It cracks me up when people come here looking for “Tiny Cat Pants Betsy Phillips.” I guess to differentiate me from all the other blogs called Tiny Cat Pants.
Yesterday, over at Southern Alpha, they put up a post titled “5 Nashvillians Who Changed The Course of History For Entrepreneurs.” On the one hand, it’s heartening to see people like R.H. Boyd on the list. On the other hand, they also put Ray Danner on there. Ray Danner, as you may recall, is infamous for using his company, Shoney’s, to oppress black people. He wasn’t just a racist. He was a racist who went out of his way to ruin black people’s lives.
From the Baltimore Sun.
Shoney’s said Mr. Danner would not comment on the settlement, but according to his own deposition in the suit, he was not shy about sharing his theories about hiring blacks.
“I have on occasion given my opinion that a possible problem area was that the specific store in question had too many black employees working in it as compared to the racial mix of the geographical area served by the store,” Mr. Danner said in the deposition.
According to a deposition by Mike Vinson, a manager of Shoney’s restaurants in the Prattville, Ala., area, managers with what were considered too many black employees were often told with a wink that it was “too cloudy” in the restaurant and were directed to “lighten it up some.” At other times, a white manager, Daniel Gibson, said in his deposition, Mr. Danner was more blunt, saying, “I don’t like niggers, and I don’t want to see them in my stores.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said blacks accounted for 38.6 percent of Shoney’s kitchen workers in 1989, 8.4 percent of servers, 3.7 percent of midlevel managers and trainees, and 1.8 percent of managers.
I’m not sure how Southern Alpha missed this part of Danner’s career history. Books have been written about it. And yes, Danner was an important entrepreneur but, holy Jesus, it’s not like he was racist a million years ago. The Shoney’s settlement was in my adult lifetime. What lessons, exactly, are entrepreneurs supposed to learn from Danner’s example? That, if you hate a group of people, you can use your power to deny them decent jobs and fire anybody who works for you who objects? And what kind of message are black entrepreneurs supposed to take from this? That white guys, no matter how racist, will be celebrated by your peers as long as they’re successful? I mean, maybe that’s true, but you’d think it wouldn’t be so blatant.
A commitment to diversity can’t just mean “and now we include minorities.” It has to mean, “and we make some value judgements about the guys who actively thwarted minorities.” I mean, think of it this way. If you were a young African-American entrepreneur who one day wanted to open your own restaurant chain, so you thought you’d go work at Shoney’s for a few years and move up the ranks and see how Danner did things, you could not. You could work in the kitchen, but look at those statistics. Were you going to ever be a manager? No.
The most obvious path to learning the skills you need–model yourself after a success like Danner–was closed to you because Danner didn’t want to see people like you in his stores.
Fuck this dude.
Was he successful? Obviously. Did he pave the way? For a lot of people in his communities, not only didn’t he pave the way, if he found a paved way, he tore it up so that the black people in his communities couldn’t benefit from him. We don’t have to make Danner an eternal villain, but come on! Why is anyone praising him like he’s a hero? And why would anyone who wanted to show the South as a diverse, inclusive place where anyone can be a successful entrepreneur celebrating a dude who actively worked to make sure that wasn’t true?
Yesterday, Tiny Cat Pants turned nine years old.
How weird is that?
Thanks to you all for giving me one of the most enjoyable pastimes I can imagine.
We’re rapidly coming up on the 9th anniversary of Tiny Cat Pants.
Which means that next year, I will have been blogging for a decade. A decade! Oh, let me put it another way. A quarter of my life.
Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Oh lord, that makes me laugh.
It’s up! Go check it out.
Well, let me apologize if I have your email in my Yahoo account because you probably spent part of the afternoon getting spammed by me.
I’m not exactly sure how it happened. I mean, yes, my email password was Password1234, but I thought the capital P would be tricky. Ha ha ha. No, just kidding. My password wasn’t something simple to guess or associated with me in any obvious way. Yahoo lets you track where log-ins happen and from where (kind of), so I was able to ascertain that some dude from Poland got in using a Yahoo affiliated application. I’m not sure what applications Yahoo has other than Flickr, so that’s my guess for how he got in–through Flickr somehow.
