Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
And no, this doesn't have anything to do with feminism. I'm aware of that, and it's OK with me.
AVC: You were going to say something about playing moms?
AW: It’s so boring. I’m not even going to talk about the pedestrian writers. I’m only going to talk about the really good writers and scripts. Americans have a hard time writing moms. I’ll get a script and everything's really great, everything’s well-drawn, but the mom is like this character, like stock footage, they go and get that out. They plug it in, this idea of "mother." You could lift moms out of any script, no matter what the culture, what the neighborhood, what the economic status, even if it’s a period mom, and you could switch them around, and they’d be the same person. I think it’s because most people don’t really have a human idea, a specific life that they attach to who their mother was. Their mother was there for them, so it either gets deified, or the opposite. That Mommie Dearest kind of thing. We love them or we don’t, or we rebel, but we can’t see who they are. That they are a person in life with taste, with sexuality, with opinions, who is pissy also, who has a right to not be the big tit for you every time you want something. And then we leave, and we go off to college or off into the world to work—you really appreciate your mom then. But there’s that big chunk when you don’t know your mom’s faults, desires, wishes, distastes.
It’s tough, because you’re always going to be playing moms. You really have to work to find the person, because they’re not really written a lot. You’re a device in a person’s life, a device in that story. In real life, most people I know are moms, but writing them, I could never reduce them to "mom." It’s like, she does this and this and this—oh yeah, and she’s got kids. They’re interesting, vital, crazy, fucked-up, wonderful, awful, really attractive, and also repulsive people doing wild things and mundane things. And we never see them on film or on television.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
3. How have your profeminist values changed over time? What is the impact of fatherhood on your profeminism?
Think about the implications: If a guy like me—who has every good intention and a history of profeminist activism, and who even served a stint as a stay-at-home dad—is failing at the task for forging a perfectly egalitarian family, then what does that tell us about the prospects of wider social change?
Here’s something I think progressive feminist folks need to understand in a deep way: Parents aren’t soldiers. We don’t take marching orders. And none of us is a general. You can’t tell your partner what she should want out of life, even, perhaps especially, when her decisions make you more powerful in the relationship. You can’t control the way the world thinks of you, and you don’t get to say what social and economic conditions you’ll face as a parent. This breeds feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, anger.
At the end of the day, your main task is to survive and support your family and raise happy children; how you respond to the things you can’t control reveals a great deal about your character, some of it good and some of it bad. You might discover (have you noticed my retreat to the safety of the second person?) a capacity for sacrifice and care that you never knew was there.
On the flip side, the dark one, you might also find yourself erupting with petty rage and misdirected resentment, eruptions that frighten you, your child, and your partner. In those scary moments, when our worst emotions take over and drive our ideals and aspirations over a cliff, it is easiest of all for both fathers and mothers to fall back on traditional patterns of dominance and submission.
What does that have to do with feminism? Everything, and nothing.
Pledging allegiance to feminist ideals doesn’t make you a good person or a good parent or a good partner, but it might remind you of the power you have—we always have power, if only over ourselves—and the need to restrain that power or share it with other people. It can also remind fathers of something that I think is crucial: There are alternatives; you do have choices, and your choices matter. You don’t have to be the man your father was; you don't have to be the idiots we see on TV; you can be a new kind of man, and you can help your sons become that kind of man.
10. Do you feel feminism has failed fathers and, if so, how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given fathers?
...I think a majority of feminists can foresee a positive role for fathers and, indeed, desperately want to see fatherhood redefined in a positive and progressive way. I don’t think feminism has offered a well-articulated vision of fatherhood, but that’s OK: It really falls to fathers to redefine fatherhood.
This is the great thing that feminism has given fathers: Its success has triggered culture-wide dialogs among men about what a good father should be and do. Feminists themselves are not always comfortable with these arguments, and certainly there has been much to criticize.
But, as an old Bolshevik once said, revolutions don’t happen in velvet boxes. They’re messy, contradictory, sometimes downright revolting—but usually also thrilling and necessary. Women have been rising for over a century, and only recently have men started to really change in response. From that perspective, it’s an exciting time.
This leads me to another thing (returning to the topic of the second question) that has surprised me about fatherhood and feminism: In a perverse way, fatherhood has strengthened my commitment to feminism. By revealing the limits of my good intentions and scope of action, fatherhood has pushed me to seek new answers to feminist questions I thought I had answered in my early twenties, on both personal and political levels.
