pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Feminism is a very broad term. Every time I start trying to describe how broad I freeze up, because I know I'm only familiar with the kinds you find on the internet, which is not perfectly represented, and even then I'm much more familiar with some parts than others. Mostly the parts that are relevant to me, like consent culture and paying highly educated women more money.

Feminists make fun of the term "I'm not a feminist, but...", implying that the speakers want the benefits of feminism without the social cost of admitting it. My own mother said I was spitting on the back of Susan B. Anthony when I (age 14) said I wasn't a feminist. This only makes sense if you consider feminism synonymous with equal rights and opportunities for women. That's a pretty bold claim to make. A lot of poor and non-white women have criticized feminism/The Feminist Movement for focusing exclusively on the problems of upper middle class white women (e.g. the leaky pipeline in academia) while ignoring problems affecting them (e.g. the mistreatment of pregnant women in prison). At times their goals can be actively contradictory because their situations are so different- rich white women are denied sterilization they request while poor black women are sterilized without their knowledge. When these women refuse to identify as feminists, they're not saying they're okay with the status quo, they're not failing to give Susan B. Anthony her due, they're just refusing to pretend that TFM is working for them. Which is probably why mainstream feminists get so upset about it.*

That is a really charged example, but there are lots of other ways that people can disagree about what counts as "advocating for women". I wish I was informed enough and clever enough to point out ways this is happening that no one else has thought of, but I'm a dilettante with a lot of privilege, so I can't. The ways I can think of are things other people have already pointed out: the second wave fought for the right to say no to sex, the third is fighting for the right to say yes. People are simultaneously fighting for the right to have children (and have the costs of those children subsidized by other people**) and fighting the stigma against childlessness. The second wave fought to get women into corporate jobs, parts of the third are fighting for greater respect for the work of childrearing. None of these are strictly opposed, but supporting one without hurting the other requires an inconvenient level of nuance.

Ultimately the question is: do we want the same world we have now, except without gender based-proscriptions, or do we want a different world, and if so, which one? If feminism were strictly about equality, than success would be black women being discriminated against exactly the same as black men, and racism itself would be orthogonal. I of course think racism is bad and being racist makes you a bad person***, but it's not clear to me it should make you a bad feminist. Feminism is not a synonym for good things.

The Feminist Movement seems to be a lot of more socialist than I am, and finds severe income inequality in and of itself problematic. I believe that income inequality is often symptomatic of a problem, and extreme poverty is a problem, but do not care if some people make truly ridiculous amounts of money in a fair system. And while I think gender-based discrimination is morally wrong, I dislike a lot of anti-discrimination laws on both practical and moral grounds. I should be able to disagree about means without feminists accusing me of secretly hating women or not caring about discrimination.****

I wish Lean In had taken a little bit wider view and discussed the work system as a whole. I think the live-to-work mindset is hurting women and men both. I really wish Sandberg had talked about why she finds striving for the top so rewarding, instead of taking it as a given. As I was typing this a friend sent me a link to The Messy Link Between Slavery and Modern Management and before I finished the description I dismissed it as "that's not fair to tar trade by mutual agreement with the same brush as slavery, just because the same tool can make both better." It took me a few minutes to question "why is maximizing number of widgets the goal?". I know why it's the goal of any given company, but how did the system end up that way? I have this nagging feelings that there are systems where that wouldn't be the case, but I can't conceive of them any more than a fish can conceive of brachiation.

If I have a point, it's that I wish more people questioned more assumptions, and I wish that was decoupled from the feminist movement. I may even wish there wasn't A Feminist Movement, but that feminist was an adjective applied to other movements, like socialism and anarchism and especially libertarianism and/or free market socialism, whichever one I end up going with.

*I tried to find good blog posts to demonstrate this. The first page of results for "feminism racist" is exclusively white feminists and mainstream news, plus one by a PUA. The white bloggers linked to black bloggers: almost all of their blogs were either gone or restricted access. Part of this is that I still pine for 2007 and have failed to adapt to a post-twitter world, but part is that race and gender bloggers have a frighteningly high burnout rate.

**My belief is that once the kid is here, it's a defenseless person and society does have an obligation to give in a decent shot at life. But I'm very uncomfortable with that framed as the right of the mother to have as many children as she wants, regardless of her ability to take care of them.

*** to the extent that being bad person is a thing, which it mostly isn't, and it's even less rarely a helpful framework, but I really want to risk condoning racism and it makes for a really nice parallel sentence structure

****Something no one has said to me personally, but is often said about people with similar beliefs. People who may well be acting in bad faith, but the idea that someone could believe in gender equality but think preserving the right to free association and the commerce clause was more important than the marginal benefit from this particular law is never even considered.

Lean In

Oct. 21st, 2013 01:38 pm
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
In summary: if a man had written this book, it would be mansplaining.

Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook and was previously an executive at Google. Lean In is not a memoir. That's too bad, because with a good ghostwriter she could have written a really good memoir. Just getting in on the ground floor at Google and Facebook is a good story. Doing so as an older, non-technical woman shows serious chops. And even if it was a bad story, it's hers, and I can't criticize her telling of her story. But her goal for Lean In was to encourage young women to pursue ambitious careers and give them the tools to do the same. As a late-20s female programmer, this topic is relevant to my interests. But the book just isn't very good at either of those things.