I already had in place all the things Yahoo says to have in place to keep from getting hacked–strong password, fancy picture on the login page, etc. So, other than changing my password, I’m not sure what more I can do, but I’m hoping it’s over.
Unless it’s retaliation for my snarky attitude toward government snooping in our data. In which case, yes, you got a few emails from me, but the NSA just had to sift through hundreds. So, that’s kind of fair, right?
Again, I am sorry.
Well, I’m saying that while there are only three there, but I find it interesting, nevertheless that the first comments on the piece were those comments.
I mean, my commenters aren’t normally grammatically-correct thoughtful disagreements with me.
My Iron Man post is up. It’s not as good as the other posts in the round-table, but, in my defense, I thought people would be writing about “Alley Oop” and “Sunshine Superman.”
Ugh, people. Sorry it’s been so crappy around here. The truth is that I’m lately feeling like it’s more interesting to listen than it is to talk, which makes for difficult blogging. It’s like, I wish I could read comment threads full of you guys without having to start them by saying something worth commenting on. I’m not down about it or anything. I also like listening. I’m just saying, being in a listening and reading mood is hard on a person’s writing. You can’t breathe in and out at the same time.
I’ve also not worked out a good system for writing when the Butcher is here, which means I’m feeling a little constipated in that regard. And, you know, it’s kind of weird. I went so long with having Project X to sweat over and then the Think Progress stuff and The Hooded Utilitarian that to have everything just be basically over all at once… well, it means I have to find a way to pick back up the work I most want to be focused on.
On the other hand, I got some good feedback on one of my stories, so, if I had some time to work on it, I totally could. And I think I’ve figured out the problem with another story. So, if I had some time to work on it, I totally could.
I’m hoping I can do this summer what I did last summer and take Fridays off. That would give me a good stretch of alone time I could count on. And I would love to go spend some more time in the garden at Traveller’s Rest.
I’m also secretly dreaming of a way to get into Glen Leven.
So, that’s me. Mostly listening and dreaming. The writing will come around again.
Tomorrow is Skarsgards!
You thought I was just reading all that stuff for fun! Okay, I was, but also because I was invited to do a guest post at The Hooded Utilitarian and I wanted to write about Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop by Yuval Taylor and Jake Austen, a book I really liked, but had one serious issue with. My post over at The Hooded Utilitarian is an attempt to answer the one question I thought Taylor and Austen left oddly unanswered.
I just want to thank Barry for his help with the song stuff in the middle of the post (though he didn’t know at the time that his help would be going to this end and neither did I). And to Elias for turning me on to The Hooded Utilitarian those many years ago.
This has been the roughest couple of days I’ve had blogging in a long, long time. I can’t sleep. I’m having trouble making sure I’m eating enough at the right times so that I don’t get sick. I feel like shit. Every time I see there’s another comment here, I hide from it for as long as I can before I come to look at it.
I don’t say any of this because I want your sympathy. What I want is just to give you some context for the apology I’m about to offer. In the old days, I used to love these long discussions, because I was an idiot and I thought you really could just hash this shit out in public and some good would come of it. Some minds would be changed.
But the truth is that I don’t believe that’s true and I haven’t for a while. I don’t believe big messes like the one we had here actually change minds. I think they’re just cathartic and terrible in equal measure. Often just terrible and hurtful.
In part, in order to be effective, the person moderating the comments has to have a generosity of spirit and a level of kindness and understanding that is completely outside of my ability. From where I’m sitting, it seems like you’d have to have an inhuman generosity of spirit. So, if you got in that comment thread and it sucked, yes, I knew and I am sorry. It’s just not something I can do–guide a conversation like that in ways that keep everyone on track and everyone, including myself, from feeling like they’re being attacked. I also don’t have the ability to not take shit personally. If it hurts me, it hurts me and I’m going to react.
So, that fucking sucks.
But I also want to say this–tempers were running very high, mine especially. And I know there were a lot of people just watching the shit storm from the sidelines and then forming opinions of the people involved. Or feeling like this incident solidified feeling they already had. That it “proved” something about someone, whoever the someone was to you.
One fight one time in one place is not the whole of who a person is. It doesn’t settle or prove anything about a person. We change. (Though, as I said, I doubt because of shitstorms like this). Or we hold one opinion that seems stupid or out of character but otherwise we’re fine and wonderful people. Or whatever.
