Friday, June 29, 2007

Video Games, Manhood, and Murder: The Strange Case of Hans Reiser...

An article about Lynux visionary Hans Reiser, and the disappearance of his former wife, Nina Reiser, appeared in Wired earlier this week. This is the sort of case that gives me a headache- as a man, a feminist, and a video gamer, this case absolutely blows my mind.

Basically, Hans Reiser is accused of having murdered Nina Reiser. There's no body, but they found blood in his car and at his home, and she hasn't been seen for quite some time. The Wired article is... well... sensationalistic. It's more like a movie-of-the-week than particularly investigative, but it is interesting.

Hans Reiser is, as presented in this article, a nightmare. Reading about the way he acts and the things he says and believes is horrifying. The guy is a mess, and it's a little hard to tell, at times, what I'm supposed to be taking away from the author. Am I, as a fellow geek, supposed to feel sorry for this guy? Or am I supposed to be pointing my finger and going "Hey, look, we're not like this guy!"?

I'm not going to weigh in on the whole "did he/didn't he" debate- I don't know the evidence, and, inevitably, if I said either way, someone would come in to complain about it. Regardless of my opinion about his guilt or innocence in the murder case, I think it's absolutely fair to take a look at some of his attitudes, and how completely fucked up and backwards this guy's concept of gender identity is. This guy comes off as a grade-A asshole, and I have to confess that I don't have an ounce of pity for him over the loss of his children, regardless of whether he killed his wife or not.

On page 4 of the article, the author starts talking about the divorce proceedings. One of the complaints that Nina Reiser had about Hans Reiser, was his love of violent video games. In particular, Hans would play games like Battlefield Vietnam with his son, Rory. Rory is four at the time, okay? Four. I've never played Battlefield Vietnam, but a quick search online shows that it's rated T. Also, the article claims (though it wouldn't be the first time an article got video game info wrong) that the game features scenes where:
napalm explosions envelop villages in fire, bodies are hurled through the air, and, when shot, characters collapse to the ground and choke on their own blood, realistic sound effects included.

It's not particularly shocking to discover that Rory has nightmares and spends a lot of time drawing monsters and soldiers, and is, according to Nina Reiser's testimony, showing signs of sensory integration dysfunction.

Now, the record will show that I don't have a problem with violent video games. I play a few of them, myself. I enjoy games like Counterstrike, which features shooting people, blowing them up with grenades, or stabbing them with a knife. It's a pretty damned violent game. It is rather worth noting, however, that I am twenty-eight years old. I've had two and a half decades of life experience over Rory with which to develop the mental and emotional tools to understand the difference between what I'm seeing on the computer and reality. I can seperate myself from the fiction I'm seeing on the screen in ways that a four year old child can't.

Now, of course, every kid is different, right? Maybe Hans is just naive, and thinks his son can handle it and understands what he's seeing? Maybe he's just being stupidly myopic, and doesn't understand the trouble his son is having with the games? Which is not to say that these situations wouldn't still be bad, but... well... it's a lot worse than that.

See, Hans Reiser is completely aware that his son traumatized by the games. In fact, he states "Becoming a man normally is psychologically traumatic for boys" but that the experience "allows him to achieve results in defending family and country." It turns out that Hans Reiser- geek that he is- is still no less invested in the trappings of traditional masculinity than any other macho jerk.

Hans Reiser's belief is that boys have an "instinct" for "combat rehearsal activities" and that games are a way of honing survival skills. This kind of attitude is dangerous to the extreme. He's subjecting his son, intentionally, to images of death and violence that are giving his child nightmares. He knows that this is the outcome, and he's doing it on purpose. I'm not sure what the courts call that kind of behavior, but I call it abuse. As both a gamer and feminist, I find his attitude shocking and offensive.

The suggestion here is that it's appropriate to subject a child to violent imagry because it will make him stronger- where "stronger" is clearly intended to mean "less womanly." He is obsessed with teaching his son- his four year old son- the "culture of manhood." He's happy to enlighten us with clarification about what that is: an "inherent opposition to wallowing in wimpiness." In other words, his investment in stereotypical male power is pushing him to abuse his son because he thinks it's going to make his son a better Man.

At least, in this case, the courts could see how screwed up this guy was, and gave custody to his wife. The sort of mental and emotional abuse that he admits to inflicting on his children is appalling.

There are other indications and hints... eh... blatant examples of Hans Reiser's screwed up sense of identity and masculinity- from the part where it describes his repeated, regular use of "Russian bride" services to find a woman to marry, to his claim that Sean Sturgeon seduced Nina Reiser to "show that he was a better man," to his outrage over "gender confused alternative sexuality dolls."

Obviously, it's hard to know for sure what's going through this guy's brain- he sounds pretty screwed up to begin with- he sounds more than a little paranoid- but the signs are there.


I'm still fighting back my disgust, hours after reading that article. It's hard to know what to think about the case, but it's easy as hell to know that Hans Reiser is a dangerous man. If he's innocent, I hope his trial shows it. If he's guilty, I hope he rots. Either way, I hope he never gets those children back. I don't know what their situation is like in Russia, but the way he was trying to raise them?


Oh, right... The geek in me wants a say, too.

This is exactly the kind of asshole that gives the rest of us geeks a bad name. It's misanthropic morons like him who do stupid harmful things, who intentionally expose their children to inappropriate game that help legitimize the stigma against geeks. When a case like this starts to get publicity, the fact that he was a computer geek and video gamer are going to be major soundbites. The fact that most of us are quite capable of recognizing "Huh... maybe I shouldn't make my four-year-old child play really violent, disturbing games that are causing him nightmares" won't matter- it'll be "He played Battlefield with his kid! OMG!"

Also: His trial has got to be a bloody nightmare. He's accused of murdering someone when there isn't a body. His former best friend is a druggie into sadomasochism and bondage, and has an affair with the Hans' wife, and later admits to murdering eight, possibly nine people! The grandmother whisks the children off to Russia and refuses to return them to the states.


That's not going to be a circus event.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Intersection of Art and Feminism... and T-Shirts...

I'm playing catch-up today. I've been meaning to drop a couple of links for some time, now, and I keep forgetting.

No more!

I discovered The Feminist Art Project a little while ago, and I've been wanting to drop a link to their site, because I absolutely love their mission:
The Feminist Art Project is a collaborative national initiative celebrating the Feminist Art Movement and the aesthetic, intellectual and political impact of women on the visual arts, art history, and art practice, past and present. The project is a strategic intervention against the ongoing erasure of women from the cultural record. It promotes diverse feminist art events and publications through its website calendar and facilitates networking and regional program development throughout the U.S.

Sadly, none of the events that they've listed on their calendar are near me, but there's some pretty interesting sounding things going on, and it might be worth checking some of them out if they're near you.

