Friday, September 28, 2007

On being a victim...

I've seen the poster mentioned here before, and I've thought it was kind of awesome. It's awesome because it's a call to action to prevent and stop harrassment that doesn't just tell women "stop wearing short skirts and drinking, or you deserve it."

Apparently, though, not everyone agrees.

The first comment reads: "Tee hee hee, violence is funny when the victim is a man!"

I'm almost loathe to get into a discussion about it, because it seems like it should be obvious to anyone with half a brain, but apparently it's not, so I guess maybe we should examine the situation being described by the poster?

Let's start by reading what the sign says. I don't think that feministing's translation is quite accurate. The English version of the sign reads:

Warning! Women defend themselves! If you leer at, catcall, or touch a woman, take into account that you might be loudly ridiculed, have a glass of beer poured over you, or be slapped in the face. Therefore, we strongly advise you to refrain from such harrassment!

Women, migrants, homeless people, transgender people, gays and lesbians are often victims of assaults. Don't look away, intervene!

So, what we're talking about are cases of harrassment. We're talking about a case where a woman is being sexually assaulted. I think that the sign makes it pretty obvious that it's not talking about cases where a guy asks for someone's number- it's aimed at guys who're threatening women and assaulting them, and then gives a warning of the sorts of responses that such actions could have- which could range from being publicly ridiculed up through physical retaliation.

So, how, exactly, are the men this poster describes victims? If you're assaulting someone, and they hit you back, you become the victim of the story?

I don't think so.

As is frequently the case in a thread like that, there are a number of "But... but... what about men?!" sorts of comments that came up. The first question raised was "Isn't this a double standard? Why is it okay for women to hit men but not for men to hit women?!"

A number of men seem to have read the poster as advocating violence against men, or as saying that it's okay for women to hit or assault men just for looking at them. I think that's an inappropriate and flawed reading of the poster.

First of all, the poster's main call to action was for people to intervene when they see someone being assaulted. It's not telling people that they should hit or pour beer on people, it's telling people to stop ignoring violence against women. The opening section isn't a call to action. It doesn't say "Women, pour drinks on men!" It's an attempt to subvert the typical warnings about sexual assault. Usually you read "Women, be careful! Don't wear short skirts! Don't show cleavage! Don't drink! Don't! Don't! Don't!" This poster subverts that and puts the warning wear it belongs- on the people doing the assaulting.

The idea is simple: if you're the sort of person who sexually assaults women, you should be the one getting a warning, not the women you're attacking. If you're the sort who gropes women, you should expect a response. Women shouldn't expect to get assaulted.

As another person pointed out, as well, there's a parallel structure involved: The various offenses are lined up in parallel with responses that are proportional in nature. If you're staring at a woman in a threatening fashion, it's completely appropriate for her to ridicule you over it. If you're being verbally threatening and harrassing someone, getting a drink thrown at you doesn't really seem out of proportion to me, and if you escalate it by touching, groping, or otherwise physically attacking someone, I think your victim is absolutely within her rights to hit you back.

The intentional mischaractorization by some readers is completely over the top. Take this choice response:

Sweet. The next time a woman stupidly stares at me, talks rubbish, or otherwise irritates me I get to dump a beer over her head and hit her in the face? Of course not.

Obviously, this get placed in the "women are children" category as women have tantrums, throw things, and hit people when they are irritated because they are actually little girls without self-control and are not expected to behave like reasonable adults. Brings to mind the wifey trowing pots and pans stereotype.

I've heard that you get out of a piece whatever you bring to it, and it's pretty clear that some of the people reading that poster are coming to it with a big chip on their shoulders. What other explanation could there be for reading a poster like that as a call for women to hit people because they're "irritated" and not as a call not to harrass women?

And then, halfway through, you get some of the really great stuff. I'm always fond of the "I'm going to take my toys and go home" argument, personally:

If you want men as allies you need to convince us that you're actually for the issues and are not just going to knee-jerk defend females accused of sexual harassment, domestic violence, or whatever.
David Gest? Ryan Haddon? It really doesn't matter whether these cases make up 33% or .033% of the total - if you want more "good guys" as allies, you need to do more to convince them/us that you're not going to be condoning the issues you're advocating when the alleged assailant is a woman. (Which is how I read this ad, grammatical attempts to explain it notwithstanding).

You know, domestic violence and assault are serious issues, and it's never okay to attack someone. That being said, it's intellectually dishonest to pretend that a poster warning that victims of assault might strike back is advocating or encouraging domestic violence- particularly when we're talking about a group who disproportionately suffers the effects of sexualized violence, while perpetrating a vast minority of said violence.

In other words: No, saying that women victims of assault might strike back is not the same as saying that it's okay for women to beat up men.

I find the argument that feminists have some obligation to make nice with men like this really annoying, and somewhat confusing. By the time this comment was posted, there had been dozens of attempts to explain and clarify interpretations of the poster. It must have been stated a dozen times, at least, that nobody was advocating for violence against men, or justifying domestic violence. What more was this person looking for? Personally, I'm not really interested in allies who are conditional in that way. If the only reason you care about sexual assault is because women are nice to you, and because they're very clear not to say things that might threaten you? Well, you're not really much of an ally then, are you?

You can't be too awfully interested in social justice if the conditions for your participation are "people never say things that make me uncomfortable and they're always very nice to me."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Slate's Sex Issue... Yowza, indeed.

You know, I'm with Jessica on this one. I really look forward to a day when journalists stop equating "sex" with "women's bodies." "Sex" is an activity that may or may not involve women's bodies at all. I know that it's hard to believe, but I've been led to understand that gay men do not, generally speaking, involve women's bodies in their sex.

Crazy, I know.

As much as I agree with Jessica about the Slate article, and as much I share her frustration, I can't help but be equally frustrated by the third comment in:

What the sweet holy fuck is up with that woman's ass? It scares looks like she shoved some water balloons up there or maybe a couple punchbowls or something. Yowza.

I'm sorry No, wait, I'm not sorry- that's ridiculously offensive, too. I don't know the commenter, so maybe this is par for the course for him/her? But, that's not necessary- the picture of the woman in question is from the Slate article. It's one thing to criticize the article for using women's bodies to sell "sex" while not mentioning the disturbing history of racism implicit in the exploitation of black bodies in the "Hottentot Venus". It's rather another to talk about how disgusting or disturbing you find some woman's body.

I'm really, really frustrated by the quickness with which some people will turn to attacking the physical appearence of other women. It needs to stop.

I know I haven't written about this...

Which is to my shame- the controversy around the Jena 6 has been getting more press these days, but nowhere near what it should have been getting. I don't know that I have anything I can add that hasn't been said by someone else, and said more eloquently or with greater force, but that's a poor excuse for saying nothing.

The latest update on the Jena 6 case is that the DA has decided not to appeal a ruling that set aside Mychal Bell's conviction on the grounds that he shouldn't have been tried as an adult.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco, after learning that DA Reed Walters wasn't going to pursue and appeal, said "I want to thank him for this decision he has made" while Al Sharpton said "I want to congratulate the district attorney for good judgment".

I say: Bullshit.

