Sunday, March 28, 2010

Letters to my Editor (Pt 2)

Another letter that kind of needs nothing but itself:
My US flag now flies upside down as a protest of unacceptable, unconstitutional injustice when representatives did not represent the people they were supposed to represent.

I kind of love the people who write to my paper.

Letters to my Editor

Just the letter, with minimal comment:
I have lived under 17 presidents, since Woodrow Wilson. I don't know that I will see anothe r [sic]. Our present president's style is to stride purposefully to the lecturn, jut his chin out, FDR style, and with much rhetorical skill, tell us what we want to hear but rarely see. This is proven.
Think of his campaign and presidential promises, not of his charm. I don't want my descendants to have to wonder at and ruefully pay for my mistakes.
One question: "proven", how exactly?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

To Be Fair...

Here's a thing that's been bothering me for a while. It is the "to be fair" defense. I went off on David Brooks about the "to be fair", and I feel pretty confident that I was right and my righteous tone and angry face I was making whilst typing was totes justified.

But here's the thing about "to be fair". It either takes the place of an actual critique (instead of "that soup was horrid; why did they mix chocolate with salsa bits and a beef broth?", we get "to be fair, I've never had good soup here"), or it qualifies that critique and thus makes it less forceful ("that soup was horrid; but to be fair, I've never had good soup here").

There's another thing about "to be fair". Life isn't. Seriously now. Life isn't fair. Life is hard, life is not fair, and life sometimes kicks people in the gonads for things other people have done before and gotten away with.

My sisters and I played a version of the "to be fair" game throughout their childhood and my adolescence. One of us, it didn't matter who, would do something known as "starting shit". Needling the others, picking at old wounds or fresh ones, or just generally being a pain in the ass. The other person would retaliate pretty damn quickly, because we all had thin skins when it came to each other's needling. Because that is the power siblings hold - the knowledge of how a precise word in a precise tone of voice can wreak havoc with someone's emotional well-being. Anyway, this sniping would continue, consistently elevating in tone and in emotions, until one or both of my parents would become aware of it, and then try to shut it down - generally with a "That's enough!" directed at one sib in particular. It was our less deadly version of Russian Roulette. Someone was going to get a "that's enough". Someone would get some pretty serious yellage if they continued to pester the point (which, of course, we all did; cuz we were stupid). And that someone could or could not be the person who originated the circle of recrimination and doom. And the argument would be, from the person hit, "I didn't start it!" Sometimes, if the person did start it (or even if they didn't), the argument would be, "they were doing it too!"

Those arguments? Were true. Truly, we all three were responsible for the shit storm of badness that made dinner such a fun occasion in my house lo those many years. And for whomever was on the receiving end of of parental wrath, it was less than fun, even unfair.

But. We all played the game. We couldn't help ourselves, being sisters and knowing the most profound injury to hit. And having been hit, absolutely needing to hit back. And we all knew that at some point, the game would end and the arrow would be on one of us.

What does this mean, in terms of "to be fair"? Well, it means that life isn't. And if you're doing something that is profoundly unfair, it can't be mitigated by the defense that other people are doing it.

In other words, The condemnation of the action taken can be - and should be - separate from the condemnation of the system in which that action takes place.

In other words, it is perfectly reasonable to call someone out on their shit and then move on to calling everyone out on their shit.

And sometimes, there really is no "to be fair". Take things like racism. There have been claims of "reverse racism", and someone somewhere may try to take the mainstream approach to having a panel, and have someone who claims racism still exists on a panel with someone who claims that whites encounter "reverse racism" in order to make the panel "fair". The truth is, whites still, categorically, hold so much power that there is no real other side to that story in terms of race. There is no "to be fair" if someone says, "Hey, that thing you did/said/Digged? That was racist". Sometimes, fairness isn't possible.

I think oftentimes the "to be fair" is deployed by someone looking to be judicious, someone looking to be seen as impartial. It is a function employed within the lie of objectivity. I used to believe in Objective Truth, that we could someday reach it. I now believe that there is Objective Truth about certain things, and that we as imperfect beings with points of view that are skewed by the psychological things such as beliefs we hold and physical things like imperfect eyesight will never, ever be able to actually obtain that truth. The most we can do is recognize where we are blind. "To be fair"ers tend to try to obtain that objective stance. They tend to want to believe that they can be fair, that they can accurately assess the situation and impart unbiased understanding to the rest of us. I don't believe they can.

