Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sexism Impedes Good Grammar

That? Right there? Is a Real Life headline. Granted, it's in the Winnipeg Free Press, but this is a headline that exists out in the world, and in a print version!

Now, reading that, you'd be excused if you thought the lightning had killed its girlfriend. And maybe wonder when it was that electric bolts could form interpersonal bonds - or you may be more open-minded than I am and have no problem with atmospheric forces-and-human relationships. Either way.

Except, as you'd probably figured out after a minute, lightning didn't kill its girlfriend. Lightning killed someone else's girlfriend.

And here's where sexism messes with grammar. It would have been just as easy to say, "Lightning Kills Hiker" or "Lightning Kills Woman". And both would be correct, and both would be immediately more accurate, because it wouldn't allow for the woman in question to be connected romantically to the weather event that caused her demise.

But there was a need to make the woman defined in relation to someone else. A male someone else. And the story told in blurb form takes shape mostly around this male someone else's story, and his plans to offer a ring of engagement. So, instead of being about the woman, and how she died before her boyfriend proposed, it becomes about the man, and how his girlfriend died before he could propose. Being that this was, I hope, supposed to be an article about the death of this particular woman, I would think it would make more sense for the writers to try to portray the former rather than the latter. I would think wrong.

That is sexism in action. And it leads to poor headline construction, which is a travesty in its own right.

H/T to superior olive at Shakesville.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

If This Counts as Anti-Religious, I Must Be The Anti-Christ

So, it's been nearly a month since I first heard episode 184 of Real Time with Bill Maher. And let me tell you, this was the episode that made me think, "Maybe I shouldn't be listening to Bill Maher at work". Because I was spitting mad. You wanna know how mad I was? Well, I'll let Madeline Kahn take it away:

That reminds me: I should probably buy Clue at some point.

So, what got me so worked up? Bill Maher's discussion of anti-religious sentiment in the "Liberal Media" with S.E. Cupp. Because nothing makes me more pissed off than the assertion that any media is anti-religion. Because, as an atheist, I can point out to you pretty damn quickly how not anti-religious media, in general, really is. Bill Maher is a somewhat less than stunning example of actual anti-religious sentiment in today's media, less than stunning both due to his anti-religion as well as the application of his anti-religion in his anti-religious arguments. So, first part of the conversation that had me responding to Cupp, out loud, in a cubicle, at my Very Religious place of work. So, hold onto your hats, folks, because this is going to be a doozy of a long post. Aaaaaaaand, start:
BILL MAHER: Let me give you your examples. This is the - I'm reading the - this is the end of your "A Decade of Lowlights From the Liberal Media".
S.E. CUPP: Yeah.
MAHER: These are your first three examples: Here's Joy Behar, she's tal - and this is one of your examples - she's talking about -
[Talking Over Each Other]
CUPP: And she's a friend.
MAHER: evolution. She said -
[Talking Over Each Other Again]
CUPP: I do her show.
MAHER: "You have to teach both. Darwinism is not some kind of religious fervor. Teach both." So she's for teaching both Darw-
CUPP: No. What she said was that teaching Creationism to kids should be akin to child abuse.
MAHER: No. She said you have to teach both.
CUPP: She said that facetiously.
MAHER: Well, that's interest that you can divine that.
CUPP: She said on The View - she said on The View that teaching Creationism should be -
[Talking Over Each Other AGAIN]
MAHER: Darw-
CUPP: child abuse.
MAHER: I have it - yes she did. She said, "Darwinism is not some kind of religious fervor thing. You want your children to go into the world being ignorant? That's child abuse". Yeah, it is.
CUPP: I-I-I don't think that's true. I think and-and-and-
[You Know The Drill, Right?]
MAHER: That's not an anti-religious statement.
CUPP: the majority of the people who teach their kids Creationism because it's a nice Christian allegory I don't think are guilty of child abuse.
I'm going to stop here, for a second. Because Cupp's argument here is bullshit, but what truly makes it crap is that last line: "the majority of people who teach their kids Creationism because it's a nice Christian allegory". She flips the argument on its head. She changes what Creationism is. Creationism, as something that is taught in schools, is not an allegory. It is being taught as fact, or at the very least a theory at least on par with Darwinism. Allegories are what Aesop used. Allegories are fictional stories we can cull wisdom or understanding from. I don't have a problem with allegories. I love allegories. I have a problem with people insisting their religious doctrine be taught in public schools.

