Monday, March 26, 2012

A Few Thoughts On Trayvon Martin

When I first saw Trayvon Martin's picture, all I saw was my cousin. I have a cousin who, at 14, at 15, at 16, until he grew his hair out into dreadlocks, looks so much like Trayvon in my memory it is a physical pain. My cousin, who is no longer a teenager. My cousin, who is handsome, and kind, and smart. My cousin, who is a father. My cousin, who is fighting in a war I don't believe in, for reasons both altruistically patriotic and personally pragmatic. My cousin, who has yet to reach his 25th birthday.

Before he joined the army, I didnt think about his chances of survival. Why would I? I'm white. And he is my baby cousin. He was my summer companion for years. And I knew he was sweet and responsible. I knew he cared for our grandparents, knew that he mowed their lawn and did woodwork with my grandfather. I knew he took care of his little brother and sister. I knew that he was the type of kid any parent would be thrilled to have.
And I didn't have to think that his skin was something that someone who didn't know him would find suspicious. Because I'm white.

The thing that hurts about Trayvon Martin in a true and visceral level is that when I first saw his smiling face, he was my cousin. He was someone I love dearly.

That's not to say I wouldn't have been outraged about the very nature of the injustice perpetrated against Trayvon if I didn't have a cousin of mixed race, if I didn't have three of them. But it does mean that the equation changed from a general feeling of anger at how institutional racism makes a kid walking home in the rain suspicious to one man and inconsequential to an entire police force to a specific understanding that this could have been someone I love.
When I think of Trayvon Martin, when I think of the fact that he was a John Doe for a day before he was given a name, when I think of the fact that he was so close to home, when I think of his family, I think how easily it could have been my cousin not coming home and not knowing where he is. I can imagine myself being mad at him, believing he was fine until it was proved that he wasn't. I have the luxury of not immediately leaping to the worst of conclusions because I'm not black. I am only related to blackness and all that entails. Trayvon Martin hurts because he looks like my handsome cousin did - and still does. Trayvon Martin hurts because I see the man my cousin is, I see the man he has the potential to become - and I see a boy who was denied that opportunity. But I can't truly understand how incredibly limiting being that black boy is because I'm a white girl. It was never really in doubt whether or not I'd live to see my 25th birthday. And it was never in doubt that people would look at me and not see someone who is by her very nature suspicious. But it is a reality for millions of young men who could be my cousin. It is the world my cousin lives in.

I don't know how to fix that. I don't know how to make the George Zimmermans of the world recognize the humanity, and more importantly the individuality, of my cousin and all the men and boys who could be him - all the men and boys who could be Trayvon Martin. All the men and boys who could be Oscar Grant. All the men who could be Barack Obama.

President Obama said that if he had a son, his son would look like Trayvon. It's strange to think of a president who had to worry about having a son, who had to consider what having a black son would have meant. It's strange to think of any parent having to do that. To have the joy of having a child mitigated by the fact that the world would be an actively hostile place for that child. To have people both hold the worst expectations of your child and simultaneously question why your child wasn't succeeding - to have people attribute his successes to affirmative action and his failures to bad character while protesting they and the systems were not racist. To have a child in a world where he could be shot on the street for walking while black and then have the police accept the perpetrator's assertion that he was the threatened one.

And these are all things I knew, intellectually, before Trayvon Martin was shot. These were things my parents took care to tell me. These were things I understood when I read an interview with J. August Richards, who played Gunn on Angel the Series, when he talked about how he was followed around a store after getting the role and assumed it was because the guy thought he was shoplifting but was instead because he wanted an autograph. Think about that. It's horrific. Your normal life is being suspected of shoplifting, and not because you're doing anything - just because you are. Just because of the skin you exist in.

Because of the skin he was in, Trayvon Martin was seen as someone who didn't belong in George Zimmerman's neighborhood. Because of the skin he is in, Barack Obama's legitimacy is questioned. Because of the skin he is in, my cousin is at risk.

That is beyond horrifying. It is sickening. It is a sickness that has infected us all. And I don't know what the anecdote is. But those of us who aren't inherently seen as suspicious have to work tirelessly to remove that presumption from those of us who are. Because Trayvon Martin isn't the first Trayvon Martin. But we need to do everything in our power to make him the last.

Friday, April 8, 2011

On Yes Means Yes

Feminists who postulate that boys must obtain a spelled-out "yes" before having sex are trying to establish rules, cut in stone, that will apply to any and every encounter and that every responsible person must obey. The new rule resembles the old good girl/bad girl rule not only because of its implicit suggestion that girls have to be protected but also because of its absolute nature, its iron-fisted denial of complexity and ambiguity. I bristle at such a rule and so do a lot of other people. - Mary Gaitskill, "On Not being a Victim"

A friend of mine sent me an article she said had made her think of me, and then casually mentioned it might be worthy of a blog post. It is, in many respects; but this is the one she's getting at the moment. I'm not sure if it's the one she expected. As some people know, I have a history of misinterpreting fairly clear-cut texts. I missed much of the conventional thought about Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and libertarianism, taking out of it a doctrine of selfishness that I feel has served me and my liberal-pinko leanings well. I missed the environmental lesson of the film Ferngully, seeing it instead as a feminist screed about men not being trustworthy. I was 15 and 5, respectively, when I came to these conclusions. So I can see how I could possibly be off-base regarding the feminist thought known, now, as Yes Means Yes. But I don't think I am.

