Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Eastward bound...

Just wanted to give a little heads-up that posting will be... erm... will continue to be a little sparadic for the time being. I'm packing up, saying goodbye to my home state, and heading east to settle my roots in bean town for the time being. Moving is a pretty big deal, and it'll be the first time in almost three decades that I've lived outside of Michigan. I love Michigan, but it's time to move on. Anyway, it also means that, while I get moved and try to settle in and figure out everything, I'm probably going to be a little bit preoccupied and maybe not super great about updating. I'll certainly be doing my best to keep content coming, but I hope you'll forgive me if I'm a bit distracted.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh, right... Grand Theft Auto is coming out...

Samhita has a post up about a GTA4 trailer. I haven't watched the trailer, because... well... I'm at work, and I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it's a bit on the ol' NSFW side. Just a hunch.

Anyway, I read the post, and started reading the comments, and I can't help but be surprised by some of them. The Grand Theft Auto series of games are an easy target for analysis. They're full of racism and misogynistic violence, and they don't really do anything to hide that fact. In fact, the series has pretty much embraced that fact, and the creators go out of their way to try to outdo themselves with each game.

So, some of the defenses are really surprising to me. The suggestion that killing prostitutes "is never a story goal" or was "obscure" and that it's a game of "choices" bothers me. It's been a while since I played any of the GTA games, but it was *never* a secret that you could kill prostitutes. From at least GTA3, it's been pretty common knowledge that you could go out, pick up a prostitute to regain your health, and then kill her to get back the money you lost when you picked her up. It was never an obscure part of the game at all, even if it wasn't manditory. The bit about it being a choice is irrelevent. There are plenty of things that the game doesn't let you do- there are no children in any of the GTA games, so you won't find yourself a child-killer, for example. So, the choice to include prostitutes that one can then murder? It's about choice- the choice of Rockstar Games to include that element.

Similarly, a commenter suggests that the "in-game consequences are only negative" when you kill one of the prostitutes. That's not accurate. Killing NPCs in front of the police or other characters has a potentially negative consequence- it increases your wanted level, thus making the police try to arrest or kill you. But, killing anyone- prostitute or not- also has positive consequences in that you can steal any money or weapons that character is carrying. Further, killing someone in a place where you're not being watched or where there aren't any police doesn't increase your wanted level. And, for many players, increasing your wanted level isn't actually a negative consequence- I knew plenty of people who made a game out of getting the highest wanted level possible just to see how long they could last.

I really took umbridge to Scilian's comment, though:
Well Grand Theft Auto is simply a game based around violence and crime.

Violence, sex, and more violence.

Anyone can be killed at any time - so would the game be ok if women were removed completely from the game?

Or maybe if women couldnt be killed in the game?

But then the rife hypocrisy here at feministing rears its ugly head as usual - since the violence is about 99% towards males, wouldnt that reek of misandry?

Kind of funny, you know, this bullshit post coming from samhita when she constantly talks about racism against black males who tried to kill someone by kicking in their heads with steel toed boots, but then shooting people in a video game is suddenly misogynistic?

So real world violence is ok, but a game that has nothing to do with killing females is suddenly misogynistic?

Logic must have the day off today.

Where to start? First of all, it looked to me like Samhita's post was largely about the fact that "not only are the sex scenes very real looking, most of the women are killed shortly after forcibly performing sex acts." It's not just that the game is violent- it is. Yeah, you can kill pretty much everyone in GTA. But, there was a choice made about which characters you could pay for sex with and then murder, and, hint- it wasn't the characters with penises.

And Scilian's bringing up the Jena Six case is disturbing, as well. That case is ongoing, and I don't think that anyone has attempted to say that the fact that one of the white kids was attacked was good- only that the Jena Six aren't being treated fairly, and they're being punished in a way that exceeds their crime, while the white kids who also engaged in serious acts of violence are going free with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. It's not that violence in the 'real world' is okay.

And, really, this attitude that, because she's complained about the treatment of women she must necessarily also complain about the treatment of men or it's a double standard? It's bullshit. It's a game made by men targeting a male audience about a male character who spends a lot of time doing terrible things to other men. There are complaints to be raised there, for sure- but Samhita, a woman, is under no obligation to discuss them given that the game *also* features nasty treatment of women, too.

Hell, we can discuss the treatment of men all day- and I'd personally suggest that, if Scilian is really concerned with the treatment of men, a better tactic than accusing Samhita of hypocrisy would be to become an activist and write about or do something about it. Pissing on somebody else's movement isn't a good way to get your issue addressed. And, I find the criticism difficult to swallow given the width and breadth of male characters available absolutely dwarfs the portrayals of women in games.

More generally:

I'm certainly not in the habit of trying to tell people what is or is not a feminist attitude. If someone tells me that they're going to play GTA4, I'm not going to try to revoke their feminist street cred. Nor do I think that the GTA series of games are completely without merit. The sandbox style and the ability to create tremendous car crashes, do Hollywood action movie style car chases and jumps, etc? That stuff is all a lot of fun. I love that part. But, the sad fact is that they've consistently packaged a really fun free-roaming car driving game inside of a really nasty narrative. The game is full of racist, sexist, and heteronormative/homophobic bile. And for that? Yes, I do think it belongs in the hall of shame. Which is too bad, because, yeah, I've actually had a lot of fun outside of the story of the game, flying helicopters and racing bikes through the city.

Ultimately, I have no interest in playing GTA4, despite the consistently high marks that it's getting. I'm not interested in more racist drivel being passed off as story. I'm not interested in seeing what kind of stupid, ignorant stereotypes they'll embrace in the portrayal of an Eastern European character. I mean, we've been treated to an Italian who joins the mafia, and a black gang member, so we've got reason to believe that they'll treat him with respect and not fall back on stereotypes. Right? Right?

edited 3:38 PM -
Shamus has a great quote about the difficulty of rating a game like GTA4. He makes a comparison between rating the game and rating a restaurant: "How do you rate a restaurant that serves mouth-watering steaks for $5 and a punch in the face before the meal?"
Too right.
Anyway, his piece is about how some publication was granted an "exclusive review" of the game prior to release. Penny Arcade mentioned the same thing, and I'll go ahead and throw my gamer hat on to agree: Exclusive reviews raise some significant questions about, you know, objectivity. Color me "not a fan".

Friday, April 25, 2008

Double-you tee eff, huff-po?

Why, precisely, do I give a rat's ass about whether or not Miley Cyrus is flashing her bra?

Also, why does the headline state this as fact, when the first line of the damn article makes it clear that, well, it's not clear that they're of Miley at all?

Outside of giving readers an opportunity to post such enlightened comments as "I hope she starts doing porn as soon as she turns 18." and "Disney produces a lot of whores", what, exactly, is the point of running with this non-story? I guess it gives some people the opportunity to defend Miley's apparently maligned integrity by pointing out "I don't know who this little slut-wanna-be IS but it's definately NOT Miley! She only vaguely resembles her.
Shame on you for insinuating it is to fool people and slander that sweet wholesome girl (the REAL Miley)."

