Ladies and jerks

An internet age ago (Timeliness is a lot to ask of me—my lunch breaks are only so long!) Senator Arlen Specter said this to Representative Michelle Bachmann when the two were talking over each other during a radio interview:

Now wait a minute! Don’t interrupt me, I didn’t interrupt you. Act like a lady.

Yeah, gross, obviously. And over at Broadsheet, Tracy Clark-Flory makes this perfectly valid point:

Many women interpret “act like a lady” to mean “know your place, little girl.” This comes from spending a lifetime being instructed in various ways to sit back politely, speak up only when called upon and defer to the male ego.

But “act like a lady” is more pernicious than that. It sets up a dichotomy between the “right way” and “wrong ways” to be a woman. The concept is ridiculous on its face—all women are real women—and it’s intensely limiting and therefore misogynist without further elaboration, but all that much more so when you realize there’s no similar proscription for men—”Act like a gentleman” is only ever said to toddler boys being told to let a girl go ahead of them on the slide. Good men are… well, they’re just called “good men,” but almost never gentlemen. Bad men are assholes, jerks, bastards, and lowlifes, but never not men. No one ever tells them they’re doing manhood wrong; no one ever threatens to revoke the status of “gentleman” from a man who annoys them.

And that’s exactly what this is: a threat. Ladies are treated as nearly human, and ladies are afforded special protection from all those dirtbags, creeps, cads, and sons-of-bitches out there, as well as from swearing, raised voices, and the burdens of intellectual endeavor. All those not-ladies? Those women? Well, without a man to protect them, without the deference accorded to ladies, they’re vulnerable to all kinds of repellent exploitations, and no man would sully his reputation by being seen to intercede with a reprobate, malefactor, thug, or weasel on behalf of some dirty, amoral, impertinent bitch.

Specter is threatening to revoke Bachmann’s status as a lady, leaving her open to attack—from him and from others—with the strong implication that she will deserve whatever she gets. And I’m not just talking about having her political views mocked in the press. Ladyhood is set up as a status vital to the survival of women, that is granted, very rarely, by men of power, and can be revoked by any man for any reason at any time.

To tell a woman to act like a lady is not merely patronizing and dismissive, it is an overt reminder of women’s lower status in society and the fact that women require men’s assent to achieve anything and for men to behave in a “gentlemanly” manner at all times to avoid everything from social rejection to physical violence.


Roofies can be used to facilitate rape! This is apparently news to Double X

Robin Abrahams (a.k.a Miss Conduct) calls attention to a maelstrom of woman-hating insanity over on Double X. A woman wrote in to their friendship advice columnist wanting to know if she should forgive her friends, who, after she’d been roofied, half-assed a response when she called them from outside the club they were at asking for help, and then blew her off later when she called to ask them to keep her company in the ER. The columnist, Lucinda Rosenfeld, tells the letter writer that her friends weren’t obligated to get out of bed at 4 a.m. to come hold her hand, which, whatever. I might not agree, but it’s not clear what the friends knew when, so how they reacted when they got the whole story from her later might be more revealing than their actions that night, and the letter doesn’t mention that. So I’m not going to condemn her for the advice itself.

But the way she gave it! Holy fuck am I going to condemn her for that! Here’s a few choice quotes:

For one thing, it’s not even necessarily safe—depending on where you live and how far you live from the hospital—for a woman to head out alone at that hour. […]

Here’s a little secret. BFFs are great when you’re upset about a boy/sick cat/whatnot. But there are limits to friendship—limits that don’t apply to our romantic partners or close family members. […] I also wish they’d been a less critical of what was, by your account, a freak incident. Why were they so unforgiving? I’d wager a guess that they think you’re lying about the mickey, tales of which are sometimes used as a cover for irresponsible behavior. (Only you know the truth.)

Shockingly, at least to Rosenfeld, the comment section erupted with people disagreeing with both the substance and delivery of her response. Many pointed out that people who ignore pleas for help from someone who may just have been raped are not that person’s friend*. Others pointed out the massive vortex of victim-blaming and slut-shaming that is rapidly sucking away my ability to form complete sentences. So she apologized! Wow!

Except, not really at all! Fuck!

