Who Does to and Who is Done to

This week I read about two different instances where football teams were shut down due to sexual assault–on younger players. As a part of hazing.

This, I think, is the hardest thing to fight about rape culture. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again. We live in a culture where power is sustained through doing things to others they do not want done to them. The football coach tells you to run up the hill and you don’t want to, but you do because he said so. He has power over you. But you don’t have to be powerless. You can stick a broom up a 14 year old’s butt, even though he doesn’t want you to. You have some power.

I don’t know how we undo a culture like this by only insisting men stop raping women. They are only doing to us what’s been done to them.

It’s depressing.

Not Seeing What Side You’re On

I’m really glad that Mallory Ortberg wrote this response to Elizabeth Ellen’s utterly confounding post from last week. I mean, when you’re nervous about writing a post because you’re afraid it’s going to piss feminists off and not because you’re revealing that you molested three children when you were a child (when he was talking about his new memoir on NPR, Charles Blow said that, actually, the majority of molestations happen between children–the average age of a molester is 14 and the average age of their victim is 4. Doesn’t make it any less traumatic.), you are not operating on the same plane as the rest of us.

This whole part:

When I was a young person I molested three children younger than myself; a boy and two girls, one of which was my half-sister. Granted, I was, to the best of my knowledge/memory, nine or ten and the children were all about three or four years younger than I was. I know you’re going to say this doesn’t count. But think of finding me in your five year old’s bed. Think of my grandmother finding me on top of my sister in hers. I was shunned. Rightfully so, I thought. Separated from my sister (I was never caught in the other two cases). I remember being sent down to the swimming pool (who knows the logic behind this) while my grandmother comforted (?) or talked to my sister. I remember feeling like a monster. Ashamed. Crying alone in the water (in my memory it was evening, dinner time; maybe there were other people but in my memory I am alone). I don’t remember if this was the last time it happened. I don’t remember being molested myself (that is the logical next thought, I realize). I don’t know why I did it. I still don’t understand why. (My sister and I don’t talk. I never see her. I don’t know if this is based on what happened then or if this is based on any number of other reasons why half-siblings or any siblings may or may not talk as adults. I have often wondered how much or if she remembers; if it was a traumatic experience for her. I have never asked. I’m still too afraid; feel too much a monster.)

Where she seems unable to imagine that her grandmother might, indeed, be comforting her sister, unable to imagine that this might be why her sister doesn’t talk to her, and, frankly, unable to imagine that her sister might not want her to tell people what happened to her. It blows my mind.

And then the idea that you could know you molested three people, find yourself sympathizing with people accused of rape, and think you have some unbiased insight into the realities of these situations, instead of, you know, you identifying with the accused and not wanting to think that what you did was that bad.

The impulse to believe that, when you tell someone you molested three kids, they’re going to tell you that what you did wasn’t that bad… just holy shit.

When Everyone Knows and No One Says

I don’t really understand what alt lit is. I think I’m too old for it. But I sure as fuck understand how fucked up it is when someone is like “Some one, who I’ll call ‘Stan,’ did something really fucked up to me” and everyone is like “Oh, was it so-and-so?” and they all guess the same guy.

The thing I most “admire” (I wish I could think of a better word, like “admire” but with repulsion.) about dude’s approach is evident in the comments. Any woman who’s older than 25 knows that, if a dude invites you to stay with him and share a bed with him, when you don’t even fucking know him, he’s a creepster. That knowledge may not be enough to help you when you need someplace to stay because you have to make connections and you’re desperate and he’s a “famous” editor and you really want to be a writer. But at least it’s knowledge you have.

And it’s hard to remember that it wasn’t always knowledge that you had. But I slept with people non-sexually in high school. Churches had lock-ins where you non-sexually got to sleep with people! Or you fell asleep on the couch together. Or whatever. You went to camp. You slept in close quarters with people you didn’t know. You sleep in the same bed as friends on trips. Whatever.

You literally don’t yet know that there’s a great luxury to an empty bed, that strangers don’t want you in their luxurious empty beds just so that you can have a soft spot to rest. That a stranger trying to get you into his bed doesn’t have platonic designs, no matter how much you make it clear that that’s all you have.

So, there’s this choad, hiding himself in that vulnerable spot for young women–finding women just out of high school–and then sitting back and letting even other women be all “But how could they not know what he was up to?”

Here’s the important thing, though. And I’m glad Sophia Katz was willing to write about it in such detail, even if it meant people were going to be all “How could she not know?” Because the one thing that’s obvious from her story is that her non-consent was an important part of it for him. He got off on “pushing through her resistance.” He kept setting up situations where she would say “no” and he would keep going. And I’m sure he enjoys seeing people take his side, like she should have “understood” what he was up to from the moment he invited her into his bed.

But, really, no matter what, when you’re invited into someone’s bed, even if you think you’re going to have sex with them, you don’t expect them to rape you. But it’s clear from her story that he wanted her to turn him down–that was part of the ritual for him.

