What I’m Owed.

Most of what I want to say about this has been said elsewhere.

For some background, see Jezebel‘s video post, the supposed “last video” of the killer. Be warned, it’s…not very exciting. Sounds like a badly scripted Josh Trank film. It’s so utterly mundane that it pisses you off. Only a rich, passing-for-white American male thinks it’s okay to shoot people after not getting what he wants. And possibly fascist dictators. :D

Also see:

Daily Life:

Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Statesmen: “Capitalism commodifies that rage [regarding the conviction that men have been denied a birthright of easy power], monetises it, disseminates it through handbooks and forums and crass mainstream pornography. It does not occur to these men that women might have experienced these very human things, too, because it does not occur to them that women are human, not really…As soon as women began to speak about the massacre, a curious thing happened. Men all over the world – not all men, but enough men – began to push back, to demand that we qualify our anger and mitigate our fear.”

What I disagree with…:We have seen incontrovertible evidence of real people being shot and killed in the name of that ideology, by a young man barely out of childhood himself who had been seduced into a disturbing cult of woman-hatred. Elliot Rodger was a victim – but not for the reasons he believed.” No. This isn’t a cult. This is a widespread culture of hatred which is openly tolerated, accepted and defended by “normal” people. I know them. You know them. As an example, if you have ever felt that sex was owed to you, you are one of them. This isn’t some bizarre deviance, this is our culture, people. Next time you hear your friend, your parents, your siblings, your teachers or coaches say something racist or sexist or dehumanizing, call them out. At the risk of losing a lot of face and getting called a hypocrite (which we are) and being really unpopular, call them out and don’t let them get away with it. Call out hatred where you see it. You can do it in a loving way. But do not “lovingly” let it go like it’s not your problem.

What really disturbs me having watched “Elliot Rodger’s Final Video” is not how deviant and aberrant he seems, but how much he reminds me of boys and men that I know. It’s not scary because it’s so random and crazy, but because it’s so sickeningly normal. This particular dude is only special because he was materially and ethnically “privileged” enough to kill as many people as he did before killing himself. If you have even the tiniest suspicion that I am talking about you, then you should be disturbed (and I probably am).

But hold up a second. Do I think that people who are angry and outcast and lonely do not deserve to be empathized with? No. In fact, if our society weren’t so cripplingly patriarchal, there is a chance that empathy could have saved the day. There is a chance that by being listened to, the killer might have learned how to listen to others, women in particular, and see them as human with problems and feelings like his own. The suppression of emotions as feminine and negative is a big contributing factor to the mental health problems experienced by a disturbingly large proportion of Americans, which no one seems to want to talk about.

The last thing I want to say….

People. A lot of women like sex. They really really want to have sex. So do a lot of queer people. If you ever feel entitled to sex, stop for ten seconds and think about aaaaaaaaaaalll the other people out there who want sex, too, and aren’t having it. Think about how most people might feel real sorry for themselves but aren’t frequenting misogynist, racist forums to talk about it.

Think about how a feeling of self-entitlement can easily lead to a situation where you rape someone, as in you coerce someone or drug someone or physically use force against someone or pout until someone succumbs to what you want. If you ask once, twice, three times and they finally say yes, is that consent? Women and queer peeps might even feel as entitled to sex as men do. Don’t let this confuse you into think it is anything less than rape if it’s a women or a man or a queer person doing the coercing.

 

How (Not) to Deal

The past couple weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships. About my past relationships, potential future relationships. I’ve been thinking about why the ones in the past went wrong (not all of them did, but most of them), whose “fault” it was, and about why I have a fairly cynical attitude towards future ones. I also hear other women talking about their feelings on similar notions: I don’t want to “settle”, I’d rather be alone; I can’t seem to find a guy that I’m on the same page with; It shouldn’t require so much effort/compromise; When it doesn’t work out, I feel like it’s my fault; and other such sentiments.

There have been some videos circulating recently, about guys as well as girls (not really sure what to think about the “bossy” video, haven’t made up my mind, but that’s another story), that I have felt are really connected to this, but at first wasn’t sure how.

There have also been all these articles lately decrying, or simply commenting on, our depraved and rampant hookup culture in the States, (oddly enough?) pinning most of the blame on women. (Tangent: Doesn’t this tell us something about what happens to decent newspapers when they become private? Give me a break, WP…) Their quotes of women explaining why they would rather hook up in short, apparently meaningless relationships certainly makes the situation look very shallow: “cost-benefit analysis”, really? Seems like we’re in a sorry state.

Rosin talks about this in The End of Men, where hookup culture comes from and why women, in general, are tending to avoid committed relationships more and more often. But her portrayal of women’s side of the story tends to pin the blame on men: they [meaning most men] simply have not caught up to where social gender norms are today. Things have changed very quickly, but [most] men have not changed with the times.

I tend to agree with that, but I think she doesn’t bring the argument full circle: [most] men are able to carry on with their antiquated worldview because we are still raising them to believe in it. Meaning, their fathers and their mothers (and schools, religious institutions, sports organizations and so on).