I was struck by how many readers seemed to be hearing echoes of date rape or sexual abuse in “Drugged’s” story. I have to admit, I did not think of that at the time. There is no evidence in her letter that she was a victim of a sex crime. And I believe that if she had been, or thought she had been, she would have alluded to it in the letter. All we know is that something she drank caused her to pass out. Moreover, had I believed for a second that she’d been assaulted, I would have responded in an entirely different manner.

A woman was roofied in a crowded bar and woke up hours later lying in the middle the sidewalk with no recollection of where that time had gone AND RAPE NEVER OCCURRED TO YOU? Well Jesus Fucking Christ, if that’s actually true you should really just resign right this fucking second, because you have the insight and perspicacity of a particularly slow-witted carp, which makes you spectacularly unqualified to give advice on interpersonal relationships.

And, you know, it seems to me that when someone helpfully points out that the number one cause of getting an incapacitating drug slipped into your drink in a public place is that a RAPIST is trying to RAPE you, the correct response is not to act say, “Even though I never thought of that possibility, I also carefully weighed the evidence and concluded that didn’t happen.” Even if she wasn’t raped or otherwise assaulted—and I fervently hope she was not—it seems pretty fucking clear that someone wanted to have access to her when she was in such a state that she could neither consent nor resist, and that’s pretty fucking scary in my book, whether that person succeeded or not.

She also seems to have a lot of rape on the brain for someone who never even considered the possibility that the LW had been sexually assaulted. That stuff about how it may not be safe for a woman to go out alone at night means she is thinking about gendered violence in general and probably of stranger rape in particular. And then there’s that charming little bit about how maybe the LW is lying about the drugging to cover “irresponsible behavior,” which MAKES ME BARF MY FACE OFF, but which also implicitly acknowledges that there are women who are drugged in the exact same way that the LW describes expressly so that some rapist will have an easier time raping them. So if the possibility that someone raped or attempted to rape the LW never crossed her waterlogged fish brain, why is she so afraid that the LW’s friends will get raped by a stranger jumping out of the bushes and into their moving cars somehow? What makes her so concerned that the LW might be one of those slutty-slut-sluts who makes up a story about drugs and rape to cover up for her shameful sluttitude? What mysterious external force that had not one fucking thing to do with the letter she was reading caused her thoughts to turn repeatedly to rape? WHATEVER COULD IT BE WE WILL NEVER SOLVE THIS UNSOLVABLE RIDDLE OF MYSTERY I AM SURE.

There is more extremely stupid shit that really deserves a takedown, but I don’t have the time or the patience. I will say that this kind of shit is exactly why I go out of my way to never, ever click on a Double X story, even if it’s by a blogger I really like. Pageviews make them bigger and stronger, and imply that people accept them as a feminist, or at least woman-friendly, website. The bigger they are, the more weight it carries when they reinforce stereotypes and repeat anti-feminist arguments, because they’re spreading this tripe from a position of authority. I’m not going to fight for social justice here and out in the world only to undermine myself with my clicks.

*In reality, many rape victims find that their friends and family refuse to believe them, blame them, and even become angry them when they share their experience. Anecdotally, it seems women are especially prone to this kind of reaction because many of us want to believe that if we follow the rules, it can’t happen to us, and being confronted by evidence that this is nothing more than a lie we tell ourselves so we can feel safe is extremely frightening.

Must… resist… “birdwatching” pun!

Blogging requires a lot of mental and emotional resources, and lately I’ve been devoting most of what I have to job-searching and paperwork-completing and angry-phone-call-making. I want to blog more, I hope to blog more, but “I’m sorry I haven’t been writing!” posts are boring to read and just make me feel bad, so I’m going to try not to do that. I do promise to post if I’m planning on abandoning blogging, so assume that any future incidents of radio silence will be only temporary. For my part, I’m going to try to make myself post more of the quickies that cross my mind most days, even if it means forgoing in-depth analysis on some posts. I don’t think I really have any Feminism 101 readers anyway, and besides, there’s already a blog for that. We’ll see how this resolution goes.