Which brings me to another point... who fucking cares if it is Miley?!

They're pictures of a young girl with her *gasp* stomach showing! Or of her *swoon*, exposing part of her bra! Are we supposed to labor under the idiotic and repeated disproven notion that teenagers don't explore their sexuality? Are we supposed to continue plugging our ears and covering our eyes and singing that tired tune "Good girls don't do that!"?

Thank the gods that there are articles about important things like Julianne Moore's sheer top, FHM's "sexiest woman in the world" award, and the always progressive "guess who's wearing this bikini" game to distract me. There's just not enough coverage of women's bodies and sex and slut-shaming in the popular culture. So, to that end, thank you Huff-Po.

Very progressive, indeed.

Friday Phallus Fun...

This reads like a joke- I mean, they're "looking to have a firm grip on Government spend"? "They're going to get more column inches"?

And, while they're a real org, that's not the logo on the homepage.

So, my general feeling is that it's a joke (insert pun about "yanking our chain" or "pulling our leg" if you must), but, I have to admit, I giggled. Yes, it's fifth grade penis humor, but it's also fifth grade penis humor done with fonts.

And fonts are fun.

And I thought McCain's "I'm like Teddy" comments were bad...

h/t Latoya at Racialicious

So, let's play a game...

One of these things is not like the others.

Joe Francis is making my blood boil again, this time from the pages of a GQ feature. How is it that, even from fucking prison, this jackass just can't shut up? The good news is that this article makes it even clearer, if that's possible, just how completely relentless his assholery is.

There's a particularly amusing bit where he's talking about his time in jail, and how it's not what he expected. He talks about how he's "a god" on the inside- that he's revered like a rock star because of his association with Girls Gone Wild. But, he continues: "The one thing I fear is one of these fucking people showing up at my house. I’m a different class. They’re dumb. They’re the people you see on Cops. Those are the people you see in jail."

Hey, Francis, speaking of "dumb"?

You're in jail, too.


Still, that passage is really significant, in my mind. Not just because it's quickly followed by his making an incredibly inappropriate remark towards a female guard (who, according to the author, "gives him that disapproving-but-flattered half frown."), but because I think it's a strong message about how we treat and view people like Francis. Here's a man who has made a name for himself by being a violent, abusive maniac. Oh, yes, Girls Gone Wild is what started it all, but it's not GGW that made him a public figure- there are thousands of pornographers who never gain a fraction of the notoriety that Francis has.


Because Francis goes out of his way to abuse, humiliate, and intimidate everyone he comes in contact with. The Times article was the first time I really started to learn about who this guy was, and every interview he gives, every appearence he makes just further cements the perosna he's cultivated. Even the GQ article mentions it a few times- he's portrayed and plays up this image of being "a 15-year-old boy who just can't help himself". He's the very image of "boys will be boys", grown up.

If ever there was somebody who more purely embodied that ideal, and just how dangerous it is, it's Francis. Even the GQ article, which seems at times weirdly sympathetic towards Francis, makes note of how manic the guy is, and how it'd probably be good for society if jail broke him a little bit. We ought not tolerate a 15-year-old acting like Francis does. The lack of self control would be enough to get most of us in trouble at that age. And Francis isn't 15. He's over twice that.

But Francis's personal douchebaggery is only part of the problem... and not even the biggest part. That Francis is an asshole is a personal failing, and it should be enough to get him ostracized, and has clearly been enough to get him in trouble with the law. But the sad fact is that it's also made him a celeb. As he points out, he's "a god" in prison. These are people he despises- he calls them idiots, and does everything he can to avoid them, but they still treat him like a rock star?

Latoya quotes the most impressive display of clueless assholery from Francis over at Racialicious, and I think it's worth repeating. It comes on page four, when Francis begins talking about the people he considers enemies:

His enemies list has grown as he sits in jail, and it was recently expanded to include Access Hollywood reporter Maria Menounos, who did an interview Francis didn’t like. “She called me the ‘ever defiant Joe Francis,’ ” he howls. “Fuck yeah, I’m defiant! It’s like that defiant Rosa Parks won’t give up her seat. Fuck you, Maria. The ever defiant Nelson Mandela just can’t stand apartheid. The ever defiant Martin Luther King. The ever defiant Jesus Christ. You fucking stupid whore. If I saw Maria Menounos, I’d punch her in the face.”

As the tirade ends, he quietly starts repairing the phone he busted by banging it against the glass. “I’m not comparing myself to Rosa Parks or Jesus Christ. I’m comparing myself to someone standing up for their rights,” he says. “I’m just saying you can have an unpopular person who is criminalized and demonized. Jesus Christ was crucified by Pontius Pilate at my age. He was not a popular guy.”

1. When you attempt to point out a similarity between yourself or your situation, and someone like Rosa Parks or Jesus Christ and their situations, you are, in fact, comparing yourself to them. When you suggest that your legal troubles and the fight you've picked are somehow similar to Martin Luther King Jr.'s fight, you are, in fact, comparing yourself to him.
And you, sir, are no Martin Luther King Jr.
2. You're an unpopular person because you're an asshole, a liar, a rapist, and a violent maniac. There's a very significant difference between being an unpopular person because you're challenging the status quo in the pursuit of equal rights, and being an unpopular person because you're a violent rapist asshole who cheated on his taxes. Oddly enough, I find myself seriously lacking in sympathy for the second.

The article is disturbing, and I think that the author misses the mark when he tries to claim that Francis's "real passion is dominating other men." It may be true that he has a passion for that, as well, but his disregard and hatred of women is so thick, you'd need a machete to get through it.

And, seriously? He spent a year in a detention center that let him order pizza?!

Yeah, that's justice.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A note on apologies...

Apologizing is hard to do.

It's not fun to realize that you've fucked up. It's not a great feeling to be told that you were wrong. Hell, it's not really that great to be wrong. But, the reality is that we're all human, and we're going to make mistakes. And when the time comes, I think that the ability to stand up and take responsibility for our mistakes and to say "I was wrong" is really important.

But, the thing about apologies is that they don't mean jack all if they're not sincere. Now, a lot of times, particularly if you've really screwed up, the sincerity of an apology is going to be under question. After all, if you've made a major mess of things, there are likely some hurt and/or angry people questioning you and your motives. Which is to be expected. Part of making a sincere apology is realizing that people may or may not accept your apology. If you've hurt people, they're under no obligation to read your apology and say "Oh, well then, that's fine."

And it should go without saying, but clearly doesn't, insincere apologies are no apology at all. Case in point: Racialicious has a post up about an article appearing at cornellWATCH. A blogger there put up an April Fool's post that was allegedly intended as satire. It was some pretty vile and insensitive stuff. The blogger apologized, and removed the offending article, and later met with members of the Asian and Asian American Center, and issued a more comprehensive apology.

