Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On perspective-- general versus specific

I write a lot about very particular things that have happened, and then try to extrapolate a larger significance. This is satisfying to me, but I try to be aware that there is definitely a ratchet in people's brains that rises and lowers according to the specificity of what they encounter, and if the ratchet won't go low enough then they won't be interest in the particular thing in question. When the specific concern is not your concern, your brain says "Nope, not interested," possibly dismisses the person dwelling on it as petty, and moves on.

A person who moves exclusively in the general, by contrast, can seem basic, callous, or inept. Like they have stepped back far enough that all of the details have blurred, and it becomes easy to make general statements that are unoriginal and uninteresting, though trivially true. The generalist wants to make general statements, while the specifist always increases the perspective a few notches lower and points out important features which distinguish this thing from that thing. Imagine focusing in on Google Earth right down to street view, and then pulling back out until you can see almost an entire hemisphere. I don't mean to say that what you have to say about what you're seeing can't be useful to interested parties, but let's just say that not all parties are going to be interested. And they will resent you when you're trying to apply general statements to specific situations.

I'm not going to tie this general observation to a specific incidence today, which is unusual for me. But even though it may seem blurry as a result, I hope it has some relevance.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Two very bad ideas

1. Inflicting an enormous judicial penalty on someone because what would otherwise be counted as harassment a) resulted in a suicide, and b) might have been based in bigotry:
Dharun Ravi is on trial in New Jersey for spying on his college roommate. Although the Newark Star-Ledger says "Ravi is not charged in connection with [Tyler] Clementi's death," it is doubtful that he would have been charged at all if Clementi had not jumped off the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010. That was three days after Ravi, monitoring their Rutgers University dorm room via a webcam, watched Clementi kiss a male visitor and two days after Ravi tweeted that he "saw my roommate making out with a dude." If Clementi had not killed himself (for reasons that remain unclear), Ravi surely would not be facing the prospect of 10 years in prison for "bias intimidation." 
2. Allowing schools in your state to skip sex education, and prohibiting instruction on contraception in classes that continue to be taught, because you are fundamentally opposed to sex outside of marriage and consider safe sex to be "getting away" with something.
A bill to allow Utah schools to drop sex education classes — and prohibit instruction in the use of contraception in those that keep the courses — moved significantly closer to becoming law Wednesday. The House passed HB363 by a 45-28 vote after a late-afternoon debate that centered largely on lawmakers’ differing definitions of morality. 
"We’ve been culturally watered down to think we have to teach about sex, about having sex and how to get away with it, which is intellectually dishonest," said bill sponsor Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden. "Why don’t we just be honest with them upfront that sex outside marriage is devastating?"
Hmm. That doesn't sound like honesty to me. Honesty would be refusing to withhold the knowledge that contraception exists, and that it can be very effective when used properly, and here's how to use it properly. Honesty would be acknowledging that not everyone wants to have a baby at all times, and everyone wants to avoid disease, always, and contraception is very good at preventing both of these. A marriage license, not so much.

Defending the female fuck-up

I really have no place writing this, considering that I have been anything but an avid consumer of new films and TV over, well, the past couple of years. But I really like Amanda Marcotte's treatment of females in comedy productions engaging in behavior that reveals them to be petty, emotional, short-sighted, know, normal.
The recent explosion of prominent women in comedy has brought with it an unfortunate but predictable debate about whether or not the characters that have resulted from all these women scribbling and acting are Good For Women. Of course, the underlying assumption of the question is that women have a bad reputation in the general public and media should therefore portray us in uplifting ways to counter negative stereotypes, which in turn means that the question answers itself: If a female character has flaws, then that is Bad For Women. Indeed, that's been the general consensus of all hand-wringing over this question. Silpa Kovvali, writing at Feministing, denounces Bridesmaids because some of the characters are insecure, some are unhappy, and some indulge at times in petty, vindicative behavior. Emily Nussbaum at The New Yorker rounds up similar concerns about the character Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, including Slate's Sam Adams complaining that Liz Lemon has gone the way of Homer Simpson. This parade of female slobs, neurotics, and discontents is setting a lot of teeth on edge. Why can't we have spunky heroines with inconsequential flaws, so we can all look up to them? 
Because that's boring is why.
Boring, unrealistic, and unfunny. Insisting that the women we enjoy in comedy be well-behaved is like insisting that they be beautiful. Comedy is about relating to the imperfections that exist in all of us, and it's hard to do any of that relating from atop a pedestal. Looking amazing and doing everything right is the opposite of funny, and insisting that women be such is like a mandate that they never succeed in comedy. Rare-- non-existent actually, I think-- is the family sitcom from the 80's or 90's in which the wife is the one who is ugly, slovenly, and/or messes things up all of the time. That role is for the comedian. That role is for the husband/man.

