Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On wheelchair use and victim-blaming [Foul-Up Fridays]


A link from some Fox News commentator's blog brought me a TON of traffic 'n' trolls. I've only dealt with less than a half-dozen trolls before, so this was an... experience. Many denied the existence of ableism, many told me to get a sense of humor, and the worst were bordering on threatening. It seems to have slowed to a drip now, and I'm thankful for the useful lesson in moderation, I suppose.

In any case, a couple of new visitors had useful critique. From J, on last week's post about 30 Rock:

My wife has MS and is in a wheelchair full time...You seem to think that my wife should be offended that Jenna danced for the Prince in the wheelchair, that is how I dance with my wife! If there is a better, more non-offensive way please tell me.

I don't think J's wife should be necessarily offended by anything I am. This is my point of view - no one is obligated to share my same exact reactions.

For the most part, I stand by my analysis. I think that particularly the scene that follows constitutes ableism (in which the wheelchair user literally kills himself after a woman with able privilege says untruthfully that she loves him). But let's look at the comment J refers to:
Since wheelchair users clearly cannot enjoy their own body, he live vicariously through Jenna. Jenna’s dancing, while physically funny, is at the cost of the prince’s bodily agency.
J makes a good point: people in partnerships with wheelchair users have a number of different ways of being physical with their partners. My analysis of that scene constituted policing said relationships, and I apologize.


Renee and Daisy both emphasized Joan's status as the rape victim of the man she assaults in my Television Tuesday post. Fair point- she does deserve revenge, and the incident at hand in that post is disproportionate to what she went through. My central point is not to shame Joan for being a domestic abuser - Renee called it a pre-emptive strike, and I think that's fair and hope it's followed by Joan getting out of the situation and Greg meeting justice.

I stand by my argument, for the most part: the central point I meant to communicate (and the onus is on me to effectively get this across, ) is that Mad Men has erased the experiences of victims of domestic abuse during the silent epidemic of the 1960s in which many women were brutalized. Mad Men, a show that positions itself as concerned with portraying issues of importance to women, has only deigned to address the issue of violence in the home once directly. And in that case, a man who way deserved it was the recipient of violence in the home, and it was a scene that was intended to give viewers a sense of retribution, trivializing the suffering of the silenced women abused by their husbands in the era. And it's not for lack of opportunity - I don't believe that none of the men at Sterling Cooper were violent with their wives. I think that domestic violence towards women in the 1960s in particular needs serious consideration on the show's part, and this scene served to highlight that lack.

Having said that! I was too hard and focused too much on a rape victim's reaction to a terrible situation in which she looks to have little power, and not enough on the context. I also scolded other writers who had a valid reaction to the scene. This constitutes victim-blaming, and I apologize.

Mad Men and the trivialization and erasure of domestic violence [Television Tuesday]

Trigger warning.

I cheered, when I saw this. It was almost an involuntary reaction, and I doubt I was alone - her husband sucks, and he's hurting one of the best characters on Mad Men, the hypercompetent, beautiful, confident, Joan.

But I shouldn't have. As awesome as Joan is, and as crappy as Greg (her husband) is, this is not okay.

This is domestic violence.

What else is it? How is it anything else? In the scene, Greg is complaining about his professional woes. It's not okay to respond to that by breaking ceramics over his head. That's abuse. This is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and that's domestic violence.

Furthermore, this is the show's only depiction of domestic violence, after almost three full seasons. Mad Men specializes in pointing out that which was silenced in that era (and today) - sexism, rape, racism, ableism, ageism. But Weiner & Co. have, with the exception of a couple of references to Don's refusal to use corporal punishment, completely ignored that silent epidemic until this unsatisfying scene.

This scene is not an acceptable context for introducing domestic violence. It's likely a one-off incident, unlike most abusive situations. The abused is one of the most irredeemable characters on a show of irredeemable characters - he explicitly raped fan favorite Joan (I'm using explicit to distinguish that incident from Pete's rape, which, while rape, was more ambiguously framed) and has since been the cause of her absence from the show. No one likes Dr. Rapist. Everyone loves Joan. She deserves this revenge. Her history as the victim of abuse at his hands means that this is not easy to read as valid domestic violence:
When Joan hits Greg on the head, not only is she pissed: She is trying to knock some sense into him, and rejecting his notion that she doesn't know what it's like to work towards something all your life. from Jezebel
Double X has a similar "you go girl" take:
Sure, her swing had about all the staying power of Jai Alai (she was back to being the dutiful wife by the next scene), but at least it came out, if only for a moment.
The Feministing crew also gave it an okay, even calling it "awesome" and Joan "badass". Seriously, domestic violence is not cool, or awesome, or badass - and particularly not in the feminist contexts of these shows. "Knock[ing] some sense" into another human is not doing them a favor. Nor is it an effective way to assert yourself in a relationship. It's enacting violence against them, and it's domestic abuse.