The other thing I keep meaning to do, and I've been sadly remiss in following through on, is to give a shout out to Jaclyn Friedman's t-shirt site. I think that the designs themselves are great, and I love the idea: Take the insults and attacks that feminists are accused of, and take away the sting by mocking it on a t-shirt. From the site:

I started Sticks & Stones Clothing after I published an article in which I briefly mentioned having been sexually assaulted, and was accused by commenters and letter-writers of being a lying, man-hating whore just for having had the nerve to speak about it.

That hurt. Until I made a tshirt out of it so I could wear it proudly. Now, you can, too.

Friedman's goal is to "Claim or subvert a current insult used by wingnuts" and make t-shirts that "can't be worn un-politically." Take a look at some of the designs, and if you've got an idea for one, she encourages you to send the idea to sticksandstones at If she uses it, you get a free shirt.

Also, you can check out the logo, which was designed by yours truly.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Truth and Chocolate...

So, there's a push by certain groups to get the FDA to change the standards of what constitutes chocolate. Lindsay Beyerstein, over at Majikthise, covered this back in April, but it's totally worth taking a minute to discuss.

This push is essentially an attempt by certain candy manufacturers to allow them to replace cocoa butter with other, low-cost, alternatives, but still call the resulting product "chocolate." The NYT article discusses a lot about how this would hurt chocolate lovers and the producers of cocoa beans (by lowering the demand for the beans, which are already somewhat pricey). While that's certainly a concern- as a chocolate lover, I'd hate for real chocolate to become more expensive than it already is, and I'd hate for the bean growers to face hardships that might limit my options for buying tasty chocolate treats- I think that there is something more important, if also more academic, going on here that should be given serious attention.

Lindsay mentions why this is important in her comments, but, unfortunately, not in the article itself. Labeling laws are an important tool for consumers. It's hard enough to educate ourselves on products without the law letting manufacturers lie to us. We rely on truth in labeling to help us figure out if we're purchasing what we think we're purchasing. As Lindsay puts it- "If the label says 'coffee' I want actual coffee beans, not chicory." I'm not opposed to chocolate substitutes being sold- but they should be clearly labeled as such. Chocolate is a specific thing, just as coffee, milk, and butter are. If something is made with vegetable oil and not milk, it's not butter, it's margarine. Which is fine- there's a market for margarine, and there's a market for carob or immitation chocolates. The important part is that the package has to make it clear which one you're buying. If I pick up a carton of "milk" I expect it to be milk, not soy milk. If I pick up something marked as "chicken nuggets" it should be made with chicken, not pork.

There are many candies on the market that use "chocolatey coatings" or have labels marking them as "chocolate-tasting." That kind of wording is used because their products do not meet the legal definition of "chocolate." They are chocolate substitutes. This push, though, is an attempt by some manufacturers to legalize intentionally labeling their dishonestly. It is an attempt to redefine what constitutes "chocolate" in such a way as to allow things that are not chocolate to be called such.

Allowing this to happen only benefits dishonest manufacturers.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Frag Doll Responds: Reposted From 79 Soul...

Valkyrie FD, one of the Frag Dolls, took the time to address some of my concerns and questions from my musings about the Frag Dolls. I thought it was interesting, and, honestly, I certainly didn't expect them to respond directly. Still, she raises some interesting points, and I absolutely think her response is worth sharing. So, without further ado:

Actually a great read and I understand your concerns. I can't speak for all the frag dolls, but I know I specifically took this JOB from Ubisoft for not only a career move, but more importantly to do what I think is best for female gaming at the time: to push aside stereotypes about female gaming and bring about more awareness in the hopes that more girl gamers will come over and play. As bad as this sounds, when girl gamers aren't a minority, I will quit shoving my sex in the face of those that continue to make my life a living hell when I am gaming online. While I don't consider myself a feminst in most parts, when it comes to gaming you would probably be shocked to know I very much am.

Now, working for Ubisoft do I agree with everything they do with our brand and our team? Of course not, I am a gamer and as with typical gamers I fight many things about corporate ownership and dictation of my beliefs about gaming and the industry. But working for Ubisoft also allows me to have a voice for things I believe in and we do indeed have an impact to what they do with us and utilize us for.

Now of course I think I am decent looking, but I am also a 31 year old, married, slightly overweight Frag Doll. There are other married Frag Dolls as well, and I wasn't even the oldest frag doll until Katscratch left to follow her gaming career. Is this an excuse for the perception people have against the frag dolls that we are all young, single, hotties? By all means no, I am simply saying if their only motive was to sell sex, the could do a much better job then myself. Did looks count when Ubisoft picked us? Of course I think they factored in, they put us together to help market and promote their products, and it is safe to say that that any company that is going to put a face to their products would want one that is appealing and can present their company well. But it isnt like they went after models, and it most certainly was not the most important factor to say the least. In fact most of the frag dolls are simply cute or normal looking with a couple of exceptions, dont let professional photography or makeup fool you all that much.

Point of fact is if Ubisoft based their picks on looks we would not be able to carry the wins and placements of all the tournaments that we have competed in, period. No way in hell, becuase gaming with, and beating, the male gamers out there takes a natural love, skill and dedication and you can't make people have this on a whim. When they picked us, it was for the package in all things, but most important was true love and skill for the games themselves.

I like to think of it as baby steps to help change this industry and bring attention that hardcore gaming consumers arent only 13yr old males, and unfortunatly the only way the female voice seems to be heard is if we are in a group instead of lets say, a co-ed team (which is hopefully where the future will end). This is why I only play for female teams and the reason I helped found my clan and my heart, the PMS Clan as well. One day there will be no need for all-female teams, but until that day comes consider me a feminist for gaming to the extreme. And this is how I push my feminism-by showing that girls don't need guys to carry a win for them and can do it all on their own, and do it well.

I know this mentality usually riles some guys up, but it breaks my heart when I see female gamers out there think we don't do a good thing for all of us. If you look at the big picture of things, I know in my heart we are doing a GREAT thing for female gamers out there and as long as Ubisoft doesn't go against my morals or better judgement, I will continute to promote THEM to promote US.

Anyway, as I said I did enjoy your article and appreciate your interest and questioning. I hope I was able to clarify somethings but if you have any more questions, indeed let me know.

Murder Most Foul: Pregnant Woman's Killer on the Loose...

Cara, over at the Curvature, has a blurb about Jessie Davis and the link between the murder of women and relationships. That is: that 1 in 3 women who are murdered are killed by current or ex husbands or boyfriends. That's staggering.

She also notes that one of the things that made this case so newsworthy is that she was pregnant and likely to give birth soon when she was murdered. That's probably accurate. Sadly, she isn't alone in that regard, although there's much less news around the case of Jennifer Kathleen Nielsen. Nielsen, 22, who was expected to give birth later this week or next, was murdered outside a gas station while she was delivering papers on her second job. Police don't know yet why she was killed, but have released a sketch of a person of interest wanted for questioning.

