Monday, November 17, 2008

16-year-old Japanese girl picked in pro baseball draft

This is pretty cool:

A 16-year-old schoolgirl is making a unique pitch to become the first woman to play professional baseball in Japan.

High school student Eri Yoshida was drafted by the Kobe 9 Cruise, a professional team in a new independent Japanese league that will start its first season in April.

"I always dreamed of becoming a professional," Yoshida, who is 5-feet tall and weighs 114 pounds, told a news conference Monday. "I have only just been picked by the team and haven't achieved anything yet."

Yoshida throws a side-arm knuckleball and says she wants to follow in the footsteps of Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, who has built a successful major league career throwing a knuckleball.


I've always cheered for the players who succeed based on skill without having favorable genetics to supplement that. I suppose it comes back from when I swam competitively, and at the higher levels of competition tended to be shorter and slighter than the other swimmers. And I've never seen a sidearm knuckleball before.

The comments are slightly more depressing; they're the sort you get every time there's a discussion of women in baseball: many supportive folks, but a few who insist that women will never succeed at the professional level, or if they do--well, imagine how much better she'd be if she were a man! And on top of that, this one has all kinds of sexist/racist "Japanese schoolgirl" comments as well. (On the other hand, there's the kind of fan who acknowledges that this is quite an accomplishment but really just wants to figure out the physics and kinesiology involved.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

National Men Make Dinner Day.

From figleaf comes a link to something called National Men Make Dinner Day.

Whoah! Put on the brakes! Stop right there! Freeze! Ask yourself THIS QUESTION: Are you a man who makes dinner on a regular or semi-regular basis? If the answer is ‘YES”, do not go any further!
National Men Make Dinner Day is NOT for you! May we suggest another website. Something like www.fark.com. Its really funny.


No, it's not for me (and no, fark isn't all that funny); I can't remember the last time anyone made dinner for me at my apartment and I didn't at least help. (Probably happened at some point over the last year when I was sick or exhausted and Keri made me something.) But it's arguably for the 18-year-old me who hadn't learned to cook yet, and the 18-year-old me would be really put off by it:

Ok, now since you’ve continued reading, we assume that you are a man who NEVER cooks. And that you fit the profile of the ‘men’ who have inspired this once-a-year occasion. The ideal participant in ‘National Men Make Dinner Day’ is the man who:

helps with household chores
has a sense of humour and is a great all-around guy
loves his wife/girlfriend, kids and pets
…BUT NEVER LEARNED HOW TO COOK, and is somewhat afraid of the idea.

Officially celebrated on the FIRST THURSDAY OF EVERY NOVEMBER, ‘National Men Make Dinner Day’ is for you!!

One guaranteed meal cooked by the man of the house one day of the year!


Okay, maybe it's not exactly for my younger self; back then I was living in dorms and getting my meals through the university cafeteria. I didn't cook much at first because the dorm kitchens weren't very good, and later at St. A's because it was intimidating to share that kitchen with folks who knew a lot more than I did. I certainly wasn't in a live-in het relationship (gay men are born knowing how to cook, apparently) at the time, or anything resembling "the man of the house."

Figleaf argues that this is a good idea, as a way to get past the intimidation factor:

But here's the thing: if, as they say, the day's not for me I think it really is a great idea for men or for that matter *anybody* who's intimidated by cooking.

And here's the other thing: it's pretty clear *they're* not assuming one meal a year *makes up* for anything. They're certainly not saying cook one meal and you've done your part for the year.

Instead it looks like they're talking about helping people get over the intimidation hurdle. Because with even minimal help from partners, family, or friends (i.e. not complaining it's not like dad used to make or getting impatient and saying something like "oh men! Here let me do that") it's *waaay* easier to cook the second, and all subsequent meals, *after* you've cooked the first.


I'm not so sure it's not implying "you've done your part." There's way too large a helping of 50s-style stereotypes in there:

Rule #2: Man agrees to participate in national men make dinner day. Bonus points if he does so without seeking promise of night out with boys in return.

Rule #8: Following recipe carefully, man starts to cook dinner! Apron is optional, tool belt is not allowed. (bonus points if recipe includes one of the following: capers, saffron, or the word 'scallopini').

Rule #12: After meal, table is cleared by man, dishwasher is loaded. Man returns to table for stimulating after-dinner conversation. At this point, man is told how much his meal was appreciated. He, in turn, describes the joys and challenges of the experience. He is given a hug, and his TV remote is returned to him.

This is straight out of a bad sitcom--big strong man, probably played by Tim Allen or whoever's doing that sort of thing now, tries to make some effete dish! (Also, way to assume that they have a dishwasher as well as a spouse.) (Also also, it's probably a bad idea to give saffron to the sort of guy they're talking about.) Seriously, guy cooks one meal and gets lavished with praise (as part of the "rules" of the event, no less)?

If we really want an "intro to cooking" type event, I'd suggest the following:

1. Make it gender neutral. There's no basis for assuming that women are all familiar with the kitchen and men aren't. (Yes, socialization trends that way, but I've known plenty of men who are excellent cooks and plenty of women who live on takeout.)

2. Make it friendly. In their attempt to make things easy for the neophyte chef, the site's tone actually comes across as condescending--which itself can be intimidating.

3. Make it its own reward. The enjoyment should come from the experience and from the end product. (If you want a cookie, bake it yourself.)

Flashbarack

[S]ince ancient antiquity, whenever those who seek power would want to control the human spirit, they have gone after libraries and books. Whether it’s the ransacking of the great library at Alexandria, controlling information during the Middle Ages, book burnings, or the imprisonment of writers in former communist block countries, the idea has been that if we can control the word, if we can control what people hear and what they read and what they comprehend, then we can control and imprison them, or at least imprison their minds.

That’s worth pondering at a time when truth and science are constantly being challenged by political agendas and ideologies, at a time when language is used not to illuminate but, rather, to obfuscate, at a time when there are those who would disallow the teaching of evolution in our schools, where fake science is used to beat back attempts to curb global warming or fund lifesaving research.

At a time when book banning is back in vogue, libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information.

- Barack Obama, keynote speech at the 2005 ALA annual conference
Ya done good, voters.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stuff I randomly found out

Tim Burton is slated to direct a live-action/CGI adaptation of Alice In Wonderland, featuring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. As incredible as that has the potential to be, I don't think it has the scarring potential of the 1985 version and its creepy, creepy Jabberwock.

Some fly-by-night game company is claiming to have a Lovecraft CRPG in the works. I'll believe it when I see it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Envy and the Great Sex Columnist Layoff of '08

Over at Salon, Tracy Clark-Flory writes about all the sex writers whose columns are being cut, and she and her interviewees articulate some of the thoughts I've been having ever since I started to hear about this, and why I can't find myself feeling entirely sympathetic:

Susannah Breslin, a reporter who runs the blog Reverse Cowgirl, argues that sex writers have, for the most part, been held to a lower journalistic standard. “Sometimes people become sex writers because they screw a lot, not necessarily because they can write well,” she told me in an e-mail.

On a similar note, Broadsheet’s Sarah Hepola, formerly an editor for the smart sex mag Nerve, said the traditional shock-and-awe approach to sex columns doesn’t work. She finds “the frustrations of a real person grappling with sex — the lack of it, the absurdity of it, the frustrations of it” more compelling than reading about, say, being tied up in a dominatrix’s dungeon and being flogged with a cat o’ nine tails.

Often times, instead of learning about the emotional and intellectual facets of a stranger’s sex life — and, most interesting, those contradictory cross-currents — I have felt an unwilling participant in their exhibitionistic fantasy.

Most of the sex writers out there are (or play the role of) young conventionally attractive hipster women in large urban areas, who routinely get invited to partake in the sort of activities I never did/will. I've noticed for a while that lists of "best sex blogs" tend to feature young women almost exclusively, either as writers (if it's a writing-centric blog) or as models (if it's an image-centric blog). There's a lot of looks privilege and social privilege going on there, it seems. (And yes, I'm aware that it's a very relative and localized privilege that results from the whole "sex class"/"no-sex class" idea, that many folks are loath to call it privilege at all, that social interaction isn't perfect for anybody, that if I'm not careful I'm going to be indistinguishable from an MRA, etc.)