Joan has been a victim of this man's violence, and that complicates this act. What Joan did to Greg was nowhere near the same; Greg's act of violence and entitlement was one of the most horrific scenes of the entire series, barely approached by any other acts of violence or cruelty on the show. I can understand that urge to applaud her for kicking his ass - it's delayed justice. But she actually hasn't gotten justice from one awesome scene, and Joan being kickass doesn't mean that it's okay for her to be physically violent to Greg (outside of of self-defense, of course). And this is particularly striking and unsettling because of Mad Men's habit of ignoring this serious, contemporary (in the sense of 1960s and today) issue.

Women are disproportionately the victims of domestic violence, and the situation was much worse in 1963. Why is the only portrayal of the silenced population of domestic abuse victims in this era a man? Why is he unsympathetic? Why is the scene almost comic? Why is the viewer meant to root for the abuser in the context of the situation and this show?

Domestic violence is not a physical comedy gag, or a vehicle for vicarious acting out against an unpopular character. Mad Men has a good history of exposing violence against women within this very relationship. But thus far in the series, they have erased the history of domestic violence and abuse against women and children, and trivialized male victims. A series that seeks to penetrate and puncture the glossy nostalgia surrounding the sixties has a responsibility to carefully consider its treatment of domestic violence. Mad Men needs to cease marginalizing and directly confront the still-present demons of DV with the same critical point of view it applies to so many other social ills.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Bad" black notes, "sophisticated" white notes [Music Monday]

I came across the above over at kiss my black ads. It's an example of how even figure that are naturally abstract can be harmfully racialized through color and coding.

The note on the left is a longer note, musically speaking, than the one on the right - a half note next to the eighth note on the right. Said note looks like a 50s beatnik, or laid-back college professor - someone "hip" and culture savvy with presumably stellar taste in music; it's described below as "sophisticated". This note is white.

On the right is the distinctly menacing eighth note. Notice the furrowed brown, the tightly gripped knife with the sliver of blood. It's "bad" music, and it kills. This note is black.

"Kills" may be used in a positive sense - a killer song, as in exciting - but the connotations, especially in contrast with the "sophisticated" note, cannot be read as coincidental. Perhaps this wasn't designed with intentions to portray one race or another, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't reinforce violent, classist, racist stereotypes - the burden is on the privileged to ensure that oppression is not furthered.

On a side note, I highly recommend kiss my black ads. Craig Brimm posts arresting images - sometimes beautiful, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes offensive - on a daily basis. Can anyone recommend some progressive/political/feminist art sites?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Daily Mail reminder of misogyny

Today I was on the Daily Mail, getting my daily dose of the thoroughly constructed expectations of women demanded by the kyriarchy (via Jezebel!). Halfway through the page, I came to this gem:

Picture: Bulleted list of news headlines

Just a reminder: fat women are only valid when they lose weight. Only thin bodies are attractive. And "a man" is the end goal of any life plan.

This isn't shocking. It's not exceptional. Look at the two above it and below it: the upper reinforces the normative ideals of youth as necessarily active and valid in contrast with age, and the lower suggests that being happy with a bigger body having experienced thinness is extraordinary. And there are probably more offensive hooks elsewhere on the page. That's why the "gettin' a man" story caught my attention: compared with the rest of the waste on the page, this patently, traditionally sexist snippet seems normal and commonplace.

Of course, that's what the kyriarchy does; it places high-contrast, oppositional expectations on complex, nuanced and relative structures. In weight, gender, sexuality, appearance, age, presentation, language - every action and plan and idea that we as humans undertake is shaped or at least flavored by the injustice of the world we exist in. The Daily Mail is just a heightened expression of what those specific expectations are for women.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bad language: "dumb" and "bimbo" [Foul-up Friday]

For my initial Foul-Up Friday, I’m reaching back to my Britney piece from a couple weeks ago:

I’ve gone from conceptualizing her as a dumb bimbo colluder profiting solely from her body and oppressing less beautiful women to liking her music and finding great sympathy for her.