This is the female version of the men’s activist crowd’s gripe, where they complain about being subject to military draft and losing custody battles, yet refuse to acknowledge their views of masculinity (gender, more broadly) as harmful. Women complain about not being able to find an “emotionally available” man who is willing to commit, yet continue raising their sons with the self-entitlement, masculinity complex and heteronormative ideologies that deprive them of what they’re looking for. Both lines of thinking want to keep their cake and eat it too.

I get it. I feel scared when I have my worldview rattled, too. I feel stupid and ashamed, at times, when that happens. Sometimes it means giving up some power, which is also scary. But paradigm shifts can also be liberating, and transcendental. I mean, wow, they can feel really good! And it is often they case that they can work out for a win-win situation.

Well, what does this mean for me. What do I have to do. I guess it first means taking a long look at my own short-comings, some of which are the result of my [patriarchal] cultural upbringing. As a for instance, I was twenty-one years old when I finally learned how to talk about my feelings. As in, “I feel sad.” “I feel angry.” Sound strange? To be fair, most American girls/women don’t suffer terribly from an inability to label or express their feelings, because they are told being emotional is feminine and they embrace their emotions as a way to embrace their femininity. I didn’t like the idea of femininity, however, didn’t see myself as feminine, and even deplored it, to a degree. [Patriarchal] American mainstream culture also tells us that that which is deemed feminine is lesser, kind of vapid, a little bit pathetic. So while it was how I was “supposed” to behave, I very much rejected it and modeled myself after male role models.

vincent_van_gogh_woman_head_hands

Many (most?) of the boys/men around me would go through the following succession when confronted with strong negative feelings: 1. Humor: Make them laugh, laugh it off, make light of the situation. Especially good if you can laugh at them so they will not feel safe bringing up negative feelings around you in the future (but you can also laugh at yourself, too). If they persist, try 2. Anger: Lash out, put it back on them, make them feel guilty for bringing up negative feelings, generally yell or get pissed until they stop. Good for multiple uses because it also acts as a deterrent to people bringing up negative feelings around you in the future. If this fails, phase 3: Shutting down: Just stop talking. Stop blinking. Maybe even stop breathing. Don’t respond in any way, shape, or form. Eventually they will feel too stupid/hurt/embarrassed/guilty to continue and will go away. It’s like the No Talking game: whoever can out-silence the other person the longest wins. Now, should this not work, you will need to resort to phase 4…: Running away: That’s right. Literally flee the room. Probably they won’t pursue you, but if they do, get to a place where they can’t find you. You could even get in your car and drive away (later you can pass this off as “blowing off steam” so that you still look like you’re in Phase 3 and will save some masculine face, feel me?). It works via Internet too. Are you having a skype conversation that suddenly turns all negatively feely? Slam! Close the lid, problem solved. :D …Right?

It seemed a fairly successful model. For example, it resulted in me not crying for a span of nearly two years, excepting the occasion of my grandfather’s funeral. I got very good at expressing all my negative feelings as just one: anger.

This all sounds pretty emotionally immature, eh? Agreed. This treatment of emotions stunts one’s ability to label and own emotions, to empathize with others, even to feel. But when it is your cultural worldview, it sure seems like the right/good thing to do. And so I did, for years and years, until I felt bad enough to want to Exit Stage Left. Fortunately, fortuitously for me, I fell into a good crowd, and I literally began to have this value set untrained from me. It was rough. It still is rough. But I am fairly certain I treat people a lot better now, and I absolutely feel better off, myself.

Cambodian mainstream culture has only convinced me further that this way of dealing with emotions is harmful, to individuals, relationships, and communities. I see people here go through a similar set of phases when confronted with strong negative feelings, but in the extreme: when jokes and anger don’t work, violence is an all-too-easy method of next resort. A man fired off his assault rifle at a wedding when folks wouldn’t turn the music back on for him. This admiration of hypermasculine values is hardly an American thing, and it doesn’t just hurt women.

I don’t believe this is the Answer to Everything, but I think this could be a really good jumping-off point for addressing harmful patriarchal values on an individual level. It’s something we can do in our own homes. It can be as simple as not laughing at or mocking someone who is crying– be they male or female. You are probably doing so because it is making you feel uncomfortable, perhaps because you don’t have a clue of what to do– because your culture has utterly deprived you of any tools to deal with strong negative feelings, be they your own or someone else’s.

I am a firm believer that empathy can be learned, but just as important as taking on a new value set is eradicating the old one.

Thoughts on this?

The End of Men = Patriarchy is Dead

It seems rather questionable when white people* say America is a post-racial society, when rich people claim that class is non-existent, or when a wealthy, educated and otherwise privileged person claims that “the patriarchy is dead”.

I was disappointed to read those very words on Hanna Rosin’s Slate column, though I’m not sure how surprised I should be. Rosin’s book The End of Men never insisted that the “end” of men equated to the end of patriarchy. In fact, she didn’t talk overmuch about patriarchy. This was an oversight, I think. Her case studies and statistics did not so much translate as a transition away from patriarchal worldview– not in the least. But actually women can and are adopting and exerting patriarchal values to a much greater degree than ever before. The end of men is hardly the end of patriarchy, when women are adapting to a new environment of greater freedoms and more opportunities. If this sounds like a good thing, let’s clarify that patriarchy functions on principles of inequality and oppression. The really new thing that Rosin’s book captures is women’s transition from mainly the Oppressed to now being Oppressors, themselves.

