Peeping Thomas

Tucked in the back of the Philadelphia Art Museum‘s modern galleries is a peculiar, enigmatic piece by Marcel Duchamp. Etant donnes was the artist’s final work*: he spent the final two decades of his life working on the piece after telling the world that he had retired from art-making. Upon his death, the work was discovered and, as per the stipulations of Duchamp’s will, installed at the PMA never to be moved or lent out to other sites.

Continue reading “Peeping Thomas”

Valhalla was Co-Ed

QUICK HIT: The choir season starts up again tonight, which means my Wednesday posts for the foreseeable future will have to be:

  1. Pre-written and scheduled
  2. Quick and somewhat insubtantial
  3. Non-existent in a “night off” kind of way)

Obviously, today I’ve chosen option 2. Well, not entirely obviously, since I could have pre-written and scheduled this post. But trust me: I didn’t do that. Because my life and to-do list are not currently at such a level of organization and under-controlness. I’d love to tell you otherwise, but I don’t have it in my to maintain that level of facade.

Where was I? Oh yeah: QUICK HIT tonight. In more ways than one. (Go below the fold to see what I mean…)

Continue reading “Valhalla was Co-Ed”

Not Flawless, but Feminist

I watched the first 20 minutes or so of last week’s VMAs on the night of the telecast, using the miracle of DVR-time-shifting to watch a small bit of the ceremony after the True Blood finale concluded. And even though I wasn’t wearing my pre-cog goggles, I will say that the performances I watched had a bit of a feeling of prelude about them. Like I couldn’t have told you what the main event was going to be, but those opening acts most certainly were not it.

Continue reading “Not Flawless, but Feminist”

The Games We Play

(a.k.a. Gaming the System, part 2.)

spy_vs_spy_by_ragdollnamedgaryThere’s times when I feel as if, when writing my “flagrantly feminist” posts, that I’m veering uncomfortably close to dividing the world into two teams: men as the “black hats,” the villains, the aggressors, the colonizers; and women as the “white hats,” the heroes, speaking truth to power and conscientiously standing up for what’s Right and True and Good.

And if I’ve ever implied that I’ve sorted the world into those two teams, please let me say clearly for the record: that would be bullshit, ’twere I to do so. Unmitigated, odiferous bullcrap.

Though I can see how it might happen. Continue reading “The Games We Play”

Gaming the System

I’m not really a gamer. At least, not as I understand the term.

videogamesYes, I spend way too much time playing iPad games, but it’s all amateur hour stuff: endless runners, connect-3 games, nostalgia favorites like Tetris. That kind of thing. Whenever the topic of gaming comes up, I jokingly say that I have the videogame tastes of a 9-year-old. Earlier in the summer, my nephew saw me playing Jetpack Joyride and said “I remember that game! My friends and I used to play it back in 7th grade.” So maybe my tastes are that of a 12-year-old rather than a 9-year-old, but the basic point stands: I’m not a gamer.

A gamer — to my understanding of the term — is someone who plays those extensive role-playing and/or immersive first-person shooter games. Stuff like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Grand Theft Auto, or Halo. (The fact that I don’t have any current titles/examples springing to mind is yet another sign of how not-a-gamer I am, so there you go…)

Continue reading “Gaming the System”

Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle

Some days I think I’m such a bad feminist that someone’s going to knock on the door and ask me to turn in my membership card.*

nailpolish_by_rainbow_colourToday is definitely one of those days, because I am rather out of step with the wave of outrage against the new roofie-detecting nail polish that’s been all over the news.

Before I prove all the ways I am limited as a feminist, I do want to acknowledge the ways that I share many of the concerns I’ve seen expressed in the media blitz about “Undercover Colors.” ThinkProgress quotes Tracey Vitchers of Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER): “I think we need to think critically about why we keep placing the responsibility for preventing sexual assault on young women.” Damn straight. Some day soon I might just tell the story about the time I nearly lost my shit at Elizabeth Vargas and tried to take exactly that ideological stand (alas, in a woefully inarticulate, limited, and ultimately ineffective, way).

The ThinkProgress article goes on to talk about the kinds of efforts they (and their interviewees) would recommend be publicly highlighted:

So, rather than targeting efforts at helping women identify roofies in their drinks, it would likely be more effective to focus on larger efforts to tackle the cultural assumptions at the root of the campus sexual assault crisis, like the idea that it’s okay to take advantage of people when they’re drunk. There’s a lot of student-led activism on college campuses around these themes, as well as some college administrations agreeing to implement more comprehensive consent education and bystander intervention training programs. The advocates who spoke to ThinkProgress said they wish more of those campaigns would start making headlines.

