sunflowerp: (Default)
2009-11-29 01:42 pm

Adult Privilege - A Signal Boost

One of the things I've long wanted to post about, but that, when I try, I usually get too angry to type, are the indignities that adults impose on children and teens, ostensibly "for their own good", but all too often simply because they see kids/teens not as people, but as things that must be tightly controlled. (Let's not forget just how many other groups have been marginalized because they were seen as things that must be tightly controlled.)

I'm still not, I think, able to construct a proper post, though there's been quite a few conversations going on about the subject lately; I'm hoping that reading them (at time of posting, I've read some but not all) will help me process the rage and sort my thoughts.

Meanwhile, a signal boost: [personal profile] elf has compiled some linkspam, which makes it much easier to find the main convos.
sunflowerp: (Kinky)
2009-06-28 08:06 pm
Entry tags:

Tools and Symbols of Oppression

There's been some discussion lately up here in the Great White North - or at any rate in the pages of the less-awful of my local print newspapers, The Calgary Herald - about the possibility of banning burqas. One Herald columnist, Licia Corbella, wrote that No sane, free person would choose to wear a burka. I can't say I'm impressed with that title (which is also the concluding line); it's either an example of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy, or an indirect reference to the Marxist-associated concept of false consciousness (or both; they're not wholly mutually exclusive), and whiffs of mental-health ablism.

Of course, this is op-ed rhetoric, not Socratic debate; its purpose is to draw attention - to that end, logical fallacies and oppressive *isms are considered a feature, not a bug. So I'll leave aside the business-as-usual, and get to the meat of the piece.

There's a great deal stated or suggested in there that I'm very much onside with. Most particularly, that the burqa is both a tool of oppression, and a very powerful symbol of oppression. But I'm very bothered by the underlying implication that legislative prohibition of the tool/symbol is a solution. Eliminate the tool, the means of oppression, and those who wish to oppress will find other means; eliminate the symbol, and other symbols will arise to take its place, or the oppression will be made less visible. If the goal is to eliminate the oppression, then - sooner or later - the oppression itself is what must be addressed.

Over at Tiger Beatdown a couple of weeks ago, Sady posted a great piece, Dear Andrea Dworkin. (Bear with me here; this isn't a non sequiteur or a topic change.) The comment thread, though long, is also very much worth a read. Naturally, since Sady is talking about what she doesn't like, and what she disagrees with (as well as what she does like and/or agree with) in Dworkin's writing, defenders of Dworkin have emerged to speak their minds; along with the predictable Militant Radfems (the ones who frequently lead me to scratch my head and ponder, "and that's radical how?") there are what appear to be some honest-to-Shulamith radical feminists. And there is engagement. More-or-less civil engagement - there's some heat, but quite a bit of light. If you yearn (as I do) to see feminists of different stripes actually discussing their disagreements, with arguments of substance rather than virulent invective, it's not perfect, but it's about as good as it gets (IME).

If you're so inclined, you can go check it out right now - this post will still be here when you get back. But you can easily save it for later (or choose to skip it; I think it's worth reading, but that's an opinion, not an injunction); I'm not directly addressing anything in it here.

As I was reading the interwoven discussions, it dawned on me that much of the substance of Dworkin and of Dworkin-related discourse is (see, I told you it was relevant) the ways in which expressions of sexuality can be tools and symbols of patriarchal oppression. (And of other manifestations of kyriarchy as well, but getting into that would make a much longer post.) Sometimes this gets parsed in terms of particular acts and objects - most famously, fellatio and pornography (with a side order of BDSM - mention of which gives me a chance to use an icon I haven't yet had opportunity to, ahem, show off).

There are those - not always the same "those", though I expect there's a good bit of overlap - who argue that fellatio is always an unfeminist, or even outright anti-feminist, act; that the very concept of pornography is a tool of oppression; that BDSM necessarily and by its nature reifies the power imbalances of patriarchy. It's rare to see them argued without a significant component of either personal squick or false assumptions on the part of the arguer, but it can be done.

Not in a way that's convincing to me, though. Such arguments, constructed from accurate information about the practices and without universalizing one's personal reactions, are legitimate and useful for examining the ways in which these things, through being used to oppress, have become imbued with oppression, and how we can go about disentangling them. They are neither legitimate nor useful when used simply to make prohibitive declarations about others' actions.

Prohibiting fellatio or porn or BDSM - or even all three - won't overthrow the patriarchy; all it does is take those forms of sexual expression off the table. Those choices won't be available, but the patriarchal oppression will still be there, finding new ways to oppress.

If, once we eliminate patriarchal oppression, there are no women who wish to engage in those practices (doesn't strike me as probable, but I could be wrong), it'll be unnecessary to prohibit them; if there are still women who wish to engage in those practices, it'll be an act of full agency.

It seems more probable to me that, with full agency and without the pressures of oppression, there will be no woman who chooses to meet the requirements of hijab by wearing a burqa. But if there are, that choice must be available to her, or all our fine words about choice and agency are merely disguises for a different form of oppression, a different manifestation of kyriarchy.

The tools and symbols are - at most - symptoms, not causes, I would far rather support women's full, free agency by ensuring that no woman ever has to give a blow job, or wear a burqa, or any of thousands of other things, except by her own, uncoerced and unpressured, choice. Removing choices from the table - that's what oppressors do.
sunflowerp: (BattleReady)
2009-04-19 02:14 pm
Entry tags:

TIWAFLL - Why, next they'll be wanting to vote! ... Oh wait....

My day is off to a roaring start, and by "roaring", I mean as in "strident feminist rage". Google News Canada handed me this stinking turd of a sexist, patronizing opinion piece this morning. I seldom have occasion to use the epithet "male chauvinist"; for most purposes I find "sexist" adequate - but Michael Coren, perpetrator of said piece of verbal defecation, has earned the designation, with (dis)honors.

The "Karine" to whom he refers - at no point extending her the dignity of a surname - is Trooper Karine Blais of the 12th Armoured Regiment, who was killed last Monday while serving in Afghanistan. This National Post article covers the facts and provides some background, painting a clear picture of Tpr Blais as a dedicated soldier and an adult with full agency.