If inequality and oppression ceased to exist, then we could declare, “patriarchy is dead!” And we could throw a big party.

This pronouncement from Rosin would imply that she doesn’t know what patriarchy is. But wait! “I suppose the patriarchy was lurking somewhere in my subconscious, tricking me into believing that it was more my duty to stay home with our new baby than my husband’s,” she writes. Hmm, maybe she kind of gets it… “But I didn’t see it as a “duty.” I wanted to stay home with her, and I also wanted to work like a fiend. It was complicated and confusing, a combination of my personal choices, the realities of a deadline-driven newsroom, and the lack of a broader infrastructure to support working parents—certainly too complicated to pin on a single enemy.” Oh boy. Seems like she’s not ready to admit that she is not conscious of her acculturation into a patriarchal worldview, a lifelong process. This would include her apparent belief that careers cannot or should not accommodate women (or men?) who want children/want to spend time with their children. She seems unconscious of the effects of the inequality induced by patriarchal values even as she reports on them:

“…many of those women who pick up [my] trash yearn to bring back at least some aspects of the patriarchy. They generally appreciate their new economic independence and feel pride at holding their families together, at working and studying and doing things on their own, but sometimes they long to have a man around who would pay the bills and take care of them and make a life for them in which they could work less.” Would they still feel that way if they made a living wage, got paid maternity leave– Rosin’s idea!–, had reasonable working hours and paid vacation?

This was a deflective response Rosin gave to someone who questioned her about the choices of the “woman who picks up your trash after you leave at five.” Rosin scoffed this off as an “irrational attachment to the concept of unfair”.  She must have been asking herself the question, Isn’t this why some women desire the return of certain patriarchal values? when the question she should have asked was, Why doesn’t this woman have the opportunity to get a different, more self-fulfilling job? (Unless, by chance, that particular woman finds cleaning up the trash of others to be meaningful and fulfilling.) She could also have asked, Why is the woman’s husband out of work when he, too, could be picking up trash? Perhaps that job is beneath his perception of himself? But that couldn’t be possible, since patriarchy is dead…

And a word about this whole irrationally-attached-to-unfair bit: when the privileged, wealthy, highly “educated” career-mom with the supportive husband (who also happens to be her boss) tsk tsks someone for complaining that sociocultural realities that are so far removed from her own are unfair, is she really in a position to be like “Oh, stop obsessing already, would you?” (No. No she’s not.)

She also cites growing numbers of single mothers as evidence that women are less “beleaguered”. That seems quite simplistic, and she does say she isn’t sure if this should be taken as “feminist progress”. What does it say of a society that vast numbers of women would rather be on their own than attempt to negotiate a traditionally patriarchal institution like marriage? Could it imply that women are fed up with attempting to wrest control from husbands? This should not necessarily be seen as a step towards equality.

One could simply cite case studies and figures about women in government, gendered violence, the existence of practices like dieting to be ultra thin or getting cosmetic surgery done, double standards for women in academics, politics, the family, careers, and so on (and this is only with America in mind!). I have a feeling that Rosin would dismiss these, too, as “irrational”; are we just obsessed with the notion of our own oppression? Will feminists be out of a job if there is no oppression? Please, I invite you to put us out of a job.

What I think Rosin fails to understand is that the oppression doesn’t work unless the oppressed party believes, at least to some degree, in their own inferiority. Oppression is reinforced through education and socialization, and if that fails, social stigma, and if that fails, violence. Rinse, wash, repeat as needed. Over time, these practices become normalized.

Just because inequality, oppression, or violence are normalized does not make them right. This was Dickens’ argument against the Victorian idea that poor people were poor and rich people rich because God made them as such; poor people could not help their lazy, immoral, deviant nature. Similarly, just because the woman who picks up Rosin’s trash in her office at Slate has any job, at all, does not mean that she is fulfilled and satisfied as a human being, and doesn’t have the right to question or complain about the mechanisms that have landed her there.

Rosin seems to have discounted classism and racism in her assessment that Patriarchy is Dead. Er, sorry, “the Patriarchy.” She still seems to think that The Patriarchy is some identifiable, yet amorphous, entity, perhaps “the enemy” she mentioned before, whose sole goal is to Oppress Womyn. She detaches race and class dynamics by centering on gender. She doesn’t seem to understand that when she makes such remarks like u r so lame when u talk about unfair, she is patriarchy. And she benefits directly from it, even as she is a victim of it. Her oppression (such as having to choose between a fulfilling career and being close with her children) must be very normalized that she doesn’t see an alternative to it. Rather than believing societal norms could change to improve her life circumstances (providing daycare services at the workplace, for example, so she can spend extra time with them if she wants to), she seems to see as immutable truths some aspects of mainstream American [gendered] culture. On some level, perhaps she believes that she is undeserving, choosing not to confront what are for many American women questions of “conflicting” desires– which might serve as a basis for empathizing with all those she deems to be preoccupied with “unfair”.

I really want to like you, Hanna Rosin. Better be careful, before you go the way of Naomi Wolf.

 

*Really anybody, but especially the dominant ethnic group.