Again, I’m in agreement. I even think Jessica Valenti of The Guardian (or her editors) pretty much hit the nail on the head when she/they titled her article on this topic: Why is it easier to invent anti-rape nail polish than to find a way to stop rapists?

So I agree that there are huge problematics with rape culture — the victim-blaming, the way women are expected to carry the responsibility for “rape prevention,” the way those two things fuel a world in which women’s freedoms are endlessly constrained. And I think the media firestorm around this “life-saving nail polish”** is hugely symptomatic of rape culture, and adds to the ongoing perpetuation of same.

And yet. (Here’s where I’m about to lose my feminist credentials.)***

I don’t really have that much of a problem with the product itself. Because when I think about the primary objections I’ve seen voiced against the product as its own thing, they don’t entirely ring true for my understanding of the world.

1. This product will create more victim-blaming. Is that even possible? When I look around me, it seems like victim-blaming is already up to 11. Yeah, I’m sure that this nail polish will be added as a new flavor to the victim-blaming soup but it doesn’t sense to me like it would actually, objectively increase the quantity of victim-blaming or the likelihood that victim-blaming will occur. ‘Cos, as far as I can tell, the unfortunate truth is that you’ll be blamed for whatever you do or don’t do — if you didn’t wear this nail polish, you’ll be blamed for that, but if you were to wear it, you’d still be blamed just as strongly, only for some other bullshit excuse.

2. It’s wrong for a team of college men to be profiting (or trying to profit) off a crime predominantly commuted against women. I’m not really loving the fact that the R&D team for this is all guys. Still, this line of reasoning feels uncomfortably reductive to me: casting all men into the mold of sexual predator — which is similarly problematic to the societal mythology that casts all women into the mold of sexual object.

Besides, the company founders are hitting a lot of good notes in their public statements. From the Facebook page:

We are taking just one angle among many to combat this problem. Organizations across the country need your support in raising awareness, fundraising, and education. Among the ones we recommend are:

RAINN
Men Can Stop Rape
InterAct (locally in Raleigh)

Please consider following these campaigns and finding new ways to fight this crime in your communities around the world.

And, yes, it’s possible these words are insincere and manipulative. It’s also possible they’re completely sincere, and I want to give these guys the benefit of the doubt until I see more definitive evidence that they’re being unethically opportunistic.

3. This product will create a false sense of security (in this big unsafe predator-filled world), and also at the same time Women shouldn’t have to police their behavior or work so hard to protect themselves (the world should be a safer place). I’ve grouped these last two together, because I’ve been so deeply fascinated by the ways they’re often invoked together despite their contradictory undertones.

Part of the “false sense of security” narrative is based in the statistical reality that only about 2.4% of  campus rapes are suspected to be linked to roofies or other such substances. As such, someone electing to use that product may feel like they’re protecting themselves from danger when in actuality they might have made themselves less aware and more careless about all the real dangers that are out there in the world.

[SIDEBAR] I am very curious to see if that statistical fact — only 2.4% of sexual assaults involve roofies — is the thing that finally tanks the business model for Undercover Colors. I’m not convinced there’s that much of a market here. But I still don’t think it’s wrong for anyone to be exploring that question. It’s the circle of product development: prototype something to see if it can be created, then do further market research to see if there’s enough of a desire for that newly-created thing to warrant further development and scaling up. [/SIDEBAR]

And, somehow, simultaneous with the reasoning that this product is a Bad Thing because it won’t guard against the real dangers out there, stands also the reasoning that it is a Bad Thing because it’s not fair that women need to put in the extra effort to negotiate an unsafe world. Which brings me back to Valenti:

As former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir said after a cabinet member suggested that women be given a curfew to curb a spate of sexual assaults: “But it’s the men who are attacking the women. If there’s to be a curfew, let the men stay home, not the women.”

And to ThinkProgress, quoting Rebecca Nagle, co-director of the activist group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture:

“The problem isn’t that women don’t know when there are roofies in their drink; the problem is people putting roofies in their drink in the first place.”

And, quite honestly, this brings me back to a place of partial agreement. Because, yes, I believe — I know — that the ultimate necessity here is to dismantle rape culture, to stop rapists from raping, all of that. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the patriarchy needs to die in a fire, like now.