Two Boots Pizza

I went there for lunch and it was fairly busy. There was only one guy in the place at one point. Otherwise, it was all women, just shooting the shit about how to season cast iron and whether you could make a fish have sex with a kernel of corn (obviously not).

It was strange, but nice.

My Role as the Thing That is Judged

I love this piece by Rebecca Traister so much. This part, especially, hit me in the gut:

But at its heart, it was a story about how women are assessed: by disciplinary committees, police departments, their friends, the public, and by the people they identify as their assailants. It was about how female availability and consent and intoxication are appraised based on how women look, dance, dress, and act, even when those appraisals are at odds with medical evidence, eyewitness accounts, inconsistent stories from accused parties, and certainly with the woman’s own interpretation of her experience or intentions.

This comfort with group assessment of femininity in turn reminds me of the ease with which women’s choices regarding their bodies, futures, health, sex, and family life are up for public evaluation. Women are labeled as good or bad, as moral or immoral, by major religions and “closely held corporations,” whose rights to allow those estimations to dictate their corporate obligations are upheld over the rights of the women themselves by high courts.

More and more, I can’t escape the feeling that I am public property, that I am always up for assessment, that power in our society is granted to the people who sit in judgement and, while some people’s “natural” role is that of judge, a whole lot of other people have figured out that they can make a way in this world by working themselves into positions where they prove their ability to judge, and thus given some power.

Don’t get me wrong. I think discernment is an appropriate skill to develop. Discernment can save a person a lot of heartache. But sitting in judgment, as a mode of entertaining oneself? That concerns me.

Empowered

Man, that comment on that other post has me thinking about how Twisty Faster used to make such fun of that term–empowered. She’d call something, like, oh, say, women “being given the opportunity” to pay for their own birth control out of pocket instead of having it covered like any other prescription by their insurance as being an “empowerful” event. We women were going to be so empowered by all these opportunities (let’s call them “character-building obstacles”) that it would be better than simple, legal equality.

Empowered. At this point, it’s just the polite way of saying women need to be taught a lesson.

Thoughts on the Kool-Aid Afghan Yarn

You can either think of it as dumping Kool-aid on wool or you can think of it as using powders to manipulate which light wavelengths reflect back to your viewer's eyes.

You can either think of it as dumping Kool-aid on wool or you can think of it as using powders to manipulate which light wavelengths reflect back to your viewer’s eyes.

The wool I found at Haus of Yarn is perfect. It’s very natural feeling and looking. It has a kind of homey vibe. It just seems like the kind of yarn someone would hand-dye in a very half-assed way. But they only had five skeins! But they will order me more. So, my goal for this weekend is to get the yarn dyed (check) and then work up some squares so that I know how many more skeins I need so that they can get them for me. I dyed four and left one natural because I want to do a border on each square, so that it doesn’t look exactly like the one I did for B. I’m only now trying to decide if I want all the same sized colored parts or different. See, each row of a typical granny square has three rounds. So, I could do some squares where the colored part is only the first round and the rest are white, some squares where the first two rounds were colored and the last is white and some where all squares are colored.

I’m leaning away from that, though, because I’m trying to strike a balance between the business of the variegation and my desire to not make the whole afghan seem too busy. I want it to be cheeky, not tacky. So, in order to pull that off, if it’s possible to pull that off with bright, fruity colors, I think the trick is to give a person’s eye a place to rest–the white space. And to give the eye some uniformity. You might encounter a lot of variation, but it will be in a regular, predictable pattern.

Ha ha ha. I probably worry too much about the aesthetics of something no one else experiences as an aesthetic object. But man, I really love to sit around an imagine how an afghan is going to look and then I love to see how it actually turns out. It brings me such pleasure every time I piece one together on my bed and am like, wow, damn, I really love this.

My dad asks me all the time about selling my shit, but it’s so ridiculous. I mean, for an afghan I make with just yarn you can get at Walmart, my materials expenses run me $50 and then, if I even paid myself minimum wage, it probably takes me sixty hours to put one together. And something like this–wool is a lot more expensive and the labor costs expand once dying is included. And the idea of charging people hundreds of dollars for afghans that I make? It just seems ludicrous.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. If some rich person came along and asked me to do them up a Kool-aid dyed afghan, I’d sit down and actually figure out what it was costing me and go ahead and charge them the $500 and think nothing of it. But I guess what weighs heavily on my mind is that our culture kind of values handmade things–especially handmade things that are made by women–as being some kind of frugal alternative to real things. You can have a real shirt, or your mom can sew you one. You can have a real blanket or I can crochet you one.

But those are only more inexpensive choices because our work is not taken into account.

And I guess my feeling is that I’d rather do this as a gift to people I care about and feel like we all got value out of it–me, because I got to see if I had predicted in my head a good form for the afghan to take, and the person who gets it, because they got a gift–than I would want to do it as something that needs to pay for itself, because I just don’t believe you can actually get paid what it’s worth. Even on Etsy, I don’t see an afghan for more than $200.