Instead of "to be fair", given those constraints to actual fairness, I would rather if we simply acknowledged that there were people we would like to defend, and give those reasons for defending them. It seems better than expecting impartial judgements from people who will never be able to deliver.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Kind of Love...

...This tampon commercial:

It is the height of awesomeness (h/t The Sexist)!

Also, this print ad:

I kind of feel compelled to buy Kotex products now. Power of advertising, huh?

Be sure to read the backstory of the ad, and how three networks rejected it when it contained the word "vagina". Yeah, I know. How crazy to discuss the "v" word when you're advertising tampons. I'd totes reject that ad too, because I can't see the connection.

On pretty much the same note, these ads remind me of this Clear Blue Pregnancy Test commercial:

I, however, don't want to buy this one. Advertising (in general) still isn't that good.

Both the Kotex ads and the Clear Blue ad eschew what normally find their ways into tampon and pregnancy test ads. They're interesting. They're fun. They're engaging in a way women twirling around in white really very rarely are. And the tampon one even takes on the weird blue liquid factor.

Stamp of approval!

Playground Politics, David Brooks, and the Al Qaeda Seven

JIM LEHRER: Let's go to another dispute, the so-called Al Qaeda Seven. Liz Cheney and her group criticized some justice department lawyers, because they once represented some Guantanamo detainees. Where do you come down on that?
DAVID BROOKS: Ah, well, I think the ad, which sort of accused whose values do they have - do they have Al Qaeda or Taliban values, I thought it was tremendously unfortunate. I mean, it's just part of a long range of corrosive language. And to be fair to Liz Cheney, if you Google "Taliban" and "Liz Cheney", millions of people have called her a member of the Taliban and made similar charges.
PBS Newshour, 3/12/10
You know what mentality I have always hated? Since elementary school hated? The idea that just because someone once picked on you, once kicked your lunch box, once pushed you down, once cut you in line, once made your life hell, it somehow gave you license to do the same. In elementary school through high school, the idea was as soon as you got to the exalted grade of the kids who were picking on you, you could then pick on the kids who occupied the grade you were in now. It was, and is, a stupid idea. Picking on the freshman as a senior does nothing to the senior who picked on you. It just continues a cycle of meaningless and ridiculous abuse, for no other reason than because you had to deal with it and you refused to be the last one.

It is a simple-minded, mean mentality. It depends on making someone else a victim in order for the former victim to be the victor, to feel powerful.

It is an immature philosophy and displays a distinct lack of empathy. It is also what David Brooks suggests we use in order to "be fair" to Liz Cheney.

Brooks is probably right; any other week, if you were to Google "Liz Cheney" and "Taliban", you would probably garner a lot of hits comparing the two. Right now, though, most of the hits are about the ad itself and Brooks' defense of Cheney. In a normal week, a lot of those would be malicious. Most would be blatantly false. I'm saying "a lot" and "most", because I'm sure there are also pages ripping apart those other pages and defending Cheney.

You know what else? I'd bet my teeth that none of those people calling Liz Cheney a member of the Taliban are from the Department of Justice. You know, the people Liz Cheney is now directly comparing to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Funny thing, that. Funny how the school mentality can still be defended by those well into their forties when employed by people getting toward the middling of their own fortieth decade.

There is no "being fair" to Liz Cheney when she blatantly uses her non profit to disseminate the exact same tactic being so egregiously used against herself and her own father.

There should only be condemnation for so spectacularly failing to progress past the idea that passing along this sort of mean-spirited and completely baseless accusation to a whole new wave of victims. David Brooks thinks there is some sort of balance that has been reached here: Liz Cheney was attacked by someone, so she gets to attack someone else with that as part of her excuse. Sorry, but no. And that sort of rationalization calls Brooks' own assessing skills into question as well.

