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Lately, I’ve taken to browsing Pinterest. Although probably a major factor in why I don’t ever update this blog, Pinterest is one of them new-fangled social bookmarking sites, like if Tumblr and del.icio.us had a baby. Incidentally, this means that Pinterest is, above all, a vapid “Oh, look how pretttyyyyyy” wall of image-vomit. Given that, let me be the first to say: shit’s addicting. Pinterest is like an endless bite-size novelty dispenser, and that novelty is composed of almost entirely pretty things and baked goods. Pinterest has an “everything,” board, which is a random, unfiltered amalgamation of other pins. Naturally, there’s some stuff that shows up which I take issue with – people pin as many photos of cupcake recipes as they do photos labelled “thinspiration,” for example, but of course, if I ever say anything, I am a big Pinterest Party Pooper and I should take my critical thinking back to, like, school or something because, like, we are just saying, you know? And this is Pinterest, so, like, butt out of my business, okay?
But the following photo caught my eye:
It was captioned, “Kiss,” posted on somebody’s “Photography,” pinboard. The clickthrough led to another person’s pin (also on their photography pinboard), and their clickthrough led to a random photography tumblr, where the caption was, a little more appropriately, “the kiss of life.”
Now, I will contend that this is an excellent photo. So excellent, in fact, that the photographer, Georgina Cranston, won the Photography Master’s Cup in Photojournalism for it. Of course, none of the people who posted this photo credited the photographer, even though on both Tumblr and Pinterest one has the full capability to do so if via nothing more than a clickback. But, hey, they probably didn’t do that because they didn’t know where it came from – they just reposted a pretty image they saw of a little boy giving a kiss.
A little Sudanese boy, giving a kiss.
A little Sudanese boy, not giving a kiss, rather, but taking a drink. From the very obviously unclean and very likely unsafe water of the Aquem river. Because unless you live with your head under a fucking rock, you would know that the Sudan, along with being plagued by seemingly endless civil war, genocide, and poverty, has a severe lack of safe drinking water. Multiple charities exist that travel to Sudan to drill wells – without them, millions of Sudanese (usually women and children) must walk for hours to a nearby river, pond, or hand-dug well (often under threat of violent attack and rape), every day, carrying home a heavy jug full of water that is often contaminated with parasites and bacteria.
Perhaps, then, you can understand why the pinning of this photo with the pithy caption, “Kiss,” by a middle-aged white woman holding a flute of champagne in her profile picture might piss me off a little. The photo was taken with the goal of informing others about what Sudan looks like – showing it off simply for its compositional beauty is akin to talking about the writing style of The Diary of Anne Frank: it completely misses the point.
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For a little while, I’ve been regularly checking a radical feminist blog. I have mentioned it before, but I will not mention it now. You know, for posterity or something.
I put a lot of faith into the little community, I really did – there seemed to be a good number of intelligent people there. The posts were well-written, bringing in very important arguments. While discussion sometimes strayed into cray-cray land a little bit, I considered this a tactic to better convey the message. Continue reading
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In my last post I discussed the necessity for abstract thinking when considering more advanced feminism, which was really just a big long introduction to this post (but I got so long-winded that I decided to let it stand on its own):
Very, very frequently in mainstream coverage of ladybusiness, the idea that “femininity” is and should be a highly valued concept goes unquestioned – certainly, femininity is wonderful, which is not to say that everyone must practice it, but it’s not bad either, right?
Twisty doesn’t think so – speaking of an interview with author Peggy Orenstein:
You might think Orenstein sort of gets it in this book about pink preteens, but then she says “You don’t want to send the message that things that are feminine don’t have value.” But yes, you do. Why does nobody see that femininity is internalized patriarchy?
Now, I will be the first to say: Twisty is a hammer-swingin’ kind of gal, and sometimes, she swings her hammer with a little too much abandon. I appreciate that, because it gets a point across, and I’m not going to nitpick her arguments unless they are intrinsically flawed (I also trust her readers are intelligent enough to not necessarily take her comments as gospel, or at face value, instead readily critiquing them when they see fit).
But what she’s getting at here is the concept of “femininity,” and all it represents, is, when you’re really honest with yourself, just a re-branding of misogyny:
- Women are weak = Women are diminuitive
- Women do the child-rearing = Women are nurturing
- Women are objects = Women are beautiful
- Women are harlot temptresses = Women are coy
And obviously, it’s not that simple (it’s never that simple, is it), but the point here is that generally speaking, what we laud for being “feminine,” is really just taking what has otherwise been negative and making it into a positive – though positive it may be, it does not yield any increase in power, and can be spun on its head directly back into misogyny in a flash. A racist comment that’s “positive” (e.g. Asians are good at math) is no less racist and offensive than a “negative” one – you’re still reducing a person to a less-than-person status based on a factor outside of their control.
