Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween! (and why Medusa kicks ass)

Halloween is one of my two favorite days of the year. I love Halloween. I love that you get to carve pumpkins and dress up in awesome costumes and that kids get to go around and horde candy. Now that I'm an adult, Halloween is an excuse to play dress-up and watch horror movies- two things that I think are tons of fun.

I've been a little busy lately (I'm taking the GRE on Saturday. Saturday!), so this is going to be an open post: what are you doing for Halloween? Did you carve a pumpkin? Want to share a picture? What's your favorite costume? Favorite horror movie? Something else?

In the meantime, I decided- in an effort to continue with the "I'm not just posting terrible things that make me angry" effort- to create a list of fictional women I like. These are women from books, video games, comic books, movies, and mythology that I think are pretty kick-ass for various reasons. Feel free to contribute, criticize, or congratulate my choices. I'll probably (maybe) post more as time goes on, but here are a few:

First up: Medusa, Queen of the Gorgons.

Why: Because Medusa kicks all kinds of classic ass. I've seen some feminists adopt the image of Medusa as a symbol, and I love it. It makes sense. Now, the image that most of us probably have of Medusa is from Clash of the Titans, where she's a horrible monster whose sole purpose is to be there for Perseus to kill and use as a weapon against the Kraken.

But there's so much more there. According to some sources, Medusa was originally a beautiful nymph, until she was raped by Poseidon in one of Athena's temples. Athena cursed Medusa, and changed her into a gorgon.

So why do I love Medusa?
Because it's an excellent representation of patriarchy in action. Medusa is a woman who is raped by someone in a position of power. Rather than blame him for his actions, she is blamed- if only she weren't so beautiful. She is punished for the transgression of being too beautiful and causing a man to lose control. Her punishment is to be made ugly. Instead of destroying her, though, this gives her more power (literally, in fact- she is more powerful as a gorgon, since her gaze has the power to turn men to stone and her blood has the power to kill or cure). When Perseus is sent to kill Medusa, he is aided by Athena- the very goddess who transformed Medusa into a monster in the first place.

Medusa became a symbol of female power- and the fear that power represented. Her blood was alternately a deadly poison, or a life-giving cure. I also appreciate that, in a world designed around the male gaze, Medusa's gaze- the female gaze- was so feared. I love the idea of co-opting Medusa- a being typically thought of as a terrible, evil, destroying women- and reimagining her. She's not evil- she's a victim who was punished for being victimized, but turned that punishment into a source of power, and was eventually slain for it... and yet, her legacy lives on. She's easily more recognizable as a figure than Perseus or Athena are.

Next up: Warrent Officer Ellen Ripley.

Why: It's no secret that I love the first two Alien movies. I think that they're amazing films. The first one is one of the most tightly filmed horror movies ever. There's hardly a wasted scene in it, and it's still scary as hell today as it was almost three decades ago. Add to that the fact that Ripley is completely kick ass, and you've got a winner.

What's not to love about Ripley? She's written as an actual character, not as a stereotype of a woman. She's in the charge, commands respect from her crew, and isn't hypersexualized. The only real cliche that she falls into is that of being the lone-survivor of a horror film, but I can forgive that, given that she doesn't spend the rest of the movie screaming in fear or relying on other characters to protect her. She's smart, tough, and full of awesome.

One thing I don't understand: How does she rank lower than Clarice (from Silence of the Lambs) on the AFI 100 Heroes and Villains list? Clarice is cooler than Ripley? Really? Because I don't remember Clarice kicking a bunch of alien ass.

Also: Part of what looks to be an interesting article about "tough women" is over here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A note on comments...

Some of you may notice that comments require one of those word verfication things now. I'm hoping this is just temporary- I've started getting a bunch of a spam comments lately, and it's sort of a hassle to have to keep deleting them. I'm going to look for a better solution, but, in the meantime, don't let it discourage you from commenting.


Good News Friday: Today has been a good day...

Given that much of my posting, it turns out, is sort of, uh... less than happy? I thought it might be nice to have a post that talks about some nice things happening. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed or discouraged when everything seems bleak and like there's nothing to be happy and excited about. And, honestly, I think that there are good things happening and things to be pleased with. I'd say that this could become a regular Friday feature, but, well... given how successfully I've managed to keep up on past feature ideas, my new policy is "I make no promises".

First up: Mighty Ponygirl talks about the awesome new game, Portal. Portal was just released as part of Valve's "Orange Box", a package that includes Half-Life 2, the Half-Life 2 expansions: Episode One and Episode Two, and the highly anticipated Team Fortress 2.

Anyway, I haven't had a chance to pick it up, yet, but I fully intend to. MP does a great job explaining why Portal is so exciting: a game about a woman that doesn't rely on her being half-naked or waiting to be rescued? That shows her as very capable and kick-ass? That involves unique gameplay and puzzle solving in an FPS environment?


Second: It has been brought to my attention that I didn't actually specify a timeline for my graphic novel reading challenge. If you're interested in reading and discussing Four Women, I'd love to have you participate too. Given that it's a little older, you may have to order it or have it ordered at your favorite book/comic shop. You can find it on for about ten bucks, or at for $16 (after shipping).

If you check some of your local comic shops, you might actually be able to find the individual issues (there were five, I think?), which might be cheaper than picking up the graphic novel format (although I prefer the GN format, personally- no adverts!). Anyway: It, like most graphic novels, is a pretty short read- I'd guess a few hours, at most. I'm thinking two weeks or so? November 12th, perhaps?

Sam Kieth is one of, if not my absolute, favorite comic creators. He has a very particular visual style that really stands out, and his personal creations display a lot of thought and a desire to create characters that read as real. The fact that most of his main characters are women who are written as real people with real motivations, problems, issues, desires, and personalities just adds to my love.

I'd also like to suggest taking a look at this interview Sequential Tart did with him. It's a great interview, and he really opens up about a lot of things regarding his personal life (including his marriage to a woman 15 years his senior, whom he met when he was 15) and his professional work. He talks about everything from how fans reacted to his unique style:

Kids would write in and say things like: "Wolverine's okay, but his back is too round." "What's up with Wolverine's feet? Why are they growing?" And, "Wolverine is really out of proportion, I think your artist is losing his mind or something." And it was funny, because the letters I would get would be kids who really loved it, or kids who were saying "Why are you ruining my universe." They had a very specific view of the world. "I'm going through latency," they wouldn't say it in those words, but, "I'm going through this world view phase where I'm trying to categorize and order things, and you're causing chaos by giving me a version of things that are drastically different from everything else. So please, please, please go away and not do that anymore."

to his thoughts on writing women characters:

the first thing I think about is, I'm just trying to write people who happen to be female characters. So, on the one hand, if things seem more dimensional, maybe that's why. On the other, if it rings false, it's because, once again .... That whole gender question can drive you crazy, "Would I be writing this differently if I was a woman or a man?" I drove myself particularly nuts in this Four Women story. The bottom line is, yes, I think that it's probably a weaker story, yes I think that a woman could write it better, but on the other hand, I can't help who I am and the stories I'm compelled to write.

It's an older interview, but if you've got an interest in comics or in his work in particular, I think it's a pretty interesting read.

And the best for last: I stumbled upon this amazing story today. Four women got involved in a research project helped uncover the great works of Irena Sendler- a Polish Catholic social worker- who helped save around 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto and kept detailed documents of their ancestry and whereabouts hidden from the Nazis, even after being captured and threatened with torture and execution.

It's a pretty amazing story not only about the heroic efforts of this woman to save children from a terrible situation, but about the work of the women who helped bring her great works to light. Prior to these women's research, few people had heard of Irena Sendler. Now, she's been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Awesome.

It's kind of an amazing story, as their former instructor points out:
“Think of it,” said Norm Conard, their former social studies teacher. “You have some rural Protestant kids from a tiny place in Kansas who decide to tackle the story of a Polish Catholic woman who saved thousands of Jews, despite the fact that they were raised in a place where there is virtually no one of Jewish ancestry. It makes absolutely no sense that Irena’s story would end up getting told like this.”

So, I open the floor to you: Got any good stories to share? See something that really warmed your heart? Hear a news item that brought a smile to your face? Watch a movie that made you giddy? Please, share it with the rest of us. =)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Marketing a violent shooting game? Call Playboy!

(Thanks to Cara for forwarding this my way)

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men was a game that I was sort of interested in. I'm sort of a sucker for games that offer co-op play or that have interesting multiplayer options. That the multiplayer has you teaming up to complete objectives with the possibility that one or more of your team members (including you) might turn on the rest was interesting, and adds what I think sounds like an interesting element of paranoia to teaming up with people. The fact that death in multiplayer switches you to the other side, with the goal of stopping the rest of the team also struck me as a pretty cool aspect.

The story mode (single player and co-op) sounded interesting too- one character is a former mercenary opposed to harming innocent people who is fighting to save his family, while the other is a psychopath who experiences visual halucinations during gameplay. Combine all of these things with a story and gameplay that pays tribute to gangster films like Heat and the Departed, and, yeah, I'm interested.

And then the promotional campaign started.


This is exactly the sort of thing that I'm talking about when I talk about how gaming culture is steeped in sexism. It's not just the characters in games, it's the way that gamers, creators, and marketing teams treat women, too. This contest isn't about including women in the game- it's about using women's bodies to increase interest in their product.