So! Here’s what got the ol’ noodle noodling today: A Girl’s Guide to Respectful Girlwatching on Jezebel. Sadie gives some anecdotes about creepy oglers and some reasons for why she likes people-watching women more than men. Both she and some of the commenters seem to feel that the curvalicious ladies are more pleasing to the eye than dudes. I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to this—I am a big fan of female beauty, and although I enjoy looking at naked dudes as much as the next straight woman, I see where people are coming from (…hee) when they make cracks about guys looking goofy naked.

But of course, this ignores that millions of ways that people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, are trained to seek out, recognize, and appreciate female beauty. Ads, TV, movies, modeling, magazines, whatever, they’re all trying to associate their product with beauty, and beauty, they pretty universally tell us, resides in women. We have been taught to find beauty in women. Men, we are left to assume, are just sort of… there. They are not for display because they give us nothing worth displaying. But imagine the many varieties of male beauty we might suddenly discover if only we were trained to look.

We have no problem acknowledging that trained photographers are more likely to be able to find the beauty in a moment or vista than those of us who have not been taught to look at the world that way. Yet when it comes to our preferences in human appearances, we believe our sense of what is and is not beautiful, of where to find beauty, is innate, objective, and universal.

And that’s without even getting into the ways in which the things that are most valued in female beauty are themselves often a construction—clear skin and big eyes aped with makeup, slim waists honed through dieting and exercise and faked by “support garments” and tailored clothing, long legs an illusion created by stilettos, and boobs! Forget padding and implants, even all-natural, unembellished boobs, as we most often think of them, are a construction. Breasts don’t stay high and round and small-nippled well into middle age if they are left to their own devices. They sag and flatten and stretch. And I bet neither the Jezebel commenters nor Isaac Mizrahi, whom Sadie quotes as saying, “I mean, breasts! They’re beautiful! All breasts!” were thinking of “National Geographic boobs” when they sang the praises of those luscious curves.

I’m meandering, so in case it’s not clear, let me state outright: I’m not criticizing Sadie, who wrote a short piece on a topic tangentially related to this post, for not shoehorning in some analysis on why so many of us seem to feel that women are more aesthetically pleasing than men. She doesn’t even make the mistake of saying women are objectively or obviously more beautiful than men. But her post touches on an argument I’ve had more than once, where someone says, “Women are just more fun to look at!” and I’m forced to say, “I kind of agree, but I think we need to look at what makes us say that.” And then it gets awkward and shouty.

But it’s an argument worth making over and over, because letting the presumption that women are inherently better-looking than men stand feeds into and provides an excuse for treating women as decorative objects, for expecting them to be on display all the time, for equating them with sex.

Roundup: Reasons my mood matches the weather

For those not in Boston, the description that suits both is “foul.”

  • This tidbit on the front page of the Boston Globe‘s website:
  • Cuts reached, Times does not foresee closing Globe
    With the 23 percent pay cut imposed on members of the Boston Newspaper Guild, the paper’s owner, the New York Times Co., said today it has achieved the savings it needs and doesn’t foresee shutting down the paper.

    Now, of course I’m happy that the Globe won’t be closing. But I was never really afraid that it would be closing, because this same little melodrama plays out every year or two. Each time, the Times Co. tell the unions that if they don’t make big sacrifices, the paper will shut down and everyone will lose their jobs. And yet even though the company almost never gets the full amount of concessions it was asking for, the paper miraculously continues to publish! Why, it’s almost as if the parent company were exaggerating the paper’s financial distress in order to cheat employees and weaken the unions! But that can’t be, because corporations are fundamentally ethical and have come to recognize the important role unions play in today’s business world.