Cases like this are important to get the word out about- it's a terrible tragedy whenever someone is murdered, but it seems especially so when there's no explanation, no reason, no information at all about what happened. I can only imagine how hard this must be for her family. Her husband is faced with explaining to their children- both under 5- why their mother can't come home anymore. Her family have to deal with the pain of having a loved one taken from them in a brutal and senseless act. And none of them have any answers about who did this or why.

This particular case also highlights one of the interesting and awful things about the internet- when you make connections to people online, you never know who they are offline, and you never know what kinds of things happen to them. If Nielsen had been a regular commentor on any of the blogs I read, she'd have disappeared, and I'd have never known why. As it turns out, her brother is a long-time member of a web-community that I used to be really active in. I was one of the founding members, and I've known this guy for years. My heart goes out to him, and his family, in this time of loss. I can only imagine the pain and frustration that they're probably feeling right now. I can only hope that justice is served.

The Davis case is still getting a lot of media coverage, and I certainly don't want to give the impression that I'm not absolutely sympathetic to her family and their loss, and to the heinousness of that crime. But, right now, there's an important distinction between Nielsen and Davis. Both cases are terrible tragedies, but Davis' case was solved. Her killer is being arraigned, and the wheels of justice are turning. Nielsen's killer is still out there, somewhere, and the police are looking for clues. Her family are still looking for answers and trying to understand what happened. I know, this is a pretty sad way to start the week, but I'm just totally at a loss here. Things like this are just so absolutely senseless.

There's a fund being set up to help Nielsen's family, in case anyone is interested.
Nielsen Family Fund
First Flight Credit Union
1156 North Main Street
Fuquay-Varina, NC 27526
Attention Kati
(919) 557-5311

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Your Lips Say "No More Rape" But Your Policies Say "Yes!"

This Slate article about a judge's deciding that the word "rape" can't be used during a rape trial is really, to put it mildly, disconcerting. The problem is, according to the article, that allowing the word "rape" (and several other words and phrases) to be used during the trial might taint the impartiality of the jury. After all, rape is a crime, and if you allow the victim... *ahem*... the person upon whom another person engaged in sex without consent to use the word "rape" to describe the condition, you might give the wrong impression. You know, the one that the person saying "He raped me!" might have been raped.

The Slate author sort of touches on a problem I've mentioned before. We treat rape cases very strangely, from my perspective. In most criminal cases, the assumption for most crimes is that a crime has actually happened. Sure, there is the occaisional exception, but in most cases, if someone says "I was robbed when I got off of the subway!" the general public aren't going to assume the victim is a lying jerk. We may question whether the right person is being charged, but we don't routinely paint the victims of most crimes as stupid liars. The defendant is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that doesn't necessarily mean that no crime has occured- just that we can't assume that the defendant is the one that did it.

That seems fair.

Rape, though, is different. In a rape trial, it's not the defendant that's on trial- it's the entire case. It's the woman, and her claims to have been raped. When many rape victims step forward, they are immediately assumed to be liars. It's not just a matter of "Well, she's accusing the wrong person" it's often "she wasn't raped at all." Every aspect of her accusation is subject to the accusation that she's a lying slut who wanted it. The words are different, but the message is the same. Passed out? Maybe she said yes. Raped on a date? She consented, but regretted it later. Raped by strangers in a park? She's ugly, so she wanted it.

It's not that I think that the defense shouldn't be able to raise questions about whether there was actually a rape. Absolutely, they should, just as someone accused of murder can try to shed doubt over whether it was actually murder, or self defense. That being said, the starting position of any particular case shouldn't be "That lying slut just feels guilty after-the-fact," which is an all too common sentiment. The prosecution shouldn't be going into the case trying to convince the jury that the victim isn't a dirty liar who is out for attention.

Removing someone's ability to call an assault what it is just makes it more and more difficult to convince women that they should come forward when they've been attacked. What, exactly, is the incentive? On the one hand, we're told that we want to prosecute and punish rapists. Great! I'm all for that! On the other, cases like this make it seem a lot more like we're interested in punishing women who've been raped. We're asking women to come forward and charge rapists, but then we start off assuming that they're lying, and now we're even taking away their ability to use the words that describe what has happened to them.

We'll prosecute your rapist, and we'll let you talk about what happened... but you can't actually call it rape. You can't mention the rape-kit. You can't call it an assault. In fact, here's the thing... what you can do? You can call it sex or intercourse. We don't want to give the jury the impression that you've been the victim of a crime. After all, it's not like we're here to put someone on trial for committing a crime.

Can we imagine this happening in other trials? As the author points out, it would be ridiculous. We understand that, at a criminal trial the alleged victim is accusing the defendant of a crime. We understand that the person making the accusation is going to talk as though sie has been victimized... otherwise... why would we even be having a trial? If I go to the police and accuse someone of stealing my car, and we go to trial, it's obvious to everyone that I'm saying my car was stolen, and it's up to the jury to decide if it really happened, and if it did really happen, if the person being accused did it. My saying "my car was stolen" or "and he shoved a gun in my face and stole my keys" is important information. It lets the jury know my side of the tale, and allows me to give voice to the crime that was perpetrated against me.

All over the world, it seems like women are getting the same message, though: Rape is not a crime we punish. The state says "No, rape isn't okay. We take rape seriously!" but action after action says differently.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Wednesday Mini Link-a-Thon...

Things are a little busy around here, but a few links that I found interesting today:

-News Flash! Althouse responds scathingly to the bloggers who pointed out how ridiculous and stupid a Freudian analysis that turns onion rings into vaginas was by calling them stupid-heads and poopy-faces.

-In related news: The rest of the blogosphere lets out a collective yawn in the face of her completely unsurprising lack of maturity and her assinine behavior.

-Over at feministe, piny points out that there are still assholes who think you get a gold star for being minimally decent. I know it's hard to believe, people, but you don't get credit for not attacking people while they sleep.

-Belledame discovers what a lot of us from Michigan already knew: Dr. Kevorkian is creepy as hell, and his actions raise a lot of eyebrows. The analysis of his victims is eye-opening.

-Jenny Dreadful takes an anti-pot ad to task. I haven't seen the stupid ad, yet, but I have to admit that it sounds a hell of a lot better than the "If you get high someone will rape you" or "If you get high you'll shoot your best friend in the face" ads from a few years back. Note: Better does not necessarily mean good.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Thoughts on My Guest Blogging

Well, my guest blogging stint at feministe is over, now. It was a pretty interesting week, and I'm having a lot of thoughts and feelings about it, and I thought I might as well throw them down, too.

To say that feministe has a bigger readership than any blog I've been a part of before is sort of like saying that the Enterprise is bigger than a city bus. Sure, it's objectively true, but it's a pretty ridiculous comparison to make in the first place. It's practically comparing apples to oranges. The majority of my blogging has been personal- a livejournal or a myspace page. My readership has consisted entirely of my friends or family, until recently. A really interesting thread on one of my blogs might have, oh, 8 or 10 comments, including my own.

