzzled and wondering why I'm so hip to this whole year of science thing, given my absolute abhorrence for all 3 of the science classes I took in college, to you I say... shut up. But seriously now, those classes were not of the good. And the year has themes! How could anything that has themed months be a bad? Also, Science Friday and The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe have taught me that I actually do like science - I'm just not good at doing the science. Kind of like how Planet Money taught me that I can listen to economic talk without wanting to kill someone or becoming extremely obstinate. So, I'm willing to give this a try; to pay attention and learn some facts each month pertaining to the topic at hand. And I'm also almost willing to promise that I will highlight the month in question's theme and some of the info I've gleaned about that topic. It should be fun. Or disastrous. It's hard to tell right now.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Police Hubris

Imagine a 12 year old girl. She's in Galveston, Texas. It's August; she's wearing shorts. Because it is August, in Texas. In her area of Texas, there have been a rash of highly publicized child abductions; in fact, a Houston police investigator, Holly Whillock, went on record stating that in addition to warning children "never to talk with a stranger or get into a car with one", "kids should also be told, run, fight back, scream and stay outside grabbing range". Now, imagine that she's in her front yard, in her shorts, on her way to flip the switch to the house's breaker. And that in the meanwhile, a van pulls up, three men jump out, and one of them grabs her while saying, "You're a prostitute. You're coming with me." As a 12 year old, what should she do?

This 12 year old did not go docilely. Unlike other children - say, me at 12 - she did not become paralyzed in the moment. She clung to a tree and cried for her father. For her trouble, she was beaten "about the face and throat" so severely she ended up in the hospital. And while in normal circumstances, she would be heralded as one of those quick-witted children who was able to escape from her abductor, in this case she was arrested - along with her father. Because the three men who tried to grab Dymond Milburn were plain clothed police officers. They were looking for three white prostitutes in the area; but Dymond Milburn is black. And as far as I can tell, standing in your own yard in shorts in August anywhere south (and a heck of a lot of places north) of the Mason Dixon line does not lend to the immediate assumption of prostitution.

What could possibly be the justification of arresting a girl and her father? In this case, that "it's unfortunate that sometimes police officers have to use force against people who are using force against them. And the evidence will show that both these folks violated the law and forcefully resisted arrest". Now, I'm not fully up on the laws regarding resisting arrest in Texas - or in Connecticut for that matter. What I do know about things like this, I have gleaned from Law & Orders' various incarnations and clones. What I do know is this: Miranda Rights, even in this day and age of Law & Orders, is a must when attempting to arrest someone. Two, generally, police officers identify themselves as such before attempting to make an arrest. Three, there is such a thing as undue force, and hitting a child who is clinging to a tree would probably fall under that.

Even without the string of abductions and attempted abductions in the area, I can't imagine any child willingly and knowingly going with anyone who declared that they were a prostitute. I can't imagine many children who would not be justified in running off, or any parent who would not attempt to extract their child from an unidentified adult's grip. The idea that the police department feel justified in charging Dymond and her father for attacking them after someone from another police department advocated doing just that is just ludicrous to me. I can't help but suspect that the Milburn's race plays a part in the incident, along with police hubris. I don't think every police officer or even a majority of police officers believe themselves to be above the law; and again, all I have to go on here is the various shows dramatizing law enforcement, which counts for less than even anecdotal evidence. But there seems to be more than just a little truth to the idea of closing ranks, of protecting fellow officers after they've pulled some egregiously stupid moves, and that a few bad apples plus loyalty induced by the badge sometimes equals a miscarriage of justice. And that seems to be what happened here. Dymond Milburn wasn't the same race as the suspects in question. The only indication she was a prostitute was that she was outside and wearing shorts. And I won't even venture a guess as to what was going through the officers' minds at the time of the arrest, because no good or logical or rational or plausible explanation is coming to mind and I would like to assume that there may be one.

What this case called for was not arresting an honor student for assaulting a police officer; from what I can tell, the police department would have been better served by putting the officers in question on probation while investigating the incident and issuing a formal apology to Dymond and her father while also assuming the costs of Dymond's hospital visit. Officers screw up; sometimes badly. Officers are only human; but their mistakes should not be justified or unpunished by the department of justice due to the actions of those immediately affected by the injustice implemented by said officers. The department needs to and should have looked beyond a quick and easy way to blame the victim and assumed the position that a fair and balanced institution should take. Now, there could be a zero-sum argument stating that if these two went uncharged, that it would set a precedent for others who assaulted an officer or who resisted arrest to look to; but there are often exceptions to rules. And if the police screwed up as badly as they seemed to have, then they would have been better served  to have owned the screw up.

