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 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.


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.

If We’re Not like the Soviet Union, Then What Are We Like?

Friend-of-blog, Mike Turner says, “It’s not the Soviet Union. We’re not a dictatorship. We let our people make their own decisions,” when speaking about Democrats who still will not fucking get their noses out of my vagina.

Mike, I love you, but I’m about three seconds away from setting up a reminder on my calendar so that I can send Charlie Curtiss a vagina status update once a day. Today’s would read “Thursday: My vagina is pissed the fuck off at Charlie Curtiss.” I’m going to guess that’s how tomorrow’s would read, too. Probably going to read that way for the foreseeable future.

So, Mike, you ask him whether he’d prefer to get my vagina status updates via text or email. And we’ll just time how long it will take for it to dawn on him that what goes on in my vagina is none of his business.

Meanwhile, having to report my vagina status to some politician sure does feel pretty fucking Soviet to me.

For the Record

Mike Byrd says:

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.

Two Cool Things from Twitter

1. Someone DMd me a link to this story about Bobby Dunbar who was kidnapped, in some form, a hundred years ago. It’s just a riveting hour of programming. And it really hits your heart about Mississippi right at the end.

2. I said, in regard to this story, that I wanted to figure out how to work “millionaire stunt-dick” into conversation and I got a DM from someone who is not political at all saying “I’d like to think that Romney’s the republican/tea party’s millionaire stunt dick.” I laughed so hard and this person gave me permission to share it, so I hope you find it funny, too.

3. This isn’t from Twitter, but I’ve been listening to the Anchor Thieves’ new album and I believe this song “Rode Sines,” which I was hoping was going to be about a person who perambulates via math, somehow, is about a box car. Like a train car. Not about a box car. From the perspective of a box car. I want to cheer and to grab their lapels and ask “What the fuck, people?” This is what happens when you listen to too much My Morning Jacket, I am convinced.

(Disclaimer: The Butcher is dear friends with one of the guys in the Anchor Thieves and he may have tried to convince me already that the song was from the perspective of a box car and I just didn’t believe him, because you know what I don’t want to think about? Box car consciousness. And yet, it appears the Butcher speaks the truth.)

The Women on Your iPod

When I was in college, I took Social Dance and I was regularly partners with this guy I fully expect could have been the Republican Senator from Iowa if the Republican party were still filled with people who appreciated tradition, history, fine scotch, cigars, and minding your own business. You know, the kind of guy who is wrong about everything, but is wrong so brilliantly that you don’t mind dancing with him, even though he’s terrible, because he really wants something from it, and even if you don’t quite get what it is that he wants, you like that he’s trying something he’s terrible at.

Anyway, sometimes we didn’t dance in class. We just had an hour of stretching , which you had to do with a partner. Now, if you’ve ever known anyone like a mid-90s college Republican, you can appreciate the dilemma this caused for him. He was not comfortable touching a woman he didn’t know and trust, but he certainly couldn’t carry on with a good girl in such a manner.

He needed Miss Kitty, I guess. I mean, I know, to type it out, it sounds degrading–like he needed a floozy he liked or something. But it wasn’t exactly that. He needed a woman he could trust whose morals were different than his. Back in the old days, kids, Republicans did trust people whose morals they didn’t always agree with.

I’m not saying it wasn’t problematic, just that it was clearly his hang-up not mine, so it didn’t really affect me other than that I could do him this favor by being his partner.

This is a long preamble to say that, when we had those stretching days, the instructor always put on music by women, only. And she said, explicitly, that she only bought music by women and that, if she wasn’t listening to the radio, she only listened to music by women, because so much of what she heard otherwise was by men. That blew my mind. And she had hours worth of awesome music.

I don’t listen to music only by women, obviously. But I have never forgot the idea she gave me–that your own collection could be really deliberately curated, not just to include music you like, but as an antidote to shortcomings of the broader world.

And if you’d asked me about the split of artists on my iPod, I’d have said it was about 50/50. I think I hear one woman’s voice for each man’s voice that I hear. But I just counted up and I have 82 different women singing to me on my iPod and 155 men.