I'm not aware of which feminists, exactly, the author was pointing to in 1994 who wanted boys to obtain a spelled out yes before engaging in sexual acts with women. I was 8 in 1994, so I think I have some excuse as to this particular hole in my knowledge. And it is entirely possible that, like in the anti-porn movement of the decade earlier, the mainstream feminist thought was, well, sex adverse. But this is the same argument that crops up now regarding this particular philosophy of sex, and I think those people making the author's claim now are missing out on a few key details.

Firstly, I don't see Yes Means Yes as a way to make sex and sexual actions more puritanical, or even to adhere to rules carved in absolute. I see this particular campaign as an attempt to change how we think about sex, and about how women relate to sex, and how men relate to women in the pursuit of sex. I'm of the mind that how we handle sex in America right now to be fairly unhealthy. I'm of the mind that in many instances, we are following the old rule book, where men are supposed to be the actors and women are supposed to passively accept sexual contact, or actively reject it. And when something comes up - like rape - we as a general society are quick to point to a woman's (or girl's) supposed deviation from this norm as a reason for that particular crime (case in point: Cleveland, TX). I see Yes Means Yes as a way of muddying up those rules. As a way of making the advancement of sexual acts more complicated, but the sexual acts themselves more fulfilling. As a way of turning the general thinking about women and sex from passively acquiescing to actively participating and actively seeking. As a way of making sex into a conversation, rather than a silent action. And along with that thought is this one: it is important to change the very structure of how we think about sex. Not just how we think about sex with our significant others, or with our flings, or with our friends with benefits, but in general.

We need to start having frank discussions about sex and sexual pleasure from a young age. We need to start not only telling women and men that both women and men have sexual autonomy, but supplying the language and the thought process for that very autonomy. That means changing the nature of the conversation from speaking up when things have become uncomfortable to having ongoing conversations about sex, sexual wants, sexual needs, and what we expect from our sexual partners. We need to change the conversation from a "I don't want that" to a "I want that, I want to try this, and I never want to touch that thing over there". And getting to the point where you know and can speak about that thing over there that you don't ever even want to try.

One of the more interesting points of Gaitskill makes in this article is talking about how she didn't have the ability to stand up for herself at specific moments, to stop what was happening at specific times. I'm not going to try and explain why Gaitskill herself was unable to do so; she explains it quite well enough on her own. But I will say that I think at least part of the problem is the fact (a) the rules to sex are nebulous (even now), but exacting if a person (a woman person especially) is perceived to have not followed them, and (b) the language of sex is shrouded and couched in euphemistic terms. Yes means Yes, for me, is about changing both of those things. It is about being able to say the word "uterus" on the floor of the Florida House. It is about not having overarching rules regarding what you should or should not do sexually, but about having your own set of rules that you can converse with your partners about.

I've been told that talking frankly about sex takes the, for lack of a better word, sexiness out of the act. That somehow the very act of verbal affirmation deflates sexual desire. I don't doubt that for some people that's true. But I think that's because, in general, we have this idea about what sex is. Sex is supposed to be an action. Sex is supposed to be wild and passionate and taking place in a moment of wild abandonment, and it would suck to put that sort of thing on the backburner to figure out exactly how your partner wishes to go about this, if your partner wishes to go about this at all. For my part, talking about sex in detail, talking about likes and dislikes, taking the time to figure out how to make talking about not-wants and wants, and still getting on with business (or, you know, not) is a sign that a person is ready to have sex. Not wanting to talk about it for fear that talking about sex makes sexy time go bye-bye is, for me, a strange concept. I want to talk about sex with my partner. Talking about sex with my partner generally leads to better sex. Talking about sex with my partner allows those times when the sex isn't so great to be understood better, so we can change things up for next time. Talking about sex with my partner makes sex that much more fulfilling, and more of a journey than simply an act accomplished.

The thing about changing the conversation from a "No means No" to a "Yes means Yes" one is that it has the ability to change the functionality about how we think about sex. If we change the model from a "Paradise by the Dashboard Lights" experience where we want to see how much we can do and how far we can go before our partner shuts us down to one where find out where our partner's boundaries are beforehand, we are less likely to violate those boundaries even accidentally. That's the place I want to get to.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kohlberg, Morality, and Rape

Two girls were raped in and around my home town a couple months back. I'm not going to link to the articles, because although almost no one who doesn't actually know me reads this I'm a little leery of being completely out based on what happened to various people who commented positively on Lena Chen's articles and also what happened to Sady Doyle and to some poeople who tried to defend her. But also because at least one of the victims is underage and easily identified as well. It it what it is, but apparently you can't get your face hit a bunch of times and then smashed into a sidewalk, raped, and then report it without being completely outed at your local high school. And, frankly, that girl (and the other girl I don't personally know of) has to deal with enough crap without her story being linked on various blogs.

So. You're going to have to take my word for it that two girls were raped in and around my home town a couple of months back. You're going to have to take my word for it that the girl I know of was told in the high school after the fact that she deserved to be raped, and you're going to have to take my word for it the accused rapist is being defended with the same old lines about how girls lie, about how he could get any girl he wanted, about how these girls probably wanted a relationship and he said no so now they're getting revenge.

As if beating yourself up and putting yourself in a situation where someone will come up to you and tell you that you deserve to be raped is really worth it.

