On Feminists and Assholes

I keep waiting for there to not be something that could be attributed as proximate cause for this post before posting it, but I suspect that’s never going to happen, so just trust me when I say that this is not in response to any particular thing, it just is what it is.

I don’t identify as a feminist.  I don’t just “not identify” as one: I explicitly identify as “Nope, I don’t call myself a feminist.”

I’m female.  I’m firm in my conviction that this doesn’t affect my ability to do anything much past piss gracefully while standing which, outside of very narrow circumstances, is an utterly valueless skill, and that I’m therefore entitled to all the same things as the people possessing those skills.  I’m aware of the fact that this is not, in fact, how the world works and that there are a range of varyingly explicit systematic problems perpetuating the current state.  I don’t get offended if people call me a feminist, and I’ve got some serious respect for the people who are adamant about wanting to reclaim the word from its current associations with radical man-hating boogeycreatures.

Here’s the thing: as far as I’m concerned, I’m an unmarked fully functional adult who goes through life doing pretty much whatever she damn well pleases.  If you’ve got a problem with that I have two options.

1) I could label myself as a feminist to indicate my disagreement with your problem.  Lots of people do, and they accomplish a lot of really good things by doing it.

2) I can point out that your problem with me going about my business as I have every right to reflects on you, not me, and instead of labeling myself, affix an appropriate term to you.  Say, something civil and uncontroversial.  Like, asshole.

I opt for option 2.

Both options have problems.  The first isolates and segments off people who ought to be striving to be mainstream.  The second makes it harder for like-minded people to find each other and have the conversations that need having and generally muddies the waters.  There’s an assumption (valid but hopefully diminishingly so) in the first option that people who are down with equal rights across genders are not the norm.  There’s an assumption in the second option that they are.

I’m not here to say we’ve achieved gender balance utopia.  We haven’t.  I’m not here to say we don’t have systematic problems where women get marginalized, undervalued, ignored, and taken advantage of.  We do.  What I’m saying is this: That shit is unnatural.  I’m calling it out as such, rather than letting it define how I identify myself.  It’s a calculated decision, meant to force reality into compliance with my assertion about how it should work.  For me, this works extremely well.

It’s not enough on its own.  It does nothing to address cultural assumptions that the default is male and the ramifications this has for women for everything from marketing to medical research without any individuals being explicit bad guys.  We need people who spend their time digging into that, identifying problems and their sources, proposing solutions.  We absolutely need a baseline assumption of what’s normal, but we’re not yet at the point where we don’t also need feminists.

Don’t look at me, though.  I’m just a competent human adult, on the lookout for assholes.

Followup on Kelda Helen Roys

So here’s something that doesn’t happen all that often, even in my life: A congressional candidate called me last night.  Apparently Kelda Helen Roys is on the ball in responding to tetchy emails.  Seriously, she read the email, prepared a response, and dug up my number to deliver it in about 30 hours. That’s efficient.

She wanted to address my concerns, most importantly to deny having deliberately excluded men from the mailing.  They didn’t check addresses against property records, so didn’t know they were leaving off an owner, and Nick just never filtered his way into their database.  Now, I did check with other people to make sure it was a pattern before writing the letter, but I’ve seen the inside of campaign contact databses – they’re uniformly a disaster of bad design and crappy maintenance.  Also, my sample size in verifying was small since most people throw things like that away without looking at them.  If she says she only sent the letter to Sylvie and me because we were all she had in the database, I’m inclined to believe her.

Which absolves her of the really damning problem with the letter.  The rest of my points being annoyed nit-picks didn’t stop her from addressing them, too, which was nice.  I went to all the trouble of nit-picking, after all.

Let’s be honest.  She called me, from a non-blocked number, and wrapped the phone call by inviting me to write or call her back any time I had an issue.  That’s a lady who wants to get elected.  At this point, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a lady who deserves to get elected.  Information-oriented campaign letters followed up by personal phone calls to address concerns? Those are campaign tactics that ought to be encouraged, nay, rewarded.

So there it is, internet.  I withdraw my ire for Ms Roys and replace it with a hearty, “I think you just won my vote.  And possibly some support beyond that.”  From somebody who is currently planning to write in “Doomsday Device,” in the presidential election, that’s a big deal.