Here's my problem with Creationism. It isn't that some people believe it, though I do weep for the state of the world when people can turn that much of a blind eye to scientific fact. It is that a segment of the population wants to insist that their version of the world be codified as scientific truth. It is that a bunch of powerful, bullying people want to push their vision of the world as it was formed onto every child in their community.

If a parent wants their child to believe that the world was created in seven days, that human beings have always been as we are now, and that the earth is significantly younger than any scientific test has led us to believe, they are welcome to teach their child that. Within the comfort of their own home. Or in their church. Or both. But they do not have the right to have that belief imparted within the confines of a public school in the guise of science. That isn't anti-religion. It is pro-education. It is pro-understanding. It is pro- "You can teach your child whatever the fuck you want outside these walls". For S.E. Cupp (who I keep wanting to call "C.E. Cupp", for some reason) to call Joy Behar's remarks anti-religion is either a fundamental misunderstanding of religion (in which case, I think she wasted a lot of money on her Masters in religious studies), or purposefully misconstruing "religion" with "Christian Fundamentalism". And that's because there are plenty of Christians who do offer up Genesis as an allegory, but don't believe in Creationism and do believe in the Theory of Evolution. Some of those Christians, I have even met.

And here's how not anti-religious the media is: whether or not she was being facetious, Joy Behar said "they" should teach both - and I'm assuming the "they" are the schools. No. The schools, and the teachers who have gone to institutions of higher learning in order to teach science at public schools, should teach the theory of evolution. Stop. They should explain what "theory" means in scientific terms. And if parents want their children to hold a differing view, they can either pull their children from those classes when evolution is being taught and teach them whichever theory of life on earth floats their boat, or they can allow their children to be taught evolutionary theory and then also teach them whichever theory of life on earth floats their boat. But that is the parents' responsibility. And, frankly, I find it quite ludicrous that after all the screaming the Right does about parental responsibilities, they want to foist this one off onto public institutions.

And, onward:
MAHER: Okay, the second one you quoted is John Meacham, the editor of the -
CUPP: Newsweek.
MAHER: Newsweek. We have - he's a religious guy.
CUPP: Yes, he is.
MAHER: He doesn't like -
CUPP: The cover of Newsweek declared the death of Christianity - on Easter [laughs disbelievingly].
MAHER: Are you kidding me.
CUPP: It's preposterous.
MAHER: Jesus or Mary is on the cover of Newsweek or Time, like, every other week [TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: I subscribe to Newsweek. This is pretty accurate.]. If Jesus had an office on Sunset Boulevard and you walked down the corridor, he'd have his magazine covers on every wall!
CUPP: But Bill - one of those - one of those - one of those stories -
MAHER [Talking Over Her]: You're crazy.
CUPP: was saying that you can actually read - if you read the Bible correctly - it actually supports gay marriage. I mean, it's one thing to show these covers, but come on!
MAHER: Well that's - you're picking out one little raisin in a giant piece of bread, there, lady.
Stopping again, because as much as I now love the phrase "picking out one little raisin in a giant piece of bread", this here highlights Bill Maher's mediocrity in actually winning arguments.

First, declaring the death of Christianity isn't anti-religion. At most, it can be anti-Christian, and only the most arrogant fuck would dare insinuate Christianity=Religion. Secondly, it isn't anti-religious to believe that a religious text can be read in a different way than the dominant view. That'd be like someone being anti-Shakespeare because they wrote an analysis alleging Antonio is gay in The Merchant of Venice. It is profoundly pro-Christianity to look to the Bible for guidance, and find helpful answers within. Lisa Miller's Newsweek article, the one Cupp refers to, makes several salient points, most notably:
Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should.
In other words, Newsweek and Lisa Miller aren't anti-religion. They're just arguing against a certain tenet of certain people's religion. Miller's argument is very much rooted in her reading of religion itself (and she's not alone). So, what Cupp is arguing isn't that the media is anti-religion; just that it is anti-the-Right's-religion-of-choice. Because it isn't even anti-Christian. It may argue against the tenets of Fundamentalist Christian belief. But that isn't the long and short of religion.