So even though I could do with some serious education on the shows/films in discussion here, I'm going to say that a feminist take on women in comedy these days should celebrate the female fuck-up, and consider her occurrence a mark of progress.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The wife. The boy.

One of the stories I mentioned yesterday was Feministe's take on a recent...err, presentation given by Virginia Delegate David Albo to his fellow members of the House on how a romantic evening with his wife Rita had been spoiled when the two of them came upon coverage on the Rachel Maddow show about Virginia's Republican push to require a controversial invasive ultrasound for any woman who wants an abortion.

I wonder if Albo imagined that this light-hearted, laughter-rousing account of being spurned by his wife for a night because of a position on a very serious issue affecting female reproductive freedom would (in addition to the position itself) make national news and be tossed about on the internet. I wonder how much of the story is true, how his wife Rita feels about his having told it, and how it felt to be one of the delegates in that house listening to it. About their family life being portrayed for laughs as though it were a 1950's sitcom.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, read here...especially the comments.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weekend web readin'

Money quote:
A New Mexico woman called the state police to report that she had been the victim of an Internet scam. The police told her they couldn’t come right away. She asked them to call before showing up at her house. They didn’t.  Instead, an officer arrived while she wasn’t home, ignored the woman’s “Beware of Dog” sign, hopped the woman’s fence . . . and then killed her dog.
From The New York Times,  Branding a Soldier With Personality Disorder
Money quote:
“Her records suggest an attempt by her commander to influence medical professionals,” said Michael J. Wishnie, a professor at Yale Law School and director of its Veterans Legal Services Clinic. 
Since 2001, the military has discharged at least 31,000 service members because of personality disorder, a family of disorders broadly characterized by inflexible “maladaptive” behavior that can impair performance and relationships. 
For years, veterans’ advocates have said that the Pentagon uses the diagnosis to discharge troops because it considers them troublesome or wants to avoid giving them benefits for service-connected injuries. The military considers personality disorder a pre-existing problem that emerges in youth, and as a result, troops given the diagnosis are often administratively discharged without military retirement pay. Some have even been required to repay enlistment bonuses.
By comparison, a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder is usually linked to military service and leads to a medical discharge accompanied by certain benefits.
From Crates and Ribbons, The Clothes That Bind 
Money quote:
“For men, the primary erotic effect was a function of the lotus gait, the tiny steps and swaying walk of a woman whose feet had been bound. Women with such deformed feet avoided placing weight on the front of the foot and tended to walk predominantly on their heels. As a result, women who underwent foot-binding walked in a careful, cautious, and unsteady manner.” 
Besides the pain and discomfort that such fashions cause women, it can also lead to needless loss of life. A book by Kat Banyard, The Equality Illusion, cites an example. In 1991, when Bangladesh was hit by a cyclone, 90% of the casualties were women. One of the reasons for this was that women were not allowed to leave the house unaccompanied by a male relative. The other reason was that their clothes made it difficult for them to run or swim to safety.
From The Guardian, Is the US the Only Country Where More Men are Raped Than Women?
Money quote:
There are big differences in social conceptions of sexual assault in the prison population versus the general population – even though one in 10 Americans will be imprisoned at some point in their lives, and the US imprisons more people than any other society in the history of the world. Comparing prison assault with non-prison assault is interesting and necessary, but it's important to keep in mind that they operate in very different contexts (which isn't to say that one is better or worse, just that if we're going to discuss them intelligently, it makes sense to address that fact). 
One overlap, though, between prison rape of men and non-prison rape of women is the way American society views both as an inevitability. That plays out in different ways, but there's a sense that incarceration must naturally lead to rape (see, eg, "don't drop the soap!" jokes), and that femaleness is inherently sexually tempting and therefore also leads to rape if you're not vigilant about preventing it (see, eg, every rape prevention tactic that focuses on what women should or should not do – don't walk home alone, don't wear revealing clothing, etc). At the same time, inevitability is tempered by the perceived ability to prevent rape if you just do things "right" – don't commit a crime so that you end up in jail, don't break any of the Rape Avoidance Rules For Ladies. It's a convenient way to conceptualise assault – if you just behave yourself, you won't be a victim. For women, "doing things right" requires constant vigilance, and an understanding of oneself as inherently vulnerable; it keeps us fearful, and it inhibits our freedom of movement. For populations with high incarceration rates, "doing things right" also requires constant vigilance, and an understanding of oneself as perceived as inherently criminal; it keeps entire communities fearful, resentful, and unable to seek the protection of the police; and it inhibits freedom of movement and expression and speech.
From Feministe, Virginia Transvaginal Ultrasound Bill Proves Effective at Deterring Sex
Money quote:
Most women seem to find Virginia’s proposed bill requiring transvaginal ultrasound for anyone trying to get an abortion horrifying and intrusive. We’re wrong, of course, because Virigina Delegate David Albo (R-Douchebucket) thinks it’s hilarious. Hilarious enough to stand up and joke about getting cock-blocked by his own bill on the House floor. His fellow delegates laughed and hooted like frat boys as he delivered a tawdry three-minute monologue–complete with slap-bass mood music–about his attempts to romance his wife, which were thwarted by a news clip in which Del. David Englin (D-Total square, amiright?) criticizes the bill.
From Yahoo! Games, Study: World of Warcraft Boosts Brain Functions in Seniors 
Money quote:
A new study out of North Carolina State University finds that the massively-multiplayer behemoth can have a beneficial impact on the brains of elderly players. 
Researchers examined two groups of seniors between the ages of 60 and 77. One of those groups did nothing, while the other picked a side with the Alliance or the Horde and played WoW for about 14 hours over two weeks. (Not exactly the marathon sessions of some WoW enthusiasts, but still a respectable amount.) 
When the two groups were retested, researchers found that the gamers showed a significant increase in cognitive functioning — specifically, spatial ability and focus. 
"We chose World of Warcraft because it has attributes we felt may produce benefits — it is a cognitively challenging game in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations," says Dr. Anne McLaughlin, assistant professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of the study's report. "We found there were improvements, but it depended on each participant's baseline cognitive functioning level." 
"The people who needed it most — those who performed the worst on the initial testing — saw the most improvement," adds Dr. Jason Allaire, associate professor of psychology at NC State and another co-author of the paper.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Shopping at Penney's has not made me a lesbian

Sure, this is anecdotal evidence, but take it for what it's worth.

I like to buy jeans at J.C. Penney. They have a decent variety of Levis, usually at a good price. Now, granted, I was never persuaded to shop for jeans there by a spokesperson of any kind. But I also have not seen any sign that my Levis give a damn what kind of family I’m in. Nor has my sexuality changed, so far as I can tell, as a result of my wearing them. There has not been the slightest uptick in my attraction to girls, and no increase in incidences of my having been mistaken for a lesbian. I have neither been ejected from my "traditional family" as daughter for wearing them, nor been refused admission to a "traditional family" as wife. In fact, if my ass looks sufficiently good in those jeans, they might actually aid in the latter endeavor.

So I'm sorry, Penney's. If having Ellen DeGeneres as your spokesperson has all been some kind of nefarious plot to create gays, repel non-gays, convert non-gays into gays, and/or destroy traditional families, it doesn’t seem to be working. At least on me. Please don't listen to the "One Million" Moms. They literally don't know what they're afraid of.

Tempest in a cookie box

Because a seven year old transgender child tried to be involved in a Girl Scout troop in Colorado, a national campaign has been created to urge us to not to buy any cookies this year, and Girl Scouts themselves to not sell them.

Yes, really:
Three Girl Scout troops in Louisiana won't be hawking Thin Mints this year. They've disbanded in protest after the Girl Scouts of Colorado accepted seven-year-old transgender child Bobby Montoya as a member. Montoya was born a boy but has considered herself a girl since she was two years old, says her mom Felisha Archuleta. In October, Archuleta took her daughter to speak with a Denver troop leader about signing up, and took her daughter away crying after the Scout leader referred to the child as "it" and said "Everyone will know he's a boy." Three weeks later, the statewide Girl Scouts body issued a statement saying, "If a child identifies as a girl and the child's family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout." When they heard about this reversal, three moms and troop leaders in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana decided to dissolve their troops and leave Girl Scouts. 
Now, 95 years after the organization first starting selling cookies, its signature product has once again become a political pawn. Right-wing groups and some conservative parents and scouts have posted to a site called Honest Girl Scouts, YouTube, and Facebook pages—including one called "Make Girl Scouts Clean Again"—urging Girl Scouts everywhere to go on strike from selling cookies, and their parents to stop buying them. They want Girl Scouts USA to officially bans [sic] transgender children from membership, and kick out any known transgender scouts "hiding" in the troops.
Because a transgender kid is dirty. Dishonest. A scourge, hiding in the ranks to prey on legitimately female members of the troop. A parasite on their virtue, apparently. A seven year old. What's the national Girl Scout policy on such matters?
So far, the national Girl Scouts USA has made no official statement about Bobby Montoya's case or what happened in Louisiana. . . Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a development psychologist with Girl Scouts USA, says it's a case-by-case decision. "It depends on the age of the child and other questions: Are they being recognized everywhere (as girls)? Are there policies in place at that child's school? Are they attending a girl's bathroom?" She reiterated that acceptance of transgender girls is not formal Girl Scouts policy, and that the organization takes a position of nondiscrimination rather than radical inclusion. So for all intents and purposes, decisions on who gets included or excluded play out at a local level.
And yet protest against transgender children being involved apparently is not-- it's a national thing. Three troops several states away from Bobby Montoya, who almost certainly have never met her and would never have been aware of her existence if not for the statement from Girl Scouts of Colorado, felt so strongly against her inclusion that they actually disbanded. No more selling cookies, no more earning badges, no more fun camping trips because some kid a thousand miles away who was born male but determined at age two that she was a girl was accepted into a Girl Scout troop. What are they afraid of, exactly? Could there possibly be anyone in this scenario with more at stake than Bobby herself? I first learned of this story from Radley Balko's blog, where he bemoans making a small child the object of ridicule in the name of a culture war, and sighs
It’s a story about why in the world you’d decide to wage a national campaign attacking the Girl Scouts over their decision to accept a kid who think she’s the opposite sex . . . who is seven-years-old. 
I mean, even if she’s just going through a phase. Even if the mother should have recognized that. Even if you think it was wrong of the Girl Scouts in that particular part of the country to accept her as such. So what? What is the point of making a big deal out of this? If, 10 years from now, the kid decides he really was boy all along, does it matter? Has it done any harm to you? Hell, even if your kid was in the same troop — which is untrue of 99.999999 % of the people making a huge deal out of this — do you really think this kid is going to disguise his/her sex so he/she can take advantage of your daughter? Again, she’s seven years old.
Exactly. I have nothing to add to that. Except this--

Saturday, February 4, 2012

On bumper stickers and "bumper stickers"

From The Washington Post: Looking to Avoid Aggressive Drivers? Check Those Bumpers:
Watch out for cars with bumper stickers.
That's the surprising conclusion of a recent study by Colorado State University social psychologist William Szlemko. Drivers of cars with bumper stickers, window decals, personalized license plates and other "territorial markers" not only get mad when someone cuts in their lane or is slow to respond to a changed traffic light, but they are far more likely than those who do not personalize their cars to use their vehicles to express rage -- by honking, tailgating and other aggressive behavior.
It does not seem to matter whether the messages on the stickers are about peace and love -- "Visualize World Peace," "My Kid Is an Honor Student" -- or angry and in your face -- "Don't Mess With Texas," "My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student."
Hey, you clown! This ain't funny! Aggressive driving might be responsible for up to two-thirds of all U.S. traffic accidents that involve injuries.
Szlemko and his colleagues at Fort Collins found that people who personalize their cars acknowledge that they are aggressive drivers, but usually do not realize that they are reporting much higher levels of aggression than people whose cars do not have visible markers on their vehicles.
Drivers who do not personalize their cars get angry, too, Szlemko and his colleagues concluded in a paper they recently published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, but they don't act out their anger. They fume, mentally call the other driver a jerk, and move on.
"The more markers a car has, the more aggressively the person tends to drive when provoked," Szlemko said. "Just the presence of territory markers predicts the tendency to be an aggressive driver."
From The Spectrum, independent student publication of the University of Buffalo: Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari?:
Ladies, I know you're at least at the legal age of making your own decisions, but before you decide to get a tattoo, allow me to let you in on a little secret. A secret you may have not fully realized yet thus far in your life. What you must understand is, as women, we are – naturally – beautiful creatures.
Seriously, though. Your body literally has the ability to turn heads. Guys drool over us. We hold some serious power in our hands, because – as corny as this sounds – we hold the world's beauty.
But something girls seem to forget nowadays, or maybe have not been taught, is that women hold the world's class and elegance in their hands, as well. So what's more attractive than a girl with a nice body? I'll tell you what: a girl with class. Looks may not last, but class does. And so do tattoos.
An elegant woman does not vandalize the temple she has been blessed with as her body. She appreciates it. She flaunts it. She's not happy with it? She goes to the gym. She dresses it up in lavish, fun, trendy clothes, enjoying trips to the mall with her girlfriends. She accentuates her legs with high heels. She gets her nails done. She enjoys the finer things in life, all with the body she was blessed with.
But marking it up with ink? That's just not necessary.
I have both bumper stickers and tattoos. Draw your own conclusions.

(Hat tip to Dr. X)

Friday, February 3, 2012

What should the bus driver call you?

How would you feel if this man called you "babe"?
Here's a sticky one...or maybe not so sticky. Jo Walters writes in the Guardian about her experience of being called "babe" by a bus driver, and then her experience of how she has been viewed and treated following making a complaint about that:
In the past week I've been to the cinema twice (The Artist, and The Descendants – both fairly good), stocked up my fridge (meatballs and pizza on the menu this week) and arranged to catch up with friends. Oh and I've been called "an irate woman", "a daft woman", a "silly, silly woman" told I "must look like the old back of a bus", to "Get a life!" and that "I need an operation, to remove the chip from [my] shoulder" – all by people I don't know and have never met. 
What is my crime? Just politely contacting my local bus company to let them know that I don't like it when their bus drivers use terms such as "love", "darling" and "babe". I pointed out that I generally find their drivers friendly and courteous but that when some of them use that language I find it demeaning. I wasn't angry, I didn't ask to make a formal complaint, I wasn't trying to get anyone into trouble, I'm not trying to get anyone fired, I didn't threaten legal action – I just thought they might like to know how the actions of some of their staff made me feel. 
I received a prompt and friendly response agreeing that it wasn't really appropriate language and not something the company would condone. They promised to let drivers know that this sort of language isn't appreciated and I didn't really think much more of it until my local radio station, Brighton's Juice 107.2 mentioned on Facebook that drivers had been asked not to call people babe. From there I spotted it in our local newspaper, the Metro, the Mail Online, found it was discussed on Loose Women and various local radio stations. 
The thing I find weird is that I don't really think this is news; I just sent some feedback to a company. It seems that people find the idea that language can affect others a bizarre concept and that it is "just political correctness gone mad" (that gem came up a few times). Much of the coverage and comments paints me as some angry woman who should be grateful for the apparent compliment. I didn't make it a gender issue; the coverage and comments did.
The thing is though, I personally find terms like "babe" coming from men to be overfamiliar, sexist and patronising. I'm allowed to interpret their words in that way, it doesn't make me irrational or oversensitive. It doesn't mean I don't have a sense of humour or that I should be grateful for the attention. It is interesting to note that lots of the critical comments are from men.
I don't think it's that people find the idea that language affects others bizarre-- it's more likely that they either fail to understand the concept of benevolent sexism, fail to recognize benevolent sexism when they see it, or simply don't agree that this counts. Why would anyone but a cold, angry, PC-obsessed woman fail to see being called ________ ("babe," in this case) as flattering, or at least benign? What kind of person is offended by a compliment or a nicety?

Context matters, naturally. In this case the entire discussion is about context, but it's important to point out a cultural difference specifically. I think most Americans would see it as a no-brainer that public servants-- or indeed, anyone who works in customer service-- should not call patrons/customers "babe," but in the UK it's not just kind old ladies in department stores who will refer to you in diminutives; it's everybody. I didn't mind hearing "Ta, love" from a ticket-taker on the train, and in fact found it nice, because I knew it's something practically every ticket-taker says to practically everyone. It would make me sad if "Ta, love" went away, even though I no longer ride trains in the UK. So in that regard I can understand people being miffed about a crackdown on the kind of language bus drivers are allowed to use, except that "babe" seems to me to be fundamentally different (in England) from "love." Here in the states, hearing either one from a male bus driver would probably seem equally inappropriate.

A male bus driver? Yes, because of course it's a gender issue. Being called "honey" or "dear" by the old lady at the department store is a different beast from being called the exact same by a man in the same place, much less for example the DMV (the former being far more elective than the latter). The division between between a nicety and an inappropriate remark depends on who it's coming from as well as where you are. And everyone seems to treat the matter of where that division lies the way Oliver Wendell Holmes famously described identifying pornography: "I know it when I see it." Or in this case, hear it. One commenter on the Guardian article wrote:
I like it when I get called 'bach' which means little but is used like 'pet', by Welsh speakers in my local shops.
Feels like an endearment.
The writer should keep her outrage for the important issues.
If a bus driver calls you a 'ho' then complain by all means, but babe is used in a positive way by many people, girls call other girls babe all the time.
Using words like love, bach, pet, dear all help oil the wheels of social intercourse.
Rebuffing something said with good heart is just downright rude.
I didn't see anything in Walters' piece that sounded like "outrage," but it's not surprising to see her comments portrayed as such. Along with the sexism-specific trope of "You should find it flattering," I wouldn't be surprised if the term "outrage" was used more often to portray complaints of offense as irrational and hysterical (yes, that word used intentionally) than to describe actual reactions to wanton cruelty or gross violations of decency. When reacting to a complaint by someone that something is offensive which you find innocuous, it seems that the immediate response is to magnify the offense far beyond what was originally stated. I'm guilty of doing this myself all of the time, and it's a hard urge to control. Why am I not doing it now? Because I don't see a complaint about being called "babe" as a threat. I see the complaint as legitimate, but even if I didn't it wouldn't threaten my self-image to learn that in this case, someone finds something unacceptable that I don't. Re-examining my assumptions, or examining them for the first time, wouldn't be painful. Being intellectually humble is comparatively easy. It's harder to be humble that way when you, or people you agree with and/or care about, are the source of the offense.

Notice I haven't said that offense can't simply be illegitimate. I certainly think it can, but would point out that our conclusions about such tend to be shaped by the effect the conclusion holds for our self-images. Ethical dissenters-- and by that I mean, people who disagree with the majority for ethical reasons-- are a living, breathing, practicing condemnation of what most people regard as normal or at least uncontroversial, and many find that disturbing. Understandably so, but the problem comes when the next step is to misrepresent the dissenters in order to deflect their grievance. This can be counted on to happen regardless of whether said grievance is legitimate or not. Simply speaking up about it is enough to set the wheels in motion.

A few other tropes from the comments:
Let me give you a tip. You always have a choice to take offence or not to take offence.
I strive never to take offence unless I'm absolutely certain that offence is intended. 
AKA "Your offense is your own fault" coupled with "Your offense isn't legitimate unless I'm offended too." The feeling of offense absolutely is not a choice, but the expression of offense is, which the commenter conflates here. He/she has it precisely backwards in suggesting that one shouldn't express offense if none is intended, because people who have been offensive inadvertently are the only ones who would care and want to change their behavior. People who have offended on purpose will be at best unaffected, and at worst gratified by the news that their arrows have hit their mark.
Spot on!
I can see that despite the friendly intentions behind it, the language is totally and utterly degrading.
Oh hang on a second... I can't
You must be so much fun to be around!
AKA "Can't you take a joke?" coupled with another "Intent is all that matters." Certainly intention matters, but again-- that's why we kindly explain to Grandma that it's not the best idea to use the word "negro" anymore, and to Junior that calling his gaming pals "fags" when he bests them in a game isn't cool.
are you seriously expecting generations of people to re think how they speak?
Yes, she is. This is the essence of political correctness; any word that someone, somewhere might find offensive must be eliminated, however harmlessly it was meant.
It's all covered by that maddening word "inappropriate". Inappropriate to whom? Also "unacceptable". Unacceptable to whom?
Some self-righteous prude, that's who.
Merriam-Webster defines a slur as "a: an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo, b: a shaming or degrading effect." I like that this definition includes both intent and effect, and doesn't require that they be coupled. And yes, the process of discovering that certain language has the effect of degrading, dismissing, shaming, or trivializing people-- that is, it amounts to a slur-- and asking that it not be used on that basis is expecting generations of people to rethink how they speak. That's sort of the point. Congratulations first commenter, you have grasped it!