  • Dr. Tiller’s clinic is closing permanently. It’s hardly surprising, as there are few people trained to do the procedures Dr. Tiller performed, and, thanks to terrorists like Scott Roeder, fewer still willing to perform them, but part of me was hoping that something amazing would happen to allow the clinic to carry on its vital mission. But in real life, terrorists often win.
  • This dude’s “My Brief Life as a Woman” article. He was prescribed Lupron, which suppresses sex hormones, as part of his treatment for prostate cancer and discovered that the drug induced in him a state similar to menopause. From this he “confirm[ed] my lifelong sense that the world of women is hormonal and mysterious,” including such difficulties as uncontrollable food cravings and weeping jags brought on by nothing in particular. It’s not worth going into any depth about this, but let me briefly enumerate the assumptions required to make this article possible:
    1. His problems were all caused by hormone fluctuations, none from the side effects of Lupron itself, even though I hear it’s a pretty powerful drug.
    2. The symptoms produced by testosterone withdrawal in men in no way vary from those produced by estrogen withdrawal (menopause) in women.
    3. Menopause, far from being a relatively brief transitional phase between two much longer, more stable phases in a woman’s life, is pretty much the state of all women, all the time.
    4. Despite being in a constant state of hormonal change (…is that even possible?) for decades on end, women have developed no strategies for coping with the effects of these fluctuations and are completely at their mercy.
    5. Men experience no hormone fluctuations similar to those of the menstrual cycle or menopause in women that would alter their moods or produce physical changes.
  • I saw this cartoon on the front page of Slate the other day:
    For those who can’t see the image, Osama bin Laden is in a cave reading a newspaper with the headline “Obama Reaches Out to Muslims” and declaring “And we’ll be reaching out to Christians.”
    Ha ha ha! Get it? It’s funny! It’s totally funny! Don’t you get it? It’s funny because A) America is a Christian nation, and attacks on America—even those directed at international symbols of secular concepts and institutions like finance/capitalism and the U.S. government/democracy—are properly understood as attacks on Christianity and Christians, for it is our official national religion with which Muslim extremists take issue, B) the primary purpose of Obama’s Cairo speech was to combat terrorism, C) giving speeches is all the Obama administration is doing to combat terrorism, and D) making a public gesture of basic respect for the 1.5 billion members of the world’s second-largest religion would do nothing at all to prevent terrorism and might even encourage it! Now you get, it right? I shouldn’t even bother typing anymore, because surely you are now laughing too hard to read this through your tears of mirth!

Models: They’re bad people*

At least, that’s what Photoshop Disasters seems to think. Unless the guy who runs the site is secretly a doctor, and therefore he’s diagnosing, rather than uncreatively ridiculing, the discoloration on this woman’s arm as “junkie trackmarks.”

Photoshop Disasters: Hot Topic model

To me it looks like a scar or birthmark, and looks nothing at all like track marks (which look like this), but hey, I’m no secret doctor!

Fellow secret doctors in the comments section disagree with the diagnosis, but most seem to concur that it either has something to do with the fact that she’s thin, a status she must have gained through questionable means, or that she’s modeling for Hot Topic, which means she’s a whiny depressive and/or subculture freak. Some alternative diagnoses: A bruise caused by the anemia she has because she doesn’t eat! (Comes with bonus prescription for a sammich!) A scar caused by self-harm! A bruise from the kinky sex she was having last night! Scarification! Infection from a piercing gone wrong!

To be fair, more than half the commenters are saying that it’s not a Photoshop Disaster at all, that the mark is at worst not distracting, and at best the sign of a refreshing willingness to allow models to appear “imperfect” (otherwise known as “human”) for once. And although one person did attempt to sneer that one of the commenters defending leaving the mark alone is “gay,” someone else called them out on using “gay” as an insult! All this non-douchebaggery was a pleasant surprise on a site whose comment section usually seems to thrive on hackneyed mockery, played-out put-downs, and puerile antics.

Unfortunately, Hot Topic only listened to the minority opinion and has since airbrushed the whatever-it-is out. Because models have to adhere to inhuman standards of beauty so insane that even the most attractive people require the helping cursor of digital manipulation, and anything that detracts from the plastic “perfection” of their looks not only makes them ugly, but is also a sign of some kind of moral failing on their part. If a birthmark makes you a junkie, I dread to think what kind of mass-murdering sociopath you must be if your body is hideously deformed by a few moles or a spare tire.

*Not, of course, that I think engaging in any of the actions mentioned above makes you a bad person, but the commenters who are speculating about them sure seem to.