As far as encouragement, she tells women not to be held back by people telling them they can't or shouldn't. But she never actually makes a very strong case for why we should want to in the first place. Sheryl Sandberg's network is estimated at $400,000,000. Those estimates could be off by a factor of 100 and it would still be enough money that no amount of additional money could motivate me to work as hard as she does on anything, ever again. She talks a lot about what she sacrifices with her kids to do her job, and all I wanted to do was ask her what she got out of her job that was worth that sacrifice, because it clearly wasn't the money.

That's not rhetorical, by the way. I think the answer to that question would be really interesting. And yes, I ask it of insanely wealthy men too, even ones who aren't complaining about what their jobs cost them.

Skill wise, I can see a good book going one of two ways: pretend there's no sexism and teach women to act like successful men, and let them deal with the fallout, on the theory that it will equalize eventually, or acknowledge that the same action can be read very differently based on the gender of the actor and give tricks for working around it.* Things that we shouldn't have to do, but will help us in this imperfect world. Sandberg gives two of those, one of which is really quite smart. But mostly she lists ways she wishes the world was different. I say that because she does acknowledge that women are punished for behaviors men are rewarded for, and that their "ineffective" behavior is in part a result of this punishment, but keeps listing all the ways women behave ineffectively. It's not helpful.

For a woman who spends a lot of time lauding feminism and imploring women to help each other, her book is curiously devoid of any feminist work more recent than Betty Friedham. Navigating a workplace that is theoretically open but covertly hobbling you is not a novel topic in feminism. Lots of people have put a lot of thought into this. Are these people COOs of major corporations? No, and that would definitely give Sandberg additional insight. But to completely ignore all the work other women have done on the topic, while discussing how women's contributions tend to be undervalued, is pretty disrespectful.

To be fair, for all my age, gender, and job make me the target market for this book, I'm probably much better read in feminism than she had in mind. As a 101 book , you could do a lot worse. But doing feminism 101 is also not a new topic, and she could have used lessons from feminist writers to make her book better at that too. The book talks about how men often get credit for ideas originally pitched by women, and I think this is a perfect example of how gender is not quite the problem, it's just the stand in for it. Sandberg can't help but get more traction than some random blogger, but like we're always telling men and white people, it's your job to use that platform to shine attention on better thinkers who are being ignored.

*I can't find the name of it now, but one such book said something like "Statistics show that no matter how much supportive noise a man makes when you're dating, he will sacrifice your career for his own. The only real defense is to marry someone with significantly lower earnings potential, so neither of you can afford for you to stop working." It sounds creepy and unromantic and Machiavellian, but I respected the honesty.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Long, long ago, a blogger I liked posted about the prison healthcare system. It's atrocious everyone in the USA, but especially in her state of California. CA has tried to save money by using private prisons, which were handling prisoner health care horribly (although it's not clear to me how it compared to state-run prisons). She had a longstanding fascination with libertarianism, and asked "Libertarian readers, I think private prisons are a thing you support, and I think they're doing really horrible things here. What is your stance? What health care do you think prisoners should have, and how should we get it to them?" As I remember it, she was talking less about responses to obvious, acute things like stabbing, and more about things that were fuzzy and chronic.

My response? "I think the biggest contribution we could make to inmate health is to stop putting them in rape factories. Until we've dealt with the prison rape problem, worrying about cancer treatment is misplaced." Which, I will admit, sounds dangerously close to "you can't have feelings about men violating your clearly stated boundaries while female circumcision is practiced". But I don't think it's the same, and not just because we're actually talking about the same people and institutions in my example. What I wanted to convey was that the institutional rot in prisons was deep, and leading to worse outcomes than prisoners dying of cancer, and removing the rot would require a complete rethinking of how prisons work. This would probably incidentally help with the health care issue too. Libertarianism has a lot to say about whether jail is ever justified, and if so for what crimes, and how do we determine that, but by the time someone is in prison? Consumer choice is by definition absent, and libertarianism is irrelevant.

That was how I felt reading Emily Yoffe's widely disparaged piece on alcohol and sexual assault First, I wanted to punch her for acting like she was a lone brave voice fighting against a feminist conspiracy to leave women ignorant of gender-specific dangers.* Then I wanted to punch her for conflating "drunk but functional woman consents to acts she wouldn't have while sober" and "alcohol renders woman incapable of physically preventing an assault." Then I wanted to punch her for saying it was her daughter's "responsibility" to prevent her own rape but merely "advantageous" for her imaginary son to avoid being accused of rape. But after I got the punching out my system, I realized I was punching at ants. Yoffe is looking at the intersection of two different systemic rots and concluding the symptoms are the problem.

The first is rape culture- the fact that a man can get a reputation for "if you're drunk and he's around, you have sex with him" and still get invited to parties. The solution to this is enthusiastic consent culture, which involves less teaching teenagers "drunk people can't say yes" and more "sex with someone who genuinely wants it is amazing, settle for nothing less, and don't tolerate people who do." This won't work on people for whom predation and violation are the point, but if Yoffe thought they were the major problem she would have written a very different article. Solving the interaction of rape culture and binge drinking by ending binge drinking still leaves rape culture in tact.

The other is why college students are binge drinking at all. What are they getting out of it? It doesn't look like fun to me even if it was a rape preventative. She briefly touches on it, but her best solution is "more friday classes", which makes me think she has not fully considered the issue. One possibility is that binge drinking is a vulnerability ritual- in which case, warning women of the dangers is about as effective as warning teenage boys driving fast is dangerous. If that is the case, we need to ask why a ritual type generally performed privately with a trusted few is being done in public with strangers. The answer could be gendered (in that women are pressured to place trust in men who haven't earned it), but I suspect there's a large gender neutral component that has serious implications for the state of our social fabric.

