Thursday, May 27, 2010

Quote of the Day

And I don't know about you, Cristen, but swimming with weights on doesn't sound like much fun. It sounds like a recipe for disaster.
- Molly, from "The Not So Skimpy History of the Bikini" episode of Stuff Mom Never Told You

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Keith Olbermann: Today's Worst Person in the World

Look, Keith, I like you. I listen to your show as I drive into work daily, and I would watch you live if I had access to a television at 8 o'clock on any night except mondays, when Chuck is on. Actually, I probably wouldn't, because I'm bad with commercials. I get all restless. And my method works fine for me, because it gives me something that is approximately as long as my ride to listen to, and while you're on television, your show isn't exactly on the cutting edge of the visual medium. Except for Oddball. I kind of regret not being able to see things like Justin Bieber run into glass doors.

Anyway, I think we've established, through my semi-frequent posting about how much you and your suits rock, that I am a fan. I enjoy the sports talk! I enjoy your random freak outs! I follow you on twitter! Your pictures from various baseball stadiums are cool! I even read your blog!

So. The thing that I don't expect? Really ever? Is to be hit by some weird hardy-hars about sexual harassment on my way into work. From you. Because, dude, you are a progressive. And I know, I know. Progressive≠feminist. Progressive≠good on gender issues. Progressives can sometimes be sexist dipshits. Progressives can sometimes not be sexist dipshits, but still say some really sexist dipshitty type stuff. You, yourself, have said some sexist dipshitty type stuff in the past.

I should probably let you in on what has brought on my ire, shouldn't I?

It's this:
KEITH OLBERMANN: Billo replied, "Yeah, I thought that they - basically, in the very beginning - should stuff every member of NBC News in that hole".

Maybe we should listen, Bill, because based on the Andrea Mackris lawsuit, I gather that you were the expert on unsuccessful attempts to stuff things into holes.
Whoa. That is a lot of misogyny in a very teeny tiny space!

First, there's the problem of exactly how the alleged sexual assault is framed here, ie: referring to a woman's vagina as a "hole". Problematic, for that whole "dehumanizing" aspect. Also, for separating the vagina from the woman, and vice versa.

But let's move right on the the part wherein Bill O'Reilly is subject to your derision not because he allegedly repeatedly sexually harassed a member of his staff, but because he didn't succeed in having sex with her.


Seriously, no.

Let me spell this out for you: the problem is that O'Reilly allegedly repeatedly made sexual comments to someone who worked for him. O'Reilly should be derided and looked at as less of a human being because he did that. Not because he failed in his ultimate goal to loofah Mackris up.

You are mocking him as being less of a man because he didn't seal the deal. He isn't less of a man because of that. He is less of a worthwhile human being because he sexually harassed someone.

And for that, Keith Olbermann, you are Today's Worst Person.... IN THE WORLD!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Because You're a Woman

It occurred to me, whilst I was showering (which is where a lot of my good ideas percolate and then go on to die quickly because I have no way of keeping them alive because there is NOWHERE TO WRITE THEM oh my god why don't I have those shower crayons my roomies and I had in college?!) that privilege is a hard thing to fully recognize because it is essentially a passive power. You can't walk into a room and go, "I'm white, I'm a guy, give me a job!" Well, you could. But that probably would make them not want to give you a job. What you can do is walk into a room, hand them a good resume, and then have that person interviewing you be influenced by the fact you're white and a guy and then give you the job over someone who may be just as qualified but is not white and a guy. This is the problem with privilege. You could walk out of that room thinking it was your excellent interviewing skillz and a well put together resume that got you the job - when in reality it may have been those things plus.

There is nothing wrong, on the individual level, with getting a job based on a plus. Well, there might be. But for sake of argument, say there isn't.

When things get hairy is when getting jobs based on a plus happens a lot, and for the same group of plus people.

And it is very hard to recognize when that plus comes into play - when the privilege you unintentionally wield influences the events around you.

I have a lot of privilege. That privilege helps me get away with doing a lot of things and saying a lot of things someone who didn't look like me wouldn't get away with. I've always told my friends that I get away with a lot of crap because I act like I'm right; I act like I should get away with, say, yelling at a cop or telling my Old White Guy boss that we need to hire more people who aren't Old White Guys and who won't become Old White Guys as part of our sales force - in those terms. And I'm convinced that is part of it. But the other part, and why I've been conditioned to feel like I have the right to do X or Y, is what I am. I am middle class. I am white. I am small, both in height and in size. And I look like I'm twelve. These things don't help people take me seriously, but it does help me when it comes to getting away with telling people they're idiots.