I'm going to make some assumptions about the second commenter, but would bet money that they're true: 1) he's male (okay, his name is "Howard," but I promise I didn't look at that first), 2) white, and 3) straight. The grand trifecta of potential for dedicated ignorance of privilege and griping about political correctness. Which, if I were less of a person, would make me wish that he will be referred to as "babe" by every hulking male bus driver to enter his life forevermore.

But I'm nicer than that.

ETA: Okay, stop dancing for a minute while I clarify: No, I was not saying that white, straight, men are the only people with unexamined privilege, the only people who complain about political correctness, and certainly not the only people who can be prejudiced. Prejudice is, ironically, an equal-opportunity pursuit. I'm saying that the people most ignorant about privilege tend to be the ones who have the most privilege, which means you guys sitting at the top of the privilege pyramid: straight, while, males. I'm actually least certain about race amongst those three traits, since we've seen ample evidence recently of sneering at political correctness by a certain straight black male.

By all means, please resume dancing now.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I'm fine with this rubber spine o' mine

Really? Because it looks like that...hurts.
As a follow-up to this post, I feel compelled to share these:

R.K. Milholland's Super Stupor! comic mocking such costumes and poses

Comics are almost certainly the most sexist medium in geekdom. By that I do not mean that a) all comics are sexist, b) all consumers of comics are sexist, c) all creators of comics are sexist, or d) there's something inherent about comics that means they must be sexist. I'm saying that if you're looking for a realm of geekery in which the value of women can be most clearly summed up in terms of T&A, comics-- let's be more specific; superhero comics-- are it. Devoting a column to the most ridiculously sexist superhero costumes must have been hard identifying the five most annoying contestants on Big Brother or the most painful Jackass experiments. 

Why would this be the case? My best guess is that it's because comics are about the most "fantasy" that you can get. Sure, other geeky things are fictional-- you can give any amount of hit points to a monster that players must battle. You can dress a character on Star Trek however you want. You can make a character in a video game have breasts like beach balls. But in a comic, the character depicted is both a) visible and b) static. You can see her, but need not be concerned with how her body would move without violating the laws of physics in many directions. I've seen some grossly out of proportion characters in video games, but never one (for example) whose breasts faced the same direction as her backside. But that's so common an occurrence in comic books that it has become cliche (ow ow ow, on that last one especially).  

So having the ability to build a fantastic creation from the ground up plus the means to depict it clearly visually plus not being constrained in any way by physics is what makes it possible to dive head first into not only supernormal stimulus, but also fictitious and highly dubious psychology. Comic book women not only lack spines; they lack any concern about not having spines. They are quite happy to fight crime while clad in (sometimes only in) butt floss. Fiction's handy that way-- you can impose any condition on the characters and make them like it, because after're the story-teller.

In comparison, actual pornography seems comforting. At least those are real people (more or less), engaging in real activities that people can do in real life. But cross comics with porn and you get....animated pornography! No, I'm not going to link you to examples of such-- you've got Google, and I don't want to be responsible for introducing such a thing into anyone's life.

(Hat tip to Pharyngula, where the following exchange took place:
P.Z.: I guess there’s a reason I haven’t read any mainstream comics in 30 years, too.
Antiochus Epiphanes: I can think of a better reason. Because you are a grown-up with access to actual books.
We Are Ing: Don’t hold your nose too much higher or you’ll fall over.
Ms. Daisy Cutter, Feral Fembeast:  Maus? Barefoot Gen? Fun Home? My Cancer Year? Fuck ‘em, they can’t be “actual books” because they have pictures an’ all. Antiochus said so.
Antiochus Epiphanes: To be fair, these are “actual” books, being bound printed matter. And one of them was awarded a Pulitzer prize. So there’s that. And you can read one in less than an hour which is pretty awesome if you don’t like to read.
stringer:  To be fair these are actual Scotsmen.
Fair cop. I'd recommend Maus, parts 1 and 2, to anybody.)

Benevolent sexism

A lot of people seem to have a hard time identifying bigotry when it appears to flatter. After all, isn't bigotry supposed to be about hating members of a certain group?  Not really. It's more about forming expectations about individual members of a group, based on a general assumption about the group as a whole. There doesn't need to be anything wrong with enjoying fried chicken and watermelon in order for it to be bigoted to portray those as the favorite food of every black person. The phrase "soft bigotry of low expectations" refers to the act of being pleasantly surprised that people of a certain group are smarter, more well-behaved, more attractive, or otherwise better than you expected them to be, because you defied the low expectations they have for members of your group.

