Saturday, October 31, 2009

Snow dog

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween

I probably won't be around all weekend, so here's my Halloween post. Complete with a pumpkin I carved myself. Have a good one, y'all.

Video of the Day

In honor of Halloween weekend...and because I reallyreally like Jonathan Coulton.

Full of The Awesome

Cornel West on Talk of the Nation.

Transcript available here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Definitive proof for relativism

One person's "Pure Refreshment" is another person's allergy attack.

Prudie Gets it Right

Dear Prudence,
I am currently in a relationship with a great guy. He is sweet and caring, and we get along very well. There is, of course, one problem that has existed for quite a while but is really starting to bother me now. I am very ticklish, and I hate being tickled. He found out about this weakness when we first started dating, and since then, barely a day goes by when he doesn't try to tickle me. Whenever we are lying on the couch or in bed together, he will start tickling me, and when I react he gets on top of me and pins me down so that I can't defend myself. I have repeatedly told him that I hate being tickled, that it makes me feel vulnerable and no longer in control of my body, and when he continues to do it, it is disrespectful. He insists that because I laugh, I must enjoy it. He adds that I need to learn to master my mind, and once I "convince" myself that I am not ticklish, then I won't panic when he tickles me. What should I say to him that gets my point across?

—Tickled Pink

Dear Tickled,
There are some people who, when they're having sex, may look or sound as if they're being tortured but are actually having a great time. Your boyfriend knows that though you're laughing uproariously while he's tickling you, it doesn't mean you're having a great time but that you're being tortured. Torturing you is the great time for him. If he were a decent person, a simple "Please don't tickle me again. I hate it" should have been enough to end the sessions once and for all. But you've explained ad infinitum what a violation the tickling is. In response, he plays ridiculous mind games with you about how you're responsible for your own reaction when he daily climbs on top of you and pins you down so he can force you to endure his digital assaults. You're asking me what you can say to your "great," "sweet," and "caring" boyfriend to get him to stop attacking you. I think you should boil your remarks down to their essence, and what you should say is "Goodbye."


Sexy Halloween Costume Generator

After perusing a number of Halloween costume catalogues that have come my way, it occurs to me that, in addition to being sort of offensive and misogynist, the names for most of the costumes for women follow a sort of standard algorithm. This algorithm involves combining a fairly predictable set of descriptors and identities in varying combinations. When this thought first occured to me, I was all ambitious and set on writing a javascript that would generate a new random sexy halloween costume name every time you came here (or refreshed), or perhaps everytime you clicked on a button. But now I realize that my javascript skills are very rusty, that it would take more time than I have to formulate the arrays I would need in order to build this script, and anyway there are probably problems with embedding javascripts in blogger that I haven't anticipated and that would just end up pissing me off. So instead of a flashy new Sexy Halloween Costume Generator, I bring you the following low-tech, DIY name generator. Select one from each of the following three columns. Combine them below to make your own unique sexy Halloween costume, brought to you by the patriarchy and it's firm belief that everything a woman does must be tied up with her sexuality and/or passive nature in some way:

____________ ______________ ______________


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yes, thanks Enzi. Thanks a lot.

Check this out:
It basically says "Thanks Mike Enzi, for fighting to protect Medicare."
Senator Enzi helped defeat a plan that would have raised premiums for Medicare drug coverage by as much as 20 percent ...

...yada yada yada. Of course, this is referring to one of many pro-business, pro-big-pharma obstacles Enzi and his pals have tried to plant on the road to healthcare reform. But what's really interesting is the financial ties involved here. This flyer was produced by a group called Medicare Today, which appears to be a subsidiary of Healthcare Leadership Council, which is, you guessed it, a front for a group of medical insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and the like. So, business as usual.