God, this post is making me just want to burn this blog to the ground.
But I guess what I’m saying is that, if you want to use the internet to decide who the bad guys or good guys here in town are, don’t solely use moments like these to decide. People aren’t just their fuck-ups.
I don’t know how many of you have been around here long enough to remember when Jessamyn Smyth was around, but she has a book of poetry! Which you should buy.
Chris thinks it’s stupid that people are upset about The Onion’s joke calling Quvenzhane Wallis a cunt. More bafflingly, he “thought the onion’s joke was hilarious.” Ha ha ha. No. Even setting aside for a moment–which we will come back to–what the joke calls Quvenzhane, it’s still a joke that takes a nine-year-old girl hostage in order to point out how horribly women are treated by Oscar commentary and then shoots the hostage! Ooops, guess what, The Onion and Chris? Once the hostage is dead, you’ve lost your leverage.
Wage acts like Quvenzhane’s appearance in the joke is incidental–that the joke can somehow be about her and yet have nothing to do with her. In that regard, I think Wage is being an idiot. A joke about a person that the person the joke’s about can’t honestly and spontaneously laugh at is probably a joke a lot of people are going to find, unsurprisingly, doesn’t work. A joke about a woman that the woman who is the center of it can’t laugh at and probably shouldn’t even hear unless she’s got a team of people around her to put it in context for her (as Wage seems to acknowledge this joke would take–”So yes, she probably has heard about it. What horrible things exactly are we imagining have happened as a result? A brief explanation by her parents that it was a joke poking fun at institutional sexism and the vacuity of celebrity viciousness in general? A more in-depth conversation about the power of the word “cunt” and how its colloquial usage is pernicious and should be avoided, and how the Onion turned that on its head to make a rather biting point?”) isn’t a joke with a woman as the subject of it. It’s a joke in which the woman is an object. It’s not a joke for her. It’s a joke about her.
And one, if she hears it, she’s just supposed to learn to think is funny. It’s cruel to make jokes about people they can’t willingly laugh at (I keep saying things like “willingly” and “spontaneously” because we are taught from an early age to laugh at things we don’t find funny, things that often hurt us, because people tell us to. I’m trying to differentiate between what people laugh at because they feel pressured to and what they would laugh at if no one was judging them.), but often cruel jokes are hilarious. So, I’m not opposed to cruel jokes.
But when you’re making a joke about someone and you don’t care if that person is in a position to laugh at it at all, then that’s not just comedy–that’s comedy that uses, in this case, a little girl as an object. Again, I say, it’s not surprising that people would find that not funny.
But I want to make another point as well. It is very, very difficult to make a true statement funny. It’s not that it can’t be done, but, if you’re going to attempt it, you need to be prepared to fail miserably. Which, in this case, The Onion did. Wage makes the same mistake when he says, “Because calling a 9 year old girl a cunt is a horrible, horrible thing to do.” Chris, no one thinks that.
Okay, not no one. A very small pool of people in this world genuinely think that calling any girl a cunt is actually horrible. Women get called cunts our whole lives and when we get confused or put off or upset or angry, and we look to the very same people who I’m sure would tell Wage that they think calling a nine year old girl a cunt is horrible, they tell us the people who call us cunts don’t mean it, or we just need to understand where they’re coming from. Or that they’re just joking. (We’re coming back to this in a second.). We get the message over and over again, loud and clear, that there’s nothing wrong, not really, with calling us cunts. Because we are.
You’re incredibly fortunate if you live in a situation where it’s obviously funny to call a nine year old a cunt because of how horrible it is. Because most of us don’t live in situations where people think it’s that horrible at all. They just think it’s true.
For them, The Onion joke was funny for that reason–because The Onion just went ahead and said what everyone else is thinking. But again, then the joke only works if we’re saying that that it’s not important that the person at the center of it be able to laugh at it. It’s funny because it’s true, in this case, works because the people who think it’s funny think so little of women. Could you make a joke in which the punchline is “so-and-so is kind of a cunt” and have it be funny to the very people who regularly get called cunts? I think so. This was, as evidenced by its reception, not that joke.