There's another part of this, too. This isn't the first time sexual violence has hit my town, obviously. It isn't the first time the kids in this age range have had to deal with this sort of thing. Another girl in my town, someone who is close to my sisters and whom I actually actively know, was sexually assaulted by her mom's boyfriend. And when she told her mom, when her mom believed her and pressed charges, people at the school told her she must have liked it.

All of this rattles around in my head, and what comes out is how similar these reactions are to every other rape or sexual assault case. Those two girls above? They were violently assaulted. There is DNA evidence. The girl I know of was in the hospital, had black eyes, had choke marks on her neck, had the blood vessels burst in her eye. And you know what people wrote on the news reports? "What was she doing out there at 11 at night?" "I know him, and he wouldn't do that." "Those girls are ugly, and he could get any girl he wanted so why rape them?" "They're stories are too similar. They probably got together to ruin him." All of these, by the way, are paraphrased, because although any one of these remarks are probably present on any news story dealing with rape anywhere in the nation right now, I really am serious about keeping these particular girls as anonymous as I possibly can.

There were other people who pointed out that rape isn't exactly about sex, not always, but oftentimes about power. There were people who pointed out that these girls were minors, that the guy in question is not, that girls generally don't give themselves black eyes and get semen in them just as a way to secure a false rape conviction.

But the reactions from the deniers are exactly the same, if less prevalent, as the deniers in, say, the Julian Assange case. There is this same thread of "women lie, repeatedly", "women conspire with one another to screw over men", "women aren't to be trusted", "women are raped, but these women clearly weren't", "men may rape, but these men, men that we like, do not and have not". "Don't ruin this man's life just because these women said that this thing happened against their will".

Where did we get the idea that all women lie about rape? Where did we get the idea that innocent until proven guilty meant that it was okay to shame the victim, to call them sluts, to call them liars, to question their moral integrity?

I think it stems from two seemingly polar opposite places: (1) the idea that women are the moral arbiters of sexual action, and (2) that women are less than men, both as moral actors and as people. These two ideas come together in really weird ways.

There's the idea that a man's sexual attraction and sexual action is somehow based on a woman's presentation: her looks, her attire, her attitude. This is the "How could she not want it? Look at what she wears/how she looks/what she was doing with that lollipop!" defense. In line with this point is the idea that women should act in accordance with what will bring men the least amount of sexual attraction. These would be arguments for women wearing more clothing, being more modest, throwing away their sexy underwear and their mini skirts. The realm of sexual morality is, in this philosophical vein, the woman's purview, even if what women are and are not allowed to pursue, in the interests of not arousing men's attractions, are not wholly their own decision.

And that's where number (2) really comes in. Women are in charge of preventing men's sexual interests, but they aren't really in charge of deciding what is or isn't responsible for exciting that interest. That is the job for others.

Number (2) is also, I think, influenced by what we see as objective decisions regarding morality. I remember, freshman year of college I took a class in sociology - because my experience with a psychology class was so bad in high school. In that sociology class, I learned about Kohlberg's theory of the stages of moral development. In Kohlberg's five stages, women consistently only reached level 3, whereas men generally would reach levels 4 or 5, the more theoretical moral levels. Men, under Kohlberg's stages, are more advanced moral actors than women. And although Kohlberg's theories have been critiqued by the likes of Carol Gilligan and others, I do believe that there is this odd bit of thought that runs throughout our culture about women: how the ideal is that they are better moral actors than men because they, as an ideal, are self-sacrificing and the "fairer" sex; but in practice we see women as less reliable narrators of their own experiences, as less moral, as more likely to manipulate interpersonal situations for their own personal gain.

Add that with a propensity to grant more weight to men's opinions, thoughts, and ideas, and there is a volatile mix that leaves women being seen as untrustworthy. As liars. As manipulators trying to pull one over on the rest of society. By hurting a really nice guy. A guy who could go on to do great things. Or who has people who love him. As if those girls are automatically not nice, could not go on to do great things, and don't have people who love them.

As an ending, I can't think of a better one than this post by Sady Doyle, whom I typically quote from too much, on rape and rape accusations.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

News Flash: I Don't Care What You Think About My Fashion

So, you know those articles on Yahoo!, the ones that are forever promising to tell you how to get a date, how to keep your guy happy, the things your guy isn't telling you, is your relationship on the rocks, etc., etc., ad nauseum? Well, yeah, I read those. Like they're going out of style. Which, actually, would be a good thing, because then there would be less of them to read and my life would probably be a little better. I'm not saying it would vastly improve the quality of my life, but I'm sure there's something else I could do with those five minutes.

These articles always rub me the wrong way, even if they don't piss me off. Before we lived together, I'd call The Boy and quiz him about the validity of any number of points the articles made. Looking back, I asked many leading questions so he knew to support my outrage, but still. Now that we live together, I'd actually have to wake him up to do that. Which means I'll blog about it on my poor, neglected corner of the web. The latest one is titled, "What the guys think of your fashion"; and appropriately enough for the title, there are four guys who offer pithy critiques to certain articles of clothing (and, in one case, accessories). Funnily enough, I tend to agree with the boys on which items are horrible and which can stay. Except on the giant sunglasses point. Because I love (and wish I looked good in) those giant sunglasses.

So what's the problem?

Well, my main problem stems from the idea that men are the ultimate authority on women's fashion. This is directly tied to the line of thought that goes something like, "You wouldn't dress like that if you didn't want me to hit on you". (A) That's not why I'm dressing like this. (B) Even if I wanted guys to hit on me, I still have the right to reject you specifically. My mini skirt? Doesn't give you carte blanche access to my person.