Meanwhile, over at Feministing, Jessica posted about a particularly vitriolic (and idiotic) letter she received from the Public Relations Officer of the Southern Illinois University College Republicans. In the comment thread, the author of the letter, Alex Kochno, eventually showed up to offer an apology, and inform the thread that he had resigned from his position with the College Republicans.

Now, the apologies themselves aren't what I'm particularly interested in. As far as apologies go, they're... well... they're apologies. It's what happened after the apologies that I think is interesting. When people didn't immediately throw out their anger and welcome Mulvihill's apology with open arms, the blogger responded:

Clearly, this is a very emotional subject for a lot of Asian-Americans, and I didn’t realize that. I’m sorry that I played around with stereotypes, and made fun of an ethnic group. Apparently this isn’t enough for you guys–what more do you want? You are reading a lot more into this than is necessary. Please let it go.

I signed the note. Happy?

Likewise, in the Feministing thread, Kochno responded:

You are absolutely right I thought of that after the post basically everybody that is offended by my remarks I am deeply sorry about that now could you please accept that.

Now, here's the thing... if you've fucked up, and if you've hurt people with your words? Yeah, you don't get to be pissy and short with the people who are angry at you. You don't get to cry "let it go" or "could you please accept that" like they're unreasonable for being upset. And, really, how pathetic does it make an apology look when you follow it up with that, anyway?

I'm still up in the air about whether a shitty apology is worse than no apology at all, but neither is good.

edited- 4:27

Or, as Kristen points out (taking 561 words down to 5):
"You're not entitled to acceptance."


Friday, April 18, 2008

That's my idea of "brainless" reading too!

Over at Racialicious, there's a post up about the rereleases of Sweet Valley High. Now, while I was never particularly inclined to read Sweet Valley High (I'm going to guess I wasn't the target market, there), I'm pretty sure my sister did. I may ask her about it.

But, the thing that actually really caught my attention was comment number one: My idea of "brainless" reading was Christopher Pike... which in retrospect probably can be torn down as much as SVH.

I looooved Christopher Pike!

And, yeah... I'm going to guess that there are probably some problems in the old Pike books. As I recall, they were very white and very heterocentric. The Final Friends series are the only books I can remember of his that strongly featured any characters who weren't... well... white. And of course they (Nick and Maria, I think?) end up dating. Who else would they date?

Still, I'm tempted to go find my copies and reread them. It's possible that they're better than I suspect. But I doubt it. Looking back, I seem to recall that a most of the characters were sort of annoying stereotypes. There were, as I recall, a whole lot of upper-middle class white girls obsessed with being popular and pretty, and guys who were into sports, or were outcast nerds. Probably a lot like Saved By the Bell meets Nightmare on Elm Street. Or something.

I make no promises, but if I find a Pike book while I'm packing... I may give it a quick read.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Castration as punishment...

Fox News (I hate to link them) is reporting that the LA senate passed a bill yesterday, 32-3, that gives judges the ability to add subject convicted sex-crime offenders to chemical castration after a first offense, and requires it for repeat offenders. Convicted criminals will have the option to opt for surgical castration instead of chemical, if they desire.

I'm still thinking about this, but I have to admit that it makes me profoundly uncomfortable. More after I've had time to figure out what, exactly, I think.

In the meantime... your thoughts?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Video Game Review: "Dead Rising"

So, a few weeks ago, my roomie picked up Dead Rising for X-Box 360. I've been playing here and there when I get a chance, which, unfortunately, isn't very often. Anyway, I'm most of the way through the game, now, and I thought "why not do a review of a years old game, now?" So, that's what I'm doing.

Dead Rising isn't very complicated in terms of concept. It's basically Dawn of the Dead meets, say, Beyond Good and Evil. You're freelance photojournalist Frank West out looking for the scoop that's going to make your name. At the start of the game, you're flying into a small mid-west town via chopper, on some kind of tip or something you've got that something is going down. So far so good. As you're flying into town, you notice that the military appear to have cut off all the roads to the town. As you get closer, you quickly see why.


The chopper drops you off at a mall, and you spend the next 72 hours of game time (12 hours of game time = 1 hour of real time) fighting zombies and psychopaths, leading survivors to safety, photographing scoops, and trying to uncover the truth about the zombie outbreak.

From a strictly gameplay perspective, Dead Rising is more hit than miss. The mall setting is fully realized- it's easily as big as most major malls I've been to, including a large green space, and even an attached full sized grocery store. There are working escalators, generic mall music, and almost every store can be entered. And the stores have individual personalities, even if they've got similar wares. Add to that the fact that almost every object in the game world can be picked up, smashed, thrown, or somehow used to aid you in some way, and you've got a pretty awesome sand-box world. I still haven't got tired of exploring the mall's many corners.

Of course, none of that would matter if it weren't for the combat. I've said it before, but it bears repeating, zombies are generally a safe pick for gaming enemies. If you want to have a bad-guy that almost everybody can agree deserves to be taken out, the living dead are the way to go. They're one of the trinity of ultimate badguys. Zombies, robots, and nazis. These are pretty traditional zombies- they shamble around trying to grab you and take a bite out of you. They're well animated and designed. They stumble around aimlessly until they spot you. They groan and moan and generally act creepy. Many of them are still holding onto things like shopping carts. They occaisionally fall over, trip, or fall down stairs/escalators. The real appeal of the game is the ability to use everything in the environment as a weapon. Baseball bats, frying pans, swords, guns, a frozen fish, televisions, cash registers, golfballs, clothes hangers, a lawnmower, a car, propane tanks... if you can find it, you can probably smash a zombie with it.

I'm not gonna lie, it's very satisfying.

It's not all good, of course. The survivor AI is horrible most of the time. You'll be trying to lead survivors to safety and, instead of running *around* a group of shambling undead, the idiot survivors will plow into the middle of them and begin screaming for Frank to come back and help. Another problem for people who don't have HD televisions (me), is that the missions objectives are waaay to tiny to read. Most of the time, the mission becomes obvious when you show up, but it'd be nice to know what the heck you're in for before you show up to a machette wielding madman. And, lastly, the use of a radio for getting missions was particularly frustrating. Otis, the janitor, calls you to tell you when he spots survivors, but if you answer his call, you have to listen to his entire message, and you can't speed it up in any way. Which wouldn't be a problem, except that you literally can't do anything but walk while you're on the radio. You can't fight zombies or jump while on the radio. And the radio is loud when it's beeping. Which often puts you in a position of being annoyed by the radio or letting yourself get chomped by zombies. Oh, and if you get attacked while on the radio? Yeah, Otis calls back and starts the message over from the begining. Lovely.

Now, that's from a strictly gameplay perspective.

I have some concerns/issues to take with other aspects of game. Let's talk about -isms.

Let's see... the good news is that there are some things to be pleased with in the game. First of all, despite the fact that Frank is a white guy, it was refreshing to see that he was actually a pretty normal looking, if possibly slightly "ugly" guy. I'm so used to seeing ridiculously attractive characters in games that it was kind of awesome to see, in Frank, a guy who wasn't a paragon of beauty. he looks like he maybe had his nose broken before, and he dresses sort of frumpy, and he's kind of... well... a normal looking white dude. As always, I'd have rather had the option to choose from a few characters, rather than have the default be a white guy.

