pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I'm trying to lead up to a big post on affirmative action, but I keep getting side tracked by other things I need to explain first. So here's my latest one: I think discrimination against women and LGBT people is fundamentally different than racial discrimination.

I ran into someone at a party last week who gave me some really awesome career advice. She didn't know me very well, but then it didn't take much effort from her to be really helpful to me, and most people like feeling helpful. I may never see her again, but then I may never again see the man whose brother I saved from wasting four years at Digipen either, and I still feel good about telling him to direct his brother towards a real CS degree. And there are probably thousands of smaller examples of people I knew socially moving something from unknown to known that have benefited me.

Men probably get more of this. It is mostly men in power, and people especially like to help people who remind them of themselves. But the only thing keeping those men from helping me are their choices and mine. I run into men with power as much as my male friends in similar jobs and social strata, and if those men started evenly distributing their largess, I'm in position to benefit. Similarly, while LGBT people face horribly discrimination, as soon as people stop doing that, the wound will close.

This is substantially less likely to be true if you're black, because black people are significantly more likely to be poor. Even if you're black and have money, most of the people you know and are related to don't. I spent my entire life preparing for four-year undergrad college and then grad school, and while it was stressful as hell, it was also very known. Just considering a different kind of schooling (and funding type) after 8 years in the workforce is scaring me; I can't imagine what it's like doing it at 17 when no one you know has been to college.

There are white people with these difficulties too, of course. I know some of them. Part of me thinks it's not fair to devalue their struggle just because of their skin color, but then I remember that white privilege is a thing, and the fact that it would be unfair to group certain people together as then declare that group worse off in an alternate universe does not have a lot of bearing on what I should do in this universe, where there is systemic discrimination.

Because women and gay people don't come from women and gay people, the impact of discrimination isn't heritable.* And that's before taking into account how much easier it is to get white men to empathize with someone who reminds them of their sister or cool uncle. And thus there will be substantially less overlap in remedy than a naive interpretation would have you believe.

*Fun fact: the way heritability is defined scientifically, sex is not heritable. The difference between heritability and genetic determinability is is important to keep in mind when reading genetics studies.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I'm going to take a brief break from the heavy blogging to do some nice, easy criticism.

I've really enjoyed Ron White's previous specials: They Call Me Tater Salad, You Can't Fix Stupid, and Behavioral Problems. Please enjoy these clips demonstrating why I like him:

(Ron White: Deer Hunting)

His latest special is called "A Little Unprofessional". This is not a great start. His first (excluding Blue Collar Comedy Tour) special, "They Call Me Tater Salad", had a really great, evocative name that no one else could have used. His second ("You Can't Fix Stupid") could have been more generic, but it was the punchline to a joke that was utterly his, and once you had seen it you couldn't imagine another comedian using the line. Almost everyone in comedy has "Behavioral Problems", and while I'm sure he used the line in the special, I don't remember it.* But "A Little Unprofessional" is so damn generic, and didn't tie into the act in the slightest. Wait, no, I take that back.

His act didn't talk about him being unprofessional, his act was unprofessional. Detecting altered states in comedians is hard: many of them do their best work drunk or high and do so deliberately. Others do it because they're addicts, but have been doing it for so long they've worked it into their act, or at least learned to make light of it. And others stay sober but act altered because it's funny.** So I'm very slow to make guesses about a comdian's actual mental state. But I'm pretty sure White was drunk, that he started drunk, and that it was hurting the act.

One of the things I admired about White was how he made consistency look natural. Like most comedians he doesn't repeat jokes between specials, but between amateur footage, his short Comedy Central Episode, his multiple solo concerts, and the Blue Collar Comedy Central specials, you can find multiple versions of the same joke. Every version you watch looks completely natural, with a lot what look like pauses to think, and spontaneous changes and interesting voices. But if you watch multiple versions, they're fucking identical. Check out this audio-only version of the Drunk In Public bit I posted above.

I am pretty sure that's a different recording, because the mic quality is different, some of the character voices changed, and you can hear other voices on stage with him (presumably it's Blue Collar Comedy Tour). But the timing is so close I can't be sure. The deer hunting bit was on one of his specials too: I can't find a sharable copy, so please take my word for it that it was the same performance on a different night in front of a nicer camera. And you would never know unless you saw the repeated clips, because he looks so natural every time. I can't stop talking about how amazing that is.