This seems like such an obviously bad idea, that it's hard to know exactly where to begin. I find the use of women's nude bodies to promote the "hotness" of a really violent shooter really disturbing. Why not do a promotion that involves people generally trying to look like they belong in Kane & Lynch? Why try to tie it to looking hot and sexy? It doesn't even make sense. And, seriously, way to alienate a huge section of the population there, folks. Nothing says you respect women gamers like taking a game where the only prominant woman is a hostage, and use Playboy as a major part of your promotion. Nothing screams "We respect women gamers" like trying to use their naked bodies to advertise your product.

I'm glad to see that at least some major gaming media have expressed some reservations about this kind of promotion, too.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

46th Carnival of Feminists is up!

Apu, over at Cubically Challanged, is hosting the 46th Carnival of Feminists right now. There's some pretty interesting reading to be done, there (*cough cough*including something I wrote*cough cough*), about a wide range of topics. Abortion rights, the lack of women represented in The Scientist's top science blogs list, "grey rape", single sex schooling, and even Death Proof are just a few of the many topics covered in this latest carnival. If you've got a few minutes, I strongly suggest taking some time to browse through to some of the blogs you might not normally be reading- there are tons of great writers out there, and it can be hard to find them, but Apu has taken the time and effort to gather links to many of them, right there.

Check it out here!

Courts to victims: "You don't count."

If you're not reading The Curvature, you ought to be. Cara is relentless- she's always posting a story that I haven't seen yet or that other blogs haven't jumped on yet, and this was no exception.

Not only does she break stories, but she breaks them down, too:

Like the judge who thought that a prostitute wouldn’t care about being raped because, well, she’s a prostitute, this judge seems to think that a woman who won’t testify in a domestic violence case doesn’t care about the abuse. He of course fails to take into account that women who are abused are very commonly either 1. afraid of their partner 2. think that they are to blame for the abuse or 3. have mental health issues that make them want to stay with their partners. This does not mean that the abuse did not occur — as any reasonable person should already know.

The prostitution story she's talking about is this horrible story, by the way.

Either of those stories, alone, is horrible enough. Taken together, and in the face of the many other examples of questionable judicial rulings, and mistreatment by police, and it's hard not to think that maybe they're part of a larger problem.

One might even say a systemic one.

One might, in fact, go so far as to call it institutional.

To expand on what Cara is saying (and to shamelessly reference my own comments): the judge's argument doesn't make any sense beyond (or even on) the surface level. Even if we agree that it's possible that some people might consent to being struck repeatedly in the face, that the victim did not come forward and testify does not suggest that she, in fact, consented, but, rather, suggests the opposite.

The judge is reaching for an unlikely reason for the the victim's behavior when a simpler, and more likely, explanation exists. The sad reality is that victims of domestic violence often do not feel safe coming to the authorities or testifying against the people abusing them. Many times, the victims have come to think that there is no escape, and that going to authorities will leave them with no support, or, worse, will escalate the violence that they're experiencing.

Even if we accept what the judge is saying- that there are "rare cases; sadomasochists sometimes like to get beat up,"- we should be asking if that is likely, and if that makes sense in regards to this case, or if the victim's behavior is more likely the result of fear.

The test for this is rather simple: Assume that the judge is correct for a moment, and that the victim, in this case, was actually a consenting partner to the incident, and that this was some kind of sadomasochistic game or something. Does the victim's behavior make sense in this context?

I think it should be obvious that the answer is "no," it does not. If the victim was a consenting party to the assault, it doesn't any make sense that she would not come forward to exonerate the attacker. After all, if she was consenting to being struck in the face, why wouldn't she come forward when they arrested her attacker to say "Why are you arresting my partner? He didn't do anything to me that I didn't give consent to, and he's innocent of the crime you're charging him with."

The judge, instead, ignores an obvious, simple, and well documented reason why a victim might not come forward, and jumps on an unlikely, absurd, and unreasonable one, and, in the process, sets the justice system even further back. Over and over our courts keep showing the victims of crimes that they shouldn't trust the judicial system to protect them. When courts dismiss cases even when the police witness the crime taking place, it sends a chilling message to victims of abuse: even when we see it happen it doesn't count.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Irony so thick, it's clogging my lungs...

I guess I'm a bit late to this one (since it's almost 90 comments strong now), but how do you respond with a straight face to a post entitled "Your Women Are Ugly!" is not a political argument" with comments that can roughly be summed up with "yeah, especially when they're ugly!"?

I know I'm a broken record on this, but it just keeps coming up. A person's perceived attractiveness isn't a valid basis for political criticism. It doesn't matter how attractive you think Ann Coulter is. Whether she's hot or not doesn't change the message she's spewing, and it doesn't validate or invalidate the hatred in her message. When you attack her appearence you're not criticizing her message, you're actually, in some way validating part of it.

Yes, Coulter repeatedly tries to sell or is sold as this attractive conservative voice. She does try to invalidate liberal opinions by suggesting that they're unattractive, as though a person's beauty is a valid basis for criticizing arguments. When you say "but you're not hot, Coulter!" you're not countering her argument. In fact, what you're really doing is validating it in some way. The implication is that her argument is wrong, not because looks don't matter, but because she's not hot. In other words, her premise is fine, just her conclusion is wrong.

So, I'm just going to go ahead and keep on saying it:
If your response to that post was to point out how you think that conservatives are ugly or that liberals are attractive, you didn't help. You reinforced the problem. What you're saying is "they're wrong because we're hot or they're ugly" when you ought to have been saying "they're wrong, it doesn't matter how attractive you are, but, rather, what your socio-political acheivements are." When you focus on people's looks instead of their contributions, you're just reinforcing the notion that the most important thing a person can be is pretty.

A fair question... Why am I a feminist?

(by the way- this is the 101st post on No Cookies For Me! Hooray!)

In my It's a Small World post, reader projektleiterin responded with a great question of her own for me. I think it's a totally fair question:

...most guys I hear talking about equal rights strike me as quite insincere (very professional method for picking up gullible women who love fawning over a sensitive man who takes their issues seriously) or as having issues with themselves (nice guy syndrome). The only question I have is, what motivates you as a man to deal with the issues of women?

I keep thinking I've written about this, but I can't, for the life of me, figure out where. So, why do I care about women's issues? Why am I a feminist? What motivates me, as a man, to get involved?

The short answer: I think it's the right thing to do.

The long answer: Most of my thoughts on women's issues are grounded in my philosophical beliefs. A lot of my beliefs are based on theories of fairness- I'm concerned about and interested in making sure that people are treated fairly. When people are treated unfairly, it creates un-necessary suffering and hardship. When we work to increase fairness, I think that we all benefit, and the world is a better place. I think that all of us have an obligation to try to make the world a better place, and that improving the status of women is one way to do that.

While I spend a great deal of time discussing and addressing the issues that women face, and sexism as I see it, I try to discuss and address issues surrounding race and sexuality, too. I think that the discussions I have here and on other blogs help make me a better person, and (I hope) help other people as well. I'm also a believer in the idea that all of these things are interconnected. I think that women's issues are men's issues, are people's issues. I suppose this is a way of arguing that patriarchy hurts men too, which is sort of cliche, but it's true. Which, I suppose, is a way of saying that my interest isn't exactly altruistic. I do benefit from my feminism. Breaking down tradition gender roles and fighting sexism also helps me, as a man. It helps create a world where I can be judged on who I actually am, not what kind of plumbing I have downstairs.

So, yeah. Why am I interested in women's issues? I think that the answer is that, ultimately, women's issues are human issues, and I firmly believe that the world becomes a better place every time we make progress, if only a little bit. There are women in my life that I care about, and, but for the flip of a genetic coin, I could easily have been born a woman. I think that, as a moral being, I have an obligation to better myself and to care about how I treat other people. All of us are better off when we address these things and care about how people are treated.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Abortion <> Child Support

The Weekly Feminist Reader, over at Feministing, reminds me, once again, how difficult I think discussions about men's roles in pregnancy and childbirth can be. The bulk of the comments are about a post on MRAs from Shakespearessister. The conversation was more specifically about whether or not men ought to have the ability to "opt out" of parenthood/fatherhood.

It's a conversation that I don't know if I've ever seen go well (and yet, here I am, putting my foot in the water, too). I think that one of the biggest problems with the conversation is that it conflates two very different issues. Despite the best attempts by some commenters, abortion is not comparable to opting out. Abortion is about the right to personal autonomy regarding the use of one's body as an incubator for an unwanted fetus. Opting out is about the desire not to be held financially responsible for your offspring.

There are a lot of problems with conflating the two things. The arguments in support or against them simply aren't the same, and, I think, men's rights groups shoot themselves in the foot when they try to pretend that they are. The suggestion that your right to control your wallet is the same as a woman's right to control her body is... well... it's sort of offensive. It treats a woman's body like a piece of property, and I think that women are rightly annoyed and disturbed by that kind of reasoning.

So, what I propose to do in this post is talk about child support as child support- not as an issue somehow comparable to abortion. The question here is simple: should a parent have a right to opt out of child support?

Honestly, I think it'd be great if we had a system that would allow for people who don't want to be parents to not have to bear any of the unwanted burdens associated with childcare. Right now, if neither parent wants the child, they have options that let them avoid those burdens, but if the child is born and either parent decides to keep it, we run into the problem of child support payments.