Why not? I’ve actually been giving this a lot of thought since I read Chris’s post last night. Why doesn’t this joke work for me? And I think that it goes beyond that I find calling a nine year old girl a cunt distasteful (which I do, but I laugh at distasteful shit all the time) or that I find it gross that a little black girl who’s going to spend her whole life being hypersexualized by popular culture gets labeled a cunt, even as a joke, straight out of the gate (which I do and you can find good and useful commentary about that all over the internet). It even goes beyond the fact that I live in a culture where women are cunts so how is a statement of fact really a joke?
And it’s this: Every time I’ve been called a cunt, when the dude who called me a cunt got called on it by someone he respected, his excuse was that he was joking. Every damn time. Can’t she take a joke? And yet, obviously, he wasn’t joking at all. He meant it.
So, The Onion is trying to land a joke that is more complicated than Wage gives it credit for. There’s already a non-joke joke in wide circulation that is “Ha ha, I called you a cunt, but I say I was joking, even though I meant it, so that makes it okay.” Most women are going to hear it in their lifetimes. The Onion wants to make a joke that is “Ha ha, I called this little girl a cunt, but I’m joking in a style that looks like I mean it, so that makes it okay.” In order to land the joke The Onion was attempting to land and not have it veer into the non-joke joke which is the more culturally familiar one, The Onion would have to be the fucking Mike Tyson of comedians (See? In a paragraph about landing punches, I stick in a notorious rapist and it stings and is funny, because I’ve just spent all this time building it up and because we’re talking about how women can’t get away from this idea that we’re just objects for men to use however they want, so hello Mike Tyson. But I didn’t attempt that in 140 characters and I accept that it might not be funny to you.).
I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m not even saying that it can’t be done in 140 characters. But The Onion didn’t do it. They threw “I called this little girl a cunt, but I’m joking a a style that looks like I mean it so that makes it okay” and they landed “I called you a cunt, but I say I was joking, even though I meant it, so that makes it okay.”
I have a theory as to why, too. And that theory is because they had no idea that “I called you a cunt, but I say I was joking, even though I meant it, so that makes it okay” is as prevalent as it is. I don’t think they had the first idea that they were playing right up against an incredibly common trope. Much like Wage, I’m pretty sure that they thought the joke was “I’m saying something so horrible about a little girl that we’ll all laugh because it is so horrible.”
So, what backfired on them, I think, is that they thought they were making a funny original joke about things that are too horrible to say, when really, they were just making a more sophisticated version of the non-joke joke. Probably a wider variety of women on The Onion’s staff would have helped this.
Which brings me to my last point–if you’re going to make jokes ostensibly in defense of women, I’d prefer it if they not disparage any woman to try to get their laugh. But, fine, whatever. If, however, the point of your joke requires that the woman at the center of it probably not hear it, because it would upset her and she wouldn’t understand, and it requires the use of a word as a joke that most of us get called “as a joke” all the time, don’t pretend like it’s a joke about how terrible women have it. There isn’t actually any concern for how women have it in the joke. If you think it’s a problem that we’re objectified and that slurs are routinely tossed at us, you don’t objectify and toss slurs at us in order to protest our treatment.
Don’t pretend like, when a joke relies on objectifying a woman and calling her a cunt, and women are grossed out by it, it’s because women just can’t see what’s so funny about it. Maybe there’s a whole painful context to the joke you’re not aware of. Maybe Quvenzhane’s parents can come by and explain it to you.
I didn’t intend for them all to end up fantasy and horror, but they did. Here’s an interview with Jason Sizemore.
In case you’re counting, that means that, on Monday, I did whatever crap I tried to pass off as worthwhile here, my actual job, two posts for Think Progress even after I said to the Butcher, “I should take some time this weekend and write ahead some on Think Progress so that I don’t break my brain,” but did not follow my own advice, a post for Pith, and a post for Flyover Feminism that runs tomorrow.
I now can’t function I should make some squares, but I’m going to play video games and fret about my car and go to bed instead.
1. Today is Lovecraft. One of the commenters hates me. Well, shoot, now it feels like home.
2. Joe Carr, professional dumbass.
3. Dear Paul. My name is Betsy Phillips. I assume you either know that or gathered it from reading the post of mine that so gravely upset you. Sorry about that. I happen to like Christmas sweaters, even though I won’t fuck you if you’re wearing one. It’s just a personal rule. I’m also not going to fuck the new convention center, even though I find it kind of charming, if hideous. I assume you feel differently or my opinion wouldn’t bother you so much. Eh, to each their own.