P.S. Since I know a great many people in her target demographics care, she says she’s not taking corporate money for her campaign, thus the direct outreach for fundraising.  I think refusing corporate money is like shooting yourself in the foot, but her constituency seems to like limping candidates, so it’s probably more clever than I’m crediting.  And now you know.

An Open Letter to Kelda Helen Roys

Dear Ms Roys,

Thank you for the letter you sent to my household last week outlining the major issues relevant to your congressional run, your stances on them, and your qualifications as you see them.  I’m always a fan of receiving information-oriented campaign materials, and approve of your decision to employ this tactic.  Unfortunately, the way you went about it and the actual content of the letter were so offensive that I will not be able to support you.

My biggest problem, frankly, is that the letter was addressed to me and  my tenant-roommate, Sylvie, but not Nick even though he’s my co-owner.  In asking around it seems that you did, in fact, uniformly target women for this letter, excluding male roommates, homeowners, tenants etc.  There are several implications that could be read into this decision by your campaign, the least offensive of which is that you think women need to feel like they’re being targeted as a specific demographic in order to support you.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that he likelier explanations, that you think men as a group will not find your appeals to defend against attacks on women’s rights worth reading, that you think I’d choose to own property and live with a misogynist, or that pointing at a threat to my uterus will make me more likely to blindly fork over money to your campaign, are devastatingly problematic for my perception of you as a worthy candidate.

In addition, while I applaud your attempt to shift the rhetorical discussion by proposing a requirement for men to undergo a “cardiac stress test and rectal exam before receiving a prescription for Viagra,” I should hope you recognize that this is in fact horrifically bad policy.  Proposing the legislation to make a rhetorical point to the opposition is one thing, but using it in your campaign materials as if it’s a good idea inclines me to suspect you don’t see it as a merely rhetorical device.  In short, I should not be your audience when talking about this legislation, the opposition should be.

Finally, I’m rather disturbed by the fact that this letter appears to ignore the fact that you are currently running in a primary against Mark Pocan and does nothing to address why you’re the better candidate in congress than him.  Do you expect me to assume you’ll have the nomination and if so, on what grounds?  Or am I meant to assume that because you are female and he is male, he will not be as effective in protecting my rights as you are?  If that’s the case, I urge you to reconsider your entire perception of gender politics as they appear to be base on fallacies which, if reversed, would be obvious.

Robo-calling my cell phone did not help endear you to me.

You clearly mean well and I applaud you for your intentions.  Your actual execution, however, is unacceptable to me.  I hope you learn and do better next time.

Sincerely,

Me

Oh for the Love of Science

This rant was brought to you by me checking Facebook before I got out of bed today.

Do you know who’s just as irritating to me as global warming deniers?  (Let’s be honest.  More irritating.)  All the people pointing at the weather this summer and snarkily/sneeringly/self-importantly going, “Take that, global warming deniers.”  You see, this is one group of wrong, ignorant people smugly teasing another group of wrong, ignorant people and expecting to be patted on the back for their virtue.  Uhm, sorry, you’re still wrong and ignorant.

Here’s the thing: you need at least three points to establish a trend.  This summer is one data point.  Yet everybody seems to be littering their (justified) complaining about the heat with assertions that this proves the existence of a warming trend.  You can’t do that.  If you could, then the deniers would be just as valid when they point to the abnormally cool spring and early summer we had last year as counter-evidence of global warming, and we’d all be in a screaming match over the cherry-picked data points that fit the case we want.  Science does not suffer screaming matches.  (Okay, it does, but it shouldn’t.)

If you want to make a case for global warming or, more accurately, climate change, you have to point at long term trends.  You have to use the data showing a warming trend that is both bigger and more sustained than normal fluctuations with a stable climate.  If you want to argue for anthropogenic climate change then you have to show that those trends both diverge from normal variations in climate cycles and correlate it to shifts in human activity.  Otherwise you are just as guilty of being ignorant and unscientific as the people you’re feeling superior to.

I don’t really expect you to lay out graphs and data anylses in your Facebook updates.  I just expect you to not spew stupid correlative arguments as if you’re some paragon of intellectual piety.

This week we may have found the Higgs-Boson.  Let’s all celebrate by not looking like a bunch of jack-ass morons on the internet, okay?