The problem is that children have needs and the needs of those children must be taken into consideration. Having and caring for children isn't cheap- there are doctor visits, and food, and clothes, and supplies for school, babysitters or childcare, etc. I don't think it's reasonable to expect most single parents have the resources to care for a child just lying around. I suspect that most single parents need all the help they can get. Hell, most coupled parents need help from time to time.

As it stands, I don't see any way to abolish child support that doesn't do more harm than good, and I don't blame feminists for not jumping on the issue with full force. Why should they? Child support is something that goes to the child, not the parent, and either parent can collect it. I don't think that child support is unfair, given the purpose and the beneficiary. I don't doubt that some people can point out cases of abuse wherein the money didn't go where it should have, but if those cases are punished, and they represent a tiny minority of the problems with the system (people not paying representing a much bigger problem), I'm not going to get too down on people over it.

Now, personally, I think it'd be great if there was a social net for single parents who were raising a child alone. If there were circumstances where either parent had made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with being a parent, all rights and obligations could be severed and some kind of public fund would help defer the costs of childcare.

I think that there are several very real advantages to a system like this. The first advantage is that it allows people who don't want to be parents to opt out of that, with the stipulation being that, by giving up all of the burdens of being a parent, they also give up on all of the rights, as well. For the people who feel frustrated by being compelled to pay child support for a child they neither wanted nor want anything to do with, that's a very real benefit.

Another benefit is that, by spreading the burden out over a larger number of people, we can (theoretically, at least) better provide for those children. Child support barely scratches the surface when it comes to the actual costs of raising children. A public fund that would help pay for the cost of raising children, or that would, for example, provide some of the things children require, the needs of a child might better be met. According to USDA research, an average full child support payment for a middle income household in 1996 only covered about 33% of the estimated expenditure on that child. Ideally, we want each parent to contribute half of the cost of raising the child, since they contributed equally to the creation of the child- but the custodial parent caries the bulk of the burden.

And that's assuming that the payments are actually made. In many cases, the non-custodial parent does not make the payments, or pays less than the full ammount, which only increases the burden on the custodial parent.

A system where child support was paid for through public funding might actually let us increase the standard of living for those children living in single parent homes.

Of course, I recognize that such a system would be ripe for abuse, and that drives some people up the wall. The notion that someone would exploit such a system- and, I have no doubts that some people might- is enough to reduce support for such a plan. The other side of that is that there are plenty of people who think that such a system would further negate men's involvement in their children's lives, by creating a system where there were no consequences to fathering many children.

Which leads me to a bit of criticism with regards to the feministing thread. As much as I can understand where the frustration comes from, I don't think that all of the responses are helpful or fair. The only real justification that I see for child support (and I really don't see how any other is needed) is that the welfare of the child must be taken into consideration, and, barring support for an alternative plan, the burden has to be shared by the people who created the child. But, there are a number of comments in that thread that ammount to "Well, men need to face consequences for sex."

That kind of argument strikes me as being sort of weird. One of the things that we've often talked about around the feminist blogosphere is that pregnancy is not a punishment. We shouldn't be using children as a means of punishing people for having sex, either. If we could find a way to reasonably provide for the child without forcing either parent (who doesn't want children) to bear the burden, we should consider it. The notion that child support should be used as a means of creating consequences for men is a bit problematic to me.

Consider this:
Women do not have the right to have sex without coping with the consequences--that's impossible for us. One of the ways we cope is abortion. But MRAs want men to be able to have sex without coping with the consequences. Nope. We don't get to skip off, and neither do they.

Another major benefit of a system like this would be the providing of care in the cases where one parent is absent due to death. As it stands, the death of one parent can be a serious financial burden on a family, and, if life insurance isn't something that the family could reasonable afford, or if the family spent a lot of money or racked up a lot of bills paying for medical care prior to the death, it could substantially reduce the quality of a child's life.

The problem I have is that, ultimately, I want everyone to be able to have sex that is as free of consequences as possible. I sort of think that most of us would like that. The only people I want to have children are, well, people who want to have children. I want people who just want to have sex for recreational purposes to find partners who want the same, and to be able to have safe, healthy, fun sex, without unwanted pregnancy or disease.

So, yeah, I do, in fact, want men and women to be able to have consequence free sex. And it's true, the way things are right now, that rarely, if ever, happens. I don't, however, think that we should be doing things to reinforce that, or that reinforce the idea that children should be used as a means of punishing people for poor choices, which is how some of the comments read to me.

The fact that women, as the party that becomes pregnant, can never fully escape the risk of consequences is no more a justification for forcing men to pay child support than it is a justification for suggesting that women must act as walking incubators for children if men want them. The biological aspects of creation are beyond our control, but that doesn't excuse or justify treating either party unfairly.

Right now, I think that child support coming from the non-custodial biological parent is necessary, because I think that the needs of the child have to be taken into consideration, and there's simply not support for any alternative right now. That doesn't, though, mean that we shouldn't consider the possibility of a system wherein the needs of the child are met in some other way. The current system is better than no system- but that doesn't make a great system, or beyond improvement.

Right now it's sort of a "least bad" situation. It's certainly not a particularly good one, given that almost nobody is happy with it: the custodial parents still bear a substantially large piece of the financial burden, children still aren't getting the money that's required for their care, non-custodial parents don't always pay or pay less than they're supposed to, and some non-custodial parents resent being forced to pay for a child that they never wanted and made clear that they never wanted.

Of course, I've got a vested interest in this conversation, as someone who is considering donating sperm to a woman so that she can have a child with her partner. Since our state does not recognize same-sex adoptions or marriages, I could be help legally responsible for child support, even though none of us involved want me to be held responsible. Is this a normal situation? Of course not- it's a tiny fraction of all child support cases- but it's still a concern for me.

Speaking of men...

Amanda responds to comments about MRA issues, and there are some interesting comments, so far.

In particular, I really appreciated this, from Peter:

Some of the issues are very genuine, but the solution to the real ones is ALWAYS de-genderizing the issue and applying some other rational basis. For example, things like child-support and alimony. It isn’t a “men’s issue” as much as needing a retooling for fairness based on pay and such and applying those standards to everybody (and until the pay gap and the social expectation that mothers do all the work change, any rationally applied standard is going to skew toward men paying women in the general case.)

The rest of the issues always strike me as the sort of thing where the privileged are complaining about the (very real) dirt on their silverware while the unprivileged are asking to be allowed to eat at all.

The current patriarchal system does privilege some individual women and does badly oppress some individual men. Denying that helps nobody, but using it as an excuse to perpetuate the system is insane.

It’s one thing to be on the bottom of the heap and try to level the field. It is another thing entirely to be on the bottom of the heap, value the heap, and try to throw others down so you can climb up the hill on their backs.

I've already talked a lot about this, but it's totally worth repeating: if men are legitimately and honestly concerned about the treatment of men, we have allies, but the bulk of the work is on our shoulders. Inquities with regards to childcare and the draft are harmful to everyone, and it's counterproductive to start pointing the finger at women or feminists, as though they don't also have a vested interest in fixing those broken systems.

Anyway, there are some really interesting comments there, and I'd definitely suggest checking it out, if you haven't already done so.

It's a Small World...

Like Jill, I often look to sitemeter to see where my traffic comes from. It's a pretty neat feature, and I'm constantly amazed to see all the places that readers call home. In the last 50 visitors, I've had people from South Africa, Egypt, Macau, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, the UK, and the United States.

I know who some of these probably are, but some of them, I haven't got a clue. I'd love to hear where some of you are from, how you found my site, what you think, or just, really, whatever you feel comfortable sharing. I think it's absolutely wonderful that so many people from all over the world can end up in the same place.

So, welcome everyone!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A question about Halloween and costumes...

I love Halloween.

This is a fact that is hardly surprising to people who know me, and isn't really that remarkable amongst people my age, anyway. I mean, who doesn't like Halloween? It's an excuse to get together with a bunch of your friends and wear funny clothes and costumes. Oh, and candy.

Plus, you get to tell ghost stories and watch horror movies, and, really, the whole thing becomes a socially sanctioned day of getting to play dress-up and make-believe, and generally get to act like a kid without having to give up all the benefits that come with being an adult. In other words, it's one of the few times you get the best of both worlds.

With regards to costumes, though, this post on Feministing has me thinking and trying to figure out where I draw the line. I think that some costumes are really offensive, and some are just in poor taste, while others are completely fine, and I've never actually thought about where the line seperates them.

Most costumes are probably pretty inoffensive. Or, at least, not overtly racist or sexist. If you dress up as a ghost or a witch or a monster, you're probably not going to be crossing the line, right? Now, the weird way that women's costumes are almost always super sexied up is problematic, but that's sort of a different issue.

Now, there are some costumes that I think are almost always offensive- and a lot of times, I think that they're intentionally offensive. They're the costumes that people wear just to get a reaction. I've seen pictures of people dressed up as the twin towers from as far back as 2002. You don't dress up in that kind of costume unless you're specifically trying to get a rise out of people- it's the "Look at how shocking and offensive I can be! I'm a rebel!" costume.

I think that people who dress up as people like Hitler or as KKK members are probably falling somewhere along the same lines- they know that they've picked out a costume that people are going to be completely shocked by, and they're looking to get that reaction.

And then there are the costumes I'm more confused about- like the ones that were pointed out in that feministing post. How bright and well defined is the line between dressing as a character from another culture's history or mythology, and dressing as a racial stereotype?

I don't think that any of us are confused about the notion that dressing in blackface would be offensive. That seems to be well understood, and I certainly don't disagree in the slightest. What about that samurai costume, though? Or, to pick something that all of us almost surely seen at least a few times: the ninja?