The other thing that gets me is how neither Jim Lehrer nor Mark Shields makes this argument; Shields should have mentioned that the DoJ lawyers probably weren't the ones slandering Liz Cheney all over the interwebs. And then he should have mentioned that even if they were, that still does not excuse Cheney's sinking to their level.

Because that is the other very real issue here. When has it become appropriate in the public discourse to pull what is essentially a "I know you are, but what am I?" smack down? This is beyond concerning. This says that somehow, no one progresses past elementary school (a thought I've often had and feared, and now discover may be the abject truth of the matter). And that? Is unacceptable.

Making excuses for Liz Cheney, calling an ad tremendously unfortunate instead of calling it out for what it is - a baseless, fear-mongering attack ad - does not make one a member of polite society. Couching one's statements and one's bets doesn't make one the better person.

And, no, the ad in question doesn't sort of accuse. It does accuse, full stop. The fact that Brooks can't even make that statement without waffling, and the fact that no one corrects him, makes me worry.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chuck vs The Women

My monday evening routine is to wait anxiously for 8 o'clock to roll around so's I can watch some Chuck goodness on NBC. Typically, I then go on-line and look up all of the music I want to get that I heard on Chuck, get it, load it onto my Chuck playlist, and then stare and my iPod in confusion when, on shuffle, one of those songs is independently played. Because, sometimes, hearing Hall & Oats without any explanation is just odd. Actually, that should be an "always".

However. Loving Chuck is problematic. It's problematic for a multitude of reasons. Chuck had ten characters credited during the theme for its first two seasons, and then nine in its third season. Three of the ten were women in the first two seasons. Two of the nine are women in the third season. This isn't good. For me, and in general. Sure, one of the central three characters is a woman, and she gets a decent amount of attention focused on her. And yet, purely by the function of who she is and what her character brings to the series, we know very little about her. And so, we're left with 3 women who function as accessories to the male characters, as love interests and, for one, simultaneously as a sibling.

Because there are, at most, three women on the show, they don't often interact. And when they do interact, the moments don't typically pass the Bechdel Test. Sarah and Ellie discuss Chuck; sometimes, Sarah and Ellie discuss Devon (aka, Captain Awesome); Sarah and Anna discuss Morgan; a couple of times, Anna flips out on Ellie about Morgan. They talk about weddings and boys, and once, how Sarah had never been close to a gun before. But they don't talk about anything else, and thus we learn almost nothing about them. We know that Jeff and Lester enjoy playing in their band, Jeffster. We know more about Morgan than is necessary, including that he sleeps in the nude. But we don't learn much of anything about the women that does not in some way connect to the men.

But there is another issue with Chuck, almost a more serious issue. A lot of shows don't have great male-to-female ratios. A lot of shows don't have the women talking about much else but the men in their lives. It wouldn't be great, but I would be able to live with it. But Chuck fails women far more egregiously than simply not being able to pass the Bechdel Test.

Chuck, as a show, suffers from an almost chronic urge to delegitimize threats women face in the world and the workplace. It often uses stalking as an impish thing these specific guy characters do. And no other character calls these stalkers out on it. In Chuck vs Tom Sawyer, we (and Chuck) are given witness to Jeff's music video dedicated to Anna Woo, complete with stalker-footage from when Anna is leaving the women's bathroom. Later in the episode, Jeff's request that Anna fan him while wearing a hula skirt is granted. And both Chuck and the store's manager Emmett make no mention to Jeff about the completely illegal and inappropriate actions he has taken. No one mentions the tape to Anna, so she can press charges (not that she would, because stalking is totally cool!). Later in the season, Morgan begins stalking Anna as well, in vs The Best Friend. And although Chuck calls him out on it after both Anna and a group of mobsters discover him, Chuck's reasoning is less about shaming Morgan for his actions toward his ex-girlfriend than trying to save his life. Afterward, he even complains that he had to sacrifice Morgan's dignity in order to protect him. Chuck doesn't even begin to contemplate that stalking your ex is a pretty solid way to demonstrate you've given up much of your dignity anyway.

