Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Mental Killfile

(Probably part 1 of many.)

Contracept as a verb
Mary Daly as representative of all feminism
Equity feminism as distinguished from gender feminism
Fiat currency
Marilyn French
as representative of all feminism
Fourth wave feminism as an existing movement
Fox News as a news source
Ifeminism as a movement
"I know I'll get flamed for saying this, but..."
Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton as racial bogeymen
Wendy McElroy as a "good feminist"
Men's News Daily as a news source
Robin Morgan as representative of all feminism
NOW as a stand-in for all feminism
Personal responsibility as something that other people need practice more
Erin Pizzey as a "good feminist"
Political correctness used unironically
Reverse racism or reverse sexism as something as severe as the non-reverse form
Glenn Sacks as a news source
Valerie Solanas as representative of all feminism
Christina Hoff Sommers as a "good feminist"
Success objects as the equivalent of "sex objects"
World Net Daily as a news source
Cathy Young as a "good feminist"

You Mean A Woman Can Open It?: The Woman's Place In The Classic Age Of Advertising

There are some interesting excerpts from a new book about outrageous advertisements from the past, and the gender stereotypes they furthered. (It lends some perspective to the common MRA complaint that the sitcom stereotype of the childish, slovenly family man is "just as bad" as the media's treatment of women.)

Unfortunately, they're being featured in the Daily Mail. Their take is basically that these are titillatingly "outrageous" (in the sense of "out there" rather than "provoking outrage") rather than actually offensive. The implication is that we as a culture have lost something in that we can't make sexist jokes any more without the butt of the joke having the audacity to complain about it; it's "political correctness" gone too far.

I'd rather live in a century without that kind of crap, thank you very much.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Rational Actor's Libertarian Fête

This poem from litbrit is utterly brilliant.

Sex and the College Girl

Via Feministe: there's an incredibly interesting reprint of a 1957 Atlantic Monthly article on sex and relationships in college, the general reaction being "this is the sort of thing social conservatives want to go back to?" (And this is a story from the upper class white folks.)

One of the things that really struck me was that, despite being from the 1950s, it's a very different 1950s than we typically see (Silent Generation, indeed). Our cultural narrative of the latter half of the 20th century is almost uniformly from the perspective of the Baby Boomers - it's Forrest Gump as documentary. So the 1950s are a decade of childlike innocence, and sex is pretty much absent because the people telling the story haven't discovered it yet. Which, in a way, could explain the fascination with the 1950s so many social conservatives have - it's a return to a childhood state where we were blissfully unaware of other people's problems.

I was also struck by the uncanny but unsurprising resemblance to Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons; though there are superficial changes (integrating the universities, cellphones and computers, Wolfe's attempts at modern slang, etc.), the characters' attitudes are much closer to the ones described in this article than those of the college students I know. (Not surprising - Wolfe's own college days predated Ms. Johnson's by only a few years.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mac and Cheese

Made mac and cheese this weekend, a variation on the recipe I usually make. It's incredibly easy, because I cheat by using Velveeta and pre-made spice mixes. Here's the recipe for both versions:

Jack and pepper sauce (what I made this time):

1/4 cup butter
2 cups milk
2 tbsp flour
8 oz. Velveeta
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp creole seasoning

Buffalo Wing cheese sauce (my usual recipe):

1/4 cup butter
2 cups milk
2 tbsp flour
12 oz. Velveeta
1/4 cup bleu cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp hot sauce
1 tsp salt

For either sauce, just add all the ingredients and heat over low heat until the butter and cheese is melted, then pour over 1 lb. cooked pasta in a 9"x13" baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Next time: a variation with Italian cheeses, sundried tomato and garlic.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Issue Framing 101

How to frame an issue in eight easy steps:

1. Compose an "ethical dilemma" hypothetical that narrows down an issue into a single "yes or no" question.

2. Demand that your opponents answer the question with a simple yes or no.

3. Accuse anyone who doesn't give a yes or no answer of evading the question.

4. Accuse anyone who does give a yes or no answer, and then goes on to point out how stupid the question is, of evading the question.

5. Accuse anyone who does give a yes or no answer, and then goes on to explain how their reasoning would change if the hypothetical changed, of evading the question.

6. Demand that your opponents who answered the question in the way expected to answer a "follow up question."

7. Accuse anyone who gives a simple answer opposite from the one your leading question or follow up leads to of being an extremist.

8. If someone asks where the questions are leading, deny that there's any ulterior motive.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

We are not your fetish: race and relationships

A post over at Jezebel stirred up a lot of comments at Feministing and Pandagon on the subject of racial fetishization (specifically, fetishizing Asian women) in relationships.