So! Men as the ultimate authority on women's fashion. It rubs me the wrong way! Partially because of the point above, but also partially because this article stems from the premise that if these four guys don't like, say, Ugg boots, then you as a woman who do like Ugg boots should automatically trash them. Because these four guys - whom you in all reality probably don't know - say so. Because if these four guys hate your Ugg boots, that means every guy will hate your Ugg boots, and what's more, not date you because you wear your Uggs, potentially with skirts. SO! You like your (insert fashion item here). X, guy down at the end of the bar, does not. If he were to say, "Hey, honey, I'd give you the time of day if only you weren't wearing (fashion item), but that makes you look like a slag and not worth it", would you get rid of (fashion item) in an effort to please X? I hope not. I would think that kind of baseless attack on something you like, along with an arrogant notion of him hitting on you is somehow paramount to your emotional well-being, would be met with a drink over the head. Or into the face. I'm not picky.

Listen, I hate Ugg boots too! And shirts that have writing on them that have witty sayings about how hot the girl wearing said tee shirt is! And sweats that have words on them! You know what I do? I don't buy any of those items. I have friends who like that stuff. I have friends who wear that stuff. And I manage to not go into rants about the sociological and gender problems inherent with things like tee shirts that talk about boyfriend stealing when I am around them. Mostly. But I respect the fact that my friends have their likes, their dislikes, and their ehs when it comes to what they will put in their closet. And if Ugg boots make them happy, then Ugg boots make them happy. And I'm not going to judge that. Because if Ugg boots fulfill a little slice of making them feel good about themselves and their day, then that is enough. And if a guy won't hit on them directly because of the Ugg boots, (a) unless he lets her know, we'll never know, and (catch-22!!) (b) if he does let her know that's why he's not hitting on her, he'll be that asshole X from earlier in this post and not worth her time anyway.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Here's The Thing:

I should be in bed. I should be sleeping. I just recently had my wisdom teeth out (like, on friday), and anyone who follows me on twitter or even just popped in over the last 2 days knows that I look like a deranged chipmunk and that I've been a little pathetic regarding the whole thing.

Plus, I get to go sign a lease for an apartment in the morning, all the while looking like a deranged chipmunk.

So, I really should be sleeping, both because signing a lease will require me to be somewhat awake and because nothing else seems to be helping the chipmunk effect I'm presently suffering from.

And yet what I keep getting drawn back to, again and again, is Sady Doyle and her #MooreandMe crusade on twitter. If you haven't checked it out, I highly recommend doing so. It is probably the only thing aside from the current condition of my face I'm tweeting about with any regularity.

The latest post by Sady is perhaps the one that truly demonstrates how Michael Moore's comments are merely the ones that broke the camel's back. But she does it beautifully when she writes:
We’re not backing down. We’re not disappearing. Because they scared and bullied and threatened and shamed and lied to and lied about and disappeared all of those women, all of those women who were scared enough to go away or too scared to report in the first place, they all went away, and somebody has to not go away. We have to not go away.
Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann are progressive men. But they are flawed progressive men and their flaw, in this case, is minimizing rape because the man accused of rape is someone they admire.

I am a Countdown viewer, and I gasped at loud in my car when I heard Michael Moore perpetuate the lie that Julian Assange is in custody merely because of a broken condom during consensual sex. I felt like I was kicked in the stomach when Keith Olbermann did nothing to correct that blatant misrepresentation of the facts.

But, and here's why I'm not sleeping, I have come to accept and expect that sort of feeling when I watch liberals and leftists and people with whom I am in agreement almost 99 percent of the time. I have come to accept that Michael Moore is going to call on the president to take off his tutu and fight, as if tutus represent all that is weak because tutus are feminine. I have come to accept that men I respect and admire are going to use gendered terms, are going to not quite get it, are going to come to the defense of other men at the expense of women.

This is (was) my nihilistic stance. That to ally myself, even just intellectually, with the progressive community is to acknowledge that, sometimes, women are going to get thrown under the bus. To listen to progressive podcasts like Best of the Left, I'm going to have to hear about how we should make flying an expensive venture again, with stewardesses we can all leer at. To listen to progressive shows like Countdown, I'm going to have to hear Keith Olbermann or a guest say something sexist, demeaning, or outright demoralizing, and know that it will never be corrected.

About two months ago, Hugo Schwyzer wrote "Keep quiet for the cause": on sexual abuse in progressive movements. That post is almost directly related to Sady Doyle's latest piece about standing outside Michael Moore's tower. A student of Schwyzer's was raped by a progressive leader and the response was:
“He’s helping so many”, she was told, “and he hurt you. Isn’t it better to just avoid him? We’ll warn him to shape up, but we can’t go further than that. He’s too valuable.”
He's too valuable. For too long, my nihilism was based in that: liberal voices were so precious to me that they were valued far and above their occasional mishaps. I was starving for intellectual nourishment that made me feel like I was not crazy to feel the ways I was feeling or to think the ways I was thinking. And for a long time, I was able to separate the, "but what about that whole 'feminism' thing?" from it. I was able to convince myself that every stumble, every statement that made me see red, every nonapology apology, was worth the price of admission. Because I had access to 'my people'. And because nobody's perfect.