Coren, OTOH, describes her as "a young girl dressed as a soldier" - and then has the bald-faced nerve to claim it's a compliment! No, Mr Coren, it is never a compliment to depict a 21-year-old (male, female, or for that matter non-binary-identified) as a child. Not content to erase her adult status, he goes on to erase her competence, and the adult status and competence of every woman serving in the Armoured Corps - and possibly smears the integrity of the Canadian Forces while he's at it: "Because there are few if any women who have the skills required to serve as a front-line combat trooper." Yes - exactly as many as have been trained in those skills. And precisely the same thing can be said about men. No one has skills as some sort of magically-bestowed gift; skills come from training and practice - training and practice which Tpr Blais certainly received, or she would not have been in Afghanistan, nor hold the rank of trooper. Coren thus implies that either a) women are constitutionally-incapable of acquiring these skills, or b) the Canadian Forces isn't providing training - or both; they're not mutually exclusive. To either of these, I cry, "Cite your sources!" (It's possible that the CF's current training standards are inadequate; they're stretched pretty thin these days - but I still want the claim backed by hard facts, and I'll want even stronger evidence if the claim is that men get the necessary training and women don't.)

I doubt very much that Coren has the slightest idea what skills are required of a "front line combat trooper" (nor much conception of modern battle conditions, nor the specifics of conditions in Afghanistan) - he goes on to wax dramatic about "Taliban tribesmen" (putting a racist cherry on top of the turd sundae) rushing trenches, and Tpr Blais' probable lack of brute strength with which to fight them off. "Trooper" refers to the lowest rank of trained personnel (until they've successfully completed training, they're privates) in the Armoured Corps. That's not "armoured" as in "body armour", that means armoured vehicles - TANKS (in which, incidentally, being short of stature and slight of build is a significant advantage). Yes, they do other things - I can't be certain from the NP article, but it sounds like she was doing a routine reconnaisance patrol in a jeep, also a likely thing for a zipperhead (CF slang for members of the Armoured Corps) to be doing. Zipperheads aren't expected to, or trained to, battle opponents hand-to-hand - tank combat is a whole 'nother kind of fighting, and if they're doing recce in jeeps, they either GTFO (because reporting is as important as observing, in reconnaisance - that's also why radio is another key skill) or they use the machine gun which the CF has generously provided. Note that the NP article makes reference to two other soldiers injured in the same incident - standard recce crew there, driver, gunner, and radio op. Unfortunately, neither machine guns nor prudent departures nor tanks - and most certainly not sheer physical strength! - are much of a defense against things-that-go-boom planted in the road.

Which brings us to the next point: welcome to modern warfare, where sheer muscular strength is seldom relevant, even for the infantry - they have rifles. Yes, infanteers with rifles can be overrun by sheer numbers of "tribesmen" wielding "long knives and heavy clubs" (see "racist cherry", above) - but firearms aren't colloquially referred to as "equalizers" for nothing, and if the rifles aren't sufficient to prevent a position being overrun, it's really not going to matter a good goddamn how much those defending the position can bench-press. And that was true even back in the long-past days of trench warfare. (Just how old is Coren, anyway, I wonder?)

I'm not even going to bother with the essentialist hogwash about women being innately different from men; there are plenty of people exhibiting that sort of sexism. What makes Coren special is his insistence that those differences constitute incapacities - the inability of women, of Tpr Blais, to learn skills, or even to be, in his eyes, an adult, though she has been eligible to vote for three years, a time period in which she would have had several opportunities to exercise that eligibility.

That's what moved me from mere annoyance at yet another sexist running off at the mouth, to strident feminist rage. The argument that women shouldn't be in combat roles because of those purported differences - that's sexist. The portrayal of Tpr Blais (and by extension all women serving in the military) as a child playing dress-up rather than as an adult - that's male chauvinism, of a strikingly reactionary and anachronistic sort. And his disclaimer that this is somehow a compliment? A disingenuous attempt to color himself as the "good guy".

I show you the soles of my combat boots, Mr Coren. I'd throw them at you, but I didn't hang onto them for two decades to waste them on the likes of you. (I'll note that, the state of Canadian opinion journalism being what it is, it's entirely possible that Coren doesn't believe a word of it, but was just doing his opinion-columnist job of Stirring People Up, the better to sell newspapers. But if you're flinging fecal matter around, it doesn't much matter if you know it's fecal matter or are convinced it's rose petals, you're still spreading shit.)

I don't know if Karine Blais identified as a feminist. But I do know that she was choosing to live a life - both in her military service, and in the choices she was considering for her subsequent civilian career - that defied the rigid normativity of gender roles and behavior advocated by Coren and his ilk. It's tragic that she won't be able to realize her future dreams, but it's not a tragedy unique to her womanhood (or hers and that of Maj Nicola Goddard, Canada's first female soldier to die in combat); she is the 117th soldier to be killed in Afghanistan, and each and every one of them represents an individual who won't be able to realize hir future dreams. But, each and every one of them died doing something that was also part of their dreams - whether the dream was of helping to keep Afghanistan from being reclaimed by a notoriously-repressive regime, or simply to serve in the CF - and each and every one of them knew that they might give their lives for that part of their dreams, and chose that risk as adults. And I weep with pride and sorrow for each and every one of them.

Serendipity and synchronicity: I was already thinking about feminism in context of military service; yesterday I chanced upon a very new blog by GI Jane, and the thread at Feministing (of all the unlikely places for me to enjoy a comment thread; my previous experiences there have left me wanting to throw things) that led to its inception. Any of you who are interested in women's actual lived experiences in military service (as distinct from the "ooh, the military is so macho and sexist!" trope that much of feminism considers to be all it needs to know), the Feministing thread has a great discussion with several current and former servicewomen chiming in, and Jane's entries on her own blog are wonderful - only two so far, but she covers lots of ground and does it well. (Alas, I couldn't get comments to work properly there, using either Navigator or Firefox; if anyone has better luck, let me know what you did.)
sunflowerp: (Default)
2009-04-06 06:22 pm

TIWAFLL - Language and Oppression

A number of intersecting incidents in the past week, including (but by no means restricted to) responses both in comments and privately to my last post, have been smacking me over the head to tell me it's time to stop chewing on this and write about it.

A few months back, I had my attention called to a couple of "Don't Be An Asshole" 101-type things that were lists of inappropriate terms - "inappropriate" in context of the specific sort of anti-oppression they referred to, that is (IIRC, but I might not, one listed homophobic terms and the other listed ablist terms). Unfortunately - and this is part of why my intersectional e-quaintances were pointing them out - they were a bit too context-specific. The errors weren't quite as egregiously bad as, "Don't call something 'gay', that's homophobic; call it 'lame' instead," but that illustrates what kind of error was involved.