Fatherhood has also reminded me, in a visceral way, of the inequalities that persist between men and women, and, in particular, the burdens carried by mothers. Those burdens and inequalities shape and poison our most intimate relationships whether we want them to or not.
Here again, feminism is useful for fathers and mothers: It gives us perspective, or it should.
It’s easy to be overcome by day-to-day difficulties and despair of the possibility of changing the balance of power between men and women. But if we lift our eyes and look at the sweep of the past through feminism’s eyes, we can see that the balance of power has changed, on this and many other fronts. History doesn’t stop just because we personally feel stuck. If we look at the lives of the people who came before us, we see that our actions in the present do matter, both our individual choices and the act of speaking out in public.
Monday, April 27, 2009
One critique that postmodern feminists have concerning the knowledge/power framework in place is that it engages in metanarratives which serve to norm the dominant groups and other those groups which are marginalized. Traditionally, a (usually white male) historian will tell The Story Of History as if it's all-inclusive and represents all the important things that have happened. Note in this book title we're told that this is "The whole story of man." This may be very well-intentioned and simply done based on custom and convention without a critique of what it means to be the whole story of man, or which persons are taken to be the important or central figures. From what I hear, this book by H.G. Wells is quite well-written and very even-handed. But the fact remains that telling one story, from one perspective, and representing it as all-inclusive is inherently othering to many.
First, the sort of God's-eye-view that this approach suggests is not possible. We're all humans who are fully situated in one time period and cultural context. We each have our own place in the overlapping network of hierarchies, and that position will inevitably inform our view of the world. Second, the project of telling a metanarrative itself suggests that there's just one history to which some figures are central while others are marginal or ancillary. In fact, there are many, many interlocking histories centered around many, many people. And the identity of the one(s) who gets to decide which history is The History will inevitably effect that history and permeate the story told with the privilege, cultural attitudes, and values of the teller. Thus the privileged traditionally own knowledge and history.
So one way to start eroding this system of exclusion is to consistently critique the metanarratives, and instead encourage particular, situated narratives. You can tell the story of your history, in your cultural and historical context, from your perspective. And that story will inevitably center your experiences and the experiences of people who share in your identity. But when combined with the stories of those of other backgrounds, we get a much more complete and multi-faceted picture of events, nobody's voice is privileged, and the norming/othering effect is greatly reduced.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
This weekend some friends of ours had a benefit to raise money to cover their dog's vet bill after a little wrestling-with-a-train-and-losing episode. So they did the keg with live music (punk) and $5 at the door thing, and the party went really well. The police were not called, the neighbors did not complain, nobody passed out or puked on anyone else, and Crash (the most appropriately named dog in the world) is on the mend. But this party got me thinking. There was a day (pre-baby, of course) when I rarely missed a punk or rockabilly show. And yet, I don't have any interest in listening to pre-recorded punk or rockabilly. You won't find many punk tracks in my iPod or on my computer, and I have very few punk bands in my Pandora radio station. So why do I like live punk so much?
For one thing, of course I like the subversiveness of punk culture, although it irritates me to see it appropriated and commercialized at times. Second, I love the energy of the music. For some reason this doesn't translate for me when it comes to recorded material, but nothing compares to the energy of a live punk band. And third, the people at punk shows are endlessly interesting to me. You get such a good mix of misplaced people, angry kids, ironic gestures, and posing. You also get those few who are just exploring the identity and seeing if this might be their niche.
But what I really love is how punk (mixed with a little alcohol or pot) puts people in this place where their body issues kind of fall away. When you watch how people dance to other genres, it seems like there's always this element of self-awareness and self-censoring. People are acutely aware of how they appear, how hot they look, how trendy their "moves" are, etc. But at a good punk show, nobody cares anymore. People cut loose and dance any ol' how, and it always strikes me as this really freeing thing. So maybe it's just me, or maybe it was the tequila, or maybe it's the fact that I'm just now finally emerging from the year-long just-had-a-baby-and-rarely-go-out-and-party-with-friends stage, but to me it's one more thing to like about punk. Because everyone could use a little break from body issues, even if it's just for a few hours.
Sex: The (somewhat artificial) binary of physical and biological characteristics thought to distinguish male from female.