Well, no one is perfect. But as @FeministSpock wrote,
To err is human. To acknowledge, logical. To apologize, evolved.
Julian Assange is no more Wikileaks than Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann are Progressivism. And because they cannot separate their false idols from that which they admire, I have to.

I stand with Sady Doyle. Not because she is an idol. Not because she is perfect. Because here and now, she is right. Women matter. Rape victims matter. Justice matters. And if Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann or anyone else is looking to be a prominent voice in progressive circles, then they are going to have to acknowledge that. They are going to have to acknowledge women, and the lives of women.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rape and Wikileaks

This morning, I woke up, checked twitter, and had this:
Rape is being used in the #Assange prosecution in the same way that women's freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. Wake up! #wikilieaks
by Naomi Klein staring at me. It galled me so much I sent my first "@" reply to someone marginally famous, and went on with my day. But my mind kept returning time and time again to this idea, the idea that Assange is being railroaded as a way of getting to Wikileaks. And what it came down to is this: I don't care.

Don't get me wrong, I'm more or less okay with Wikileaks as an organization. This last round of leaks left me fairly unimpressed, as it was mostly just gossip; and the leaks before that about the Afghanistan war effort had the potential to place the American troops on the ground in danger and I was definitely angry about that. But at this point, I find the idea behind Wikileaks to be something worth exploring. And Tom Merritt is right when he says, "It is not against the law to publish this information." In that sense, going after Julian Assange more vigorously than any other person accused of the same crime is exactly what Naomi Klein is saying: Assange has attracted more attention for this particular, often overlooked, crime because of who he is and because of what website he runs. But Klein is completely incorrect in asserting that we should wake up to this reality, and that because Assange is being pursued in such a manner we should defend him and decry the pursuit itself. Instead, the question we should be asking isn't why is this particular case getting so much attention, but why aren't all of the other cases out there getting taken as seriously?

This is an issue completely separate from a defense of Wikileaks. We can discuss whether or not the application of these charges were politically motivated. We can discuss if this is a tactic being used to attack Wikileaks. We can discuss how unbalanced the application of this law may be. What we cannot do, what we should not do, is defend Assange based on the unbalanced application of the law because he may be doing something we find admirable in other quarters. Whatever you think of Wikileaks as an organization, I think we can all agree that if its spokesman and editor-in-chief has charges brought up against him, he should stand trial.

This, right here, is what makes rape an insidious crime. Those we admire, those we respect, we tend to minimize, deflect, or outright deny such a charge against them. What we as a society have got to come to realize is that a rapist can do good in other areas and still have raped someone. A rapist can be someone who does works we admire. A rapist can be someone whom we have previously respected, and whose political and ideological beliefs mirror our own. Which is why an organization or political thought should stand alone, divorced from its most vociferous defenders and/or creators. Wikileaks needs to stand or fall on its own merits, and we need to defend or decry Wikileaks on its own merits (or lack thereof). What we cannot do is excuse Julian Assange from even having to defend himself against a charge because such a charge may hurt his organization. Which is where Klein is wrong again. Yes, women's freedom was used as a battle cry in Afghanistan. Yes, it was the wrong cry, not in the least because we have done a piss poor job of securing the safety and freedom of women since entering Afghanistan. But Julian Assange may have actually committed rape. And there are laws against rape. And he can and should be charged with the crime. This isn't some nebulous "protect teh women" battle cry.

I don't know if Julian Assange is or is not a rapist. I know he is being held in connection to a crime. I know that the support he is receiving from Klein is, to be frank, beneath her. As Jessica Valenti highlighted, one of the charges facing Assange is not merely that he had sex with a woman without the condom she required but that he engaged in sexual intercourse with a sleeping woman. That last one? That's describing rape, pure and simple. It's rape, because a sleeping woman does not have the ability to consent to sex. These two women deserve their day in court. If their accusations are true, they deserve every measure of justice that can be awarded to them.

It is a shame that Wikileaks can be undermined because its editor-in-chief and spokesperson is alleged to have committed an act of sexual assault. But it isn't our shame. It is Assange's own, and it is a bed of his making. Our shame comes from the fact that we do not take every allegation of rape seriously. Our shame comes from the fact that we leave rape kits untested, that we victim-blame, that we use horrifying and damaging excuses like "women don't do that" or "boys will be boys" or "what were you doing there, anyway". Our shame comes from the strange idea that to assent to one sexual act is to assent to all sexual acts, that anything less than "no" is "yes", that enthusiastic consent is too hard a criteria to meet, that enthusiastic consent is not sexy because it makes sex into a negotiation. Sex is a negotiation. Sex is about communication. Sex is about boundaries, about which ones can be crossed by whom and when. Sex is about recognizing that if your partner wants sex with a condom, you'd better damn well put on a condom. Sex is about recognizing that if you don't have an already established understanding that starting while your partner is sleeping is both okay and relished, you can't do that. Sex is about stopping when your partner asks you to stop, tells you to stop, for whatever reason zie does so.

Our shame is that people feel comfortable defending Assange because that we are taking this particular sexual assault seriously deviates from the norm.