But here's what makes this even more infuriating. In the midst of the great Swine Flu Pandemic and Mass Hysteria™ of 2009, we still don't have a surgeon general, even though Obama nominated the incredible and awesome Regina Benjamin way back in July, and the bipartisan Senate Health and Education and Some Other Things I can't Remember Committee unanimously approved her like a month ago. So why isn't she firmly ensconced and handling the great Swine Flu Pandemic and Mass Hysteria™ of 2009 already? Well... there's this guy named Mike Enzi who's holding up her confirmation because of the way the current administration has treated his beloved Humana in reference to their practice of sending somewhat misleading and scary material to Medicare recipients. In other words, we don't have a surgeon general because of a totally unrelated issue surrounding health care reform which basically has nothing at all to do with the duties of the surgeon general or the job fitness of Regina Benjamin. Nice work Enzi. Thanks for all you do.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's funny you should ask

As a working mom of an almost-2-year-old, I feel terrifically relieved when I read headlines like this: "Working mothers 'don't harm their children's development', major study reveals." All along I've been so worried that I was single-handedly harming her development. Because, of course, if anything goes wrong with her, it must be my fault. In fact, I must have directly and selfishly caused it. You'll notice that the headline isn't phrased like this: "Having two parents who work full time outside the home does not harm a child's development." And it's especially never, ever this: "Working fathers 'don't harm their children's development,' major study reveals." Cause if you printed something like that everyone would be like "well, duh."

This study obviously aims to answer the question "Do working mothers harm their children's development?" And that tells you a lot about the assumptions and beliefs of the people who asked the question, the culture that the question came out of, and the people who are framing the results of the study. In Philosophy, we tend to think there's a lot of significance in the way people phrase things and in the questions they ask. You can tell a lot about a person's worldview by listening to the questions they think are worth pursuing. This is one of the most fundamental ways in which science is influenced by the culture in which it's embedded. Why would anybody even think to do a study asking whether working moms damage their children? Because the attitudes and values of the larger culture saturate whatever kinds of research occur within that culture. It's inevitable.

Another issue here is the complete denial of larger social forces at play in situations like this. If it's the case that we now live in a world with a very different economy such that the breadwinner and stay at home mom model is no longer feasible (let alone desirable) for most people, then why is the mother to blame for potential issues with the kids? Did she bring about these changes in our economy? Obviously not, but then why is the responsibility for the well-being of her kids solely hers? It's puzzling.

Similarly, an article about artificial sweeteners contains this gem:
But in the late 1960s, studies began linking cyclamate to cancer. One noted that chicken embryos injected with the chemical developed extreme deformities, leading scientists to wonder if unborn humans could be similarly damaged by their cola-drinking mothers.
Check out that phrasing. First, note that it's not the cola or the chemical used to sweeten it that damages the babies. It's their mothers. Second, pregnant women who have been told that the artificial sweetener is perfectly safe, who have had diet drinks with this sweetener in it relentlessly marketed to them, who probably couldn't get their hands on the research regarding the risks associated with that sweetener if they tried, and who face intense social pressure to avoid gaining much weight while pregnant, are singled out as the sole cause of the potential damage. The industries that develop the products and ruthlessly push them into the market before adequate testing can take place carry no culpability here. The regulatory agencies that are in the industry's pocket and thus fail to do their job carry no culpability here. And the giant marketing machine that produces the powerful and ubiquitous image of artificially sweetened drinks as safe and desirable has no culpability here. Nope, it's just these horrible women who knowingly and intentionally guzzle unhealthy drinks while pregnant who are to blame. Right. Got it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weekend Recap

It's the beautifulest time of the year in the Rockies.

Football roundup:

Heartbreaking last-minute loss.

Fairly predictable loss for a team that shows some improvement this year.

Nothing short of embarrassing. But Seahawks fans are used to periodically being embarrassed, so no news here.

6 and 0, baby.

The most depressing Postsecret this week:

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Poem on Roman Polanski

A youthful error?
Yes, perhaps.
But he's been punished for this lapse--
For decades exiled from LA
He knows, as he wakes up each day,
He'll miss the movers and the shakers.
He'll never get to see the Lakers.
For just one old and small mischance,
He has to live in Paris, France.
He's suffered slurs and other stuff.
Has he not suffered quite enough?
How can these people get so riled?
He only raped a single child.