Gender Identity: The psychological aspect of gender - the way one identifies oneself, which may or may not match the gender and/or sex assignment at birth.
Cisgender: A person is cisgendered if their gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth based on their physical sex.
Transgender: A person is transgendered if their gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth based on their physical sex.
Cissexual: A person is cissexual if their gender identity matches their sex assignment at birth.
Transsexual: A person is transsexual if their gender identity does not match their sex assignment at birth.
Genderqueer: A person is genderqueer if they reject the gender binary by blending aspects of both genders or forming a third gender identity or simply trying to live without being defined in terms of gender.
Intersex: A person is intersex if they don't fit neatly into either the "male" or "female" categories. This may be due to ambiguous genitalia or a mix of typically male and female reproductive and/or sexual anatomy. Traditionally, intersex individuals have been surgically altered to fit into the gender categorization that's assigned to them. However, intersex is slowly being recognized as a normal condition that has been problematized by the rigid sex binary required by our cultural attitudes and gender binary.
*Note: "hermaphrodite" is generally a pejorative term used to describe intersex
Social Construction: Any contingent phenomenon that is created by a society. Social constructs exist only because the members of a society implicitly agree to behave as if they do. Generally speaking, there are conventions around social constructs that guide our behavior regarding them. The most common example used to illustrate this is money. Paper and gold money would be worthless if it weren’t for our practices and conventions, but because we all agree to invest money with value, it is valuable. Saying that money is a social construct doesn't imply that it doesn't exist or that it's not real. It's very real and exists as a social construction; it's just not a "natural fact" about the world independent of human activity.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
- Bursting into tears during a rational discussion and claiming that your opponent's valid point that was neither a personal attack nor overly-confrontational is really hurting your feelings. This is manipulative and generally a way to avoid either responding to their point or conceding that their claim was compelling. (I realize this one may be a bit controversial...)
- Accusing your antagonist of being politically correct as a way to avoid acknowledging the ignorance or hate or privilege behind your words that your antagonist has just pointed out.
- Attributing the claims of another participant in the discussion to emotion or hormones in order to avoid addressing them.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
the Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and dark, Thracians, that theirs are grey-eyed and red-haired.
Addendum: in comments, Michael pointed out to me that I didn't explain the duckrabbit illustration I used (the first pic in this post) so here it is. The duckrabbit is often used to demonstrate the way simple paradigm shifts happen. If you look at the picture thinking it's a duck, then you don't even notice it can also look like a rabbit, and vice versa. Because you're "in the grip of the picture" that you're looking at a duck. But once the idea occurs to you that it could be a rabbit, that's how you perceive it, and there seems to be no trace of duck left in it. And you can make it switch back and forth, thus experiencing a simple paradigm shift in your head in real time.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
In the ever-fascinating world of game theory, a zero-sum game is one in which the victory of one player is counterbalanced by the loss of another player or players. So if you add up the gains and losses of all the players, the sum is always zero. Some real-world examples of zero-sum competitions are territorial gains, which always result in a reciprocal loss of territory for someone else, marketshare competition, and coercive economic situations where the party that is profiting does so at the expense of others, as in the case of cutting wages to increase profits and appropriating resources without proper compensation to the rightful owners. In each of these cases, one party is enriched at the expense of the other.
So what does this have to do with the way our culture constructs masculinity, you ask? Everything. OK, maybe not everything, but a lot. In the case of anal penetration, the conventional construction of it was that the man who finds himself being penetrated loses social standing while the one who penetrates him gains social standing. Similarly, the man who gives oral sex to another man loses standing while the receiver gains. The gains and losses are reciprocal. Thus you have derogatory terms like "cocksucker" and "fucked in the ass." And thus gay men are generally imagined in hetero culture to be either the debased "woman" or the slightly more acceptable "man" in the relationship.
This explains the jokes and insults among straight men that center around a man being penetrated or being reduced to sucking another man's cock. To insinuate that a man became another man's "bitch" in a situation is to feminize and devalue him while valorizing and honoring the dominant one. So one wins at the expense of the other. And pointing out any weakness or vulnerability in another man elevates the one who points it out, so that most social gains that are made among men are made at a reciprocal cost to another man.