I say Vagina. You say…?

Like a distressing number of other places in the country, Michigan has some ridiculous anti-abortion laws working their way through their legislature.  There was an incident where one lawmaker, a woman, dared to use that crude, offensive, highly inflammatory word sometimes deployed by the perverse to refer to her own genitalia.  I am, of course, referring to the word “vagina.”

This is not a rant about that.  Rather, I want you to read this.

I am a little bit in love with that blog post, and in large part because it does a really good job of ranting about something horrible, something unquestionably bad and stupid, of skewering and insulting the enemy, but does it with some sense of understanding about where the other side is coming from.  Specifically, read this paragraph:

Bruce Rendon is not an evil man, just a simple one. He has an associates degree in how to draw a straight line. He’s in the construction business just like his daddy used to be, and his idea of a god-fearing good time is judging dairy cows at county fairs. That’s fine. The world needs men who pin prize ribbons on cattle, but those men should not be given the power to legislate complex bioethical issues, because that’s how wars on women get started.

I’m won at the first sentence.  But the rhetoric from there is just gorgeous.  Look at the contrasting placement of “god-fearing” in the description of Rendon with “bioethical” in the description of the task at hand.  The connotative imagery each one summons clashes beautifully to make the point, i.e. that this guy is way out of his league.

Yet despite the invective, despite the fantastic skewering, there’s a way out for Rendon, a way to still see him as human.  There’s a reference to his father which, even while it makes it easy to write him off, (it’s loaded with the implication that he had no ambition of his own) it reminds you that he has a father.  Somebody doing this rant poorly would have opted for something generically “bad” as the fill-in for his idea of a good time.  Instead, the Coquette gives us cattle and county fairs, things her audience is likely to consider lowly and insulting, but not remotely the moral equivalent of kicking kittens.

This rant is fair.  This rant is appropriate.  This, this is ranting like a grown-up.  Do this, not the other thing.

h/t @wilw for link that led me to this

Those People

“I just don’t understand how somebody could do that.”

I was sixteen, in San Francisco for the first time, and having my first experience with modern hippies.  Or the children of former hippies, at least.  We were talking about Nazis, and Hitler, like all sixteen year old girls do when hanging out in the Sunshine State.

“I can,” I said.  “You’re miserable.  The people you care about are miserable.  People you don’t like, or don’t value, or feel threatened by have what looks like happiness, or the means to happiness, so you take it.  It makes sense.”

I got answered with an uncomfortable stare.  “But that’s evil.”

“So? The part that doesn’t make sense is when they started wholesale killing people.  Slaves are so much more useful than corpses.  That’s the sort of insanity that made the Nazis a special type of bad guy.”

The conversation about Nazis didn’t last much longer than that.

People love talking about Nazis, though, because just about everybody agrees that they are teh mega evils.  I do not disagree.  But they are not inexplicable.  To claim they are you have to make assumptions about the basic decency, inherent compassion, and inner nobility of humans that just aren’t true and shouldn’t last past about the time you quit believing in Satan Claus.  People aren’t inherently nasty and brutish, either – if we were, nasty brutality wouldn’t bother us so much.  People are people, and that means they have things about which they care and things about which they don’t, and they are particularly pliable and prone to self-justification when those things interact.

That was the first time I can remember being startled by somebody not being able to wrap their head around somebody else having a different fundamental moral premise for a situation.  “Maybe it’s because I like writing villains,” I thought.  But then again, why do I like writing villains?  “Maybe it’s because she likes the people where she’s grown up.”  That probably had something to do with it.  “Maybe this is just one of those things where I grew up faster than my peers.”  I’ve been getting told I have the soul of a  bitter old woman since I was four.  That was probably it.

Except I’m older now, and so is everybody I spend my time with, and I still hear it all the time.

“Why don’t those people understand that they’re working against their own interests.”

“Somebody who could say or think that is dangerously insane.”

“Those people are evil.”

And always, a little proud, capped off, “I don’t understand it.”

You know what?  That’s okay when you’re sixteen.  It’s forgivable when you’re twenty.  After that, grow the fuck up.  You are not special because you can’t understand people who don’t think like you.  Not getting it doesn’t make you better than them.  Even if when you label them evil, insane, or stupid, there is no virtue in being baffled.  They understand where they’re coming from, and your confusion doesn’t bother them one whit.  If they really are dangerous and threatening, your confusion helps them, because it means they can surprise you.  When you declare that you don’t understand and expect a pat on that back, what you’ve done is say, “I’m a moron and deserve what I get.”