Stalking isn't just relegated to the creeps of the show, either. Chuck, himself, has been known to stalk his fake girlfriend Sarah. The one day she has off, he follows her as she goes to meet her father, because she had the temerity to not alert him to her plans. And when she discovers him, she doesn't yell at him or give him the cold shoulder. She doesn't discuss how following her is completely ignoring a boundary she has set for her own personal reasons. She invites him to stay.

And the stalking is just one part of the equation. From Morgan and Jeff and Lester using the store's electronics to get video footage of various (faceless) girls' butts and cleavage, to Jeff and Lester setting up a casting couch and then exposing various models to Jeff's penis, the show takes a light-hearted "boys will be boys" mentality when it comes to violating the various women who make the mistake of working, shopping, or knowing someone at the Burbank Buy More.

It is that light-heartedness that makes this all the worse. If the behavior was seen and treated as wrong, as being a violation of these various women's autonomy, if it were called out as being inherently disrespectful to women, then the show may be something other than regressive. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Morgan, Jeff, and Lester are seen as weird, losery guys, but they're also portrayed as lovable (in the case of Morgan), unthreatening (in the case of Lester), loyal (in the case of Jeff (and Morgan)) guys. These guys, the show demonstrates, are doing little wrong. After all, the women don't complain about it! These guys, the show demonstrates, are impotent geeks that girls don't have to worry about!

And then that is the other edge of this sword. There have been two girls who have been Nerd Herders (the Geek Squad of the Buy More). Both of them have been subject to sexual comments and what would be, in the real world, sexual harassment. They were Herders at two different times, so women have never made up more than 1/4 of the Herder staff. But what really seems to be happening here is the show doesn't only go for the "boys will be boys" and "stalking really isn't that serious" and "harassment is just playing", but is either negatively commenting on the nerdish men among us or - and I think it is the second one - giving one nerdish perspective on women and men. Perhaps it shouldn't be that surprising that only two of the nine writers are women.

A large portion of the Chuck series has been full of geekish and nerdy delights, too many to count. And that, along with Chuck being absolutely adorkable most of the time and zany writing, is one of the things that makes me love Chuck oh so very much. Well, that, and a propensity of the writers to rip off whole scenes from their other series, The O.C., and have those scenes play for more often than not comedic value. And that makes the marginalization of women within their world even harder to bear. Because it isn't just that women are absent, or that women get to discuss parts of their lives other than the men; if that were the case, this post could have (and almost was) been called Chuck vs The Bechdel Test. No, it goes deeper than that. It goes to having geeky guys consistently treat women as sexual objects, and as something other than the norm. As a girl, as a geek, and as a nerd, it feels less than welcoming to have that play out as a theme on this show that I love.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday Sesame Street

I like how there were originally 1776 cherry trees in the orchard:

Rape & Sex Education, A Two-Part Rant

So, yesterday, at lunch, the women I work with were discussing their families. I generally like these discussions, since they so rarely veer off into political speak or declarations about how Fox News is just so unbiased. They're a bit on the boring side, but they also make my coworkers happy. And I'd rather have a happy coworker when I need help than the opposite. But every once in a while, a subject comes up that veers us close to the third rail of office discussion.

Yesterday was one of those days. A woman's niece, age 12, was staying after school to finish a test, and was left alone for a few minutes with two boys in her class - also age 12. One of the boys then said, "Let's rape _____". The girl asked the boy why he wanted babies (which seemed like an odd reaction to me, but wevs), and then told her mother after she got home.

Here is the first part of my rant. Everyone at lunch agreed that this was inappropriate. Everyone agreed that the mother, my coworker's sister, should report the incident to the principal. And I was one of those agreeing.

But at the same time, the incident was profoundly disturbing to me. Part of it is because in recent months, a 12 year old girl was raped, by a fourteen year old, and that rape was not seen as a serious matter by school officials. It was also because I happened to sit across from a jerk of an 8th grader at lunch, and his continuous barrage of sexual-type comments were not taken seriously by my school officials, up until I hit him with his own lunch tray. And then I was told "boys will be boys" (yes, seriously, that exact phrase was used). It is because when I was in high school, my regulation tank top was deemed as being "distracting and exciting to the boys" by my gym teacher. And it was only because I have a father who is actually pretty damn scary when he's pissed that I got an apology for that. In other words, we live in a world, even us in the liberaler states in the Union, where schools like to protect their own asses, and where the culture of boys will be boys and girls have to endure sexual comments doesn't stop at the doors of an educational facility.