Once more, into the breach:
MAHER: Let me get back to the premise that the liberals and the media are anti-religion. The pre - the things I talk about, are questioning, "Is faith good? Or that prayer doesn't work. That's the things I say. It's just me and a couple of cartoons -
CUPP [Interrupting]: No! You're so wrong!
MAHER: Who are saying that.
MAHER: Tell me one other person in the media -
[Talking Over Each Other]
CUPP: I'll tell you! I will go down.
MAHER: who ever questioned whether faith was good or prayer worked. Brian Williams?
MAHER: Keith Olbermann?
CUPP: I will go - I will go -
MAHER: Katie Couric?! None of them.
CUPP: Ohmygod! I can give you those examples right now!
MAHER: Tell me -
CUPP: Chris Matthews - Chris Matthews said -
MAHER: Chris Matthews is a devout Catholic!
CUPP: Chris Matthews said that Sarah Palin and Michael Steele praying on big decisions isn't normal. Rachel Maddow said that the National Day of Prayer infringes on her right to religious freedom.
MAHER: It does.
CUPP: Keith Olbermann called pro-lifers religious jihadists. I could go on.
MAHER: That's not - they're not questioning the essence of religion. This is a country that worships religion.
CUPP: Of course they are, Bill. Of course they are.
And there endeth the religion discussion.

And here is where Cupp is oh so very wrong. Well, maybe not about Chris Matthews; but even I, disliker in the extreme of Chris Matthews, is going to assume that what Cupp said and what Matthews stated probably doesn't meet up eye to eye. And I'm not even going to try to argue that Keith Olbermann never compared pro-lifers to jihadists, because I'm pretty sure he did. But there is a difference in criticizing the religious and how they practice their religion - like, by harassing pregnant women seeking abortions and celebrating the deaths of abortion providers or by claiming God has provided you with the answer - and being anti-religion. To equate the two is to wrap the religious in the protection of religion, because criticizing them and possibly how they demonstrate their religiosity is to suddenly become anti all religions, everywhere. And that is a ridiculous standard.

As for Rachel Maddow's position, I am pro-religion, including but not limited to gospel music, religious architecture, and church signs that say things like, "Now Open Between Easter and Christmas", "Our Sundays Are Better than Baskin Robbins", and "A Bible in the Hand is Worth Two on the Shelf". I'm a fan of the screed put by the philosopher Lennon, that being "Whatever gets you through the night, 'salright, 'salright". Unless what gets you through the night is telling me how to get through my night, because I've been getting through my night for 24 straight years fine and dandy. But the National Day of Prayer is something that makes me very uncomfortable, because it does infringe on my right to religious freedom. It is a day encouraging people to pray, and that doesn't just alienate me as an individual; it makes those with my beliefs alien. It makes us other. And for a people who are already pretty thoroughly othered, it is a bit of a blow to have an entire day dedicated to something that does that by my government. The government I voted for. And it comes down to one truth:

The absence of the mention of God is not the same as denying the existence of God. It merely gives those of us who do not believe a bit of breathing room.

Cupp, as an atheist, is choosing to defend the monolith of Christianity, and the section of Christianity that is Evangelical at that, for whatever the reason. But while the proof she pulls out may indicate that there are those on the left who disagree strongly with Evangelicalism, that there are those on the left who are anti-Evangelical, she has no evidence of anti-religious sentiment on the part of the Left or the media - again, aside from Bill Maher. Ironically, due to her constant defense of Christianity's privileged position in media matters, she herself is anti-religious, because she is anti-religious plurality. She is only pro-Evangelicalism. Hopefully, the next lefty she tussles with will point that out to her, and will point out that other sects of Christianity also exist. Because Cupp doesn't seem to recognize that fact.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Necessary Reading: "What Kind of Card Is Race?"