Because now Dymond Milburn and her neighbors have more reasons to not trust the police, to think that police officers in general and the justice department in particular are biased, unfair, and unbalanced. That the civilian is always lower on the totem pole than the officer. And that African-Americans are still profiled by police officers and are still not subject to the same justice as their white compatriots. Whether or not any of those things are empirically true (and I would say that in some cases and places, certain ones certainly are), that is the way it will be perceived. But perhaps even more important than how these events may be perceived is how these events have affected the accused in particular, how being grabbed and beaten by the very people who are paid to protect and serve her and her community has affected Dymond Milburn. For the trauma she suffered alone, the police department should have put aside their hubris and their privilege and acknowledged the fact that their own put an innocent 12 year old in the hospital, simply for doing what she should have been doing in the event she was grabbed off of her front lawn by anyone she didn't know.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Toothpaste For Dinner Kind Of Sums It Up

I like it when I find timely cartoons; this one kind of sums up the sentiment in both of my recent posts.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Diamond Dilemma

I've never been fond of diamonds as a stone; I've actually never really been fond of many stones. Rubies seem cool, but overall, I prefer to remain unadorned. I do like my birth stone, the opal, and I have a beautiful pearl necklace that I wear on occasion. But other than that, my plain silver (slightly tarnished) claddagh ring does nicely for my day-to-day wear. The reason I'm divulging this? Is because diamonds are big business. And as much as I would love to get "an engagement Revolutionary War musket" (cuz I love history and have had favorite Revolutionary figures ever since I was in elementary school - although that is a whole other post), Emily points out that De Beers' marketing campaign "make[s] us think that a diamond - and only a diamond - represents true love and commitment". And because most of us agree on that salient point, DeBeers can also charge a heck of a lot for diamonds and make rules about how many pay periods equal an adequate amount of money to demonstrate that love and commitment through diamonds. A puny diamond - as the women I work with made clear - is almost worse than no diamond at all (what makes this assertion all the worse is that the puny diamond in question is in actuality big enough to weigh down my hand if I were wearing it, and the cumbersome nature of the ring and the cut of the ring would have been my main complaint - had the ring been on my finger).

So, I don't really like diamonds, because I don't think they're pretty. And I don't want an engagement ring - of any type of stone - predominantly for the reasons F.F. outlines here (link stolen from seeemilyblog), when she says,
"Not having an engagement ring allows me to opt out of sexist notions of a man as provider and women as passive ornament, and the sexist custom that publicly marks a woman as having been purchased and thus 'off the market' while requiring no such public statement of relational or sexual non-availability by her male partner.

Not having an engagement ring prevents Shiner from having to display his masculinity and creditworthiness for scrutiny and comment by whoever happens to sit next to me on the train."
Yes, I'm concerned about the whole blood diamondness of the whole thing as well, and it disturbs me that, as stated by Candace Gibson of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, "the scary thing about blood diamonds or conflict diamonds [is] the end result is so scintillating and so precious that a lot of people don't think about the origins of the stone". That's fairly upsetting; but while that is a very large issue that needs correcting, it doesn't implicitly conflict with the feminist proposition that women as passive parties, the ones who get the gifts and are asked the questions, is a bad thing to consistently perpetuate - as is the idea that women are somewhat akin to birds, distracted and attracted to the "oh, shiny!", and that a fairly conventional gift like a diamond bracelet or an engagement ring is the best thing a guy could possibly get a girl due to that fact. The money-grubbingness of it all rubs me the wrong way.

But then, conflict comes. Jane McGrath, another contributer to Stuff You Missed in History Class, brings up a point I've never actually contemplated before: what the diamond trade, the legitimate diamond trade, does for the inhabitants of Africa. Says McGrath: "Maybe after hearing this you could think, 'Oh well, I don't want to buy diamonds any more; I'm going to tell my fiance - or I'm not going to buy my fiance - a diamond because this might have been the origin'. And that actually causes problems in itself. If we just boycotted diamonds and cut them off cold turkey, this would actually cripple a lot of African economies that really rely on it; and it would cause the loss of jobs and everything like that. And some countries, I should say, like Botswana for instance in the past 25 years or so has been able to flip its economy around and prosper from one of the poorest to one of the richest countries." Well, hell's bells. I was thinking that forgoing the gross (both as excess and distastefulness) materialism of diamond buying and the sexist message of engagement rings in particular and almost every single diamond jewelry commercial in general would be one of those no-brainer things. A win-win-win situation, if you will, for me, my nonexistent fiance, and Africa. But no, nothing is ever that easy.

Candace Gibson continues this line of thought when she says, "And you should know too that there are about 10 million people worldwide who subsist off revenue created by diamonds... ...And also a lot of the money that comes from legitimate diamond trade goes to combat HIV and AIDs." I think it is important for me to note that I don't actually begrudge anyone their diamond engagement rings or their jewelry; I don't wholly believe that every girl who wants a diamond has that desire completely separate from the De Beers ads and the Kay's Jeweler's ads and Marilyn Monroe:

That doesn't necessarily mean that she shouldn't get one - as long as it is a legitimate diamond certified by the United Nations' Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. I just think that along with getting diamonds for Christmas or birthdays or proposals or Mother's Day or Valentine's Day, girls should expect to not be showered with diamonds and to be responsible for buying their own. After all, if it really is about the love of a diamond and not about seeing how much the significant other is willing to spend, then that isn't too imposing a task. What I would like, though, is in addition to the buying of diamonds for every occasion under the sun we accept that not getting a diamond - and more importantly, not wanting a diamond - is not something requiring sympathy or consolation. Because diamonds may be Marilyn's best friend, but they aren't mine. For more reasons than one.

And just because there can never be too much Sarah Haskins, here's her take on the whole jewelry ad thing: