29 July 2008

The Assholes Ride Again

So, I realize this post is rather late to the party, but it has some points I'd still really like to make, so I'll throw it up here anyway. I should really stop putting half-finished things in 'drafts' and then going AWOL for days on end.


There's another interwebs shitstorm brewing. This time, it's about a rather problematic cartoon being used to bolster anti-porn arguments by Nine Deuce and Heart. Belledame's got a good play-by-play and lengthy comment thread going on here, so I think I'll skip the summary. A lot has already been said about the numerous problems with the cartoon itself, and I'm really more interested with ND's and Heart's responses to other people's concerns about it.

Briefly: I didn't immediately read the cartoon as racist, transfixed as I was by the no-way-in-hell-this-is-feminist representation of a dumb blonde in the centre of the image. That's likely due to my own frame of reference--I've been on the receiving end of that stereotype enough times to be hypersensitive to it, and it immediately called to mind this gem of a "feminist cartoon". I saw it as soon as it got pointed out (even if some of the men's features read as "white", the whole light=good/dark=evil dichotomy is obvious and has been closely tied to racism for a long time). I think it's offensive for many reasons: it's misogynist, misandrist and dehumanizes sex workers--a real winner.


What really gets my goat is the way that both Nine Deuce and Heart (but especially Heart) reacted to others' politely-phrased concerns about the cartoon. There was no stepping back and re-evaluating the image, not even any acknowledgement that such concerns were worth considering. There was no real discussion. Instead, the whole post devolved into defensive ass-saving and, "but, but, but I can't be a racist, I married a black man!"

In other words, it got personal.

This is the point where I saved the post as a draft and left myself the following notes for when I took it up again:

-closed-minded non-intersectionality
-it's not all about you, you fucking jerks
-image vs substance

That sums it up rather nicely, really.

To elaborate: my first point* refers primarily to Nine Deuce, as the whole "i removed the cartoon as the thread was getting derailed by concerns of racism" thing really irked me. Just because you're fighting for the rights of one particular group of people doesn't mean you get a free pass on offending/dismissing another group. If, say, POCs (or anybody else) respond with concerns about something they identify as racist on a feminist site, it's probably a good idea to actually listen to their concerns and make room for a bit of anti-racism in your work as well. Telling them that their concerns are invalid or are a distraction--not so much. Besides it just being rude and dismissive, it alienates women who are also feminists ; from a purely pragmatic point of view, alienating your allies or others on your side is just poor politics.

The rest is largely directed at dear Heart, but certainly applies to miss I-have-the-giantest-brain-in-the-whole-wide-world as well. Any feminist or otherwise socially/politically motivated writing is going to have a bit of the author in it: we write largely from our own experiences, and we certainly have unique perspectives on our particular cause. I'm not suggesting that there should be no personal aspect to anyone's blog, because that would make the whole business a bit faceless and creepy, not to mention that it wouldn't really be blogging anymore. But there are certain cases *cough cough* where the personality of the writer--their image--becomes so overbearing as to completely draw attention away from that person's chosen cause. If your response to people raising concerns about one of the pieces of evidence in your argument (as often happens in debates) is to start talking about how you are not in any way a racist, and therefore could never possibly use a racist argument, you're missing the point in precisely this way.

It's not all about you. It's about the intersection of sexism and racism; it's about being careful about what kind of images we want to associate with feminism; it's about respecting the concerns of all elements of a community; it's about looking critically at all media, including "our own". The fact that it's your blog that the discussion is taking place on is not completely irrelevant, but please don't turn concern about an argument and an image that has been put out there into ad hominem attacks. Because, really, when you start using your feminism as a jumping-off point for a presidential campaign, or as singular proof of your amazing genius, people are going to start to wonder what your writing is really about. And when the egotism shines that bright, they're likely to move on to greener pastures and try to find feminist (or any other -ist of choice) writing that really is a space about women, and not one particular, fabulous woman.

* Interesting typo here: I originally wrote "porn". Shows where my mind goes pre-coffee on a workday.