I know Kathy says that tallying up isn’t really the point, but there’s something about seeing it so starkly. I think the post Kathy’s referring to is partially right–there are a lot of women working in genres that aren’t my bag, because that’s where women are funneled to. But the world is so wide. It’d be nice if we could imagine women inhabiting all of it.

Flyover Feminism

I know a lot of us have been mulling over whether we’re aging out of online feminism, whether it’s just not for us because the presumed audience excludes people like us, or what, so I’m really interested in seeing where Flyover Feminism goes. I’m especially glad it’s going to be a space to talk about defeats and frustrations. Not because I like to complain (I do!) but because I have been thinking a lot about what you do (or might do) when you realize there’s probably not going to be a satisfactory political outcome to the things that matter to you.

There must be some way to go on and to continue to fight. I’d like to know what has worked for other people.

Anyway, I have a couple of things in mind to submit, as soon as I have time to formulate them.


Yesterday did not work out how I’d planned. The plan was for the Professor to come pick up Mrs. Wigglebottom and take her for an adventure while my ceiling was being sanded. But the sanding isn’t actually happening until today, so instead I got a bonus afternoon with my friend while we watched a real-time version of This Old House in the other room.  But I totally forgot to tell her about this cool thing I read, which I thought she might find tangentially related to her work. And I was just about to email it to her when I read the New York Times story on The Oxford American.

And then I realized, “Whoa, these things fit together” and so I thought I’d point that out here.

So, this is the link I was going to send the Professor about the phenomenon of the Creepy Dude and it gets into how women are socialized to just accept and smooth over hurt feelings resulting from the Creepy Dude because otherwise, it would be awkward–as if his behavior isn’t already making things awkward. You should read the whole thing, but here’s how it ends.

It’s really fucking sad and unfair. Welcome to our culture, where it’s always this sad and unfair whenever women’s safety is on the line.

This is how far Rape Culture skews our vision. Being sexually harassed and assaulted is seen as something that you should be cool (i.e. quiet)  about. But GOD FORBID you break up the weekly games night with the temerity to be a victim of such a crime! Don’t you know that your harasser has the best table for playing Settlers of Cataan?

I don’t know how we fix it, but one step has to be to stop tolerating it when it happens to us and when it happens to people we love. Making our social circles and spaces safe means making them AWKWARD AS HELL and UNSAFE for creeps and predators. It means constantly reframing the conversation away from the dominant narrative, so when stuff like the situations in these letters comes up we can say “That’s called sexual assault and it’s a crime. So I need you to stop talking to me about his feelings and pressuring me to invite him to parties.

But then, a commenter tells this awesome story in the comments about her husband having to protect a girl from a creepster and how, even as he knew something was wrong, and he kind of saw that the creepster was ruining the girl’s weekend, his wife had to point out to him that the creepster was obviously looking to harm the girl, and the husband just missed it.

With all that in the background, we can now turn to this flabbergasting article in the New York Times about Marc Smirnoff’s abrupt departure from The Oxford American (seriously, if there ever were a story to waste on of your freebies on, this is it). I don’t even know where to start to quote from it. Let’s go with this:

The next morning he berated the female intern in front of the other staff members when she refused to help clean up a mess in the kitchen. Then, after insisting that the intern ride back to Conway with him, he asked her if she wanted to hold hands. She declined, he said, saying she’d rather “hold hands with a dead dog.” Still, he told her he wanted to take her to his favorite make-out spot.

Mr. Smirnoff’s account matched the description the intern provided the magazine’s board. The intern said she was repeatedly humiliated, sexually harassed and intimidated by Mr. Smirnoff on that occasion and others, according to a written statement from her that was obtained by The New York Times.

During a conversation with the same intern earlier that week, Mr. Smirnoff said, he hugged her and kissed her on top of the head.

None of those things constitute harassment, he insisted.

“It was acceptable to her in that moment,” he said, saying that she did not object to his behavior at the time. “My take of it was that we were trying to see if we could revive our relationship, professional and personal.”