Why make him into some Darth Vader
For sodomizing one eighth grader?
This man is brilliant, that's for sure--
Authentically, a film auteur.
He gets awards that are his due.
He knows important people, too--
Important people just like us.
And we know how to make a fuss.
Celebrities would just be fools
To play by little people's rules.
So Roman's banner we unfurl.
He only raped one little girl.

by Calvin Trillin

Done with Pink

...a post in which I join the Pink Boycott, and rant about the breast cancer industrial complex. Brace yourselves.

It's no secret that I've never been a fan of all the pink bullshit that surrounds breast cancer in our culture. For one thing, I personally don't really like the color pink, and resent the fact that, as a woman, I'm virtually required to love it, embrace it, wear it, identify with it. I will choose my own color, thanks. Further, I agree with Barbara Ehrenreich that much of the imagery and the products surrounding breast cancer awareness is nothing short of infantilizing. And this is thoroughly infuriating. But of course, it's just the tip of the iceberg, although for me it's come to symbolize my antipathy to the breast cancer industrial complex.

Until recently, my anti-pink stance has been all about the approach of the Susan G Komen Foundations of the world and their ties with big pharma. And this is still the core of my anti-pinkness. Let me be clear about this. The Susan G Komen Foundations of the world, and their corporate beneficiaries, do not want to put an end to breast cancer. That's the very last thing they want. Note that it's not The Race for Prevention or The Race to End Breast Cancer. No. It's The Race for the Cure. Because cures are expensive and ongoing. Cures bring in billions for pharmaceutical companies and their investors - which prominently include Nancy Brinker and her peers. If we discovered the causes of breast cancer, most of which are clearly environmental, and learned how to prevent it, big pharma and its investors would lose out big time. In other words, they don't want women to stop getting breast cancer - they have no interest in reducing the number of cases - they just want to develop better drugs to treat breast cancer. See the difference? And further evidence for the true stance of groups like the Komen Foundation can be found in their resistance to a robust Patient's Bill of Rights, as well as in their resistance to anything like transparency when it comes to their funding and their corporate partnerships.

In addition, the practices that pharmaceutical companies who are active in the breast cancer industrial complex are deeply problematic on their own and, as such, don't deserve a single penny of our money. For instance, companies like Eli Lilly produce and profit from products that are known carcinogens. If they were truly invested in the health and well-being of women, they would no longer be able to manufacture and market a product that causes cancer with one hand, while raking in charitable donations for research on a cure for that cancer with the other hand. And their investors (like, say many prominent breast cancer awareness advocates) would lose one of their most profitable investments. So you see, everyone's interests are at stake here. Everyone except the actual people who have the actual cancer growing in their bodies. They are lost in the shuffle, often treated like mindless automatons who are only of interest because they are hosts to the cancer, and frequently misled about the efficacy and side effects of various treatment options.

Beyond the obvious examples of companies like Eli Lilly, a whole host of companies that embrace the pink ribbon campaign engage in deeply problematic practices. Take a look at all the pinkified products on grocery store shelves right now. Most of these companies knowingly use products that were grown using conventional agricultural practices, which often result in the runoff of chemicals into local waterways and groundwater. And many of these chemicals are known to increase the risks of cancer (including breast cancer) in those who are exposed to them. But nobody is willing to acknowledge this and take a stand against it. And it's not just the agricultural products involved. I would be willing to bet that many of the tools, cleaning products, electronics, office products, etc that are marketed with the pink ribbon are manufactured using methods that lead to industrial runoff that also contributes to the general cancer-causing toxins in our environment. And that's the crux of the issue. None of these companies is willing to put their money where their mouth is. Do you care about breast cancer? Really? Then alter your practices accordingly. If you're not willing to do that, then please don't yammer on about how much you care. It's dishonest and disrespectful of those who actually have cancer.

On top of that, here you have all these companies profiting from both the pollution of the spaces in which we live and the increase in sales and public image that they derive from pinkifying their products, while it's unclear whether they really make any contribution at all. I don't doubt that it's often the case that purchasing these pinkified products really does result in an actual contribution being made to breast cancer pharmaceutical research and awareness. But not always. Many companies use the pink ribbon and the breast cancer marketing theme without actually making any contribution. And nobody is regulating this or tracking who gives what to whom. So you can add extremely dishonest and exploitive marketing practices to my list of beefs with the breast cancer industrial complex.