It's important to note here that I'm not trying to demonize any individual men, or suggest that men as a group are somehow morally deficient. This is simply the mode of interaction that men are socialized into from the time they're young boys playing together, and they replicate it throughout their adult lives. For example, this weekend we had a number of our friends over, and several of the interactions I observed really struck me as conforming to this model. In one conversation, almost everything negative that was jokingly said about a particular man (we'll call him T) boiled down to calling him a woman, or using feminine adjectives to describe him, or suggesting that he was gay. And all of these pejoratives served to highlight the respect-bordering-on-awe that is collectively felt in this group of friends for the man who was issuing these insults (we'll call him J). It's as if J's elevated position in the group is inextricably coupled with the belittlement of his peers. And in this particular dynamic, he's often not even the one who's instigating the zero-sum game, but instead it's become this recurring theme that everyone accepts and replicates even in his absence. And the jokes and insults that seem to be the funniest to men (and not just this group of men, but also other men I've been friends with) are the ones that insult and denigrate one man while building up another the most. The female friends in our group seem to sort of tolerate this dynamic for awhile, but eventually become bored with it and drift off in different directions until the conversation shifts and becomes interesting again. I think we've always thought of it as this kind of immature "boy talk" that our otherwise intelligent and interesting male friends seem to fall into at times.
But I think it's significant that this throwback to little boy culture is so prevalent in adult male interactions. And I think it's indicative of underlying attitudes toward women and homosexuals. In this regard, I think adult hetero males inhabit a world that's deeply conflicted and full of subtle tensions. Consciously, I suspect most adult males think of women and gays as equals. There's certainly a lot of explicit societal pressure on them to at least act as if they do. But at the same time they're navigating this context which implicitly devalues anything that's not-masculine and awards reciprocal honor to the masculine, or not-feminine and not-gay. Even the fact that everything is defined in terms of what it's not (masculine=not-feminine) reveals the zero-sum nature of this social construction. So I think this is one aspect of patriarchy that hurts men too. Inhabiting a world that's so tension laden, and constantly being stuck on the hamster-wheel of one-upping and denigrating your peers in order to maintain your status can't really be good for you. And it's certainly very bad for those who serve as the negative and devalued analogue (i.e. women, homosexuals, etc) that these kinds of comparisons depend on. So given the fact that it doesn't appear to benefit anyone in the long run, there doesn't seem to be any reason to maintain this construct. I vote for change.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
From my kidlings, who are among the smartest, funniest, most creative, talented, and beautiful girls in the world. And I wouldn't lie about this.
Cause everyone knows women don't enjoy "conventional" video games...
And did I mention that the inclusive pronoun "we" doesn't include women?
Friday, April 10, 2009
if they hate the transgender community so much, why do these wannabe rad fems bother coming on our blogs?
He posits that the reason some men have so much vitriol towards other men who display any feminine characteristics is that they have so much of their identity tied up in notions of 'masculinity' (defined simply as NOT a woman), that any threat to traditional definitions of masculinity is a threat to personal identity.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009
But recently I thought about a new application of the mirror test that illustrates something about the constellation of attitudes surrounding breastfeeding and mothering in general. Imagine if a mother was observed in a public place with a small infant (we'll say it's a boy), and when the baby got hungry and demanded to be fed, she pulled a bottle of formula out of her diaper bag and took him to the bathroom to feed him. I think people would be shocked and appalled at the thought of a mother sitting in the bathroom stall feeding her child. They would say things that suggested she was a bad parent for exposing her child to such an unsanitary environment. Especially for the purposes of eating.
Contrast this with the many, many people in our culture who think that breastfeeding shouldn't be allowed in public, and suggest that the mother take the child to the bathroom to "do that." Why would it be acceptable for a breastfed child to eat in the bathroom? Do we really view breastmilk as being so closely akin to pee and shit? Because if that's the general idea, then I think I'm starting to get a sense of why it's such a repulsive idea to so many people...
Friday, April 3, 2009
Lies My Mother Told Me
by Elizabeth Thomas
If you keep eating raw spaghetti
you'll get pinworms,
then I'll have to make
a necklace of garlic for you to wear
each night while you sleep,
until they go away.
If you're mean to your younger brother, I'll know
because I have a special eye
that spies on you when I'm not home.
You cannot hide from it,
so don't try.
If you touch your "down there"
any time other than when using the toilet,
your hand will turn green and fall off.