And, like I said, looking at the yarn they’re using, their materials costs are probably less than $50, so, if you never account for labor, $200 is a nice amount.

But it does make me feel, overall, like, if you’re not getting something out of it yourself, it’s not worth it.

My Process

Over at Pith, I wrote about how I suspect Melverina Elverina Peppercorn is not a real person, at least not under that name. It pretty much walks you through how I go about finding out anything about any historical figure–I first just broadly Google them to see what other people believe about them (sometimes, nothing, because I’m often curious about people who’ve been forgotten), then I look for them in Google Books. Then I turn to Ancestry.com to see if I can find them in the Census. If I’m looking for a woman with a distinctive first name–like Melverina–I’ll sometimes just broadly search the census records to see if Melverina X might be a plausible candidate.

If this all fails, I take a step back. And this can fail, especially with women. If they have a distinctive last name (or hell, I’ve done this for the Phillipses) and I know an approximate area where they lived, I search Find-a-Grave for plausible people for my person. Find-a-Grave isn’t going to catch every Peppercorn, for instance, but it sure gives you a big-picture look at the Peppercorns in the U.S. who appear to have been mostly Catholic and, broadly, came through Ohio into Kansas and Oklahoma. There are a couple of male Peppercorns dead outside that swath, but in port cities. This doesn’t really fit with what we know of the lives of most Tennesseans, especially most Tennesseans who felt strongly enough to fight in the Civil War. Those tended to be people who had lived in the South for a generation or two (or three).

If I had found a cemetery or two with Peppercorns in it in the South, that’s where I would have started looking for Melverina. If I had found Peppercorns in Nashville, for instance, that might be when I take a trip to the Nashville room or either Archives to see what they might know about the Peppercorn family.

But, curiously enough, I couldn’t find anything that suggests there were Peppercorns, let alone Melverina. Hence why I suspect that’s a pseudonym–thought, god, what a delicious pseudonym.

I’m also just speculating, but I kind of believe Meriwether was trying to give some clues about the real woman. Somewhere, I believe, is a woman with a similar name–Amelia Bedelia Hopscotch (or something)–with a brother with a great leader’s name–George Washington Hopscotch, Julius Caesar Hopscotch, something–and two sisters with ordinary names. But I’m not looking for her!

Incoherent Thoughts about Jimmy Page

I won’t watch Woody Allen movies. I don’t intentionally listen to R. Kelly. Michael Jackson, who played such a formative part of my youth, is out.

I still listen to Led Zeppelin.

Which is why, really, I’m not going to look down on you for listening to R. Kelly.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think you can seek social justice through elaborate rule-writing and prohibition-enacting. Yes, in part, it’s the change/exchange problem. Deciding our problems are solved by careful enactment of proper rules of behavior means someone gets to put herself in charge of those rules of behavior. But, more than that, in terms of changing people’s minds, rule-making short-circuits that. It puts in place a practice rather than a change.

(I’m trying to thread a needle here, so let me be clear that I think rule-making serves many a useful purpose, especially in terms of drawing and maintaining healthy boundaries.)

But what I mean is that, I don’t think “If you’re a feminist, you don’t watch Woody Allen movies” is a useful thing for feminists. Sure, it gives a way to police all feminists and make sure that they’re “following the rules,” which, sure, we can disguise as “being supportive enough of victims” but really, it’s just about keeping other women’s behavior in check. “How can a feminist watch a Woody Allen movie?” once you get over the initial “with her eyes” part, is a useful question.

“How can I keep listening to Led Zeppelin, knowing what I know?” is a hard question. But a useful one.

I don’t, honestly, give a shit at this point if people think I’m a good feminist. I am, at best, an imperfect ally. And I’m not interested in signaling to others that my politics are right and getting the signal back from them that they have found my politics acceptable, because I just can’t get over the feeling that it’s a lie, a performance.

I care that, when I settle down in my bed at night, and it’s just me and my thoughts, that I can make sense of and make peace with my thoughts.

Last night, some twitter account started just to harass my friend tweeted at him and me and this other dude about what’s it like to know your wife is sleeping with a murderer. I tweeted back that I was shocked to learn my wife was cheating on me.

So, here’s the thing. I still don’t know how to deal with this. Do I still consider myself his friend? Yes. What does that mean for my friendships with folks who are directly impacted by his behavior, because they now, still, have to deal with the fall out from this? I don’t know. I feel weird about it.

But being tweeted at by an anonymous account didn’t make me feel ashamed to be found associating with him or something. Which I think was supposed to be the intended outcome. It made me feel like I’m already lumped in with the bad guys, so fuck wrestling with how to be a good guy. Which, I have to tell you, in this case, would be a mighty convenient way to view the situation.

I just don’t think it’s the right way. I don’t know if there’s a right way.