When you mishandle a case like this and write an op-ed piece for the NYT that basically says "I haven't done anything wrong and this is being handled perfectly well" after you charged six black students with attempted murder while ignoring the attacks by white students... you don't deserve praise when you finally give in. You don't deserve thanks for moving a step closer to what you ought to have done in the first place.

From what I can see, Walters is doing the absolutely minimum he can. He's not giving up on the appeal because he thinks it's the right thing to do- he's caving to political and social pressure. Which, you know, I'm glad for- it's better than making the appeal- but it still means that he's a shitbag, and I'm not about to praise him for finally doing something sort of right for the completely wrong reasons.

Have I Mentioned How *Bad* Men Have It?

Every time I read a post like this, about how awful men have it, I can't help but feel frustrated, and a little sad. The original author (and, one assumes, the person reposting it) is pointing out some pretty serious problems, but he's pointing in the wrong direction and placing the blame at the feet of feminists. If he'd take a minute to think about what feminists are actually looking for, he'd see that our goals could be compatible.

Instead, he wants to blame women for men's problems.

Sure, some of what he's saying is true: Women live longer than men and tend to win custody battles. Of course, he completely fails to mention why either of those things might be. Women live longer than men in no small part because men murder other men at higher rates, die in wars in greater numbers than women because the men in charge of the military won't let women serve in combat units, and have higher infant mortality rates than women, as I recall. How many of those things are the fault of women? Of feminists?

While some of what he's saying is true, some of it is... well... suspect: According to a Census Bureau release, only 26.5% of women hold a Bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 28.9% of men.

And some of it is just flat-out dishonest. Consider his claim that female-headed households earn 41% more than a male-headed one. In other words: a household headed by a woman has a net worth 141% of that of a household headed by a man. As that link shows, when you take into account the age of the people involved (and ignore that he was examining data that is now two decades old), it turns out that women in each age bracket earn less than the men in the same age bracket. That there were more single women in the upper age range artificially inflated their average worth, because older people tend to earn more than younger people.

When we examine this table, which is a comparitive breakdown of the median net worths of male-headed and female-headed households for 2004, we find that the median net worth of a male-headed household was greater- in some cases significantly greater- than the median net worth of a female-headed household. In my own state, the male-headed household earned 230% what the female-headed household did.

Scheaffer makes the classic error of thinking that our living in a patriarchical society means that all men must have it better than all women. His argument is basically "Well, look, there are lots of men who have it pretty shitty, and there are some women who end up in positions that put them ahead of some men, so how can we claim that women are an oppressed group. The fact that there are sections of our society where men come out worse than women must mean that women are a privileged group!"

The problem is that some of the problems he's citing are a direct result of a patriarchical society. You can't point to the mortality rate of soldiers during a war as a sign that women have it better when it's sexist attitudes that are keeping women out of harms way. You can try to spin that as women getting a privilege, but that's not something that women or feminists have been fighting for- that's a direct consequence of a patriarchical system that says that women aren't fit for combat. When you live in a society that refuses to let women take on risky professions, you shouldn't be surprised when women don't die in accidents or in combat in the numbers that men do.

See, it's not the fault of feminism, it's a direct result of sexism.

This is one of those times where it's fair to point out that, as shocking as it may be, patriarchy hurts men too. Patriarchical systems create a society where men are encouraged to "prove" themselves through the use of violence. Patriarchical systems encourage male on male violence and sanction men who report female on male violence. That's not feminism's fault- that's sexism's fault. That women tend to gain custody more often than men? Same issue. That's not a result of feminism taking men's rights away- that's a result of a society that sees women as caregivers and men as money makers. Our social outlook doesn't do much to make room for men who want to be the caregiver of their child.

Most of the problems that Scheaffer is listing- the higher suicide rate, the greater mortality rates, the issues with prisons, and violence, and war... those are important things to talk about. Is it a problem that 7 million more women than men vote? Absolutely. It's not a problem because women vote more- it's a problem because neither men nor women vote in the numbers they should. It's a problem because less than 60% of either group are voting. Is it a problem that our society doesn't think that men can be the target of domestic violence? Absolutely! Domestic violence of all types is a problem, and we ought to be taking it more seriously across the board.

Framing this as though it's the fault of feminists is completely dishonest though- these problems aren't new, and they're not the result of women trying to end or correct the oppression they face- these problems are older than that, and pointing the finger at women and feminists isn't going to solve them. Of course, one can't help but walk away from Scheaffer's article thinking that he's not that interested in finding solutions to those problems.

It's much easier to blame women.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

*Feminism's* Rape Fallacy? Really?

h/t Feministing, I think?

David Cox, from the Guardian, has this to say on the subject of rape.

First of all- and this is nitpicky- where, exactly is the fallacy supposedly being commited? Because, uh... I don't see one. Or is Cox using some use of "fallacy" that I'm not familiar with? Also, for an article that's called "Feminism's Rape Fallacy" he doesn't even mention feminism until the penultimate paragraph.

Nitpicks out of the way...

It's hard to know what to say to Cox, because a lot of what he says is completely unfounded, or out-and-out made up. Let's start at the begining, with his opening statement: Isn't it time to acknowledge that it's beyond the capacity of the judicial process to deal with date-rape?

I'm not sure it's possible for me to roll my eyes any harder. Does he think that this is something profound? Does he think that none of us have ever come to the conclusion that the problem of rape isn't something that the courts alone can deal with? I have a feeling that Cox thinks that he's really hit one out of the park there- that he's offered up something really deep.

A quick glance through almost any feminist blog, though, would have shown him that he's preaching to the choir with that one. I don't know anyone who thinks that the judicial process will stop rape. I don't know anyone who thinks that ending sexual violence and eliminating date-rape will happen in the courts. That's the whole reason that we talk about the social aspects of rape. That's why we talk about victim blaming. That's why we talk about the sense of entitlement, or slut shaming, or any other number of social, not just judicial, problems.

Date rape isn't something we expect the courts to solve, we just expect them to stop being part of the problem. Low conviction rates and hostile treatment of victims isn't a problem because it prevents us from ending rape- they're problems because they help further victimize people who are already victims. They're problems because they show that the courts don't take a problem seriously.

And when your conviction rate drops from 33% to 5.4%, it's possible that people might start to think that your courts don't take that crime very seriously. Or, you know, the your juries don't. Of course, when the number of reported rapes is increasing, but prosecutions aren't... well, that doesn't necessarily help, either.

So, no, David Cox, you're not being profound. You're arguing against a position that nobody has. At the very least, you're arguing against a minority opinion that I've never seen articulated.

Then, of course, there's Cox's claim that it's "doubtless" that "many" of the convicted 5% are unknown to their victims. Which is weird, because the Guardian reports that "Women are most likely to be raped by men they know and 50% involve repeated assaults by the same man." Researchers blamed a "culture of scepticism" for the low prosecution and conviction of rape. The same culture of scepticism that might, for example, lead to a "journalist" writing an article like this, perhaps?

Alright, I know, I'm just being petty.

But it's hard to know what to say when someone can write "Should we be surprised that juries acquit them, or that police or prosecutors consider a conviction unlikely in their cases?" of victims who've been raped by someone they know? Should we be surprised?


If the evidence supports a victim's claim that she (or he) was raped, it shouldn't matter whether the attacker was a spouse, a friend, or a stranger off the street. Particularly since, you know, all evidence suggests that the majority of rapists are known to their victims.