I've been on both sides of this. My first girlfriend was Chinese-American, and we got a lot of flack from everyone - her folks, who we had to keep the relationship hidden from because I wasn't Chinese; other Asian-Americans who assumed I was a fetishist, and I was very defensive. On the other hand, lots of white folks also assumed I was a fetishist, and when they thought they'd found a kindred spirit they said all sorts of horribly racist things.

I do think there's a difference between a fetish and a preference. I think people wearing glasses are attractive; even if I jokingly refer to it as a "glasses fetish" it's more of a preference. I'm aware here that I'm using the term "fetish" in a particular way, and it is commonly used in other ways as well, most notably as denoting exclusivity rather than inclusivity; that is, any trait that you absolutely require in order to be attracted to someone is a fetish.

With respect to race, it gets complicated (as it always does) because there are direct physical preferences, and there are trends, and there are stereotypes. Saying "I think fair skin and dark hair is attractive" is a preference. Saying "I like Asian women because they have fair skin and dark hair" is a trend. Saying "I like Asian women because they're demure and ladylike" is a stereotype.

All of these kinds of posts bring out the defensive types. The typical argument they make is "I'm not racist for having a physical type!" But as tps12 pointed out on the feministing thread:

These of course are considered attractive traits in our society in either sex, so without even having to check whether they actually are more common among Asians, the larger claim is pretty well falsified by the fact that you see way more white guy/Asian girl couples than white girl/Asian guy.

Of course, that whole gender disparity opens a whole other can of worms that I'm both unwilling and unqualified to comment upon. Though I will say that Daniel Dae Kim and Sendhil Ramamurthy (and, at least among my friends, Grant Imahara and Masi Oka) seem to be doing rather well at changing some of those perceptions.

What happens next is typically that the defensive folks acknowledge racial fetishization, but claim that their personal exclusivity is different, more noble somehow. Usually it's "I like the culture" (when it's not a rant about how feminism has "ruined Western women"). The idea is apparently that it's okay not to treat someone as a person if you think highly of the abstraction you reduce them to, or if that abstraction's not physical or sexual.

Personally, I find fair skin and dark hair attractive, the reverse (i.e., hair that's lighter than the person's skin) not so much. It's by no means the overriding factor in my dating decisions, but it's definitely a preference. I can trace some of it back to growing up in Southern California and having bad experiences with folks with blonde hair and suntanned skin, and later moving to New England and fitting in with geeks, but I'd be in denial if I didn't acknowledge that at least part of the preference is based in cultural concepts of whiteness and beauty.

So what do we do about this? Our best. Seriously, I think that trying (or more likely pretending) to adopt a Colbertian "I don't see color" doesn't work, but that doesn't mean we don't have some responsibility to try to do right by people. Personally, if the only things attracting you to your potential partner are traits shared by large groups, I feel you could probably do better (at the very least, someone who has all those traits plus individual ones that appeal to you), but if you're insistent on remaining within your "type" at the very least I'd say you have a responsibility to make sure your potential partner is on the same page, and is okay with your motivations.

Not only that, but examining exclusive preferences can improve your own life. A hell of a lot of the things we decide are mandatory in a partner aren't things that make us happy, but instead are things we insist on for stupid reasons like "I want someone my peers will acknowledge as attractive." Eliminate those, and you only increase your chances of finding someone with the traits that are really important. (Whether the important traits are "a gentle spirit" or "a nice ass" is an exercise left to the reader.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What, no mention of Amanda Marcotte?

Conservative columnist Dennis Prager has a rant up about how awful liberals are for eroding public discourse through the use of swear words.

Prager goes on to quote a few "leading cultural and political figures" (Jane Goodall, Bill Maher, and Cornel West - yeah, that's who I'd pick too as my triumvirate of leading leftist thinkers) who don't curse in their interviews but still evidence "absence of serious thought", apparently because they made statements that he doesn't agree with. Serious thought, one concludes, happens by accepting without question what conservatives tell you. Go fig. (Or don't.)

What this says to me (and I'm certainly not the first person to point this out) is that conservatives value appearances over content. (Hence all the church-going family men in the closet?) Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, Michelle Malkin (among others) say horribly sexist and racist things on a regular basis, but as long as they don't say "fuck" it's okay? Of course, when Cheney says it it's okay because it was a whispered. And Coulter saying "faggot" doesn't count, apparently - perhaps it was because she pulled the rhetorical trick of "I'm not saying this," though I suspect it had more to do with targeting John Edwards with the slur.