Frank's main ally in the game is Brad, a black federal agent in charge of locating and a scientist. Brad is an interesting character- he distrusts Frank at the begining of the game, but he provides good support and fights alongside you through a number of battles. I don't have any complaints about Brad, really. He was sort of a jerk at times, but it fit his stuffy DHS persona, and he avoided most of the really nasty racial stereotypes I've come to expect in games. *Spoiler* He was fully realized enough that when Carlito locks him in the room full of zombies, my roomie and I both sort of went "Oh... shit... no!" And kept hoping beyond hope "Well, maybe he's okay... I mean, we've survived more zombies than that... maybe he's okay..."

Yeah. Not so much.

I'm going to have to pay more attention as I walk around, but there are two areas that I'm feeling disappointed about. First of all, unless I'm mistaken, all of the survivors are white folks. Every single last one that I've noticed has been a white person. I could be wrong, and I'm going to go back through to make sure, but I'm pretty sure. Which just feels... weird. In a town of 53,000+, every single person is white? Except for the DHS agent, a janitor, and the Hispanic siblings from the fictional town of Santa Cabeza?

The area that I'm much clearer on is the weird gender issues in the game. It's very... weird. Now, the good news is that, as far as I could tell, the women in the game fight just as well as the men if you give them a weapon. There are a couple of women you have to pick up and carry to safety because they've been injured or are too scared to do anything, but for each of them, there's a corresponding male character in the same situation, so I felt like that was actually pretty even. And while it's hardly evidence to anything larger, the survivor I had the easiest time saving was one of the women who, once I gave her a gun, managed to keep clearing zombies off of me while I saved a guy, and the guy who should have been easiest to save because I found him wandering around with a shotbun blowing away dozens of zombies, ended up getting himself eaten.

But, while the game did a good job there, it does a less good job with the photography aspect with regards to women. You get bonus points for taking photographs that depict extreme situations- get a picture of a zombie being killed or killing someone and you get a bonus. Get a picture of a rescued couple embracing each other? Bonus. Get a picture of a zombie with a hanger stuck in it's head? Bonus. Get a picture of a female zombie's cleavage? Bonus.

Wait... what?

Yeah. That's right. Female zombies with cleavage get you an erotic photo bonus.

Further, many of the female survivors will yield the same bonus if you photograph them. And, I've been told that one of the survivors will actually give you a special photosession in which you're supposed to privately photograph her.

This is one of those cases where, to paraphrase how Naomi put in our WAM! session, it seems like they felt like they had to put wank-material into an otherwise good game. It doesn't make sense, and it's actually pretty distracting to me. It doesn't fit with the rest of the game.

Another thing that I noticed that I haven't decided how to take is the ability to dress Frank in... er... a dress. When you go into various stores in the mall, you can try on different outfits and basically play dressup with Frank. Change his clothes, and you're treated to a short sequence of him modeling whatever outfit it is. Put on a snappy suit, and he'll sort of turn and check himself out in the mirror and tug on the cuffs a bit. Put on some sharp shoes and he'll extend a foot and check them out. Put on a dress... and he dances provocatively and runs his hands over his body in a stereotypical "stripper dance." Which... I don't know. It rubbed me the wrong way. Not that you can put him in a dress, but that doing so is immediately hypersexualized. It's just... weird. Maybe there are dresses that don't do that, and I just haven't found them yet? I don't know.

Overall, I really enjoy Dead Rising. I've been having a ton of fun with it when I get a chance to play. It's the sort of sandbox game that I really enjoy. If it weren't for the weird sexualization issue and the completely idiotic survivor AI, I'd actually say it was near perfect. It does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it pretty damned well. Oh, sure, I'd still have some complaints- some items do way less damage than they ought to, but... yeah.

Anybody else got strong feelings on Dead Rising?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Getting back to my roots...

I don't know how I missed Token Minorities before, but let me point you there, now. I originally stumbled upon the link via a guest post at Racialicious, and I went back today to read some of the archives, and got completely sucked in. Great, great anlysis of video games, there. Check it out.

If your friend is on fire, I'd avoid pouring more fuel on the flame...

Holly and Amp and about a million other people, I'm sure, have posts up about the most recent... conversation? taking place in the feminist blogosphere.

I hesitate to call it a conversation for the most part, because a conversation is, by definition, an exchange of ideas, but there's not really that much exchange happening, because lines have been drawn and sides have been taken, and that never really goes well for anyone.

I'm not going over the details of this particular incident- Holly's post is a good place to start- it's filled with links to a lot of the blogs that'll do a much better job than I could hope to of explaining exactly what happened and why people are upset. What I'm interested in talking about is building bridges. Specifically, how we go about it.

These sorts of events, and it's becoming increasingly obvious to me that they're a pretty regular thing at this point, make it clear that we have a need for building bridges. There's a lot of a anger, and there's a lot of criticism, but, unfortunately, a lot of it gets dismissed or ignored. And I can understand how that happens. I think that most of us feel really invested in the work we're doing or trying to do.

The things we write, the networks we build, the comics we draw, the conferences we organize, the music we make... it's important to us, and we're pouring our hearts and souls and blood and tears and anger and joy and excitement into it all the time. And, no, we don't all come from the same place and the stakes aren't the same for all of us- some of us, and I'll readily admit that this includes me, are coming at it from a more detached place. I'm not a woman, and I'm not sure that I can ever realy understand the lived experiences of a woman. That will always taint my understanding and color my perception. For others, their work is their lived experiences. Their work is vital because it's about surivival. I can walk away... not everyone can.

But, even recognizing that, I think it's clear that for most of us, it's personal. I don't mean that in a bad way or in a divisive or dismissive way- it's the truth though. Our words and our work are very personal, and our passion for what we're saying is high. And now, there's history, too. And so, when people start arguing and when the air gets thick and hot and tempers flare and people are responding in anger... it is personal.

Maybe it shouldn't be, and maybe these kinds of conversations would be a lot easier or more productive if we could be clinically detached, but I just don't see how that can happen. I imagine if I read a post that I thought had appropriated someone I care about's work, I'd be pissed. And if the person doing the stealing was associated with a group that I felt had a history of appropriation, or that I had a personal problem with, I suspect that my anger would be... significant. And if the appropriation was pointed out, and the person in question, rather than saying "oh, damn, you're right, and I should have linked to some of the people working on this" and providing links, acted defensive and hostile? Well, I'd probably be fuming, to say the least.

At the same time, if I saw dozens of posts accusing me of stealing other people's works, and talking about how selfish, or stupid, or arrogant or whatever I was, I'd be angry and hurt. And, no, I doubt I'd react with cold detachment to the allegations. I can't fault someone who feels attacked for being defensive or upset about serious allegations. Because I am a human being, and I know that there are times when I simply don't act rationally or when I'm unable to see the bigger picture because my feelings are hurt, and I think that's normal, if not particularly helpful to larger issue discussions.