It occurred to me at the time just how often, when lists of inappropriate words are presented, they're accompanied by a corollary list of words to use instead - and on the rare occasions they're not, such a corollary list is asked for demanded by commenters: "But if we can't use those words, what words can we use?!?" they wail.

Zounds! What a pressing problem of social injustice! However shall we manage to do our insult-throwing, disparagement, and name-calling, if the words we're accustomed to using for this task are forbidden?

I didn't spot that right away; initially, I just had a strong but inchoate sense that there was more wrong there than just "the gay-rights folks screw up and use ablist language; the disability-rights folks screw up and use homophobic language." It was only after quite a bit of reflection that I realized the problem was with the very notion that substitute insults are necessary.

Observing the problem from up in Theory Tower (a useful perspective, as long as one remembers to come down from the tower), the idea that name-calling, insult, and disparagement are natural, inherent, and inevitable is a kyriarchic assumption. Such things are used to reinforce the kyriarchic pecking orders, to police others to ensure they "know their place", and to identify things as good or bad according to a cultural norm (when "gay" is used in popular slang, it virtually always identifies some person, object, idea, or activity as "my class/culture/subculture looks down on it, therefore I look down on it"). More, they're geared to make it unnecessary to think about why a person, object, idea, or activity is disparagement-worthy and/or needs to be "put in its place" - and I don't believe the discouragement of thinking is accidental.

Coming back down from the Tower, I'm not saying all is lovely in the garden and it's inappropriate to distinguish between that which you approve of and that which you disapprove of. Some things are disparagement-worthy. But I find that, if I wish to disparage something, I can do so far more effectively by considering it in some detail, determining what about it I disapprove of and why I want to put time and effort into active disparagement, and constructing my takedowns accordingly, than I can by simply throwing insults at it and calling it names.

Occasionally, I do in the end throw insults and call names - they're likely to be insults and names chosen to be accurately descriptive As a bonus, they're also more likely to be funny. (To nod back at things related to my last post, [political alignnment] + [reference to a once-common way of writing off the neurodiverse, both officially/medically and as a playground insult] != wit. Choosing a political alignment, even dogmatically, is not an indication of developmental disability; neither having a developmental disability nor being non-neurotypical in a way that might be misdiagnosed as developmental disability is an indication of propensity for political dogmatism - the lack of descriptive accuracy belies the purported cleverness, and defeats any possibility of wit.)

I'm doubly careful when what I'm considering disparaging is a person, rather than an object/idea/activity - because even when someone is being a grade-A number-one dyed-in-the-wool asshole, they're still a sapient, feeling being. OTOH, assholishness doesn't get a pass; sometimes ya gotta say, "That sapient, feeling being IS BEING AN ASSHOLE."

So, yeah, to some extent name-calling, insult, and disparagement are natural and inevitable. But doing so inconsiderately (and I mean that in the broadest sense, without considering) is not. In particular, relying on the language of oppression - whether sexist, racist, ablist, ageist, looksist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic, religiously-biased, etc - as a source of names to call and insults to throw is not inevitable, it's intellectually lazy. Even - especially - casual use of common slang without considering (there's that word again) the *ism/*phobia in which it originated: the user may not intend offense, may even be genuinely shocked that s/he gave offense, but hir shock is a direct result of not thinking. Those sort of "good intentions" are well-known for their usefulness as paving stones.

Corollary lists of substitute insults aren't what's needed; compassion, a few brain cells and the willingness to use them, and a good thesaurus do a better job.
sunflowerp: (Default)
2009-03-29 03:17 pm
Entry tags:

TIWAFLL - Quiz time

Speaking of Sungold, she pointed me at the Which Western Feminist Icon Are You? quiz

My result: "You are bell hooks (no capital letters)! You were one of the first black wymyn to discuss in public spaces the differences between being a black womyn and being a black man or a white womyn. You are the mother of intersectionality and you couldn't care less about identity politics. Thanks for making feminism accessible and calling the white, middle class wymyn on their bullshit!"

That's pretty cool, because I think intersectionality is critical. Everything intersects and connects, nothing is isolated in its own separate sociocultural pigeonhole. (Which is why I seldom use the word "patriarchy" except ironicallysnarkastically; I prefer Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza's coinage kyriarchy.)

That means I have some reading to do, though - I don't know as much about bell hooks as I'd like to/should.
sunflowerp: (Default)
2008-11-11 11:03 pm

Now, that's ugly

I'm spectacularly behind on most of my Webreading, so I have no idea whether this is The Furor Of The Week in the feminist blogosphere (there's always a Furor Of The Week), or has passed unnoticed, or somewhere in between. I ran across it in the less-appalling of my local newspapers, The Calgary Herald - reading hardcopy, the old-fashioned way. It peeved me, but I couldn't put my finger on just why until I'd let it simmer a bit (well, until I was playing solitaire on the 'puter - an activity I find wonderfully effective in bringing stuff to the surface).

I find there's a much longer article at The New York Times. It peeves me, too - as did pretty well everything I saw on the topic while digging up the Herald link.

I'm not really commenting on any of the articles directly - nor on Concordia University sociologist Anthony Synnott's study, which I haven't read, and which could easily be misleadingly sensationalized by the newspaper reports. It might be that the paper itself doesn't peeve me... except for one thing.

That'd be the coinage "uglyism".

First off, there's already a not-as-neo neologism in widespread use to describe bias based on appearance: looksism. I've never been crazy about it; it's a kludgy construction - tacking "-ism" onto the end of a colloquial word to make a more formal construct usually is kludgy. Today, though, I'm a big fan.

Y'see, "looksism" is essentially neutral (aside from the inherent and intentional non-neutrality of bias-related -isms; their very purpose is to raise the point of the bias' injustice). The colloquialism "looks", unmodified by adjectives, says nothing about how those looks are hierarchized.

"Uglyism", on the other hand, is, quite frankly, a loaded term, a looksist term, for looksism - it implies that there's some absolute, objective standard of what is ugly and what is beautiful. It doesn't say, "passing judgement based on appearance is unjust," it says, "it's not nice to treat ugly people that way."