So basically it comes down to this: the breast cancer industrial complex combines all of the things that infuriate me about unregulated or not-properly regulated capitalism. What began as a worthy cause, an important cause, has been thoroughly co-opted and twisted around into little more than an exploitive marketing and investment scheme. And this hijacking of a worthy cause has been done in the name of all women and feminism, which is the ultimate insult. To take the passionate efforts of early activists who honestly worked to improve the status of breast cancer patients and make important info available and bring public awareness and concern to the disease, and twist that into a complex and powerful money-making machine is as dirty and greedy and self-serving as it gets. So I, for one, am joining the boycott. I already don't go out of my way to buy pinkified products, but at this point I'm so angered by the greed and dishonesty involved, that I resolve not to buy any pinkified products. At all. And I invite you to do the same.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mom won't be forced to have C-section

A woman, having control of her own body...what a novel idea:

Mom won't be forced to have C-section

via The Unnecesarean (and Heather)

Slate Fail

And while we're talking about Polanski:

To Swiss bankers charged with helping Americans hide money overseas, Roman Polaniski has become a cautionary tale. The 76-year-old filmmaker was arrested last month on decades-old charges of having sex with an underage girl. The lesson here? Be careful where you travel.

Um, the lesson I'm taking from this is "don't get your morning news feed from Slate."

Momentum. Or, Cokie Roberts on Polanski.

Check out this exchange from The Green Room segment of This Week:

UNIDENTIFIED PRODUCER: We have a little bit of time left. There were two issues slated to talk about on the roundtable. Two sordid issues. Roman Polanski and David Letterman. Talk a little bit about those two. And why do people care?

COKIE ROBERTS: Well, they’re very different from each other. I mean, I think that the David Letterman situation is not a good situation. You know, there’s an inherent power imbalance in a boss versus his employees. But, Roman Polanski is a criminal. You know, he raped and drugged and raped and sodomized a child. And then was a fugitive from justice. As far as I’m concerned, just take him out and shoot him.


KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Oh, no. Cokie. Now, we’re both mothers of daughters and I think, Roman Polanski, there should be no dual system of justice in this country. He should not be privileged because he’s a famous director or even because he was a victim of the Holocaust. But, I think one needs to see the documentary which was made that I thought was very powerful in showing judicial and prosecutorial misconduct. That doesn’t mean that he should have fled the country. I think he needs to come back, not fight extradition. But find an appropriate way of serving time and doing justice at this stage. But, I think to say shoot him is obviously not a polite response in a Sunday morning-

MATTHEW DOWD: To me- To me, this is reflective of- To me, the whole Roman Polanski thing is reflective of a huge segment of Hollywood that somehow thinks because you’re part of their clique and you’re successful in their clique, you stand outside the law. And they wouldn’t have that view of anyone outside this country. Someone from rural Alabama or from rural Mississippi that did something, they would be like, "Go after them. Go after them. Go after them." In this case, it’s a commentary on Hollywood that they would allow him to not be held accountable, think it’s okay after the heinous crimes he committed for him not to be held accountable for it.

GEORGE WILL: Yes. The Hollywood view is Chinatown is a good movie. Therefore, the fact that he used a Quaalude and Champagne to drug and rape a 13-year-old is, in the words of Harvey Weinstein, a representative of Hollywood’s monochrome culture, it is a so-called crime. Now, if Chinatown had not been a good movie, we might have to rethink this.