21 July 2008

Not my Feminism

I'd been intending to write a longer response to Cassandra's awesome post about the nastiness she's seen coming from some feminists towards beautiful women, but I think what I was going to write can be applied just as well to the discussion currently going on over at Renegade Evolution's. For Ren's original thoughts, see this , this , this and this) It all begins with the usual slut-shaming, victim-blaming and general anti-woman bullshit going on over at Twisty's "I Blame the Patriarchy" (I ain't linkin').

Now, just like Twisty, I am not the keeper of all feminism who gets to decide who is a feminist and who isn't. It isn't a club, for fuck's sake--you can't just kick people out of the movement when they disagree with you. Feminism is a way of engaging with the world and a lens through which to process it, it's the belief that women deserve equal consideration and rights as human beings. That's it. There's no membership card or secret handshake, no "10-step guide to removing the patriarchy" to follow, no rules. Well, except maybe one: if you engage in behaviour that shames, denigrates or otherwise attacks any woman (or group of women) for her appearance, job or lifestyle, you are not acting like a feminist. In fact, you're acting like an asshole. You might still be a feminist (remember, there's no card to revoke). After all, some feminists are assholes, just like some people are assholes. Nobody is going to kick you out of the movement (some, like Ren, may leave in protest, because it's a label that you get to choose to apply to yourself or not).

But here's the thing: you're not helping.

In fact, all you're doing is perpetuating a double-standard that has been around for centuries and is part and parcel of that patriarchy thing you hate so much. The virgin/whore, good girl/bad girl split isn't exactly a new one. I've read a lot of medieval literature, and I can say with absolute certainty that the idea of the libidinous woman who tempts men to evil and sin has been around since at least (and I'd warrant a good few centuries before as well) the 9th century CE*. The wording may have changed slightly--the sluts are no longer causing good, Christian men to fall from grace (nope, that idea would be too patriarchal); instead, they're tempting evil, depraved men to hurt women--but the blame is still dumped squarely on the shoulders of the women in question. Actually, the latter example is worse, in some ways, because it absolves men of true responsibility (since they've been so completely warped by the patriarchy, they cannot do anything but harm women--it's in their nature, and therefore kinda beyond their control) for their actions, and because it is presented as a feminist argument. At least our medieval misogynists are up front about their hatred of these women, and tend to also blame the menfolk for succumbing to temptation. I'm not Twisty (or any of her cheerily supportive commenters), but if my feminist rhetoric was actually harder on women than the arguments put forth by male misogynists 1100 years ago, I'd either take a step back and reconsider just what the hell I was saying, or give up on the "radical" label altogether.

A lot of the feminist version of slut-blaming (my new catch-all for the above nastiness) seems to be intended as a complaint that some women are encouraging the men, are giving them an excuse to attack women. But if, as IBTP seems to argue, men really are this malevolent enemy who can only hurt women, then they don't actually need encouragement or excuses. If they're so far beyond saving, then even if all the sluts/sparkleponies/funfeminists/yay-pornies in the world vanished overnight, they would still rape and hurt all the nice women left behind because that's what they do. The two halves of the argument don't mesh.

So if the slut- and men- (sorry, "patriarchy") blaming argument doesn't actually hold water, why stick to it?

Because it's so easy to put the blame on everybody else.

Because if you're not responsible for the bad shit that happens to women in patriarchal society (that lies with teh evol menz and the sluts), then you must be a saviour, or a hero. Your mere existence, as a patriarchy-blamer, rather than a patriarchy-upholder, is a blow to the system. You don't actually have to do anything to address injustice. You can just sit back and bask in your glory as a blamer and occasionally "tsk" at the disgusting rabble that continue to uphold the system that you can see right through. You're just that special.