I guess the thing I’m trying to get at is that, for me, in all these cases, there’s a line, a moment when you’ve gone too far and you can’t get back to your familiar shore, so you have to stake out some new position. Like, you kind of knew about the Woody Allen thing, but you didn’t really pay too much attention, and you loved his movies, but then, maybe, you read Dylan Farrows account and it just rang true. And maybe you read all the other counter-arguments, hoping that they’d convince you that you could, once more, feel okay about watching Woody Allen movies, but they all seemed to be making excuses or missing the point.

And that’s it. This thing you loved? You can’t love it easily anymore.

Someday that’s going to happen to me about Led Zeppelin. Maybe it will be when one of my friends has a 14 year old daughter and I have to stare right in the face of how young that is. Or maybe it will come when my niece turns 14 and I try to imagine what it would be like to learn some rockstar asshole had his roadie kidnap her so that he could rape her.

I don’t know. Putting it that way, it makes me wonder if today might be the day, when one of their songs comes up on shuffle and I don’t say “Wow,” but instead say “Yuck.”

And, you know, fuck Jimmie Page for that.

Bah, This Crap

I’ve been trying all morning to figure out how to respond to this. It really bugs me that the response to finding out that people have devoted months, if not years, to focusing solely on the ways that someone has failed is to argue over whether we agree or disagree with them, not to wonder what the fuck kind of asshole would do that?

Blame the Victim

We caught the last hour of ‘League of Denial’ last night and I’m glad we didn’t watch the whole thing, because it just made me viscerally sick. So, I don’t know if they mentioned Chris Benoit, but I’m guessing not. And I think that’s a shame, because even the way the documentary was set up, you can kind of see the argument the NFL is going to make in the future–yes, the game is dangerous and men are hurting themselves in the brain, but they know the risks to themselves when they sign up for the sport.

And I get that talking about kids with traces of CTE maybe makes the same point I want made–that you don’t always know what you’re signing up for or you’re not the one initially signing up for it–but I want it made more explicitly. You’re not just making, or having made for you, a decision that only destroys you. It destroys families, sometimes to death. You might have the right to do to yourself whatever you want, even if it gives you brain damage, but I’m completely unconvinced that you have the right to do something to yourself that might make you a killer.

But I was also struck by the part that Jessica Luther’s taking about:

This kind of call for a larger context in which to study the cause and effect of football playing and CTE becomes for many who want to downplay or deny the possibility of that connection an easy out. Multiple times in the documentary there were doubters (of course, all of them somehow associated with the NFL) who said that we need to look for other possible connections between these football players beyond the fact that they all had CTE at the time of their death. And once we have crossed off the list however many (how many exactly?) other possible connections between the 45 players in McKee’s study, then we will know that the cause of CTE is playing football.

Just in the time we watched, the Butcher and I noted three different NFL-related people who seemed to be suggesting that CTE is somehow the fault of the players, something they just happened to be doing to themselves–like taking steroids or other drugs or that they all have some similar genetic disposition or something. As if those things aren’t related to football. It’s arguing that football is safe, it’s just the things you have to do to be a football player that are dangerous. As if that lets football off the hook.

It strikes me though, we all pay for this kind of victim blaming. If people are trained from a young age that they have to do what more powerful people tell them, that they have to give their bodies up to the whims of people with more money or more power than them or risk losing something important to them (their jobs,their lives, etc.) AND that, if they can’t keep themselves safe in such arrangements, they are to blame, of course this echoes around our culture in increasingly damaging ways.

Here is Why You Don’t Get to Be Done Talking about Hugo Schwyzer

It is apparent that most of the big feminist sites he wrote for or who were friendly to him have decided that they’re done talking about him.

I want to point you to this post by Flavia Dzodan, quoting Tamora Pierce and this post from Angus Johnston.

And then I want to say this–he is actively and right now harming the students he fucked. Most of us do not have enough clout to bring pressure to make sure he stops teaching and stays done teaching. But places like Jezebel and the Atlantic and xoJane do. And it is true that, if you speak out against Schwyzer, you’re going to take a heap of earned, legitimate criticism for your failure to address any of the actions that have brought us to this point. But, my god, is your discomfort really more important than the safety and well-being of his victims?

Because, if it is, then you have learned NOTHING from any of the discussions. Nothing.

The Cat Has Feelings

Yes, I posted this at Twitter. In my defense, the look on her face is hilarious and I wanted to share it with y'all.

Yes, I posted this at Twitter. In my defense, the look on her face is hilarious and I wanted to share it with y’all.

I have many feelings. My parents arrive today. This marks the midpoint in some bizarre visit that the Butcher is having with them that involves him driving to their house, driving with them to our house, driving with them to their house, and driving to our house again. I’m not even going to ask questions at this point. Except for how, if he’s driving back and forth across the middle of the country, I’m getting my groceries.