Further reading:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Road to Anarchy

Years in the future, when I'm asked when I became an anarchist, I'll be able to point to this paragraph in an incredibly powerful and moving piece by Laurie Penny titled Inside the Whitehall Kettle:
They want to make you uncomfortable, and then desperate, putting your route back to warmth and safety in the gift of the agents of the state. They decide when you can get back to civilisation. They decide when the old people can get warm, when the diabetics can get their insulin, when the kid having a panic attack can go home to her mum. It's a way of making you feel small and scared and helpless, a way for the state's agents to make you feel that you are nothing without them, making you forget that a state is supposed to survive by mandate of the people, and not the other way around.
I'm being more than a bit hyperbolic. I'm not an anarchist, and I doubt very much that I'll ever actually be one. At the moment, I'm more afraid of the callousness of the average citizen than I am of the malicious strength of my government (or the governments of our Western European allies); and I don't see that changing any time soon - though I do recognize that a lot of that has to do with my own personal level of privilege. However, I have an ambivalence that is swiftly heading toward distrust when it comes to police and police action, especially large scale police action at the behest of the state. Any state.

There is something terrifying and immobilizing about recognizing how little recourse we as people have against our governments - even those that claim to be representatives of "the people", that large nebulous group that is always being trotted out with rhetorical flourish to assail or support a political point or a politician's plans and ambitions.

What enrages me the most about this particular incident is who this form of oppression happened to. These weren't seasoned and hardened political warriors. These weren't "professional" protesters. These were children - teenagers the age of or younger than my sisters. This is a group with little political capital, because they have yet to be able to vote. This is the group whose political activism we as a global community should nurture and encourage and recognize as being key to our good future.

What the British police did to these teens, who took the chance to try to make their voices heard and their presence felt, is despicable. The message they imparted was loud and clear - Sit down, shut up, and take whatever lumps we as a government decide to give you. Do not organize. Do not become politically active.

This is how states create apathy. This is how states destroy idealism. This is how states betray their citizens.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Notes From a Rally to Restore Sanity

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I went down to Washington D.C. to be a part of Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. We left early in the morning, got delayed due to traffic, arrived after the rally had started, and then proceeded to mill around the outer edges, searching for things like a spot where we could hear the PA system clearly, he could see the jumbo screen, and also some port-a-potties. Only one of those goals was a clear victory, and I'll leave that a mystery. We ended the day at a TGI Fridays with perhaps the best food of all the TGI Fridays in the world. Or I could have just been really hungry. The world may never know.

We also left pretty happy with our rally experience.

And then I came home, and listened to Best of the Left, a podcast consisting of the best clips from left-leaning media shows. And the host of BotL and the hosts of Citizen Radio took a bit of an opposing view to the the rally, and what it was supposed to engender among its participants. They came away from what Jon Stewart had said and from the written mission statement feeling as though the rally was anti-activist. I, well, did not have that reaction.

Let me start out by saying that the messages I get from media? Sometimes are not the messages media is trying to give me. FernGully is a prime example of this. The movie's message is ostensibly about conservation efforts and protecting nature. What I took away from the film at age 6ish was: never trust a man. And I tell you, I stand by that reading of the film because every guy except Batty was a jerk to Crysta and a liar besides. But that answer did surprise my mother, who was really anticipating that first, clearer, idea.

So, I'm going to break this down into three sections: what I thought the rally was about before I got there; the impressions I had of the rally while it was happening; and what I took from it later when I watched Jon Stewart's closing remarks on the computer machine.

When I first heard about Stewart's rally, I wanted to go for the simple fact that I wanted to combat the numbers that other television show host got for his rally. This rally could have been about how good cheese is, and I would have been there. However, what it was about seemed pretty cool on its face.

What it seemed to be about was two ideas: (1) anti-sound bite. Signs loaded onto the Rally to Restore Sanity site supported this first hypothesis, by saying things like, "If you only recite talking points, how can we have a conversation?(#14)" and "Signs are an impractical medium for discourse (#18)". (2) anti-demonization. This one can pretty much be summed up by the supposition that "the only time it is appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person actually is Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles".

I personally don't think either one of those positions is anti-activist. It may take more to make activist work flamboyant. But I don't even think that is true. It may make activist work less media-friendly, but maybe we can work to change the media. So, before the rally? Very little to suggest anti-activist tendencies.

During the rally, I couldn't hear much nor see anything that was happening on the stage. But what I did see were the people around me. And those people were polite, funny, and seemed to be having a good time. The signs they had created supported both of my original hypotheses, except for one that said on one side, "An Open Mind is the Devil's Playground" and on the other, "Fix the Metro System". That sign seemed to be a product of muddled messaging. On the other hand, the sign, "War is the Answer* (*As Long as the Question is Who Sang "Low Rider)" was witty and to the point. Also, what I saw was a whole bunch of groups handing out stickers and fliers for their causes. So, that didn't seem anti-activist.

Afterward, when I watched Stewart's closing address, I was left with those same two thoughts on the day.

It isn't that we shouldn't hold strong values and opinions. It is that those values and opinions ought to be based in fact and reported to others with civility. It isn't that we should compromise those values and opinions. It is that we have to live in a world where actual compromise is necessary to survive. It is that we have hair dressers and family members and friends and coworkers who are going to disagree with us, sometimes vehemently and sometimes on a lot of different topics, and we have to recognize that they are human and probably not evil. We have to recognize that just like we don't want to hurt the country, they probably don't want to either.

One of the things that resonated with me was the idea that this was a rally for people who normally don't go to rallies, because they don't have a hell of a lot of time to devote to any cause let alone a multitude of causes.