Of course, we don't want to wait on those issues to be solved to stop rape. It is entirely possible that the best choice for a woman is to curtail drinking she would otherwise enjoy because of the risk of rape. And she should be given accurate information to with which to weight that risk. But her drinking was never the cause of the issue.

*Because that's what feminism is known for. Seeing situations where women face more risks or penalties than men, and insisting everyone ignore it.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Rape jokes are important to me. I guess that's because rape is a big, scary thing, and humor is how I deal with big scary things. It's also useful for engaging with people on the other side: while the failure mode of clever is asshole, successful jokes can get people to sympathize with points of view they would otherwise reject out of hand. It's not a substitute for a good argument, but it can overcome kneejerk resistance and get people to listen to arguments that they would otherwise refuse to listen to. For example, see Louis CK's brilliant "Of course, but maybe..." bit, where he cleverly builds up to getting the audience to acknowledge the parallels between acknowledged slavery, the Chinese railroad workers of the 1800s, and the iPad factory workers of today.

I love Louis CK so much.

Or take the concept of "rape culture". It takes a lot of words to explain and even then a lot of pretty good people* will respond with "but she needs to acknowledge her responsibility for the risks she took" or "but asking for consent kills the moment" and then everyone is frustrated because you think they're suborning rape and they think you're accusing them of being a rapist and you know they don't want to violate anyone's consent and getting angry won't help, but expecting women to not hurt men with their own feelings is PART of rape culture and...

Or you can say what cracked said:
"Rape culture" is the normalization of sexual violence against women, treating it like something that just happens and blaming or shaming the victims. You see it in the news: If you can replace "rape" with "rain" and the story still works, that's rape culture. Was the woman wearing too little? Out too late? Would she have been fine if she'd stayed at home reading a nice book on etiquette for ladies?
That is so fucking brilliant I am angry I read it because now I can't use it in my own act. It is not a perfect explanation of rape culture. It does not touch on male entitlement at all. It is not even particularly close to the finallyfeminism101 definition. And yet, I think that joke has done more for consent culture than the very dedicated efforts of many feminists.

In that spirit, I was going to try to make fun of Emily Yoffe's parade o' victim blaming, but it ended up just being the same criticisms in a sarcastic tone of voice. Making this shit funny is hard.

*Defining good is tricky. It is harder to believe the right thing when a wrong belief is culturally embedded. And yet, it is still a wrong thing, and acting on it still leads to wrong actions that the actors are responsible for.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I thought this article by an feminist Orthodox rabbi grappling with the traditional daily prayer to thank G-d for not making him a woman was really interesting. I'm not big on observing tradition, but that almost makes me appreciate it more when other people spend a lot of effort upholding it. Both because I think there's some value in the continuity for its own sake, and because things often become traditions for reasons, and those reasons may still be around even if we've forgotten them. And there is something beautiful about submitting to something larger than yourself even when you disagree with parts of it.

OTOH, I think it's disingenuous to say "but tradition!" when you can see a lot of the social forces that formed the tradition, and they are things you claim to reject. Wedding traditions are the perfect example of this. Asking a woman's father for permission to marry her clearly arose from the tradition of women as property AND is clearly treating her as property now. I don't think there's a feminist way to do it. But even though engagement rings are descended from the same system, and I still think they're sexist and reinforce a lot of bad patterns and I don't want one, I do think it's possible to do engagement rings in an aware, feminist way that, if not ideal, falls well within the realm of compromises we all have to make to live in the world. And I will accept "yes, it's sexist, but the ring makes my life easier because men respect it far more than they respect the word "no"" in a way I wouldn't accept "yes, it's sexist, but it meant a lot to my dad".

On the third hand, it's not realistic to expect people to go from sexist to perfect. I want to give this rabbi points for thinking about these things even if he hasn't come to a conclusion I like yet, because just thinking about them is hard. I thought his first few paragraphs were really great, honest, explorations of the difficult choice in front of him. If he had just done that, I'd think he was pretty cool. But I found the second half, where he listed all the reasons the being a man was awesome and pledged to make that less true, really evasive. The blessing won't be any less traditional if sexism is solved, is he still going to say it then? All the things he lists are true, but they're also secular- is he working to diminish gender inequity of Orthodox Judaism in other ways? A lot of those are traditional too.

I came on this article via this response, via the author's blog where she talks about Judaism and gymnastics. I had no idea gymnastics could be so interesting.* Anyways, her response was basically "you don't get to tell women this isn't offensive", and more generally "you don't get to tell the less privileged what is and is not oppressing them." Which are very fair points, somewhat wider in scope than mine, and yet also reflecting that fact that the author (Jewish, formerly Orthodox) has much more invested in this particular fight than I (never Jewish) do.

*The Judaism part is interesting too, but that didn't surprise me.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Long long ago, Penny Arcade made a comic that included the phrase "raped to sleep by dickwolves." I though the original comic was fine- not safe space appropriate, but not trivializing rape either. To the extent it was a cheap shock-laugh, that was sort of the point of the comic.

Lots of people weren't okay with the comic. Some of them were perfectly respectful about it. I've seen claims that others were not, although I haven't seen direct links to back this up. Penny Arcade responded with a strip that really definitely trivialized rape and dismissed all criticism of them as hysterical. Meanwhile, some of their supporters on twitter were threatening to rape their critics (no direct link for that either, but enjoy the #teamrape hashtag).