I have a short in my dining room light. It just shuts itself off randomly, but if you walk toward the switch, it comes back on. I am dealing with this potential fire hazard by just not turning on the light in the dining room. I need new tires and for nothing else to fuck up until 2015. This is going to be too much to ask. On the other hand, if the electrician brings down the ceiling in the dining room while fixing my short, insurance will cover it. Still, I’m not calling the electrician until after I get tires. I think this is the right call–bald tires have to be more dangerous than a dark dining room. But I admit, I’m not sure.

The older I get the more I’m taken aback when, on the internet, you can be having a conversation, even a contentious one, but a good one where everyone is at least of the agreement that “people do x for their own reasons, which we may or may not agree with” and someone has to come in all “I don’t do x.” Okay. Um? Was it just getting too much for you that people were talking and it wasn’t about you? One million conversations on the internet and you have to jump into one you acknowledge isn’t applicable to you and make sure we all know it? It’s funny.

The man who Googles his name and sends his supporters to harass his critics admits he was doing yet another thing a bunch of us thought he was doing. Johnston makes a point I want to reiterate: the man admits to fucking his students and lying about it. Where’s the outrage? The man has a “breakdown” on Twitter and there are a million stories throughout the blogosphere and interviews with him. Dude admits to fucking students he’s teaching and… nothing… silence. Why? It is simply not possible that there’s anyone left who believes these were wholly consensual relationships–or frankly, even capable of being so. The man has a track record of manipulation and grooming and, while I respect that his students might at the moment feel like they consented, I think it’s also obvious that the man presents to people a truth about himself only so far as it helps him get what he wants. And there’s simply no way that a sexual relationship between a student and a professor he or she currently has is free of issues like “can I say ‘no’ and not have it affect my grade?”

So, why won’t the places that now claim they can understand how terrible he is step up and help make sure he doesn’t have access to young women anymore?

I put “breakdown” in quotes because, while I believe he has genuine mental issues, they have changed over the years to always be the diagnosis most likely to garner him sympathy. His breakdowns neatly coincide with his need to get out of trouble. He’s using people’s desire to be compassionate toward people with mental illnesses as cover to continue to abuse. Convenient.

He also continues to put himself in a position of control. Notice at the end of Johnston’s piece where he’s offering his employer advice on how to deal with him. Like the ball is still in his court, like he’s still in charge of the outcome of his life.

Here’s my bet. When all is said and done, it will come out that his employer was on the verge of finding out he was fucking his students–something went wrong and he wasn’t sure he could keep the student in line–and they’ve been clear to him that, if he got caught fucking students again, they were going to fire him. So, he needed to have a huge public breakdown, something so big and dramatic that it would drown out this student and make her, if she did come forward, seem like she was picking on a man at his rock bottom. Thus we get this whole thing. And now that he’s obviously “crazy,” and he thinks they can’t fire him because he has a medical excuse, he’s admitting that he fucked his students.

Everything before this was the controlled burn to try to keep this from being a wildfire he couldn’t put out. That’s my sincere belief. We’ll see if it’s borne out.

You Don’t Get to be Grand Marshall of Every Parade

I’ve been mostly ignoring the FemFuture because I feel like I get to be old enough now that I can ignore things that annoy me.

But I have learned of this and I have to take a moment to laugh. You want to come to Texas, in the middle of an ongoing Texas movement, declare the movement over, and tell people in Texas, some of whom are still participating in the ongoing protests, how to keep up momentum now that things have died down?

I just have this mental image of a huge crowd of Texas women doing their thing while so many of us cheer them on and they get 3/4 of the way down their particular parade route and here come the Big Name Feminists rushing to the head of the parade, trying to get their uniforms in order, declaring the march just about over and begging for someone, anyone, to tell them where the crowd wants them to lead them.

Feminism as a philosophy will continue to be popular. Women want equality. But third-wave feminism, as a movement, is stalling out. And it is exactly because of that old change/exchange problem. The Big Name Feminists just want to be the ones setting the cultural agenda for a while. They don’t actually see how changing said agenda would involve not leading the parade, but just marching in it.

The Thing about The Thing

I know I’ve said before that, when I moved to North Carolina, I regularly heard black people making cracks about Strom Thurmond’s black daughter. It came up fairly frequently, in all kinds of situations. It was an open secret. I thought it was an open secret among all Carolinians, North and South, because the knowledge was so wide-spread and so openly discussed.

And yet, finally the “secret” got out and a ton of white people were stunned. Some white people I knew in North Carolina, who I think must have been present for some of the jokes I heard, were stunned.

This was my first direct observation that people of color could say things outloud to white people’s faces, repeatedly, over a long period of time and it just not be heard as a real thing.

Watching the discussion going on about Schwyzer in the feminist blogosphere has been a second, harder lesson in the same thing. I know even I thought he was creepy (I looked back here to see if I’d written any posts on him back in the day, and the few I have are filled with me feeling like there was something fucked up about his line of reasoning, even as I was continually giving him the benefit of the doubt–like maybe he just didn’t know better.) I failed until the infamous Feministe thread to connect my feelings of unease to him willfully doing things wrong.