The NYT article brings up the aphorism, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." There, it's mentioned as folk evidence that judging on appearance is known to be superficial, but that's not what it conveys to me; for me, it says that beauty and ugliness are subjective.

Consider other -ism words: sexism, racism, ableism, and so on. While the things they speak of aren't neat pigeonholes - they have nuance and fuzzy edges, and lots of room to debate how much of it is real and how much an illusion of social construct - there's an underlying objective (in the sense of a widespread similarity of perception) foundation. In the case of looksism, the underlying objective foundation is that, however superficially or unjustly, we do form impressions based on appearance. Not so much for uglyism, which - however unintentionally on Professor Synnott's part (I surmise that his intent may have been "an ugly word for an ugly deed") - implies that ugliness itself has/is an underlying objective foundation.

Uglyism suggests that those who experience the bias of looksism are in fact ugly - that the injustice lies not in applying one's subjective perception of appearance as if it was objective, but in how these poor unfortunates are treated.

One of my own biases is showing there - I've been treated like a poor unfortunate who couldn't possibly be attractive to any man really worth having. (There's lots of asininity about men, male tastes, and what constitutes "worth having" in that, too, but I'm not up for writing a whole book here.) My other bias on this topic is that I've never been able to grasp what "ugly" was, as a solely appearance-based concept - I've known plain people and funny-looking people (I was a funny-looking people; my nose is so not a teenager's nose, so I was definitely odd to look at - not necessarily unattractive, but odd - until I grew into it), but I've never known someone I could consider ugly based on their looks. It's a blank spot for me. (Non-appearance-based ugliness, I do get.)

So that's what has me so pissed off that I had to make a post about it: "uglyism" is pretty frackin' ugly.
sunflowerp: (Default)
2008-06-07 09:48 pm
Entry tags:

TIWAFLL - One of the (Many) Reasons I'm a Sex-Positive Feminist

Lina of Uncool, as part of a post about the (real or perceived) lack of sexy images of men on sex-positive sites, and comcommitant (also real or perceived) over-representation of sexy images of women, asks:

"So yeah, why is this 'male-centric'? Why is it seen to be pandering to men or patriarchy? Why is [a woman] being naked and sexual seen to be trying to please men?"

Specifically, she's wondering why (some... hell, quite a few) self-identified feminists would reflexively assume that.

The answer to that, it seems to me, is, "Because men are pleased by it." Never mind that the male pleasure may be purely incidental - the woman may be being naked and sexual for her own pleasure, or for that of her female lover (or for that matter for the pleasure of her male lover as distinct from any other men who might observe it). Never mind that some or even all of the men observing might be appreciating her sexual agency, the evident fact of her active sexuality ('cause, know what? Quite a few men find active female sexuality more attractive than passivity. Like JFP for one ::blows kiss::, and come to think of it, I've a shrewd suspicion that's true of most if not all of my male readers.)

No, the problem is that men are pleased - and We Can't Have That!

To a certain breed of feminist, the only way to subvert the "women as sex class" paradigm is to intentionally avoid pleasing men; women who do things that men are pleased by (even if their motivations have sweet fuck-all to do with men) are undermining the subversion effort.

In a resultant private e-conversation, others deconstructed the logical inconsistencies better (certainly more succinctly) than I could, so I quote:

Belledame: "[D]ude, if you spend all your time worrying about what men think,
you're...still spending all your time worrying about what men think."

[ profile] ksej: "And the irony is that this is still letting men's desires control them, just in the other direction."

Yep. Anyone who sees female sexuality only in context of how men respond to it, as if it had no existence outside that context, is - intentionally or unintentionally - reinforcing the "women as sex class" paradigm, not subverting it. Seeing any feminist action only in context of its effect on men undermines its feminism by implying that what doesn't affect men isn't important.

And, y'know, sex isn't an invention of Teh Ev0l Patriarchy; it's just the way human reproduction works. A case can be made, however (historically simplistic, but more logically consistent) , that the stigmatization of sex as dirty, impure, and uncivilized (a stigmatization reinforced by that breed of feminist's distaste for overt sexuality) is a patriarchal construct.

That's not a reason to negate sexuality in the name of feminism, it's a reason to celebrate it.
sunflowerp: (Default)
2008-06-01 09:59 pm
Entry tags:

TIWAFLL - Fractious Feminism

I stopped in the middle of reading my f'list, to make this post.

[ profile] elorie has an excellent post up. The bit of it that made me stop reading and start writing was this:
"Not only is it possible to be a feminist and disagree with feminists, if you've ever actually followed what goes on in feminist organizations, it's almost a necessary condition."

Too often, women are deterred from identifying as feminists because they've encountered the idea that feminism requires strict adherence to some or another ideological orthodoxy. This isn't just some straw feminist that antifeminists have constructed out of hot air and blown out their arses. Feminists who use "Not a Real FeministTM" to shame and bully those who disagree with them into silence, alas, really do exist; the antifeminists didn't have to invent them. Though silencing is explicitly something we're fighting, and the tactic could be considered directly unfeminist, I'm not going to turn that one around; those who use that tactic may very well be, in other respects, quite legitimately feminist, and even valuable assets to the movement.

They are, however, assholes (I'm onside with Belledame here: I Blame The Assholes). They may be no less "real" as feminists than I am, but they're also no more real; no one died and appointed them Goddess, they aren't the arbiters of Feminist Orthodoxy, they don't have the authority to speak for all feminists or all women.

Personally, I think it's great that feminists disagree, that it's more accurate to speak of "feminisms" in the plural. I learn a lot more from intelligent and civil disagreement - which can sometimes be quite heated; "civil" doesn't mean "in soothing tones" - than from everyone nodding and smiling and going along with whatever the Orthodoxy of the Day is, and I believe the movement as a whole, a grand, diverse, lively, fractious whole, can learn more that way too.

The bit I quoted from Elorie, I believe, is vitally important; it should be said, as often as necessary and as loudly as necessary, until it displaces the idea that being a feminist means agreeing with other feminists. I commented just that, on her LJ, and then the implications of it struck me - so I stopped reading, and started writing.
sunflowerp: (Default)
2008-05-29 02:43 pm
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TIWAFLL - You May Be Experiencing Emotional Abuse, and Not Know It

This post was catalyzed by Purtek, but not by anything she posted, not even her article on Feminist Victim-blaming at The Hathor Legacy. She made a remark in a private venue that called a bit of inadvertent victim-blaming, and it hit where I live; suddenly, It Was Time to start speaking about this in my LJ.