Real Cannibals

The 1980 Italian film Cannibal Holocaust includes an extended rape scene in which two white Western men rape a young indigenous-Amazonian (Yanomamo) woman in a muddy field while their white Western female counterpart films them.

The film is supposed to be a commentary on the state of modern “civilization”, wherein wealthy, white privileged Westerners manipulate, abuse, and exploit the “uncivilized” of the so-called developing world/Third World/Global South/etc.

While the film fails on multiple levels to sincerely translate its theme of “who are the real savages, anyway?”, that scene has always stuck with me. Similarly in The Last King of Scotland, the terrifying Idi Amin calls out his Scottish physician as only having come to Africa “to fuck and to take away”.

The global hierarchy is sort of a large-scale parallel of the social human hierarchy composed of individuals. The patriarchal hierarchy tells us who is allowed to rape whom, and where, and when, and to what extent they can get away with it. In the global patriarchal scheme, the “West” is at the top of this hierarchy. America can rape nearly whoever it likes, whenever it likes, and never stand to account for its actions.

Why should I be surprised, then, when its individual parts, its people, behave the same way. White Westerns (men particularly) come to Southeast Asia feeling completely entitled to buy other human beings. They have little or no shame in it. They sit across from me at a hang bai (rice shop) eating their loc lac with one emotionally detached, casual arm draped over the shoulders of a girl half, a third their age. We can talk more about that girl later (a whole post unto herself, she is), but for now let’s look closer at that man.

He might be British, Australian, American, New Zealander, or from somewhere in Europe. He doesn’t need to be wealthy where he’s from; being white makes him wealthy enough here. He could be 20, or 40, or 75; it’s inconsequential in determining the age of the girls, boys, women he will purchase.

He probably feels like he’s doing nothing wrong (yeah, yeah, it’s a crime, it’s illegal, but he was driven to this!); he justifies to himself that “a man’s got needs” and he only flew halfway around the world to satisfy those needs because there wasn’t a cheaper, easier source accessible in his own country. Besides, the real perk of Cambodia is that being here makes him feel like a god. All the locals seem to revere his white skin, his pocketbook. He is taller, richer, whiter, smarter, better than everyone in this godforsakencountry.

He might not be a backpacker or a sex tourist. He might be a teacher at a nearby school. He might be in charge of classes of children aged 6 to 18. He might friend some of them on Facebook and meet some of them off school grounds, after school hours.

He might establish himself as a member of the community by marrying– purchasing– a Khmer woman (not legally, necessarily, but only ceremonially) and having children with her.

Taking a long, close look at this man helps me understand myself, my own hypocrisy. Our familiarity ends at the point where I realize we don’t deal in the same currency. This man, like the men in Cannibal Holocaust, see Cambodians (Africans, South Americans) as subhuman. They are purchasable, expendable, replaceable items. They are like animals. Sometimes I fixate on the way Khmer people occasionally treat me like an animal, like the Other, and the way they do it to other Cambodians. But in the hierarchical scheme of things, their Othering will never be as sinister, never as dehumanizing, and never inflict the same level of damage as That Man’s will. He has too much power to compare with them. He’s out of our league. He can get away with almost Anything.

And I’m making it a point to find a way to stop him.

Open Letter to My Rapist

 

My rapist.

It’s strange to use that possessive pronoun with a word like ‘rapist’, but that’s what you are. Perhaps you’re someone else’s rapist, too, but that doesn’t change the fact that I can still claim ownership over you– for something no one wants, which is still mine.

I listen to a cheerful song as I write this, so I don’t tear the skin off my lips in anxious anger (yet I still do). As I reflect on our relationship, which I have rarely done in the past three years, I realize there are really only two things which I will always hold against you. There are other things for which I hate you, but I imagine some day I’ll get over them. All things save two.

We had Spanish together my junior year, your senior year. It wasn’t planned, it just ended up like that. Inevitably at some point we were put in a group together for a project, which thrilled me at the time. I was also excited about the project, itself– creating a Spanish menu– because it involved creativity and the chance to draw, which you knew I liked. But when we distributed the workload, you alloted yourself nearly all the artwork. When I expressed that I wanted to draw, too, you told me I wasn’t as good as you, and because I foolishly worshiped you, a stone idol, I agreed. On the day we were to submit our projects, I felt a bit resentful; I saw your sketches of paella and tortilla de papas, and thought I could have done as well. I was always small to you. I was never as good as you.

Then came the day, not long after the Spanish project, that we were watching a movie in the basement of my house. My home. My parents were outside, in the barn or the garden, maybe. Giving us mistrustful privacy.

For months you had been telling me that we should have sex, because “people who love each other should give everything to each other” and, well, we were going to get married anyway, weren’t we? Yet I steadfastly resisted: my position was that sex was reserved for marriage, which at the time I was resolutely convinced was God’s Will– a god, as it turns out, who does not exist.

On this day you were going on about something like that, we should share everything with each other, don’t you love me, if you loved me you’d have sex with me, blah blah blah. I wasn’t really listening because I already knew what my answer was. I already felt a terrible anxiety about the state of my virginity (how much could you kiss someone before you lost your virginity? Did making out count as sex? What about hand jobs?), so it was easy, simple, for me to say “no”. I couldn’t believe you’d even consider it– weren’t you worried that we were already going to hell?