Being told "You're not girly; you're just one of the guys!" is not generally intended as a back-handed compliment-- it just means "You're more like what I'm familiar with and less like what's foreign, and I like that." But once that is actually spelled out, it's easy to see where the problem lies. It's not so much sexism as a subtle xenophobia-- a fear of what's different. Most bigotry probably amounts to that. But Melanie Tannenbaum's recent blog post for Scientific American discusses how such "flattering" comments relate to sexism specifically:
In 1996, Peter Glick and Susan Fiske wrote a paper on the concept of ambivalent sexism, noting that despite common beliefs, there are actually two different kinds of sexist attitudes and behavior. Hostile sexism is what most people think of when they picture “sexism” – angry, explicitly negative attitudes towards women. However, the authors note, there is also something called benevolent sexism:
We define benevolent sexism as a set of interrelated attitudes toward women that are sexist in terms of viewing women stereotypically and in restricted roles but that are subjectively positive in feeling tone (for the perceiver) and also tend to elicit behaviors typically categorized as prosocial (e.g., helping) or intimacy-seeking (e.g., self-disclosure) (Glick & Fiske, 1996, p. 491).
[Benevolent sexism is] a subjectively positive orientation of protection, idealization, and affection directed toward women that, like hostile sexism, serves to justify women’s subordinate status to men (Glick et al., 2000, p. 763).
Essentially, there’s now a formal name for all of those comments and stereotypes that can somehow feel both nice and wrong at the same time, such as the belief that women are “delicate flowers” that need to be protected by men, or the notion that women have the special gift of being “more kind and caring” than their male counterparts. And yes, it might sound complimentary, but it still counts as sexism. 
Why is Benevolent Sexism a problem? 
Admittedly, this research begs an obvious question. If benevolently sexist comments seem like nothing more than compliments, why are they problematic? Is it really “sexism” if the content of the statements appears to be positive towards women? 
Well, for one thing, benevolently sexist statements often depict women as weak, sensitive creatures that need to be “protected.” While this may seem positive to some, for others – especially women in male-dominated fields, or those who simply want to be seen as strong – it creates a damaging stereotype. Second of all, by depicting women as homogenously different from men in any way not directly related to chromosomes or genitalia, benevolently sexist statements sometimes justify a climate where opportunities can be withheld from women because they are somehow “different.” Indeed, as Glick and Fiske themselves note in their seminal paper:   
We do not consider benevolent sexism a good thing, for despite the positive feelings it may indicate for the perceiver, its underpinnings lie in traditional stereotyping and masculine dominance (e.g., the man as the provider and woman as his dependent), and its consequences are often damaging. Benevolent sexism is not necessarily experienced as benevolent by the recipient. For example, a man’s comment to a female coworker on how ‘cute’ she looks, however well-intentioned, may undermine her feelings of being taken seriously as a professional (Glick & Fiske, 1996, p. 491-492). 
In a later paper by Glick and Fiske, they examined levels of hostile and benevolent sexism across 15,000 men and women in 19 different countries. First of all, they found that hostile and benevolent sexism tend to correlate highly across nations. It is not the case that people who endorse hostile sexism don’t tend to endorse benevolent sexism, whereas those who are benevolently sexist look nothing like the hostilely sexist people. On the contrary, those who endorsed benevolent sexism were also very likely to hold explicit, hostile attitudes towards women (although one does not necessarily have to endorse these hostile attitudes in order to engage in benevolent sexism). 
Secondly, they discovered that benevolent sexism was a significant predictor of nationwide gender inequality, independent of the effects of hostile sexism. Specifically, in countries where the men were more likely to endorse benevolent sexism, there were also significantly lower female participation rates in politics and the economy, and men generally had longer life expectancies, higher literacy rates, more years of education, and higher purchasing power than women. The warm, fuzzy feelings surrounding benevolently sexist statements come at a cost, and that cost is often actual, objective gender equality.
Rest assured: there is no need to claim that men and women aren't different in any general or specific way in order to counter-act both hostile and benevolent sexism. The problem with benevolent sexism is that it's a dubious kindness that is still based on bigotry. This is a fundamental problem I have with being called a "lady"-- it implies that a certain treatment, often benevolent, is required for a person based on her gender. No thanks, I'd rather just be a person.