But what it comes down to is that I'm not all that outraged at the cancellation of all these writers' columns. Some of that is just that those columns don't connect with me, the way that a lot of writing about financial advice for the under-35 set doesn't work for me because I'm not a well-paid IT professional with more money than I know what to do with. And while that sort of thing (either writing about money I don't make, or sex I'm not going to have) can be interesting, it doesn't resonate very well. Some of it is simply the idea that nobody is owed a job, especially one as seemingly cushy as that.

But a lot of what it is, to be honest, is envy. (While I don't get all that jealous, I can be quite an envious person, and sex is one of the most reliable triggers for that; I can hear Lili Taylor's character from Say Anything... screaming "That'll never be me!" whenever I read about or hear about that sort of thing.)

It's not just that it's about comparing experiences; it's that the preponderance of that particular perspective crowds out everything else, and there's no acknowledgment that this sphere has room for folks like me. (Oddly enough, financial writing doesn't do this nearly as much; though the classism of it irritates me, I don't find myself wanting to be rich nearly as often as wanting to be desried.)

I know the whole thing is petty. I know I'm overstating the case, and that there are other perspectives out there on this topic. I know from a justice perspective it's less important right now to worry about how young women write all the sex columns and far more important to focus on the fact that they're excluded from the rest of the newspaper, and I know that the CEO who treats his/her job as an entitlement is far more deserving of my ire than the writer who does. I know that if I'm interested in making a change rather than whining, I'd provide an alternative voice or support those who do. And I know that it's especially shallow these days, when I have less reason than ever to feel ugly and undesirable. But dammit, sometimes I am shallow and envious and selfish and petty and just want what someone else has.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Beauty Privilege

There's a couple discussions of beauty privilege in the comments at Pandagon here and here, as folks (myself included) take Amanda to task for comments like these:

Thanks to reader Winnifred who sent me this story about men who feel entitled to date out of their league, physical attractiveness-wise.

I think most reasonable people can agree that intelligence, good looks, and hand-eye coordination fit into this category---inborn traits that vary from person to person. Irrefutably privileges, but trying to take them away in the name of equality would make the human race poorer and violate the holders’ human rights.

The sentiments implicit in these kinds of statements bother me to no end. The dating one, I suspect, is relatively well-intentioned, and is most likely aimed at the folks who believe that they are owed a supermodel girlfriend. (The accompanying picture of Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl seems to confirm this.) However, the ambiguity of the verb "date" evokes another common complaint, where unattractive people are bashed for having the audacity to hit on someone who is "out of their league," absent other factors. (In other words, not being creepy or boorish, but just being ugly, or fat, or old.) If you're not pretty, know your place - it's of primary importance that you not inconvenience the actually attractive by thinking you have the right to be sexual too.

With respect to the second statement, putting "good looks" in a general category of privilege that we won't do anything about because it just wouldn't be fair to take it away seems to miss the point. Looks privilege isn't simply about people's reactions, but about how they act on those reactions. Nobody's advocating something out of "Harrison Bergeron," or "Eye of the Beholder," or Uglies. But it is possible to think about this privilege, about attractiveness bias, etc., rather than just write it off as something too unconscious to do anything about.

Some further thoughts, in convenient (i.e., lazy) bullet-point form:
  • Looks are a spectrum, not either-or. It's not just supermodels that have looks privilege, and sometimes folks will enjoy privilege in one context but not another.
  • Almost everyone thinks of themselves as "ordinary looking," the same way almost everyone thinks of themselves as "middle class." This may be especially true for straight folk, or for men; we don't get taught how to evaluate our own attractiveness very well, and so we think that aside from whoever is generally acknowledged as attractive, there's no attractiveness difference among men.
  • If you're talking to someone on the internet that you haven't seen, it's really condescending to (1) diagnose them with Body Dysmorphic Disorder; (2) tell them that you're sure they're just making it up; or (3) tell them that their real problem is their attitude.
  • "Everybody is beautiful in their own way" is a nice fluffy sentiment, but when you're saying it in a discussion about beauty privilege what you're saying is that such privilege doesn't exist. Sure, everyone may be beautiful, but some folks are more beautiful than others.  And that's the point, not whether the glass is half empty or half full.
  • If you're going to posit some standard of oppression that underprivileged folks must meet for privilege to exist, be aware that there are folks who want to do the same for those forms of privilege you accept. This is the "women are oppressed in Saudi Arabia, so you 'Western' feminists don't have anything to complain about!" argument.
And some things I'm not saying (because some folks seem unclear on the concept:
  • I'm not saying that attractive women "have it easier" than unattractive men. Beauty privilege doesn't trump other forms of privilege.
  • I'm not saying that attractive people don't get some flak for being attractive. Similarly, thin people often get snide comments made about their size. It doesn't negate the fact that most of the privilege goes the other direction, though.
  • I'm not saying that it's on a par with any other form of privilege. What not having it has meant for me was teasing as a child and adolescent, and being ignored in favor of better-looking people in situations where looks are paramount. It's not horrible in an absolute sense, even if it can sure feel that way at times.
  • I'm not saying anyone has to be attracted to someone they're not attracted to (though personally, I think a lot of people would be better off being more open-minded about such things).
For a less infuriating look at beauty privilege, see these posts from Feminist Gal and Jaded Hippy from a couple months back.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Red State, No Way!

Adam Cadre, who I don't read as often as I should (because his site doesn't have an RSS feed), writes that yes, blue states really are better.

I'm not sure I totally agree with it (I think Adam's too flip about people choosing where to live based on their politics), but any opinion piece that uses the phrase the incredible erratic adventures of Stiffy McCain can't be all bad.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

BFG indeed.

Via Parenthetical comes this article about a side of Roald Dahl I never knew about:

He is known to the world as the author of bestselling children’s books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. Yet before he became a successful writer, Roald Dahl had a very different reputation – as the sexiest British spy in America.

I agree with the commenter who said this screams for a film adaptation. Not sure who I'd cast, though.

A minor journalistic quibble: the author of the article never actually gives the title of Ms. Conant's book. (It's The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Some advice

Don't pick on John McCain for being old.  Pick on him for abandoning his principles to cozy up to George W. Bush.

Don't pick on Sarah Palin for being a woman.  Pick on her for being an anti-abortion, pro-secession wingnut.

Similarly, don't pick on this guy for probably being a sexual have-not.  Pick on him for being a pretentious, misogynist pseudo-intellectual git who seems to have not realized that smart writing is about putting together ideas, not just words.

This venting brought to you by the Intercollegiate Coalition of Non-Misogynist Reluctant Virgins (alumni chapter).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Stay classy.

Ever since the announcement of Sarah Palin as McCain's vice presidential pick, the Google feed on feminism has been dominated by social conservatives declaring the death of feminism.

From some conservative Christian blog (that I'm not going to link to directly):

The advancement of Sarah Palin will reveal, as few other things could, the sham called feminism. Classical feminism will be seen as nothing more than a leftist power grab designed to allow unattractive women a chance to feel important. [Emphasis added]

Apparently beauty theology is the new prosperity theology, and only the smokin' hotties shall enter the kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Return your books or go to jail? Not exactly.

Tonight is my first class in the MLS program at the University at Buffalo Department of Library and Information Studies. (One of the reasons I haven't been posting as much has been because that block of free time has been taken up running around getting my student ID, making sure my financial aid is in order, buying my textbooks, that sort of thing.)

To keep with the library theme, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books links to a story about a woman arrested in Wisconsin for not returning library books:

Somewhere, a librarian just stood up and cheered. As someone who always wants the book that someone else won’t return, I hear you, librarian, I hear you.

But handcuffs? Wow:

[Heidi] Dalibor did not respond to four notices from the library, two phone calls and two letters. The library forwarded the case to police, who issued a citation for Dalibor’s failure to return the materials or pay the fine. The citation included a court date, which Dalibor admits she ignored.
Well, I suppose it could be worse. But I'm getting the impression that this story has been very, very sensationalized. Technically, what Ms. Dalibor was probably arrested for is not failure to return the books or pay the fines, but failure to appear in court. While I suppose the libertarian logic of "taxes are coerced at gunpoint" is equally applicable to library fines, this isn't really a cautionary tale to return your books so much as it is a reminder that when the summons says you'll be found in contempt of court if you don't show, it's not kidding.