You said, then, that you wanted to know “what it feels like”, meaning my vagina. You said you wanted to touch it. I lost my patience. If we weren’t already fallen from God’s grace, we surely were now. Or at least you were. I got up to leave, exasperated.

I never could have guessed, would have allowed myself to believe, what you would do next.

You grabbed my arm, which didn’t immediately alarm me until I tried to pull away. When you didn’t let go, I felt a deep, primal urge to dig my nails into your face, your eyes, but I rationally resisted the impulse: why would I do such a thing to someone I loved? But you did not let go. Your hand was like a vice grip, likely the outcome of all that baseball you played, all that sculpting of clay you did. You pulled me down to the carpet and knelt on top of me in one smooth, swift movement, almost as if it was practiced. As I look back at myself then, I appear as a small animal, a young child, pathetically weak, with huge, round eyes brimming with the realizations of fear. My little animal brain hadn’t caught up to reality yet, not even as you forced your hand down the front of my jeans (How did you do that? I pondered vaguely; I had thought the waistband of my jeans would prevent such a thing from happening, it was much too tight, wasn’t it?), and your digits into my vagina. Strange pain. Blink, blink. It must have been less than ten seconds, but I remember thinking then that it had lasted much longer. I finally registered how strong you were and felt shocked that you’d used it against me, and how heavy your knees were as they pinned my arms down, like a straight jacket. Then you were talking about me, about my body, as you still had your fingers inside me, like a scientist describing matter-of-factly a newly discovered landscape (words like “soft” and an exclamation of “Wow!”, when remembered still make me want to throw up). You felt around in me as though I were an inanimate object, a garbage disposal into which something had fallen and caused a jam. I noticed how itchy the carpet was.

And then you got off me. I just laid there at first, my arms still at my sides. I felt nothing, I couldn’t describe how I felt. You noticed my blank face and suddenly all your joy was gone. You seemed instantly, intensely apologetic– “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’ll never do that again”– but in retrospect I imagine you were terrified I’d tell someone. I got up and your I’m-sorry-so-sorrys followed me to the stairs where, one step ahead of you, I turned around and looked down at you and I said– I don’t fucking remember what I said, something like “You will never do that again,” something which I would not say now.

So let me tell you what I would say now.

What you did to me the State of Michigan defines as Criminal Sexual Misconduct of the First Degree according to Chapter 76 (Rape), Section 750.520b. Being that you used force, and that your actions resulted in physical pain and mental anguish, it was a felony.

But let’s face it. Even had I filed a police report, and even if that report had been examined by the DA and taken to court, you would have easily escaped punishment. Rich all-star travel team white Christian boys do not go to jail for sticking their hands where they don’t belong.

So what I’m left with is this.

That to you, I was a gutter clogged with rain-soggy, rotting leaves. A skinny, dirty glass in the sink, that you can’t quite reach the bottom of with a sponge. A pencil that has rolled off the table and under a couch, and now you’re on your knees reaching, reaching for it.

You talked about me in the third person. “Hello, I’M RIGHT FUCKING HERE. I can hear you,” I should have said. You talked about me in the fucking third person, like you were having a nice little chat with yourself. Let me try that for a moment:

“He is a despicable, abhorrent, perverse, loathesome creature.” “A violator, to be sure. A fascist, a betrayer of human rights.” “He must have turned out like his dad.”

Do I find it as satisfying as you did? You thought me cold all those years you tried to talk to me, and I wrote you back with words of venom. You forfeited your right to my kindness when you assumed your desires trumped my bodily autonomy.

You are a violator of space. You put your hands where they didn’t belong. You did things which you can’t take back. Maybe there are people in the world who love you and deeply care about you. That is entirely inconsequential to me, whom you betrayed, in my own home. My home. You will always be a selfish, pathetic 19 year old jerk, in my mind.

Understand this: I will never forget, and you best hope you never meet me on the street, for I will greet you loudly and clearly with your most enduring title:

“Hello, rapist.”

Who Writes the Rules

Who decides what the rules are when it comes to gender and sex?

The short answer is, the People at the Top. You may not be surprised to discovered that, in patriarchal cultures (which describes most cultures), this is men. We can be more specific, however: bottom-to-top position in this hierarchy is determined by many things, and the closer one gets to the top, the richer, more educated, and lighter-skinned these men get. Upon discovering that the People at the Top are predominantly wealthy, white, Western males, understanding gendered rules and expectations becomes a lot easier. Patriarchal hierarchies of dominance vary from place to place (and even time to time), but the patterns of wealth, education, skin colour, ability, age, sexual orientation, and so on are fairly consistent.

As many people have discussed, not only in terms of gender but also in terms of race and other categories, the People at the Top do not actively and consciously determine and define gendered rules, necessarily; rather, it is largely through their mere existence as Normal and Best (or Default, as some say– I like that) that definitions of other persons are shaped relative to them. Male equals normal, female equals abnormal or deviant; male equals default, female equals Other.