Now, I want to make it clear that I think that there are some important differences between blackface and ninja, and that the two really aren't the same, but I think that they exist on a continuum, and I'm not clear where, or even if, there's an easy point where we can draw the line.

I don't think that dressing as a ninja is particularly problematic. While ninja are associated with Japanese culture, I think that most people are aware that they're not real (or, at least, not real as presented). The ninja as a person who wears all black and disappears in a puff of smoke is a mythological figure- a fictional character from stories. More important, I think, is that "ninja" is an occupation- it's something you do. It's not a race. If the goal was to dress up as a Japanese person, I think that would become more problematic. Ninja has more in common with, say, Cowboy or Superhero than it does with blackface.

The more troubling and difficult cases, though, are things like the American Indian costume from that post. I find costumes like that troubling because they're not really costumes of occupations or characters- they're reinforcing stereotypes. Costumes like that strike me as being a lot more like blackface in that the whole point of the costume is that you're pretending to be a person of a particular race.

So, I think I'd really like to hear what other people are thinking about this, because I find myself wanting to justify or excuse some costumes that pull from other cultures- matador or samurai or pharoah, for example- because I seem to find them less troubling than others, but I can't help but wonder how that looks from the outside. Is it that some aren't offensive but others are, or maybe they're all problematic, but some moreso than others?


Blogging about books... jumping prematurely into a challenge...

Dewey, over at the hidden side of a leaf takes a moment to Black Hole, by Charles Burns. It's a solid write-up of a pretty amazing, if somewhat disturbing, graphic novel. Dewey finishes up the post by pointing out that none of the bloggers she reads regularly write much about comics/graphic novels, and that maybe she needs to "host a graphic novel challenge!"

I keep meaning to write more about graphic novels, and putting it off for some reason. Over at 79 Soul I used to write about comics a little bit, and a number of the blogs I read are comic blogs, but I haven't really been in a position to pick up much new material lately.

Still, I love a challenge (even one that hasn't officialy been issued yet!).
(and, even if I can't spell the word correctly the first time around)

There are several works that I think would be interesting to write about on here, and I thought I'd go ahead and mention which ones I'm going to be taking a look at, so that other people can read them and give their opinions as well.

First, I think I'm going to start with something by Sam Kieth. He has a pretty long history of writing believable women in his stories, and many of his books focus on the lives and experiences of women. So, to that end, I'm suggesting that we take a look at Four Women first.

I want to warn anyone who is thinking of picking it up that it deals pretty frankly with sexual assault and rape. I've read it once before, and it can be really difficult to read- it definitely deserves a trigger warning. Noting that, I remember thinking it was a powerful comic, so I'm looking forward to reading it, now that I've got a few years distance between it and myself.

I'd love to know what other graphic novels people are interested in taking a look at- do any of you even care about comics/graphic novels?

On "Accidental Rape"

One of the comments that came up in Jill's post about rape and power was the point that rapists always know that they're raping. Several people pointed out that "rape is never an accident." There was also the suggestion that rapists always know what they're doing- or, to reword it slightly, rapists know that they're rapists- they don't rape without knowing that they're raping. Personally, I'm really not completely convinced of this.

One of the reasons that I advocate a shift in the ways that we think about sex is precisely because I think that the current model leads to rape. Right now, we're taught to think about sex as thing- largely a thing that men want and women have. Under this model, sex is often seen as a conquest- you're victorious if you have sex. This, I think, is at least partially responsible for some of the ways that people pursue sex- this is why people think it's okay to lie in the pursuit of sex, or why people think that it's okay to get someone drunk and "take advantage of them."

I'm going to try to find the stats, but I remember reading that surveys have shown that there's a divide between what people say and what they believe surrounding sex and rape. Most people will, if you ask them, agree that rape is wrong. But, when you start asking about specific situations, you start to see a divide form. There are many people who firmly believe that a situation is only rape if it meets all or most of the following:
The attacker is unknown to the victim.
The victim explicitly says "no".
The attacker threatens the victim with a weapon of some kind.
The attacker beats/chokes/strikes the victim.
The victim fights back, but is overpowered by the attacker.
The attacker penetrates the victim.

And, certainly, those are sufficient conditions to consider an attack a rape, but are the necessary? I think that many of us can agree that the first condition isn't necessary at all, given that most rapes are apparently perpetrated by someone the victim knows.

The fact is, there's not widespread agreement about where we draw the line regarding rape. I think the line ought to be obvious- but, unfortunately, that doesn't make it so.

I think that SarahMC was the first to mention rapists knowing whether or not they're rapists:

Even if women aren’t able to say “no” or get away for whatever reason, you’d think the fact that they freeze up and aren’t active/enthusiastic during the act would give these oh-so-innocent men pause. If your partner fucking freezes while you go to town on her body, it may be because you are raping her.

No, I totally agree with this- if you're with someone, and that person is giving you anything less than enthusiastic consent, you ought to check in and find out what is going on, because it could be the case that the other person is not on-board with what is happening. If you don't, you very might be raping that person.

So, yeah, these sorts of people- the sort of person who doesn't really care whether his/her partner is particularly enthusiastic and interested in the sex- the sort of person who sees the other person as a means to getting off? They're not exactly innocent. I think that the analysis that these sorts of people just don't care is right on. They don't care about the other person's feelings particularly.

Which is not quite the same as saying that they realize that they're rapists. It's possible to be a shitty, selfish human being without being a criminal. It's entirely possible- and, given the skewed model of human sexual relations that I think our society embraces, not particularly surprising- that some people who rape think that they're just participating in typical sexual behavior. When you have a conquest model of sex that you're working from, "taking advantage" of someone who is drunk and passing in and out of awareness doesn't parse as rape, because that person hasn't told you "no."

See, part of the problem is with the way many people read consent. For some people, consent isn't an affirmation, it's lack of a negation. In other words, some people think that it's only rape if the other person actually says "no" in a forceful way. If the other person is drunk and passing out, well... you can't say "no" if you're passed out, so it's not really rape.

Do they think that they're being nice?

Oh, absolutely not. But, they see sex as a struggle- a conquest- a thing to be taken from another through almost any means. They see the drunk victim as a person whose guard has been dropped, and is no longer capable of denying them access.

So, in that way, yes, I think that there are people who are rapists who simply don't realize that's what they are. I think that they probably think that they're just participating in typical sexual behavior. No, they don't care about their victim's feelings.

That's why I think it's so vital that we reframe the nature of consent and the ways that we view sex. If there's as much misunderstanding of consent as I think there is, we need to get people on the same page. We need to make it clear that lack of resistence is not the same as consent- consent is consent. We need to make it absolutely clear that, if you engage in sex with someone who is not giving you enthusiastic, affirmative consent, you might be raping that person.

Sarah reall nails another important part of this idea in her response on that thread:

As for the issue of whether or not the rapist knows they are raping in these cases, I would argue that they may not label the action as rape themselves and then justify the action to themselves because they feel entitled to their victims’ bodies.

I think our culture is so caught up with the idea that rapists are only strangers who jump out of trees and brutalize their victims in ways beyond the rape, that recognition of what rape actually is in most circomstances is often both unknown by both the rapist and the victim. If there was a pre-established relationship or freindship, the victim does not always recognize it is rape and blames herself. I’d argue the same could be true for the rapist, given the pre-established relationship, as well as our cultural misogynistic attitudes towards women’s bodies, a rapist may be convinced he is ENTITLED to her body.

And I honestly believe that education and changing the ways that we view sex are the best ways we have to change that.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Re: On Rape and Power...

Jill's post about the horrible case of Jeffrey M. Marsalis is an amazing and important read. I'm sure that a lot of you have already read the post, but in case you haven't, you should definitely check it out here.

I think that this is an important conversation to have. An analysis of what rape even is sometimes seems ridiculous. It sometimes feels like we ought to already have passed that particular conversation, but then cases like the one she's discussing come up, and I realize that we're not all on the same page, and it really brings home the point that there are a lot of people who don't know or understand what actually constitutes rape, even within the feminist community.

I think that this is one of the reasons why education is so very important. In part, I suspect that at least some rapists don't realize that they're rapists. I wouldn't even feel comfotable speculating on numbers, but I wouldn't be surprised to discover that there are some people who really are surprised when their victims report the rape, because they don't even realize that they've done anything wrong.

Do I think that education is the magic bullet that will help end rape? Of course not- I think that there's a lot of work to be done, but I think that education makes a difference. I think that a clearer understanding of rape and what it looks like can only help. Even if I'm wrong, and there aren't any rapists who don't realize what they've done, it helps because it helps give voice to the victims. It helps people find the words to describe what happened to them, and it helps to remove the silence that surrounds many victims of rape.

Anyway, Jill's post is really powerful and moving, and it's a razor sharp analysis. Go. Read it.

Hit the road, Jack...

Drinking and rape...
Almost any time you talk about rape, the drinking thing comes up. I think, next to criticizing the way that women dress, the fact that people like to drink is about the issue most often brought up. You see it in the news. You see it in the comments on posts about rape.

Despite the best attempts to clarify that a victim's choice to drink or not drink doesn't cause that person to get raped, but rapists choose whether or not to rape, the argument rages on.