Penny Arcade responded with a Team Dickwolves t-shirt. I thought this was annoying when I first heard about it but just now put together that they essentially sold a shirt that said Team Rapist while their followers were threatening to rape people. I think that is the point where they lose the benefit of a doubt. Some time later they pulled the shirt.

3 years later, !Gabe was asked what he regretted most in his time running Pax, and he said something that could have been interpreted as "pulling the dickwolves shirt". Later he posted a clarification on his blog.
So let me start by saying I like the Dickwolves strip. I think it’s a strong comic and I still think the joke is funny. Would we make that strip today? Knowing what we know now and seeing how it hurt people, no. We wouldn’t. But at the time, it seemed pretty benign. With that said I absolutely regret everything we did after that comic. I regret the follow up strip, I regret making the merchandise, I regret pulling the merchandise and I regret being such an asshole on twitter to people who were upset. I don’t think any of those things were good ideas. If we had just stopped with the strip and moved on, the Dickwolf never would have become what it is today. Which is a joke at the expense of rape victims or a symbol of the dismissal of people who have suffered a sexual assault. the comic itself obviously points out the absurd morality of the average MMO where you are actually forced to help some people and ignore others in the same situation. Oddly enough, the first comic by itself is exactly the opposite of what this whole thing has turned into.

What I read from this is that !Gabe genuinely regrets hurting people, and also the tremendous amount of work doing so created for him. He does not understand why people are so upset about this and does not plan on any effort to dp so.

Ta-Nehisi Coates had this to say about white Southerners grappling with the Confederate flag:
If you accept that the Confederacy fought to preserve and expand slavery, then you might begin to understand how the descendants of the enslaved might regard symbols of that era. And you might also begin to understand that "offense" doesn't even begin to cover it. Reading Penthouse while having Christmas dinner with your grandmother is offensive. Donning the symbols of those who fought for right to sell Henry Brown's wife and child is immoral.

Nothing is changed by banishing the Confederate Flag out of a desire to be polite or inoffensive. The Confederate Flag should not die because black people have come to feel a certain way about their country, it should die when white people come to feel a certain way about themselves. It can't be for me. It has to be for you.

This is about how I feel about dickwolves. To the extent people who want a Team Dickwolves t-shirt exist, I want them to wear it so I know who they are. What I want from !Gabe is an understanding of why people found the comic and especially his follow up and really especially the Team Rapist T-shirt so hurtful and so scary. I don't think he gets that he's not the the victim in this situation
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Shorter Hugo Schwyzer: to make up for exploiting past relationships for personal gain, I won't acknowledge the public facts about the breakdown of my current relationship.

Okay, the exact quote is "I wrote too many pieces about my exes that, while accurate as to fact, needlessly exploited private exchanges for page views. So in the spirit of contrition, I won’t write about the breakdown of my marriage to Eira."

Not writing about the details of his divorce is probably a very good decision, for many reasons. But the fact that he's phrasing it as a sacrifice to atone for past misdeeds, as opposed to a generally good idea, or specifically the very literally least he can do for the woman he fucked over and the children he's failed, makes me think he hasn't learned fuck all.

This isn't the first time he's done this. He described writing his college's anti-student-fucking policy as atonement for all his student fucking. That is not how atonement works.

Criticizing Hugo Schwyzer is delicate at this point, because he's very clearly mentally ill, and I don't pick on people with mental illness But sometimes what you're seeing is not the mental illness, but the deepseated personal flaws that a more able person would be able to keep hidden. And those are fair game
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Some anecdotes I think illustrate a common thread:

  • Megan McArdle has a blog post up about how many women in Harvard Business School in particular and prestigious, demanding jobs in general drop out of the work force. The comments go off on a tangent about how high performing men who previously would have married secretaries are now marrying women much closer to their own achievement level, but post marriage logistics win out and the wives' careers are either dropped entirely or they shift into something emotionally rewarding but undemanding.
  • The "generous, discrete" business man who messaged me on okcupid, looking for "smart, beautiful, intelligent" women to "share an evening with" while he was in town for work.
  • That guy I went out with once who talked about how much he enjoyed smart women, how he couldn't imagine dating a dumb woman, but also couldn't imagine dating someone who wasn't at least five years younger than himself. He also believed all women were two drinks away from bisexuality.
  • A former friend who started dating a 19 year old college student when he was 26 and several years into a career, and claimed she was so smart and mature until the break up, at which point she started "acting her age." AKA she was smart and doing what he told her, and then she stopped.
  • Hugo Schwyzer (noted student-fucking professor), who claims he was never tempted to increase the grade of a student he was fucking because “The only students I was interested in were already A students. It’s not just a pretty face. It’s also intellectual ability.”.

That last one is extra on my my mind this week because I'm at my alma matter on a recruiting trip. I took a walk around the bookstore, and what I found myself most nostalgic for was a time in my life when the success criteria were determined by someone else and reachable via an obvious path. I could sign up and someone would stuff knowledge in my brain and I would get a reward for it. Relative to the real world, college required a lot of effort but very little executive function. Now, a good chunk of my job is deciding what my job should be and getting everyone else on board with it, and that's exhausting.

Simultaneously, what I most regret about my time at college is that I stuck to such a very strict path. I chose my first (very demanding) major when I was 12, committed to a second (also very demanding) my first semester, and had no time left over to explore. I avoided fuzzy classes both because I found the uncertainty inherently scary, and because my schedule genuinely didn't allow for anything to go wrong. I wanted a second major because otherwise all my credits from high school would have me graduating from college in two years, and I really wanted four. It never occurred to me I could use those extra two years to just explore a bunch of interesting things that might be interesting, without a clear use case for them. I was living Alfie Kohn's nightmare.