I don't think this post is going to be all that close to the bone; I don't feel very ready to talk about it so publicly, so I'm gonna start slowly.

There's this idea that being the strong, whole, independent person that the First- and Second-Wave feminists made it possible for a woman to be, somehow constitutes an inoculation, a magic shield, against abuse. "It can't happen to me; I'm strong and self-actualized, and I know better than to get into a relationship with an abuser!" (Where the victim-blaming comes in, of course, is the implicit corollary that, if it does happen to you, you must have somehow failed - not strong enough, too dependent, didn't properly exercise your knowing-better, etc.)

But it can happen to you - and you might not even realize it. It happened to me, and I didn't realize it until months after I was out of the unhealthy situation.

As I struggled to come to terms with the pain and guilt of marital wreckage, I realized that I had the post-traumatic effects of emotional abuse (no, I'm not calling it PTSD - there's a continuum of post-traumatic reaction, and it has to reach a certain level of interference with function before it's a disorder). So I went Web-hunting for information on domestic emotional abuse. What I found didn't match my experiences; virtually everything I read portrayed abusers as domineering, overtly controlling, often overtly angry - the implication was that they were aware they were controlling, got some kind of gratification out of exercising the power, and were only unaware that they were abusers because they believed they were entitled to have that power. Unmistakably villains, assholes who need to be shamed out of their socially-unacceptable arrogance.

Nothing could be farther away from my ex-hubby. Hell, that description fits me better than it does him - so I was left continuing to wonder, as I'd been wondering, "Am I an emotional abuser?" Certainly the situation was emotionally abusive to him. He's gentle, sensitive, reserved, extremely good at containing his anger, a diffident guy who doesn't see himself as being able to control others, much less entitled to do so. I'm the one who yells when I'm angry, who is outspoken and decisive and sometimes comes across as intimidating or domineering - I've been monitoring myself for years, learning to phrase what I say to minimize the impression of "telling people what to do".

That could simply describe the sort of differences of personality and style that, if both people are emotionally healthy and committed to communicating about the differences, doesn't have to be a mismatch. But - communicating is extremely hard for him, and all the commitment-to-try in the world doesn't make it easier... and he endured a great deal of emotional abuse in childhood. "Endured" is the word; all his experience, all his training, says that "deal with" = "endure" - he has no models or frame of reference for working through issues and resentments.

The stereotypical Overbearing Abuser acts - he shouts, argues, belittles, sneers. Ex-hubby doesn't do any of that; when he's distraught or hurt, he withdraws. Basically, he's a porcupine - when he feels threatened, he rolls himself into himself, and has no idea how much damage those defensive quills cause.

It wasn't until I read Heartless Bitches International on abusive situations that I started to clue in (I'd had 'em bookmarked long before for their Nice GuysTM material; IIRC, it was pure chance that I decided, just when I did, that I wanted to amuse myself by exploring their site further). HBI doesn't really get away from the stereotype of "intentional asshole", but it does talk about more subtle forms of emotional abuse, about the ways that the abused person can wind up wondering if they're the abusive one, and a little bit about abuse stemming from past damage. That, at least, reflected my own experiences well enough to get me past the "am I the asshole?" anxiety.

But the demonizing stereotypes of abusers don't do anyone any good. Yes, many abusers are overbearing assholes, and/or intend to domineer or manipulate. And, possibly, some who are abused find it a helpful or even a necessary stage in breaking away and healing, to perceive their abuser as unmitigatedly vile - if they need to stop caring about the person, to be able to break free of the unhealthy relationship, f'ex. Gods know, if I didn't still care about my ex-hubby, I'd probably be a lot farther out of the tangle by now - but not, I believe, as healthily out.

But even the overbearing, domineering abusers are almost always acting out their own unresolved issues. When our response is, "they must be shamed out of it!!" we're basically saying that to have unresolved issues is a shameful thing, blaming them for the very existence of those issues. By no means am I letting them off the hook - what they do to act out those unresolved issues is unacceptable. But, hell, do we want the smug gratification of berating them with their shortcomings, telling them what Unfit People they are (which, as often as not, will be exactly the kind of thing they were berated with, that built up those issues), or do we want to help them resolve the cause of the problem? Beating up on people for their bad behavior is easy - hell, any emotional abuser can do that. It does nothing to encourage them to seek resolution - if not before they do damage, then before they do more damage.

Yep, some of them won't do that on their own. But shaming doesn't make those ones any more likely to, and discourages the ones that might. Calling them Bad People doesn't address the problem; it just reinforces our own illusion of being Good People, Not One of Those.

And then there are the partners, those who are abused. When emotional abuse is framed as, "nasty overbearing abuser; weak, intimidated victim." those who are experiencing abuse that doesn't fit that frame will often have no way to recognize the abuse. Not because they don't like to admit they're weak; why should they admit something if it's not true? Not because they're in denial about their partner's domineering tendencies; if the abuse isn't the abuse of domination, they're not in denial. Nor will it do a bloody thing to help their healing, if they have to twist and rewrite their own experiences to something that fits that box.

I worry about all those people who are stuck in unhealthy, abusive situations with lovable damaged people. If my ex-hubby hadn't hit a crisis point (in his words: "I broke") and tossed my shoes, I'd probably still be struggling, feeling unspeakably guilty every time I expressed a need in the wrong way and he withdrew, beating myself up because I couldn't figure out a way to express my own issues without hurting him.

The day after tomorrow is the second anniversary of the day "he broke". What I eventually came to realize is that who we are, what kinds of interaction we each are and aren't capable of, is abusive to each other. That doesn't make either of us a Bad Person, it just means that neither of us is equipped to deal with the other without being damaged. And that's not the kind of thing you see coming.

It can happen to you - either experiencing abuse, or abusing. There is no magic shield, no philosophic formula, no guarantee. Bad things do happen to good people; sometimes, bad things are done by good people.

(Note on gender: I've tried to be gender-neutral in most of my phrasings; emotional abuse, and especially the subtle and often-inintentional kind I'm talking about, isn't restricted to man-on-woman. I may have slipped, though, for no more reason than personal perspective.)
sunflowerp: (Default)
2008-05-12 12:01 pm
Entry tags:

TIWAFLL - Feminist-Positive Relationships

That's "relationships" in the narrower sense, the sexual/romantic/stufflikethat kind. It's a take on [ profile] jfpbookworm's phrase "feminist-positive sex".