Or, was. I can't prove the pauses were genuinely because he forgot the joke, or that he isn't doing the same every other night, but it sure didn't look like it, and it sure wasn't aiding the material. His timing was frequently awful, and I'm pretty sure he dropped several jokes halfway through. Where his act used to be mostly long stories with outstanding transitions between them, it is now a lot of short disjointed jokes.

It still surprises me how much work and feedback you need to take the idea of a joke and turn it into a polished comedy bit. This is why even Jerry Seinfeld still occasionally goes to open mics.*** If a comedian doesn't get that feedback- either because they choose to stop going to open mics, or because audiences are too pre-disposed to laugh at them- you get the comedy equivalent of the writer who's too big to edit. Either Ron White has stopped getting this feedback, or he's stopped listening to it.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. This special is a marked step down from his previous one: the venue is 1/5 the size of this previous special, and the complete absence of crowd shots
makes me think it wasn't full. Or maybe they just didn't want to strain their videographer, who was having enough trouble keeping the top of Ron White's head despite both White and the camera being perfectly still. The lighting was mediocre. And it was produced by Country Music Television, not Comedy Central or HBO or even Netflix.

And while I wanted to take a break from the heavy stuff, I can't let the misogyny or racism slide. He does a joke set in a sushi bar, and caps it off with an impression of the chef's accent. There is no joke except that the foreigner talks funny.

The case for misogyny is more involved. There is a spectrum: on one side lives specific criticism of specific non-gendered traits of specific people, which is clearly okay. On the other lives broad derogatory generalizations about entire groups, which is clearly not. There is an uncertain middle ground where someone is saying something consistent with widespread stereotypes, but about a specific person, or a subset of the group for which it is legitimately true. You can't put noticing when people conform to stereotypes off limits, but you can use those stories to reinforce stereotypes without acknowledging it, or even meaning to.

Up until now, I'd put White on the safe end of the spectrum. I wondered why he kept marrying such high maintenance women, but thought the jokes themselves were okay, and they rested in a larger relationship context. Even the woman he'd already divorced came across as a real person who he remembered loving and why. This time around, he described telling a woman talking at the theater to "shut her cock holder", and ended three or four jokes about being annoyed by his wife with "this dick ain't gonna suck itself."

So in conclusion: not impressed with "A Little Unprofessional"

*Come to think of it, I don't remember enjoying Behavioral Problems as much as the first two. At the time I'd put it down to watching it with my best friend, two weeks after he transitioned from boyfriend to best friend, and Ron White's main selling point was as a way for us to spend time with each other without crying. It didn't seem fair to expect the same laughs/minute under those circumstances. Although I will note that a week later, Christopher Titus's "Love is Evol" was hilarious as I unpacked my boxes the apartment I had moved to but not yet furnished.

**I saw Dylan Moran this summer and thought his hungover thing was an act, until he called an intermission- a thing that is never, ever done in single person comedy shows. I assumed he must be completely destroyed to need that kind of break. I double checked that for this post, found reports of intermissions in lots of cities. So maybe it was an act after all.

***It's also why comedians are so protective/defensive of other comedians when they say terrible things at open mics. It is really easy to misjudge the proper amount of irony and exaggeration you need to layer into a joke, and if the topic is sensitive it's really easy to say something horribly offensive. I've done it myself. Saying you have to get it right the first time is the same as banning all sensitive topics from comedy.

Of course, that defense only works if your response to being told you offended someone is "I am horrified that that is what came across, thank you for tell me so I can correct it."
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)
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)
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)
The idea that women are allowed to feel nervous around any man they choose, and to enforce that feeling by telling him to cease certain behavior or exit the premise, has really taken off in certain sectors of feminism lately. It's about time. Women were operating under an obligation to honor men's feelings first and their own second, and that's terrible.

Whenever this comes up on blogs, there are comments that I read approximately as "look, I see why you're upset, and rape is totally bad. But there are lots of not rapists, and have you considered that they will be hurt when you reject them? Could you maybe not reject anyone unless you're sure they're a rapist?" These people are assholes. But their abundance has led to an unfortunate tendency to dismiss a man's reactions to rejection as whining at best, and predatory at worse.