That’s the short answer, but it’s not whole answer. The more accurate, complete, and much longer answer is: everybody. We all decide what gendered rules and expectations will be, by following them. And perhaps even more importantly, by punishing those who deviate. It comes so naturally to us it seems biologically innate to call the boy in your eighth grade class who was caught wearing toe nail polish a fag. Hatred and fear of deviance, however, is not innate; it is learned. We are taught early and often that deviation is bad, most appreciably by being punished, ourselves. Normal/good little boys do not play with dolls; they pretend to shoot each other. Normal/good little girls do not pretend to shoot each other; they sweetly and passively care for their dolls. Full-grown men do not cry. Full-grown women do not have double mastectomies. Et cetera. This is reinforced to us all our lives. We witness what happens to those who deviate, and we learn to participate in their persecution, be it in the comments section of Youtube or NPR, or on sports teams, or in ballet class, or in our classrooms, or within our own families (this is often referred to as gender policing). If you are not doing the persecuting, chances are you might be persecuted– so which side would you want to be on? This is the question faced by every single person who lives within the confines of patriarchal culture.

The next time you hear someone tell a young man “boys don’t cry” (or “you throw like a girl”, or whatever), call to mind the question: Who decides what the rules are when it comes to gender and sex? You do. Either through your inaction or by validating that young man’s feelings, you are helping to decide what the rules are.

In order to contemplate the rules and think about how you’d like them defined, they first have to be recognizable. For most people, gender rules are normative and it would never occur to them to question them. Those who do are said to be “challenging Nature” and pushing “unnatural ideas”. Challenging our conceptions of “natural” is a good place to start.

A Blog of Ire and Spite

There are many reasons why ‘feminism’ is a dirty word, not the least of which is when certain people who personify feminism’s opposition call themselves feminists (e.g. racist Camille Paglia, victim-blaming Naomi Wolf, etc.) Now George R.R. Martin, author of the wildly popular Song of Fire and Ice medieval fantasy books-turned-HBO-series, joins the ranks of pop feminists. He kindly defines for us what his feminism is:

“To me being a feminist is about treating men and women the same,” Martin is quoted as saying in this Telegraph article. “I regard men and women as all human – yes there are differences, but many of those differences are created by the culture that we live in, whether it’s the medieval culture of Westeros, or 21st century western culture.”

Of course, I am dissatisfied by so many definitions of feminism nowadays, so I shouldn’t be too harsh. But by his own definition, Martin’s literary works are surely not feminist.

While Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice female characters are arguably more three-dimensional than most other fantasy of the same ilk, I find their stereotyped natures tiring. Cersei is the seductive slut; Arya is the tomboy; Catelyn Stark is the steadfast mother and wife; Sansa is the sweet and innocent princess in need of rescue; blah blah blah. Predictable, and therefore reliable. To some degree this can’t be avoided, right? Fiction, especially fantasy, functions at least partially on the familiar, shared assumptions (read: stereotypes) about kinds of people to anchor us while guiding us through a fantastic and impossible story. Besides, not all of Martin’s female characters have been created from drab stereotypes (Brienne of Tarth, for example).

No, what truly bothers me about Martin’s comment about feminism, and the serious slack cut him by supposedly feminist bloggers, is his constant depiction of rape, domestic violence, and other forms of sexual violence as attractive, arousing, enjoyable. This is where Martin gives himself away: a feminist does not depict rape as sexy and enjoyable.

Why stop at sexual violence. Martin glorifies battle and the taking of lives throughout the series, a huge portion of which is devoted to high-def, graphic scenes of beheadings, disembowelments, torture, and other “glorious” aspects of war and the violent societies in which the story takes place. The content is patriarchal, and is consumed largely by a patriarchal audience (men and women alike). War is cool, rape is sexy, same old, same old. To his credit (?), Martin makes lame attempts to suggest that war isn’t all cool: look, you could get your sword hand cut off, and then no one will want to fuck you– least of all your sister. Wow, is that the best he can do? Can we drop the feminist act now?

And besides, there is a whole realm of racism in A Song of Fire and Ice that we haven’t even touched on yet. Highly illuminating read on that topic here!

Whatever the case, I (mostly) enjoyed reading these books. I even (mostly) enjoyed the one or two episodes of the HBO series I’ve seen. I don’t think there is anything wrong with enjoying works of fiction that are inherently racist, sexist, classist, and so on (unless it’s for those aspects that we enjoy it, of course)– but that we like or enjoy something should not stop us from critiquing it. Or from calling out its makers when they say shit like, “Ima feminist LOL.”

Fantasy doesn’t have to show rape as sexy, or war and killing as glorious. It doesn’t have to paint all the people white or all the heroes male, though it is true that you will sell more novels if you do these things. But if you choose to do so, as an author, then you have forfeited the right to call yourself feminist. As readers, we have the right to read what we enjoy, but I think we also have a responsibility to question that literature, even literature we praise. When useful criticism like this happens, valuable conversations can take place about issues that matter IRL (that’s IN REAL LIFE for you non-nerds out there, though sometimes I think nerds forget IRL exists).

Let’s also not forget that there is really great fantasy and science fiction out there which questions, analyzes, deconstructs, and parodies gender, race, class, age, ability, and so on, and dreams up whole new ways of conceptualizing these things. A Song of Fire and Ice is not the end-all, be-all of fantasy literature, and even if it were, that shouldn’t stop us from questioning it, taking it apart, and assessing it from different points of view.