In this case, I want to talk about and respond to some of Jack's comments from Cara's thread. Jack's comments are near the end of the thread, and his first question was about rape apologism:

Now, firstly, please elaborate on rape apologism. I read through the ‘no cookie’ guy’s page and I think it’s bullshit. People who believe the oppressed shouldn’t point our their problems to the oppressor are living in cloud cuckoo land. The vast majority of people do not just happen upon the best way of doing things. They wait until someone is so pissed off with them that they have to listen. So, please go on.

I think that this is really important, because it means that either Jack is seriously misreading/misunderstanding the point or that the point has been poorly explained. When we (or, at least, I) talk about rape apologism, it's about people who make excuses for and try to diminish the seriousness of rape and sexual assaults. It's not about whether rape victims should or shouldn't point out or take action against their attackers, it's about the ways that society dismisses and ignores the victims of these crimes. It's about the ways that victims of rape are constantly accused of lying, or how they're told that the crime is, to varying degress, their own fault because they: shouldn't have been alone with that person/shouldn't have had so much to drink/shouldn't have worn that outfit/had consented to sex with that person in the past/etc, etc, etc.

My impression is that Jack is actually responding to the post about whether feminists have an obligation to hand-hold people new to the movement or interested in the movement. I stated that, no, I don't think that women have an obligation to teach men what is or is not acceptable behavior, just as I don't think that people of color have an obligation to teach whites what is and is not acceptable behavior. I stand behind that: it's not the responsibility of the oppressed to point out opression to the oppressors.

Now, the difference between what I said, and how Jack read it is, admittedly, somewhat subtle, but it's an important distinction, none-the-less. I said that the oppressed don't have an obligation to teach the oppressors. The responsibility for not being an asshole lies with the person acting. Each of us is responsible for our own actions, and we each have an obligation to not treat other people poorly. That's not the same as saying that the oppressed shouldn't mention their oppression.

In reality, there are tons of people working to point out and fight oppression from within oppressed groups. There's no shortage of people writing about their experiences with bigotry or oppression every day. So, it's not for lack of resources that a person is ignorant about oppression. The original point was more about any particular person. I can't walk up to any particular POC and expect that person to treat me with kid gloves- to teach me about what it means to be a POC, and in what ways that person experiences bigotry and racism. That person doesn't have an obligation to act as my mentor and teacher.

That's why I went on to point out that it's my responsibility to seek out information and to learn. No particular person is obligated to help me- but that's not the same as saying that people shouldn't help me. If someone feels inclined to help- andy many people do- that's awesome.

I'm going to go out on a limb, and guess that the part that pissed Cara off the most was when Jack gets into discussing the connection between rape and clothing:

However, there are some things that you MUST realise, not just for the sake of this argument, but because it is indicative of human behaviour, drunk or sober, man or woman, rapist or anyone else. When someone gets pissed up at a club or bar and dresses in skimpy clothing, they are saying, “Hey, I want easy sex, for one night only.” That IS what that means. This is a matter of social relationships and these are norms that have been around for a long, long, long time and it applies to men just as much as women. If you don’t want easy sex, you dress down. Most people are turned on by the sight of a bit of extra skin on the right person. If we were all nudists, that would be different, but we are not.

This is the sort of comment that makes a lot of us say that we live in a society of rape apologists. The suggestion that this attitude is indicative of human behavior betrays a really low opinion of mankind, and is, to put it mildly, misguided.

First of all, a person's choice to get drunk and dress in a certain way doesn't tell you a damn thing about what that person is looking for. It most certainly does not mean "Hey, I want easy sex, for one night only." It could mean myriad different things: "Hey, I want easy sex tonight", "Hey, check out this hot new dress I bought that I think really flatters me", "Hey, I'm out partying with my friends", "Hey, I've had a rough week and I wanted to get dressed up and have some drinks and have a nice time, but I'm not looking for sex", etc. So, yeah, sometimes it means that you're looking for sex when you wear a skimpy outfit and go out clubbing and drinking, but the mere fact that you're wearing an outfit that you think is hot doesn't say anything to other people about what you're actually thinking. The fact that some people think that a person's choice in clothing tells them what she IS thinking, is a big problem.

Another issue here is this: Even if a person is looking for easy sex, it doesn't excuse or justify rape. If a woman, for example, decides that she's looking for a one night stand, and chooses to wear something low-cut and short, and goes to a bar and drinks a lot... so what? Just because she's at a bar looking to pick up a guy doesn't mean that she's looking for every guy or any particular guy. The fact that she's wearing something skimpy and drinking doesn't excuse another person assaulting her. Even if she's looking to get laid, she still has the right to say "no" to any particular request.

The fact that some particular person is turned on by that woman's clothing choice doesn't create an obligation on her part to fulfill that person's desire anymore than the fact that some woman or man might think that I'm hot creates an obligation on my part to please that person. Do I realize that if I get dressed up and go out to a club that it's possible that another person might think I'm hot and be turned on by me? Absolutely. That fact doesn't matter, though- it doesn't justify or excuse a sexual assault on my person.

If you think that a person's choice of clothing tells you more about what that person is thinking, feeling, or desiring than that person's actual words, you're treating that person as an object. You're not fighting rape culture, you're reinforcing it. If you're turned on by someone and they don't return the sentiment, it doesn't matter what that person is wearing or how much that person has had to drink.

Jack doesn't do himself any favors when he continues, though:

There are plenty of people (the majority, would you believe it?), who do not see skimpy clothing and drunkenness as a ticket to rape. You make it sound like this is not the case. That is why I find (pending your reply), the rape apologist idea a little OTT. Seeing a load of scantily clad ladies drinking and laughing gives me urges. But I refrain from raping them because that would be utterly abhorrent in itself, not because it’s OK to be a rape apologist, but actual rape is just, you know, not for me… Do you see? Sorry, that was rather a clumsy phrasing.

I think we can all agree, that is rather clumsy phrasing. Sure, I'll agree that probably most people, if asked, agree "rape is wrong". That's not the whole story, though. There are some people who think that rape is wrong, but that if a person is dressed a certain way, or has been drinking, or is a sex worker, etc, etc, that it's not rape. Even if those people are the minority, they're still out there, and they're still a problem. Jack's own comments hint at rape apology. Even if you say "rape is bad", when you follow it up with "but, it's understandable that it happens to people who dress a certain way. They should know that dressing a certain way turns people on", you're treading in apologist territory.

Mostly, though, that paragraph is sort of troubling because of the statement "rape is just, you know, not for me..." Rape is a sexual assault- it's a crime because you're attacking another person. I mean, imagine saying the following: "Actual murder is just, you know, not for me..." People don't talk like that. That's the sort of thing we say about a type of cola or a movie genre: "Coke is just, you know, not for me" or "Crime dramas are just, you know, not for me".

The way it's worded creates the feeling that rape is, somehow, just a matter of personal preference. I doubt that Jack actually feels that way, but that's how the paragraph sort of reads to me, and I imagine it didn't help his case much. Rape is a serious assault, and it's wrong, not because it's "not for me" but because it's a serious violation of another person's personal autonomy.

The interesting thing is that Jack's own analysis of his relationship to rape victims ought to be indicative of the problems that we face. They should reveil to him just how screwed up the situation is. When he notes that, statistically speaking, he probably knows a number of victims of rape, but that he'll probably never know which ones, and that they aren't willing to "put down a dismissive comment about rape in public", that should suggest to him that the ways we view and treat rape victims is problematic. The ways that our society treats rape victims doesn't make it easy for them to talk about their experiences. He almost gets there, I think, when he talks about his own dismissiveness towards rape during his teenage years, but I'm not sure he completely understands the social implications, even as he repeatedly notices and mentions the difficulties that rape victims face: IS the responsibility of the oppressed to speak out. Most men (because let’s face it gents, it’s so overwhelmingly men who commit rape), will never commit rape, but that does not make them devoid of responsibility - because they have neither the personal fear/experience, nor the second-hand emotional information from vocal rape victims, to make a concrete socio-political stand on it, it just might be that many men find it more acceptable or that they are pretty ambivalent about it. This cannot be allowed to continue, but I find it difficult to see how the situation can be improved when women are so divided by personal feelings of shame, or helplessness, or just not wanting to bring it up, that they are not combating ignorance of this issue.

I'm not completely sure what to make of this. I don't know of any feminist who thinks that men are devoid of responsibility when it comes to rape. Ultimately, most of us suggest that it's rapists responsibilities not to rape, but, given how that's not happening, we need to create a society that takes rape more seriously, and doesn't treat rape like a joke, or blame the victims, or excuse rape because the attacker "couldn't help it" or whatever. Many people believe that men have a responsibility to stand up to rape and to confront other men on the issue when they make light of it or excuse rape.

I'm also confused because it's not like no women speak out. It's true that many victims- male and female- of rape feel shamed or frightened about speaking out about their attack, but it's not the case that no victims speak out. We certainly need to make it easier for victims of sexual assault to be heard, but it doesn't make sense to suggest that nobody is trying to raise awareness about rape. Telling the victims of a serious assault "You ought to be doing more" doesn't help- it's just piling more guilt on top of what, for many, is an already tremendously difficult time.