And maybe this is just my perspective as a feminist guy, but, it's sometimes very hard not to take some issues personally. When we're talking about sexism and misogyny and patriarchical systems and privilege, and someone is talking about what "men" do... yes, it's difficult sometimes not to take that personally. When people say "we need to educate men about rape" I sometimes feel like "Wait, what? But... I'm a man, and I got it." And, yeah, sometimes conversations about race end up feeling the same way. I'm not about to deny that- I admit and own that the feelings are my own, and that it's my responsibility not to let that feeling dominate the discourse.

But, that's the personal level. There is, as both Amp and Holly point out, a much bigger issue that's not personal. There's the bigger issue of how women of color are treated by largely white feminist circles. There's a bigger conversation about appropriation and about how well or poorly we address the intersectionality of race/gender/sex.

And I think that's where the people- like me- who actually aren't directly involved in a particular argument, come in. As I'm looking over the conversation at Feministe, I notice that there are a lot of people making it clear that they're taking sides, which, I think, is a natural reaction. If someone I have personal attachments to looks like sie is being attacked, my first reaction is to want to jump to that person's defense or point out the ways that the attacks are unfair/baseless/whatever.

But, the reality is this: It's not helpful.

There's a really interesting comment by Pinko Punko over at Feministe that I'm still rereading and thinking about:

It is clear that many people want to deal with big picture stuff because they are personally detached from the specific situation, no matter how personally invested they are in the larger framework.

It also seems pretty undeniable that there are personality conflicts that taint motives. Note that motive and argument are not the same. Beyond this, as usual, in blog comments it is always a 5 million way argument and many things get conflated. So you have 100 people on each side arguing that the other side is conflating their arguments with things they haven’t personally said. I;m sure we could spend weeks parsing everything that came before this thread and identify the asymmetry in every persons understanding of where we are now.

Given what has been said, I have to say that I find it ridiculous in practice to level serious allegations against someone and expect them to deal with it like an emotionless robot. Holly has illuminated an alternate way of lighting an analogous situation that seems fruitful, the only problem being the situation isn’t really analogous because it just didn’t go down that way for Amanda.

This thread is full of intelligent people but how intelligent are we if we are demanding that right his second Amanda needs to act totally rationally in some predetermined way when it is obvious, at least to me, that there is no way I could be acting in an emotionless fashion under these circumstances, and I don’t really expect than many others would either. I do not think she is overstating what has been said about her, even if not everyone is saying it, that just doesn’t matter, because many people have.

Additionally, if one is already friends or enemies with AM, how are we to judge either their partisan defense of her, as we’d all love our friends to defend us when attacked and the alternate side, the people that she rubs the wrong way, for any number of reasons, reasons that predate the latest business. They all have arguments to make. They ll have motives that can be questioned, separately from their arguments.

The last batch of people just wants to survey the field and talk about the other stuff, the bigger stuff, the stuff touching AM and BFP but much bigger than that. This is commendable, but how reasonable is it to act like right this second these are the issues we’d like to demand AM deal with, and if she doesn’t right this second we’re gonna find her responses “telling.” I just don’t think it is reasonable, though it may be rational.

I’ve spent the last few days reading up on stuff to understand as much as I can just about the personalities involved and the baggage people have with one another because this seems to be the dominant forced in this specific debate.

Everybody wants a piece right now, and they want an answer to many legitimate questions, questions about the bigger picture, questions about how ideas are related to, how they are trafficked, how blogs work as blogs (whether they are like shorthands for conversations between people, but they are also like legitimate publishing) and what does that even mean? It just seems unfathomable that anyone could expect AM to be able to give a satisfactory response just right this second. Not in you know, a couple of days, or maybe a week, or maybe one on one.

I’ve suggested the ol’ back door policy before, and have been called a concern troll on this very blog. I can see that argument, but I can see a different, more pragmatic argument based on just what do you want your comments to accomplish and just what do you really think they’ll accomplish?

I’m all for disagreements in public. I think this would be great. It is not gonna work in all cases, and everyone here that thinks that this thread is a great way to get the calm, emotionally divested response from AM has just not been reading the internets the last few days.

I agree with a lot of that, but I think that one of the things that can happen, is that those of us without a direct and personal stake in the argument can talk about the big issue. I don't expect either BFP or AM to be in a place where they can remove themselves from the personal attachments- maybe they can, and if they are able to, that's great, but I don't think it's unreasonable to think that it's hitting a little close to home right now. But, there's no reason why the rest of us can't try to address the bigger issue, I think.

In fact, at some point, we have to.

And it's not like I have a magic solution that will build bridges and make us one big happy feminist family. Hell, I have my doubts and reservations that we'll ever be some kind of utopian feminist collective. Ignoring that there's a lot of bad blood between some people and groups, there's the simple reality that, for example, I will never find myself a perfect happy ally with feminists who think it's okay to accuse transpeople of being mentally ill or for whom advocating and working for the rights of sex-workers is anathema to the feminist cause. But, I do think that we can be a lot better than we are. And, honestly, as many WOC bloggers have repeatedly said, it's not that hard..

Example: When I posted about Seal the other day, I linked to BA's blog. But, I remembered that, in other threads, I was pretty sure that I'd read BA mention that there were times when she didn't want to be linked. My solution?

I e-mailed her and said "Hey, I'm writing about this, and I mention your blog, is it cool if I link." It took all of forty seconds. And you know what? She e-mailed me back and said go for it.

I just noticed that Sheelzebub, in the comments at Feministe, has a really great comment that has advice that I was going to mention:

Amanda, if it wasn’t intentional, fine. Whatever. But much of the reason why you run into so much rancor from people is the way you react when your posts or actions are criticized by your allies. I remember the “joy-killing” line over criticism of the cover of your book. Now you, Lindsey, and Hugo seem to think that this whole thing is feuled by jealousy, that BFP, Sylvia, Donna, and BA aren’t acting in good faith, and that they’re somehow out to get you.

I said it at Hugo’s place (in a far pissier post) and I’ll say it here: If you just explained where you got your ideas from AND THEN added links to BFP, a blogger whom you’ve read for at least two years, this whole thing would have died down. Even something along the lines of, “BFP spoke about this at WAM, you can read the text of the speech here, you should check it out.” But instead, there are accusations and rhetoric that are reminiscent of Kos’s “sanctimonious women’s studies set” bullshit.

They aren’t calling you out on this because you’re the big blogger with a book deal. BFP wasn’t some random blogger whom you’d never heard of; she’s written plenty about immigration in the past two years you’ve been reading her. And the thing is, I’ll bet the mortgage that I’ve done the same thing you’ve done. I get that you feel defensive. I DO TOO when I’m called on my shit. But it’s not as if we don’t know who these folks are–they don’t do this shit for sport, and it would be really nice if we could all consider what they’re saying, and what they’ve been going through, instead of invoking Stalin or some such crap. IOW, BFP, Donna, BA, Sylvia. . .they’re all acting in good faith.