I'll take my foul-mouthed people who stand up for what's right over squeaky-clean bullies every time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

And now, to ruin your day...

Via Shakesville comes the singularly awful story of a teenage girl who committed suicide after being verbally abused by an online friend, and her parents' reaction to finding out said "friend" was the fictitious creation of some adult neighbors.

I posted this to reddit as part of my ongoing crusade to make the typical privileged Internet crowd think about things outside their immediate interests, and it's been interesting to read the reactions there. Most of them are identical to the reactions everywhere else - this is horrible, the perpetrators of the hoax are awful people, why would someone be so mean - but there's a contingent (tangential to the 4chan/SomethingAwful/Encyclopedia Dramatica crowd, I'm assuming) that's basically casting about for someone else, anyone else, to blame. The parents (by which, of course, they mean the mother) is to blame for letting her daughter onto MySpace (even with supervision), and for leaving her alone for a whole twenty minutes. The victim is to blame for being too thin-skinned to handle discovering that the boy who said he liked her was lying about everything. But the neighbors themselves? Not their fault. Because if it were, then they might have to look at their own actions and the harm they cause. Someone suggested that the "anon" crowd is different because they go after the "guilty" - they don't. They go after the easy targets. Sure, one of the ways to become an easy target is to be so reprehensible that nobody will defend you, but it's not the only way or even the most common.

This sort of thing is bullying, and there is no excuse for it. If your "fun" involves being cruel and hurtful to other people, find a new fun.

Study: Joe's joe arrives 20 seconds faster than Lottie's latte

An undergrad study which showed that women wait longer for their drinks at coffee shops has been picked up by the blogs. Slate, Consumerist, and Jezebel all have articles on it.

One of the most interesting things about this study to me is looking at all the bullshit excuses people come up with to justify the difference:
  • "20 seconds isn't a big deal." Actually, it's about 20% longer.
  • "It's because heterosexual male baristas want to look at the women for longer." Oh, well, that's all right then.
  • "Women order more fancy drinks." Never mind that the study controlled for that.
  • "They don't do it on purpose." Oh, well, that's all right then.
  • "Women are more likely to complain, so the barista takes the time to get it right - this is really discrimination against men for getting an inferior product!" Um, yeah, sure. You want to conduct that study, feel free. (I'm still trying to reconcile this with the idea that the pay gap is due to women *not* complaining enough about their salaries.)
  • "Well, *I've* never noticed it." Unless you get coffee both in and out of drag on a regular basis, I doubt you would. That's why we do studies.
  • "The methodology isn't good enough. I don't know what it is, but it's not good enough." Unless there's something glaring, which I don't see, that's not really a valid criticism until you conduct a better study.
Now, I'm plenty critical of a lot of scientific studies out there (particularly the evo-psych "just so stories"). I will ask "did they control for everything?" the way a lot of the detractors did. However, I recognize that that's speculation, and not a reason to totally ignore the finding. More often, what I dispute are not findings, but conclusions (evo psych is notoriously bad on this front). But this study didn't appear to actually *make* that logical leap - it just pointed out the difference. (To be fair, some of the dismissals were about drawing conclusions rather than disputing the findings - I just don't buy those conclusions or find that they justify the disparity.)

EDIT: Zuzu at Feministe has more here, making the same point about observation versus conclusion, only more elegantly.

EDIT #2: There's further discussion at Feministing, though most of that seems to be stuck in the "the study must be wrong, we just have to figure out why" stage.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The myth of "more visual"

Amanda has a good post attacking the cultural narrative/evo-psych hypothesis that men are more visual.

In my experience, the reverse has been true - my female friends have a much easier time finding eye candy than I do, but I recognize that that's not because of any innate biological trait so much as the fact that women in the media get selected for a specific "look" which doesn't particularly appeal to me, whereas the range of men in the media is much more diverse. (Not to mention the fact that men in television and film tend to get to play more interesting roles than the "designated hot girl.")

Friday, November 9, 2007

More on... what a more on.

Apparently Dr. Spurr (she of the women in relationships need to lie back and think of England article in the Daily Mail) also published a similar article in the Times Online. Gee, think she's got a book out or something?

The article pretty much says the same stuff as the other article: lack of sex is destroying relationships, and it's feminists' fault for having the audacity to suggest that women enjoy it rather than consider it a chore. But the follow-up commentary on the feminist blogs has been better on this one. Feministing takes the piece on, as does The F Word. Hugo Schwyzer has two posts on the topic.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ron Paul, Libertarianism and Abortion

Shakesville War II appears to have begun over the political phenomenon that is Ron Paul and the larger question, asked by Melissa McEwen, of how people who profess to hold a consistent libertarian philosophy can be anti-abortion.