Excerpts from Tim Wise's "What Kind of Card Is Race?", via Mandolin at Alas, a Blog:
Asked about the tendency for people of color to play the "race card," I responded as I always do: First, by noting that the regularity with which whites respond to charges of racism by calling said charges a ploy, suggests that the race card is, at best, equivalent to the two of diamonds. In other words, it's not much of a card to play, calling into question why anyone would play it (as if it were really going to get them somewhere). Secondly, I pointed out that white reluctance to acknowledge racism isn't new, and it isn't something that manifests only in situations where the racial aspect of an incident is arguable. Fact is, whites have always doubted claims of racism at the time they were being made, no matter how strong the evidence, as will be seen below. Finally, I concluded by suggesting that whatever "card" claims of racism may prove to be for the black and brown, the denial card is far and away the trump, and whites play it regularly: a subject to which we will return.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, has to do with race nowadays, in the eyes of white America writ large. But the obvious question is this: if we have never seen racism as a real problem, contemporary to the time in which the charges are being made, and if in all generations past we were obviously wrong to the point of mass delusion in thinking this way, what should lead us to conclude that now, at long last, we've become any more astute at discerning social reality than we were before? Why should we trust our own perceptions or instincts on the matter, when we have run up such an amazingly bad track record as observers of the world in which we live? In every era, black folks said they were the victims of racism and they were right. In every era, whites have said the problem was exaggerated, and we have been wrong.
Read the whole thing.

A Post With No Real Title

**Disclaimer** This is not written to or about any guy in particular. But it is something I have been ruminating about, pretty much since I encountered the catalyst for this post.

A little while ago, my friend John wrote a piece on his (now defunct, as an act of protest and personal fulfillment best outlined here) Facebook page about how to react when a woman says something to him like, "men suck". It was, in short, a plea for men to not get their backs up about such a statement, to not feel personally affronted, and to not think that meant action was required. What I think was missing from an otherwise excellent and succinct piece is the meaning of a woman you're close to offering that (and, hopefully, the reasons behind it), to you. It means she sees you as a confidante, as an ally, as someone who is not going to take the experience that generated that response - her experience - and make it about you. It means you are included on a list - sometimes, a very short list - of Safe Spaces, and Safe People.

I'm not personally a fan of "men suck" exaltations, partially because I find, most often, that people in general suck, and also partially because I like to think better of men as a whole than to lump them all in with the assholes who on more than one occasion have made my gas-getting a hellish experience. That's one of the reasons why I'm a feminist. Because I believe men can be better, and should be expected to be better. Just like women. Here, in this space, I feel that it is unproductive to the max, because this is a place where at its best (and oftentimes, it is not at its best), I try to figure out why the things that irritate me about the world we live in are the way they are. And, in short, it isn't because men suck. A lot of men sucking is just one symptom of a larger kyriachical system, and it is that system that needs examining and dismantling on a large scale.

But what I am a fan of are safe spaces. I'm a fan of allowing members of a marginalized group to release the tension and anger and fear they hold toward a group with more systemic privilege (and whose members wield that privilege), in a non-violent, fairly benign fashion. Sometimes, that's saying something along the lines of "members of ______ group suck. A lot". And sometimes, as a woman, it really does feel like men really do suck. I don't mean, "Those guys don't want to date me. All men suck". I mean, "This is the third guy in as many hours who has conversed with my breasts instead of with me. Men suck." I don't mean, "That guy over there didn't hold the door open for me. Men suck". I mean, "I can't hold the reasonable expectation I will not be forcibly groped if I go see my friend's boyfriend's band. Men suck". The difference between those two thoughts are huge. The former in both cases is myopic and petty, and if that is why the girl in front of you is saying "men suck", then she, indeed, is a jerk. Just like a guy would be if he said "Women don't want to date me. They suck". But if it is the latter, if she has chosen to share with you how men suck when you are indeed of the male persuasion, then it means something about you. It means, she believes you are someone who will be sympathetic. You're going to be someone who isn't going to take this moment and say, "Not all men suck. I don't suck". Because, hey, this moment isn't about you. This conversation isn't about you. This conversation isn't about how, in order to not hurt your, Guy She's Talking To's, feelings, she needs to frame it as "The People (Because It Isn't Only Guys) Who Behave This Way Because of the Kyriachy Suck". It's just about her.