As for Belledame–look, I get that you two don’t like each other. Certainly, there are people who have criticized you whom I don’t particularly like or trust. But that’s beside the point. It doesn’t negate what WOC bloggers are saying. If I was calling out, say, Kos on something as part of a much larger issue, another blogger posted in support of me, and Kos accused that blogger of sucking me into a personal vendetta, you bet your ass that would piss me off no end. Same goes for right-wing baiting–Christ on a cracker, I get enough of that shit from misogynist “progressives” who think that not worshipping at the altar of the sexual status quo means that I love me some Phyllis Schafly. This isn’t a tactic of the right wing–have BFP or BA encouraged people to send you rape threats? Are they putting pressure on Seal Press to pull your book? NO. They aren’t interested in hurting your career. From where I stand, they’re beyond frustrated with the response they get from White feminists like you, LIKE ME, like Lindsey, when they voice their concerns.

It would really, really help things a LOT if people would consider what WOC bloggers are saying. And if you don’t want to, or cannot, for the love of all things holy and profane, stop throwing gasoline on the fire.

Like Sheelzebub, I know that I've thrown fuel on the fire before. I'm sure I'll do it again. When it happens, I hope that I'll have the good sense to step back and rethink what I'm doing and get back on the right track. Because, here's the thing: Even if some of the people in these discussions are acting in bad faith... even if there were some personal vendettas coloring how people look at the issue... even if there were people acting out of jealousy or out of personal bias or out of whatever... how, exactly, does throwing fuel on the fire help?

Holly is absolutely right, if you've got a megaphone, if you've got a big audience, if you've hit the maintstream and you're getting out a message that a more marginalized group of people have been working on for a long time, you've got some obligation to point in their direction. Whether a particular article was inspired by that community or by something else, it's just the right thing to do. One of the major benefits of blogging and the internet is the ability to create networks and to link to the things that you've read and been inspired by.

It costs nothing to say "Damn, you're right" and link to people who've made it a point to work on a particular issue, and, in fact, helps get those marginalized voices heard and get their work more attention and respect. Likewise, to the people who think that they're helping AM by jumping to her defense or by dismissing or deriding the people who've raised concerns: it's not actually helping. It's reinforcing what has become a really nasty problem. It's thowing fuel on a fire.

There's a reason why I've been trying to take time to think about these kinds of blow-ups when they're happening, rather than jumping right in and wading into the fray. Because, even if my first instinct is to jump in and back up the people I like, that's rarely the best tactic.

Like I said, I can completely understand where AM and BFP might have strong feelings about what's happening, and I'm not in a position where I feel comfortable condemning or lambasting them for taking the events personally, but for the rest of us? If we're acting from a place of jumping to the aid of our friend and we're dismissing or ignoring the Big Picture aspect in favor of the personal?

We're becoming part of the Big Picture Problem.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Quick Hits...

Sorry for the relative quiet lately. I feel like every other post is my apologizing for light posting, at this point. That's embarassing. I'm in the process of preparing for a cross-country move at the moment, stressing out about looking for a good job in MA (anyone looking to hire someone with a BS in Lit/Phil? Because I'm looking to be hired!), and generally feeling overwhelmed by how much stuff I still have to do in order to get my ass moved. So, here are a few things I'm also thinking about/being annoyed by...

1. Discussions about being trans that generally ignore or deny the experiences of people who identify as such really piss me off. Read the comments- there are a lot of them, but you can mostly jump to the end and see what I'm talking about. When you start dismissing the experiences of transpeople and suggesting that it's all just a big mental illness? Yeah. That's a problem to me.

2. Comparisons between homosexuality and incest.

3. The ways that some people seem to think that "it's just a movie" or "it's pop culture" make something beyond reproach or critique. Pop culture is tremendously important, and, quite frankly, we don't spend anywhere near enough time examining it. We ought to be taking more time to critically examine the things that succeed as pop culture, and examining how our attitudes are shaped by the media we consume. Pop culture both reflects and shapes culture, and it's just stupid, imo, to ignore it or pretend that it's "just" anything.

4. I'm making tacos for dinner tonight, and I'm really hungry. I'm really interested in learning how to make my own taco seasoning. I wonder how hard it would be to do that with fresh ingredients? I mean, what even goes in it? There's almost certainly tomato in there, right? Maybe? I don't know. But, damn, I loves me some tacos.

5. I don't even know what to say about this story, yet. It's heartbreaking.

6. I was sitting in a diner waiting for my food when I first heard about this compound.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Four decades ago...

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, where he was showing support for striking black sanitation workers. King was as he stood on the second floor balcony, and died an hour later. Listening to King's final speech had me on the edge of tears this morning. He was an amazing man, and his words remain as powerful and important today as they were when he first said them. Our world is worse for having lost him so soon, but infinitely better for having known him.

On April 3- the day before his assassination- King gave a moving speech at the Mason Temple. Here are some excerpts of that speech. The full text can be found at Martin Luther King Online.

As you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?"...

...Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — "We want to be free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence...

...We aren't going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don't know what to do, I've seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me round." Bull Connor next would say, "Turn the fire hoses on." And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn't know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water.

That couldn't stop us. And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we'd go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we'd just go on singing "Over my head I see freedom in the air." And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, "Take them off," and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, "We Shall Overcome." And every now and then we'd get in the jail, and we'd see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn't adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham...

...Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

I'm watching and cringing and thinking "Gods, no!"

There's a very intense and depressing discussion happening over at Blackamazon's blog.

I saw the wreck coming a mile away, but this is just... it's... my head explodes.

Beth said: What I'm seeing here is that BA is allowed to be mad and write what she wants but Seal Press can't react off the cuf because they should know better. Seal Press gets told how to react to something written about them and then gets told how they should comment.

It's always the same thing. If Seal Press had just approached BA in a different way no one would be attacking them.


And what I'm seeing is a comment that so grossly mischaractorizes the situation that I'm almost at a loss for words. BA is allowed to be mad and write what she wants because it's her space. Ignoring, for the moment, that one of the comments that was being attacked wasn't even BA's, it's still BA's blog, and, the last time I checked, that means that that she gets to write about whatever she wants. So, yeah, she does get to write about whatever she wants. And, no, Seal Press can't react off the cuff because they should know better. They're representing a publisher and posting at BA's in at least a marginally official manner when they say "Seal press here." They came into another person's personal space. Whether you agree with them or not is irrelevent- it wasn't a very professional way to handle the situation.

Further, they weren't told how to react. Nobody said that agents of Seal Press couldn't be upset or annoyed or hurt or angry or any other reaction you want to name. The criticism is with how they acted on BA's site. And, yeah, they're told how they should or shouldn't comment there. You know what? That's perfectly fair. It's BA's blog, and she's got every right to decide how she wants people to post there. I don't think that's particularly unusual amongst bloggers.

And if you're trying to help the situation? Dropping lines like "it's always the same thing" is a really bad tactic to take.