Feministe, on the other hand, is huge. It's run by a team. It's been around a while. It's pointedly political, and it's got a serious readership. I can go days without getting 2 or 3 comments on a post. Feministe posts routinely get ten times that many within hours.

In other words: it's big.

So, getting invited to post there was, to say the least, intimidating. I'm not at all sorry I accepted the offer, but damn-all if I didn't feel a little bit like I was moving from swimming in the kiddie pool to jumping into the middle of the ocean. I was moving from farm-league to big-league, if only for a week.

I learned a few things this week, though, and I figured I'd share.

The first thing I learned is that no matter how uncontroversial you think a post is going to be- it's not. I honestly thought I was starting off light when I posted about "I Hate Children." It was something that bothered me, and that I had talked about with a couple of other people, but I really figured that the basic response would be "Yeah, that is kind of shitty behavior. People shouldn't do that." It didn't help that I was completely unaware of The Mommy Wars. So, what I thought was going to be a pretty harmless post turned into 760+ comment post that really pissed some people off.

And I think that's probably unavoidable.

When you're talking about issues that people have strong feelings about, on a site that gets gods only know how many visitors, and you're taking any kind of stance on something... you're going to piss people off. Even when you don't expect it. Guest blogging on a site that big is, in this regard, a rock and a hard place. I'm coming from relative obscurity to a site with tremendous levels of traffic. I'm only there for a week- I don't have the time to build up a readership and slowly work my way up. I'm expected to come in for a week, write some things that people can be interested in, and then take off.

And on a site with that kind of traffic you're going to annoy someone. You just are. If you post on "safe" topics and don't take a strong stand, you're probably going to be accused of being boring or wishy-washy. People who prefer a more in-your-face blogging style will find that kind of writing really uninteresting. If you decide to tackle something more controversial or you take a strong stance on something, you're going to annoy some of the people who disagree with you.

Which isn't to say that some of the criticism doesn't sting. It does. The worst I've had to deal with on my own sites was a friend disagreeing with me, or some jerk-wad coming on and telling me how to blog. That's annoying, but hardly scathing. It's a little different when you're guestblogging. While I was unprepared for the reaction the first post got, I knew I was dealing with more traffic than my blogs, and I expected to get some criticism for things like my sex-work post. But, when people start getting personal, it does sting a bit. I put a lot of effort into making posts that I thought would be interesting and would encourage some debate and discussion. I opened up a lot with several of those posts- exposing some pretty personal stuff, and so, I'm not gonna lie, when someone says Another week of Roy’s “Hey, guys! Inflammatory, not even close to feminist statement! What do y’all think?!?!” would have lost me as a reader. It’s definitely dropped my esteem of this blog... well... yeah. That stings.

I'm not even completely sure what that comment means- were my posts afeminist or anti-feminist? I don't know. Particularly since I thought that the only post that went poorly was the first one. Even my post about sex-work turned out to be overwhelmingly civil, and several people had mentioned that they were surprised by how interesting and focused that thread ended up being. And, really, those were the only two that I thought were particularly "inflammatory," and I don't think it's particularly fair to call either one inflammatory.

Anyway, there were a number of comments along those lines. There were a few blogs that linked back to my posts with some pretty harsh criticisms, and a few readers who were really unhappy about my being there. I guess I wasn't quite expecting that- I'm not used to it, and it took me by surprise. I think that's probably just something you have to learn to deal with when you're talking to such a large group.

Of course, it wasn't all bad, either. I also wasn't quite expecting the level of positive response my posts got, either. Overall, I think most people were really supportive and engaging with me. There were quite a few people who were absolutely thrilled by my posts and actually thanked me for making them. That was a pretty awesome feeling, I have to admit. One person said she was moved to tears by my post.

That's pretty freakin' awesome.

The biggest things I took away, in regards to my actual posts, were that it's ridiculously hard to come up with solid posts every day, unless you're going to post about the news. I generally don't like posting random bits about the news that come up. I love reading blogs that post quick hits on news articles and such, but I'm not particularly thrilled by making the posts myself. I like to talk. I'm wordy. I would much rather post something about my thoughts on issues and my reactions to things than just post a link to an article that's bugging me. Doing that five days a week plus moderating comments, plus trying to actually do work while I'm at work?

No. Freakin'. Way.

There's no way I could have kept up that kind of pace and still maintained any sanity. It's a lot of work posting on a site like that. I don't know exactly how long it took me to write any one post, but it's not the sort of thing that I can tear off in an hour. I read a lot of other blogs as I was writing those posts, getting a feel for issues. The post about sex-work was something that had been stewing in my brain for some time, and, then, reading Belledame's post kicked it to the front. That post took a long time to write, and was emotionally and mentally draining. It was, in other words, hard work. So, don't expect me to come on here and make massive, brilliant posts five days a week, is what I'm saying.

The other thing that I learned was something that was totally my own fault. When I made my initial guest-post on hating children, I was reading up on some of the different issues that children face in the United States and around the world. While the UNICEF stats didn't have anything specifically to do with my point, I found them really interesting in a heartbreaking sort of way, and I included them in my post. When I'm writing on my own blog, with a few dozen readers or so, it's not a big deal. If someone misunderstands my point, I can clarify it and everyone is happy. On a post like feministe, that's impossible. No matter how many times I pointed out my intention there, people were either unwilling or unable to understand, or, as likely, they simply didn't see my clarification.

Some people took my use of the UNICEF stats as a personal attack. Others weren't sure what I was getting at. Others thought I was trying to say that there's no difference between a US kid and a kid living in a developing nation. I think that the criticism of my use of the stats is fair, and I admit that I should have been more careful in how I worded that post. If I were going to write that post now, I'd be a lot more careful about using stats, and might even forego them completely.

Anyway, it was a hell of a week, and I'm absolutely glad that Jill invited me over there. I hope, if they do another round of guest posting in the future, that they'll consider having me back. In the meantime, thanks again, feministe readers- you'll still find me leaving comments there, and this will be my home for the time being.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Another Post About Children: A Lesbian Couple, Sperm Donation, and Me...

(Cross posted at feministe as part of my guest blogging)

I was reading this article from the Washington Post earlier today, and thinking about the situation that this guy is in. It makes me wonder how common these sorts of situations are. I think that most of us, by now, realize how uncommon the Nuclear Family is. We have families with step-children and half-brothers and extended families that live in the same house and same-sex families and even families like this, where it's a same-sex couple and a "daddy" who isn't in a romantic relationship with either mommy. I think it's great that he's able to have this kind of relationship with his friends' children. His children.

On the other hand, I want to ask him how he feels about the situation in general. He answers the question "do you have children" really well, and I get that he's really proud and happy to be a part of these children's lives, but this is a guy who wanted children of his own, and while it's great that he was able to do this, part of me wants to ask him what it's like on a day-to-day basis. How hard is it to not be able to be there for them? How difficult is it to be in a situation like that, where you're the father, but they're not your children?