A woman tells Marc Smirnoff that she would rather “hold hands with a dead dog” than hold hands with him, and he still claims that his behavior was “acceptable to her in that moment”?! Holy shit! I kind of want to drive to Arkansas just so I can laugh in his face. Forget “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” What part of “I’d rather have putrid decaying flesh in my hand than your hand?” makes you think your advances are cool?

This isn’t “he said, she said” because he’s literally admitting to the things she said he did as a part of his defense. He’s literally (and I’m sorry to keep using that word, but it is exactly right in this case) claiming that, in spite of her hostility as reported by him, since he intended no harm, she had no problem with his behavior. And he’s trying to talk the motherfucking New York Times into accepting that, if his heart is pure, she must have been okay with it at the moment.

Forget that I don’t believe for a second that his intentions were good. And forget for a second how laughable it is to believe that a man as smart as Smirnoff envisions himself as some kind of bumbling, but well-intentioned fool who just doesn’t understand the implications of what he does. Just focus on the idea that he believes, if he can just convince  someone that he didn’t mean anything by it, the damning facts which he himself presents should resolve themselves into something that leaves him with the moral high ground.

This is how the creepster gets by. It’s uncomfortable for people to confront them and they get used to being able to use any old excuse to garner sympathy and get people to continue to make room for them. Smirnoff’s story is so illuminating because he’s so obviously angry and confused that asking people to consider his feelings and his intentions not working this time. Which would seem to indicate that it’s worked before.

On so many levels, this blows my mind.

The Goddess Array

I think I lead a pretty pedestrian life, but I swear to the gods, “bring her flowers; dim the lights; relax her; hug her; cuddle her; take her slow dancing” is “things to do because they’re pleasurable for everyone” not “The Goddess Array.” Seriously? Are our ideas of female holiness so fucking pathetic that “hug her” is a trick of the gods?

If somebody is going to use any “Goddess Array” on me, it better leave me nothing but a quivering, grinning mess in the middle of the bed/floor/dining room table/Montana/etc. Leave the lights on. Open the windows. Let the cops who respond to the noise complaint stand out on my lawn shifting uncomfortably as they realize what’s going on. Make the paramedics blush. Leave me and the seven other people involved with a permanent limp. Make it something college kids whisper about and pass down like a ghost story in the dorms at night. Whatever a Goddess Array is, after we do it, by god, the Tennessee State Legislature better be talking about how to outlaw it to prevent it from happening again.

“Hug her.” Please, Naomi Wolf. Please.

In related news, I could read this book review over and over all day. I do feel like my vagina is slacking a little because it’s not really a mystical experience for me when someone dims the lights, but in my vagina’s defense, neither it nor I had any idea that it should be.

More on the Tennessee Democrats

Steven Hale has pretty much the definitive story on the fall of the Democrats. The only piece that seems to be missing to me is the roll of the Rosalind Kurita episode. Maybe it doesn’t, but it seemed to me at the time–and still does–as a crucial pivot point that really read differently to the Democratic Party than it did to voters who traditionally voted Democratic.

I think the Party thought it was playing hardball with someone they perceived of as disloyal.

I think a lot of voters felt that this was a clear demonstration that the Party was so corrupt and so good-old-boy-ish that it would demolish anyone who put the good of the state over the good of the party.

It’s possible that the Kurita incident would have blown up in Democrats’ faces no matter what the Party did. But what it did do sent a couple of messages the Democrats still don’t want to take responsibility for sending. One is the primacy of party interests over state interests–though it sounds from Hale’s article like they may finally get this. The other is the message it sent to women about how the Democratic party treats female candidates. If you know you live in a state where the baseline–across parties–is not very woman-friendly and one party at least puts women in leadership positions, why would you leave your loyalty with the other party?

I mean, I know why I do. But why would a regular Tennessee woman?

Until the TNDP has some good answers to that question, all they can do is wait for the Republicans to fuck up so bad (while hoping their own Democrats don’t go down with them) that women will come back to them in disgust.

I would, if that is the strategy, invite all skeletons in any prominent closets to be dealt with now. Because voters whose motivation is disgust can be easily motivated to leave you for the same reason.