It's true that it's difficult to raise awareness about an issue when the victims are often silenced- but Jack comes to the wrong conclusion. This is exactly an area where he could be making a difference, rather than standing around complaining about how victims don't do enough. Instead, he could be doing advocacy work. He could be, himself, pointing out the problems that victims of sexual assault face, and trying to help people understand the realities of rape. Instead, he says:

The responsibility to improve on the numbers of women subject to rape, on the care victims receive afterwards AND on the conviction rate lies with women and most specifically with rape victims not out of some moral high-ground kind of thing, but because men in general, through thoughtlessness, common stupidity, gender socialisation and because nobody has bothered or been able to tell them, simply don’t know what they are talking about. That’s the crux of the matter and you even said it in one of your posts. If you just get annoyed with people who don’t get it, you can’t wait until they’re interested. Why would they be? They don’t know anyone who has been raped, or rather, nobody they know has let on that they’ve been raped.

The responsibility to improve on the sexual assault rate and the resources available to the victims of assault doesn't sit at the feet of the victims or at the feet of women- it's all of our responsibilities. That some people- even most- are ignorant or thoughtless or even stupid doesn't excuse the rest of us from working on it. If some, even most, men are stupid about it, it just means that the men who do get it have a tough battle to try to help those men "get it". Jack claims to be gender egalitarian, but shoving the responsibility at the feet of women after pointing out that rape is a problem that disproportionately affects women doesn't make sense. If you really think that men are the biggest source of rape, and that women are the biggest set of victims, why would you throw your hands up and suggest that it's women's responsibility to fix the problem?

Ultimately, Jack ended up getting banned after suggesting that Cara- who was, it should be noted, doing a lot of things that Jack wanted women to do (talking about rape, raising awareness, etc)- "part of the problem." You see, her attitude is "essentially the same as the ones which have kept women in the kitchen and the bedroom institutionally for hundreds/thousands of years."

Jack: If you want women to help you understand feminist concerns and issues, I don't think that arguing that women dressing in skimpy clothing is a good start. And after you've annoyed and upset someone on their own blog, telling them to "Grow up" and telling them that they're "pathetic" aren't going to help your case, either.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Forcible penetration isn't injurious... now you know.

Given Eastern Michigan University's previous track record, I almost feel like I shouldn't complain, but the DPS release that they sent out this morning just strikes me as being a bit poorly worded.

Eastern Michigan University
Department of Public Safety

Informational Release October 12, 2007

Criminal Sexual Assault - Report number 07-1599

On October 11, 2007, a 20-year old resident of Ferndale, Mich., who is
not an EMU student, reported that she was on the EMU campus on Sept. 19,
2007 at approximately 9:30 p.m. The victim reports that at this time,
she voluntarily got in a car parked in the Ann St. Parking Lot with a
person she had just met. The victim reports that while in the vehicle,
the person committed criminal sexual conduct with forcible penetration
on the victim. The victim reports that she and the suspect got out of
the vehicle, when the suspect spoke with a second person, whom she did
not know, who grabbed her arm and walked her back to the vehicle. The
victim reports getting back in the vehicle and the second suspect
committed criminal sexual conduct with forcible penetration while in the

No weapons were used during the assaults and no injuries were reported
by the victim.

First of all, we've got the rather conspicuous avoidance of the word "rape". I'm not really sure why, because "criminal sexual conduct with forcible penetration" is wordier and more awkwardly phrased. And the explanations that some people have used in other cases don't really seem to apply here, since, a. this isn't a trial, and b. they're using "criminal sexual conduct" which is just as much against the law as rape is. It'd be like saying "forcibly coerced her into going to a place she didn't want to go, against her will, and without telling other people where she was" in place of "kidnapped her". I'm just not clear on the benefit.

The other problem is with the last line I quoted up there. I understand what the line means, but it just seems... I don't know... wrong to say "no injuries were reported" after you've said that the victim reported that someone "committed criminal sexual conduct with forcible penetration" against her. I'm not sure how that could be worded in a way that doesn't leave me feeling sort of off, though. I understand that what they're trying to say is that her attacker didn't break her arms or cut her or beat her up, but... I don't know, it just seems like there's a disconnect between "forcible penetration" and "no injuries were reported."

And, as the friend who passed this along pointed out, it sucks, and is indicative of the larger problems we're facing, that this could happen and that the victim would wait a month to report it. I know that this isn't a new thought, but a system where rape victims feel so helpless that they'll wait a month to report it (if they report at all) is seriously broken.

Yahoo has a dating advice file?

Via zuzu, over at feministe, comes this... article, from Evan Marc Katz, about women and dating. From yahoo? I didn't even know that Yahoo gave dating advice.

Conversations about dating and sex are always interesting, because everyone thinks that they've got the ultimate insight into What Makes a Relationship Work. It's not like I'm an exception, there. I'm always giving my friends advice about dating and relationships if they ask. I think that zuzu really nails a lot of the problems with this guy's advice. This notion that people need to lower their expectations or "settle" for someone is pretty harmful.

The problem with settling or lowering your expectations is that it usually ends up hurting the relationship. If you really want a person with quality X, but you try to lower your expectations and settle for someone without X, the odds are good that you're eventually going to want X anyway, and you're going to find yourself frustrated that your partner doesn't have X. You might end up looking for someone else, or resenting your partner or yourself. It's not healthy.

Of course, the assumption there is that X is a deal breaker of some kind. When someone asks you "what are you looking for in a potential partner", you're likely to list off all kinds of things that aren't necessarily deal breakers. You might prefer men with dark hair, or women with green eyes, or aliens with three fingers- whatever. The fact that you've got this idea in your head of a tall man with dark hair and blue eyes who rides a motorcycle and does community theater on the weekends doesn't mean that you expect to find that exact person. We're not the kids in Weird Science (thank gods).

Even if we have some kind of idea for a "if I was building a person from scratch" fantasy, that doesn't mean we're not open to the idea that potential partners might show up in some other form. How many of us actually date the sort of person we think we'd want to date when we're asked "what's your ideal person like?" We have a core set of a deal breakers, but everything else tends towards fantasy- we might hope for X, Y, and Z, but we might find ourselves thoroughly attracted to someone who only has X, or Z, or maybe has M, B, and Q instead.

zuzu also criticized an article by David Zinczenko, who writes for Men's Health. His article is about five ways that women can keep their man from leaving. The problem I have with this article is that it's got some reasonable advice, but it's so obscured by telling women that they need to keep their men from cheating that it's hard to see at first. The article takes some pretty general advice, and tries to twist it into a "you can keep your man happy if" statements.

A few commenters took issue with the article for slightly different reasons than zuzu, though:

All this “advice” basically implies that everyone concerned is stuck in some perpetual state of middle-class narcissistic adolescence with the fiscal resources and leisure time for various fun activities to “maintain excitement” in what is supposed to be a relationship between two reasonably mature adults. Funny that most families I knew growing up lived nearly everything in the “Go to work, come home, scarf down dinner, shuffle kids to practice, watch “Last Comic Standing,” and off to bed.” routine for years except shuffling kids to practice and watching late night TV part. Odd that most of my own and my classmates’ parents were able to maintain stable caring relationships despite not being able to maintain the levels of “excitement” required according to this “expert”.

After working effectively two or more jobs six or more days/week, most of our parents were lucky enough to come home to have a late night dinner with kids before heading to bed for what little sleep they could catch before the next workday started anew. Forget about “activity nights” or “guys night out”.

Now, sure, that happens. I'm not convinced that we should be holding that up as a gold standard, though. My parents lived like that for a long time- get up early, go to work, stay late, come home tired, work on the house, eat dinner, watch an hour of tv and go to bed. Rinse and repeat six times a week. My father routinely worked 60 to 70+ hours a week to earn the overtime pay.

I don't, for a minute, think that they wouldn't have been happier if they'd had more time to spend with each other. I don't think that it's a secret that getting stuck in a routine like that isn't really good for a relationship. I mean, yeah, it's possible to have a stable- even happy- relationship like that, but that doesn't mean that it's ideal, or that you couldn't be happier. The fact that some couples, like our parents or grandparents, were happy in situations like that isn't an argument against the idea that we could have a happier population if people could spend more time with their loved ones.

Now, I don't think that the advice, as presented, is very good, but I think that it's easy to see how we could reframe it in a way that makes it better (if completely unsurprising.


1. Try to have some kind of long term goals: couples who share longterm goals tend to be happier and more excited about their futures than those who don't.

2. Make plans/dates with each other: many people report wanting to spend more time with their partners. It's easy to get stuck in a routine that doesn't leave a lot of time for connecting with your partner (wake up, go to work, eat, watch tv for an hour, go to bed). Making plans to spend time with each other- even if it's as simple as taking a walk, or playing a game together- can help you reconnect.

3. Make personal time: part of being in a healthy relationship means knowing when to spend time alone. This can be especially important if you're living with each other.

I think that those things are probably sound advice for anyone in a relationship- male or female, straight or gay or flexisexual or whatever.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On Michigan: Glad to know we're not just economically screwed...

Michigan, in case you're unaware... well... it's not doing so good. Our economy is weak: the auto industry is suffering, something like 1 in 30 homes have gone into foreclosure in the last six months, and unemployment is like twice the national average. Detroit is trying to undergo a major rebirth, but much of the nation is unaware of the series of improvements that have been made.

So, you know, Michigan is hurting, and our population is suffering for it. We've also had the misfortune of lots of negative attention because of the corruption and graft in Detroit, and people who are generally unhappy with the state's leadership.

So, you know, it sort of sucks to have most of the major Democratic candidates back out of the Michigan primary.

I don't give a shit if the leadership of the state is doing something that pisses off the leadership of other states- when you pull out of the primary, you're not hurting the leadership, you're hurting the people, and that sucks.