SBTB goes on to poke fun at the books that weren't returned: White Oleander and Angels & Demons. I can't tell how much of that is lit-snobbery, and how much it's just boggling at the pointlessness of it--it's not like those books are out of print or hard to find, so why pay $170 in fines for what you can pick up for a few bucks at any bookstore?

But when it comes to the ones that aren't so easily obtained, there is a big issue there: what to do about the folks who try to exercise a "purchase option" on library materials that may not be easily replaced?

Now, it's impossible to curtail this completely, because there's no way to distinguish between a book that is "lost" to a private collection and a book that is actually lost or destroyed; any penalty will have to take both situations into account. Trouble is, draconian penalties discourage patrons from borrowing altogether, because if you're going to pay exorbitant fines (or suffer other penalties) for losing a book, at some point you'll decide it's not worth it and either hit up a used bookstore, read it on-site (at which point, we've made the whole library a rare book room), or--most likely, I suspect--go without.

On the other hand, if you take an approach where fines simply cover the replacement cost, effectively treating a lost or held book as a purchase, you're turning the library into another used bookstore, and selection suffers. Blockbuster Video has tried this at its brick-and-mortar stores, and it really makes it hard to find older titles (though some of that is likely due to their prioritizing of the 20th copy of a new release over replacing the single copy of an occasionally-rented classic).

Non-monetary solutions have their own problems. Jail time for actually not returning books (not contempt of court) is far too draconian, not to mention seriously bad PR. Revoking privileges (i.e., if you've got overdue books out, you can't borrow more) is a possibility, but it's got the potential to penalize legitimate users. Perhaps some sort of tiered or "three strikes" system? I.e., first time (in, say, a five-year period) you pay the replacement cost, second time you pay more and/or have borrowing privileges temporarily revoked, third time you pay the replacement cost but have borrowing privileges permanently revoked.

So what's the solution? I guess the best thing to do is find a balance, if possible--high enough so that "book shoppers" will go to an actual bookstore, but low enough so that patrons won't be frightened off by the prospect of a book being mislaid or damaged, coupled with some sort of escalating penalty system that's more likely to target the folks who are "losing" books to their personal collections than the ones who just manage to leave one on the bus.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Manic Pixie Dream Girls

There are a few articles (from The Onion AV Club, Jezebel and Broadsheet out there on the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" - the sort of character from Garden State, Almost Famous or Sweet November that's just a quirky cipher for the male protagonist to get infatuated with.

To me, the MPDG is just an especially egregious example of what I've taken to calling the "Designated Hot Girl" - a female character who is the primary focus of the male gaze, both diegetic and non-diegetic. In other words, all the straight guys in the show are attracted to her, and her attractiveness is played up for the presumed-to-be-male audience. (Star Trek, the original series notwithstanding, is a notable offender in this regard - Deanna Troi, Seven of Nine, and T'Pol are all Designated Hot Girls.) Often, it's rather inexplicable why one character gets the treatment and another doesn't, since every female character between 15 and 50 is going to be some form of "Hollywood pretty."

(It occurs to me there's a slight difference - the MPDG attracts the attention of the hero, because he's a sensitive soul uniquely positioned to understand how amazing she is; the DHG attracts the attention of *everyone* to a degree unwarranted by her actual appearance, actions or traits.)

The MPDG is especially bad because her sole raison d'etre is to be "to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." She's all object and no subject, because as a protagonist she doesn't work. Though one common trope is to point out how the male lead - and, by extension, the audience (though not the *writer*) - has denied her agency.

Compare the MPDG with, say, the Tenth Doctor from Doctor Who. There have been several women characters on the show (Rose, Martha, Sarah Jane) who talk about how the Doctor flits in, changes their lives, and then leaves again, and indeed it's not too hard to conceive of a retelling that casts him as a Manic Pixie Dream Boy. But that's *not* the story that's told, and in fact by the end of series 2 *Rose* is retconned into a form of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, that shows a universe-weary Time Lord how to love.

Are You There, Cthulhu? It's Me, Margaret.

From Scans Daily: Are You There, Cthulhu? It's Me, Margaret.

It's pretty much what you'd expect from a comic with a title like that. (Though said title also defeats the initial misdirection.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Keeping geeks sexist since 1997

What the fuck, Mr. Malda?

Posted by CmdrTaco on Wednesday August 06, @09:42AM
from the get-rid-of-judged-events dept.

Dekortage writes

"If you watch the Olympics gymnastics this year, you may be confused by the new scoring system which will let athletes score 14, 17, or even higher. The new rules are 'heavy on math' and employ two panels of judges: one for technical difficulty, which adds points up from a score of zero; the other for execution and technique, which starts at 10.0 and subtracts for errors. The two numbers are then combined for the final score. As one judge put it, 'The system rewards difficulty. But the mistakes are also more costly.' The new rules were adopted after South Korea protested a scoring at the 2004 Olympics."


Now I'm sure that no Slashdot reader will intentionally watch any "sport" that has judges determine the winner, but their wives/girlfriends might seize control of the remote because they want to know who is the best at that ribbon-twirling thing.
[Emphasis added, heterosexist anxious-masculinity asshattery in original]

Now I know I shouldn't expect too much from a forum best known for Natalie Portman jokes, and to be fair the commenters over there, many of them are calling him out on it. (Though many more are missing the point with "Wait, not liking gymnastics is misogynist now?" replies or "Of course I'll watch skinny adolescent girls in leotards, hur hur hur" jokes.)

As for the scoring system itself, I'm not sure what to make of it - it seems to be the gymnastics equivalent of getting rid of THAC0. It reminds me a bit of the scoring system for diving, which I'm slightly more familiar with, in that it retains the traditional "perfect 10" for the elements that have an ideal, and awards bonus points for difficulty. Apparently it's a sum of two scores rather than a "degree of difficulty" multiplier, though, and if the Olympic scores stay in the typical range of 9.5-10.0 I don't see how the "difficulty" points won't decide the competition. (Though I should find some scores from trials and crunch the numbers before coming to any conclusions.)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Kyle Payne responds, sort of

So apparently Kyle Payne has a letter up at his blog. It's the sort of "politician's non-apology" that's about manipulating people into backing off rather than about actually trying to make up for one's actions.

[All emphases in Mr. Payne's letter are his own.]

We rarely change when we are simply cruising along, insulated from the world. It is only when we drop the barriers that separate us from other human beings, admit that we don’t know all the answers, and listen closely to others and to the world around us that we can truly promote personal transformation. I write this letter in the interest of dropping barriers, sharing openly and honestly a story that is very difficult to talk about, in hopes that doing so may bring peace, understanding, and hope to the lives of others. I also write this letter out of respect for an international community of citizens working for social justice, one that has deeply inspired me to envision a better world and empowered me to work for change. I have committed a terrible act, one that contradicts my own personal values and my politics, and through this letter, I wish to explain (not justify) my actions and their effects. I also will describe what I am currently doing, and what I will continue to do, in an effort to promote justice and personal transformation. I wholeheartedly welcome your feedback and questions. You may contact me at kyle.d.payne@gmail.com.

Honestly? I think he's writing this letter in the interest of getting letters of recommendation from online feminists asking the judge to go easy on him because he's really sorry, he's not a bad person, no sense ruining his life over it, &c.

Also, keep in mind that phrase, "openly and honestly."

On Monday, June 30, 2008, I pleaded guilty to criminal charges in Buena Vista County in Iowa, specifically one count of attempted burglary and two counts of invasion of privacy. On January 3, 2007, I was invited to assist an intoxicated female student at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. Following my responsibilities as a resident advisor, I looked after this student in her dorm room to ensure her safety and evaluated whether or not medical attention was necessary. Fortunately, medical attention was not necessary. However, as I will explain, some of my actions while assisting the student were harmful and inappropriate.

This? Not open and honest.

It doesn't matter that he also undertook actions that were aimed at ensuring her safety (i.e., doing his fucking job).

While caring for the female student, I felt a sudden impulse to expose her breast. Not knowing how to deal with this feeling at the time – and to put it more clearly, not knowing how to make sense of such an urge, given my personal values and my politics – I acted upon it. With a digital camera I kept with me regularly, I briefly photographed and took a few seconds of video of the woman’s breast. She did not consent to this act, nor did she have any knowledge of it at the time. This event ended as quickly as it began, leaving me in a state of disbelief at what I had done.