At the same time, that second major is what got me my current career, a career that has given me untold freedom in my adulthood. That's worth something too.

There are any number of reasons a very smart person could be getting less than an A in Hugo Schwyzer's class. Maybe she has to work to put herself through school or take care of family members and it cuts into her homework time. Maybe her dad died the day before an exam and she didn't know she could ask for a delay. Maybe she's brilliant in a different area and took this class deliberately to stretch herself. Maybe she did exemplary work that challenged Schwyzer's views and he lowered her grade subconsciously as punishment. Maybe she had grad school interviews that semester and they severely disrupted her study schedule. My point is that if Schwyzer is only fucking students getting As in his class, he's not selecting for intelligence, he's selecting for skill at following his rules.

That would be problematic to all on its own, and becomes worse when the perpetrator tries to mask it under something socially acceptable like an intelligence fetish. But I find it almost tragic in this case, because I'm pretty sure Schwyzer has done more to help me recognize this pattern than anyone else I've read or talked to. He is the one that explained that the sign of a good partnership isn't an absence of conflict, it's the presence of conflict that leads to growth for both parties- that "iron sharpens iron"- and that looking for less than that is a failure of moral courage. I'm not surprised he failed to live up this, because his writing always sounded like a dry drunk, but I am sad.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Ferret criticized Cyru's VMA performance as inferior to Britney Spears's or Madonna's because the older two appeared to be aware of and enjoying the audience's sexual response to them, and this gave them some vulnerability. That's bullshit, and especially disappointing from the person who wrote Dear Daughter, have good Sex*. Taking the cases I know the most about, Britney and Christina went sexual in a highly polished, pleasing, feminine way. They might want to shock, but they also want validation that they're shocking in the right way.

Compare the video or VMA performance of "We Can't Stop" with some videos on similar themes: Christina Aquilera's "Can't Hold Us Down", Pussycat Doll's "I Don't Need a Man", and Ke$ha's "Blah Blah Blah"

What do these have in common? They're all sung to men. They're an attempt to convince men of something. They're highly performative**. Whereas can't "We Can't Stop" seems to be sung to grown ups.

Also, Britney, Christina, and the Pussycat Dolls are extraordinarily conventionally attractive, feminine women. Ke$ha's affecting a trashed look, but still looks noticeably more feminine and conventionally attractive in her videos than she does in real life. I still feel bad about this, but my first thought when I saw 16 year old Miley Cyrus was "Oh, Disney's trying to tamp down on problems by getting an ugly one." Her hair cut is aggressively masculine. Her outfits are revealing but ugly as hell. Her dancing may lack all subtlety, but in a way that makes me feel better. Previous starlets were produced and scripted and managed to make sure they never made anyone feel more uncomfortable than they wanted to feel. The word I'm looking for is coy. Promising a lot sexually, but also prepared to shut it down and pretend it never happened at a moments notice. Cyrus genuinely looks like she's doing this because she thought it would be awesome. It comes off as aggressive and unartistic because she's 20 years old and subtlety takes a long time to master, but that's okay. It's not her job to tamp down on her sexuality because it makes other people uncomfortable.*** She can be sexual without being attractive

Look, a professional dancer agreed with me (although he probably wouldn't put it that way). Britney was an astonishing dancer. Miley is spazzing around like an idiot. And I kind of love her for tricking MTV into letting her do that on national television.

I do want to acknowledge the genuinely problematic racial elements in Cyrus's performances. Consciously or not she's associating herself with the Jezebel stereotype of insatiable black women. This is one of those really tough things where one group is being denied something and another is being forced to have it, and the more privileged side can end up seriously damaging the less privileged side as they attempt to change the system. See also: rich white women being denied sterilization they want because doctors believe they should have more babies, while poor and minority women are sterilized against their will because doctors believe they shouldn't. Both sides are being denied something they're entitled to, and rich white women need to be conscious that laws and norms they're advocating for could make things worse for poor black women. But it some ways that's another crime the system has committed against the rich white women, by shackling them such that their choices are suffer, fight for their rights and hurt someone else, or bear the exhausting weight of fighting for their rights without hurting poor black women.

This is mostly unrelated, but I do wish people would stop calling her performance twerking. Twerking is not a generic term for moving your ass, it's a really difficult, athletic dance style with a long history in African dance. In that same vein, the Harlem shake isn't a controlled epileptic fit, it's a really impressive dance style that is both extraordinarily fluid and yet tightly controlled. Start treating them with the respect they deserve

*Of course, he also created the open source boob project and named it open source boob project. He has some big fuck ups, but I admire his willingness to make and own them publicly.

**particularly atrocious in the case of "I Don't Need a Man." It's great that there are men who really enjoy watching women orgasm even if they didn't provide it, but in a world full of male entitlement it often becomes "prove to me you're experiencing pleasure" and I hate that.

***Which is of course not to say that other people need to participate in it or stick around to watch, but that they're not entitled to make her stop doing it with people who do want those things.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Dentist: do what you can with homecare, but don't beat yourself up over not doing it perfectly.
Me: Okay.
Dentist: I think us women need to hear that sometimes.
Me: Yes. Also, men.
Dentist: Yeah, 'cause of their big egos.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I've read and watched a few things on the emergence of pornography as part of the sexual revolution, and this is the first one that gave me some insight into what a shift it was. I always thought of this period as "sex moved into the public sphere", and of course Deep Throat was tried for obscenity because it was the most public. This is untrue. The first prosecution of Deep Throat specifically focused on its legitimization of the clitoral orgasm. That is, there was an actual court case in which the government's* argument was "this film teaches women that they can get pleasure from something other than vaginal intercourse, and that is morally corrupting and bad for society."** And they won. This was non just about sex, or non-marital sex, becoming more visible, it was about women participating in sex rather than having it done to them.