I don't have much ruminating to do on the subject today, but I expect I'll have a good bit in future, because I have just such a relationship to ruminate about - the first time I've been in a relationship explicitly based on feminist principles. At this point, and for the foreseeable future, it's an LDR, since JFP and I have c2000 miles (it sounds even worse in kilometres, so do your own converting if you want that figure) and an international border between us.

This is also likely to lead to more polyamory blogging (which I want to do in any case) - I won't go so far as to say that I won't do a monogamous relationship ever, but I'd have to have pretty strong reasons. Fortunately, that's not a relevant concern in this case.

I won't do an extensive "this is JFP" introduction; the curious can follow the trail of linky breadcrumbs, But I will mention, because I know [ profile] jenett will be interested, that he's about to start on his MLS, with an eventual plan of being a law librarian.

The "how this came to be" story is a post on feminist (at any rate, woman-with-agency) relationship development in itself, so I'll save that for another time.
sunflowerp: (BattleReady)
2008-04-14 04:06 pm
Entry tags:

This Is What a Feminist Looks Like When She's Really Cheesed Off

Y'know what offends me more than overtly sexist jerks? More than the Feminist Orthodoxy Police? Possibly even more than bad scholarship, logical fallacies, and poor reasoning, though there was enough of those involved as well that it's hard to be certain.

It's men who use feminism as a camouflage, or even a justification, for their own sexist entitlement. When I deal with them, I sound for all the world like a stereotypical grim-and-strident radical feminist - out come phrases like "sexist entitlement" and "male privilege". Nope, I'm definitely not a Fun Feminist when it comes to that.

I've just been tussling with that particularly poisonous variety of "feminist ally", a Knight in Shining Armor. I'd like to say I took him apart, but, while I believe I acquitted myself very well, I fear he missed the point altogether, and flounced with his complacence and his virtuously noble self-image unscathed.

A Knight in Shining Armor is the sort of male self-described feminist (or he may describe himself as a feminist ally, or some other term chosen to show that of course he'd never usurp our movement - this one favors "radical pro-feminist") who is involved with feminism because he's Good and Noble, and will slay all the evil misogynistic patriarchal villains and make the world safe for womankind. (Pause in composition; I just had a brilliantly apropos icon idea and must do it right this instant... and, done, loaded, applied to entry.)

I think my spiffy new icon tells you quite a lot about what I, as a feminist, think of men (however they identify) who want to slay villains for me. As I've already mentioned, I'm down with (authentic) male feminists; they are my brothers-in-arms, and I'm very glad to have them fighting beside me, watching my back, and all those other good warrior metaphors. (And when we get back to the barracks... um, never mind.) But fight the fight for me? Not friggin' likely.

So - you can see Sir Lancelot in action at Derek's Doing Feminism - not Derek; you should have no trouble identifying the guy in the tin suit in the comments, even before I take him to task. Since ol' Lance has already transformed himself into Brave Sir Robin and flounced ('bout a six, I figure; the execution was technically quite good, if unoriginal, until he spoiled it by coming back for one parting shot), there's little point in piling on him there; I doubt it'll penetrate his +4 Armor of Complacence (what, surely you don't think he won't sneak back to see how we took it?), and it'll just distract further from what could be a very productive discussion (which you could join if you're so inclined). Anyway, it wouldn't be courteous to Derek. And, since I'm going to mention over there that I've snarked about it here, with link, chances are we'll have a meal of Silly Knigget deliver itself right to my doorstep - dinner's on me! (Comment policy for that is, mock at will, but avoid flaming.)

Sir Knigget is not without utility; he not only contributed greatly to clarifying my thinking regarding that discussion, he also shed some light on the complex tangle of my feminism.

"I’m much clearer on what’s problematic about #5: it subtly assumes that a woman, at any rate a pregnant woman, needs a man, and glosses over the injustices that create that need. Obliging men to ante up does nothing whatsoever to address those injustices; it seeks only to alleviate them." - Sunflower

If I'm reading my feminist history aright, that's right on the historic fracture point between liberal feminism and radical feminism; liberal feminism preferred to address injustices by adjusting the existing paradigms, while radical feminism believed it was necessary to examine, and work to change, the paradigm itself. (I invite corrections, clarifications, etc, from my more learned readers.) Old-school radical feminism, or so I understand, largely examined paradigms through collectivist-socialist, or even outright Marxist, lenses, while I'm cut [changes metaphors in midstream] from rather different cloth (though the fabric still has a left bias - "individualist-socialist" might describe it). Nevertheless, if I've parsed this right, I'm more radical than not. (Certainly I have a good many ideas that some feminists, many of whom identify as radfem, consider "radical" in the pejorative sense, but that's another can of worms.)

I'm discovering something very interesting about feminist discourse: if something causes wisps of steam to begin issuing from my ears, I will almost certainly learn something significant from it. I suspect this has to do with a keyboard-interface-related mental trigger - certainly my phrasings, and I'm pretty sure my debative skills and tactics, become sharper and more precise, when I'm resisting the temptation to descend into ad hominem arson ("I may be a skunk, but you're a piece of junk. And furthermore, I don't like your trousers. Or your appalling taste in women. And what about your mind? Your insipid record collection; your down-home video centre - the usual pornography..." - Pretenders, Pretenders II, "Pack It Up"). Not that I don't also learn lots in more pleasurable circumstances, but there's something about cutting the heart out of some asshat's argument with surgical precision and offering it to the Morrigan, all without overstepping the bounds of legitimate debate, that causes me to learn things about myself (other than that I have a tongue like a scalpel, a taste for blood, and the quintessential feminist trait of Won't Shut Up; that's not news).

And there's nothing like some good snark to relieve any leftover pressure. I feel much better now.
sunflowerp: (Default)
2008-03-26 12:53 pm
Entry tags:

TIWAFLL - Hey, look! I'm a Spice Girl! (and other musings on sex-pos feminism)

I've really got to stop making long comments on other people's blogs instead of posting here. Or at any rate, I need to ruminate here as well.