I didn't see anybody promise that they wouldn't have attacked Seal Press if Seal had come into the conversation differently. For all I know, nothing that Seal could have said would have changed the attitudes of those involved. But, the tactic that was taken was pretty much sure to fail. For all of the reasons listed in that thread.

Telling any marginalized group "you're marginalized because you don't do enough to become unmarginalized"? Never a good strategy.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

WAM! final thoughts...

So, I already talked about the sessions I attended, but I wanted to take one more post to talk about the rest of the conference, because, honestly, the sessions are just one piece of the conference. The other, equally important, part is the networking and keynotes.

And, oh, what keynotes they were! Helen Thomas (Patron Saint of Not Shutting Up!) opened the conference on Friday with a funny and critical discussion about the ways that the media does (or does not) hold the president accountable. For the most part, it was a pretty good speech. She's got a good sense of humor, and has six decades of experience and stories about her work to talk about. She talked about the struggles of breaking into journalism when it was still closed off from women, and she talked about the obligation journalists have to keep an eye on the government. And how many mainstream journalists have been failing that obligation.

At one point she did make the claim that racism is more verboten than sexism in our society, which, um... no. I have to admit that I cringed at that. I just don't like to see/hear claims that sex trumps race trumps gender identity trumps sexuality, etc. She was also a very strong supporter of Clinton, and made it clear that, for her, the fact that this is a viable woman candidate is enough for her to cast her vote. My impression, however, wasn't that she was interested in criticizing supporters of Obama. She made it very clear that she actually thinks that debate and disagreement between Obama and Clinton is a good thing. She repeated asked "What's wrong" with division or debate or disagreement.

There was also a really touching moment where a Lebanese woman thanked Thomas for her work, and talked about how much it meant to her and her family that a Lebanese woman was working the Press Corps. I don't know about any one else, but it was really moving to see this woman, who seemed on the verge of tears, talking about what a tremendous impact it made in her life to see someone who looked like herself covering the president. She said that her whole family would come running to watch whenever Thomas was on. It was really moving.

The second keynote was delivered by Haifa Zangana, and was incredibly powerful. Zangana was tortured under Saddam's regime, and has been an outspoken critic of that dictatorship for a long time, but she discussed the many ways in which Iraq is crumbling under the weight of the current occupation. She discussed the rampant poverty and unemployment that has been created by the war, and how the infrastructure of the country has all but been destroyed. I have extensive notes on her speech (at home, of course.*sigh*).

In a speech filled with sad and disturbing facts about what life is like in Iraq now, it was really upsetting to hear a woman who was detained and tortured by Saddam's forces say that, for most Iraqis, life was actually better under Saddam's rule. When you hear about children being detained in imprisoned by American forces, and you hear about people not knowing what has happened to their loved ones- have they been killed? Detained? Trapped somewhere? For many Iraqi citizens, there's no way of knowing. And then you hear about the millions who've been displaced or fled the country, and I don't know how you can feel anything but upset about the situation.

At the end of her speech, Zangana requested that, instead of straight Q&A, people talk about and pitch ideas for change. She was really interested in hearing what kinds of ideas people had for how we could all work together to improve the situation. She made it clear that she was looking for ways to stand together, not for ways that Americans could give charity.

I believe that Zangana's speech was recorded, and should be out there in the interwebs somewhere. I'm going to look around for it, and see if I can find it or a transcript of it, because it really was a pretty amazing speech.

In addition to the keynotes, one of the most exciting parts of the conference was getting a chance to network and meet so many amazing people. I'm a pretty avid blog reader, and, I'm happy to admit, I think of some writers as being sort of like celebs. I think of them the same way I'd think of meeting a novelist I really like, for example. Which is both amazing, weird, and funny.

On Sunday, after the conference was over, I was hanging around the lunch area, saying goodbye to a few people, and just sort of hanging out. As I'm standing there, a woman walks up to me and says something like (as close as I can remember) "Hi, you're Roy from No Cookies, right? I'm Amber- I don't know if you know know who I am, but I read your blog and I think it's really great." Which was awesome, because it's great to meet someone that reads you. And I started thinking, Amber... Amber... I can't think of any of my regular commenters who go by Amber... And then, all of the sudden, she says something, and it hits me... Amber Rhea!

So. Awesome.

There were moments like that all through the weekend, too. There were so many people there whose writing I read on a regular basis, and whose work I really respect. Like I said the other day, I met Nadia Ann Abou-Karr, which was really cool. I've been excited about the Allied Media Conference being in Detroit since I heard about it last year. I met Latoya Peterson during my session, and got a chance to talk with her a bit afterwards. Oh, and Nancy Gruver, who founded New Moon Girl Media magazine, introduced herself to me during one of the receptions (I'm getting business cards now, I swear!). I got to hang out with Lisa Jervis. I finally got a chance to meet and talk with Jill and Holly, was introduced to Ann and Jessica and "Tech Goddess" Deanna Zandt. Did I mention Derek? And those were just the people I met whose work I was already really familiar with. I can't even begin to list all of the amazing journalists and writers that I met.

Which is all to say, I'm completely blown away by how incredibly awesome the conference was. Three days of learning from amazing and talanted feminists. Three days of networking with really interesting and motivated people who've been busting their asses to make change. It was really, really great to attend a conference where, as Lisa Jervis put it, you don't have to try and explain your politics to everyone. You know, when you're at WAM!, that most of the people there are, if not on the same page, at least reading the same book- we agree that there are problems with the mainstream media, and that sexism is still a problem, and that we need to do something about it. It was easily the most important and informative conference I've ever attended. Aboslutely brilliant.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

WAM! session thoughts...

Ahhh. I'm back in lovely, windy, cold, wet Michigan.

I'm feeling a little more rested and recovered, and still extremely excited and invigorated by my experiences at WAM!. I just wanted to share a few of my favorite sessions and moments at the conference. It all seems like such a blur in a way. I might be experiencing an information overload, in fact. There was so much energy packed into three short days- between attending sessions and meeting all of these amazing feminists and listening to the killer key notes... it was a lot to take in.

Let me start off by reiterating just how completely awesome "Breaking the Frame" was. I get a little giddy just thinking about it. Emily Douglas was the session moderator, and introduced the other three members of the session. I knew that I was in for a treat when Aimee Thorne-Thomsen, of the Pro-Choice Public Education Project started talking. I wish I could have recorded the session, because her words were like lightning- sharp and hot. She pointed out how far we, in the pro-choice movement, miss the mark when we focus almost exclusively on reproductive justice as abortion rights. The maintstream media has us convinced that The most important issue in reproductive rights and justice is the right to have an abortion. But, for many, many women that's just not the case. Current campaigns use the language of rights to talk about ending pregnancy, but those campaigns often fail to connect with the minds and realities of many young women and/or women of color.