It is terrible that my coworker's 12 year old niece was threatened (jokingly or not) with rape. On an individual level, it is horrible. Her mother should report the incident to the principal, to the teacher, and maybe calling up the boy's parent(s)/guardian(s) and telling them what their son said. But on a more meta and less micro level, shouldn't we be focusing part of our attention on why this statement could and is casually uttered? I know kids and teenagers and young adults say shocking and controversial things, sometimes in order to seem more sophisticated, sometimes to lash out, and sometimes simply to be seen as shocking and controversial. I'm Facebook friends with a large portion of my sisters' high school, and they have taken to FormSpring like ducks to water, so I know. Trust me. And that could segue into a post about how being gay (or bisexual, or assumed to be gay) is still ZOMG, the WORST thing to be EVER in high school, but I'll just restrain myself. The thing is, something must make it seem like it is okay for this 12 year old to talk about raping his classmate, and it isn't something that affects just this 12 year old. And we should prevent individual 12 year olds from saying such things, but shouldn't we impress upon everyone that rape isn't, actually, something to casually throw around? That it is, actually, a serious offense? That it isn't, actually, something that should be used as a threat, fake or not, faux-funny or not?

But instead, we switched over to sex education, where the second part of my rant comes in.

Mother to the 12 year old girl decided that her daughter's response to a rape threat should probably not be, "Why do you want babies?" So, she sat said daughter down for a sex talk. And talked about how much sex hurt. Always. And about how sex was bad, how sex was unpleasant, and how if you kissed someone, you were kissing every single person he ever kissed (being gay really isn't seen as an option in that house).

First my sister's reaction to the kissing line: "I would have said, 'Well, then I guess I've kissed a lot of people'". Which was, especially if you know her, hilarious.

Secondly, I understand the impetus to discuss sex and what sex is when your daughter is sheltered at age 12. I don't understand the impetus to discuss sex and not touch upon what rape is, why it is a horrible thing to say to someone. It seems that if your sex talk is happening because a kid in your daughter's class talked about raping your daughter, some discussion about rape would be in there. But, no, apparently not.

Third, though, is this: if you decide to have a discussion with your twelve year old about sex because you feel that she is sheltered and needs to have some understanding of it, what the fuck does telling her lies about sex do for her? Seriously now. And here is the crux of the post. As much as it isn't an aberration for a 12 year old boy to feel like joking about rape is acceptable, it is also not aberrant for people to not actually have solid, true information about sex. What benefit is gained from telling a 12 year old girl that sex always hurts, that sex is bad, that sexual contact is something to be avoided? None.

I'm not suggesting that parents should begin telling their children that sex is wonderful, is the best thing ever, and you should totes be open to it. What I am suggesting is that misinformation about sex is troubling, that painting sex as bad or dirty or a necessary evil is problematic, and that telling little girls that sex hurts always is wrong. Morally as well as factually.

This isn't just a problem for this specific 12 year old. This is a problem for all of the twelve year olds who do have parents who aren't open and honest with them, who go to schools where the answer to any sex question is "don't".

And that brings us to this question: is the problem teenagers having sex, or is the problem teenagers having sex irresponsibly?

I would prefer to think of my 17 year old sisters as 5 years old for the rest of their lives. I would prefer to not think about their sexual predilections or habits. But what I want is for them to have the information, to know about sex, to not feel shamed for having it or wanting it. I want them to know about contraception, and also more of the fun stuff. I want them to feel comfortable asking questions, and for them to have the reasonable expectation of honest answers. And I want that for their friends, and their friends' friends. I want sex to not be a mystery to them, not something their parents squick away from discussing, and their school refuses to touch. And I want that for my coworker's niece as well. I want sex education to contain some education about sex. And I don't think that's too much to ask.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Buffy the Vampire Slayer's 13th Anniversary

Thirteen years ago, I was eleven. That seems odd to type. Thirteen years ago, I was yet to reach actual teenage years. I was a preteen. My favorite shows, if anyone is interested, were Caroline in the City and Suddenly Susan. At least one of those shows were on at the same time a weird show about a teenage vampire slayer premiered. And my father made me miss whichever one that was, because he wanted someone to watch this new weird show about a teenage vampire slayer. That? Is probably a decision he's regretted for the full 13 years that have followed.