And really, you have a right to feel special and heroic. You can go right on with your radical blaming. It's your goddamned right as a person and as a woman to feel and act as you see fit. But I have the same right to call you out on your own misogyny (just because you only hate some women, rather than all women does not make it okay) and to distance myself from the arguments put forth by assholes like you. Because, to me, blaming everyone but myself for a system that is everyone's problem isn't liberating, empowering or helpful. My feminism isn't about making myself feel bigger by making things worse for other women. Nobody deserves that kind of dehumanising crap getting thrown at them.

Your feminism is not my feminism.

*Obligatory medievalist's disclaimer: this isn't an accurate representation of everything that was being said about women in the Middle Ages. There was a very wide range of ideas and writing on women's rights and role in society from the bullshit I've mentioned to amazing pro-woman writings. I've just chosen a particularly nasty and widespread argument for this post to demonstrate the longevity of slut-blaming.

18 July 2008

When binaries attack!

I know I really shouldn't be getting overly worked up (or rather, shouldn't be in the least surprised) about the way sexuality is dealt with by gossip sites, but this profile on Lindsay Lohan from Gawker irked me. Specifically, it was the "is a newly minted femme lesbian" bit. Because, you see, Lindsay has now completely forsaken the menfolk and is a freshly created (never mind that the mint reference calls up images of some strange Lindsay Lohan figurine line being pumped out on the assembly line: "now with same-sex desires!") lesbian. Considering her many previous (and ostensibly happy) relationships with men it just might be a possibility that she's bi. Or maybe all of the sex-with-men really is a thing of the past and Lindsay is a lesbian. I dunno, I haven't asked her. I just really wish that every time a public figure had a same sex relationship, it didn't automatically generate all this kind of "switching teams" nonsense. Because, you know, there are only two possible sexual orientations and, once you go gay, you can never go back (as if it was always about "going" anywhere--some of us like it here in the middley bits and we're staying put).

Okay, rant over. I should really just stay off the celebrity news; I don't actually know who half the people being talked about even are, and it tends to just raise the stress levels unnecessarily.

17 July 2008

Hooray for Public School Sex-ed!

I overheard the following conversation in the changeroom at a local community centre today. The two girls came in while I was in a stall, and decided to share one to save space as they got into their swimsuits.


Girl 1: "Okay, but you're not allowed to look when I'm changing my bottoms."

Girl 2: "Why? Do you have hair or something?"

Girl 1: "Yeah. Wanna see?"

Girl 2: "Okay. Eeeewwwwww!" [pause] "How old are you?"

Girl 1: "Eight."

Girl 2: "That's abnormal. You're not supposed to have it yet."

Girl 1: "Yes I am. Girls get it between 8 and 14. That's why they start teaching us this stuff in Grade 5*."

Girl 2: Oh. Okay.

[They finish changing and run out to the waterpark].


I love that we have an education system that teaches girls (and boys too, but this post is about the girls) that the changes their body undergoes are completely normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. I particularly like Girl #1's matter-of-fact response to her friend's confusion, and #2's acceptance of the facts once they got explained to her. Hearing that conversation kind of made my afternoon.

* In BC, children going through the public school system (I'm not sure what it is for private institutions) get sex-ed twice: the first time is in Grade 5 (9-10 years old), and focuses on the biological end of things, covering both puberty and the nuts-and-bolts of sexual reproduction; the second time is in Grade 11 (15-16 years old) and covers STIs, all manners of birth control--including putting condoms on a class set of wooden penises--and some of the emotional complexity of sexual relationships.

Twitching at Binaries I: Us and Them

Right then. I suspect that my sexuality has a wee bit to do with my uneasiness at (some, perhaps even most) people's tendency to neatly parcel up the world into opposed pairings: good/evil, black/white, gay/straight, left-wing/right-wing, sane/insane, able-bodied/disabled, right/wrong, kinky/vanilla, us/them.

I could go on listing for a while, but I think that, ultimately, the majority of these binaries are just rephrasings of the last one. Us vs. Them.