This? Not open and honest.

It's pretty much the secular version of "the devil made me do it." He feels "a sudden impulse" (but never owns it) and "acted upon it." Indeed, the reason he acts upon it is that he's such a damn good feminist (are you listening, feminist letter-writers?) that he doesn't "know how to make sense of it." And of course, after the fact he's in "a state of disbelief."

That call for self-examination that landed me in some hot water a while back? This (and not kink) is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about. How on the one hand someone can claim the mantle of feminist and anti-rape activist, and on the other hand simply "feel an impulse" toward sexual assault, "act upon it" and then be in "a state of disbelief" boggles me. (I suspect he's trying to get this regarded as something akin to "temporary insanity.")

As I have been instructed not to make contact with the victim, I have no way of knowing how she is doing or what effect my actions have had on her life. I feel it is likely, however, that my actions have, at the very least, left her feeling less safe in the company of men. I hope she is doing well, and I hope she knows, with the utmost certainty, that she did not deserve to be treated in this way. No one does. I am very deeply sorry for what I have done. In a matter of moments, I committed a terrible act, abusing a position of authority and betraying a sacred trust shared with me as a resident advisor. I owe my humblest apologies to the victim and her family, to the campus community at BVU, to my own family, and to many others who put their faith in me as a person of good moral character. I owe a special apology as well to the many women who have sought my assistance as a rape crisis advocate and who, upon learning about my actions, may have experienced re-victimization. I believe my actions warrant everyone’s questioning of my character and of my ability and willingness to act in accordance with my own professed values. I will either earn trust back, or I won’t. That is not for me to decide. But I take this as an opportunity to speak openly and honestly and be held accountable for my actions.

This? Not open or honest.

It's not a tragedy when a sexual offender doesn't get a chance to directly apologize to their victim, because it's not about the offender. It's also a bit squicky how quickly the apology widens in scope and makes the victim invisible. Yes, I'm sure the campus community probably felt betrayed, and the feminist communities that were aware of it certainly did, but being let down or pissed off is not the same thing, and lumping the person who was directly hurt with everyone from classmates to random bloggers like me is just plain wrong. And maybe I'm being cynical, but this comes across as emphasizing for the judge that he really is a good person who just happened to let some people down.

Many people have been understandably shocked and angry upon hearing about the criminal charges. Since I started college, I have developed a strong reputation as a pro-feminist activist and advocate for survivors of sexual violence. Feminism, in fact, has been at the heart of virtually every major endeavor I have pursued in the last several years, including my work in residence life, student government, campus media, community service, wellness education, and of course, supporting the women’s studies program. Why would someone so passionate about working to stop violence against women commit such an act? At this point in time, I cannot give a complete answer to that question. The act itself is not something with which I identify, nor are the interests behind it. Indeed, for some time following the incident, I could not believe what had actually taken place. This may seem confusing, but I hope this letter can begin to shed light on what happened and my experience of it.

This? Not open or honest.

"Rimmer was outraged at Lister's accusation. Even though it was true, he felt it was so out of kilter with his own image of himself, he was able to summon up genuine indignation." (Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers)

Don't be Rimmer. If I wrong someone, I don't get to say that I don't identify with the act and have that mean anything. (And your feminist resume? It's been out of date since January 2007.) It's certainly not reassuring from a recidivism perspective - before you worry about getting back in feminists' good graces, Mr. Payne, maybe you should figure outwhere these "impulses" are coming from and how to control them. Otherwise, you're just saying that it's not like you to do such a thing - until the next time when it is.

As I have undergone a full psychological evaluation and begun a treatment program for various mental health issues, I am learning more and more each day about what factors led me to commit the act I have described. My experiences of child sexual abuse have produced a great deal of unresolved anger, primarily because I was unable to obtain necessary support during that period and have since worked very hard to repress those memories. That unresolved anger at the injustice and violation done to me is what led me initially to anti-rape work as a rape crisis advocate when I started college. I felt that helping others might allow me to find some sort of peace with what happened to me. Being an advocate did help me to better understand the socio-political context of my experiences of abuse, particularly as I began reading feminist theory. However, because I concentrated my energy solely on an advocacy role for others, rather than addressing my own experiences of abuse, nothing got better. In fact, things got much worse.

Serving as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence and hearing their stories of violence, cruelty, and degradation re-introduced me to my own pain and humiliation via flashbacks, panic attacks, insomnia, bouts of depression, and chronic anxiety. Believing that further justice work, in the absence of appropriate psychological treatment, would help me resolve these issues, I dove headlong into feminist anti-pornography activism, academic research on pornography, and working closely with abusive college men as a resident advisor. I feel very pleased that this involvement allowed me to make a real difference in other people’s lives. But due to serious neglect and denial on my part, my involvement in anti-rape work only distanced me from resolving the effects of being victimized at a very young age. Through further psychological treatment and careful meditation on this history, it is my primary goal to reach a healthy balance in my life and minimize the risk of hurting anyone in the future.

This one, I'm not sure I'm qualified to judge the openness and honesty of. I'm very skeptical of this flip analysis - it strikes me as trying to deflect responsibility, and telling the evaluators what they want to hear, but I really don't have any kind of knowledge or experience in this area. (I do think that, even if past abuse factored into what happened, this apology was the wrong place to discuss that.)

I still struggle to understand what was going through my mind during the incident last January, and more importantly, what prompted me to disrespect and truly dehumanize another person. Given what I have experienced as a survivor of sexual abuse, my failure to obtain proper treatment, and my obsessive attention toward the harm of the rape culture, it seems likely that I neglected to fully investigate and confront the influence of patriarchal conditioning on my own sexuality. In fact, as my involvement in anti-rape work, and feminism in general, has constantly stigmatized any form of sexualized domination, there would be obvious incentives, psychologically speaking, to repress any (conscious or unconscious) identification with these behaviors. Accordingly, I have insisted that my psychological treatment assist me in a sexual development rooted in feminist thought, while also addressing the developmental challenges and political entitlements of being male in a male-supremacist society.

This? Not open or honest. Blame the patriarchy all you like (and I don't doubt that it had a strong influence), but the buck stops with you.

The idea that being a feminist gives incentive to repress identification with patriarchal conditioning, though, seems bizarre. (Well, perhaps not if it's looked at as fauxminism - if the goal is not to do right by people but to be accepted in a clique, it might be worth it to pretend one's a special snowflake who's unlike all those other troglodytes.)

I have faced a great deal of serious consequences of my criminal and unethical actions, all of them just and appropriate. I lost my job in residence life at a major research university, my university-owned apartment, in addition to my acceptance at an excellent graduate program in student affairs. I was unable to attend graduation at BVU, and since pleading guilty, I have been banned from campus for life. My reputation as a pro-feminist activist and an advocate for survivors has been seriously, and quite possibly irrevocably, compromised. I have been forced to leave several activist groups, including those for which I was a leader or founding member. I have also been the subject of intense scrutiny at BVU, in my hometown, in my professional and social networks, and all over the internet. With a criminal record, I will face serious limitations on my career prospects, as well as on my involvement with various social organizations and in personal relationships.

This? Not open or honest.

The idea is basically "haven't I suffered enough?" And basically what he's suffered is getting kicked out of school (which, yeah, means you lose your university job and apartment, same as you would if you'd graduated), not getting into a grad program, and people not liking him. And sure, that sucks, but you know what? It's not a replacement for the criminal justice system, and it's privileged as hell to insinuate that you're put-upon for losing that status.

The consequences of my actions are well-deserved. No act of men’s exploitation of women ought to be excused or overlooked, regardless of a man’s history of good deeds (even if, in fact, those deeds have been feminist in nature) or a history of trauma related to sexual abuse and other exposure to violence. For a man to identify as an ally to feminism, as I understand it, is to agree to practice, as Pearl Cleage discusses in her writings, a “posture of listening.” Being in such a posture means to me that I must hold myself accountable to a community of feminists, answering openly and honestly any challenge or question that women bring to me regarding my actions and my words. As such, I share with you some of the consequences of my actions, not to draw sympathy, but to embrace these consequences and provide some context for one of the most important lessons I have learned.