Except “like now” isn’t really how it’s gonna go. Cultural transformation takes time, and until we’re on the other side of that transition, I can’t help but have empathy and compassion for anyone choosing to use whatever techniques they choose to feel a little bit safer and (in a statistical “playing the odds” kind of way) maybe even to be a little bit safer.

And yes, it sucks that those sorts of calculations can so strongly restrict women’s freedom. And we should live in a world where freedoms aren’t restricted like that. But we’re not there yet.

I kept an army knife in my bedroom for a number of years in Philly. Would it have been potentially useful if I’d been attacked? Perhaps. Was it a foolproof method of self-defense? No way. Would I have been “to blame” for being attacked if that knife wasn’t effective self-defense? No fucking way. Was it symptomatic of our fucked-up rape culture that I felt the need to have this knife? Absolutely. Was it an expression of personal weakness that I wanted that object to help me feel/be safer? I’m betting yes.

Do I blame myself, current and past, for making that adaptive choice to help myself get through the days, and to achieve some level of freedom from hyper-vigilant insomnia during the nights? Not on your life.

And as with my old army knife, so with someone else’s chemically reactive nail polish.

* I’m not giving back my free toaster, though…

** Don’t you just love marketing hyperbole?!?

*** Though, hey! I’m still thinking through all these different threads of meaning and feeling. It’s possible I’m onto some level of personal truth. It’s possible I’m talking out of my ass. I’ma just keeping on writing and watching, and I’ll see if I refine this line of thinking or if my ongoing study leads me to a different place, when all is said and done.

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Image credit: “nailpolish” by rainbow-colour, shareable via a Creative Commons License (retrieved from http://rainbow-colour.deviantart.com/art/nailpolish-73597318 )

Princesses, to Arms!

[Quick hit: thank you WordPress scheduling feature!]

Considering my past musings on Disney Princesses and Princess Culture, I couldn’t let The Will Box‘s photo set of Disney Princesses in armor to go by without comment.

princess-armor

The costumes came to my attention in this io9 article. Since I am not much of a cosplay aficionado, I’ll admit I only scrolled through the first dozen or so pictures to see the Princess remixes — after that, things devolved very quickly to a bunch of pictures of people I don’t know, trying to look like fictional characters I also don’t know, in an expression of a hobby (cosplaying) that I just profoundly don’t get.

Ultimately, one of my discomforts around cosplay is the cultural patterning that so often happens with men armoring themselves up while women sex themselves up (also see: Halloween costuming trends).

To some degree, these armored Princesses still twinge my discomfort on that score, being as the “armor” is still very much of the plate-mail bikini variety. Nevertheless, I am also very interested in and pleased by the subversive remix of presenting these Princesses as individuals capable of their own fights and self-defense, rather than needing to wait around for their princes to rescue them. And all while maintaining enough of the original iconography for the connections to be clear.

———-

Image Credit: The Will Box. (Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.575306665931274.1073741976.308639119264698&type=1 )

Form vs. Function

So, as someone who is child-free by choice, I’ve had an informal policy of staying as far away from the “mommy wars” as it is possible for me to stay. Breast-feeding vs. formula, maintaining external employment vs. becoming a stay-at-home-mom, “mainstream” product choices vs. natural/organic ones — every choice has its costs and benefits, and every mother has her own unique circumstance that leads to a particular set of choices (some of which may even be forced-choices determined by economic or other constraints).

Since I have never faced these choices and I am never walking a mile in these particular stirrups, my general approach has been to hold an attitude of respect for each mother and her parenting choices,* on the belief that each mom is doing the best she can in any given moment.

But then there’s that moment when the mommy wars play out very personally in the life of someone in my circle of acquaintance:

Ingrid Wiese-Hesson was shopping at an Anthropologie store in Beverly Hills when her 6-week-old son, Xavier, began crying because he was hungry.

Wiese-Hesson then sat down in the store to breastfeed the infant, and that was when the store’s manager reportedly intervened.