And that's due, in part, to the framing we've allowed to happen. We've let the right convince us that the most important discussion is whether a woman has a right to end her pregnancy, but for a lot of women, the real questions are about having the ability to make all kinds of choices. Thorne-Thomsen talked about the concept of justice for women as being the economic, social, and political power to make healthy choices for themselves and their communities.

In other words, it's not just about having the choice to get an abortion should you desire one. It's about having access to preventative measures. It's about having access to sex-education and contraception. It's about having access to healthy food and medical care should you want to have a baby. It's about reproductive rights of all kinds and about the socio-economic and political barriers to making informed and healthy choices for yourselves.

The discussion about justice as intersectional versus rights as more individualistic was important as well. In the interest of actual justice, one has to dedicate time and energy towards the people who are most impacted by the issues. We have to work on engaging with and working with the women from all backgrounds to find out what kinds of issues they're actually dealing with, and to find out how their lives can be improved by working together on the issues that are most impacting their lives.

Cristina Page, the author of How the Pro-choice Movement Saved America, was a great compliment to Thorne-Thomsen. Where Thorne-Thomsen was focused a lot on how we, as feminists, need to work on embracing the diversity of experiences and concerns within women of color communities and younger women, Page discussed the anti-choice movement and some of the ways that we've let them control the discussion. One of her major focuses was debunking the myth about the concern for reducing abortion rates. The anti-choice movement's most vocal and political supporters often talk about there being a right to life, and being a movement concerned with reducing the number of abortions and wanting to protect the sanctity of life, but, as Page points out, they've consistantly taken steps that actually contribute to abortion rates.

It's no coincidence, she says, that abortion rates are lowest in places with strong pro-choice movements, but high in places with strong pro-life/anti-choice movements. The reality is that many of the most vocal supporters of the movement aren't pro-life, they're anti-women. This is one of the major reasons, Page claims, that so many politicians who claim to be "pro-life" do things like oppose comprehensive sex education, oppose funding to programs designed to provide support to children and working mothers, attempt to redefine contraception as abortion, etc. Anti-choice politicians routinely strip out the very tools that would otherwise contribute to women's abilities to raise children, making it harder to have and raise them.

The connection, of course, is that often times pro-choice advocates don't do enough to retarget the debate onto those issues. Often times, we're so focused on Roe v. Wade that we lose sight of the fact that, for example, a woman getting an abortion because she can't afford to raise a child isn't actually making a free choice- she's essentially being coerced. It's only when we've created an environment where women are truly able to make the choice to abort or carry the fetus without fear of social damnation or economic ruin that the choice is really free. If the choice is between aborting or losing your home, it's not much of a choice.

I thought a particularly awesome moment in the session came when it was pointed out that the so-called "pro-life" movement, which typically bills itself as the part of family values, is, in point of fact, opposed to traditional family values. The opposition to contraception, to enjoying sex, to abortion, to providing support for children... all of those things seem to run against many of our lived experiences... and yet, few of us call them out on this.

Amanda Marcotte, of Pandagon, was the final speaker, and her focus was on the strategy aspects of discussing reproductive justice. Her advice was not to be afraid of engaging critics- challanging the misinformation and lies that they spread are an important part of our work. It's important to be able to call bullshit when you see it. She also advocated moving away from overly academic language and discussions of reproductive justice in the abstract, and forcing anti-choicers to take the discussion to a real level. That is, to start talking about the women who are really effected by these issues and to talk to people in the ways that people really do communicate.

When the mainstream media ignores discussions about reproductive justice and the very real women who have experienced abortions in favor of the six second soundbite and the political message, it hurts the movement. It erases the lived experiences of women in favor of political talking heads- typically male.

The Q&A part of the session was equally mind blowing. There were so many great questions and comments made from women all around the room. I wish I had the names of the people asking, but, alas, I wasn't able to get them in time. There was a point made about how one of the ways that more academic feminists miss the boat in the discussion is by conflating anti-choice with religious. The commenter pointed out that there are strong women of color communities for whom faith is an important part of their pro-choice work and their identities as women of color and feminists, but, when we talk about the anti-choice right, we end up treating faith as something to be mocked or something that only our enemies have, and we end up silencing our allies because of this.

I'm still thinking about all of the great things that came out of the session. It really was a profoundly moving and inspiring session. It also set the bar really high for the rest of the conference. The speakers were so powerful and packed so much into such a short time, that, I have to admit, I couldn't help but be nervous about my own session. I don't know if I was lucky or not- Naomi and I presented our session in the final slot of the conference. We were the last presentation slot on the last day. Which, of course, meant that everyone who came had already attended, potentially, four other really amazing sessions.

No pressure.

Really, though, the session was amazing. I have to give serious thanks to Naomi- she put together a spectacular PowerPoint presentation for our session. I also want to give a huge shout-out to Latoya Peterson, who can be found over at Racialicious (and as their new editor! Huzzah!), too. She was practically a third presenter once the Q&A started. She had a lot of really great information to share, and, I'm not gonna lie, it made me go "Squee!" inside when she told everyone who she was.

Like I was saying, the session itself went really well, I think. I was originally worried that we wouldn't have enough to present or that we wouldn't have much of an audience, but both fears turned out to be completely unfounded. There were people from all kinds of gaming backgrounds- from a board gaming enthusiasts (Hello Anna! Again, very excited to have a contact for gaming!) to people who infrequently game, to a half dozen or so people who actively describe themselves as gamers. Naomi and I launched into our session, and it quickly became apparent that we weren't going to get through all of the information we had prepared, which was both sad and exciting. Sad, because a lot of work went into preparing the information and a lot of it was really good, but exciting because it just further illustrates how important the conversation is, and how much people are interested. In the end, we did almost an hour of Q&A, and only stopped because we'd run a half hour over our allotted time, and the conference was, you know... over!

We mentioned some sites in the presentation, and I just wanted to make sure to put up some of the links we talked about- for people who are interested, there are some really great feminist communities forming around gaming. One of my favorites and pretty much a daily read for me is Mighty Ponygirl's site, Feminist Gamers. There's also Andrea Rubenstein's blog Official, the online gaming magazine Cerise (which covers a variety of gaming types, from tabletop to video), and, of course, The Iris Network, which is an amazing project. There are tons of great links at all of those sites, too, and the community of feminist gamers is growing all the time. And, of course, please share any links in the comments section, too.

I'll have one more post on my experience at WAM! later, because not only were the sessions really great, but I had an opportunity to meet some really terrific and inspiring people, too.

Oh, right... I actually attended three other sessions, too- they were great, and I may still talk about them later, but I attended a session on Strategies for Making Change which focused on some of the ways that progressives can work with independent media and DIY culture as well as leverage more mainstream outlets to help get the message out and improve the lives of women and make sure that women's voices are silenced in the media. I attended a session called "Stereotypes and Typecasting in Reality Television", too. That one was a great look at the ways that pop culture influences and impacts our perceptions of women in society, and how the narratives that are being created on shows like The Swan or Beauty and the Geek play into and reinforce harmful stereotypes about women. Also a great session. I can talk about them more later, if people are interested, but, for now, it's back to work with me.