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):