If you keep crossing your eyes
they will stay that way
until the wind
It is bad luck to kill a moth. Moths are
the souls of our ancestors and it just
might be Papa paying a visit.
If you kiss a boy on the mouth
your lips will stick together
and he'll use the opportunity
to suck out your brains.
If you ever lie to me
God will know
and rat you out.
Trust me —
you don't want that
Thursday, April 2, 2009
First, there are deep and troubling issues with the FDA and their sort of "regulation." For instance, in this regulatory project, two representatives from the tobacco industry will most likely sit on the advisory board. That's right - the industry itself will be involved with the regulatory process. How can that possible work, you ask? The thing is, this is pretty standard for our regulatory agencies. Agencies like the FDA and the USDA are saturated with former and sometimes current employee of the industries they're supposed to regulate. It's quite common for a person to retire from the industry and immediately take a job regulating it. The conflict here is that this person's sympathies will tend to lie with the industry, and their financial interests most certainly will.
In fact, transitioning back and forth between the industries and the agencies that are supposed to regulate them is so common that critics refer to this as the revolving door. When I was in grad school I TAd for a professor who was a leading expert on regulatory law. His theory was that regulatory agencies have a life span of roughly 20 years before the saturation by industry representatives reaches critical mass. When this happens, the only way to counter it seems to be to dissolve the agency and start over from scratch. Like that's going to happen anytime soon.
Second, to understand what's going on with this bill, all we have to do is follow the money. Who backed this bill, and in large part, wrote it? The tobacco industry. I'm not shitting you here. Several sources have already noted this. According to Howard Wolinsky and Alan Blum at Huffington Post :
...the industry will be footing the bill for the alleged regulation of its own products. This is window-dressing masquerading as regulation. The foxes will be guarding the henhouse.
...But placing the nation's most lethal consumer product -- cigarettes -- under the control of the FDA would be unwise. And asking a food and drug bureau to promulgate "product safety standards" for cigarettes is an oxymoron that will perpetuate the myth, long fostered by the tobacco industry, that this inherently harmful product can be made safer.
...The ardent support of this bill by Philip Morris, with fully 50 percent of the nation's cigarette market, should prompt skepticism about the measure and its purported public health benefits.
So why were companies like Philip Morris so active in pushing for this legislation?
Prof. Michael Siegel of Boston University School of Public Health, a prolific blogger on tobacco policy and critic of policy that's more symbol than substance, bemoans "the many loopholes in the legislation that were clearly inserted to protect Philip Morris and retain its support for the bill, rather than to protect the public's health."All of this evidence of the tobacco industry's support for the bill raises the question of what exactly they stand to gain from their cooperation in the "regulation" of their industry. The limiting of FDA regulatory authority written into the bill by big tobacco results in a remarkably effective protection of their market share. Since this bill largely limits regulation to new tobacco products, companies like Philip Morris, which already has a huge portion of the market share, will be shielded from much scrutiny and their market share will be protected. According to the NY Times:
This continues the tobacco industry's tradition of doing seemingly surprising things that serve its economic interests.
Competitors say that the F.D.A. is unlikely to approve many new tobacco products. That, they say, combined with the legislation’s broader restrictions on tobacco advertising and marketing, would lock in Philip Morris’s market dominance.
“It would make it harder to let consumers know there are options available to them,” said Maura Payne, a spokeswoman for R. J. Reynolds, a part of Reynolds
American and the second-largest tobacco seller and maker of Camel cigarettes.
In addition, even as Philip Morris has spent years lobbying for the legislation, it has also poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a research center in Richmond, Va., to develop new tobacco products it hopes can pass federal muster — in particular, smokeless products that can be chewed or sucked or inhaled and do not involve burning tobacco. Few other tobacco companies have the resources to place such bets on the regulatory future.
So this bill illustrates a couple of things about how our democracy works. First, the immense clout that corporations acquire through lobbying and campaign finance really does replace the the control of the people with the control of the business world. Rather than being representatives of the people, politicians are reduced to corporate lackeys in a corporatocracy. Second, this bill deomonstrates how our regulatory agencies serve as a smokescreen for this process and a placebo to create an artificial sense of safety for the American public. Trust me on this one. The FDA really doesn't have your health and well-being at heart when it acts to "regulate" the industries that fall under its control. Instead, it has basically become an extension of those industries.