Holly at The Pervocracy (adult content) has ruffled a few feathers of late. The real action is in the comments to her I Love Men post, where I refrained from further comment after the rufflees arrived, on the supposition that some seemed likely to be Trolls, and thus should not be fed. (Further observation suggests there are no true Trolls [or that Holly blocked the only one, an ill-mannered trollop who didn't notice the irony/hypocrisy of appearing out of the blue and accusing one of Holly's regular commenters of appearing out of the blue], merely ideologues and Utopians, since they're not commenting on any of her other posts.)

A further installment in the saga can be found in her Like sex?... post. (Do follow the trail of linky breadcrumbs to see the whole of what Twisty said - I'll make some references to that, as well as to what's at Holly's, but you don't need to bother with Twisty's commenters unless you're entertained by such things. Oh, except for the fourth one, by Nine Deuce, who talks about a "new" definition for sex-pos feminism. There may be others worth a look; should I decide to read more of 'em, and find any, I'll let you know.) That's where I made the lengthy comment that I'm sorta-kinda going to expand on here.

Y'see, apparently sex-positive feminists are all a bunch of irresponsible, hormone-driven twentysomething party girls who wear skimpy clothes, talk about "Girl Power" and derive a false sense of power from attracting male attention. Yep, that's me, young, gorgeous, lean-bellied, perky-breasted, wearing a baby tee and high heels, batting my false eyelashes at the men. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

(I'll pause for a moment while those of my readers who know me in person stop rolling on the floor, get back in their chairs, wipe their eyes, and regain their composure. This may take a while.)

The reality? I'm middle-aged, and have a figure very similar to that of my witchy avatar (but with less-perky tits - years on a one-gee planet have an effect). I rarely bother with makeup (when I do, it's goth paint), and haven't worn heels since my sister's wedding almost 13 years ago. I have hairy legs and hairy 'pits (okay, not very; my body hair is fair and fine - but not by any effort of mine), and my primary sartorial consideration is comfort. I don't look like a Spice Girl, I look like a former hippie.

It appears that the confusion lies in assuming sex-pos feminist = "sexy feminist", and further assuming that "sexy" means "enhancing one's appearance to conform to media-promulgated standards of sexually-attractive femininity". BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!

I'm definitely and emphatically a sex-positive feminist - the exploring I've been doing has strongly confirmed that, in all sorts of unexpected ways, that modifier is the right fit. Whether or not I'm a sexy feminist depends entirely on what the observer finds sexy - if one's taste runs to a strong-willed, outspoken, opinionated, obstinate, well-read, geeky woman with an excellent command of the English language, a snarky wit, and a mind like a steel trap, then I'm sexy as hell, with very little reference to media-driven conventions. And, bloody hell, if being able to be sexy in one's own, unique, individual way, entirely independent of conformity to some hypothetical standard, isn't part of what we've been fighting for, I'm in the wrong movement.

It seems to me that those assumptions require an underlying assumption: that there is a universally-applicable, prescriptive, definition of "sexy" - that sexiness necessarily refers to female attractiveness, to men, and that all men are sexually attracted by the same qualities - and, further, that this posited universal definition is, in fact, the one found in mainstream advertising and entertainment. If a woman doesn't fit, or chooses not to fit, that standard, then she is, by definition, not sexy. (I'm not certain whether the implication in the other direction is that men can't be sexy, or can only be sexy in homosexual contexts, or it's an entirely separate and unrelated issue.)

Evidently those holding such assumptions know different men than I do - or have not troubled to find out what the men of their acquaintance prefer, or suppose their male associates to be exceptions to the otherwise-unrelieved monolith of - wait for it - Class Man.

Yep, gender essentialism rears its mentally-lazy head - that same thoughtless homogenization that underpins prescriptive gender roles, and without which misogyny, hostility to women as a class, possible.

I'm not accusing any individual of gender essentialism, much less of misandry; I'm just following the chain of logic as I see it. Perhaps there are links I've missed; perhaps there are individuals who have adopted the surface assumptions without considering what underlying assumptions they led to. Perhaps those who hold all these assumptions really do know different men than I do, men who really do fit that picture. It's not like such men don't exist; I've known plenty of them, too. They're not only a significant part of why I've remained feminist (I truly don't ever recall a time when I was aware of feminism but thought I wasn't one - I was pondering the pros and cons of committing arson on training bras a good four years before I owned one*), they're a significant part of why I'm a sex-positive feminist: because I damn well want positive sex, not the mediocre exercise in friction offered by those particular individual men. (And, I inadvertently lied in my Intro entry; I will post rants about particular men who have strengthened my feminist resolve - no names, no pack drill, but plenty of snark.) But there are quite a few men who have rejected that Procrustean bed, and a whole lot more who've discovered that it's uncomfortable as hell but haven't yet figured out how to get out of it.

Is it possible that the "sex-positive feminism" label is being co-opted by horny young women as a way to compete in the Girly-Girl Olympics (in two "events": in the Traditional Program, whoever gets and keeps the most high-status man gets the gold; in Freestyle Catch-and-Release, it's whoever gets the most men) and still pretend to have feminist street cred? Possibly, although most of the Girly-Girl Olympians I've met don't want to be feminists (which they think requires them to be humorless and implacably hostile to men) - and the few that do are perfectly happy with the "sexy feminist" identity. Hell, plenty of young women who are outright militant about sexist crap are rejecting the feminist label (but that's another post). And it's not Holly who's co-opting - her blog makes it amply clear, to those who bother to read, that it s a sex blog that sometimes discusses feminism, not an attempt to construct a feminist ideology out of sex.

Nevertheless, yep, making sure sex-positive feminism is well-defined is an excellent idea - since there are clearly those who will happily redefine it if we don't. Contrary to Nine Deuce's supposition (mentioned above), though, it's not a new definition - well before (media-driven) "Girl Power", there were the Sex Wars of the '80s, wherein radical feminism schismed bitterly. Those who disagreed with the prohibitionist approach - to sex work, to erotica/porn, to kink, to overt expression of female sexuality, etc - are where sex-pos feminism came from.

So when 9D says the "new" definition should "revolve around women demanding that their sexuality be acknowledged to be independent of male sexuality and that their sexual needs be met," there's nothing new about it. One of the interesting things about that approach is, individual sexuality and sexual needs are, well, individual - when your feminist discourse involves frank discussion on the subject, it becomes impossible to ignore diversity. (You can despise it, if you must, but you can't ignore it.)