I have the time to devote to a cause. But I don't have the opportunity to shape my life so I only talk to people I agree with or so that I live my life fully in line with my ideological beliefs. I work with people I have fundamental political and social disagreements with. And I, for the most part, like them. They push me farther to my ideological extreme, but I can disagree with them and still not think of them as Hitler.

That is what I took away from the rally. That having a principled stance is good, but that as Americans we must recognize that those on the other side are also just people. That they are trying to make the world "better", even though their idea of better is diametrically opposed to our own.

Friday, August 6, 2010

"High Expectations"

I’ve been hearing a lot about high expectations recently. Partially, it’s because I work in an office full of middle-aged women who find it funny that I expect a guy to cook and clean, and that I have a strict rule about not dating anyone who doesn’t. When they throw around phrases like “high expectations”, I get a little jolt of happy because it means my expectations are higher than theirs, and that I hopefully won’t have their marriages. Because their marriages, while working quite well for them, would make me miserable. Because I have high expectations.

I don’t really know if this is truly a feminist issue, the issue of expectations and when they become too high. It doesn’t really matter, though, because it is an issue.

Truthfully, I think the idea of having too high expectations to be pretty laughable. Not saying that there is no one in the world with ridiculously high expectations. Of course there are. And maybe they should be told to dial it back and not expect a guy with an actual white horse to come riding up to take them away. But for the average person, I think “too high expectations” may just translate to “different expectations”. As in, “those are expectations I cannot or will not meet, and therefore they are too high”. But that’s the point of expectations. To figure out who fits with who. Sometimes, the person you’re interested in won’t fit yours, or you won’t fit theirs.

I’m a big believer in coming to a potential relationship with an idea about negotiables and non-negotiables. I’m a big believer in coming to a potential relationship with expectations of behavior, and nonbehavior. I’m also a big believer in this potentially not being the first conversation you have with a person, but an evolving topic that has to be built into a relationship. And I mean any relationship. Important friendships as well as romantic endeavors. You have to know where you stand, and what you’re willing to put up with and what you’re not willing to put up with; and the other person needs to know those details as well. Otherwise, this stuff doesn’t work. And if you go into a relationship and say, “I expect X, Y, & Z”, and your potential person says, “I can do X and Y, but I can’t promise Z; oh and by the way, I need A, B, & C from you”, then you have a working knowledge of what’s going on. And later on, if the potential person becomes an important person who does do X and Y and also J through N but just can’t manage to get down Z, you can reassess how much you’re willing to fight for Z. How much of a nonnegiotable Z actually is.

I’m a big believer in this for a personal reason. I have been dating the same guy off and on (and off and on… and off and on, and… you get the picture) for the better part of 7 years. And in the beginning, I had little in the way of relationship expectations. Sure, I expected someone I could talk to, who would respect my passions (not that he had to be passionate about the same things, but he had to at least not belittle them). But I didn’t have the big picture ‘How I Expect To Be Treated’ stuff down at that time. And I had my ass handed to me in the form of major heartbreak. And over the past 7 years, I’ve gotten pretty down with the whole, “This isn’t working for me, and we need to change something” deal. It isn’t perfect. He isn’t perfect. I’m certainly not perfect. Our relationship has been at best dysfunctional in the past, and it takes a lot of work to lean toward functionality even now.

But what I have learned from the yo-yo effect of my relationship is that high expectations are key to happiness. Having high expectations, and having the self-respect to expect those expectations to be met, is the key to a healthy relationship. Having the self-respect and self-awareness to understand what will make you walk away.

The only time expectations can be too high is if you’re (a) single, (b) looking, and (c) miserable without a significant other. If you meet those three criteria, then maybe you should think about shelving that whole “He has to have voluntarily read Foucault and understood his theories” thing. If what you’re looking for is a boyfriend, and if you’re not happy without one, maybe you can overlook a detail like not knowing a lot about French post-modernist thinkers. However, if only (a) and (b) apply, if you’re happy – or at least content – on your own, you can hold out for a fellow post-modernist for longer. High expectations only become “too high” when you get tired of waiting.

Too often, I think, we have low expectations when it comes to relationships. Too often, having someone say, “Oh, you’ll never find someone who does X, or will commit to Y, or thinks Z” forces people to settle for someone who doesn’t fit their basic criteria of nonnegotiables. Because the worst thing is to be alone. Because the most important thing in the world is apparently to find someone, so you don’t end up dying alone. I can dig that. When I was little, we had a downstairs neighbor who frequently said, “You’ve gotta live with somebody”. It was a very Steven Stills, “Love The One You’re With” philosophy.

I just don’t think that’s automatically true. It may be simply dependent on the fact that I’m a loner. It may be that my family has an odd history of having singletons who live alone and enjoy it. It may be that I would much rather be alone than be in the marriages my coworkers have, and that I’d rather be alone than constantly feel as if my needs didn’t mean much to my friends.

If the most important thing is getting some friends or a girlfriend/boyfriend, high expectations and some semblance of standards are going to get in the way of that. If the most important thing is getting the optimal friends and/or boyfriend/girlfriend for you, then high expectations are the way to go. Because high expectations are what help create lasting, fulfilling relationships. It’s how we find people who go along with our idiosyncrasies, and whose idiosyncrasies we’ll alternately love and tolerate. It’s how we create a community. It’s how we create a place where we can be ourselves with abandon, and how we celebrate others’ true selves as well. It’s how we find people we can discuss crazy details of our shared favorite things. It’s how we get treated as people who matter, whose concerns and opinions and needs matter. That’s what high expectations are: they are the expectation that the other person is going to care enough to care about what makes us us, and to sometimes bend for us – just as we would bend for them. And if you find someone who shares your love of Foucault who is also interested in social justice and is willing to move with you through this thing we call life, all the better.