Then there is 1970s feminism's relationship with porn. The touch on this just long to reinforce my belief that Hugh Hefner is so close, and yet so far Let me paraphrase an exchange:

Feminists: Playboy will be sexist until you come out with a cotton tail on your rear end.
Hefner: I think I have more in common with the girls than they...
Feminists: women. We're Women.
Hefner: *eyeroll* I have more in common with the ladies.

This is perhaps a very good illustration of the difference between "being an ally" and "having some goals in common."

*I believe this was the local NYC prosecution, but I could be wrong.

**the fact that this was occurring with a mythical throat clitoris, and elevating an act that at a physical level is really about male pleasure, is an interesting complication.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I want to draw your attention to Ta-Nehisi Coate's post on erections and vulnerability.

Masculinity's central tenet is control—and perhaps most importantly, control of the body. Nothing contradicts that edict like erections. It unmans you, it compels you through sensations you scarcely understand. And it threatens to expose you, to humiliates you, in front of everyone. Laugh now at the boy at the middle school dance, who gets an erection on the slow number (God help him if he has orgasm.) But he does not forget that laughter, nor does he forget what prompted it. That boy is going to be a rapper. Or a painter. Or an author of fictions where men are men and somehow are invulnerable to the humiliating effects of the female form.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
No Seriously, What About Teh Menz raises an excellent point about fashion:
Fun fact: while femininity in general is more work than masculinity, not all feminine things are more work than masculine things. For instance, sundresses are often cheaper than blue jeans, just as comfortable (or even more comfortable when it’s hot out) and even less work (you don’t even have to bother with a top!). I suggest that chill girls who are one of the guys and don’t give a crap about their appearances consider working some sundresses into their wardrobe. (Of course, if you have considered it and your answer is ‘I don’t want to,’ no worries. Wear the things you like. All I’m asking is that you consider whether you’d like more things than you currently know you like.) Unfortunately, for the time being, dudes wearing a sundress will be taken as making some kind of Grand Statement about Gender Roles or what-the-fuck-ever. But if you’re in a social situation that means you won’t be criticized for it, try it! The goal here is that feminine things will have an equal place in the I Don’t Give A Fuck About What I Look Like place.

I have two anecdotes and am on strong enough medication I don't feel the need to create a strong narrative flow, so here it goes.

One is a conversation with my friend Andrew. Andrew is a straight, cis, male, who once spent *many* minutes complaining about all the comfortable clothes he couldn't wear without it Becoming A Thing. The ultimate prize was wearing sundresses when it was hot out. Up until that point I only wore skirts or dresses as an excuse to wear bright shiny tights, but he raised some really good points about comfort level, and I upped my sundress ownage significantly over the summer. Bonus: because there are fewer dimensions to worry about, it is significantly easier to find skirts that work with my body shape, relative to shorts. A side effect of this is that I looked a lot more feminine, but it was not the goal.

I had another friend, Sandy. Sandy is a very butch lesbian. If you looked at her hair, you would think "my is that butch." I have very traditionally feminine hair- long, straight, silky. Due to some excellent genes, it takes no work for me to get it this way. Sandy spends orders of magnitude more time and money getting her hair to look butch than I do getting my hair to look feminine.

Okay, third node. Watching Say Yes to the Dress and the Avon Lady in Pink Ribbon Inc, I was struck not only by a certain female archetype. These women are older- 40s and 50s- and wear a lot of makeup. It does not look good, because it looks completely unnatural. What's conveyed is not "I'm pretty" but "I worked very hard." It's a statement about how important she thinks looks are. It also seems to indicate a desire to be or appear to be in control , especially when combined with Lady Politician Helmet Hair.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
First, read Arabella Flynn's post on Russel Brand's post-modern chivalry. She is better than this than I am. But I have things to say on this clip of him on Never Mind the Buzzcocks as well. For those who can't watch the video: Brand is on a team, seated between a singer almost certainly chosen primary for her looks, and another stand up comedian. The other comedian sexually assaults the girl (not exaggerating. He even refers to it as making love. Do you know what we call surprise love making with someone who hasn't consented? Rape). Brand does something really really interesting.

We talk a lot about how creepers get away with it because everyone involved would rather not acknowledge what is happening. Even when it gets called out in the moment, the emphasis afterwords is on smoothing it over. Brand acknowledges it and will not let it drop. He can do this in part because he's extremely funny and charismatic, but that's not the only reason. What he's doing is subtly different from white knighting. I'm not positive on this, but I think it's because he puts so much more emphasis on the man's behavior than the woman. He is not outraged by who the other comedian did this to, he's outraged that he did it at all.

The show host does accuse him of doing this solely to get into the woman's pants. From what I've seen of Russel Brand, I assume he would love to shag her, but I'm quite sure that's not why he's doing it, which is good, because I don't think it would work. If he challenged the man to a duel and ran him off, the strategy might work, but he is pursuing a path of making everyone involved very uncomfortable. If it were me, I would feel safer around Brand as long as the asshat was around, but it generates a bit of an ugh field. Also, he doesn't seem to be checking for her approval after doing things like calling the other man a rapist.