But, an even bigger part of me wants to know what it would have been like if he didn't want children of his own. How would he handle his role in the lives of children if he'd never wanted children of his own? How would that feel to see a child that is biologically yours, but that you don't have any fatherly claim to?

Because, as it turns out, I might find out for myself, and I've got questions, and for every question I have, I worry that there are at least six others I'm missing.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

How a Post About Iran Punishing Porn Prompted an Epiphany...

This is my fourth post over at feministe

I wasn't going to write about it.

I really wasn't.

When I wrote about children, I wasn't aware of the can of worms I was opening, but there are some things that I know are Big Messy Issues. Some things that I know people get upset about. I'm not sure that I'm equiped to comment on and deal with some of those issues- to not step in the shit, so to speak. Then, I'm looking over at Belledame222's post about Iran's parliament passing an anti-porn bill that could, if it becomes law, punish producers, directors, cameramen and actors with death. I'm reading that, and I'm reading belledame's post, and I realize... I don't see this anywhere else... Did I miss it?

And then I realize...

I don't even really know where to begin talking about a story like this.

So, my first instinct was to let it sit. To be horrified that people could be put to death over pornography, but leave it at that. After all, I don't want to say the wrong thing or step on more toes or... well... step in the shit. It's a minefield, and maybe I'm not informed enough or delicate enough to traverse this terrain without stepping on a mine. But, I'm thinking...

... if not now, then when?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My first cross post... posted second...

Note: This was my first post on feministe- I forgot to cross-post it here, but I thought I'd fix that mistake now. I had no idea, when I posted this there, that it would explode as big as it did. I actually thought I was coming out of the gate with a pretty harmless sort of post, just to get my feet wet. It's over 500 responses, and growing, now.

Hello everyone!
Roy here, starting my first day guest blogging. I thought I'd start my first guest-blog here by saying thanks to my gracious hosts for inviting me for the week, and by introducing myself to everyone. The bloggers here at feministe were awesome enough to extend me an invitation to guest-blog for the week, and I can't say how excited I am to be here. They set the bar pretty high, but I'm up to the challange challenge (edited 9:05 pm- thanks Bracken), I think.

My first post is actually something that's been rolling around in my mind for about the last month. See, last month, in two seperate posts- one here at feministe and one over at feministing, people indulged in rants about how much they hate children. The complaints ranged from how annoying loud children are in movie theaters, to how children run through stores, to how obnoxious children are when they kick the seat on an airplane. The animosity towards children extended to their parents as well, but the bulk of the real venom was directed towards the children. This anger towards children is hardly reserved to these sites, but I was particularly surprised to see it on sites like these, given how much time we spend here discussing ways to end bigotry and fight things like sexism or homophobia.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What Can We Do About Video Games....

Note: I'm currently guest blogging for the week over at feministe. This was a post I put up earlier today, crossposted here, and at 79Soul.... Enjoy...

As some of you may have noticed in my bio that Jill posted, I'm a self proclaimed geek. One thing that I'm particularly passionate about is video gaming. I've been a huge gamer for almost as long as I can remember. My father purchased one of our first gaming systems, waaay back in the 2600 days. I can still remember the first computer that my folks had- it used a cassette tape as data storage- and the games I used to play on it (basically, a really primitive version of Space Invaders... only, with a single enemy). I still remember the sense of excitement and wonder when my parents brought home the ol' Tandy computer- it had color graphics and a floppy drive. That was a big deal. Twenty plus years, multiple computers, and over ten platforms later, I'm still an avid gamer.

In the over two decades that I've been playing, gaming has changed tremendously- systems are more powerful, the graphics are prettier, the controls are better, and the stories they can tell are more involved and interesting. Lately, I've been particularly interested in the stories. As a feminist, and a philosophy student, I'm particularly interested in the intersection of gaming and morality/ethics. Not in a casual "games are corrupting our society" sort of way- but in the ways that games contribute to and are effected by our society, and the ways that we can explore and learn about complicated moral issues through the use of games.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Guest Blogging My Days Away...

The bloggers at feministe invited me to do some guest blogging this week. I started today with Why I Hate "I Hate Children..."

Feel free to swing by and comment. I'm a little nervous, but all kinds of excited about the chance to drop some guest posts on such a great site.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Framing Abortion: Pro-Life vs. Anti-Choice...

I strongly suspect that this comes as no shock to most of you, but I'm very much pro-choice. I've never made a secret of this. Whenever the subject comes up, I'm more than willing to share my thoughts. One of the things that always annoys me is the blatant inconsistency of the so-called "pro-life" crowd. The logical gap between claiming that abortion is murder, but making exceptions for rape and incest is a source of bother to me.

First, terminology: Each side of the debate, obviously, wants to frame the debate in a way that helps their side. That's totally understandable. One side wants to be called "pro-life." While I take it as obvious why this might be, it can't hurt to examine, anyway. By calling themselves "pro-life" they get to select the focus of the debate. The pro-choice side want to focus on the rights of a woman to control her body. In general, most people don't have a problem with the idea that we should have control of our body, so they call themselves "pro-life" because it shifts the focus from the rights of the woman to the alleged rights of the fetus. It's, in large part, an appeal to emotion- the fetus is incapable of defending itself, and is an "innocent" life. So, they frame themselves as the defenders of these helpless little babies. A new tactic of theirs is to call the other side "anti-life." More on that in a second.

I, on the other hand, think of myself as "pro-choice." Again, it should be obvious why, but I think that certain aspects get missed. Pro-choicers are not pro-choicers just because they think that women should have the option to abort, although that's the hot topic. Pro-choicers think that women should have the ability to make choices about all aspects of their reproductive health. Abortion is one choice, but choices about contraception, adoption, etc are all important as well. If a woman wants to have a child, she should be able to make that choice, and shouldn't be shamed or derided for it. She should have all of the tools necessary to make that choice.

The opposition wants to frame this as "anti-life," though. The implication is that supporting a woman's right to choose abortion must, necessarily mean that you endorse killing babies. This is a ridiculous and offensive position to take. Being pro-choice is about supporting whatever choice the woman thinks is best. This is why pro-choicers are accurately thought of as pro-choice, and not anti-life. I've never met someone who thought that all women should be forced to have abortions, which would be the stance of someone who was pro-abortion or anti-life.

Some pro-choicers (myself included, in many instances) have taken to thinking of the other side as anti-choice, or pro-forced-pregnancy. I think that this is both an appeal to emotion, and a fairly accurate assesment of the opposition's stance. The pro-life side, by and large, seem to care a lot less about the life of the fetus, and a lot more about the choices that the pregnant woman made that got her there. The opposition mostly support policies that force women to give birth, or oppose women's ability to make choices- both the choice to get an abortion, as well as the choice to have sex. They may not think that sex should be illegal, but they certainly condemn and criticize women who have sex out of wedlock. The idea seems to be that women who have and enjoy sex "should have known better" and that being forced to have a child is a consequence that will make them be more responsible in the future.