So, you know, way to send a message to the people of Michigan. Glad to know that I'm going to be able to have a voice in the primary.

On an unrelated, and slightly less bitter note: Sorry for the light posting (again). I'm in the middle of a rotational assignment at work that's increased my workload and made it a little more difficult to find time to blog. I noticed a jump in traffic, and I hope that these new readers will stick around or check back sometimes. Oh, and welcome, new readers!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

So, apparently, I'm a troll.

Seriously, now. When did we start using troll interchangably with "person who disagrees with me"?

Oh, wait. My mistake. It's not just "person who disagrees with me" it's "feminists."

Because, yeah, that's an intellectually honest reading of the situation.

Friday, October 05, 2007

This post really is About the Menz...

I've been thinking a lot about privilege and oppression lately. I try to think about these things a lot, anyway, but there have been a number of posts on other blogs lately that have been addressing privilege or the nature of oppression lately, and it's got my mind whirling. It started with Jill posting someone's request for help, which turned into a "discussion" about men and privilege. Someone there posted a link to a post from Dizzy about men on feminist blogs who use overtly male sounding names. Thin Black Duke's post about the common elements of oppression just added to the storm...

On the big blogs, it's pretty near impossible, I think, to have a conversation about male privilege without someone like Burton (comment 23 in that feministe thread) coming along and derailing the discussion in some way. Part of the problem with a guy like Burton is that he's not interested in the actual discussion of privilege and oppression. His comments aren't intended as thoughtful analysis or even a result of unintentional misunderstanding- they're intended as a "Gotcha!" moment.

When someone is talking about male privilege or patriarchical institutions, pointing out that women don't register for the draft, or that abused men don't have the same access to domestic violence shelters that women do doesn't negate that. Pointing out that men die at higher rates from work accidents or criminal violence? Sorry, that doesn't prove anything either. See, the problem with the list that he's throwing up, and with many of the criticisms that MRA groups and antifeminists seem to have, is that a lot of those complaints and criticisms are about issues that are a direct result of men pushing public policies.

Take the draft. The fact that women don't register for select services is one of the things I see come up all the time. I'm not really sure why, given the complete and total lack of support for the draft, but it really bugs these types. They'll go on at great length about how unfair it is that men register for select services but women don't. And, if that were the end of the story, sure, that would be unfair. It would be unfair to expect any particular subgroup of our country to be solely responsible for the draft (even as we should recognize that the draft, when instituted, tends to fall on the shoulders of the poor... which isn't that different from voluntary service).

Of course, the story doesn't end there. You can't just look at the draft and pretend that it just happened that way. It's important to remember the context of these things. You can't point to the draft as some example of unfair privilege towards women when it wasn't women who pushed for the draft, and when there are plenty of women and women's groups that actively oppose any draft.

It's not the fault of women that men register for the draft, or that women don't serve in infantry units. Men made those rules, based largely on sexist notions about what women are and are not capable of. When feminists point out that the patriarchy hurts men, too? This is an example. Patriarchical thinking says that women can't hold their own in combat, and that they need to be protected, lest enemies capture them and do horrible things to them. Women are delicate and need to have the strength of a man to keep them safe. That's why women don't register for the draft. That's why women have been kept out of combat.

One of the reasons that this is so frustrating to me, as a guy, is that there are legitimate concerns to be raised about the lives and experiences of men in our country. There are things that happen that should probably be changed, and there are ways that the lives of men should be improved. But, those experiences and those issues get overlooked or ignored because men like Burton are too busy worrying about playing a Gotcha! card against feminists to actually take the time to give those issues the attention they deserve.

Going onto a site like feministe and complaining that men can't have access to women only domestic violence shelters doesn't prove that men have it worse than women- it proves that you're an insensitive asshole who hasn't taken the time to examine why it's important to create shelters that cater specifically to the type of victim seeking shelter. A woman seeking shelter from an abusive husband or boyfriend isn't going to find the safety and peace of mind she needs in a shelter full of men, and there's every reason to believe that a man being abused by his wife or girlfriend may want a shelter that caters to his needs, and can provide him the peace of mind and safety he needs.

I can't quite decide how much of this- if any- is a legitimate misunderstanding of what constitutes privilege, and how much of this is intentional intellectual dishonesty. The move here is from "men have privilege", which is true, to "men never experience negative or harmful consequences", which isn't.

Being a part of the privileged class does not mean that one never experiences harmful or negative treatment. It's possible to be a man in a patriarchical system, and still have people treat you unfairly sometimes. It's still possible to be a part of an advantaged class and find that there are times when you are at a disadvantage.

When we say that we live in a patriarchical system, we're not saying that every single member of the class "men" have a set number of advantages over every single member of the class "women". When we talk about men having unearned privileges, that doesn't mean that no woman has any of these privileges, or that every man has all of them.

Pointing out that I do not have the same advantages or opportunities that someone like Hillary Clinton has doesn't prove that we live in a society that favors women, because the comparison doesn't even make sense. It makes more sense to examine the advantages and disadvantages that face me and my sister, or Bill and Hillary Clinton, because we live in a world where sex is only one of a number of factors that create advantages: race/ethnicity, economic status, age, and education (to name just a few) are all factors that can influence your level of privilege.

And, yeah, like I said, I think that there really are things in our society that are harmful to men. I think that the under-reporting of, and general lack of understanding about or resources for men who are the victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault is harmful. That's not feminism's fault, though. One of the main reasons that men under-report sexual assault is because of the culture of masculinity we live in. We're brought up to think that men can't be the victims of sexual assault. That a man is incapable of not wanting sex. And in cases of male on male sexual assault, there's the homophobic element complicating things, too.

Ultimately, there's nothing that prevents men who are concerned about these things from taking action, just like there's nothing that stops men who are legitimately concerned about father's rights from taking action, either. If a man is really concerned that he's being denied rights as a father- that custody should have gone to him, or that he's not getting the visitation rights he deserves, or something along those lines... do something about it.

Feminists didn't wait for men to back them up before they fought for their rights. They couldn't afford to. The fact that so many of these men use these issues as a way of trying to score points against feminists hurts their cause. It makes it seem like their interest in men's rights is less about the actual problems that men face, and more about winning arguments with feminists.

And, of course, some of this relates to Thin Black Duke's point- are the problems that men face institutional oppression, or are they more like fallout from the oppression that a patriarchical system reinforces?

See, I think that some of the problems that men face now- some of the things that people like Burton complain about and see as examples of female privilege over males- are a direct result of the flaws a patriarchical system. It's not that women have more power than men, it's that patriarchy is an inherently flawed system that sets standards that are harmful to everyone. It's a double edged sword. And as attitudes have changed and feminists have helped to break down some of the systems that have held women back and prevented them from reaching their full potential, some men are finding that, shock of shocks, there are some serious problems with the way things are.

One issue that MRAs have taken as a pet issue is the concern over child custody. And it's true that, in most cases, men do not get custody of children in a divorce. There are, of course, exceptions (and a man with a lot of money and good lawyers stands a good chance of getting custody, I think), but the courts tend to favor women over men when granting custody.


Well, it goes back to hundreds of years (or more) of sexist attitudes regarding the raising of children. It's not that feminists are trying to keep interested fathers from having custody over their children; it's the result a patriarchical system that works really hard to tell women that their primary purpose in life is to have and raise children. When you've institutionalized the idea that this is women's primary function in life, it shouldn't be a surprise when the courts recognize this in practice. One follows from the other: if women are viewed as the main source of child care and are treated as though they have some biological advantage over men when it comes to the care and raising of children, it shouldn't come as a surprise when the courts, when deciding the best interests of a child, tend to lean towards giving women custody.

I can hear the cry already: But why don't feminists fight against this!

I should think that the answer would be obvious, but the reality is that there are so many other issues that are more important to feminists, the fact that men might be at a disadvantage when it comes to child custody ranks really low on the list of priorities. Why should feminists spend the time and energy to fight that battle when there are so many issues today that directly harm women?

Not every fight is a feminist's responsibility. There are some fights that people need to take for themselves. The fight for more equitable child custody laws is a fight for fathers to wage. And, I'd imagine that they'd find more allies if they were doing so in a respectable fashion. With so many of them treating the issue like an ace up their sleeve in debates with feminists, it's no wonder that feminists aren't exactly lining up to help them.

If you use your issue as a weapon to try to beat us, don't expect us to come rushing to cheer for you.

And thinking about all of this, and reading those blogs has me thinking about my own experiences as a man who frequents feminist spaces. There are actually a few things that I think I want to talk about, regarding that, but it's hard to know where to begin or what to say.

As a guy who spends a great deal of time reading about, commenting on, and posting about feminist issues, I try to be really aware of what it means to have Male Privilege. I firmly believe that our culture- the very way that our society is structured- is harmful to women, and, as someone who strongly values fairness, I think that we have an obligation to work to end that. And while I also think that patriarchical systems hurt men, too, there's also the reality that part of fighting against sexism and part of being a feminist is the recognition that ending these oppressive structures means giving up unearned privileges.

And that's hard.

It's not always easy to step back and examine why I'm reacting the way I am. It's not easy to have someone accuse me of exhibiting male privilege- there are times when I want to say "But I'm on your side!" I want to do the right thing, and being told that I'm missing doesn't feel good, and it can make me feel defensive. I work to get past that and to examine my feelings and thoughts, and I often find that the other person is right. I think that I come out ahead for it, but it's not always easy or fun to discover some element of privilege that you weren't aware you had.