That's unfair. For an extreme case see "Trayvon Martin and I Ain’t Shit" by Ahmir Thompson, a black musician. Thomas achieved a lot of artistic success and was invited to a lot of elite, mostly-white spaces. He turned down the invitations because he knew his presence would make people uncomfortable and didn't want to/didn't want to see them react to him like that.

I mean, that is a crazy way to live. Seriously, imagine a life in which you think of other people's safety and comfort first, before your own. You're programmed and taught that from the gate. It's like the opposite of entitlement
My friends know that I hate parking lots and elevators, not because they are places that danger could occur, but it's a prime place in which someone of my physical size can be seen as a dangerous element. I wait and wait in cars until I feel it's safe for me to make people feel safe.

You can say that people feel unsafe around Thomas for bad reasons (skin color, size, hair style), and feminists are talking about good reasons (boundary violations), but that's not right. What I want to fight for is specifically the right of people to not have to justify why they don't feel safe around someone, and have that honored without friction. Women are imperfect, and I will not stand to see their rights dependent on their perfection, so that will include bad reasons. But supporting that will inflict hurt on people like Thomas, and that's not right.

Women's feelings of unsafety are legitimate. Thomas's feelings of isolation and dehumanization are also legitimate. Having the right to our feelings does not give us the right to have other people react the way we wish. Which, coincidentally, is what we've been trying to teach creepy men about women: you can want her all you want, but you do not have a right to have that desire welcomed. We're allowed to be obviously creeped out, we have a right for men not to treat us safely even if we are not being nice, but we have no particular right for them to like it.
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)
yay, I have HBO and can watch things that have generated hugely divided critical response, like Girls, and then I can have opinions on them. Before the DVDs come out! Hurray!

For context, I had mostly read Ta-Nehisi Coate's posts + the comments section, plus brief mentions in other blogs. If I could summarize the criticisms: Girls is frivolous, it lacks diversity, and it claims a universality it doesn't have.

I have a couple of thoughts. One, Girls captures some very deep things, but it doesn't explain them very well. A commenter on one of TNC's posts derided the characters as having first world problems like too nice a boyfriend. What actually happened was a girl who stayed in a relationship way past its expiration date but stayed in it, tormenting everyone involved, due to a combination of feeling like she needed a reason to leave, and fear of being alone/the initial depression following even a very necessary break up. That has been an important pattern in many of my friends lives- male and female- and it doesn't show up in art very often. You see that same needing-a-reason in this monologue where Hannah, the protagonist, is getting an STD test*

[summary: Hannah almost kind of wants AIDS so that she has a reason to be mad at the guy she is fucking, because although the relationship is shredding her emotionally, he hasn't done anything she feels she has the right to be mad about]

I will buy that Girls falls short of explaining this feeling to people who haven't experienced it. I don't think it's even what I would point to if I wanted to demonstrate the phenomenon to someone. But that doesn't make it valueless. It doesn't even make it not art.

I will totally validate complaints about how very white Girls is. On the other hand... most of TV is whitewashed, and it doesn't get the same vitriol. The problem is not with Girls, it's with the television industry as a whole, and the solution is more POC and female writers and show runners, not forcing people who can't write good black characters to force them in anyway.** Similarly, you can complain about Hannah being unlikable, and I will immediately agree, but she was always intended to be unsympathetic. Just like every male lead on every art show. Now, Hannah is considerably less awesome than Don Draper or Vic Mackey or Tony Soprano, but I think the stories of people who are just quietly to blame for their own problems are undertold.

They also do a bang up job on weight, with Hannah (played by show runner Lena Durham) being American-normal television-fat, and complaining about it, and her very thin friends trying to comfort her, and yet clearly still believing she's fat. They nailed another character's anxiety over being a virgin in her 20s. The demographic of girls- white, female, early 20s, creative types in NYC- are overrepresented in television, but their problems are not.

Also, this is a fucking brilliant demonstration of male entitlement

Unfortunately, the show takes a deep dive in the second half of the season. They use the man-Hannah-is-fucking
in too many different roles*** so while her reactions to specific are very authentic, his character is a mess. They clearly wanted to the show consequences coming home to roost for the manic pixie dream girl, but don't quite make it work.**** So if the problems I've listed above resonate with you, watch and enjoy. But if you're looking for something to explain those problems, go read The Fate of Mice. Actually, everyone should do that, The Fate of Mice is both shorter and better. But you can watch Girls afterwords.