This? (You all know the chorus by now; feel free to sing along.)

Yes, the bolded sentence is true. It's also there, and bolded, because it's supposed to deflect criticism like this. The post definitely reads as an attempt to draw sympathy. "Provide context for one of the most important lessons I have learned"? Why the hell should we care about that? I care a hell of a lot more that someone was hurt than that the offender learned from his mistake. (I'm not *that* kind of utilitarian, thanks.)

Nice namedropping to try to salvage some academic-feminist cred, BTW.

I have lost a great deal over the last several months. Chief among them, at least during particularly difficult times, has been a willingness to wait and see what the next day had to bring. Without the trust that other survivors and other activists had shared with me, a trust that had sustained me and helped me clearly see that there was good in the world, I felt that there was nothing left. I wanted to die. Fortunately, it was a select few of those compassionate souls who helped me remember what real hope is all about. In the words of Vaclav Havel,

Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.

Dude, you're emotionally blackmailing the feminist community here. "I wanted to die" - oh, we're the horrible ones, because we made you feel bad. How about we make it up by telling the judge to go easy on you?

You didn't lose shit, Mr. Payne. You threw it away. If you're feeling suicidal, get help, but it's not incumbent on feminists to walk on eggshells for you.

I may not regain that sacred trust I described. My hurtful actions ought never be completely forgotten or left behind. And the guilt and remorse I feel for what I have done will never leave. But rather than simply fading away myself, I need to have the courage to own what I have done, to open myself to criticism, and to continue living more responsibly than I have in the past. And in whatever ways possible, I need to continue working for the common good.

If you want to work for good, recognize that your ways to do so are limited, and the next question is not "how can I go back to helping the way I used to?" but "in what ways can I help now?" And it may well be that the best thing you can do is just stay the hell out of the way.

I am currently living with my parents, who have been very supportive and compassionate throughout this long and difficult process. I am employed full-time in the assembly department at a manufacturing company. And I am also a full-time graduate student and will soon finish a graduate degree in adult education. With my degree, I hope to obtain employment in training and development or producing educational media, in addition to freelance writing. Wherever the future leads, I plan to remain actively involved with community service and civic engagement. Until treatment has resolved my mental health concerns, however, I am halting any involvement with research, activism, or advocacy related to pornography or sexual violence. I am also setting aside my interest in employment in student affairs, particularly residence life. In the last few days, I have sent letters to over seventy friends, family members, and other relations explaining my actions in detail, expressing my remorse for these actions, and asking for forgiveness and understanding. I have specifically asked for these loved ones to share their questions and concerns, not to treat this matter as something to “sweep under the rug.”

Oh, poor privileged college boy, having to debase himself at a blue-collar job instead of having a cushy book-and-lecture gig as the next Robert Jensen!

As I mentioned previously, I have faced a great deal of criticism through the internet. Since November 2007, I have maintained a personal blog through wordpress.com entitled “The Road Less Traveled” (kylepayne.wordpress.com). Through this blog, I have spoken out in support of feminism and other social justice movements, particularly against different forms of violence (e.g. physical, sexual, military). In the days following my guilty plea, a pro-pornography blogger picked up the story, and having identified obvious discrepancies between the “public face” on my blog and my criminal actions, began an online smear campaign. This effort, which has garnered support from over fifty prominent bloggers from around the world, as well as at least one official trade publication of the pornography industry, has raised considerable public attention toward my actions, and it has alerted me to the larger political consequences of those actions. While many of the criticisms online are based on inaccurate or incomplete information about my case, the feelings and concerns behind them are highly appropriate.

They're appropriate, but it's still a "smear campaign" by "pro-pornography" forces? Bullshit. (And hey, don't forget us porn-critical Z-list bloggers who supported it too!)

My actions have been terrible and tremendously hypocritical, and they have caused harm not only to the victim, but to women generally, who deserve nothing less than an end to rape and all other forms of male domination. Recognizing what I feel to be my responsibility as a male ally to feminism, as well as a decent human being, I ask that any women reading this letter who wish to share their responses contact me via email at kyle.d.payne@gmail.com. I welcome your questions, concerns, feelings, and anything else you would like to share. And I would especially welcome your thoughts on how I might move forward in my life with respect and compassion toward women. As I mentioned, practicing this posture of listening is vital to any notion of justice, and furthermore, it represents, I feel, a way forward through which some good can come of this situation.

Well, since I'm not a woman, I don't have to feel bad about blogging this rather than sending a private email. Not that I would, or that other women should - this should be a conversation in the community, not a bunch of little private dialogues, because this is about more than Mr. Payne.

While I still wholeheartedly identify with feminism – and in fact, started a personal blog as an attempt to become more in touch with feminist principles – there is no question that my actions have grossly contradicted these principles. Furthermore, by failing to address these contradictions openly, while presenting myself as any sort of ally to women, I have not been completely honest. There was no malicious intent to withholding this explanation – for legal and psychological reasons, I was not prepared to address them. As part of my attempts to make amends, however, I will not post any new material on my blog until such time that I have been welcomed back into a community of feminists.

Still not open or honest. No, you don't get to say "until" there. This isn't about saying ten Hail Mary Dalys and being absolved, and it's not incumbent on any community of feminists to welcome you back, ever.

More responses (credit to Google Blogsearch for turning some of these up):

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oh hells no.

Moral dilemma courtesy of Broadsheet: If this guy "founds" a way to deliver electric shocks over the internet, do I use it?

You're not a geek, dude. You're a business guy with a bit of technical savvy and a hell of a lot of lingering issues re women.

And this guy?

I have another point about how (mostly male) pubescent tech geeks suffered in moldy basements poring over tech manuals in their formative years, and now deserve all the celebrechauns and seed money being thrown at them. I'm trying to phrase it in a way that is not offensive to those of you who were spending these years attending parties and learning generally accepted social mores. Still working on it.

Total Perspective Vortex, stat. (Just as soon as I stop laughing at the idea that I spent my formative years attending parties and picking up social skills.)

Oh, and all y'all who say "well, there really are some women like that": the point, you has missed it. (You don't need a seminar to avoid superficial people, if that's what you want; you just need some fucking standards.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Useful Psychology

Victor Gijsbers at The Gaming Philosopher has an interesting discussion of the use of "psychology" (really, about varying responses based on simulated emotional states) in interactive fiction.

Voices of reason

A group of Stanford faculty got together and released this set of ten principles for using/discussing racial and ethnic categories:

Statement 1: We believe that there is no scientific basis for any claim that the pattern of human genetic variation supports hierarchically organized categories of race and ethnicity

Statement 2: We recognize that individuals of two different geographically defined human populations are more likely to differ at any given site in the genome than are two individuals of the same geographically defined population

Statement 3: We urge those who use genetic information to reconstruct an individual's geographic ancestry to present results within the broader context of an individual's overall ancestry

Statement 4: We recognize that racial and ethnic categories are created and maintained within sociopolitical contexts and have shifted in meaning over time

Statement 5: We caution against making the naive leap to a genetic explanation for group differences in complex traits, especially for human behavioral traits such as IQ scores, tendency towards violence, and degree of athleticism

Statement 6: We encourage all researchers who use racial or ethnic categories to describe how individual samples are assigned category labels, to explain why samples with such labels were included in the study, and to state whether the racial or ethnic categories are research variables

Statement 7: We discourage the use of race as a proxy for biological similarity and support efforts to minimize the use of the categories of race and ethnicity in clinical medicine, maintaining focus on the individual rather than the group

Statement 8: We encourage the funding of interdisciplinary study of human genetic variation that includes a broad range of experts in the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences

Statement 9: We urge researchers, those working in media, and others engaged in the translation of research results to collaborate on efforts to avoid overstatement of the contribution of genetic variation to phenotypic variation

Statement 10: We recommend that the teaching of genetics include historical and social scientific information on past uses of science to promote racism as well as the potential impact of future policies; we encourage increased funding for the development of such teaching materials and programs for secondary and undergraduate education


Any of the scientists in the crowd wanna chime in?

I suspect that, to the degree which it's acknowledged at all, this will be dismissed as an intrusion of politics into science (like it wasn't there already) - I don't expect these sorts of things to stop any time soon.