Cox is hung up on this idea that it's always a "he says/she says" situation where a woman's claim can't be at all verified. Sure, sometimes that's true. Sometimes there's no way to know for sure what happened, and sometimes there's no evidence that an attack took place. That makes cases difficult- that doesn't mean that it's preferable to throw our hands up and say "Oh well! Tough shit, victims!"

To start with, if we want to make a system that finds guilty people guilty while letting the innocent walk free, we need to quit promoting the myth that women routinely make false allegations, as if that's a justification for not pursuing rape cases. The fact that there are some people who have falsely accused others of rape shouldn't lead us to conclude that most or all people who make rape accusations are liars.

As it turns out, people will lie about just about anything, given the right circumstances. People have made false assault charges. People have lied about being mugged. People have lied about being abused. Have lied about having property stolen. Have lied about people lying about them. That doesn't mean we don't look for evidence of assault, theft, robbery, burglery, extortion, or libel. And when we go to court, we don't treat the victims of those crimes as though they're liars.

In the end, all of this comes across as an excuse to get to what Cox really wants- an excuse to victim blame and slut shame. It's only at the end of the article that we get to the real meat, when Cox's suggestion is to stop putting yourselves at risk, ladies.

See, as the most likely targets for rape, it's your responsibility to stop getting raped. "Exercise caution" as he puts it. Keep your "valuables" out of sight. That's right. "Think twice before visiting footballers' hotel rooms late at night" and remember that getting yourself "into a drunken stupor in the company of a frisky male" is dangerous.

There are several problems with this.

First of all, as a man, I can't help but point out what a thoroughly low standard Cox apparently holds men to. This is one of those "Wow, you people think a lot less of men than any feminist does" situations. The implication is pretty clear- men can't help themselves around a drunken woman? That's a low standard if I've ever seen one.

More important, though, is Cox's completely ignoring the realities of rape. It doesn't matter what a woman is wearing or how drunk she is, or if she's got her "valuables" on display- rape isn't about passion. It's not usually the case that it's a guy thinking "Wow, she's hot" and not being able to control himself. It's not a case of her dressing a certain way. Rape is usually perpetrated by men against women they know, regardless of dress.

Cox also misses the mark with regards to drinking. It's not women who drink that are at risk for getting raped. The relationship is all wrong- in most cases where drinking was involved in a rape, it's the perpetrator who was drinking, not the victim.

But, really, it's probably much easier to spread mistruths and lies about rape and to pile on about how the victims shouldn't get themselves raped than it is to examine any of the facts about rape and try to find ways to get the attackers to, you know, stop raping people.

And, lastly, there's that whole myth that feminists are completely and utterly opposed to women playing a part in securing their own safety?

Not true.

Can I be a feminist?

Joseph, from Engage: Conversations in Philosophy, has a great post up called Can men be feminists? Joseph discusses a colleague of his, Dr. Lani Roberts, who is of the opinion that a man is/can be considered feminist "if he's broken the male bond in defense of women."

On the surface, I can't really disagree too much with that criteria. After all, if I, as a man, never do anything to risk my position of comfort- if I never challange patriarchical standards and norms or point out sexism when I see it... what good am I doing? If I'm only willing to discuss feminism with other feminists, my contribution would be pretty minimal.

Even this, though, is going to run into a wall eventually. Ignoring the question of how often someone has to break that bond, there's the problem of identity. Identity is complex, and the problem is figuring out where internal and external identity match up, when you're talking about identifying with a socio-political movement like feminism. If I'm a firm believer in the tenets of feminism, but don't do anything, my internal identity may conflict with people's external perception of my identity. I might believe myself to be a feminist, and call myself one, but other people look at me and think "But he doesn't seem to hold any feminist beliefs. What has he ever done to support the movement?"

I think that this difference also illustrates what I think is a more controversial issue. The question over whether men can be feminists doesn't really seem that controversial. There's some debate about it, but, from what I've seen, most people agree that men can (even if some think it's rare) understand and work towards feminist goals. In other words, the debate isn't generally about whether men can be feminists- it's whether men can be called- or call ourselves- feminists.

That's a little more difficult to discuss.

Luckily, lot has been written about the naming of men within the movement. Chris Clarke, of Creek Running North, has a really compelling take on the subject called: Why I am not a feminist. It's a tremendously well written piece (so, you know... go read it). Clarke considers himself a sympathizer, or, at his best, an ally. His argument against considering himself a feminist is that he is "a member of the class against which feminism is aimed." He compares calling himself a feminist to a white activist calling hirself Chicana as a result of showing political support.

The comments in that post are really interesting too, and there are a number of counterpoints to be made to Clarke's post. In particular, I was pleased to see that someone pointed out what I was thinking- there's a distinct difference between claiming membership to a group based on socio-political activism, and claiming membership to a group based on something like ethnicity or racial identity. Claiming to be an abolitionist or a feminist is very different from claiming to be a person of color or a woman.

There are more great thoughts on Clarke's post from Piny and Jill over at feministe, in Self-Appointed, and from Ampersand over at Alas! A Blog in the post Should men be called feminists?

Ampersand mentions what I think is a pretty important point, and one that I think most of us get (and which is probably the reason why this is largely a non-issue, most of the time): there's nothing to be gained by trying to force people to call us feminists. There are some groups that are fully supportive of men who call themselves feminists, but there are also groups that are troubled by it.

I consider myself a feminist, and if anyone asks me, I have no problem taking the title. That I consider myself a feminist doesn't mean I can force my way into women's spaces, though. There are some places that I'm just not welcome, and that's okay. I absolutely understand the desire and need for women to have spaces where men- even men who are allies- aren't necessarily welcome. I also understand that there are women who will be uncomfortable with the idea of men calling themselves or being called feminists, for the very reasons that Clarke and others point out. And that's okay too. Part of being a feminist or feminist ally is understanding why that might be so, and understanding that the label doesn't really matter.

It goes all the way back to the original qualification, in a way. Feminism isn't a tag you put on a shirt- it's something you do, and I think that most of the men who are working to "get it" or who are willing to wear the label of feminist in public and outside of feminist circles probably don't really care about the label. My guess is that the sort of guy who's willing to tell his drinking buddies "Hey, that was sexists" or is willing to out himself as a feminist to them isn't going to be upset if he's interacting with feminists who would rather he call himself an ally.

From a personal perspective: I tend to think that my calling myself a feminist and being open about it has value. I think that being open and proud of my association with feminism does several things: First, as others have noted, it's a way of grouding discussions of sexism with other people. It makes it clear that I'm not just arguing for the sake of argument or playing devil's advocate- I'm saying things that have meaning to me and that I really believe. Second, I think that it helps fight the negative stereotypes that are pushed about feminism. Feminism takes a beating in the popular media as a movement that "hates men". At my last job, a woman heard that I consider myself a feminist, and actually confronted me on those grounds "But, you're a guy, how can you hate men?"

And, at the risk of treading into dangerous territory, I think that feminism, as a movement, won't succeed until at least some men get on board (this is in no way an argument that feminism should be friendlier to men, or that men should be given passes, etc). I don't think that it's men's involvement that will make it succeed, but, given that men and men's complicity in (and benefiting from) patriarchical systems tend to be the things creating the problems that feminists are trying to fight, there's a point at which at least some men will have to get on board (or at least get out of the way?) in order to overthrow those systems.