*which weirdly involves a pelvic exam even though they can test for everything with blood alone.

**I knew that one of the show's writers had, in response to criticism about the show's whiteness, tweeted "What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME." That was problematic, but I was willing to overlook it as an attempt to be clever in <140 characters. But while researching this, I learned that she refers to shitting as "taking Obama to the White House." So one hand, I'm even more glad that I was that this lady isn't writing black characters. On the other hand, they should probably fire her and replace her with someone who can.

***spoilers )

****This could be resolved in season two, or it could get a million times worse.
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.
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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)
Since leaving tiny ninjas, I've been teaching biology at a school for sick children and their siblings. The school is really there as a support system and to keep their brains busy, which is good, because the biology program is in terrible shape. I didn't get a textbook until this week, and it is terrible. There is no curriculum, and I'm completely unqualified to teach a real biology class. But I am reasonably qualified to show two kids things I find interesting and show them how to follow up on their own interests. It took me four weeks, but I finally got them to ask questions so I could start opening their minds to the wonders of science.

Unfortunately, what they want to know about is the genetics of racial differences.

They're asking innocently. They used the same tone when asking about the biology of zodiac signs, whether their red hair meant they were angrier, and if the doppelgangers from Vampire Diaries could actually exist. But it puts me in a tricky position. There is a lot of horrible psuedoscience used to support racism, and I don't want to lend credence to it. On the other hand, I don't want to teach them that questions with potentially unpleasant answers shouldn't be asked. Some day they may be doing medical research. Back on the first hand, stereotype threat is a real problem and truth is not an ultimately defense when it is involved. Also, I would like to not get in trouble.

What I told them at the time was: most people talking about genetic differences between races are evil and also bad at science (bonus: they're young enough I can shock them by swearing!), there are often substantial differences between small populations, but two distinct Asian populations look as different from each other as they do from a European population. I threw in a bit about how the classic racial categories just are not biologically true, but maybe not enough. For homework I assigned them articles on sickle cell anemia and lactose tolerance, on the theory that malaria and pastoralism are neutral ways to talk about differences in environment applying selective pressure. I dream of ultimately finding one of those racist fact sheets and eviscerating it with them, which would be both anti-racism and pro-science, but we are not there yet.

The problem is that a neutral reporting of the facts is not enough here. There's reasonably good statistical evidence that Ashkenazi Jews are slightly smarter than Europeans from the same geographic areas. There's super interesting speculation as to why*, and I have in fact discussed that speculation is detail with a very socially conscious Jewish friend. But if all I tell the kids is "Jewish people are smarter", I risk reinforcing some really horrible stereotypes. Luckily, the story of the selective pressure is intimately tied up with persecution and bigotry, so it's easy to bring up. If I talk about rice farming selecting for mathematical aptitude or poor hygiene in Europe selecting for a better work ethic, relative to south Asia, I risk reinforcing some really horrible stereotypes. But the things that would counter those stereotypes are outside the scope of a biology class.

It'd probably be much the same if we cover reproduction (not guaranteed- kids are only here for a few months and I'm letting them choose the topics). In a world where kids learn all about enthusiastic consent and masturbation and queer sexuality, I could teach them the biology of reproduction and move on. In the current world, teaching reproduction reinforces the undeserved primacy of straight, cis, PIV sex.** But I don't thing I can assign What You Really, Really Want as part of biology class.

I'm open to suggestions here, on both the meta issue and on specific examples I can explore with them.

*Short version: the risk of spontaneous attacks by Christians rewarded medieval Jews for keeping forms of wealth that were easy to travel with and hard to seize. Farm land was the opposite of this. Gold was pretty good. Intelligence was perfect.

**I have a BA in biology and the only time I ever heard vaginal wetness discussed in college was a psychology class, where they explained that arousal experiments were done primary on men because they were easier to measure.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Autism and Oughtism has a post about how she feels her son has covered an ever shifting third of the house in invisible red paint. She can't see it, but he can, and he gets very upset when she touches or moves anything he's painted red. It wouldn't be so bad, she could just memorize everything she wasn't allowed to touch, except he keeps painting new things, and sometimes he paints things she really needs to touch at some point, like lightswitches. It was, as you can imagine, incredibly stressful to live with.