A couple of things jump out at me. While I don't, of course, agree that Polanski should be shot (and I doubt Cokie Roberts really thinks that either), it is refreshing to see members of the media take a stance against rape. Especially after all the mealy-mouth dismissals of this "so-called" rape. And I also appreciate Roberts' comments on the Letterman situation, since this is something that hardly anyone will say. But I find it very interesting how the social momentum seems to work here. In other cases, where you have one media personality reporting on the story by themselves, they're almost always very hedgy. It's been referred to as "not actually rape-rape," as "an incident," and even simply as just plain ol' sex. So this exchange is interesting because Roberts comes out with a very strong statement first, and then the others basically back her. But I suspect that it would have been different if the first person to speak had parroted the Hollywood line of defending Polanski. But because I like and respect Cokie Roberts I would like to think she would have spoken out against Polanski no matter what the others in the group said. I would hope.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Fashion Industry: Intrinsically Misogynistic

**Trigger warning**

The last few days have offered up some great examples of the view of women - as disposable objects that must conform to a very strict standard in order to have any value - that's prevalent in the fashion industry. And none of this is a shock to me. It still boggles my mind why so many people, many of whom are self-proclaimed feminists, continue to defend the fashion industry. What is there to defend about it? It's about as misogynistic as you can get. For instance, it turns out Filippa Hamilton, the model who was photoshopped to be freakishly thin, was fired by Ralph Lauren for being too fat. Then there's Karl Lagerfeld's comments about how nobody wants to see curvy women in fashion magazine, because, as we all know, all women who aren't stick-thin are actually fat cows who do nothing but sit on their asses and cram their faces full of chips. Add to that the alleged fact that Barbie's ankles are too fat, according to Christian Louboutin, and you have a trifecta of misogyny and body shaming.

I suppose you could argue that these are just a few isolated examples of individuals within the industry voicing problematic views, some of which have allegedly been misinterpreted. But I'm not buying it. My own (limited) experience in the fashion industry tells me that these attitudes permeate the industry through and through, and I wouldn't expect change anytime soon. As a teen, I worked at a Starbucks that was located in a mall, and while at work I was recruited to model for Nordstrom’s in their quarterly fashion shows in the mall. These were run by the local office of a national modeling agency, and they relentlessly recruited me to do other types of modeling as well. But I was a busy student-athlete with a part-time job, and I was also a bit overwhelmed by the pressure they put on me and the culture of the business, so I stuck to doing the fashion shows every few months. And looking back, that was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Every interaction I had with the agency was troubling. At the time I was chronically underweight, due to my athletic involvement and my high metabolism. I had lost a lot of weight when I had mono in middle school, and never managed to gain it back, even though I ate a very healthy diet and consumed between 2500 and 3000 calories a day. But I was running 9+ miles every morning, and looking back, I suspect my thyroid level was high (I now know I'm prone to thyroid fluctuations). My body fat level was so low that I frequently skipped my period (which is terrifying when you're a teenager and not sure your birth control is reliable). My mom and my doctor were very concerned about my low weight, and were on a constant campaign to get me back up to 130, which was thought to be the lowest end of the optimal weight range for me, at 5' 10.'' So, on the one hand I had this pressure to gain weight, and carried hard-boiled eggs and crackers with peanut butter around with me so that I could constantly have high protein snacks. But on the other hand I was being encouraged not to gain weight and told that I was at my ideal size by the modeling agency. In fact, whenever my body fat dipped below 4% (which always made my body unable to menstruate), the reps of the agency were thrilled and pursued me with job offers. The other girls who worked in the mall shows picked up on this of course, and alternately praised me and talked shit about me. But it was clear to them that they should emulate me if they wanted to make it in the industry.

All of this was vaguely troubling to me. I wasn't all that self-reflective or articulate about this kind of stuff at that age, but I knew there was something profoundly fucked up about the messages I was getting from the industry. So, apart from doing an ad for a local health club when I was super-broke as an undergrad, I avoided the industry altogether. But I often wonder what happened to the other girls I worked with in those shows. They were already showing signs of disordered eating, and everything in that environment supported and normalized that kind of behavior. I vividly remember the collective gasp of horror that went around the room one time when I pulled a baggie of almonds out of my pocket and started eating them at a pre-show meeting. The girl sitting next to me, who worked at the Cinnabon (ironically) said "there's so much fat in nuts!" I responded by saying something like "almonds are really good for you" and was promptly told exactly how many calories and grams of fat are in a small handful of almonds. As if that alone was a reason never to touch them. Another girls said "I would never eat nuts!" in what I thought was a really snotty and insulting tone. And these kinds of conversations occured often, while none of the adults in the room attempted to intervene or inject a healthy message.