To that end, I don't think it matters if men actually call themselves feminists- but having some men who openly support feminism and are willing to call themselves feminists, I think, helps. It's more important for men to be interested in being feminists than taking the name.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Regarding "Sex With a Sleeping Woman"

I like to keep tabs on my referrals, to see both how many people are reading, and where they're coming from. Whenever I blog something on here, I check my referrals to see how people clicked over. This has been a really great tool, because it's led me to some really interesting blogs that I might not otherwise have found. It's also led to the creation of the "You Googled What to Find Me?" box on the sidebar.

There are a few google searches that come up regularly. There are some people that get here after searching for "No Cookies For Me," which I'm going to assume means that they were looking for my site. There are a few other searches that pop up not infrequently, but there's one that just keeps showing up in one form or another, and it's really starting to disturb me, because there's just no good way to take it.

I made an earlier post about it, but since it's kept coming up, I've realized that there's another possible way to take the search, so I thought it'd be worth talking about again. The search that keeps popping up is some variation of "Sex with someone sleeping".

Now, the first time I wrote about this, I assumed that the person doing the search was looking for porn. It occurs to me that there's another possibility- It's entirely possible that there are people out there looking for information because this has happened to them.

Neither of these possibilities makes me feel very good.

So, in case you ended up here because someone forced sex on you while you're asleep, and you're not sure what to call it or what to do now, the best I have to offer:

If someone has forced sex on you while you were asleep, or tried to, you've been the target of a sexual assault- you've been targeted for rape/attempted rape. The first thing I want to stress is that this is not your fault. You are not responsible for your attacker's actions, no matter what he your attacker (or anyone else, for that matter) might say.

You should get to a safe place, away from your attacker. This is particularly important if your attacker is known to you, as many are. You should also get to a hospital as soon as possible. It's very important that you not change clothes, shower/bathe, or otherwise clean yourself before you go to the hospital, no matter how strong and understandable the urge to do so might be. Cleaning/showering can destroy vital evidence necessary if you decide to press charges. When you get to the hospital, you can have them call the police for you.

It's also a good idea to find someone you trust that you can discuss what has happened with, and who can help provide emotional support in what may be a difficult process. Many women women and men who've been targeted for rape find that counseling is helpful, and this may be something to consider.

There are lots of resources a lot better than me for this kind of information:
Family Doctor Online: What to Do if You're Raped
TeensHealth: Rape
Women's Health - Rape: Healing and Survival

A week late: Carnival of Feminists, the 45th...

The 45th Carnival of feminists is up over at Feminist Philosophers. As always, there's a ridiculously good selection of posts to read from a wide assortment of fantastic blogs. Jender put together a really great selection of readings, so go check it out if you get a chance.

Also, a huge thanks to Jender for including a piece from moi. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't both pleased as punch and sort of honored.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Minor Update...

I'm all moved out of my old apartment, and in the process of unpacking at the new place. The move went pretty well, even if I did only manage to get everything out and the apartment cleaned with about ten minutes to spare. Nothing like cutting it close, right?

Anyway, I'm in training all week for work and I haven't gotten internet working at home, so posting will be light, although I'm going to do my best to catch up on my blog roll and get some posts up during my lunch periods.

Thanks for your patience, all!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Regarding the Hypersexualization of Women in Comics...

This post (over at 79 Soul) is a (long) response to a conversation that I was having with Azundris about comics that was prompted by Zuzu's post about Wonder Woman, over at feministe. It started off as a post about the cheesecakey/pinuppiness of women in comics, and sort of evolved from there. The post is pretty long, so I'm not exactly cross posting it, but if you get a chance, and are interested in comics, give it a look.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

WAM! 2008! You're Running Out of Time- Get Proposing...

The call for proposals is out, and in case you've missed the notice, the WAM!2008 proposal deadline is looming just over the horizon. You've got less than a month to get your porposals in. What are you waiting for? Everyone who comments on or reads my blog on a regular basis should be getting involved here.

This is your chance to get involved. It's a chance to network with the media, meet other awesome feminists, hear some fantastic presentations, and help get your message out there. If you've got something to say- and I'm pretty sure all of you do- you should be filling out that call for proposal, not sitting here reading my blog (although, you know, come back and keep reading after you've got your proposal submitted).

Look at some of WAM!'s previous presenters- Andi Zeisler (co-founder of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture), Jessica Valenti (creator of, Brittany Shoot (co-founder of, Deanna Zandt (freelance writer, designer, researcher for AlterNet), Valerie Boyd (founder of EightRock), Mikhaela Reid (political cartoonist for The Boston Phoenix), Gloria Feldt (former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America), Rita Henley Jensen (foudner of Women's eNews), Elaine Lafferty (former editor and chief of Ms. Magazine), Garance Franke-Ruta (senior editor for The American Prospect), and Pullitzer Prize winner Ellen Goodman, to name but a few.

When else are you going to get the chance to rub elbows and exchange ideas with such an amazing group of feminist movers and shakers?

Even if you don't have a proposal to submit (and why the hell not?), you should at least consider attending.

If nothing else, I'm going to be there.
(I don't expect any cookies- but if anyone wants to get drinks and gush over how awesome the presentations are, you'll know where to find me)

In other words: get those submissions in, and I'll see you in Boston!

The New Fall Season: Whiney Men and (Em)Powerful Women?

Vanessa has a post up at feministing that talks about a Salon write-up of the new fall season. I freely admit that I watch very little television, and I probably won't be watching these shows, but I think her take on it is interesting:

Rebecca Traister takes on strong female characters on TV that end up being portrayed as money-grubbing, selfish and more-or-less evil while emasculating the male characters. In short, although showing women as strong and self-sufficient should be anticipated as being progressive, the end result is offensive to women, men, and their relationship with one another. Sigh.

The thing is, I've read the article, and, at least from the descriptions that Rebecca Traister gives, I disagree with the analysis. Oh, there's no doubt that the men on these shows sound like total losers. They're portrayed as whiney and resentful, and unable to cope with the changing roles of women. Basically, they resent women who are successful and who are able to achieve great things within their careers.

For the most part, though, the women that Traister describes sound... well... fine.

At least, from her descriptions, I didn't think most of them sounded money grubbing, or selfish, or evil at all. And I certainly didn't think that they were emasculating the men. Unless, of course, "being successful" is enough to emasculate your partner.

The description of Carpoolers is one of the few that really has women in it that fit the description Vanessa gives. According to Traister, the show is about a group of men who share a carpool, but little else. One of the show's leads is married to a woman who stays at home watching television and taking his money while he "waits on her, cooks, and cares for the kids". Another of the leads has been dumped by his cheating wife. The last one, though, doesn't seem to have any serious problems with his spouse, except that she might be making more money than him.

While the first two spouses sound pretty awful, there's nothing about the third spouse that should raise any ire. She's not the one emasculating her husband- he's emasculating himself (well, I suppose it's really the show's creators who are emasculating him, but, whatever). Her only "fault" is that she's successful, and making money. The show, however, sounds stupid and annoying. When you've got lines like "men go off to war; women shop; if we don't provide for our women, do they really need us?" Well... I suspect I'm not really your target market.

Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton's new show "Back to You" doesn't seem any worse (or better?). Grammer's character sounds like a total asshole who gets his comeuppance after he impugns a colleague. Again, though, there's nothing there that I could see that should make me dislike Heaton's character. She's a single parent working as a news anchor, and she doesn't need someone like Grammer to make her life complete. Given that Grammer's character is the sort to say "I didn't freeze my ass off in Minnesota and fucking Pittsburgh to end up working with some dipshit who only has her job because she's fucking the general manager!" and that the only thing that they shared was a brief sexual fling... it sounds to me like she's probably better off without him. Again, though, the point is the same: I don't see a problem with her character, so much as with his.

"Samantha Who?", on the other hand, sounds appallingly bad. Christina Applegate plays an amnesiac who discovers that her "real" self was a horrible person. Now that she's lost her sense of identity, she's much nicer, blah blah blah. I'm with Traister on this one: this sounds like a show that was designed with a desire to punish and dominate a female lead. The point of the show is to dominate and humiliate a woman that was set up as being too successful.

"Women's Murder Club" sounds a lot better, to me. A group of intelligent, successful women work together to solve murders. Nothing in Taister's description paints these women out to be particularly "money-grubbing, selfish and more-or-less evil", nor do they seem to be out to emasculate the men in their lives. The main character has had a failed marriage because she refused to put her family before her career: "Before he left, I kept promising that I would change. That I would put him over the job and that I would be at home more. Eventually he just stopped believing me, and he was right." Does that sound particularly different from what we'd expect a male cop to say?

Of course, there's still an aspect of punishment there- because she's successful and driven at work, her love life necessarily sucks. She hasn't had sex in two years. But even Traister seems to see this as a problem with the men on the shows, not the women: "The only area in which these women show any weakness is their love lives, but it's made clear that that has a lot to do with male discomfort with their power."

Traister turns her sights on "Cashmere Mafia" next. The show focuses on four women who are "utterly self-sufficient professionally, except insomuch as they rely on each other for detailed four-way-phone-call advice." One of the leads has a devoted husband who stays home with the children and turns down an offer for an affair. Another is a marketing executive who may is discovering and exploring her attraction to women.

Having read through Traister's piece, I feel like I must be missing something that Vanessa saw. The vast majority of the shows described don't seem to fit the type that Vanessa describes. I didn't think that any, outside of pre-amnesiac Applegate, sounded evil, and while many of them are very occupationally driven, I don't see that as necessarily a bad thing. They certainly didn't seem money-grubbing, and I can't remember the last time I saw a man who puts business or personal success over romance called selfish, so I'm not sure where that's coming from either.

The men in these shows are, almost without exception, portrayed as insecure jack-holes who are intimidated by successful women, or who are complete push-overs. They're either asshole woman-haters, or they're willing to let themselves be walked on. And the bulk of them sound whiney and angsty and generally unpleasant.

And while this is a serious problem, I'm not remotely surprised by it. Particularly given how many men really are intimidated by powerful, successful women. It's hard to tell from Traister's piece, but I wonder how many of these shows are portraying the men's fears as being reasonable and rational. How many of them are trying to reinforce the idea that men who are married to or involved with women who make more money somehow aren't "real" men. Or, is there some attempt to show these men for the whiners that they are? Is it played for comedy (Look how stupid these men are! They're *afraid* of successful women!), or is it played straight (Look how awful this is- these men don't make as much money as the women in their lives. Isn't that sad?)?

Anyway... I won't be watching these shows to find out, but I'm a little curious. Am I the only one who is missing what Vanessa is apparently seeing? Because, while I definitely agree that a lot of this could be offensive to men, and that it doesn't show male/female relationships very well, I don't see that most of these shows are offensive in their treatment of the women- it's that the men on the shoes echo too strongly the shitty sentiments of men in the real world, and say and do offensive things to the women in these shows.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Questioning Words: "Blind" and Ableism...

This post, over at Feminist Philosophers, has me thinking. It's actually one of the comments that's prompting me to post. The eighth comment down, by Shelley, posits that using the term "blind" as in the phrase "a blind review" (a review where the person doing the review doesn't know anything about the person who wrote the paper being reviewed) is ableist.

The putative explanation generally given for this use of the term “blind” is that this is a form of refereeing in which the reviewers cannot “see” the name(s) of the author or authors. Not seeing is blindness. Right? Wrong. That is not what is really going on here. What is actually going on is that blindness is being metaphorically equated with not knowing, with not having knowledge, or not having knowledge of something: blindness is not knowing, blindness is ignorance, blind people cannot be knowers.

Having read this, I sat here at my desk pondering that. Ultimately, I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I can totally understand her frustration. On the other, though, that's what the word means. The problem, here, seems to be that the word, blind, has quite a few definitions, only one of which is "sightless". In fact, "sightless" is one of the most recent meanings. The word originally meant "difficult to discern" or "confused". The word was later applied to people who can't see with their eyes.

So, in a sense, Shelley is half right. A "blind study" is not just one in which sight is prevented- it's one in which the identity of the writer is "difficult to discern". It's not a metaphoric shift, though- it's from the original (and continued) use of the word. If anything, the metaphoric shift was made when the word was first applied to people.

Still, this leaves me unsure of what to think. I mean, what's the right course of action here? It's not like I'm unfamiliar with the idea that words have power- they have tremendous power. And, I'm familiar with the prejudices that she describes. I've witnessed the ways that people treat my blind aunt, and how offensive people can be to someone with visual impairment.

Even so, my initial feeling is that, while I understand with her analysis, I don't necessarily agree with it, because the word has never stopped meaning those things. There are plenty of words that have shifted over time- nobody would seriously use "gay" to mean "happy" anymore. At some point, the use of "gay" to mean "homosexual" became the norm, and the other definition faded from use, but that's not really the same thing that happened with "blind". It's not that the meaning shifted from "confused" or "difficult to discern" and started meaning "sightless"- it's meant both of those things for around four hundred years.

It got me thinking about the use of the term "right" to mean "opposite of left" as well as "correct." Couldn't someone who is left-handed reason that "left" equals "wrong"?

As it turns out, they could, and they wouldn't be far off, in terms of origins. Since we've been using "right" in the sense of "opposite of left" for almost nine hundred years, though, does that change things? Does the fact that the origin of the word was offensive change the fact that we've got nine centuries of usage?

I don't know.

I don't think that we're going to stop using "right" and "left" as points of directional reference any time soon, and I don't really think we need to. I'd bet that most people don't even know the origin of the word "left", so that's probably not a problem, anyway. Does the fact that "blind" didn't start off as a word describing people matter in regards to how we should view he word? Does the fact the it's still used in the original sense, as well as a word to describe people, matter?

As it stands, I'm inclined to try to be understanding of the critique, but respectfully disagree. I think I can understand where Shelley is coming from, and I understand her reasoning, but, right now, I'm not sure that I can agree with what she's saying. I have to admit, though, that this is leaving me feeling sort of guilty. I certainly don't like the idea of using words that might hurt someone or that might offend someone, but... well... eh, I don't know.