Women deal with this, in less obvious forms, a lot. Don't be a slut, but don't be a prude either. Don't be mean, but be a tease. Don't be fat, but don't ever admit to putting any effort into being thin. Don't be a moocher, but don't make more money than your husband. To be fair, the opposing paints are often being applied by different people, but all that means is there's no one person to yell at for the whole mess. The paints are often applied and enforced by other women, not men, which makes almost 0 difference to how frustrating it is.

In the form of "creepy", women finally have gotten their own paint. For once, we don't have to give a powerpoint presentation to justify our feelings, we can just call someone creepy, get the behavior change (or at least sympathy) we want, and move on with our day. Has the paint been used against certain men unfairly? Against men who were not only not safety threats, but obviously not safety threats? For very bad reasons, like race or class or trans-status? And is it being disproportionately applied against people who were already low on the totem poll? Yes. That is human nature. We kick down, and we're not known for surgical use of new tools. That's why we're outsourcing surgery to robots. Additionally, there is genuine ambiguity. Perfect use is an unreasonable expectation, and "you can only have your reasonable request if you've behaved perfectly" is something women hear a lot and are just not in the fucking mood for now that we have our paint. Lastly, sometimes we're using a dirty trick to get a fair outcome.

Mindy Kaling has a story in her book, Is everyone hanging out without me, about going to a photoshoot and finding racks and racks of clothes that were half her size, and one mumu that fit her. The photographer assumed she'd wear the mumu. She used the closely related "I only feel comfortable in" paint to make him more or less destroy a really nice designer gown so it worked on her in the photos.* It was unfair to make the photographer feel like a subway flasher when he hadn't violated any sexual boundaries. On the other hand, Mindy Kaling was the same size she had always been, which is a fairly common size, and it was bullshit of him to bring a bunch of clothes that didn't fit her to an event that was in large part about putting her in clothes. Could she have gone all fat acceptance on him? Sure. But it would have cost a lot of energy, probably wouldn't have worked, and could easily have gotten her a reputation for being difficult, with long term career implications. So she used the one weapon she had that, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, carried no retaliation risk.

"No retaliation risk" is another way of saying "no way to fight back", and it does suck to have people use weapons you can't fight against. That is why we get so upset about the slut/prude/fat/anorexic/rude/tease/gold-digger/bitch paints. Moreover, in a world that is constantly insisting we justify our feelings, it is really nice to be able to tell my friends "he was creepy" and have it just be understood.

The paint doesn't even always work. Which only makes the overuse issue worse, because we get used to hearing people dismiss the creep label even when it is used against really legitimate targets** and that makes us insensitive to complaints when it genuinely is misused. This is not unique to feminists or women or the creep paint, it's what human beings do.

So, commenter on No Seriously What About Teh Menz: you are correct that creep "is a stronger way of saying “I don’t like that guy” without giving any information about WHY he’s considered a threat". You are simply incorrect in your belief that anyone owes anyone else an explanation for their disinterest.

I am going to preemtively concede that men have a bunch of contradictory paints to cope with too, and that the creep paint feels like it conflicts with some of them (even though I think there's a third way not banned by any paint). I don't believe this changes my argument.

*If I understand correctly, they ripped it open from the back and sewed in several new panels. It would look hideous in person, but photographed well from certain angles.

**Seriously, read that post, men are dismissing their girlfriends complaints about men who sexually assaulted them in front of a witness.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Wikipedia before I got there:

In June 2011, Watson described an experience at a skeptical conference, concerning an approach by a man in an elevator, who invited her to his room for coffee and a conversation late at night.[19] In a video blog, among other things, she stated that incident made her feel sexualized and uncomfortable and advised, "Guys, don't do that".[20] Her statement sparked a controversy among the skeptic community.[21] Her critics said she was overreacting to a trivial incident, most notably Richard Dawkins, who wrote a satirical letter to an imaginary Muslim woman, sarcastically contrasting her plight to Watson's complaint. This in turn caused him to be criticized by those supporting her on the issue, including several figures in the community.[22][23] Watson announced that she would not buy or endorse Dawkins's books and lectures in the future.[22]

Wikipedia after I got there:

In June 2011, Watson described an experience at a skeptical conference, concerning an approach by a man in an elevator, who invited her to his room for coffee and a conversation late at night, after she had talked extensively about disliking being sexualized at atheist conferences.[19] In a video blog, among other things, she stated that incident made her feel sexualized and uncomfortable and advised, "Guys, don't do that".[20] Her statement sparked a controversy among the skeptic community.[21] Her critics said she was overreacting to a trivial incident, most notably Richard Dawkins, who wrote a satirical letter to an imaginary Muslim woman, sarcastically contrasting her plight to Watson's complaint. This in turn caused him to be criticized by those supporting her on the issue, including several figures in the community.[22][23] Watson announced that she would not buy or endorse Dawkins's books and lectures in the future.[22]

See if you can spot the difference
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Attention women: if you don't react to a joke the way Michael Ian Black wants you to, you are a bitch. Actually, you're worse than a bitch, but Comedy Central beeped out the rest of it. But whatever it is, it's pretty bad

pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
The hypothesis in yesterday's post has some additional implications.

First, guilt free dumping might lead women to prefer assholes for casual sex. Any sexual encounter carries some chance of the other person falling for you. Telling decent people you don't reciprocate sucks. Reciprocating when you're in a bad place for it- coming off a serious break up, about to leave the country, questioning your gender identity- sucks. Assholes are both easier to tell to fuck off if they fall for you and less likely to engender reciprocation. This plan is not without costs, but on the margin it will lead to more casual sex for assholes than you would otherwise calculate.

Second, the urge to keep harmony and avoid disappointing men could easily lead to a reluctance in women to make the first move. I'm operating off a small set of data and I'm very interested in hearing other people's experiences (on both sides- this one may not be so gendered), but I've noticed that men tend to take me asking them out as a sign I am Definitely Interested, as opposed to interested enough to want more data. They're less responsive to implicit cues of subsequent disinterest and less likely to solicit explicit ones. Now, I'm a grown up and I can give explicit instructions without being asked. But the work involved means there's a rather large margin where I would say yes if asked (who knows, he might be really interesting 1:1) but won't ask myself

Worse, there's a cascade effect. When I encounter someone I am definitely Interested in, I have less practice asking men out than I otherwise would have, so I'm worse at it. If my experience and reaction is widespread (and I think it is), it's self reinforcing.
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.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Hugo Schwyzer's Jezebel column this week is on "Orgasmic Meditation" as offered in seminar format byOne Taste. Never has my ambivalence towards him been so strong.

I wrote out more, but it really didn't add anything beyond the contents of this list:

  1. worst. title. ever.
  2. argh stop making my orgasm into a thing for other people. In fact, stop making it a thing
  3. really? 1/4 of the visible portion of the clitoris? that's it?
  4. I like this part about making men less emotionally fragile, but do not trust them on the implementation
  5. phrasing the manifesto as "I apologize for not expecting more from you" seems to undercut the point
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I watched (500) Days of Summer mostly because commenters at Captain Awkward kept bringing it up. There's always a lively debate over whether it's the epitome of the manic pixie dream girl problem, or a criticism of same. Having just watched it, I don't see how there could be any debate: this is a very intentional criticism of men who fixate on women as the solution to their problems.

My argument for this has nothing to do with the main character's (Tom's) relationship with the cipher he's projecting his need for validation on (Summer), and everything to do with Tom's relationship with his sister (Hit Girl Rachel). Rachel is 12 years old, tops. Tom's age is never given, but he's been out of college for a few years, so this is a minimum 12 year age gap, probably more. Despite this, and despite having absolutely no information on the specifics, Rachel immediately knows 1. what the problem is and 2. how to help him through it. She clearly knows how he could fix it, but that he wouldn't take her advice even if it was offered. Think it can't get more damning than a 12 year old girl recognizing all the patterns in your life that you're too stupid to see? How about making her bike through traffic after dark with no lights in order to rescue you? And that's the opening shot of the movie.

If I was going to criticize the movie for anything, it would be the absence of any example of emotionally healthy masculinity. The only thing Tom's friends can do to help him is call his sister, we never meet Summer's husband, the only man who makes an attempt to grapple with emotions is his boss and that goes... not great. I don't think the movie is saying all men are emotionally incompetent, but I can't prove it, and I think someone to contrast Tom with would have made the point more clearly.


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