When you don’t bother to understand them, it means you don’t see the difference between the “freedom fighters” who want to reclaim their homeland and will stop being a problem once they do, and the imperialists who want to have everything.  It means you appease when you should resist, or resist when you should compromise.  It means you have no baseline, no strategy, just a bunch of insipid emotional flailing that gets us nowhere.

“Those people.”  They’re people.  Deal.

While we’re on the subject of my uterus

Let’s get one thing straight before we start: innate, natural, unmanipulated gender equality is a myth.  The golden age of matriarchy and free, independent women is a fable and never happened.  The perception that women can be as free and functional as men is an artifact of modern life.  Why?  Because it is not possible without safe birth control and abortions.

Without birth control women have one of two choices: Abstain from sexual intercourse or risk  having their life utterly destroyed.  That is, if they’re in a society where they actually have that choice.  That usually doesn’t happen all that often and even then, generally only happens for women in certain pockets of society.  The first choice, should a woman opt for it, means she’s missing out on a healthy, positive activity in which men can engage without risk or fear.  It means that every relationship with a man is colored by how she is not going to have sex with him, no matter how much she might want to, and that some portion of her energy will always be devoted to resisting temptation.  That right there is enough to handicap the whole gender, but then we add in the fact that women, like men, are human, which means as time approaches eternity, the odds of them successfully resisting temptation every time reach zero, and everybody knows that.  Anything a woman does which getting pregnant would interfere with will always be fraught with the knowledge that in addition to all of the risks inherent in depending on a man, she might get pregnant and screw everything up.  This is not a tenable solution.

And when, with the second option, I refer to it as having their life utterly destroyed, that’s not just my infamous child-hating rearing its head; I mean that.  A society that doesn’t have the ability to provide safe abortions and birth control is almost certainly a society that doesn’t provide the care needed for pregnancy and child birth to be safe.  Pregnancy is still dangerous today, if unlikely to kill you.  Without modern medical care, pregnancy is a game of Russian roulette, except with more bullets, and more trigger pulls.  Even if motherhood is the all-consuming magically fulfilling, better than anything else you could do with your life fantasy it frequently gets pitched as, you must first survive to see it and that’s not a guarantee.  It takes modern society to make even that much of it feasible.

Yes, it’s true that hormonal birth control is useful for things other than just preventing babies, and we should talk about that.  My only experiment with regular hormonal birth control was, in fact, for treating ovarian cysts, with the anti-baby measures a happy side effect.  (It turns out that even very low dose hormones make me moody and bitchy in ways I do not like, so I decided the cysts were better).  Let’s just put that out there: Anaea, who is so allergic to the idea of raising children that her own devoted sister has legal documents ensuring potential nieces and nephews will not be remanded to her care, only used hormones to treat another condition.  That’s how common using hormonal birth control for things other than enabling consequence-free sex is.

And yes, the point of safe birth control (there are forms of birth control without other uses, like my beloved IUD) and abortions is to enable consequence-free sex for women.  Men get consequence-free sex as a default.  Women need that crutch in order to stand on the same ground in the gender equality game.  Without that crutch, women are not equal; they’re time-bombs.  Without the power to turn imminent motherhood off, the threat of it is in fact enough to reduce women to brood mares.

Which is bad for society because if you give them that crutch you have twice as much human capitol as you did before.  Even with the variously shoddy, faulty or incomplete research we’ve been able to conduct so far, the differences between men and women are founded mostly in experience and expressed mostly in terms of style rather than material differences.  The recession has done a lot to scramble the bad assumptions clouding that.  For every woman like me, who is not meant to go anywhere near motherhood, there’s a man better suited to being a traditional mom than dad.  Most people hover around the middle of the spectrum.