Of course, this was in the early 90s, and it could be that things have changed in the industry since then. I guess. I really doubt it, though. Given the prevalence of these attitudes, and the power the collective culture had over the models and their agents, I can't imagine that things have changed all that much since then. Perhaps the pressure to engage in disordered eating and unhealthy habits has become more implicit and less explicit, for the sake of political correctness and a limiting of liability. Perhaps some designers and agencies are now trying to put some token messages out there about healthy eating and body size to enhance their public image. But I find it hard to believe that anything has truly changed.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I think I get it

I've been alternately avoiding and pondering the whole Polanski debacle for days now. As the list of celebrities who've signed the various petitions grows, I've become increasingly dismayed and confused. I mean, Woody Allen was a no-brainer. But Emma Thompson? Really? For some reason that's heart-breaking to me. And my (fairly predictable) response has been to avoid movies and TV altogether and lose myself in books and football games and playing with my kid. Because nobody has mastered the art of avoidance-of-depressing-stuff like me.

But my confusion and dismay has been largely resolved by this post by the inimitable Twistie Faster (I mean, Jill Psmith), who notes that in Hollywood, rape is nothing more than a plot device. And realizing that the Hollywood-types who have taken on the role of rape-apologists are so completely out of touch that they don't get that rape is not actually just a plot device in real life is sort of reassuring. Of course it still causes me to lose whatever respect I might have previously had for them. Of course it still makes me feel like boycotting movies in general for the foreseeable future. But it relieves my confusion. Rather than having to re-conceptualize all these celebs as horrible, malicious people, I can view them as clueless and out of touch. To them, the rape of a real-life 13 y/o was just a pivotal moment in the story of Polanski's life, and not actually a traumatizing, scarring event in the life of an actual flesh-and-blood vulnerable person in her formative years. Because when you're the secondary character in a plot device like this, you're not really a character at all, but just a sort of placeholder.

So, given that this is their General Understanding of Stuff (a technical philosophical term, y'all), they just become pathetic, ignorant people who are out of touch and potentially very dangerous. As such, they don't deserve a shred of respect or to earn a penny from this work that has so dangerously deluded them. But they aren't quite the monsters they had originally seemed to be. It's still frightening to think of the influence they have in our culture. And it's frightening to think of the danger a girl or young woman working in Hollywood is in, given the prevalence of this worldview there. But at least now I can make sense of their response and leave it behind.

Does it Matter?

Or why does it matter?

This story in the New York Times is raising some questions for me. A genealogist has uncovered the fact that Michelle Obama has a white ancestor (shocking!). Apparently her great-great-great grandmother gave birth to a white man's child "under circumstances lost in the passage of time." Given that she was a slave and he wasn't, I think we can pretty safely guess what those circumstances were. According to the article, the value of this kind of info is that it "highlights the complicated history of racial intermingling, sometimes born of violence or coercion, that lingers in the bloodlines of many African-Americans." But why is the highlighting of this history valuable? Because it shows that there is no such thing as discrete racial groups, as some people still (astonishingly) believe? Maybe. But there seems to also be a subtext suggesting that this makes Michelle O more acceptable or something. Like "it's OK to like her, because she's not all black." Or like it's being used to explain why she allegedly stands out and is so accomplished. Maybe I'm being oversensitive here, but there's a clear implication that this info reveals something significant about her - like it makes her a different person somehow.

Another troubling aspect of this is that it's unclear whether Michelle O wanted this info unearthed, or whether she consented to the genealogical search, or consented to having this info revealed in the NYT just as she was learning about it herself. Obviously when you're as big of a celebrity as she is, you don't get to control your personal information in this way. But it still feels a bit exploitive.