Monday, July 14, 2008

And that settles my 3d-gen console decision

Final Fantasy XIII will be released on the XBox 360.

(via Feminist Gamers.)

No Country for Solo Men

An interesting comment thread has cropped up on the LiveJournal polyamory community in response to an advertisement for "poly speed dating." The event (but, strangely enough, not the advertisement) had a caveat that "solo men who are only looking for women" are no longer permitted to register.

I'm of two minds about this sort of thing. On the one hand, while there may be a bit of indignation (since I'd likely be among the excluded group, and that rankles a bit even when it's an event on the other side of the country) I can see the reason for this; it's going to be a bad time for all if there's no attempt to balance the genders among the het-only folks (from what I can tell, the event isn't itself restricted to het dating; if that's the case, I'd love to see their algorithm).

On the other hand, a lot of these sorts of things wind up taking an overtone of commodifying women; the entry fee for men becomes "$12 and a woman." And in addition to being generally squicky, the people this brings in are not necessarily ones who are particularly interested in the exercise; it doesn't solve the problem if the het side of the speed-dating event is full of people who may not actually be interested in dating anyone.

I should acknowledge that closing admission once there's an imbalance is very different from closing admission from the outset. In the latter case, sometimes it may be based in a correct assumption that such an imbalance will occur, but the impression I get a lot of the time is that it's something like the highly patriarchal polygamous communities that routinely cast out men from the group to make sure that those men who remain don't have any "competition."

So what *is* the best way to handle this? In the long run, I think what's needed is to reform attitudes; I have a suspicion (totally unsubstantiated, of course) that if you took away the subset of men who are just looking for any way to get laid, and you added in the subset of women who would be interested except for those men or societal pressure, the numbers would be pretty well-balanced.

In the medium run, what's needed is to foster an attitude within the institution that everyone is an agent rather than a commodity.

In the short run, it's pretty much up to the organization, and it seems to break down into a classic utilitarianism problem - do you do what's immediately best for the most people (i.e., restrict solo het guys for the benefit of everyone else), or adopt an approach that leaves fewer people singled out (so to speak) but negatively impacts the event for a lot more?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Unsafe at Any Page Length?

Anyone know what the deal is with these folks (found via Parenthetical)?

GuideStar lists an organization called "Citizens for Safe Libraries" as a 501(c)(3), but that organization is based in Utah while the contact info for safelibraries.org is in New Jersey and Illinois, so I'm thinking they're different. (Which raises some ethical issues with having a link for donations, if it's going to some guy's bank account.)

Google suggests that, despite the representation on their website as a concerned citizens' group, this is largely one nutjob with an axe to grind, using the net to link up with a few other people to form a letter-writing campaign--pretty much the 21st century version of the folks who've gone around trying to get Judy Blume pulled from libraries for the last few decades. There seem to be a few other groups like this out there (Citizens of Positive Education, for example, which seems to be the same sort of group, only in Ohio).

What I'm really curious about is how these groups intersect with the other socially conservative forces - specifically, conservative Christian churches (not that religion is a prerequisite for this sort of thing, just that they tend to have a structure already in place for it). Sometimes this happens by way of religious organizations putting up a secular front to win wider support, but a lot of the time it's independent "grassroots" groups that all get their talking points from the same place. (Which I suppose is why Looking for Alaska is on so many hit lists.)

Am I being paranoid?

As for the larger issue itself... I have the privilege of largely avoiding the issue of age-based restrictions (or general restrictions made in the name of protecting the children), as law libraries don't typically have minors as patrons.

As a child, I read a lot of material that many folks would have probably considered inappropriate, largely because I read a lot of material and didn't limit myself (I first read Stranger in a Strange Land in middle school, though I didn't understand much of it at that time). Shyness saw to it that I wasn't seeking out Playboy or The Joy of Sex (or for that matter sex ed materials of the sort more often seen as age appropriate) at the library, but the librarians allowed me to check out the more "adult" materials I did ask about. I don't remember if there was any sort of parental control option available - the only time my folks took issue with my reading material was a particularly garish nonfiction book about medieval magic, which they asked me to not keep with the other library books in the living room where guests might see.

Of course, this sort of issue isn't usually framed in the best interest of the child - rather, it's assumed that the parents know the child's best interests better than the child (which perhaps explains why Stephen King's Carrie is so often challenged?). There's no distinction made between protecting children and controlling them.

If it were completely up to me, I'd have no age-based restrictions; if a minor has enough acumen to seek something out, they're welcome to it. (Such a policy doesn't mean that the library couldn't revoke the privilege of accessing some material if the patron is just going to snigger over a naughty word or nude illustration.)

I guess what it comes down to is that I have a hard time picturing these materials doing actual harm. (With the possible exception of Bridge To Terabithia. Assigning that to fourth graders was just sadistic.) Certainly I don't see the sorts of materials that commonly get challenged as harmful (probably because I don't count rebelliousness as "harmful", and because I don't believe that adolescents aren't interested in sex unless they read a Gossip Girl novel). Certainly it doesn't cause the sort of harm that's better remedied by censorship than by providing better information.

I know this isn't really tenable in the society I live in, so perhaps it's for the best that I'm looking to be part of a more specialized field.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kyle Payne

He presumably has similarly shaped chromosomes and similarly shaped bits. If you think that because of that, his crimes have anything to do with my feminism, I suggest you find other blogs to read.

(If you have no idea what I'm referring to, see these posts at Fetch Me My Axe and Renegade Evolution.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

On "not getting it" or "getting it somewhere else"

There's a discussion at Pandagon about Dagmar Herzog's book Sex in Crisis that's taken some interesting turns, at least one of which I'm probably to blame for.

The one I've been arguing about started with the discussion of the expectation that, because for Christians sex within marriage is the only acceptable form of sex, wives as the gatekeepers of their husbands' sexual morality are required to be "available on demand." (Not much mention is made of the reverse; I'm not sure if this is because men are assumed to be always ready and willing or if women are assumed to not actually have libidos. Probably both.)

From there, "dwhite10701" argued that this was a case of conservative Christians taking a good idea too far, that while saying that a wife should be "a 24/7 tootsie" is incredibly creepy, of course any long-term relationship involves sex you or your partner don't want to have, because "if they don't get it at home they'll get it somewhere else."

And that creeped me the fuck out.

I'm pretty much zero-tolerance these days about cheating - "these days" being ever since actively identifying as poly, so there's probably some convert's zeal going on there. It also stems from having been cheated on. (On the other end of things, I'm not totally innocent, as I regarded a LDR as "open" without making that explicit, and it was mostly dumb luck that she did too.) Using a partner's lack of desire as an excuse to cheat instead of working to remedy the issue or ending the relationship is simply lazy and cowardly.

The discussion managed to move away from cheating and more toward what one should expect in a relationship. A lot of folks took up the position that of course in a committed, long-term relationship there are going to be times when you have sex you don't want to have, but it's okay because there'll also be times when your partner has sex they don't want to have.

And that, too, creeps me the fuck out.

Maybe I'm being naive. I've never been married; I've only had one long-term relationship that involved living together. But the idea that it's better to have bad sex (because let's face it, sex that one of the participants doesn't want to have isn't going to be good) than no sex just doesn't resonate with me. Not only is it going to be immediately suboptimal, but congratulations, you've just opened the door to doubt your partner's desire in all future encounters. That's really worth it? Seriously?

To be clear, what I'm talking about are situations when one person's genuinely not interested. Though I talk about this as a desirous/non-desirous binary, it's more of a continuum where most experience is between those two poles, somewhere in the realm of "I may not be actively desiring sex at the moment, but may be persuadable." Which is a perfectly fine place to be, provided "persuadable" doesn't turn into "are we there yet?"

Gender stereotypes hurt men too

Dave Hill has an article up at Comment Is Free about how feminism is a good thing for men as well as for women:

Men should embrace these principles too, not only for women's sake but also for their own. All else being equal, to be born male is to inherit legacies of entitlement that continue to outweigh those bestowed on those born female. Yet the state of maleness carries its own burden of expectations and constraints. Contemporary studies of boyhood shed light on what we've always known – what I still remember vividly from my own boyhood – about the disabling and limiting influence of male behaviour conventions, homophobia and general "gender policing" on men in the making and the huge anxieties that inform them.