In my long-but-much-shorter-than-this comment at Holly's, I found myself doing a seat-of-the-pants definition, not because of 9D (I think I hadn't seen her remarks at that point), but because of somethingorother somewhereorother that I can't find now, that I construed as a complaint that sex-pos feminists were vague about their actual stance, and as part of my point that "sex-pos" doesn't inherently stamp everyone else as "sex-negative": "sex-pos feminism emphasizes the positive aspects of sex and sexuality as a core issue, and strives to address the negative aspects."

There are things I deliberately didn't explicate there - acceptance of transfolk, f'ex, which would've opened a can of worms that'd likely derail the debate altogether. But I'm mentioning it here, because it's part of that running theme of individual diversity.

I have lots and lots more to muse related to Holly's brouhaha and to (my observations of and ideas about) sex-pos, but I've been writing for hours; expect Part 2 in the next day or two.

(N.B. ON COMMENTING, just in case the brouhaha pays a visit here: I'm not shutting off anonymous-to-LJ comments, because they can be productive and I'd rather not lose that. But if you're not on LJ or not signed in, please sign your comments. Feel free to disagree with me all you like, provided it's rational, civil, and engages what I actually wrote. I reserve the right to delete for incivility, obvious flaws in reasoning, and ideological haranguing, if this gets too lively; I like debate, but dislike brawling, and it's my damn journal. F'list folks, and people I know from elsewhere, don't get a free pass, but I will cut 'em more slack than I will for strangers. Identifiable Trolls will be shot on sight.)

(* Can't go without closing my footnote. Yes, I know that no bras were actually burned at that protest, nor is there any record of literal braburning elsewhen/where. But I didn't know that when I was, what, eight or something.)

I've done this post in HTML, so I could include usable links. It should work; if it doesn't, I think I'll go kill something by bare-hands dismemberment.
sunflowerp: (Default)
2008-03-20 03:52 am
Entry tags:

This Is What a Feminist Looks Like - The Centipede's Dilemma

It occurred to me, after the TIWAFFL intro post, that I really hadn't done as much feminist reading as I should, and there were too many ideas floating around that I didn't know enough about if I wanted to post about them intelligently.

In the (still ongoing, probably lifelong) process of rectifying my ignorance, I discovered that I'd been correct; I didn't know (enough about) what I was talking about.  Oh, I could talk about my ideas as a feminist, but I wouldn't be able to put them in context of feminism, except in a very general way.

The other effect of poking about was Too Much Stuff.  All sorts of thought-provokery, and the thoughts it had provoked, interconnected and overlapping, complex chains of memetic DNA.  One of my obstacles in writing has long been that I'm very conscious of connections; fields of study don't exist in neat vacuum-sealed compartments, but run into each other, bite each other's tails, step on each other's heels, and fall into each other's beds in massive polysexual orgies.  (Just wait until I get my thought-flow organized enough to talk about how the "scarcity" and "abundance" economic models can be applied to feminist-related issues!)

The thought-flow is becoming more organized, but something has to give as far as writing about it is concerned; I think that "something" is (some of the) structure.  I like my "major" posts to be essay-like, albeit conversational and informal, and usually do a first handwritten draft to make sure a post is reasonably on-topic, moves naturally from one idea to the next, and gives at least a nod to the intro-body-conclusion pattern.  Those drafts aren't happening; I start, and next thing I know my mind has pursued six different connections in different directions.  So I think the thing to do is grab an idea and type, and let the part of my brain that manages structural stuff on the fly (as, for example, spoken conversation) maintain organization as best it can.  (It appears to work fairly well so far - evidently, I'm accustomed to using the act of typing as a focal aid.)
sunflowerp: (Default)
2008-02-19 03:51 am
Entry tags:

This Is What a Feminist Looks Like - Introduction

It's not altogether accurate to say that I'm planning a series of entries on feminist issues.  It's more that they're in me, and want to come out.  Some have been waiting for more than 30 years for me to have the life experience, the cohesion of thought, the shape and frame of words, to do them justice.  I can't blame them, now that I have these things, for getting a tad impatient.  "Planning" comes into it mainly in keeping their emergence organized.

Rest easy; you won't be reading any man-bashing rants.  You may, though, read some rants about those - feminist and anti-feminist - who present feminism as a philosophic monoculture opposed to men.

Funk & Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of the English Language, in the edition distributed as a companion to the 1959 (note the date) Encyclopaedia Britannica, says, "feminism n  1.  The doctrine which declares the equality of the sexes and advocates equal social, political, and economic rights for women."  (Def 2 is medical, and irrelevant.  There is no def 3.)  While there are quibbles that can be made about that definition (and, being a word geek, I expect to do so in some later entry), it makes, IMO, an excellent baseline.

That's about all the "philosophic monoculture" - what feminists all agree on - that there is.  Feminists disagree, often vigorously and sometimes virulently, about what that means, how best to accomplish it, how much or little has already been accomplished, whether men can be feminists, and what time to adjourn for lunch.  (Not unlike Pagans, or SF fandom.)

Personally, I don't see a damned thing in that definition that excludes men qua men (or includes women qua women, for that matter).  And if I get too hungry, I'll make the motion to adjourn; if the motion is defeated (or bogged down in interminable consensus-building), I'll slide out the back door and go eat.  Which, jesting and snark aside, says quite a bit about what kind of feminist I am.

If the idea of many kinds of feminism, some at loggerheads with each other, is new to you, I recommend Wikipedia's article on the subject (  It may not be accurate in all details, but it's certainly accurate enough to give you a solid notion of the diversity involved - that is to say, it'll probably confuse the hell out of you; feminism really is that diverse.  (Also not unlike Paganism, or SF fandom.)

I'm not an expert on feminism.  I've never taken even one Women's Studies course.  I haven't read anywhere near everything I "ought" to have read - and have read quite a few things that I "ought not", by some feminists' lights, to have tainted my mind with.  (I'm a Heinlein fan - that's like having a lifetime membership in the Acrimonious Debate With Certain Feminists Club.)

These posts are just what one feminist looks like, and thinks about.

Incidentally, of the "schools" of feminism listed in the Wikipedia article, I probably identify most closely with sex-positive feminism.  This will show in my entries (both in this series, and not), sometimes explicitly.  When that occurs, I'll use cuts with content warnings.  Minors are advised that the laws of their land may opine that they're not supposed to know about such things.