“Dumb”? Is not okay language. Dumb is a word often applied to the vocally impaired that’s been conflated with a lack of smarts, or, in Britney’s case, a pneumatic public persona. This is a double foul-up, since “intelligence” is an ableist concept in many ways. I intended it to refer to my previous views, but that’s not an excuse, especially in a post that discusses ableism.

"Bimbo" is also not cool language; it's traditionally misogynistic that's degrading.

I apologize.

Announcing: Foul-Up Fridays

Like everyone else, I fuck up – in real life, and in this forum – on a fairly regular basis. I’m afraid to fuck up, and it’s hard to face your fears – but it’s the only way to get over it. So I’m thinking about starting a regular feature in which I examine transgressions of privilege and my own behavior.

My central purpose is to answer privilege checks that come up in the course of blogging. I’ve recently decided that I will probably not engage in the comment section. This isn’t because I feel that my work is indefensible – just that I’ve said what I’ve had to say, oppressive or brilliant. If I didn’t say it the first time, and there are questions about it, that probably means a) it’s a flaw in my thinking that I need to consider or b) that I don’t have a clear opinion on it.

This is a way for me to take some time to think about and process privilege checks without evading responsibility. By taking a couple days, I am able to avoid furthering messy mistakes by getting defensive. I don’t want to be bad, and when I am, it can take a sec to own up to it in a manner that’s not superficial. I'm seeking to avoid privilege hand-wringing. This series will inevitably inspire separate posts, but I intend on keeping actual entries short and to the point - identifying the issue, explaining what happened, and apologizing. Reflecting on it in a concise but meaningful way allows me to take a serious look at how I’ve fucked up, and avoid it in the future.

Additionally, it will provide a model of what it’s like to fuck up to those who are new to feminist discourse. One of the central ways that I learn what to say and what not to say is by looking at firestorms and trying to figure out what went wrong and how I can avoid that. The forum is an organized way to introduce people to common mistakes.
Additionally, this will be a place for readers to call me out on overall trends in my writing. I think that the common derailing tactic of “Hey, why don’t/didn’t you address this particular story/oppression?” has some legitimate use. It’s valid critique, but not appropriate in individual posts that are focused on another form of privilege.

At meloukhia’s suggestion, I’m calling this feature “Foul-Up Fridays”, and the first edition will run later this afternoon.

Further reading: How to Fuck Up, on Shakesville.

Privilege hand-wringing

Criticism of one’s privileged actions is an essential part of feminism. It’s an act of recognizing and owning up to privilege, which is essential to fighting privilege. Critiquing how one has transgressed against their stated intention of fighting privilege is similarly essential to understanding the nefarious, surreptitious ways in which it has wriggled its way into all of our brains. Such self-critique can be especially useful as a model for others overcoming privilege – it has certainly helped me to see the mistakes I can make, and largely avoid them.

However, it has a less selfless purpose. Self-reflection can pass into self-congratulation. Privilege hand-wringing is in service of cookies instead of trying to get better. Reflection on one’s trespasses against others could become overly self-indulgent, and center discussions of privilege around the privileged, while still silencing those that they’ve trespassed against. Posts that own up to something have the danger of only admitting those flaws that they see, while ignoring the feelings of the hurt party. It can be a cry for attention, rather than a humble apology.

Of course, this is not intentional. As I note below, most of us mean well. But privilege obscures how we mess up, and entitlement stemming from privilege leads us
Feminists who decided to devote posts to their fuckups confront the danger of sounding like televangelists who cheat on their wives or steal from the kitty, or politicians who’ve done much the same. It’s an opportunity to sneak in a “backdoor brag” (to steal a phrase from 30 Rock) to use a failing to highlight their accomplishments rather than fess up to their failings. They glorify the good things they’ve done by comparison, and almost act like their mistake itself is actually a virtue.

Privilege handwringing from feminists and other progressives reminds me somewhat of John McCain during the 2008 election directly after the economy crashed in late September (the moment I knew, incidentally, that the campaign was pretty much over). When that happened, he wrung his hands and said “we need to stop campaigning!”, changing course as he did so many times that year. He was pretending to be concerned about the little people, and I’m sure in a way he was. But the main objective was the presidency.

This is not a call-out or privilege check directed at any one feminist/progressive writer in particular. We all do this politicking – messing up, and trying to spin it and center it around us and not use it in search of the larger issues at hand. Sometimes it’s ceding to pressure, sometimes its guilt, sometimes it’s a lack of understanding of just what we did wrong. Usually it’s a little bit of all three, plus a dollop of privilege, on top of our ever-present desire to do good and effect change and be socially responsible.