Lastly, I notice that Brand is being very physical with the asshat. A few months ago, there was a party. In attendance were a semi-close male friend of a mine and a guy with a history of creeping on me. I enlisted male friend ahead of time to help. Unfortunately for the purposes of this anecdote, we were never all at the party at the same time, but what my friend described to me sounds very much like what Brand did: getting really close and physical with the guy. The stated reason was so that he could slip between me and the creeper should it ever come up. Especially after seeing Brand do it, I have to admit this was a really good plan. Being cuddly and protective with me (which is something we frequently do) creates a warm and inviting environment for onlookers, including creepers. Invading the creeper's personal space puts him on the defensive and inhibits him from cuddling up to anyone else. (In Brand's case, he's also acting as a physical barrier).

Now, having decided I like Brand and hate the other guy, there is some questionable behavior on Brand's part I'm ignoring. I would be super uncomfortable with him putting his hands on my arms like that, but that's a particular pet peeve of mine. He's keeping his center of mass *very* far away from her, which he can pull off because he has scary long arms. His need to be the center of attention is not as charming when not being applied to shaming molesters. But I get the very strong feeling that if I told him to stop touching my arms, he would do stop and be mortified that he had done so. The other guy would take it as a challenge.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I've always defended Sex and the City and the much lesser known Lipstick Jungle against charges of frivolity, because they covered some very important topics that no one else on television touched- women's invisibility as they age, an honest look at what kids cost you in terms of career, and careers cost you in terms of kids (and not in a "ha ha, we're so busy" way. In a "fuck, having this baby will mean never advancing in my career" way). Yes, they also covered frivolous things, and the writing was sometimes terrible, but sometimes it was really good. I'm not saying they're equal to the high concept cable shows like The Wire or The Sopranos, but I am saying it's unfair that they're reduced to walking punchline status, next toJackass or The Jersey Shore. I'm also saying it's a little weird that every single one of those high concept shows has a male lead and a predominantly male cast.*

With that in mind, I'd like to share the following quote from Single Female Laywer Ally McBeal:
. Society drills it into us that women should be married. Society drills it into us: smart people should have careers. Society drills it into us that women should have children and mothers should stay at home. And society condemns the working mother that doesn't stay at home

You could call it trivializing that Ally responds with "We could change it, Renee [...] I plan to change it. I just want to get married first." I call it using humor to acknowledge truths too unpleasant to be faced head on. And from what I've seen (12 episodes in), that seems to be a pretty accurate summary for the show as a whole.

*Although, to be fair, the female characters they do have tend to be extremely well done. And I originally named Mad Men before realizing that was not going to be a winning example of art TV ignoring women's stories. But you'll notice that even Mad Men has a male lead.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
A while ago I was filling out a new patient form for a doctor's office, and saw an "other" option for both gender and sexual identity, and a "polyamorous" option for relationship status. As it happens I don't need any of those boxes, but I still felt better for seeing them on the form. At first I thought it was because if the doctor considered these sometimes heavily stigmatized states of being to simply be information she needed to know to do her job, then there was reason to believe she wouldn't judge me for my non-standard interests. It made it easier to talk freely without fear of judgement.

But now I think maybe there is more than that. I was watching For The Bible Tells Me So, a documentary on use of the Bible to justify hatred of homosexuality. And it occurred to me that they never say "I hate men having butt sex" or "I hate two men being in love" or "I hate women getting off without a penis involved", or anything specific. The talk about abominations, and perversity, and sickness. Which is a good strategy on their part, because there is nothing homosexuals specifically do that could possibly justify that amount of hatred and fear. But it makes me think that some of what was so comforting about that intake form was the willingness to explicitly name things that many people would not acknowledge.

People, including people who pride themselves on being open minded and accepting, including me, sometimes complain about the extra time it takes to not use "woman" and "vagina haver" as shorthand for each other, to not assume an anonymous internet is a woman because they mention having a husband, to not say "mom and dad" when you mean "parents" and not say "your parent" when you mean "grown up who is mostly responsible for your raising." It makes sentences much longer, ruins comedic timing, and it's a lot of effort for such a small portion of the population. But taking the time to draw these distinctions helps more than trans women and men, gay men, and children being raised by their gay grandfathers. By talking explicitly about things often left implicit due to discomfort, they help everyone whose life is even a little nonstandard feel more accepted and less afraid. And that is worth doing.

On abortion

Nov. 1st, 2012 10:11 pm
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
This is the story of a woman carrying a fetus that was self-evidently non-viable, but still had a heartbeat. The heartbeat is used as the definition of life for the purpose of Chicago laws. Right now, this means that she had to listen to a doctor explain what abortion was and sign consent forms 24 hours in advance, and that her insurance carrying wouldn't cover it. If abortion was banned, or only allowed for dead fetuses, or only in cases of imminent deadly threat to the mother,* she would have had to carry a dying fetus inside her until she spontaneously miscarried or went into labor. This could have left her infertile, or killed her. If it did none of those things, she would still have to carry around a reminder of the child she wasn't going to have, fake happiness for strangers or share an intensely personal story, and suffer the usual risks of pregnancy.

Individual pro-lifers may not want this to happen, but the laws they advocate predictably lead to this result. They can either admit that this is an acceptable cost to them, or they can advocate for something else.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
When libertarians talk about drug policy, they tend to talk about the damage done to people who did nothing wrong. The wrong house raids are especially for this, because everyone can imagine themselves sitting at home not using drugs, but you can also get a lot of mileage out of pretty, well-employed white people who smoke pot, or poor POC suffering for family members' crimes. We use these because it's easier to see the damage done by the drug war without the compounding variables. But that doesn't make it right to use those weapons against mediocre human beings. Petty thieves, deadbeat dads, people who hurt people all deserve to be punished for their specific crimes. It is still morally wrong and damaging to society to execute a no-knock warrants, use flash grenades, and kill pets in search of their drugs.