Any thoughts?

Monday, September 10, 2007

At Some Point, the Message Will Sink In...

This post by Cara is right on.

I don't care what size she is, calling her "fat" is not an acceptable critique of her performance. The performance may have sucked (I haven't watched it), but calling her out because she's not a size zero anymore isn't criticism, it's insulting.

And, as Cara points out, it's got pretty far reaching implications.

If Britney Spears is "fat" now, what does that say about any woman who is bigger or less "fit" than she is? I know, I know- she's a celeb, so it's different, right? It's okay to slam her for putting on weight.


A few of the commentors on some of the sites I visit have pointed out that she's had kids, and is getting older, etc. as reasons why she's put on some weight, and that those are reasons why it's not okay to fat shame her, but you know... I don't give a damn what she's doing. I don't care if she's had ten kids, or none. I'm totally with FemStar on this one...

It doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter, because her size doesn't have a damn thing to do with whether her performance was great or not. I've for damn sure seen artists that were easily twice her size performing, and doing a damned good job entertaining me.

Have I mentioned? I'm really tired people using "you're fat" as a weapon.

Friday, September 07, 2007

On Morality...

Given the recent topics of conversations, the subject of rights and obligations has come up a bit on Feministe. I think that there are a lot of places people come from on the subject of rights and obligations, so I thought I'd do a little polling and see where people fall.

Generally speaking, when I, and I think most other people, talk about morality, what we're really talking about are rights and obligations against and towards other people. Moral theory is a pretty complex and highly debated field, and I'm not even going to try to sum up or explain all of the different sources of and theories of morality. Suffice to say that there's a lot of debate.

In our society, there's very little relation between "Legal" and "Moral." The two sometimes overlap, as in the case of, say, murder- but the fact that something is against the law doesn't make it immoral. It's against the law to jay-walk, but I'm not sure that I've ever seen someone try to argue that it's immoral. Likewise, the fact that something is legal doesn't necessarily mean that it's moral. It's legal to lie to and cheat on your girlfriend/boyfriend, but most moral theories would suggest it's probably not very moral to do so.

With regards to rights and obligations: When you are said to have a right, X, it implies an obligation in other moral beings. If I have a right not to be killed unjustly, then it follows that there's an obligation in other moral beings not to kill me unjustly. If someone else is said to have a right to personal autonomy, then I have an obligation not to unjustly encroach on that person's personal autonomy. Rights and obligations are sort of constantly pushing against each other. For each right you have, there are coralary obligations that other people have to respect.


I think that a point that many people get hung up on is the use of the word "person" within moral theory. In everyday language most people use "human" and "person" pretty interchangably. When someone says "I saw a group of people standing over by such-and-such" we parse that as meaning a group of human beings. That's not necessarily the case in moral theory.

When we talk about "persons" in moral theory, what we're talking about are moral agents. Some moral theorists believe that only human beings can be persons, but quite a few leave open the possibility for non-human persons. Think, for example, of Star Wars (I know, geeky, right?). Any of the sapient beings in the Star Wars universe could be considered persons if they're capable of being called moral beings. If they have the capacity to understand moral obligations, they'd be people. This even includes things like artificial intelligences- computers that are self-aware.

For more practical and (for now!) realistic examples, consider the possibility that some animals turn out to be smarter than we'd previously thought. If some apes or dolphin turn out to have human-like intelligence, and can understand rights and obligations, shouldn't they be included in the moral community?

Moving more towards my personal beliefs (although, by no means only mine), is the possibility that some things may have rights, but not obligations. I don't really want to weigh in too heavily in the animal rights debate right now, because, quite frankly, I don't have a horse in that race, and I haven't thought enough about animal rights to take a strong, educated stance, but even within the world of human beings we recognize that there are some humans that have rights without attached obligations.

To put it broadly: Human beings that aren't capable of understanding or acting on moral obligations are generally held not to have them. This is, I think, the main reason why we usually hold young children to lower standards of behavior than adults. If a child engages in theft, lying, or even some forms of violence, we generally don't hold them accountable in the same way that we'd hold a teenager or an adult.

When a six year-old hits another child, or steals a toy or candy, we recognize that part of this is likely because the child doesn't yet have a developed sense of moral obligation and behavior. You can tell a young child that stealing is wrong, or that hitting is bad, but it takes some time for the child to develop a sense of obligation towards other people. Children develop a sense of understanding beyond the self over time, they're not necessarily born with this.

This is also one of the reasons why people who are deemed insane are held to a different standard than those who are not. If you are unable to control your own behavior, or experience the world in such a way that moral behavior is completely impossible, then you can't be said to have the same obligations as a person who can make moral choices. Which is not to say that such actions go unpunished or no steps should or are taken to prevent future repeat offenses- but the standard is different, and we generally think that such people "need help" not just prison (as an example).

Anyway, that's sort of a brief run-down of where I'm coming from on discussions about morality and moral behaviors. Like I said, there's a lot of debate in the field, and my thoughts shouldn't be taken as an explanation for what every moral theorist has to say- some would agree, others wouldn't. I thought it might help understand where I'm coming from in some conversations, though.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Monty: Feminism Meets Animal Rights -or- On Personal Criticism...

First: The thread that started it all...

Two interesting responses, from zuzu and Jill.

There's a lot of comments there, and even trying to do justice to the width and breadth of the comments would be a lesson in futility, so I'm going to leave it to you to really get into the meat of that argument, while I go all meta for a moment before returning to the point.

I think that arguments like this one are interesting in the frequency with which they seem to come up. In discussions about everything from clothes to makeup to sex to... well... just about anything you can come up with, the phrase "the personal is political" is probably applicable. Unfortunately, the inverse of that statement seems to be just as true- the political is, all too often, very personal.

Without weighing in on the issue of animal rights yet, I think it's worth noting how personally people in general take criticisms of potentially politically charged actions. Even when they're not directed specifically at them. When we have a personal investment in something, it can be easy to take criticism of that thing- whether it’s an object, an action, or a belief- personally, even if the criticism was intended more broadly.

This is hardly the first time this has happened, I just noticed that there was a pattern to it this time. Find a thread where someone is critical of just about any activity, and you’re bound to find at least a couple of comments along the lines of “But I do that, and I’m still a feminist!” or a comments defending the action in question because of who the person partaking is. There’s some general resistance to criticism being directed at the actions of the people we like, as SarahMC points out:

Yeah, it’s “the personal is political” where feminism is concerned, but not dog breeding because someone we like bought from a breeder and it’s not cool to criticize.
People on “our side” pass judgement on people’s behavior all the time. Usually sexist, misogynist behavior, on feminist blogs. There’s nothing wrong with that. Or is it only acceptable where feminism, specifically, in concerned?

And, ultimately, I have a hard time arguing against that- it’s a good point. Even still, it’s not like I don’t understand why people resist criticism. Sometimes people will clarify: “I’m not attacking your right to do X, or you, personally, I’m questioning something broader/bigger than that” but a lot of times, I think it’s hard not to take those comments a bit personally, even when you know it’s about a broader issue, and not just you. I know that I sometimes find myself feeling defensive when, say, video games are discussed, or when someone makes a comment about “what men do.” I think that’s natural.