And I don't think I should get away with something because of any of those factors; but I also don't know when it does and when it doesn't. So I can't really mitigate the effect that has on my life, and what it does for me. And if I weren't annoyingly obsessed with myself, I may never have examined the fact that when everyone says I look like I'm twelve, and that my nicknames at work are "Little Girl" and "Little One", those along with the other aspects give me a certain amount of protection and privilege I otherwise would not have.

Now, some of my privilege will be mitigated by age. Hopefully, when I'm in my mid-forties, no one will be calling me "Little One", although I appreciate the affectionate name now. But I have no way of truly taking that perspective others have of me and dismantling it myself. I have no way of telling a person, "Don't react to me as you would a small child". Because, like the "I'm white, I'm a guy" thing, it would probably not elicit the desired reaction.

Which takes me to this: I listen to Stuff Mom Never Told You, because Molly and Cristen are awesome. The last podcast of theirs I listened to was "Are political quotas bad for women?", and in there a couple of interesting questions were asked.

Cristen posed the question,
Is that at the same time not only dismantling our ideas of equal opportunity and democracy but also almost categorizing women once again into this, like, ind of separate, special little corner that they need to hang out in and, you know, work on their, like child care, etc., types of issues rather than allowing us to, you know, jump in the fray and get in there right beside, um, elbow our way in alongside men?
And I like the question, because it is a good one. Is forcibly making space for women in different arenas the best way to get women into those areas? But I also like the question, because it demonstrates an issue of framing. Same thing with Molly's quandary:
You'd always have to wonder if you were in power because you're a woman, or if you really had something to contribute to government.
The problem I have with how the question is framed is that in the first question, Cristen herself is separating so-called "Women's Issues" like child care and equal pay from societal issues. It is the age-old problem where men are seen to speak universally and women are seen to speak only about women.

And the problem I have with Molly's quandary is that we very rarely reverse that question and look at the invisible privilege held therein. We almost never ask of (white) men, "Are you in power because you're a man, or because you really had something to contribute?" We'll ask if there was some sort of dynasty thing at play (like with Bush the Second), but we rarely ask if a man got the job because he's a man.

So, when Molly is worried about people looking at women in power, is worried about women in power looking at themselves, and wondering if the fact that they are women was the necessary plus to push them into power, she is demonstrating something profound. We worry about whether or not women, or African Americans, or Latinos, or [fill in your minority here] got to where they are because of Political Correctness. Because they had some Plus that pushed them above the deserving White Guy. Very rarely, do we as a society, ponder whether some white guy got to where he is because he is a guy, and white. That is one of the essences of privilege: your plus not factoring into the general consciousness of why you are where you are. And because that is one of the essences of privilege, it is incredibly difficult to recognize it as such, in general and on the individual level. Because unless something egregious happened (or unless the Peter Principle is to blame), a lot of people who have the jobs they have deserve them. And the question then becomes whether or not the plus that pushed them over the edge to jobhood was earned, or was a function of an unearned quotient like gender privilege or racial privilege or even religious privilege.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Jeans, and Consent

When I was around the age of twelve, I read a quote from some judge in some rape case somewhere that basically amounted to "girls can't get raped if they're wearing jeans, because you need help to get someone's jeans off". I, for my part, was thrilled. Jeans were already an essential part of any outfit, and to learn that they were practically a sure-fire way to not be raped, ever, was just awesome. I should also mention that 12 was the age I was when I was first cat-called, so the possibility of sexual violence being done to my person was probably more present than it would have otherwise been. I excitedly told my mother the news: Jeans Prevent Rape!!

And she scoffed at me.

I was a bit confused, and she never truly explained the nature of her scoffing. Presumably, because she thought I'd figured it out in that moment. Because, well, how stupid would I have to be to think that JEANS prevented someone from being raped?

Apparently, as stupid as a judge in Australia.

I've since become aware that jeans do not stop rape. That the idea that jeans could stop rape was referenced in my Newsweek because it was just that crazy everyone reading the quote would recognize the complete lack of validity without explanation. Everyone except twelve-year old me, that is. Because twelve-year old me was still trying to figure out the magic equation that would prevent anyone from touching me in a way I didn't want, ever. It saddens me that the rest of the world hasn't caught up; that Newsweek was wrong. That the idea doesn't seem as ludicrous to a whole host of people as it should.