People had long before that put two and two together and were sharing as much information as they could collect about him with each other in order to try to protect themselves from him. Who he was and how he behaved was an open secret. Open in the sense that these folks were doing whatever they could to share the information they had with whomever would listen. Secret in the sense that, because of racism, they didn’t have enough cultural authority within Feminism to have their knowledge taken as legitimate.

I’m not blaming others. I’m saying–this is how it worked for me. I knew something was not right and it still took seeing it spelled out the however many hundredth time for it to finally click that the “something” was known and widely available for the knowing. Because I am not socialized to accept the testimony of people of color as legitimate.

It’s racism. It’s not the kind that’s evil intent in your heart, which we all recognize as bad. But it is what it is. Whose knowledge you respect as legitimate and who gets the benefit of the “maybe s/he just doesn’t know any better” or “you know s/he’s not well” is deeply ingrained and changing it is lifelong work.

And if, in a situation where you have the direct observations and testimony of women of color who aren’t self-admitted attempted murderers who intentionally target women to try to publicly ruin them and the word of a self-admitted murderer who intentionally targets women to try to publicly ruin them, if you’re looking for ways to sympathize and understand the dude, you need to do more of that work.

The Redheaded Kid Isn’t Going to See The Lone Ranger

As you recall, The Redheaded Kid spent a great deal of time thinking he was dying, and so he’s not our most concerned with details friend. When you think thirty is the end of the line, you don’t sit around worrying about a lot of shit that doesn’t pertain to you. So, it’s been interesting to watch him, so late in the game, suss out what kinds of things apart from the immediate concerns of life he’s going to be troubled by.

But, last night, we saw a commercial for The Lone Ranger and the Redheaded Kid got this weird look on his face and he said, “I just don’t think I can see that movie. I mean, it just seems like it’s making fun of Indians.” Then he kind of paused and he was like “Okay, I mean, that just seems old-school straight-up racist–a white guy pretending to be a ‘kookie’ Indian.”

And this made me kind of marvel. Because the Redheaded Kid finds racial humor funny. But he also said something which I’m not going to get right, so I’m just going to paraphrase, about needing to feel like the person or group whose the butt of a joke would also find it funny and not wrong or insulting. I think this is a kind of interesting way of thinking about it. Because you can immediately see how this would still lead to problems. A white person might be really wrong about what other people would find funny and not insulting. But I like that it centers empathy–that it’s an aesthetic standard that tries to take into account what it must be like to be the person the joke is about.

But I feel like the Redheaded Kid is about as close to Joe Average White Guy as you can come. He’s not very political. He’s not very concerned about being PC. And hearing his obvious discomfort with The Lone Ranger made me wonder just who is going to see that movie. If the Redheaded Kid is too squicked out to go, who’s left?

Hansel and Gretel: Terrible Movie, Critics’ Wet Dream, or Both?

Holy shit! We watched that Hansel and Gretel movie with that dude in it last night and it was amazing. It made me wish I were a dual historian/women’s studies professor so that I could spend a week in all of my classes watching this movie, turning to fifteen to thirty people and saying “What the fuck? How is this possible in this day and age?”

I mean, I expected to feel uncomfortable as someone who enjoys a little woo in her life, watching witches as bad guys. But this is not an anti-witch movie so much as it’s just a–and I do not use this word in this instance lightly–misogynistic blow-out. You want to see women getting punched, shot, kicked, smashed, decapitated, tortured, burned alive, and threatened with being raped to death? Were you hungry to relive the days in which every powerful woman simply must be a creature of Satan? Perhaps, among all the violence against women, you wanted to see a light-hearted sequence where a teenage boy tries to touch the breasts of an injured and unconscious woman and it’s played for laughs?

And, even the violence against women aspect aside, the biggest problem with the movie is that it’s not some great think-piece, but by the end of it, it’s not clear that the witches are wrong about people and our best use maybe being as witch food. I mean, the witches are terrible, but they are terrible to everyone equally. The things the villagers do and allow to happen in the name of “justice” or “safety” are laughably vile. These are the shits we’re supposed to be in sympathy with?

For instance, one of the witches starts a rumor that Hansel and Gretel’s mom is a witch (this is true because every adult female character in the movie with the exception of one is, but the villagers don’t know this). The villagers burn her alive and then hang to the death Hansel and Gretel’s father. Then, a bit later, Hansel gives a brief speech on revenge and you think, “Oh, great, he also got revenge on the village.” But no! Just killing the witch that started the rumor was revenge. The sick fucks who would actually kill a couple who have never harmed them, against whom they have no actual proof? Those guys I guess just need to be understood.

The whole thing was just bizarre. But I reiterate: if you’re looking for something to show people that illustrates how these kinds of historical slanders work, this is a great contemporary example.