Blogger Elaine's comments seem to have led to exactly this kind of result, though. Hers is the eighth one in on the thread:


Monty is adorable and I don't mind some puppy time on this blog, but as a feminist on a feminist blog, I think you owe your readers at least a cursory feminist analysis of your choice to treat another living being as a product of consumption.

I'm not familiar with most of the Monty posts- I might glance at the pictures (and, yeah, Monty is a cute puppy, no doubt!), but I don't usually read the comments, because... well... I figured they'd mostly be "Aw! He's so cute!" I gather that Elaine has apparently attempted to engage with Jessica about this in the past, but I haven't read those posts. Now, I'm sort of loathe to think that any blogger really owes any reader anything, unless a specific debt has been incurred, but, that quibble aside, I didn't think that Elaine's comment was really that outlandish or demanding. I gather that I'm actually sort of in the minority there, though.

The really interesting thing here is how familiar the general form of this conversation is.

Here's how I break it down: Blogger posts some personal statement, x, of like/dislike. A responds with questions/criticisms about X. B responds in annoyance at A. C responds agreeing with A and dismissing/attacking B... ...G responds by calling A's (or B's, or Blogger's) feminist cred into question: "real feminists don't x"/"I thought that feminists were against x?"

The topic changes, but the conversation is the same, in a lot of cases. Whether you're talking about pornography, or children, or, apparently, pets. I haven't even been in the feminist blogosphere that long, and I'm seeing this- have others noticed this pattern, too? I have to admit, it's very frustrating to see in action.

From that thread, I get the impression that animal rights are a pretty major part of for Elaine, ngrey, SarahMC, et al's personal identity (apologies aplenty if I've misread any of you!). For some people, animal rights and human rights aren't different. Human beings, after all, are animals, so, the logic goes, how can we separate the two?

So, this makes sense, right? You're a person who cares deeply about animal rights. For you, animal rights can't necessarily be neatly separated from feminist issues. There's an overlap. You go to a site of a feminist author that you respect, and she's engaging in an activity that you find questionable.

Can we really, in good conscience, expect a person for whom animal rights are important to stay silent? Do we expect them to just shut up about it? I’m not sure, but I suspect not. I don’t expect people not to call me out on things just because I try to be good. If I say something sexist or racist or homophobic, I would hope to be called on it. The difference this time is that Elaine’s argument is that there some aspect of speciesism or human exceptionalism instead of some other ism.

There was a comment on the feministing thread that basically said: Aren't we allowed to just enjoy stuff, or do we always have to question people about their actions? Aren't we allowed to make our own choices?

I hate to bring up past kerfuffles, but, well... like I said, a lot of this sounds familiar. In particular, I'm thinking about posts regarding people of color, but I think it also applies to some of the posts about sex-work/pornography, and probably to other topics, too. In the end, I think that the answer is that, no, you can’t really just enjoy stuff, sometimes. Sometimes you have to accept that your actions may carry political weight beyond what you thought or wanted, and that sometimes you’re going to get taken to task over things that you didn’t think were political actions. You can choose to engage those questions, or you can choose to ignore them, but they’re still going to be there.

I think that the thing that bothers me about these conversations is the ways that another person's concerns and criticisms are sometimes casually dismissed and hand-waved away in ways that we wouldn't accept feminist concerns being dismissed. Every so often, we see MRAs or just anti-feminists coming into threads and dismissing feminist concerns. A particularly sexist ad might be getting critiqued, when some guy will come up and tell everyone to chill out or relax, or suggest that it's "all in good fun." That kind of comment (rightly) gets ripped apart.

Midway through the thread, SarahMC takes some people to task for the thread:
Why is it OK for feminists to protest stuff that harms women but not OK for animal lovers to protest behaviors that harm animals? Seriously. These, "But that's what I want to do and nobody can stop me!" arguments are the same types of arguments used by anti-feminists all the time!
"But I like porn so nobody should examine or criticize it!" etc.
How can anyone be offended by this discussion? None of us advocate outlawing buying from breeders (I don't think). So nobody's being "oppressed" here. Listening to our opinions/viewpoints is not hurting you.

Which struck me as a pretty fair point, and even though I don’t find myself agreeing with everything that the animal rights crowd on there is saying, I found myself rereading some of their comments, and trying to see things from their point of view. Unfortunately, the thread sort of degenerates rapidly from that point...

There are a lot of things going on in that thread, and some of them I'm still struggling to come to terms with. At one point Elaine compares animal ownership to slavery, which prompts a number of comments along the lines of "That's incredibly offensive." It inspired Zuzu’s post, and has been pretty generally torn apart. And while I understand and agree with much of what Zuzu says in her post, I’m not all the way there yet.

See, the problem I’m having is that there’s Slavery, and there’s slavery. I’ll totally grant that Jessica’s owning Monty is not on the level of “someone whose ancestors survived the Middle Passage only to be sold at auction and kept in bondage for the rest of their lives.” That would be Slavery. Of course, I don’t think that the guy working the counter at McDonald’s is really experiencing that kind of oppression either, but I don’t know that I’ve seen much outrage over the term “wage slave.”

I sort of take it because there’s a recognizable difference between slavery and Slavery. You can be a slave without having undergone the level of torment and torture that happened during Slavery, and I just can’t see the value is trying to suggest that any conversation about slavery as a form of oppression has to involve oppression on the level of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

Nor do I think that there’s value in assuming that people on the animal rights side are arguing in bad faith or are racist jerks just because PETA has a bad track record, which is part of what I think might be happening. This, even after Elaine clarified: The definition of slavery is to treat another as property. Property is the essential concept of slavery. Property. The only way you can be offended is if you think it's OK to treat non-human animals as property.

Does an elephant in a circus that’s whipped and beaten, that’s forced to do strange tricks and perform at the whims of the ring-master suffer on the same level as that person who was kidnapped and brought across the Middle Passage? Maybe not. But is that elephant still being treated as a thing? As property? Is it being forced to do things that it would likely otherwise not want to do? Is it being kept in bondage for the rest of it’s life? Absolutely.

So, maybe not Slavery… but I have a hard time being overly critical of someone calling it slavery. After all, I think that people can and do torture animals, even if the torture never reaches the levels of the Spanish Inquisition. (And, I have to wonder, what happens if we discover, for example, that dolphins or chimps do meet the requirements for sapience? That they are “people” in a moral sense?). I’m still mulling this one over, though. Zuzu’s point about the history of racism and the ways that, in particular, POC have been Othered through the use of animal imagery isn’t lost on me… Like I say, I’m still mulling that over and running it around my brain.

I also found Jill’s take on the blow-up pretty interesting (and the comment thread looks to have been pretty good, too) although I can’t completely agree with her when she responds to Elaine’s comments with “I’d pick a human stranger over [an animal] simply because a human stranger is human, even though I think of my dogs as family and the closest thing there is to human.” I haven’t read all of Elaine’s comments on Animal Rights, but I think that there’s a difference between saying that it’s wrong to treat animals as property, and suggesting that every human being should regard every animal as being of exactly the same worth or value as, say, your own mother.