So when someone suggests that something like femininity should not be encouraged, a good thinker will have questions. Questions like…
- Why not? Men and women are different, to pretend they aren’t is ignoring reality. Shouldn’t we celebrate our differences?
- Are we supposed to just go around in some Orwellian dystopia, wearing identical grey sacks to ensure that everyone is treated just the same?
- My GOD, have you thought of the CHILDREN?????
Which is excellent! But what spurs these questions is a gut reaction to the suggestion that something which might be extremely common in our existence is not right. Does it make me a hypocrite to write about how our concept of femininity is not necessarily something which should be praised, hit “Publish,” then go put on makeup and do my hair? Yes, it does. But that’s why it’s called feminist theory – sometimes it is simply not feasible to practice everything that you preach, and I try to acknowledge that. When we’re speaking in ideals, however, as in what we should work towards (since the only time change comes crashing through tends to be during scary dictatorships and violent revolutions), it is reasonable to say “I don’t think women should have to feel that they need to do their makeup and hair before going out of the house,” without necessarily committing to that ideal 100% of the time.
Point being, we have to allow ourselves to consider that something we do regularly and maybe even enjoy might not be ideal behavior. In this case, the notion of femininity falls under that umbrella.
Filed under: General Bitching
One of the most difficult things to do when introducing radical feminism to the uninitiated is to encourage a proper mindset. Even for otherwise intelligent people, there are prerequisites for feminist thinking that don’t often get covered – gaps that leave seasoned feminists feeling frustrated when the “new kids” just don’t get it.
Feminism, I have found, is tied closely to philosophy in that it demands a mastery of abstract thinking skills. It requires one to go through much thought and consideration before coming to any sort of action, such as forming an opinion or making a decision.
In philosophy, for example, within the branch of metaphysics, there is the question (which Renee Descartes famously pondered over) of human existence. When studying philosophy, one must consider that things might not be the way they seem- in this case, that we might not truly exist as we thought we did. This is an extremely difficult concept if you have not developed abstract thinking skills. The very idea of one’s own non-existence to a person who has not learned to separate themselves from the question can induce a sense of panic and unease (reasonably so, since we depend entirely on the idea that we do exist).
Such is the case with feminism – there are abstract ideas to be considered, which those who are not well-versed in abstract thinking can, at first, find scary and radical. For example, Andrea Dworkin’s question of whether women can, having grown up under the patriarchy, truly consent to sex with men is not some insane man-hating hypothesis, but a pretty basic inquiry about the nature of free will.
The confusion therein is also, I think, one major reason why Fun-Feminism is popular – it is not simply that those who subscribe to it are lazy or unwilling to sacrifice certain benefits they enjoy at the expense of others, but that those who subscribe to fun-feminism don’t have abstract thinking skills that are advanced enough to properly comprehend what radical feminism discusses. It’s not that these women are stupid, either – simply that they are approaching the ideology from the wrong angle.
In my women’s studies class, heirarchies of privilege would frequently factor into the discussion, and each time, it seemed, someone would be objecting to their nature based on a personal example. “Well, I know this guy, and he cleans the house, so women aren’t always required to do housework (subtext: so I’ve decided this discussion of “the second shift” is irrelevant).”
This doesn’t generally work, because citing one (or more) concrete examples does not negate an abstract systemic imbalance. The problem was that they simply weren’t grasping the abstract nature of systemic privilege.
Solipsistic thinking is also partly to blame – those who have not honed their critical thinking skills are prey to believing that if they have not experienced it, it is probably not true. Again, this is not stupidity, but merely a higher level of critical thinking many people are never required to reach.
When I consider Dworkin’s hypothesis, I approach it from an angle that does not speak to my experience. Because we are discussing something that would have influenced me, too, it is impossible for me to determine the ultimate answer, short of raising a child in a magical culture-free bubble. The fact that it does not reflect my experience, however, has no bearing on whether it might be true – in fact, knowing how we are influenced by our environments, it seems entirely plausible.
A person lacking in the ability to separate themselves from the equation, however, might be rather offended by the mere suggestion that they’d be intrinsically unable to consent to sex, and might even consider such a statement antifeminist, as it denies a woman the possibility of choice. But it is not intended to be interpreted in this way (the question operates by a different set of rules than we do in our daily lives), and I think many arguments could be avoided if this rift in thought processes were bridged.
While it may take patience and time (which is not everyone’s responsibility, I know), I think this one of the most integral factors to understanding radical feminism – I say this because I have, in just a few years, jumped entirely from one side of the fence to the other when it comes to my views on the subject. That “click” happened one day, and I just got it. From that, I know that this kind of thinking is something that can be learned. The possibility that it is missing simply goes unnoticed.