I've written a lot about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I've written a lot about Joss Whedon. I've been profoundly, scarily, affected by both.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is probably one of the reasons some people in middle school and high school were under the mistaken impression I was a lesbian (note to any other 12-17 year olds out there: if you're going to wear shirts that are black and predominately feature women, even if those women are show-specific, be prepared for questions).

Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have skewed my perception of who and what is cool. For instance: like Joss Whedon? You're cool. Mock Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You're so not.

But Buffy the Vampire Slayer has done a lot more than that. And on this, its anniversary, I'm going to list some of those things out.

BtVS was a show that fully encompassed the geeks inheriting the earth thing. It was a weird show, in that the geeks and the losers seemed to not care that other people thought of them as geeks and losers. Sure, Buffy was bothered by it, from time to time. She had, after all, previously been cool. But Xander? When Rodney Munson beat him up every day for years, he hated Rodney Munson. This was a good thing for me, being that I have odd parents, an odd name, and am both geeky and nerdy. It was validation when I hated the kids who made fun of my name, instead of hating my name. And that was good, at eleven.

BtVS was a show that had tons (and I mean tons) of kick ass women, who were powerful and righteous and strong - and emotional and screwed up and flawed in a myriad of different ways. It was also a show that had a lot of kick ass men who were emotional and screwed up and flawed in a myriad of different ways - and who were also powerful and righteous and strong.

BtVS has probably shaped my philosophical outlook more than any other singular thing. It has done more for how I see the world than Alexander Hamilton, than Thomas Jefferson, than Sartre, than Steinem, than de Beauvoir. And on things as far ranging as friendship, militarism, the role of government, atheism, feminism, ethics, life, and family.

When I want to reference why I feel a certain way, I may break out a BtVS quote. I may - in fact - point to a certain scene. Which leave those around me who have not seen the show or who are not totes obsessed more than a little confused. And I'm okay with that.

Thirteen years on, I'll still cry when I see Becoming Pt 2. Thirteen years on, I'm still in awe of what the show is. Thirteen years on, I'll still spend a day watching season 1, and loving it.

And while it is a little pathetic to pull myself out of my blogging rut by writing about this particular topic, it is also a testament to the show that I still care this much about all of these characters, thirteen years down the road.

So, happy anniversary, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'll write about you again - next year.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dear Blog,

Wow. It's been a long time. A long, long time. I have reasons! Reasons for my sudden and prolonged absence, reasons that would probably bore you and leave you feeling insecure about your place in my life. You're probably wondering whether I simply abandoned you like I did the iTunes/iPod Genius function, only without the part where I explained why and what went wrong.

As an aside, that function and I made up. I've been working through the fact that it likes to pick Conor Oberst songs for everything, and that one song from the Whip It soundtrack I don't particularly like, and it... hasn't made any concessions. It does have three or so playlists on my iPod at the moment, though.

No, blog! I have not! I have often thought about coming here, writing my thoughts, engaging with the world, and I am coming back. Seriously. I know, I've been a bad blogger. I know, I promised I'd be back about a month ago. I know, you have no reason to trust that I will remain true to my word.

I have, however, made a twitter account. For some indiscernible reason. But twitter is kind of confusing. There's the whole being pithy and witty thing, for one. I can be pithy, and I can be witty, but it turns out that it is exceedingly difficult for me to be both at the same time.

(Which, what a sales pitch, right? Aren't you just dying to go there now? Don't answer that. Unless the answer is yes.)

No, blog, we both know that I am at my best when I am allowed to ramble and rant at length (sometimes great length). We both know that I am to return to your familiar and helpful format, where there are no hashtags that rudely take up needed space to be both pithy and witty. Where an @ sign is more of a way to send a message to someone than a way to immediately get down to business. Where there are no whales being carried by little birds.

I am back. And I will post, and post again.