Controlling Girls

It’s not just that it’s obviously a lie that having sex with eight people makes you like a cup everyone in a classroom has spit in that angers me. It’s that, at this point, not a single sex-educator in this land can pretend like he or she doesn’t know how terrible this rhetoric is for victims of sexual abuse, because Elizabeth Smart has said so. So, as of right now, even if they weren’t smart enough to get that before, they now know. Which means that, when they spout this shit, it’s literally more important to scare kids out of having sex than it is to have compassion for abuse victims.

Never mind how gross I find it that a woman who is in charge of a place that convinces girls to give up their babies for adoption gets a platform in public schools to convince girls to give their babies up for adoption and no one seems bothered by her vested interest. Of course these women are opposed to abortion and birth control. They need desperate pregnant girls to supply babies for them.

It’s in their best interest for teenage girls to have no knowledge about how to keep from getting pregnant and no option but to carry the pregnancy to term if they become pregnant, because they want those babies.

And they still get framed as the good guys.

Just as we all benefit from these resources, we all benefit from healthy babies that have the best chance to become future contributors to society. Why should being rich or having a certain type of job be a prerequisite for health care security? Why should everyone else have to live in fear of what could happen and whether we can afford it?

I find this whole situation preposterous. It goes beyond the middle-class squeeze: it’s disrespectful to women. A woman’s reproductive options are dangled over her head: access to contraception is threatened; abortion rights are constantly under attack. When a woman gets pregnant, unless she is wealthy or covered by private insurance, there is little help for her to raise children without going into debt. And the medical bills start piling up before she even start pushing.–Mira Ptacin

This Danny Brown Thing

I made the mistake of reading the comments on a couple of stories about Danny Brown’s sexual assault. And I’m really troubled. In fact, if you’re ever sitting around wondering “How easy do female rapists have it?” I invite you to peruse the comments on a story about what happened to Danny Brown. What happened was basically his fault because of how he was dressed or because he was flirting with the women in the front rows or because of his persona. Or it wasn’t really rape because how can a woman rape a man? Or why would a man not love it? Or, even if it was rape and wasn’t his fault, he’s a pussy for being all weird about it.

Here’s what it made me think–rapes by women where men are the victims are probably way under-reported. If this is the cultural message–that it basically can’t happen and, if it does, how can you even want to complain about it–female sexual predators have a lot of cover.

I know we talked before about how our society teaches men that having control of your body is a matter of social status and that low status men both don’t have a lot of control over what happens to their bodies and are taught that the way to rise in status is by asserting control over other bodies and how this feeds into rape culture because it reinforces for rapists that society approves of dominating someone in order to gain status, so it’s cool if your dominance of choice is rape.

But I’m starting to think, too, that a lot of weird, unacceptable shit must happen to men all the time and they just never talk about it, so that when something, like this sexual assault, happen out in front of everyone, the response isn’t “What the fuck? I’ve never heard of such a thing,” but “Well, it’s his own fault.”

I know this goes without saying but it’s not his fault. Like all sexual assaults, his attacker decided to attack him and, like many, many sexual assaults, she decided to attack him under circumstances where he was vulnerable and easy to get to and under circumstances where she thought people would be unlikely to call it sexual assault because they’d want to spread some blame to the victim. Or all the blame.

Judging by the comments… hell, judging by the fat that this was a story on NPR called “Was Rapper Danny Brown Sexually Assaulted?” as if National Public Radio should weigh in on whether a sex act a dude didn’t consent to really counts as sexual assault… we have a really hard time accepting the idea that there’s never some kind of extenuating circumstances that might make it okay to rape someone.

I find that distressing.

Diaperless Babies

Talking about mothering practices, especially for a woman who doesn’t have children, is pretty fraught. But I want to say one thing about this whole “My kid never wears a diaper” thing: It never ceases to amaze me how much easier it is for women these days to raise children than it was for, say, women of my grandmother’s era and how much more weirdly complicated these trend-pieces encourage us to make it.

I don’t give two shits (ha ha) if you want to potty-train your kid from the get-go, like these folks, though I am a little bemused/grossed out at the thought of just encouraging your kid to shit outside in an urban area. But my “bullshit” meter goes off when such child-rearing practices are framed as “rediscovering an ancient practice used in other cultures” because are they ancient or used in other cultures? Why are ancient child-rearing practices best? And are these ancient practices really practiced in a house, where food prep goes on?

But the part I find weirdest is this idea that parents do it to “be more in tune with what their kids’ needs are.”

I don’t think this is an unambiguous good. I mean, it probably doesn’t matter one way or another when the kid is a baby, if you want to be all up in its business and know the precise moment it shits (though, having had quite a few babies in my life, I’m perplexed how one could avoid knowing that a baby has shit for longer than a couple of minutes anyway), but I’m not sure that a parent’s–or let’s be honest, a mother’s–sole role is to meet her kids’ needs. Often, especially as they get older, it’s part of a parent’s job to equip his or her children to articulate and meet their own needs.