4. Today we can watch Mike Byrd play “I’m not the only one who thinks you’re terrible. Everyone is talking about how much you suck.” like this is junior high. Burns, doesn’t it, Mike? Knowing I suck and that you still can’t stop paying attention to me? Knowing how much I suck and knowing that the new readers you’re going to get today will come from me?
And tomorrow is Lovecraft! And a return to “Allendale.”
Let’s just concede that Tiny Cat Pants is going to be neglected horribly for the next week.
But it will be worth it!
Last October local SouthComm blogger Betsy Phillips introduced new SouthComm reporter Andrea Zelinski in an interesting way. Yes, full disclosure counsels that Phillips’ wrote some “homer” PR fluff on behalf of the news corp she blogs for. So, take the cheers with a grain of salt and then verify for yourselves. And yes, it is remarkable that Phillips dropped a double-edged sword of praise for Zelinski qua woman (saying males “don’t really know a lot about the reality of women’s lives” even as she also argued that women’s issues are not different than issues, like jobs, that concern males). Yes, it can be argued that Phillips takes away with one hand what she gave with the other.
Let’s just be clear. I don’t know what Byrd thinks I should have more fully disclosed. I wrote that piece because I wanted to and it’s what I believe. No one asked me to write it. Even when people at SouthComm send ideas my way, they never tell me what opinion to have about those things or how “fluffy” to make those things. But that doesn’t really matter, because I wrote that post on my own.
I’m also not sure how one should “take the cheers with a grain of salt and then verify for yourselves.” Verify what? That I wrote the piece? I did. That I meant what I said when I wrote it. Well, world, if my word then wasn’t good enough, I’m not sure how my word now is supposed to be, but here you go: I meant what I said when I wrote it.
But I would like to thank Byrd for illustrating my point so clearly. In the real world, a woman can be excited about another woman getting a more prominent job writing about politics because she is genuinely excited about seeing more women’s voices in prominent positions when talking about politics. That’s my agenda–support for more women’s voices talking about issues that affect us and support for men who don’t treat women as some strange species that plays by different rules and who don’t write dismissively about us.
In Byrd’s world, if a woman writes positively about another woman, it’s evidence of some secret agenda dictated to her by her SouthComm superiors. In the reality of women’s lives, we don’t all automatically hate each other unless some man tells us to fake it for the general public.
Hell, if all Zelinski did was write about Rhee without using the term “tough cookie” to apply to a grown-up woman making (or attempting to make) national decisions about our educational system, it would be an important change in tone from how adult women making national public policy get talked about here on the internet.
If that makes me a co-conspirator in some grand scheme to… I don’t know what… then consider me a co-conspirator.
I have a lot to be grateful for this year. Honestly, this has been one of the most amazing years of my life. From the ceiling over my head right now to the amazing book readings of October to the art people made inspired by me to… well, to everything.
As I’ve said before, for a long time, I owed every good thing in my Nashville life to Charles Wolfe, who, rest his soul, was the kind of guy that would have never occurred to. He was just someone who shared his enthusiasms widely and I benefited from it. It’s weird to think about, because it gets right to the heart of the inherent unequalness of these sorts of things. Someone can do so much for you without even knowing it, because from their end, it seems like so little, so not a big deal. I’m sure Charles Wolfe liked me fine but gave me no more than normal thought. He certainly didn’t set out, ever, to make my life awesome.
And so it is, I’m sure, with you guys. You have given me this awesome life, for which I am profoundly grateful. I have no idea if you ever feel the magnitude of that.
But I hope, a little bit, that you do.
Eight years ago, I started Tiny Cat Pants. In some ways, I’m still the same old me. In other ways, it’s simply impossible to imagine how I got from there to here except that it just somehow happened.
Blogging has brought me so many good things. I’ve met some of my best friends this way, had opportunities I just can’t even believe, still, are real, and found a real community in which I can flourish and grow.
I am incredibly grateful to you all for reading. And I hope it has been and continues to be worth your while.