I know folks I consider good people who identify as libertarian, including one that's run for political office as such. But they tend to be in liberal communities like Boston and San Francisco, rather than conservative communities like Orange County, and the libertarian movements in these communities (being small, and in need of more supporters) tend to take on the political positions of the people around them.

In the case of liberal communities, it means an emphasis on the wrongness of criminalizing drugs, and support for gay rights and reproductive freedom. Some of them say the state has no business involved in marriage, but they concede that if it's going to be it certainly has no business telling some people they can marry and others they can't.

In conservative communities, it means an emphasis on the wrongness of taxes and gun control, and support for anti-abortion laws and increasing the power of religion, with justifications that have always seemed like handwaving to me.

The most popular form of handwaving these days seems to be federalist buck-passing: candidates for national office declare that positions they can't justify under a libertarian philosophy should be left to the states; candidates for state office (if they can't get statewide support for their measure) say it should be left to local government. I'm not all that sure what candidates for local government do - pass the buck back up to the state/fed by claiming that the protection of rights by those levels of government is interfering with the democratic process?

In the case of reproductive freedom (a term I use to encompass both abortion and contraception), I'm just going to plagiarize myself and use language I originally wrote for the Shakesville thread, in response to someone making the typical attempt to reconcile anti-abortion with libertarianism by calling it a use of force (the words used in the original reply, as will become obvious, were "life or death situation"):

When they call terrorism a life-or-death situation, and advocate reducing liberty to fight it, they're not libertarian. When they call health care a life-or-death situation, and advocate reducing liberty (if you call taxation reducing liberty, which they tend to) to promote it, they're not libertarian. When they call drug abuse a life-or-death situation, and advocate reducing liberty to discourage it, they're not libertarian. When they call shooting people a life-or-death situation, and advocate reducing liberty to control guns, they're not libertarian.

But abortion is different. You can call it a stark life-or-death situation, and advocate reducing liberty to outlaw it. Guess what the difference is?

What it comes down to is that, in my experience, libertarianism is a very self-centered philosophy. Not that libertarians are all self-centered as we typically understand the term, but the choice of issues, and the positions on the issues, reflect only that which is important to their overwhelmingly white/straight/male/rich (I've met libs who weren't all of these, but never any who weren't at least two out of the four) base. Hence the enormous emphasis on the guns, drugs and taxes trifecta, and the relative indifference to issues of abortion, gay rights, racism, sexism, etc. (except for the parts of those issues that could conceivably affect them, like child support, hate crime laws, affirmative action, anti-discrimination laws, etc.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Cerise: Let's Talk About Sex

The November issue of Cerise, focusing on sex in gaming, is out. I particularly recommend Latoya Peterson's Immaculate Reception:

Gamers are getting older but our games are still rated PG.

I think this is a little bit of a problem....

Think of Lulu and Wakka from Final Fantasy X. The entire game they remain a respectful distance apart, with Lulu remaining cold and aloof. (Yes, I know, grieving for Chappu, but still!) The game ends, Lulu and Wakka are in love…and she’s still aloof. Then they give birth to a child, Vidina.

To be honest, I would not have been surprised if SquareEnix had mentioned that sex was not involved in the conception of little Vidina. Obviously, Lulu and Wakka cast Babyaga, and after the third perfect cast, they were rewarded with a child.


Twilight Heroes

There's a new free online RPG out called Twilight Heroes. It looks similar to Kingdom of Loathing, but with a superhero theme and a more subdued sense of humor. It's timing out a lot for me right now, but it looks pretty cool when it's running.

Municipal Wi-Fi: A Promise Unfulfilled?

Jeff Merron at InformationWeek writes about the unfulfilled promise of municipal WiFi. His main complaints appear to be (a) spotty coverage, (b) insufficient consumer demand, and (c) inability for the networks to turn a profit. His perspective is much more that of the service provider than the user, which probably explains why his issues with municipal WiFi are so different from mine. (Of course, these differences may be part of the problem - the providers don't seem to have a good idea of what the users want.)

Buffalo's municipal WiFi is pretty unusable for me; it has so many protections against abuses of the service that all use is rendered difficult. First off, the service is limited to web use. Files can't be downloaded. Instant messaging clients don't work. The web service itself is horribly slow. And, most damagingly, it's heavily censored, with what appears to be a really heavy-handed keyword approach. If I want to use WiFi downtown, my only real choice is to find an institution (like the public library) that offers real access.

Further discussion at Slashdot.