Their opposition to choice doesn't stop there, though. The anti-choice crowd tend to be the same ones that oppose ready access to birth control and accurate sex education. The opposition to a woman having the right to choose begins when they're still girls, with the opposition to safe, accurate information about sex and sexual health. As women get older and consider having sex, it moves into an opposition to women having easy access to birth control. Once a woman is having sex, it takes the form of refusing access to Plan B and other emergency contraception. Once a woman is pregnant, it rolls over into opposition to programs that would provide a pregnant women with ready access to prenatal care, and ends up with a complete and vocal criticism of abortion and attempts to ban and block access to the procedure. And after woman have given birth, where are the pro-life crowd? Are they out trying to help programs that give aid to women in poverty and women who can't afford health care for their children? Go ahead and guess.

Now, I completely understand why they'd bristle about being called anti-choice or pro-forced-pregnancy. When using terminology like that, you're starting from a pretty tough place. It's a lot harder to convince people that your position is the right one when your position is that women should be punished for having sex. It's hard to sway an audience when your position is "We support forcing people to endure a major life change against their will." It's a lot easier if you're saying "but what about the innocent baby?!" Innocent babies aren't a tough sell- even people who dislike children are hard pressed to think that it's good to kill them.

The problem is that the pro-life stance seems to be logically inconsistent. The most vocal pro-lifers positions, upon close inspection, become clearly intellectually dishonest, which helps make it very obvious that their concern isn't so much the life of the fetus as it is moralizing and punishing women who are "foolish enough to get knocked up."

The rape and incest exceptions are key here. The average pro-lifer seems to say "Abortion is wrong and should be outlawed. Except for in cases of rape and maybe incest. In those cases, we should allow it." I think that most people think that abortion should be allowed if the woman's life is threatened (although not everyone thinks so). On the surface, it seems hard to argue against that, right? I mean, nobody wants to force a woman to give birth to her rapist's child, right?

There's a major problem with claiming to be pro-life, but willing to make exceptions for rape, though. The idea of the pro-life side seems to be that the fetus is an innocent in the whole thing, and should have the same right to life that all of us have. The fetus can't choose to be conceived or not, and it's wrong to kill it... because it's innocent and helpless. That would be a pro-life stance. The fetus is alive. It's wrong to kill it. End of story.

The rape exception throws a wrench into the whole thing, though. The fetus is no less innocent for having been the product of rape or incest. The fetus still had no say in the conception, and still can't speak or defend itself. If your problem is with the idea of killing a fetus, it doesn't make sense to make exceptions for something like rape, since the fetus is no less innocent and no less helpless, etc, for the circumstances of the conception.

The only reason that one might make an exception for rape and remain logically consistent is because you're judging abortion in regards to the woman, and not the fetus. Specifically: you're concerned about her actions. In that case, rape exceptions make perfect sense, since it wasn't any direct action on the part of the woman that led to the conception. That the fetus is an innocent is irrelevent, because the woman didn't have a choice.

Following through, we realize that the reason abortion is wrong isn't because of the status of the fetus, again, but because of the actions of the woman. The pro-life stance is anti-choice, because their objection is to the actions of the woman. It's about controlling the actions of women and controlling sexual identity.
A woman who gets pregnant because she made a choice to have sex is somehow "less than" a woman who is pregnant because of the actions of an other. She shouldn't be allowed to make the choice to have an abortion, because she needs to accept the consequences of sex. In other words, she needs to be taught a lesson. You'll see many anti-choicers using language like that: "She needs to accept the consequences of her actions" or "If she didn't want to get knocked up, she shouldn't have had sex."

In fact, a careful look at most major pro-life arguments shows how quickly the debate takes that tone. Lip-service is paid to the whole "but the innocent baby!" line, but the argument almost always breaks down into a criticisms of the woman and her actions. It's almost always more about her being sexually active and needing to learn her lesson than it is about the life of the fetus.

There are a few people who really are pro-life, I think. There are a lot of people who are anti-choice because they haven't done a lot of personal searching on the issue. For a lot of them, it's a religious issue, or it's something that they've been indoctrinated in, and they're repeating the sound-bites. I've only seen a few people who are logically consistant pro-lifers.

I find it a lot easier to respect pro-lifers like that, even though their position is even more offensive than the average pro-lifer's. I can respect it because those are the people who really believe that abortion is murder. I completely disagree with them, but at least they're being intellectually honest in the debate- they believe that the fetus has a right to life- if you kill one, you're murdering it, and that's wrong. They're not just moralizing to women about sex, they're trying to save lives.

I still think they're wrong, though.

I wrote a lot of this some time ago, but I want to take a moment here to discuss something that really has been bothering me. On one of the sites I go to on a regular basis, a commenter has taken to making blatantly offensive comparisons between abortion and, say, rape or assault.

So why not let men date rape women? I mean, if a guy can't have any other options for sex, why can't he get a girl a little drunk and make her do something she'll regret? After all, he has a right to experience life as a sexual being. Are anti-rapists "forcing abstinence" on unwilling men?
We don't allow robbery of grocery stores because we are against "forced starvation," we don't allow embezzlement because we are against "forced poverty," we don't allow rape because we are against "forced celibacy," and we shouldn't allow abortion because we are against "forced birth."


I don't think that men should be able to get out of parenthood by kicking their girlfriends in the stomach, even though that would accomplish the unalienable right to decide how and when to become a parent.

These kinds of tactics only further illustrate the intellectual dishonesty of some anti-choicers. Intentionally conflating a woman's right to control her own body with a rapist's forcing himself on another person shows a marked lack of concern for the rights of women. Further, it shows an intentional disregard for the pain and suffering of victims of assault, and a disdain for women who do get abortions. The differences between wanting to control your body's integrity and wanting to force yourself on another person sexually should be obvious to anyone who is being remotely honest and sincere in their beliefs.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Frag Dolls: Friend or Foe?

I make no secret of the fact that I'm a gamer. I've been playing video games for as long as I can remember. My father loved video games and bought a 2600 when they came out. My parents picked up a computer back when they were using cassette tapes as data storage. Given how much I love video gaming, it should come as no surprise that I'm very interested in the intersection between my hobby and my socio-political beliefs. I've been really interested in how gaming and feminism intersect and overlap... if they do.

Women have really gotten a raw deal when it comes to gaming. Historically, games have been made by men for men. When most people think of a gamer, they probably think of either a child, or the stereotypical fan-boy living in a basement eating Cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew (Sorry, Jimmycav). There may have even been a time when that was true, but now? No way. Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry. It's huge. It's time for the industry to recognize the fact that roughly 43% of gamers are women, and quit churning out the typical sexist fanboy bullshit.

It's time for women to be recognized as real gamers.