I don’t value all people the same. I’d pick my immediate family over most of my friends. I’d pick my friends over most of the bloggers I read. I’d pick most of the bloggers I read over a total stranger. I think that’s probably pretty normal- to have different levels of value for the different humans in our lives. For that matter, I value children and adult humans over fetal humans. It’s not that I don’t think that fetal humans have value- if you want a child, I think that your fetal offspring is probably pretty valuable to you- it’s that I think that born humans have greater value.

So, ultimately, suggesting that you’d pick any particular human or even any human over, say, a dog… well, it doesn’t seem to me to be much of a response against the claim that it’s wrong to treat animals like property. One doesn’t really have much to do with the other.

Maybe I sound like I’m being a little bit too critical? I don’t know… maybe I am being too critical. The thing is, animal rights are still a controversial issue, and there are a lot of people who are trying to raise awareness and do work on animal rights, and I just hate to see their issues being derided and ignored in ways that anti-feminists deride or ignore the issues that matter to me.

Mostly, I guess I’m just starting to notice this trend, and I’m not really sure if there’s a way to break out of it, or if we’re sort of doomed to repeat these sorts of arguments. Is there some way that we can try to raise questions about each others behaviors, and respond to those criticisms in a way that doesn’t feel quite as… I don’t know… antagonistic? Maybe there’s not, but I sort of hope that there is.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Brief Diversion: Movie Game....

One of my blogging buddies, Mark, has been hosting a movie screencap game, and I was the winner of the latest round. I put up round 23, over at 79 Soul, but I wanted to take a moment to promote the game over here, too (there have only been a few of us playing so far).

So, if you have a moment, why not drop by Round 23, and take a shot?

Let's Talk About Outing...

There's an interesting article on feministing called The Politics of Outing, where Ann talks about her feelings on the outing of politicians in the wake of the Larry Craig case.

It's a pretty interesting and well thought out post, and the comments seem relatively divided, which suggests that this is an issue worth talking about for a minute. This is the sort of issue that I think some people give very little thought to, while others can't help but think about in a major way, because it effects them so intimately.

Generally speaking, I'm pretty opposed to outing other people, regardless of the reasons for the outing. It's one thing to report on a scandal that involves criminal activity- sexually harassing your employees or rape, for example. In a case like that, the outing becomes an almost unavoidable side-effect of reporting on criminal activity. If you're being accused of sexual harassment by a male employee, and you're a male politician... well, people might draw conclusions, there.

But, in some cases, politicians are outed even when there's nothing criminal or unethical about their sexual activity. They're out because of the perception of hypocrisy in engaging in sexual activity with someone of the same sex, while opposing gay rights like marriage or adoption. In these cases, the person is outed to prove a point or to gain political capital.

Cases like that, I'm very much opposed to. While stinking hypocrisy often makes me want to scream and/or throw things, I can't condone outing a person in those cases, for a number of reasons.

First, and least important, is that the impression of hypocrisy is not necessarily hypocrisy. It's completely possible to have sex with someone of the same sex without thinking that same sex couples ought to be allowed to marry or adopt children. Do I find that attitude confusing or troubling? I do. But, it's not necessarily inconsistent.

Just frustrating.

Oh, and wrong.

Still, it's not hypocritical anymore than it's hypocritical to support gun control laws but still enjoy shooting skeet. You might support the notion that people should be allowed to rent rifles from licensed dealers in order to shoot skeet, and you might think that homosexual sex is okay, but not marriage. Or you might think that homosexuality is a sin, but that you're a sinner. That makes you a jerk, not necessarily a hypocrit.

More importantly, though, is that I see this kind of outing as being exactly the kind of thing that many of us work against. That is, the use of a person's sexuality as a weapon against that person. As I see it, that's one of the problems with sexual slurs. When people use the term "fag" as an insult, they're using homosexuality as a weapon to tear down and insult another person. The goal there is to use sexuality in such a way as to harm another person.

The effect, though, goes beyond the person using the insult and the person being insulted- the use of slurs like that has a chilling effect, I think, on the community at large. When we tolerate the use of slurs like that, we send a message that homosexuality is demeaning. That there's something wrong with being gay. To some degree, I think that public outings have a similar impact.

Elizabeth Schmitz, one of the commenters in that feministing thread, said:
I am somewhat conflicted about the tactics of Rogers. The process of accepting and disclosing one’s gayness is very stressful and scary–you have to worry about rejection from the people you care about the most, and begin to deal with the changes that come with being identified as a gay American. When someone else outs you, you loose control over this very difficult process, and it adds to the emotional turmoil.

What’s more, Rogers’ tactics create a new sort of McCarthyism targeting gays. It makes me somewhat uncomfortable to see again this kind of a witch hunt going on within the walls of our government.

Even though we come to different conclusions, I think that Elizabeth's comment is a pretty accurate description of what happens. I think that it goes further, though. It's not just the politician that is harmed by this, it seems to me that it probably has a bigger effect. The goal might be to expose perceived hypocrisy, but the result is that it gives credit to the perception that there's something wrong with being gay.

These scandals don't prove the hypocrisy of the anti-gay movement, they create the sense that these politicians should be ashamed of engaging in homosexual acts. I don't see how that can be good for creating the sense that it's okay to be gay or engage in same-sex acts and relationships.

Discussions of other people's sexuality often leave me feeling a bit uncomfortable. I think I discussed my discomfort with talking about how so-and-so must be closeted gay because sie is so vocally opposed to homosexuality on here, before, and I think that it's related, here too. It just seems like it's a little bit too much like using sex as a weapon, which, ultimately, seems really harmful, regardless of the pleasure I take in seeing asshole bigots get put under the spotlight and taken to task.

Which, ultimately, I think is the point. Their choice to have sex with someone of the same sex isn't the problem, and their choice to keep that activity out of the public eye isn't a problem either. The real problem is that they're trying to pass bigotted legislation. I'd much rather see them taken to task over being asshole bigots than being raked over the coals for knocking boots with other men.

Concerning Cosmo- Battling the Myth of Gray Rape

Feministing recently posted about the horrible Cosmo article in the September issue. It supposedly tackled the issue of "gray rape" but mostly seems to have blamed women for getting raped and made a bunch of rape apologies.

Cara, over at Curvature, wrote a letter to Cosmo about the article. You can see Cara's letter, and what they wrote back, in this post. I wish I could say that their response is surprising, but it's not. It's the same kind of hand-waving that I've come to expect from major media outlets when you complain about some incredibly offensive sexist comment. Cara is asking for people to write more letters, and the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault is organizing a letter writing campaign.

I'll be sending off a letter in a moment, and I urge you to take a look at the article and join in. It's easy for a magazine like Cosmo to brush off a handful of angry letters. It's less easy to write off a complaint when it starts coming from more and more people. Every person that writes a letter criticizing that article becomes a person who potentially may not buy their magazine.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think that hitting media outlets in the pocketbook is one of the most effective ways to get them to change their tune.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sorry For the Silence...

Things are really busy around here right now. Camping was incredibly awesome, for those wondering. The weather was perfect for it, and the beach was beautiful (and mostly empty). It was a well needed break from the daily grind. Now that I'm back, I'm in the process of moving about an hour away, and trying to figure out how to move an apartment's worth of stuff into one room of a house.

Anyway, regular blogging should resume tomorrow, after I catch up on everything that I've been missing.