It's a tempting way to view the world: on the one side of this imaginary line in the sand, there is us--a group of people just like me, who share my views and/or background and are the right people for me to associate with, because they are like me, and that makes me comfortable--and on the other side are those people who are against us. Their disagreement, or fear, or difference frightens me. It's alien. Maybe even a bit icky. I don't understand it. So I dissociate myself from their difference: stop listening to their arguments, cross to the other side of the street when I see them coming, and seek out people who are comfortingly like me.

There is a certain value to this approach, especially for more marginalized groups who often fall on the "wrong" end of the binary for the majority of people, and need to come together to create a safe space. I get that. I've done it myself, sometimes, when I want to just wall myself off from hatred, bigotry or just plain ignorance. The trick is to not let it become permanent. The only way to make the things I don't understand become less frightening is to engage with them.

When it comes to ideas, exposing myself to those I disagree with is key to my forming my own--if my beliefs don't stand up to opposition/counterargument, I seriously need to reconsider why I hold onto them at all. Disagreement will either make my ideas stronger or it will shatter them, and if the latter is going to happen anyway (it always does, so long as a weakly constructed argument keeps running up against reality), then the sooner it does the better. I can pick up the pieces, start thinking about the issue again, and not be a closed-minded idiot the second time around.

When it comes to people who are different, who don't fit with what I consider us, I have a lot to gain by stepping out and getting to know them. After all, there's always a humanity behind the difference. Seeing people as people, not ideologies (a "communist" is a person, not the faceless drone of an -ism I might disagree with) and not representatives of a particular group (I am a woman, an immigrant, and a thousand other things, all of which represent me, and none of which I am the sole representative of) can be difficult sometimes, but it is necessary. Ignoring others' humanity is what allows one group of people to deny others basic human rights, or one person to bully/abuse another because of their difference, it's what allows us to go to war over ideas. On the other hand, seeing the person behind the idea, and finding some common ground with them, or learning to like them despite disagreement, means that the circle of us expands to admit a new member. And anytime that circle gets bigger, it's enriched by new perspectives and experiences. I become better for letting myself embrace difference. And that disagreement on ideas? Still there. Association, even friendship does not require agreement. It only requires basic decency and compassion, and creates a space where disagreement can exist without it leading to destruction, because you can dislike the belief and still care about the person that carries it.

Of course, there are people out there that I doubt I'll ever accept into my us (which is starting to sound more like some kind of exclusive club and less like a metaphorical device, for which I apologize): I can't deal with people who are outright hateful towards any group, or who are proudly apathetic towards injustice. But I can learn to accept that they too are people with the same rights to exist as everyone else, and stop wishing painful death on then whenever I get in a bad mood.

ETA: this started out as a post about something different, but I like the "can we try to at least be civil?" direction it went off in, so I'm leaving it as is. I'll discuss my other big problem with binaries in another one.

15 July 2008

Asshole Customer of the Day

I really don't intend for this to become a daily feature, but the occasional bitching about the treatment that comes with working in customer service helps me keep my sanity. Right, then:


[I had just gotten together a large and work-intensive order for a customer: measuring out 100m of heavy 11mm rope by hand, and simplified the process somewhat by measuring out a quarter of the length, and then doubling the rope back over itself a few times--hardly rocket science.]

Asshole: "Wow, that was pretty clever. I guess that stereotype about blondes isn't true after all."

Lankydancer: "No. No it's not."

[customer quickly thanks me and walks off after taking a good look at my tits.]


It's been a hell of a long time since I've met somebody who still thought "dumb blonde" jokes were funny. Or appropriate. I must have found the last one left in this city. Lucky, lucky, me.

14 July 2008

Empty Space

...there's lots of it here at the moment. I'm planning to change that soon.

I'm so much better at working things through out loud (or on paper) than in my head, and there are a lot of ideas I need to work through at the moment. I want this blog to be my sounding board: somewhere to post my raw thoughts and see how they look, and maybe to get some input from outside my own brain. I suspect I'll also end up blithering about my daily life once in a while.

That's the nice thing about having your own space--you can do whatever you damn want with it. I'm interested to see how this one evolves.