It's as impossible to talk about women in gaming without mentioning the Frag Dolls as it is to talk about women in games and not mention Lara Croft, I suspect. When you talk about women gamers with other gamers, the Frag Dolls are almost always going to come up. And why not? They're very visable women gamers who make a living through their gaming. They're like the poster-children for the women in gaming movement.

And yet...
And yet...

I can't help but have reservations about the Frag Dolls.

At least, I have reservations about thinking of the Frag Dolls as particularly feminist. Obviously, they're women. From what I can tell, they're solid gamers, too. They've won a number of tournies, which is great. As for being good for women gamers in general, though? As for sending a positive message about women and gaming? As for being feminist?

Some background, perhaps?

The Frag Dolls are a corporate gaming team put together by Ubisoft, through a craigslist ad, back in 2004. They serve multiple functions: They compete in tournaments, push Upisoft products, and attend industry events. Their main goal, they claim, is to encourage women to play games. They are, they say, trying to change the image of women gamers, and increase awareness of the female market. That's not a bad goal, I think.

And yet...
And yet...

What is it about the Frag Dolls that scratches the back of my brain? What is it about them that makes it so hard for me to say "Hey, great work"? The more I think about it, the less convinced I become that they're really doing that much good for women, the industry, or feminism. Maybe I'm wrong, though. Maybe they're great? Maybe they're really just what we need? Women gamers who make a name for themselves and show that women are every bit the gamers that men are?

And yet...
And yet...

It took me a little while to really start to figure out what my problem is, but I'm getting there. Let's start with the obvious, shall we? I'm hardly the first person to point this out, but I think it's worth noting. It really bothers me that all of the Frag Dolls are pretty stereotypically attractive. There's a reason that they're accused of being glorified "Booth Babes" by critics- Ubisoft has selected a bunch of women who largely conform to acceptable beauty standards. They're all thin, mostly white, and young. Conversations about the Frag Dolls on any given gaming site are at least as likely to be about how hot X member is as they are to be about how talanted they are.

That's troubling.

Of course, Ubisoft is quick to argue that the Frag Dolls are not booth babes. They're not just models, they say.

And yet...
And yet...

When the casting call went out that the Frag Dolls were looking for two more members, they got dozens of responses. They selected only eight for consideration.
Should I be surprised that all eight are... drum roll... thin and attractive? Should I be shocked that the winners were 21 and 19?

I suspect not.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with being attractive. As I mentioned in my other post, I don't think that one's looks should have anything to do with how talanted one is, or how one's accomplishments are viewed. But, when we're talking about a team put together by a business, I think that it's worth noting. Maybe it's a big coincidence that all of their Frag Dolls are thin and attractive? Maybe it's just chance that they're mostly white? Maybe that's all unintentional?

Of course... it's interesting that, according to a former member of the Frag Dolls' Uk team, applicants were required to submit 15 pictures of themselves before being told what the project was all about. The article is interesting, in that it shows how much focus Ubisoft wanted on the women and not on their gaming. From wanting photographs prior to disclosing the project, to making sure that the camera stays on the women and not the games they're playing, to The implication seems obvious to me: While Ubisoft may claim that the Frag Dolls are a way to get more women involved in gaming, the focus is at least as much about getting attention from men, too. The Frag Dolls may not be booth babes, but Ubisoft definately treats them like pin-ups or poster girls.

Or, despite their claims to the contrary... as booth babes. When they make public appearences at conventions or launch parties, they're dressed up, standing in front of the demo, handing out t-shirts and getting their pictures taken standing with male attendees. They play Ubisoft games, and endorse Ubisoft products, and are paid by Ubisoft. That's their job. They're there to shill and promote Ubisoft products to the public. Despite the fact that Ubisoft originally tried to push the Frag Dolls as an Ubisoft sponsored clan, the group rarely do competitions (the UK group hasn't done a single competition since they were formed over a year ago).

So, the Frag Dolls are a group of thin, attractive women who are paid to promote Ubisoft products and spend most of their time in public handing out t-shirts and creating buzz for Ubisoft?

Now... that sounds familiar... Isn't there a name for someone that does that?

Maybe I'm being unfairly harsh?

And yet...
And yet...

Even the name bothers me, to be honest. It's a personal thing, but I'm not comfortable with the whole "women as plaything" terminology. Women aren't dolls. They're not toys. They're not a plaything. Dolls are passive... they're played with and acted upon.

I think that the Frag Dolls have probably been great for Ubisoft. They've got a bunch of attractive women that they're using for sex appeal to draw attention to Ubisoft products. When they go to conventions and tournaments, men line up just for a chance to have pictures taken with them. They hand out promotional photographs of themselves. It's great publicity for Ubisoft.

Is it good for women, though?
Is it good for gaming?

That's what I keep coming back to. Are the Frag Dolls good for anyone but Ubisoft? I just can't get to "yes" on that one. I just can't see how the Frag Dolls are anything but another attempt by a business to use women's bodies to sell products. The Frag Dolls might like playing games, but it's not their talants that are being marketed- it's their bodies.

I can't help but feel like the Frag Dolls just reinforce a lot of harmful imagery. Ubisoft is marketing them as sex, and it seems to me that they're just reinforcing traditional beauty standards. Their value as "dolls" is directly related to how attractive they are. They're there as eye-candy for the men gamers. Sure, they play games, too, but, as I said above, that's not the primary focus of the marketing behind them. They're mostly there to look pretty and draw in men to the Ubisoft products. And that's harmful. They've created a very public face for women gamers, and that face is thin, young, white, and stereotypically attractive.

I also think they're bad for gaming, in some ways. Groups like the Frag Dolls keep reinforcing the message that sexism sells and sells well. It keeps gaming trapped in this area where they give lip-service to the idea that women should be involved, but only if they appeal to men. I don't see that they're breaking new ground or doing anything to help the industry grow and branch out and show that games can be great for men and women. The gaming industry is already plagued by sexism, and I just don't see that the Frag Dolls do anything to challange that. If anything, they reinforce it.

That's not to say that they don't do any good. There are certainly women gamers who've come out because of the Frag Dolls. Any time an article is published about them, there are women who comment too, and who show support for women gamers. There are women who've started their own gaming guilds in opposition to or because of the Frag Dolls. I think that's great. The Frag Dolls, in some ways, brought more attention to women in gaming.

So, consider me torn. My gut feeling is that the Frag Dolls are just one more example of a company exploiting women's bodies to push products, but maybe that's me being cynical? Maybe I'm missing something deeper? Maybe they're really good for the industry and good for women?


Cross posted at 79 Soul.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Illusion of Concern: Fat Shaming

Beth Ditto- front-woman for The Gossip (a great fecking band, btw)- posed au naturale for NME recently. Ditto pretty much totally kicks ass. She knows what she wants and likes, and she just kind of goes for it, regardless of what other people might think. She's an outspoke advocate for gay rights, an out lesbian, is currently dating a transgendered man, doesn't shave, and loves tattoos. She's also about 210 lbs and makes no secret of the fact that she loves her body.