I say all of this because I want you to understand very clearly where I’m coming from when I say that I am not interested in having a debate about abortion, or access to birth control.  There is no debate.  Either you agree that I should have legal access to both or you do not want me to be a fully functional, adult, contributing member of society.  You’re allowed to opt for the latter, but I’m under no obligation to think you’re worth a thing as a human in general, or to me personally, if you do.  I’m rather invested in my adulthood and independence.  Anybody who wants to take them from me because I have tits, or because I need a crutch to hit the same baseline as half the rest of the world, can suck my fist.  It costs you nothing to let me have these things, so fuck you for trying to stop me.

Say what you like about the GOP’s war on women.  I don’t care.  When you take away what I need in order to be the independent adult I so intensely value being, I couldn’t care less about what you want, intend, or who else you’re upsetting.  That’s a personal attack by you against me.  Forgive me if I don’t thank you for it.

Dear Republicans: I’m still here, eager to get out of bed with the Democrats.  Keep this shit up, and I’m going to have to vote for Obama out of sheer self-defense.  I still haven’t forgiven him for voting for the FISA restructuring bill and he hasn’t done a thing I think balances that, but the only thing I’m more protective of than civil liberties in general is my ability to be a person.  Maybe you’d like to take a minute and step back from this particular landmine so I can continue my tradition of voting for a third-party write-in?  You see, I was sorta hoping that you’d be on the path to recovery by now.  It’s not like my standards are all that high.  You can have me back the second you remember that being evil is supposed to look like fun, not fumbling stupid.

On Hugging

I am not going to work clear through until I go to bed tonight.  This is such a delightful change of pace, I’m going to waste a bit of time blogging.  And since it’s come up in three different directions in the last week, let’s talk about hugging.

There are huggers out there.  These people treat a casual embrace like a hand shake, hugging anybody with whom they have a smidgen of familiarity.  They’re highly eusocial and find the physical contact pleasant and, because they’re nice people, want to share that pleasantness with others.  How many villains would have reconsidered installing those earth-destroying lasers on their moon bases if only they’d gotten a hug at some critical point in their development?  Huggers are out to make sure it never happens again.  Their intentions are benign, their affect cuddly.  Huggers are decent people.

I am not one of them.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m the opposite of a Hugger.  I am, in fact, rather fond of cuddling and physical contact, but, and this is a giant caveat, with friends.  Strangers in my space make me twitchy and, under the right circumstances, fill me with a need to punch things.  I have not yet punched somebody for hugging me, but it’s been a close call a couple times.

This isn’t exactly a secret.  On the contrary, it’s far more likely for friends to be surprised when they find out they’re eligible for hugs than for somebody to be surprised when I dodge their full-body handshake.  The thing is, there’s a big, thick, relatively impermeable circle running through the world.  Inside of it, you’re a friend and can have all the hugs you want.  Outside of it you aren’t, and you should just back off.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person, or that I don’t like you, or anything like that.  But you are not a friend.

If we’ve worked together, you are a colleague, not a friend.

If we just met, you’re an acquaintance, not a friend.

If we’ve been at the same event for several days and spent time hanging out, you are probably somewhere on the acquaintance-buddy spectrum, but you’re probably still not a friend.

I love my friends.  I’ll do murder for my friends.  More impressive, I’ll refrain from murder for my friends.  I will, if the situation requires, pretend like I have sympathetic bones in my body and hand friends tissues when they cry.  I’ll also call them excruciatingly cruel things to their faces and go on at length about how they’re a) ruining my life or b) a despicable waste of space as my preferred means of expressing affection.

If you’ve not been subjected to vehement verbal abuse by me, you probably shouldn’t try hugging me.

Anybody who isn’t sure where they stand should feel free to ask, “Can I hug you?”  I’ll probably say yes.  Asking puts the interaction in my control which makes it significantly more tolerable.  This point is nullified if you work for the TSA.

Look, I know I’m touchy about boundaries in weird ways.  Not many people will avoid doing business with an entire company because one of their employees once insisted on calling them “Annie” after being reminded that their name is “Anaea”.  My baseline for people is utter indifference with a hair trigger to instant dislike.  That’s not normal and  I get that.  We’re living in times when false familiarity is what everybody from furniture sales people to IT recruiters are getting trained in.  I can accept that.  I’m not going to punch anybody for screwing up my name.  And I’m probably not going to punch anybody for not noticing that I began backing away when the hugging started.