Then there's the theme of five generations from slavery to White House. In itself, it is inspirational. The problem is that it, like so many other inspiring stories, will most likely be used to bolster the claim that we're now living in a post-racial world, that systemic obstacles no longer exist, that the playing field is now truly level, etc. And that's really irritating. Beyond that, it makes me realize that part of me doesn't even want these kinds of inspirational stories told, because I know how they'll inevitably be used to silence people and gloss over the often ugly truth. And that is very sad.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

You Know You're Privileged When... think that marginalized people who object to language that further marginalizes them are being "paranoid" and "nitpicky."

A lot of people think that feminist objections to words like "pussy" are paranoid and nitpicky.

A lot of people think that feminist objections to using the word "rape" in contexts like "that exam raped me" are paranoid and nitpicky.

A lot of people think that feminist objections to the pejorative use of phrases like "you're such a girl" are paranoid and nitpicky.

If it's not paranoid or nitpicky to object to sexist language, then why the fuck is it paranoid and nitpicky to object to ableist language? Because you're not diabled? Mm-hmm. I thought so.

An Open Letter to Feministing

Read it here. Then cosign in the comments.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friendliness and Femininity

I tend to think about gendered social expectations a lot. For one thing, I'm raising a couple of girls here, and for another thing, I tend not to conform to some of the expectations, and have gotten my share of shit from well-meaning friends and family as well as complete strangers. I used to be sort of bewildered by this. Why on earth would a complete stranger be so invested in how I perform gender? So I've written before on the topics of owning your physical space and changing your speech patterns in order to stop apologizing and verbally deferring to men so often. But over the last few weeks I've been thinking about another way in which women and men are socialized (and judged) differently.

I am not a naturally friendly person. I'm just not, and at this point in my life I think I can stop being in denial about it or subconsciously feeling guilty about it. Some people have a natural propensity to be friendly, and others don't. And not being naturally friendly doesn't reflect on your character or moral worth at all. There's no universal obligation to be friendly. And many men are unabashedly unfriendly and downright prickly, but people don't tend to judge them or guilt them about it. But women who aren't naturally friendly are frequently judged. Think about how many male authors there are who are notoriously reclusive, and abrasive and irritable when they do come into contact with others. This is generally thought to be a charming eccentricity. Now think about all the things that are said about Annie Proulx's personality. Why does she have an obligation to be warm and empathetic and put others at ease, when her male counterparts don't?

And it's not as if I'm rude or lacking in empathy or cold or anything like that. I just despise making small talk. And I often have a hard time discovering the things I might have in common with a stranger. I'm often lost in thought, or focused on my kid, or just want to read my book or magazine and listen to my music until the flight is over for crying out loud. And if I'm really honest, the effort involved in making a connection with a stranger I'll probably never see again and most likely don't have anything in common with often doesn't seem worth it to me. Does that mean I think the individual person is not worthwhile? Not at all. In general I tend to like people and expect good things out of them. Does it mean I think they're beneath me? Of course not. And I'm generally thought to be very friendly when I'm with people I already know, and I can make small talk and smooth over awkward situations if I have to. I just find it tedious and mind-numbing and tiresome to have to do it.

But this is something I've avoided admitting to myself for years, and I think this has a lot to do with gendered expectations. It's yet another way that I "fail" at femininity. And I'm fine with this "failure," since meeting the ridiculous expectations established by our cultural construction of the feminine is not a project I perceive of as being worthwhile. But still, it's just one more pressure that nags at the back of your mind, and one more way you know you're probably being judged, and one more thing that offers some friction as you move through the world. And I could do with a little less friction these days.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cutest. Couple. Ever.


Opt-Out Revolution Nonsense Debunked

Apparently, when you have access to fairly accurate statistics, like from the census, you find that much of the drama about well-educated moms who are "opting out" of their careers to stay home with their kids has been manufactured by journalists who use anecdotal evidence to support claims of a widespread national trend. And the fact that culturally we still really want to believe that all women find mothering to be the most fulfilling activity ever of all time, and that all women are naturally nurturing and non-competitive, and that a cold professional career can never be fulfilling for a woman once she sees what the alternatives are, and that all mothers who work do so only out of financial necessity, and that feminism has failed....makes us (as a society) all too eager to jump on these little manufactured dramas and overlook the fact that they're supported only by anecdotal evidence.

Just sayin'