“The exact words to me were ‘I’m here to escort you to the ladies room so that you can finish breastfeeding’,” Wiese-Hesson said. “She opened up the bathroom, and she said ‘sorry, there’s no chair’, and of course the only thing in the bathroom was the toilet seat.” (CBS Los Angeles)

Ingrid posted her experience on Facebook and it blew up and went viral almost instantly (as one might guess from seeing the clip from last night’s 11’o’clock news).  More details and slices of analysis are available at a number of places online, including information about a “nurse-in” that took place today in the store (LAist); an AdWeek post that connects the uncomfortable dots between this real-life incident and a recent student-designed public awareness campaign aimed at preventing exactly this sort of harassment; and a CBS Money Watch post that gives really good snark:

At high-end retailer Anthropologie, shoppers can select from body-baring items like its $118 see-through Gladiolus Sheer Silk Blouse. But when it comes to breastfeeding, one store location deemed a woman was showing just too much of her body.

Assuming AdWeek’s excerpt from and analysis of CA state law is on-point —

The Anthropologie manager’s actions were not just unwise, they were also in violation of Hesson’s legal rights. From the California Civil Code: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present.”

— then there’s a certain open-and-shut nature to the legal question here. Ingrid was absolutely, 100% within her rights to breastfeed her son in the Anthropologie store, and the store manager broke the damn law by  interrupting her and escorting her to the bathroom.

david-horsey-breastfeeding-moms-20120705-001So I’m going to set the legal question aside from now and just let my mind boggle from the fucking insanity of this all. What rational and reasonable objection would anyone have to a woman breast-feeding her six-week-old baby?

Answer: objections a-plenty, but nothing rational or reasonable, as far as I can tell. I know the first rule of following feminist stories in mass-market media sites is “don’t read the comments!” — well, I did, so you don’t have to. (Taking one for the team.) There were a few different rhetorical tactics, but objections pretty much all fell into being one flavor or another of this: breastfeeding should be done in private because it’s immoral/unseemly/inappropriate for it to be seen in public.

And here’s where I go into a sputtering place of incoherent rage and puzzlement. Because, to paraphrase Henry Rollins when talking about racism: these folks are tripping over an entry-level concept, a curb about 6 inches high. It’s inappropriate to publicly use your boobs to feed an infant? Feeding babies is actually the main purpose for which women’s breasts were invented! How can it be deemed immoral for babies to be fed in public?

Because, as Anna Quindlen said way back in 1994:

[T]he subtext of the public breast-feeding battle is the inability to make a distinction between what is female and what is sexual, what is indecent and what is utilitarian. And maybe it’s epitomized in a letter that The Albany Times-Union got from an irate citizen who asked whether women who nursed in public would be having sex on the streets as well, as though the connection between nursing and fornication was self-evident.

(Yes, 1994. Twenty years ago. The more things change, the more they fucking don’t.)

After all, I bet no one would object to a baby being bottle fed in public, and I bet the same judgmental asshats complaining so voraciously about Ingrid’s choice to publicly breastfeed would also be giving her the judgmental side-eye if she had chosen to delay her son’s feeding and “subjected” the other customers to hearing the sounds of an unhappy, hungry, crying baby. It’s only because someone’s mammary glands are involved that this has become such A Thing.

I know that the policing and sexualizing of women’s bodies is pretty stupidly crazy even on the best of days. But still. What is it about breasts? How did these secondary-sex characteristics become so thoroughly fetishized and sexualized in the culture? Why is Anthropologie okay selling see-through shirts for the sake of showing off in the attractiveness/sexuality game, but not okay with a woman discreetly using her breasts for their actual, original biological purpose?

I know, I know: it’s the damn patriarchy again. After all, no one’s having a fit about all those exposed Adam’s apples…

* Aside from those that are obviously neglectful and/or abusive.

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Image credit: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/12/nation/la-na-tt-breastfeeding-moms-20120705    (David Horsey at the LA Times.)

Beyond the Filters of Human Decency

Back during JALC’s first lifespan, I took some small enjoyment from watching my WordPress dashboard to see what sorts of google searches brought readers to my posts. (I even used that as an excuse for a quick one-liner-type post way back when.) Google has since redone its programming, so there’s much less of that possible on JALC’s current life cycle.

Nowadays, most everything is hidden behind an “unknown search terms” privacy curtain. I haven’t the slightest level of understanding as to why certain terms making it out from behind the curtain to appear on my dashboard, but since I know the dashboard list is a mysteriously reduced and redacted version of the “real” list, I just haven’t really paid that dashboard feature much attention this time around.

Until I got back form my trip Sunday night and saw a new phrase in that screen field:

we hate ragen chastain

In case you don’t know, Ragen Chastain is a fat activist, someone I would say is out helping lead the movement. She has a book, an active speaking calendar and is currently co-organizing an online Fat Activism Conference that will take place from August 22-24. And she has a blog, a blog that is one of my go-to sources to continue expanding my awareness and evolving my thinking around fat acceptance and health at every size.