“I know you’re not a hugger, but this occasion deserves it.”  That, right there, that’s when the punching gets earned.  I don’t care if you’re twice my age and being congratulatory.  I don’t care if you thought I “looked like you needed it.”  Or if you’ve decided you’re the motherly type.  Or if you believe that deep down inside everybody needs more hugs.  That’s a premeditated violation of my space when you knew better.  And next time my response won’t stop at a smile and comment about how you look like you need your arms broken.

Questions?

The Koman Kerfluffle

I’m going to assume you already know that last week the Susan G. Koman Foundation, which is responsible for the pink ribbon campaigns raising money for breast cancer, pulled its funding for Planned Parenthood, had the internet dropped on its head, then back-pedaled.  That piece of it is done, and I assume everybody can guess what I’d have to say about it anyway.  If you can’t, well, I’m on the record as thinking life starts when it can carry on an interesting conversation and not before.  I’m rather fond of Planned Parenthood.

No, I’ve two entirely other beefs to pick with Koman.  This first is simply that they manage to actively trigger my badly calibrated sexism sensors in such a way that it’s awkward when I bitch about it.  We can slide right past the aggressive pairing of “pink” and “women” to the point where I once had a memorable tirade in a hardware store when confronted with a noxiously colored tool box.  Seriously, you do not have to make a thing pink for it to be attractive to women.  Granted, Koman isn’t directly arguing that you do, but they’re ruthlessly benefiting from every marketer ever going, “Finally, I can make everything pink to sell to those wimmens without being sexist because I’m doing it for their own good!”

Which segue’s nicely into the other problem with the whole campaign, i.e. having “Women have a special disease that makes them weak sick and kills them.”  Again, I’m sure Komen is utterly well intentioned, but the issue isn’t so much a disease that kills women but the disparity in medical research done on women in general, and women-specific issues in particular.  I mean, come on, we didn’t even figure out what the clitoris looks like until the nineties and almost twenty years later it’s still not common knowledge.  I learned details of the penis under my not-quite-abstinence-only sex ed in school.  Shenanigans, I call them.  Komen doesn’t.  That’s a problem.

But that’s why that other thing they did last week, which got much less press, bothers me significantly more than de-funding Planned Parenthood: pulling funding for stem cell research.  Stem cell research funding is on the short list of topics I have trouble talking about with out reaching for a baseball bat.  It’s the smug look the proponents get when they say, “See, it only took us fifteen years to find a way around using embryos that were getting thrown out anyway.”  Fifteen years we could have been, you know, doing research on curing things I’m rather frightened of getting.  So last week Komen tarnished their brand with the knee-jerk internet pile-on crowd, but they also took themselves from “Annoys Anaea in a way she feels a little guilty about,” to, “Anaea endorses cosmic cruelty directed their way.”  Good job, Komen.  That’s a very efficient week you had there.

Opening up About Newt

I’ve got to admit, the kerfluffle around Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife’s interview has me annoyed with just about everybody.  I’m annoyed with conservatives for being giant hypocrites and not caring when, ahem, CLINTON.  And I’m annoyed with just about everybody else for accepting that an open marriage is a punchline.  So let’s take a moment to clarify the situation.

Newt Gingrich’s crime was not that he dared to ask his wife for an open marriage.  In fact, I rather respect him for doing that.  Deciding to engage in lifestyle that, as a prominent Republican, would potentially endanger his career rather than abandoning a wife and family about which he cared is a reputable choice.  The solution, the desire, that was not the crime.  Newt’s crime was one of timing.

Cheating is not okay.  Breaking the rules you have established with somebody in order to get what you want is, at a minimum, disrespectful to the people with whom you’ve established those rules.  Engaging in behavior that can harm or directly damage people you’ve committed to caring about, either through bringing home disease, acquiring the financial burden of a child, or shattering their trust in why you didn’t come home after work, is unacceptable behavior.  I am adamantly, aggressively opposed to sleeping around behind the backs of the people you’re sleeping with.

Newt Gingrich’s crime was one of timing.  He should have asked for an open marriage before living as if he had one.  There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you want your wife and family, and another woman.  Lying, cheating, and then asking to have the rules changed to accommodate you indicates a lack of character, foresight, and just plain decency that really ought to be the conversation, if we’re going to have one about Gingrich’s sex life at all.

Dude’s a douche, but let’s condemn him for the right reasons, okay?