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- I like this song, although I predict that I will hear it far too frequently on the radio to continue liking it as much
- I LOVE how creative and dynamic the dancing is in this video
- In fact, I really like how the video turns out in general – I was initially under the impression it was going to be another one of these “gaze listlessly at the camera and sulk around fog and trees and falling sakura blossoms” videos (every female singer-songwriter apparently must have one), but was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out around the 1:30 minute mark.
Because, see, here is some emotional ass dancing. And maybe I’m just not watching the right music videos (which is entirely possible since I don’t watch TV and have little patience for VEVO), but I feel like you rarely see that sort of thing. If any intricate dancing that transcends the general booty-shaking level takes place, it is generally just an elaboration on aforementioned booty-shaking. In this video, however, we see choreography that has both force, emotion, and grace, which is something that is extremely difficult to pull off well. I admire the hell out of that.
What I also admire, though, is how the video depicts women- all-too often when one sees women in a music video (even one showcasing a female artist), they are either a. unidentified/anonymous and decapitated, or b. sharing more than a reasonable amount of screen time with their male co-stars, and often acting solely as their accessories.
Here, we see all of the dancers’ faces (not just that of our magical Mary Sue like in other videos, as if she’s the rare exception to the rule that we’re not supposed to give a shit about female characters because, SIGH, she’s singing the song so let her have her moment), and I noticed immediately that the trope of keeping a woman just an assemblage of body parts was actually used for the man in this video (symbolically, I will guess, in an effort to dehumanize him). He remains essentially anonymous (save for his dementor-like soul-sucking) until the end of the video, and even then we don’t get a real good look at him (he’s too busy getting his ass kicked via interpretive dance by a gang of scorned ex-lovers).
I love the way the dance-fight is choreographed, too, by the way. On the rare occasion that “ladies strike back,” it’s in that fakey, slow-motion-high-kicks-in-velour-tracksuits, “oh-isn’t-my-playful-disobedience-such-a-tease” etc etc way. Which I guess is sort of good since they’re standing up for themselves and all, but is ultimately infantalizing because the idea that they’re actually not letting themselves get shit all over by men is some big fancy act of rebellion that needs to be highlighted in a comically ham-fisted way!
THE CONFRONTATION IN THIS VIDEO IS NOTHING LIKE THAT. I almost cringed as it began, thinking, “Oh, shit, here you’re gonna go and ruin this with some violence against women just like the Scissor Sisters did because THAT’S SO TRENDY,” but I was pleasantly surprised.
All of this fits in nicely with the song, which is angry and indignant while still being conflicted and sad. I have great respect for this song, because (on top of her voice being excellent) that’s what break-ups are like sometimes, and too many break-up songs (the ones that make it on the radio, anyway) feature either “oh I can’t live without you” mopefests or (more rarely) baseless “whatevs yo dick is small anyway” anger, which just replicate the double-bind where women aren’t complex, thinking creatures, but rather helpless waifs or heartless bitches.
Sidenote: I love shit like IMDB, and I think a database like that needs to be created for commercials and music videos, because these are both credit-less works in which actors/actresses frequently appear and you’re all like “Oh man who was that lady in the “Take on Me” video, didn’t she date Billy Idol?”
Filed under: General Bitching
When I was only a shift or two out of training at my first job, I received one of these:
I recognized it immediately – though at the time I hadn’t a term for them more eloquent than “those weird little Jesus comics”, I had received many a gospel tract in my youth while trick-or-treating. There are many publishers of biblical tracts, but few are as well-known and oft-distributed as those in the immense collection of evangelist comic booklets by Chick Publications.
Now, why a person would hand out comics (comics wordier than friggin’ Subnormality, by the way) on Halloween to convince children (who are just going to bury them under a pile of fun-size Butterfingers) to accept Jesus as their lord and savior is anybody’s guess; I think I was a pretty smart kid, but “abomination,” didn’t make its way onto any of my vocabulary lists in Elementary school.
Nevertheless, I want to inform everyone who is, will be, or knows anyone in retail: distribution of these tracts on private property is considered solicitation, and the vast majority of businesses have strict “no soliciting,” policies. A popular tactic of witnessers and evangelists who distribute this literature is to include it with payment, tips (sometimes in lieu of a tip), or, in my case, to stuff it in the employee’s hand with a “that’s for you!” followed by jogging out of the store before the employee can react appropriately.
Should this happen to you, I recommend the following course of action:
- If you are in a customer service situation, politely refuse the tract. If you are able, inform the person distributing the tracts (this includes passive actions, such as placing tracts on cars in the company parking lot) that their actions are solicitation not permitted by the property owner. This is legally considered a form of trespassing, and appropriate charges can be pressed.