Sometimes, the Professor will tell me stories of her students piping up in class with a “Well, my mom says…” or complaining when she points out they’re not using inclusive language with a “But my dad say that’s okay because…” And these aren’t freshmen in their first couple of weeks of classes. These are ostensible grown-ups who think what Mom & Dad says should carry heavy social weight with people who don’t even know them.

I don’t think that’s good for kids. And I think they’ve been done a disservice by their parents.

But I also don’t think that it’s good for parents to feel some pressure to be so constantly paying such close attention to their children that they’re willing to follow their children around with bowls to catch their poop. I mean, yes, you’re a parent and yes, that is the most important thing in your life. But the fact of the matter is that your attention is going to slip. The kid is going to bang her head or eat the cat food out of the bowl. You can’t be there every second to make sure nothing bad or unpleasant happens.

But, in a way, this seems to me like the Alli-method of child-rearing, where you’re forced into “right” behavior for fear of otherwise having to deal with some weird, gross poop issue.

Otherwise, wouldn’t the advice be to move someplace warm where you can get an acre or so and let your kid go diaper-free outside where the whole rest of nature poops and it’s no big deal? I suspect that’s never the advice, though, because it’s not actually about what’s “best” for the child, but about a kind of performative parenthood that demonstrates that the people doing it really care about their children unlike the people who don’t/can’t.

TRUEBLOOD for Boys

I finished the book Hemlock Grove yesterday. It is awesome. The writing is extraordinary and you can tell this is a genre the author loves the shit out of (There’s a nod to Lovecraft that I’m not sure works, but I admired his audacity in doing it–in other words, I’m not sure that acknowledging something in-story is really racist but trusting your readers to know it’s a nod to something really, really racist, somehow makes it non-problematic. Not that I expect a big, complicated discussion of race, but in a book that otherwise has no such discussion, I didn’t know if I was just supposed to like the main character but understand he carries on this racist tradition in honor of his beloved grandfather PERIOD or if that was also supposed to tell me something about how he might be stupidly bound to tradition in some ways. I hope for the latter, but think it’s the former.).

But, in the end, I can’t quite shake the feeling that it’s True Blood for boys. Every place Sookie might be talking about (in the books) or noticing (in the show) a nice body and a hard dick, here it’s all fine tits and wet, glistening crotches. But it’s not just that. It’s how, in Sookie’s world, she has a home she’s firmly rooted to, given to her by her beloved dead grandmother and Peter has a wanderlust–a deliberate lack of home–instilled in him by his beloved dead grandfather.

And I kind of suspect Netflix wants you to draw the comparison as well. Otherwise, why stick a Skarsgard in exactly the position they did?

Which isn’t to say that I’m not hugely excited, still. I am. Here’s the problem I have, though. I think this book is better than the Sookie Stackhouse books. I think the show is going to be better than True Blood. I moreso also think that this is specifically intended as a corrective to the weaknesses in both and, I am 80% fine with that and excited to see it, because I can’t take another season of vampires in board rooms.

I am 20% sad that the “corrective” to the problems of the Stackhouse universe include sticking a dude at the center of it.

On Chris Wage’s Cunt

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.).

They failed.

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.

Quick Quiet Life

I realized today that I have come to appreciate the phrase “off the reservation” in comments. I hadn’t thought about it being racist at all. But I had started to notice a correlation, how like 60-70% of the time, if someone uses the phrase “off the reservation,” they’re probably not going to have a lot of things to say that I need to engage with because I’m not going to find them interesting or informative. And then, of course, once you think about what it means–that someone is somewhere they don’t belong, somewhere that makes no sense, like an Indian off the reservation–voila, it’s not surprising that a majority of people who use it are not people I would want to talk to.

It’s a nice sorting tool.

If I heard someone described as a patriarch, depending on the context, I would assume that either the writer was signalling that the “patriarch” in question had some serious, annoying character flaws to go along with his leadership skills–in other words, that the person being described was an exclusionary asshole–or I would assume that the writer was an exclusionary asshole. The term is another nice sorting tool. I hear it used benignly and I figure there’s a 60-70% chance of the situation it’s used to describe being not worth my bother to try to be a part of.

It kind of doesn’t matter what the dictionary definition of the word “patriarch” even is. Because it is a signal word, also, to women who are trying to navigate spaces where there aren’t a lot of women. No matter what the dictionary says it means, to us it means, “keep your eyes open for the good ole boys club.”

So, you know, I’m not offended to hear Marcus Whitney and Nicholas Holland described as our tech patriarchs. Fine, if I’m around them, I should keep my eyes open for the good ole boys club. Glad to have that clue about them.

But if I were Whitney or Holland and that weren’t true? If I’m not at the heart of some woman-unfriendly hierarchy, I’d be at least confused, if not pissed, about having that signal associated with me.

The funniest part–in a funny ouch way, not a funny ha ha way–is that I would bet you good money a woman wrote that press release, so engrained in all of us is the idea that men have their little tech club and most women, if we’re going to participate in it, do so in supporting roles.

Anyway, words. They mean shit. Some of what they mean isn’t in the dictionary.