I would wager that Chastain and I wouldn’t see eye to eye on everything. For example, my guess is that she would consider my recent HCG journey simply to be a capitulation to diet culture, even though I contextualized it for myself as a detox experience. And, you know what? If she did have some questions about my motivations, and how mixed they might have been, I can respect that. ‘Cos Gaia knows, I had to do a lot of my own inner discernment to keep unwinding my old weight loss programming so that I could keep the goals of my HCG journey distinct from losing weight. And the uncomfortable reality is that no matter how hard I worked to keep my own focus in the detox lens, my decision to do HCG meant that I financially supported a company that makes its living off of diet culture, women’s insecurity, and size policing. (Ugh.)

So yeah, I can respect how Chastain and I might have differing opinions on some things. But the level of puzzlement and shock I felt about that search term being used to find this blog is largely driven by the great level of respect I feel for Chastain, her work, her voice. (My best guess, looking back at my old posts, is that the phrase must have made contact with one of my own FA/HAES rants where I quoted one of Chastain’s posts and then talked about “hating” some fat-shaming shenanigan-or-other.)

SPmobThe other piece of my upset about having been, even ever-so-peripherally, connected to that phrase is the general sense of despair and discouragement I feel about the ugly way that people treat each other, out here on the Interweb.

Often, I see the most virulent, soul-staining ugliness in misogynist response to feminist writing of some sort or other. For further commentary on this subject, see Chastain’s blog, Shakesville, Jezebel, Pacific Standard, Forbes, and the Washington Post.* To quote Shakesville:

Every time, the people with whom I share this experience express shock. It is always, always, a surprise that a woman who does public advocacy is subjected to this sort of abuse.

And it shouldn’t be. Because every single woman I know who does public advocacy is subjected to it. . . .

And then we are told not to talk about it. We are told that we empower the people who do this to us. No. NO. Victims do not empower abusers. People who refuse to acknowledge that abuse do. People who tell victims to be silent do.

I am not going to be silent. I am tired of people being surprised. I am tired of hearing “I’m sorry this happens to you.” I don’t want shock and I don’t want pity.

I want your fucking awareness and I want your fucking anger.

I want us to talk about the real costs of being a woman who does public advocacy. I want us to acknowledge how the costs of providing a safe space is that we stand on the line and absorb massive amounts of abuse. I want us to make noise about the people who create an atmosphere in which women are discouraged from participation.

And I want people to stop telling me to be quiet about it.

In addition to the politicized, misogynist harassment, there’s the general garden-variety flavors of awfulness.

Actress Zelda Williams, daughter of comedy great Robin Williams who died Monday from an apparent suicide, has quit social media after receiving taunts from Internet trolls.

Williams abandoned her Twitter and Instagram accounts Tuesday after saying at least two people were sending her Photoshopped images of her father’s dead body and other disturbing messages.

“I’m sorry. I should’ve risen above,” she wrote in her final tweet. “Deleting this from my devices for a good long time, maybe forever. Time will tell. Goodbye.”

The episode proves that, with the anonymity of the Internet, some people will be horrible no matter the situation. (CNN)

buffy_hush1Though I don’t know enough of the facts to say this for sure, I can’t help wondering whether Williams’s daughter was receiving more online harassment than his two sons, and whether she was targeted for that higher level of harassment because — well, because we live in a fucking kyriarchy, that’s because. And if my vague suspicions are true, well then there’s a very fine line indeed between “garden-variety” Internet awfulness and the misogynist endeavor to silence women’s voices.

I don’t often use the word “hate” to describe my feelings for people. Cultural trends, political positions, social patterns, even individual actions — those I’ll use the term for often enough, but not so much for referencing an individual person, in their entirety. So suffice it to say that I’m really kinda hating the way that JALC was connected (however temporarily, however peripherally) to someone on just that sort of hate-filled trip.

* PS– Am I the only one who found it odd that the WaPo’s main angle was to talk about how online harassment was viewed by or affecting the female writer’s male partner? I’m not saying, I’m just saying…

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Image credits: 

South Park: http://designaterobertson.blogspot.com/2012/05/your-south-park-tigers.html

Buffy: http://mentalunlockdown.com/2014/04/19/hush-ed-or-hearthstones-positive-result-from-the-gentlemens-visit/