Now I’d better get a head start on the Martin fans; I hear them trying to break down the door as I write!

The End of Men (…or not.)

A friend got me Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men a couple of months ago (thanks, E!); here (at last) is a review.

Rosin’s book has a rather pejorative title, no? But don’t fear, penis-bearers, she doesn’t intend it in as antagonistic a manner as it sounds. Rather, this book could serve as a warning for those stuck in antediluvian concepts of gender, family, and work. The most pitiful “characters” in TEoM are those guys who have lost– wives, jobs, hope for the furture– because they refused to adapt to a new and different kind of gendered environment.

Rosin suggests that there is a shift taking place in American society, one that finally puts ‘feminine’ concepts in a positive light, particularly in the workplace. It would behoove men, she says, to adopt more traditionally (and stereotypically)-feminine traits and qualities in order to move ahead in the workplace, as their traditionally-masculine traits and qualities are no longer so beneficial– and, indeed, may be hindering them.

She points to this shift as the reason for Women’s Rise, which presumably means more money-making and keeping capacity, and associated benefits: more power in family decision-making, higher status in the sociocultural realm. I enjoyed her in-depth analysis and interviews of women in managerial positions, as well as her observations of women on other up-and-coming career paths, like the pharmacy business.

The most important and provoking lesson that I took from this book, though, is that this may be the End of Men, but it is certainly not the End of Patriarchy: I was struck by how patriarchal the “successful” women featured in this book truly were. Their competitiveness, desire to achieve status and status-lending commodities, aggression and even violence– yes, women of the past were “kept down” by the Patriachy, but our liberation from It does not signal the demise of It. No, we have only obtained more power to participate in the system in a different way… And participate we do.

Nor does the End of Men free women from the oppression of Patriarchy, as the “career women” feature in Rosin’s book still very much adhere to culturally-dictated norms of sexuality and gender.

Nevertheless, TEoM provides hope, too– for women, and for men. It’s a fast read and inspires fun discussion; read it!

Prometheus (review)

I’ve had a long hiatus, I realize. Several reasons for that, but in the meantime I have been doing something. Perhaps not much of merit, but anyways… Here’s a brief critique of Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s latest film.

Plot spoilers follow.

via Rotten Tomatoes

A deep-space vessel millions of light years from Earth stops on an uncharted satellite to search for something of imminent value to humankind. Our protagonist is the leader of a crew of scientists, a spunky, strong-willed brunette, attractive, with a dazzling IQ to boot. If this sounds like a new spin on Alien, I’d have to agree. Just the first of many gripes I have about this film.

Aside from the distracting scientific improbabilities of this Ridley Scott film, there are a myriad other reasons why Prometheus leaves one feeling dissatisfied at the end. It plays on an all-too-familiar sci-fi trope of old rich white dude wants something fantastic (in this case, eternal life), hires a team of scientists to take him beyond the unknown to get it, and disaster strikes in predictable fashion.

In that sense, Prometheus has done nothing new. But like basically every Coldplay album, Ridley Scott films abide by a simple principle: if it’s a good trope, keep reusing it. I can live with that, except that he doesn’t bother to shake up the ingredients. It’s as if this movie were made in the same era as Alien: predominantly white cast, stereotyped female characters (apparently to counterbalance the protagonist?), and a plot based in the mythos of Patriarchy.

The only non-white characters are three crew members who hardly leave the ship. Only the captain (Idris Elba) has any amount of lines, and lucky him, he’s given the ones that reveal Scott has not much advanced his thinking on female characters. Charlize Theron is wasted as an increasingly disinteresting overseer, hypercompetitive and determined in a way that is quickly undermined by the captain. After trying to pick her up, he says she must be a robot for refusing him– which apparently gets under her skin enough that she obliges him: “My room. Ten minutes.” I didn’t watch this in the theater, but I’m guessing that part was supposed to elicit a laugh.

That is what it is; the truly bothersome part of this film is that the alien beings from whom we are supposedly descended (they having been to Earth many times over the past millenia, disseminating their advanced DNA) are all Caucasian and all male. Whaaaaaat? I was following until that point. Sometimes it just jumps out at you, how in love with itself the Patriarchy is… Mankind was born of the DNA of a superior, male-dominated (perhaps exclusively male) alien race whose individuals look like giant Klan members. So much for modern anthropology’s out-of-Africa theory…

I love sci-fi, and I am more than willing to entertain far-flung absurdities for the sake of a good story. But you can’t have both a tired trope and a unrealistic plot that doesn’t even have imaginative appeal. Good-night

Grow a Pair

Patriarchy is often consider a feminist (or should I say feminazi!!) conspiracy theory: the idea that all penis-wielding entities are somehow in on the maintenance of a worldwide phallocentric hegemony. Well, understandably this is how it looks sometimes before you read the literature. Some feminist assertions do sound rather like conspiracy theories when there is no “hard evidence” to back it up. After all, suggesting that men around the world not only benefit from but seek to perpetuate, whether consciously or unconsciously, Patriarchal hegemony in its various manifestations (e.g. gender norms; sociocultural and political hierarchies based on race, sex, etc.; rape culture; Sex Binary Construct; etc.) sounds, well, like the Patriarchy: it is a sex-based and thus sexist proposition, for one thing, but also sounds a touch crazy– penis-carriers from around the world subconsciously and/or actively participate in systems of mass control (i.e. dominance hierarchies), even perhaps with the knowledge that they are submitting to a position within such systems, themselves, as a way to make gain?