All in all, it's a good article for a general-public audience.

The comments are fairly predictable and often infuriating. At first glance, it seems pretty evenly split between supporters and detractors, but that could change as more blogs link to the article.

The complaints mostly boil down to the following types of statements:
  • "This article was unnecessary."
  • "Women feminists don't care about the issues men face!"
  • "Feminism is about female supremacy, not equality!"
  • "Women (and, by extension, women feminists) want to pick and choose between patriarchy and feminism as benefits them most!"
  • "Feminists are trying to emasculate men."
  • "Women aren't attracted to feminist men."
  • "The strong, silent warrior/provider type isn't altogether a bad thing, so what's wrong with demanding all men fit that role?"
Additional discussion can be found at Feministing.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The last P stands for property

Technorati's "feminism" feed brings the anti-feminist nutjobs out of the woodwork, including one calling himself "The Counter-Feminist" (not gonna directly link him; you can do a bit of searching if you really want), who posts an email from one of his supporters containing the following quotation:
According to modern sensibilities a woman's sexual favors are hers to bestow, whenever to whomever she so pleases. The idea of a womans sexuality as "property" is thus retained, only it becomes the EXCLUSIVE property of the female.
This is actually a technique I see quite often:
  1. Assert something that "they" say
  2. Point out some potential benefit to (some) women or harm to (some) men.
  3. Blame women and feminists interchangeably for that effect.
In this case, what's happening is that the quoted commenter is working within a "sex as property" idea, and then blaming feminism for the effects of that paradigm.

We see the technique again (with the faint glimmering of recognition that, maybe, this has something to do with the patriarchy/kyriarchy as well):
As might be expected, most of our society's judgmental attitudes toward male sexuality are not original to feminism though feminists have been more than happy to exploit them.
Of course, the ways in which feminists are said to "exploit" these attitudes are:
  1. Valuing girls' virginity more than boys' (which explains all those feminist-run "purity balls")
  2. Reserving "courtship, weddings, marriage, children" for women (and not, apparently, vice versa - it could just as easily be said that the attitude is to reserve women for courtship, weddings, marriage and children)
  3. Establishing relationships as an exchange of sex for other benefits (and again, not vice versa - there's apparently no power in being able to use economic clout to compel sex)
  4. Granting women a "protected and untouchable status" (because, as we all know, nothing says "top of the hierarchy" like "untouchable")
Now, with respect to the property argument, I can see what would on the surface be a very similar point made by some types of feminists: that the idea that sex is a "favor" for women to "bestow" (upon men, presumably) doesn't really provide for sexual agency, even if you vehemently affirm that it's *their* favor to bestow; it's still something that's done "to" rather than "with." It's the realm of "Just Say No Means No"; it's the argument-by-adhesiveness made by abstinence-only "sex educators" who liken sexuality to a lollipop or a strip of tape; it's the scarcity economics model where a "favor bestowed" is worth less the more people receive it. It also works as denial of agency because it sets up sex as something that is "bestowed" or "refused" as a reward or punishment, which is another way of saying that "I want to/don't want to" isn't a good enough reason.

The anti-feminists, on the other hand, argue (simultaneously, it seems) that "nobody really thinks of women, or of sex, as property" and "but women really embrace this idea of property, because gatekeeping is power." Because, after all, the problem with sexuality as power from this perspective is that it's power they don't feel they have. (It's such a burden on us men, having to hand out hot dickings to everyone who passes by.)

The difference, I think, can be highlighted by looking at the two groups' proposed solutions. The anti-feminist solution appears to be less to abandon the idea of sex as property and more to look at sexuality (women's, anyway) as a commons - something out of Brave New World, perhaps, where sex isn't property only because nobody ever says "no" to anyone else. (One of the fundamental attributes of property, after all, is that the owner can refuse to grant access to others.)

Most of the feminist solutions I've seen are to move from sex-as-property to something more like sex-as-performance - the idea isn't so much that the property model is bad because it divides humanity into sexual haves and have-nots, but that it's bad because commodification alienates people from their sexuality. (More on both those ideas at some later date - they've both been kicking around in my head for a while but aren't ready to post.)

The later part of the post just degenerates into the typical "patriarchy means an active conspiracy by men brought about by facially discriminatory laws, and anything else is just The Way The World Works, and no sense trying to change that," and is even less worth responding to than the rest of it.

Because consumer advocacy is for skinny people

Consumerist posts, without explanation or comment, The 10 Fattest States In the Country. Commenters who point out that this correlates heavily with the poorest states are drowned out by folks who just want to whine about having to see fat people out in public.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The IGNORE operator

It occurs to me that Google (or, really, any keyword-style search engine) could use a new operator.

At the moment, I can specify that a keyword or phrase either be included or excluded. A search of A -B, for example, includes all hits of "A" that don't also include "B." So "A" gets found, but "B" doesn't. So far, so good.

But most web pages are not so simple - they have multiple occurrences of keywords, especially when I'm looking at the most relevant results. So "A, and also A and B" may be relevant to what I'm looking for, but that pesky B keeps the result off my list.

A more concrete example: I was looking up uses of the word "patriarchy" on blogs I comment on. There's a quite popular (if quite controversial) feminist blog known as "I Blame the Patriarchy" that's on quite a few blogrolls. If I simply search for jfpbookworm patriarchy, I'm going to get a hit on every single page on Feministing that contains my username, regardless of whether "patriarchy" was included. On the other hand, if I search for jfpbookworm patriarchy -"i blame the patriarchy", I'm going to miss all the results on any site that includes the blogroll on article pages, not to mention any article where IBTP was named.

What I want to look for is all pages that contain the terms "jfpbookworm" and "patriarchy", except that I want to ignore instances of "patriarchy" where it occurs only as part of the phrase "I Blame the Patriarchy." I don't think this is possible by stringing together OR, AND and NOT operators, because there's no way to limit the scope to less than the entire page. What's needed, I think, is an IGNORE operator (I'd propose using "!" as the shorthand, because as far as I'm aware the symbol isn't used and it already has a negation connotation), which says "this phrase is not what I'm searching for, but it's not so obviously wrong that its presence connotes irrelevance." Its use would look something like jfpbookworm patriarchy !"i blame the patriarchy", which would take all the hits for "jfpbookworm patriarchy", "de-highlight" instances of "i blame the patriarchy," and then check again to see if all the keywords are highlighted. (There may be a more efficient way to do this; that's left as an exercise for the reader.)

So what do y'all think? Good idea? Idiosyncratic grumble? Just plain incomprehensible?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

4th ed, 2d look

I took a quick read of the 4th edition Player's Handbook last night, and looked at a few more reviews online.

From a comment by rentagurkha at a review by Chris Pramas:

D&D is inspired by, and should be able to feel like, the works of Lieber, Howard, Burroughs, Vance, Tolkien, and Moorcock, among others.

That's the big issue so far for me, I think. This edition of D&D doesn't feel like it's inspired by them, but rather by the computer-based RPGs that were themselves inspired by D&D.

Some of this is game mechanics (the Vance-inspired spells are gone, as are the Moorcock-inspired alignments). Some of this is just an instinctive feel - AD&D always had this 70s/80s vibe to it. This edition seems meant to appeal to the folks who think Conan started with the Schwarzenegger movies, and would criticize Elric as being a ripoff of Drizzt.

Will I use 4th Edition? It depends. If there's enough people around to start a new campaign (and now that I'm near the university, that's likely), and that's what they want to play, then sure. Though it doesn't really have the same feel, it looks like it could be a fun tactical combat game. (On the other hand, I wouldn't be at all surprised if 4th Edition turns out to be the RPG equivalent of Windows Vista.) If it's totally up to me, I'd rather use a classless, more freeform system like FUDGE or FATE, and a non-fantasy setting.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nice Guy Wars, part Who the Hell Knows

(I've lost count.)

From Feministe, among others, comes this story of a study testing for a correlation between a "dark triad" of negative personality traits (narcissism, impulsiveness and deceitfulness).