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.

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.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Long, Rambly, Stream-of-Conscious Thought

I'm not the hugest fan of J.K. Rowling. Don't get me wrong - I've read all of Harry Potter. I've read all of Harry Potter several times. One of the sweetest gifts my sister has ever given me was, using her own money, preordering Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, so I could have it The Day it came out. I got it, and read it all in about 8 or so hours. Straight. And bawled like a little baby.

Which, actually, brings me to what made me not the hugest Rowling fan. She kills so many of her damn characters! Which, yes, ironic, coming from a Whedonite. But Whedon always makes me feel like that character just *poof* died, and there was nothing anyone could ever do about it, seriously, it wasn't even his idea - it totally just happened, just like in life, ya know?Rowling's deaths always seemed a little... forced. And then, I started recognizing some bad gender themes, plus the whole "Dumbledore was always gay!" thing with little going on in the text to truly back that up, going down and I was less of a fan.

That being said, maybe I am a huge fan of Rowling as a person. Maybe I'm just not the hugest fan of her authorship of children's books. Which, you know, is always possible. Why? Because I am in love with this piece written by her, especially this part:
I had become a single mother when my first marriage split up in 1993. In one devastating stroke, I became a hate figure to a certain section of the press, and a bogeyman to the Tory Government. Peter Lilley, then Secretary of State at the DSS, had recently entertained the Conservative Party conference with a spoof Gilbert and Sullivan number, in which he decried “young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing list”. The Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood, castigated single-parent families from St Mellons, Cardiff, as “one of the biggest social problems of our day”. (John Redwood has since divorced the mother of his children.) Women like me (for it is a curious fact that lone male parents are generally portrayed as heroes, whereas women left holding the baby are vilified) were, according to popular myth, a prime cause of social breakdown, and in it for all we could get: free money, state-funded accommodation, an easy life.

An easy life. Between 1993 and 1997 I did the job of two parents, qualified and then worked as a secondary school teacher, wrote one and a half novels and did the planning for a further five. For a while, I was clinically depressed. To be told, over and over again, that I was feckless, lazy — even immoral — did not help.
It isn't that I think everyone on any country's welfare is automatically someone who could become Rowling, or that we should have a welfare state because Rowlings are possible from it - that if only we support the poor, they could become multibillionaires themselves. Instead, it is about worth. It is about what we think we owe the most vulnerable in our societies. It is a "there but for the grace of the mysteries of capitalism go I" thing, too, but it is also something else.

The poor are easily knocked down. I don't mean, you can easily knock a randomly specific poor person down. I mean that, good economy or bad economy, the poor are easy targets of anger and derision. Because, well, it is the easiest way to separate the poor from us. If the poor are poor because they are lazy, they are not like us. If the poor are poor because they are shiftless, they are not like us. If the poor are poor because they choose to be uneducated, they are not like us.

Here in America, there's an awful lot of race baggage that gets mixed in with the class and - yes - gender baggage. There's the "welfare queen" stereotype, for one, and that is one that still holds strong today. As in, a woman where I work, just today, told me that there were women out there who were popping out kids in order to get state assistance and were "working the system instead of just working". My response? There have got to be easier ways to game the system. And, the women my co-worker was describing are almost assuredly minorities, because she did the "Those (Name of City) people" thing that the less uncouth people in my office do when they are saying something with racist undertones that they don't want to just say with racist tone-tones. Which I, on one hand, appreciate because, hey, it means that these people understand that saying "all (blank) people are like X" is unacceptable. But on the other hand, it makes it harder to say, "whatever do you mean, 'those (Name of City) people?" Because the only answer to that seems to be, "You know...."

Sorry, tangent there. Anywho. What I'm saying is this: those on the edges of our society - and that society over there across the pond where Rowling lives and is commenting on - are generally the ones pushed totally off the grid when someone decides we need to tighten our government's financial belt. And it makes short-term political sense. You don't want to do anything that could anger people who actually have money and power, because those people with money and power can come back and make your political career a living hell. Because they have money and power. I mean, look at what happens when you decide to not make an expensive, unnecessary, and unwanted military plane! It riles up a whole bunch of powerful people. Including one Chris Dodd! Who should know better!

Which is why J.K. Rowling wrote this piece. Because there are a ton of people on that edge. And she has been there. And they are routinely made to be less important, the dredges of society really; and because of that, cuts to the very social net that keeps them afloat are seen as being perfectly reasonable.

Other parts of the budget - the military budget, for one, or Medicare and Social Security - are more sacrosanct. Not saying they'll never be touched, but one is seen as the way to prove you are a tough politician who would never, ever endanger the country and the others are services used by huge swaths of the country, swaths of the country who have money and power. This is true to the point where Republicans (Republicans!) were defending Medicare last summer in an effort to derail health reform.

And what does that mean? Well, it means that I think we need to stand up by our poor. I think it means we need more people like J.K. Rowling - people who those regular folks respect and like and admire - to stand up and talk about what it is like to be poor. What it is like to need those government programs, and how much it can hurt when they are not there. It means we may have to reevaluate who matters, and who should be taken care of.