I admit, that does sound a little X-Files-y. But there is more substance to this theory than readily meets the eye. Something that has become more and more prominent as a concern for the Modern Man is testosterone.

This ad is used to promote testosterone supplements.

One often hears about the falling levels of testosterone among the modern male population, especially in “developed” countries. Stories and blogs and conversations about and from men claim that they are emasculated, that society has stripped them of their Manhood (capital ‘M’); there are even commercial ventures which benefit from playing off this fear of limp-dickedness (and they sell it with lines like, “when we were still cavemen, we knew how to get what we wanted even if it meant dragging women by their hair into our caves”). The backlash to emasculation often expresses itself, frighteningly, as violence…especially violence against women and marginalized groups.

The flipside to this coin of the Modern Male is that the vast majority of violence is perpetrated by men, against men. Testosterone has long been linked with violent and aggressive behavior. Yet rates of violence have not decreased with the apparent drop in levels of testosterone. Why should this be?

The link between testosterone and aggression is somewhat of an overstated one: there is, in fact, little evidence to support this link in humans and our close relatives (via Nature, Eisenegger 2009). Rather there is a link between testosterone and dominance behavior (which in humans does not usually mean aggression, or “behavior intended to inflict physical injury” [Booth, et al.; Testosterone and Social Behavior, 2006]), which is impacted by sociocultural environment (e.g. ‘social perception, previous experience, propensity for specific behavior’, etc.) in combination with genetic, physiological, and other environmental factors (Booth, et al. 2006). Thus, links between testosterone and dominating and aggressive behaviors are highly individualistic. In general, there does appear to be a causal relationship between higher testosterone and more frequent expression of dominance behavior, but trends of higher testosterone and violence (including perpetration of violent crimes) must be considered on an individual basis that accounts for social, environmental, and physiological factors. In humans, there is little firm evidence correlating increased testosterone and aggression (and, it’s interesting to note, decreased testosterone and reduced libido).

Thus, while dominance behaviors may decrease as a result of lower testosterone,  a drop in testosterone does not necessarily mean a drop in violent behavior. That violence is influenced by so much more than biology, alone, possibly supports the idea that men who feel emasculated tend towards violence as a way of regaining masculinity. Indeed, it could be that the very suggestion of emasculation, such as a drop in their collective, “manly” testosterone, increases a man’s aggressive or violent behaviors.

I have often heard men complain about how Politically Correct their world has become, and how much they hate it. They can no longer make sexist jokes. They can no longer openly sexually harrass women. They jeopardize their jobs and risk being socially ostracized by failing to be “PC”. I also hear [American] men complaining a whole lot about how much women are complaining about how much control they’re losing over their reproductive health and bodily autonomy. The justification for this often goes something like, that’s the way it goes because women are the baby makers. (Or they may mention Eve, which really goes too far… Sort of kidding.) Similarly, many American men don’t seem to understand why women desire things like equal pay and equal employment and equal, uh, rights. Why should they need those things when they have men to Provide for them?

Modern men in Developed countries seem to be at the brink. They feel out-of-control, emasculated– like they are losing, have already lost their Manhood. They feel like they’re going soft, and that women are far too dominant over them. They feel that they are under attack, that they can’t be Real Men anymore. Some of them are seriously pissed off by today’s gender bending. Some of them may feel like they can get Manhood back by acting out violently and aggressively, by asserting power or by intimidating and threatening.

This escalating trend of men complaining about losing Manhood and being emasculated, which has really been going on quite a while now (probably quite a bit further back then I recognize) and may be coming to a head, is very strong evidence of Patriarchy. Not a global, organized network of men from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds who actively organize to promote their agenda, but an agenda it still is. And men from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds recognize the benefit of maintaining this agenda. When the agenda begins to slip out of their firm control is when the Patriarchal structure that underpins all societies in its various forms begins to manifest itself. Really, Patriarchy works best when it’s taken for granted, and on the DL.

The idea of society being anything but phallocentric terrifies a lot of men. Many places in the world still loathe female leadership. It is unnatural. Even in a family, my male Cambodian compadres tell me, there may be “equality” but there must always be a head…and that head should be male. It’s really a law of nature.

But let us not forget the role that women play in Patriarchal hegemony, as well. Their role is really crucial, in fact– without their cooperation, Patriarchy would quickly collapse. Women must believe in the naturalness of sex roles– of sex itself. And most women buy willingly into Patriarchy because they, too, benefit somehow. Patriarchy is not a totalitarian regime, but a very cleverly, seemingly organically-built construct that is adaptive and flexible. It would not have lasted this long if it were a pure slave state. The slaves must believe in their own subordination to perpetuate such a state for as long as Patriarchy has survived.

So when women mock men who are too feminine, or talk about how they want a Real Man, or really when they do anything to promote the Chicks-from-Venus-Dicks-from-Mars notion…they are reinforcing their own degradation. And really, the degradation of all humanity. Patriarchy is degrading for all of us.