And the reality is that there are times when I don't think I'm wrong, and that can actually be worse.

It's not something that I talk about, and I've thought about talking about a number of times in the past, and I've always backed off, because... well, it's not a fun conversation, but if I'm going to be open and honest about my experiences as a man on feminist spaces, I think it's important to talk about it. Particularly if I want to make it clear to other men what they're in for and what they should expect.

There are times when I read a post or a comment on feminist blogs, and I simply can't participate in the conversation. It could be that I recognize that there's nothing I can add to the conversation, or it could be that the conversation is about a topic where my experiences as a man mean that I can't contribute in a meaningful way, but sometimes it's because I know that no matter what I say, it's going to create hostility, because sometimes the comments are coming from a place of deep frustration and hurt as a result of life experiences that I can only imagine.

So, yes, there are times when I simply have to shut up. Is that fair?

I don't know. Maybe it's not. Maybe I ought to be able to freely express my thoughts without fear of being unjustly attacked. Maybe I should be able to respectfully disagree with someone and expect to be treated with the same respect. Maybe.

But, honestly, I don't think so.

I think that it's my obligation as a male on a feminist space to recognize that one of the privileges that many men enjoy is the ability to have their voice respected over that of a woman. Another aspect that I try to keep in mind, and that I think is important is that many women are used to having their voices silenced, and that sometimes their anger and resentment is coming from a place that I'll never have to experience.

One of the ways that men can help deconstruct patriarchical systems is by having empathy for women's experiences, and by recognizing that sometimes it's important to shut up on women's spaces. In a world that consistently devalues the experiences of women, it's not so much to ask that women have a place where they're free to vent their frustrations.

Again, this isn't always easy.

And I'm still trying to find out how this fits into my other obligations, and my desire to improve myself and continue learning. While I've never really been made to feel unwelcome on sites like feministe, I do recognize that there are thin-ice areas. There are threads where I'm concerned that leaving comments might be seen as hostile or unwelcome, and I'm legitimately not sure how to deal with those feelings yet.

Since I'm on my space right now, I'm a little more comfortable, and I'm willing to share an area that I'm still working through, as it relates to the posts I linked earlier, as an example.

While I really enjoyed reading both the Thin Black Duke's post (on the Suzanne Pharr piece) and Dizzy's post, there are aspects of both that I'm not sure I agree with. Or, to put it bluntly, that I disagree with.

To take the minor case first, because my disagreement comes in the form of picking nits: I think that Pharr's article is amazing. It's a really important piece of writing. It's a really strong analysis of the interaction between power and oppression, and the different forms that can take. I'm still rereading it, because there's so much meat there. That being said, if I'm totally honest, I disagree with one of the early assertions in the piece.

My disagreement is a minor one, and it doesn't have an effect on any of the rest of the piece, but it's there, and I'm not sure how to get past it. I disagree with the writer's assertion that one must have the backing of institutional power in order to be a racist or a sexist. I agree that the concepts of "reverse" racism and sexism are silly, but my mind has trouble getting around the idea that racism is only possible if you are part of the dominant culture. Sexism is a form of bigotry and prejudice. Because we live in a society that consistently devalues the experiences of women, I think that it's more important to focus on the misogynist aspects of our society, but I don't see that it means that a woman who thinks that men are inferior to women isn't a sexist, too. It's not "reverse" sexism- it's sexism without a lot of a social support.

Even posting my feelings here, on my own blog, makes me uncomfortable.

Part of that comes from the knowledge that it'd be easy for some people to try to change my words and use them against me and the things I believe in. Part of it comes from not wanting to disagree with people I respect- when I respect and value someone's opinions and writings, I don't want to provide any potential ammunition, no matter who slight, to the people that I think are working against us. I don't want to provide ammunition to anti-feminists or racists over something small and insignificant. After all, my nitpick above is one of definition, not of substance. Given that I agree with the analysis, the simplist understanding of my disagreement is simply that we have different working definitions.

But, sometimes my disagreement lies with the analysis itself, and I think that makes it a lot more complicated. How can it not be? If I agree with what is being said, or if my stance is actually more hardline than the one being offered, things are easier (in a way). There's less chance of being misread and seen as a threat, for the most part. But, if I disagree, I have to be aware that my comments are coming from a guy, which carries a whole lot of associations and potential problems.

Which makes total sense. Look around at feminist blogs, and look at how often men will come onto them and feign some kind of interest in feminism, but with a whole list of caveats and exceptions. The sense of entitlement is often so thick you can taste it. There are a lot of men who are only interested in feminism if they get something out of it. And, quite frankly, you won't always get anything out of it, except the knowledge that you're working for what is right.

So, yeah, I think that I'm aware of the possible outcomes of disagreeing- there's the potential to be misread by people. There's the potential to have someone see my comments, and think that I'm justifying negative male behaviors, or that my reasoning is clouded by male privilege.

Which is really frustrating. The reality is that there's no good response to that.

Consider this comment from Ollie to Dizzy's post:

Perhaps, when choosing a handle, most dudes just don’t worry much about what it signifies to others? At least they don’t seem to worry much about whether they ‘give away’ their gender. This kind of man is either oblivious to a lot of gender issues, or is a jerk.

I've been thinking about that comment since I first saw it, and I still can't quite come up with a good response. This is a response to Dizzy's question "why do [men on feminist spaces] feel the need to make it clear from the get go that they're men?"

The problem, for me, is that I can't get to a place where I see using my own name as an undeserved privilege.

Is it a privilege?


As Ollie points out, I never had to really worry about "giving away" my gender sex. I've written about the difficulties that women face online before, regarding, for example, the Kathy Sierra harassment case. As someone who has spent time playing online games, I've also seen the harassment that players with feminine names can be subjected to. So, in that aspect, I can see how my ability to use a name that matches my sex (and is, in point of fact, my name) constitutes privilege. It's privilege in sort of the same way that I experience privilege in that I know that I'm not likely to be harassed by the police as a result of the color of my skin.

That being said, though, I disagree with the assertion that choosing to use a male name means that I'm oblivious or a jerk. The question of what name to use is a complicated one, and given that this post is already sort of ridiculously long I'm going to simplify my analysis, but I think that there's an important distinction between privilege and undeserved privilege.

The question is whether it ought to be a privilege to use your given name. If we agree that everyone should be able to use their given name, or, indeed, any name they want, online, then using the name I chose isn't an undeserved privilege. That there are people who are unable to do so makes my ability to do so a privilege, but the unfairness lies not with my ability to do so, but with their inability to do so.

So, when I read a comment like that, that the choice suggests that I'm either ignorant or a jerk, it's easy to want to react. Even knowing that their dialogue is more specifically about "men who come on to feminist blogs to argue about how men have rights too and how feminists are woefully misguided" doesn't really help alleviate that feeling of defensiveness and wanting to react.

And, yeah, I think that there are times when a woman can ask a question or say something on a feminist space that I, as a guy, can't. Hell, there are entire conversations that you couldn't pay me to get involved in. Because, whether I like it or not, I'm an outsider in feminist spaces. I'm a man living in a patriarchical world, and the fact that I'm trying to be an ally and trying to help doesn't change that fact, and it doesn't suddenly negate all of the baggage that comes with being a male in a predominantly female space.

That's only half of the story there, though. Because, while I think that there are some ways in which I'm held to a stricter or more restrictive code of behavior on feminist spaces, I also think that I'm rewarded far more for far less than women are. Specifically, there are a number of times where I've felt like my comments were received more warmly or with more enthusiasm than they deserved. In fact, it was a discussion over my feelings of discomfort over those kinds of comments that led to the name of this blog.

This is hard to discuss because I'm my own worst enemy in some ways. I'm far more critical and dismissive of my writing than most other people are, and so it's easy for me to feel overwhelmed by compliments. When people react strongly to my comments, I end up feeling both tremendously flattered, and ridiculously self conscious. It can be hard for me to know if my feelings of discomfort are coming from my own insecurities, or if they're legitimate reactions to people giving me undeserved praise.

But, there are times when it feels less ambiguous. Where I feel pretty certain that I'm getting praise for things that I'm saying that I wouldn't get if I weren't a guy.

And I know where that comes from, too, I think. At least, in part.

Given how often men come onto feminist sites just to attack and discourage, it can be, I imagine, refreshing to see a guy come on and show support. That sense of surprise probably makes it easier to react more positively than if the comment came from a woman. That is: if comment X is a well written feminist analysis of some topic, it's probably going to get a stronger level of praise coming from a man than a woman, because we're less used to seeing it come from a man.

I used to wonder if this was all in my head- if maybe it was just my personality coming through, and I was overreacting, but I've seen other feminists mention it as well, lately.

I think it's important to note that I don't mean these things as complaints- they're explanations of my feelings and thoughts as best as I can manage, and it's my hope that other men who frequent feminist blogs and who are having similar feelings might benefit from knowing that they're not alone in those feelings at times.

And if it sounds like I'm suggesting that it's complicated and difficult and confusing and whatever to be a guy on a feminist space... Well, I am. I have trouble explaining why I'd intentionally choose to be involved in something as complicated and confusing and just plain difficult as feminism, outside of "because it's right." And I recognize that "because it's right" doesn't win very many converts.

Anyway, as long as I'm being honest and open and all that, I'm feeling rather exhausted and drained now. So, no clever closing line from me. I'm throwing this out there and I'm going to collapse in a heap.