And if she's a friend, then sometimes the thing you as a guy have to realize is, what she needs is someone on her team. Someone who will understand that sometimes unwillingly being part of a dominant group of people is a no-win situation, because being enlightened means you (hopefully) are not a random bar groper; but at the same time, you don't have a sticker that says, "HI! I'm An Enlightened Non-Groper!" That is a problem for you, the man of the enlightened non-groper sect, because you automatically get grouped in with those who do grope. That's truly a serious problem. It means that you may not be able to approach a woman in a bar, on the street, after a class, at the library, in an elevator, or a bookstore. It can make it extremely difficult to foster interpersonal interaction with the opposite sex. Because, well, speaking from experience, women may be suspicious of you. Because you are a man. That? Is not fun, and also not fair. And it is logical and completely reasonable for you, as a genuinely nice guy who is a non-groper, to get a wee bit pissed and hate that women may lump you in with those other guys who do those things. It may lead to being pissed that your friend is saying, "Men suck, because they do things that lead me to feeling small, insignificant, and afraid" - because you aren't one of those guys who does that. But, as long as the "men suck" stems from something of significance, generally the "men suck" isn't so much a personal philosophy (unless they're of the Mary Daly persuasion) than a moment of utter personal frustration. A moment of personal frustration she thinks you can handle, because you are her Safe Space. And that ends up sucking doubly for you, because instead of getting a cookie for being an Enlightened Man, what you get sometimes is access to the fear and anger and hurt that the women closest to you may hold, from time to time, toward men, because of the debasing things some men do and say to them. That can become your cross to bear, and it isn't a fun or stylish cross at all.

Now, my view on what "men suck" means comes primarily when it exits a woman's mouth who has an interest in gender and gender construction, or is uttered in response to a sexist act.

There's another side, a side John didn't touch.

And that is the side of women who are either jerks, or who demonstrate a want for men to behave in the traditional masculine way, and who then claim that men suck when they do, actually, act in that traditional masculine way. That? Isn't what I'm talking about here. That "men are stupid because they can't make dinner, so I'll go home and make dinner" bit needs to be challenged, anywhere and any way it can be. Same thing with the jerky, "Those guys won't date me, so all guys suck", and it should be challenged in the same way a guy saying that same thing about women should be challenged. Because the first is a reinforcement of male inadequacy as dictated by gender norms, and the second is a personal myopic moment that has no baring on whether the greater gender in question does suck. Or even if the people who rebuffed the asker-outer suck, because they may not.

Those women are complications in an already complicated matter, because gender inequality is that strange conundrum where men and women are certain to interact. Men have mothers. Straight men have (or want) women as significant others. Women have fathers, and straight women have (or want) men as significant others. Since boys and girls are oftentimes socialized together, due to the phenomenon of schooling and also of the possibility a sister may have a brother, the dynamics are incredibly interwoven. And that's part of why men hear how much their fellow men suck. Because unlike some other groups - where whites can limit their interaction with people of other races (and thus not hear, unless they go poking around, how much they suck), and straights can oftentimes limit their interactions with people who are out and proud (and thus, again, not hear how much they suck unless they make an effort) - men and women are fairly bound together.

Because of that, in the end, I think the guy on the receiving end of "men suck" have the ability to suss out the situation at hand, to see if it is of the "a guy did something untoward, and now I'm hurting" persuasion, or if it is of the "this guy I'm dating can't do his own laundry, and instead of taking him to the washer and teaching him, I'm doing it for him and complaining about how much men suck because they can't do simple household tasks". And from there, decide if this is really the correct moment to go, "But I don't do that" or to be the Safe Space. The choice is, ultimately, yours. As it is for all of us who carry some bags of privilege around.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Favorite Photo I've Taken

So, I went out the the Southwest. You know how you can tell where you belong? By going other places, seeing them, and experiencing them. I belong pretty much where I am, in New England, or at least in the Northeast.

Reason? The Pacific Ocean smells wrong. When I got out of my car on the monday morning after my return, I could smell the ocean. It smelled like home.

Also, the West is beautiful. Vibrant, even. And going out to California, it reminded me of Joni Mitchell's song California, how she sings that she doesn't want to stay where she is, "It's too old and cold and settled in its ways here". But I like the oldness and the coldness.

It was like sensory overload, with the sky seemingly so expansive and the mountains being so tall against the sky, and I wanted to go back where the sky seems sometimes close enough to touch and the mountains are smaller, and full of a lively green.

At the same time, though, moments like my friend frantically pulling over on a major roadway to get pictures of the setting sun illuminating the Joshua Trees on the ridge kind of made it all worth it.