- If you are unable to respond to the solicitor, many distributable tracts are ordered in bulk by churches and offered to their congregation. For convenience, the back of a CHICK tract has a space in which a church can stamp or print their name and address. Check to see if this information is present.
- Discuss the situation with your manager. Be prepared to defend the company policies on solicitation – some managers “don’t see the harm,” in passing out gospel tracts when they would very much oppose, for instance, union solicitation. In fact, a lack of enforcement on no-solicitation policies has, in the past, been grounds for denial on charges brought against unions petitioning on company property (as one article suggests, “If you want to be able to stop employees from wandering around the shop floor handing out fliers for a union meeting, you must also be willing to prohibit them from handing out fliers for a Tupperware party”). Suggest some manner of correspondence be made with the church, as they are the originators of the distributed material (and have willingly printed their address on it), wherein a discussion with the congregation of the proper protocol regarding such distribution be encouraged.
Or, if you’re like anyone I’ve discussed this with, you could just throw the tract away and move on with your life.
However, over the length of my employment, I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to be the recipient of quite a few of these tracts – should I not be offended that the literature therein insists that I will be eternally tormented in a lake of fire (and I really appreciate the distinction – never is it any body of water but a lake in these tracts, though I suppose “an estuary of combustion” doesn’t have quite the same vigor)? And my offense aside (to paraphrase Ricky Gervais, simply being offended does not put you in the right), these actions are against the law. To take no action when that is the case is allowing a religious group to operate as if they are above the law simply because they have many followers who don’t happen to disagree with them, which is a slippery slope that happens so often already that I really don’t need it happening in my grocery store.
In researching this, I came across a guide for how to proselytize using tracts, which refers to those who aren’t Christian as “the lost.” I prefer Tolkien to The Bible, though: not all who wander are lost.
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You know what’s a hoot? Familiarizing yourself with logical fallacies. One of my favorites is the Galileo Gambit, which is briefly defined as, “believing your opinion must be right if everyone thinks it’s wrong (because that’s what happened with Galileo, duh).” Of course, there are the old standbys – your strawmen, your ad hocs, your appeals to authority. However, in reviewing some of the writings of he who shall not be named (who, by the way, may very well be the posterchild for the Galileo Gambit), I’ve noticed there’s one particular argument that may be too specific to fit neatly into any particular established fallacy.
An oft-relied-upon tactic by opponents of feminism is to claim that feminism is actually anti-women, because it frames women as victims who lack free agency. Other sociopolitical struggles such as “LGBTQ rights” can be substituted for “feminism,” as you like (the resemblance this argument bears to “slavery actually helps negroes by providing them with a place to live!” is not incidental), but the jist is that the mere suggestion that we are marginalized in society encourages us to adopt a victim mentality.
On first glance, this looks like a perfectly reasonable argument – why should we play the victim? However, making this particular suggestion supposes far too much about our own abilities – it claims that if we’re really in control, we aren’t influenced by silly things like sexualization in the media, or the internalization of patriarchal values (and if you feel you’ve been influenced, sorry – you’re weak). But being that the entire field of sociology, and much of psychology, is based on the tenet that we are in fact very highly influenced by factors beyond our control (no matter how “strong” we are), this suggestion is foolish, at best. It assumes undeserved responsibility under the guise that doing so will yield an increase in power, which is simply not true, and perhaps even to the contrary- in the example of advertising, individuals who consider themselves skeptics are actually more susceptible to the influence of commercials.
This fallacious thinking follows the same brand of logic used in the following comment off a thread on Change.org from back in July, about a woman who pursued legal action for being non-consentually used for Girls Gone Wild material:
…if Playgirl was there filming the party, I’d be in the film crew’s face demanding a royalty for the use of my image and likeness!
That’s because I’m suprememly confident about who I am, and that I cannot be “harmed” by what other people think about me. Jane Roe, seems to be totally lacking in this particular quality of self — she is not a strong woman. But that does’t mean she is worthy of “protection” from her mistakes. [emphasis mine]
Sorry, I’m just having a really hard time scraping up much sympathy. She was harmed when her breasts were esposed [sic]. But three-plus years later, it’s an anecdote, not a lawsuit.
Both of these beliefs are different takes on a notion of illusory superiority, where the former is simply a rallying call to action suggesting that everyone share the same delusion. Voldemort has previously claimed in interviews and articles that women who are “real women” deserving of respect couldn’t possibly be so shattered by a traumatic experience (nevermind that this has no bearing on the justice of the situation – if parking in front of someone’s driveway doesn’t happen to inconvenience them, it makes your parking ticket no less deserved) such as rape. It’s a simple case of, “Well, that would never happen to me,” a pretty unwise and solipsistic point of view.