Daily Mail advises women to put out or get out

According to the Daily Mail, a "leading female therapist" says that women need to learn to say yes in the bedroom. Because it's apparently easier to solve these problems by fiat, and of course it's not going to lead to any sort of resentment on behalf of the person being asked to make such accomodation. Oh, and it's always women who are the ones who say "no."

The therapist goes on to blame feminism for making women "selfish" enough to think that sex is something they should enjoy too, with all sorts of leaps of logic I can't really follow - but even I know enough history to know that this sort of thing didn't start in the 1960s.

I'm not sure what makes one a "leading" therapist, anyway. In general, it seems to be media exposure, which - get this - is going to be influenced by how saleable your message is rather than how much you help people. And there's a contingent of society who's eager to find authority figures to lend their imprimatur to "those evil women need to stop refusing me sex."

As a non-therapist but a human being with an interest in seeing people avoid miserable relationships in favor of happy ones, I'd suggest that any solution to this sort of problem which doesn't address the underlying reasons for the difference is doomed to failure. A unilateral decision that one partner should just agree to lie back and thing of England on a regular basis is going to provoke as much resentment (if not more) than the decision that the partner who is dissatisfied with the frequency should just deal with it on his/her own.

Really, I should just add "was published in the Daily Mail" as another indicator that something isn't worth taking seriously.

Further discussion on Reddit, if you don't mind the rampant misogyny.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"Advice Goddess": Marrying the Hatchet

There's a column from Amy Alkon, "Advice Goddess," that's getting a lot of discussion on Reddit today. An advice-seeker writes in:

My husband of two months has always treated me very well, and is usually thoughtful. But, one week before our wedding, he broke a promise. I hate the whole stripper thing, so he agreed to a coed party at a dueling piano bar. There was a strip club next door, but he promised he wouldn’t go in. All was well until I learned that he and his brother (who’s nothing but trouble) were at the strip club. I went over and went crazy and tossed an ashtray at his head. I was kicked out, they followed, and his brother yelled at me. I wanted to call off the wedding, but we still got married. Since then, I keep bringing this up and he keeps begging for forgiveness, saying he’d never been so drunk, and he didn’t know what he was doing. I just can’t understand how he could hurt me this way.

The discussions that follow are exemplars of clashing narratives. On the one side, we've got the misogynists complaining about how women are controlling harpies, and how they're as abusive as men. On the other side, we've got folks (forget being neutral, let's call them "voices of reason") pointing out that, while her violent response was unacceptable, two wrongs don't make a right, and it doesn't excuse his own broken promise.

Alkon, unsurprisingly, sides with the misogynists. The bulk of her reply is about the ashtray sentence - his breaking of his promise is dismissed with a "Bummer, human nature happens." After that, she pretty much verbally abuses the woman for having a problem with her fiance going to a strip club, implying that she went through with the marriage out of greed, that she's just trying to control him. (Then there's the random fat-bashing at the end, which came out of left field.)

This sort of thing is Alkon's bread and butter. Her angle as "Advice Goddess" is to be hipper than Dear Abby, Ann Landers, etc. by (a) being snarkier and (b) being more about entertaining the readers than helping the advice-seeker. She also tends toward the Ann Coulter style of gaining currency by being a woman who tells misogynist men what they want to hear - in this case, that breaking a promise isn't so bad, and that women shouldn't be able to ask anything of men they're in relationships with.

Here's my advice, not that anyone asked:

If your partner asks something of you that you're not comfortable with, you don't agree to it and then break the promise. You tell them it's a problem, and you try to work out a solution that's acceptable. Maybe the solution is that it's not enough of a big deal to one partner, maybe it's a compromise promise, maybe it's deciding that this is an irreconcilable difference. But you don't get to have your cake and eat it too by telling your partner you're okay with the condition and then breaking it.

Now what's done is done, and you have the choice of what to do about it, which basically boils down to staying or leaving. I suppose there's a third option, which is trying to use the broken promise to effect some other concession from him, but I really abhor the idea of bartering misdeeds, which is why the whole thing about the ashtray doesn't exculpate the fiance. This is a relationship, presumably, not a hostile negotiation.

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Apparently Joss Whedon is going to be creating a new series. This one's to be called Dollhouse and will star Eliza Dushku in a kind of Pretender/Matrix hybrid. It actually looks quite awesome - I might be more skeptical with someone else at the helm that it would turn into another cleavage 'n' kung fu series, but Joss has the feminist cred, and I trust he'll go beyond that. Actually, my biggest reservation is that it's on FOX, and I don't know if they learned their lesson from Firefly about being too quick to cancel genre shows.