The sample was entirely college students. College students, while they're easy to get as samples (just make the study mandatory for an intro psych class), are not representative, because:
  • They skew young - teens and early 20s. Younger people are more likely to be susceptible to both manipulation and to societal messages about these traits. (Similar to how there's a difference between a Nice Guy(TM) and a good man, there's a difference between a Bad Boy(TM) and an asshole.)
  • They skew privileged - healthy, wealthy and (primarily) white.
  • They may skew with respect to personality. If being narcissistic, impulsive or exploitative makes it tougher to get into college, then the ones who do may be more likely to have some compensating characteristic.
Other flaws:
  • They're asking about total number of partners, not partners over a given time period. Especially when you're talking about college students, total number of partners is heavily dependent on age of first sexual activity.
  • The number is self-reported - it's not inconceivable that the "dark triad" personalities are more likely to lie about the number.
  • The write-up conflates number of partners and desirability, which assumes that all these encounters were of the "enthusiastic consent" sort. (Especially since this correlation seems to be especially true of men.)
  • It's also quite possible that those "dark triad" personalities are the sort that buy in to the "number of partners is your score," and so make more of an effort to increase the number for its own sake.
  • The write-up also conflates number of partners and frequency of sex, which may not be - lots of people are in monogamous sexual relationships, which get counted as "one," just the same as a one-night stand, even though the amount of sex is very, very different.

You whippergamers, get off my lawn!

Jolt Country reviews D&D 4th edition.

Now I was actually a fan of 3d edition - I thought they did a good job of streamlining the game and avoiding some of the problems with the earlier editions. Of course, my main experiences with 1st and 2d edition AD&D were playing premade modules (including the original Ravenloft module) and SSI's "gold box" games; I didn't really get into serious campaigns until 3d edition had been released and popularized.

4th edition appears to be heavily influenced by MMORPGs, especially World of Warcraft. I'm not sure what to think of the "role" system and how it's tied to class (the 3d ed. multiclassing system, which was the only one that ever made sense to me, is scrapped), or the idea of "aggro" (does this mean it's not DM's discretion who gets attacked? Are heavily armored rodeo clowns now a viable combat unit?) The "powers" seem overpowered (a cleric can get an unlimited-use ranged attack that also works as a one-time bless at level 1? Seriously?)

While that sort of thing does solve the ages-old problem of magic-users being useless after they've used their daily spells, it really does seem to be an entirely different game at this point. And since they already have a World of Warcraft tabletop RPG, I don't seen the need for this kind of rewrite.

[Addendum: they changed the alignment system! "When they Chaotic Good is outlawed, only outlaws will be Chaotic Good..."]

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The new place: a tour

Now that we're mostly moved in, I managed to take a few pictures of the new place.

Entryway

This is a view of the entry hall when you first come in. Pretty basic.

Pantry

This is the pantry (and coffee nook), with insane amounts of cabinet space. (Turn around, and there's another wall of cabinets.)

Kitchen

The kitchen. (Post-housewarming party, which is why there's so much booze atop the refrigerator.)

Kitchen

A view into the kitchen from the living room. (That opening on the left side should probably get filled with a plant at some point.)

Living Room Living Room

The living room. New coffee table courtesy of my mom and her Crate & Barrel employee discount. The futon/sofa against the wall is going to be supplemented or replaced by a bigger sofa in a couple months.

Living Room

The Wall o' Entertainment Tech.

Bathroom

The main bathroom. (Keri's got a second bathroom off her room, but this is the one with a shower.) I have no idea who chose that shade of yellow for the fixtures (the sink is the same shade), or why.

Me in the mirror

The bathroom is also equipped with a mirror. (Had to supply the cheesy hold-the-camera MySpace pose myself.)

Bedroom Bed

My room. New bed (platform, so no box springs, just the innerspring mattress and a foam pad on top), second bookshelf, etc. (I really should look into getting a proper nightstand though.)

Didn't take any pictures of Keri's room, which is kind of a shame because she's done more to decorate than I have - lights along the window, a desk salvaged from some college students who'd moved out, posters, etc.

So there you have it. Pretty basic, but not a bad place to be. What's left to do is mostly further decoration - break up some of these blank white walls, find a plant to hang in that space between the kitchen and living room, maybe look for a little more furniture (if another round of college students moves out at the end of the month, we may be able to find some good things on the cheap; if not, there are a few discount places around).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Furniture update

I have a bed and a coffee table! No more putting everything, including myself, on the floor (which is good when I live on the ground floor).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Feminist-positive sex: some initial thoughts

Inspired by Sunflower's post (::wave::) about sex-positive feminism, and by this thread at Feministe which appears to have turned into a debate between me and Amber Rhea and Renegade Evolution, and somehow keeps getting interpreted as another episode of Kink On Trial:

The problem I have with "sex-positive feminism" is that, a lot of the time, it seems to start with "we find these practices enjoyable" as an axiom, and builds its feminism around that; if sexual practices and feminist principles conflict, the principles lose every time. (Consequently, "sex-pos" can wind up supporting a lot of forms of privilege.) On the other hand, the problem I have with many "radical feminism" approaches to sexuality is that in that conflict, the practices lose every time. (And, conversely to the last parenthetical, "radfem" winds up being a haven for folks who *can* legitimately be described as anti-sex.)

I'm not okay with either of these. I think practice and principle need to be balanced against each other; I call this "feminist-positive sex." The way we get there is by *not* taking desires for granted, but examining them; “this turns me on, and therefore it’s good” gets replaced with “this turns me on, this is why it turns me on, these are elements of it (if any) that I’m less comfortable with, these are why I’m uncomfortable with them, these sources of discomfort I repudiate, these other sources of discomfort I accommodate by choosing practices that reduce or eliminate that discomfort, this is a result that I'm happy with.”

Why do this? Aside from the fact that if one actually believes in one's principles, it's the right thing to do (a sadly discredited argument these days), it helps distinguish "innate" desires from "imposed" desires, and helps make sure that one's really on the same page as one's partner.

And, of course, it helps one feel better about one's self. Though over on the Feministe thread, a commenter pointed out that:

See, I’m not sure about this, because it sounds well good on paper, but this kind of analysis didn’t work for me. It drove me kind of nutty and came close to pathologizing my own sex life. Not only did I end up feeling like crap and feeling guilty about sex for the first time since I actually started having it, I also didn’t come away with any answers.

I'm not sure quite how to respond to that criticism. For one thing, I'm the sort of person who can't *not* analyze things, and who can't silence misgivings, so it was more about what to do with those - try to ignore them and feel vaguely uncomfortable, or follow up on it and try to reconcile that discomfort.

For another, I've seen this form of complaint before - it's a strong part of the "Nice Guy(TM)" paradigm, where the "nice guy" who tries to be respectful of his partner is unable to function and be acknowledged as a sexual being, while the "jerk" who simply doesn't care has no problems. I know this is a slightly different situation, because the analysis is about whether one's self rather than one's partner is being mistreated, but I still think a closer look is a good idea.

One thing that probably needs to be pointed out, given all the miscommunication that seems to occur about it, is that this call for self-examination isn't limited to folks whose desires are generally seen as "deviant" or "problematic." A lot of folks seem willing to interpret this idea not as "we should think about our desires" but "you there, you should think about your desires; mine are just fine." If anything, it's the folks who are closer to societal norms who have the most need to examine their desires, both because it's harder to distinguish "imposed" from "innate" and because many forms of kinky or queer sexualities already endorse a measure of self-reflection.

Similarly, a call for self-examination is just that: a call for examining one's *own* desires. It's not my place to tell someone else they haven't looked hard enough when they conclude they're okay with something, even if I think it's not okay or even that they haven't looked hard enough. Sure, I might ask some leading question, or talk about the public side of things, but to gainsay their reflection process is to deny their own autonomy.

A final observation that was made (and then blown completely out of proportion) in the Feministe thread is that I'm coming from a different perspective than a lot of the other commenters. The social construction of male sexuality is one where a lot of practices and preferences are imposed, whereas for women virtually all practices and preferences are shamed. (Sex class vs. no-sex class again.) In addition, I'm personally easily squicked by shaming, degradation, humiliation, etc. And like I said earlier, I'm prone to hyperanalyze everything. So is this me simply doing what countless other groups have done, and demanding everyone else conform to what works for me? I've tried to avoid that trap, but I'm not sure how successful I have been or will be.

(EDIT: Emphases added because, across the blogosphere, this keeps getting turned into something very, very different.)