Weirdos in favor of infiltrating the ranks of typical, average straight gals

Lisa discovers boys. Stephanie doesn't.A couple days ago I became a fan of the Facebook cause “Typical, average straight gals in favor of gay rights,” which is approximately the 11 millionth group of its ilk I have joined. I don’t normally feel the need to broadcast my not-gayness, but I like flipping the bird to the idea that everyone who supports marriage equality and non-discrimination laws and so on must be either gay themselves or some kind of loopy, desperate fag hag or coconut-scented metrosexual or something equally strange and repellent. So I joined. And was immediately annoyed.

It’s not easy being a feminist, as I’m sure you know. You have to keep yourself in a state of high dudgeon at all times. It’s in the charter. And to maintain that special feminist brand of crankypants bitchfacery that makes you completely unlovable, you often have to go looking for ways to get offended. Sometimes you have to get creative and find ways to get offended by your allies. That’s what I was doing when I pored painstakingly over the first couple postings on the group’s page and, later, the item that was then at the top of my news feed.

“Straight families for gay marriage,” the first offending item said. “News flash…us typical, avaerage [sic], straight gals have kids,” proclaimed the second. “What the fuck?” said I.

Apparently many—OK, two, but for in order to be properly offended I will unfocus my eyes so that those two look like an army—typical, average straight gals think that their relationship and reproductive choices are shared by all typical, average straight gals. That there is, in fact, only one way to be a typical, average straight gal, and that is to get married and have kids. Single gals and gals without children can only be typical, average straight gals if they assume themselves to be only pre-wifehood and pre-motherhood, not if they are uncertain about whether they will ever enter either of those states or if they are (gasp!) deliberately unmarried and/or childless.

Which is why someone thought they would nobly counter the “segregation” of single-gender Facebook groups (even though they are, in fact, open to people of all genders and LGBTQI people, shockingly enough!) by inviting everyone to join instead a new group called “Straight families for gay marriage.” Yes indeedy, that leaves no one out! Mrs. BennetThank you, Facebooker, for showing us the path to unity! To be fair, the group’s founder does tack on an afterthought note saying that singles are welcome to join too, but… no, we are not. One person is not a family. And counting yourself, as a single person, among families implies that you think you are a family-to-be, which it is my vague understanding, not everyone does! Sometimes even non-harpies think they may not be super into the idea of the nuclear family! I am sure you were knocked ass over teakettle by this revelation, just as I and Mrs. Bennet here were.

It’s also why another member felt the need to bring us BREAKING NEWS: NORMAL WOMEN REPRODUCE! in response to some other people saying that a post about an affordable day care advocacy group, while commendable, was somewhat off-topic. Typical, average straight gals have kids, and those currently without kids will have kids, eventually, so they won’t mind being included, surely. I mean, do you know anyone who’s childless by choice? There’s not even a term for that!

So here I am, 25, living with my boyfriend in post-collegiate poverty (and sin!), spending 82 hours a day on the internet, supporting the rights of my friends in quite possibly the least useful, most sarcastic way I can find, thinking I’m pretty fucking typical. A bit of Gen Y stereotype even. And here comes Facebook—Facebook! Supreme overlord of my entire time-wasting, virtual-reality-dependent, ephemera-obsessed, all-about-me-blogging, no-social-skills-having, hope-promoting, hippie-loving, responsibility-shirking, txt-spk-using, over-punctuating, emoticon-abusing, tl;dr generation!—telling me I’m some kind of weirdo! Reader, I was annoyed! First I asked myself, what would a typical, average straight gal do? (Which, actually, is probably write a long-winded blog post.) Then I realized I was asking the wrong question. What I should have asked myself is, what would a weirdo do? And I realized: Eat a rubber tire to the music of The Flight of the Bumblebee. Which is exactly what I’m going to do. That and, you know, keep not having kids, not getting married, and mulishly insisting that despite my self-evident weirdness, I’m just your typical, average straight gal. But mostly the tire thing.

Adios, ’08

Shorter Dennis Prager: Sex is a job, ladeez. Stop abusing your sick days.

In order to end 2008 on an up note, I give you The Amazing Colossal Adventures of WordGirl. Female superhero! Non-tokenized characters of color! Vocabulary building! This goofy awesomeness was tailor-made for my feminist word nerd self. We’ll just conveniently overlook the fact that it’s aimed at 6-year-olds.

Happy New Year, everyone. At least Bush will only be president for the first 20 days of this one.