Mistakes can be learning moments. In terms of feminists, these can be great moments for the realization of the depth of their own privilege– but it shouldn’t be focused on learning about how great the mistake-maker usually is. It should not be an excuse, and it should not be qualified. If a qualifications needs to be added to an apology, that is a sign that the apology is not true – it’s to you, maybe, the people watching whose opinions of the apologetic have been hurt, but perhaps not to the target of the original hurt. While a healing component can be helpful, fessing up to feminist fuckups should primarily seek to apologize humbly, recognize or point out their mistakes, and identify a flaw that needs to be fixed.

There’s no excusing mistakes. For teaching moments about how not to fuck up, readers/viewers should consider the original mistake more seriously than the apology – but an apology, and a sincere one, is necessary, as much to the transgressor as to those who might learn from it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Race-baiting in Virginia's first post-racial election

Virginia is electing a new slate of state officials in a couple weeks. I haven't been following it too closely, even though Creigh Deeds, the Democratic candidate, is from my neck of Virginia and he's trailing badly; I've always focused more on national politics (particularly presidential politics). But this showed up in my Google Alerts:

The final debate of the campaign for attorney general took on racial overtones today.

Democrat Steve Shannon said Republican Ken Cuccinelli favors states' rights, likening it to the agenda that resulted in Virginia's fight for segregated schools. Cuccinelli accused Shannon of "race-baiting."

Shannon, a delegate from Fairfax County, said after the hourlong debate that he does not think Cuccinelli is a racist. But he said Cuccinelli, a state senator from Fairfax, is "an ideological crusader" whose agenda reflects some of the worst aspects of Virginia's past.

Cuccinelli described Shannon as "a backbencher" who is disinclined to pick fights.

The two lawyers debated before a luncheon meeting of the Richmond Bar Association at the Richmond Omni Hotel. It was their fourth debate. [Emphasis mine]

Shannon was making a valid comparison between present and past political strategies - something that people do all the time. Folks are constantly looking to past happenings to explain our political future - politics and the country are changing all the time, and the past is something stable we can look to. Comparing Cuccinelli to Civil War-era supremacist is a strong comparison, but that's the language of politics. Calling Shannon a race-baiter is hurling a special, racialized rebuke for doing exactly what a politician is supposed to do in a campaign: raising issues.

After making said strong comparison, why is Shannon obligated to absolve Cuccinelli of any personal responsibility by saying that he's "not a racist"? Whether or not one white man labels another white man a racist is not relevant. Focusing on the label of racism makes fighting racism a pantomime - it makes actions and contributions superficial, solely focused on titles applied externally. That is what politics is, though, isn't it?

It's not about whether someone is "a racist" or not (though if they've got race privilege, they probably are - myself included) - it's about whether they're anti-racist. In fighting racism, actions and not intentions are what matters. Politicians like Cuccinelli who make noise about race-baiting when a hint of race enters the discussion are concentrating on evading the responsibility of our country's history of racism. This evasion creates an opportunity for them to avoid any discussions of racism, and thus save themselves the trouble of doing anti-racist work while they rest on their privileged laurels.

Our conception of our society as post-racial discourages discussion of race rather than encouraging learning and growth. Post-racial discourse pretends that we don't have issues with race now, and we never did. Because our president is black, see? So obviously none of us have an issue with it now, and there's no use talking about what our ancestors did since they're all dead. Right? Totally!

There's no use talking about slavery - no one has slaves, silly, and no one has for years! There's no purpose to bringing it up. It just stirs up bad memories that no one wants to think about anymore. It's so long ago - it couldn't impact our interactions and society today.

Except that it does exist, and it didn't happen, past tense - it's happening, present tense, an we need to talk about it, today. When a junior high football coach encourages his team to use racial slurs, racism is real and happening. When elected officials brag about belonging to the KKK, racism is real and happening. That's just a fraction, and that's just today.

Anti-racist work is silenced by calls of race-baiting, of insisting that we absolve those who ignore racism of responsibility. As a politician trying to win a race, Shannon couldn't do a lot more. But at least he is raising issues that Cuccinelli insists on pretending aren't an issue. Racism isn't going to stop by ignoring it - such actions only breed ignorance and amplify the issues that plague our laws, our government, and our country.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ableism in 30 Rock [Television Tuesday on Wednesday]

Photo: Marceline Hugot as Kathy Geiss, a white woman with a bowl haircut in a green blazer and pink shirt eating at a broad oak desk. A portrait of a white man in a suit and lamps are behind her.