Similarly, I think when abortion access advocates say "but rape victims", what they mean is "here is the case with the fewest compounding variables. Surely, after stripping out the variable of sex, you can see that forcing someone to undergo a pregnancy and then either raise a child or leave them to be raised by someone else is wrong. And once we've established that, you can see that sex really has nothing to do with it." But what anti-abortion advocates hear is "we're conceding that not carrying a pregnancy is a privilege to be earned through good behavior. Let's debate what you have to do to earn it."

This is what I think about when I read articles like this and this. Pregnancy and childbirth are not just uncomfortable and painful, they are not just risky in some abstract sense of the word. The carry with them the serious chance of permanent damage to a woman's body. And not just "ha ha, women care about being fat" consequences either.* Painful sex for the rest of her life is the least of consequences mentioned in that NYT blog post (read the comments). This is why I was most disturbed not by Todd Akin's ignorance of basic biology, but by the sentence

“But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
because it completely ignored the existence of the woman who wanted the abortion. She just wasn't there.

*Although, I think it is 1. legitimate to wrestle with a fundamental change in your body and the lack of control it implies, 2. naive to think that women who become less conventionally hot don't suffer for it, and 3. misogynistic to shame women for noticing that.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
There is a point I see a lot in writings on Nice Guys (TM), which is that it's no good identifying a target for sex/a relationship and then pretending that's not what you're after, because they can tell. I saw this most recently on Ferret's blog, but it comes up lots of places, many of which devote vast swathes of their other writings to talking about Using Your Words. This strikes me as a little contradictory, and I'd like to expand it.

Some people can successfully fool others as to their intentions most of the time. These people do not ask me, Ferret, or Captain Awkward how to get laid.* Of the people who read about Nice Guys (TM) and think that it might apply to them personally, and are trying to disguise their desires: some targets will know what they are up to immediately. Some will not, but will vaguely uneasy. Some will feel fine, but the attempt will still fail because hiding the fact that you are lost from your passengers doesn't mean you are not lost. And hiding your wants might even work in some small fraction of the population. But not often.

The more literal/ASD side of me wants to say that if people detect bad intentions 100% of the time, than surely it's reasonable to expect the same accuracy rate when I develop good intentions, and see a corresponding shift in behavior. Which is in fact not a fair or reasonable thing to expect, and reinforces the mentality that women are vending machines that dispense responses appropriate to the amount of change you put in.

*My opinion is that doing this has serious hidden costs, but that's a different issue.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I have a new hypothesis: Women say yes to assholes more often (than would be predicted by a naive model) because assholes are easier to say no to.

Let's suppose men vary on two traits: aggressive/passive, and decent human being/not decent human being. Passive not decent human beings are Nice Guys (TM). Aggressive not decent human beings are assholes. There's no catchy name for either side of the decent human being track, so let's call them Assertives and Laid Backs. Let's further posit that aggression level is very easy to detect, and decentness is not.

First, I posit that decentness takes longer to detect in passive men than in aggressive men. The aggressive ones just give you data faster. So even if aggression is associated with smaller chance of being a decent human being, you might be find more decent human beings faster by checking aggressive s than passives.

Related but distinct, I posit that assholes are easier to reject than Nice Guys. Women are socialized to not hurt people and smooth over disharmony. One way this manifests is a need for a reason to break up or reject someone.* Assholes will give you that reason, often in a way that makes for a hilarious story to tell your friends later. Nice Guys will make you second guess yourself- maybe I misinterpreted that, I shouldn't be so quick to judge, I guess I have to give him another chance. And they will never provide obvious points at which to reject them, so it will drag on for weeks if not months.

Even among the decent human beings, it's easier to reject an Assertive who is nonetheless not the pants for you than a Laid Back. They'll present you with a clearer decision point, and faster.

Let's illustrate this with two men I know through the same set of friends. The Nice Guy has spent multiple evenings making up excuses to be around me, trying to make me touch him, engage me in conversations I don't want to have but can't politely leave, etc. I avoid this guy like the plague any time we're at the same party. Could I use my words? Sure, I guess. But what words? "I will never ever consider you a viable sexual or romantic prospect"? That's awfully presumptuous to say to a man who has never asked me out. "Stop trying to engage me in conversation"? So he can't join a conversation with his friends and roommates because I'm there? Yeah, that'll go over well.

Compare with the Asshole. It took four minutes to figure out he was an asshole, because he explained a basic economics concept wrong despite working in finance and was horribly condescending when I asked a clarifying question. He then tried to organize a twister competition but somehow forgot to invite any men. I won't seek this guy out, but I'll tolerate his proximity, because there's a reasonable chance he'll do something entertaining, and I can slap him down the minute he does something unwanted. This guy coming from behind (when I didn't know he was there) and putting his arm around me bothers me less than the Nice Guy repeating soliciting fist bumps, because I was able to immediately and completely impart my displeasure to the Asshole via the point of my elbow, but the fist bumps just hung around.

So women don't have to prefer assholes as long term partners for going out with assholes more frequently to be a rational decision. The general form of this is that probably-bad ideas that will reveal themselves quickly will be more attractive than more promising but slowly resolved ideas, which has all sorts of consequences.

*Men aren't immune from this, but I think the example is clearer when I use specifics.


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