So, posing for NME has drawn some attention.

It looks like some people have mixed feelings on it. On the one hand, it's great to see a big woman proud of her body and the cover is like a giant middle finger to the all the covers of tiny size 0 models that get pushed as the norm. On the other hand, as some people point out, it's still a naked woman being used to sell a magazine. So, it's tough to know exactly how to feel about it.

You know what's not tough to know how to feel about, though?

The people who see that post as an opportunity to lecture everyone on how unhealthy it is to be fat.

Every time someone posts anything remotely related to weight and not being ashamed of being big, people crawl out of the woodwork to moralize and lecture about the dangers of being fat, and how if only we'd put our minds to it, we could lose weight. Look through some of the comments there- people call Ditto "disgusting" and say that she's gross because she's carrying around "blubber." They go on about how awful her weight is, and what a horrible standard of beauty we're trying to push by telling people to be like Ditto. They drag out comments that nobody likes looking at women like her, etc etc.

Why does this happen? What's really going on here? They'll claim that they're just worried about other people's health, and the huge risks that being obese present, but is that really what's going on? Obviously not.

Here's the thing: it's none of your fucking business how healthy Beth Ditto is.

I know that's hard for some people to grasp, but it's true. Her health isn't your concern, unless you're somehow intimately associated with her. If you're her sibling, or her boyfriend, or her friend, or her doctor, then you can show some concern for her health. If you're a random stranger on the interwebs who doesn't know two things about her lifestyle, then you can kindly fuck off. It's not your business if she's fat. It's not her business what risks you take in regards to your health, and it's not your business what risks she takes in regards to hers.

I'm going to repeat some of the things I said there, but it's worth repeating: You can claim that you're concerned about her health, but it's obvious that's not what's really going on. You don't know fuck-all about her actual health. Seeing a picture of her only lets you see how big she is. It doesn't tell you anything about her actual health. I'd wager that none of us know a damn thing about her health. We don't know what she eats. We don't know if she works out. We don't know what her blood pressure is. We don't know how active her lifestyle is. We're not her personal doctor, so her health is really a mystery to us.

And, again, even if we did know about her habits? So fucking what? Why is it your business?

I don't work out. I eat like shit. I work a desk job and sit on my ass. I play video games and watch movies, and I eat too much pizza. I do these things, knowing that my health suffers as a result. So far, my enjoyment of these things has been greater than my fear of the health risks. That's my choice. Nobody calls me disgusting over it, or criticizes me. Why? Because I'm not fat. I went to see the women of Big Moves perform while I was in Boston last month. Any one of them is clearly in better shape than I am, even though I'd guess that all of them weigh more than me. They're active, though. They work out. They dance. They're active.

People who go off on fat shaming will always claim that it's about health. The medical community is finding that weight is not an indication of health. Doctor after doctor report that fitness exists independent of weight. Articles are being written about the findings that an active lifestyle is more important than how much you weigh. Weight is not fitness. One has nothing to do with the other. A "fat" person who exercises does not have a statistically significant increase in mortality than an active person of any other weight.

Fat shaming is about aesthetics, not health. It's about someone finding fat disgusting, and wanting to make it clear to fat people that they're gross. There are tons of things we do every day that are dangerous to our health, but fat shamers won't target those things. They don't tell people who drink regularly that they're gross and disgusting. They don't tell people who smoke that they're awful people and could change if they wanted to. They don't tell people who go out tanning- which is much more dangerous than being fat- that they're disgusting and nasty.

Here's my take on the Ditto photograph: I think it's fabulous because it's a woman who has a body a lot closer to the norm than most of the skinny models you see on magazines, and she's not ashamed of it. She's proud of what she looks like, regardless of how jerks like fat shamers try to push her into feeling bad about it. That's good for all women. You don't have to look like her to be happy with your body. If you're unhealthy you should want to get healthy for health's sake and for your own sake, not because a bunch of asshats have convinced you that being fat is ugly, which is the attitude fat shamers reinforce.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

It's Not About Looking Pretty, People!

Jessica, over at feministing, has post up about a writeup The Politico did about Althouse. In the feature, the guys at the Politico make the comment "Valenti isn't shy about her body" and bring up the whole "boobgate" uproar from the past.

For those out of the loop or not in the know, Jessica appears in a photograph with former president Clinton. When the photo came out, the discussion of said photograph was largely focused on whether or not Jessica's breasts were too obvious, and whether she could really be a feminist, since she dared to post for a photograph.

Jessica was, understandably, I think, annoyed by this. It can't be a good feeling to have worked your ass off, get an offer to meet the former president as a result of your hard work, only to have a bunch of knuckle dragging asshats take away from that by focusing all the conversation about how hot or not you are, and how nice or not your breasts are, and whether they would or would not fuck you. It's a rather perfect illustration of how much sexism is still strong and well. A woman is invited to meet the former president, and because she doesn't wear ill fitting, ugly clothing, she's targeted.

That's not my point, though. That topic has been done to death- she's commented on it at length, and so have many others.

What I'm more interested in, is the ways that people come to her defense. See, there's a large group of people who say "Hey, that's bullshit!" Which, it is. There are some people, though, who say things that make me cringe almost as much as the original comments did. They're the people who respond to the comments with things like "Jessica, you are a very beautiful woman and have nothing to be ashamed of. And you look amazing in that picture!"

I get what the writer is trying to say, but the problem I have with comments like that is that they reinforce the problem, they don't work to correct it. The problem isn't that Althouse or the myriad people commenting on her blog thought that Jessica was ugly. The problem isn't even that they think she was dressed inappropriately. The problem, as Peepers so nicely put it, is having "discussions like this focusing on [her] attractiveness, rather than [her] intellectual and social contributions."

See, it doesn't matter how hot or not Jessica is. She wasn't invited to the conference because of what she looks like. She was invited because of who she is. When people respond to these sorts of things with "but you look great, Jessica!" they miss the point, and, in fact, add to the problem, because what they say isn't "they're wrong, it's your achievements that count, and commenting on your body detracts from that" but rather "they're wrong, you're great looking."

In other words: the later ignores her contributions and her work just as much as any comment that focuses on how tight her shirt is, or how attractive/unattractive she might be. Just because you perceive yourself to be flattering doesn't mean that the comment isn't every bit as beside the point as the original comment was.

Welcome to No Cookies For Me...

Over the past year or so, I've been commenting pretty regularly on a variety of feminist blogs. When my buddy krafty started up 79soul, I jumped at the chance to be a part of the blogging community. The time has come for me to focus a blog more exclusively on the socio-political issues that are important to me. I'll still be posting on 79soul, and will likely cross-post things that intersect where pop-culture and politics meet, but I think that 79soul should be about entertainment and pop-culture, and I don't want to try to force posts about my feminist leanings onto a site about music and movies.

Thus, No Cookies For Me is born.

So, for all the people who've been telling me "You should have a blog!"
Now I do.