A lot of feminists love 30 Rock. As they should: it’s a funny show, and a rarity for television – a women-fueled enterprise with a two main female characters, written and conceived of by a woman. That is Cool, full stop. And 30 Rock has many deft explorations of the many facets of being a white, middle-class, straight, woman with able privilege. But persons with disabilities don’t fare quite as well.

30 Rock trades on ableism on an almost episodic basis. The show’s disrespect towards folks with disabilites, particularly those with visible disabilities, is constant and unrelenting from side gags to b-plots to regular characters. 30 Rock constantly places bodies with able privilege in a position of supremacy above bodies with visible disabilities through humiliation and devaluation. Its abuse of persons with disabilities in the name of comedy goes beyond the casual ableist language like “lame” or “retarded”. Such language is unfortunately ubiquitous to even shows that have been critical of ableism (eg, The Office has critiqued ableism through Michael Scott’s typical obliviousness on a couple of occasions, but, as in life, "lame" and occasionally “retarded” is still a consistent presence) but 30 Rock's ableism is constant, humiliating, and dehumanizing.

The most consistent use of a person with visible disabilities for the purposes of comedy and comedy alone is Kathy Geiss. Kathy Geiss is the mentally disabled daughter of NBC head Don Geiss, Jack Doneghy’s hero and boss. She makes her entry into the series when she is wooed by Will Arnett’s character, who is gay. Later on, she becomes the titular head of NBC when her father goes into a coma, with Arnett as the power behind the throne. She also sexually harrasses Jack. [Hulu doesn't have second-season clips - which is what I get for writing about television two years after it airs - but you can watch a recap below for some evidence.]

Kathy Geiss’ appearance in the series dehumanizes, unsexes, and generally robs persons with mental/learning disabilities of any agency or life. She is first presented as a preposterous romantic figure, only valued for her father by a man who is not interested in women and a man who also only wants her ill-deserved power. This adult woman, with grey hair and a unisex wardrobe, is essentially viewed as a child – she plays with toys and cannot dictate her romantic life beyond serving a purpose for a man with no romantic interest in women. Furthermore, she is framed as incompetent and unable to do anything effectively; she has no professional identity, but only serves as a puppet for a man with able privileges. The idea of a woman with visible mental disabilities is so beyond the realm of 30 Rock’s conception of what a woman or person is that they frame her as absolutely nothing but a joke, someone inconsequential who only serves as juxtaposition for the traditionally smart, sexy, competent main characters.

The visibility of her disability is heightened at every turn, though her desexed dress to her blank and uncomprehending expression to the toys that are sometimes in her mouth. Kathy is literally silenced - she says one word in her entire multi-episode arc ("kiss"). Having served her purpose as a punchline, she subsequently disappears from the series and is never mention again, effectively erasing any chance she could have had to be a redeeming character (as Jordan has). On 30 Rock, disabilities are tolerable as long as you can’t immediately tell.

In a first-season episode, a character with physical but not mental disabilities is similarly used to set in contrast another character’s sexual power while his life is understood to be valueless. Liz, Jack, and Jenna attend a birthday party for a foreign prince (othering much?) who is confined to a wheelchair due to inbreeding (hilarious, right?). The prince is attracted to the narcissistic and insecure Jenna and makes her his companion for the evening. Since wheelchair users clearly cannot enjoy their own body, he live vicariously through Jenna. Jenna’s dancing, while physically funny, is at the cost of the prince’s bodily agency. Later on, he literally kills himself after exchanging affections with Jenna. [Again, no clips on Hulu/YouTube. Sorry.)

It’s understood that the lives of those in wheelchairs are valueless and unworthy of living; once they achieve some minor romantic or social success, they’ve clearly hit all the highs that someone like them can hit, and it’s no use carrying on.

30 Rock confronts mental disabilities in every single episode with the character of Tracy Jordan. Tracy is defined as “mentally ill” from the pilot episode, but that does not interfere with his ability to be a fully functioning human being. His disability is never specifically defined, but it’s a part of his character and is usually portrayed as value-neutral (sometimes negative, sometimes positive - as when he challenges the value of normal in a third season episode). Like other major characters, his narcissism, ego, and drinking problem are as likely to provide a crux for an episode as any other character traits. His disability is a variation, not a handicap. Tracy is not unintelligent, or lazy, or incapable – he’s just who he is, and who he is is valuable and funny and moving.

This is not to say that the framing of Tracy’s disability on the show is universally positive or respectful – there are many problematic episodes that problematically portray his disability. And of course, I'm looking at Tracy from a currently able privileged point of view, and could be totally wrong. But it remains that the only disabled characters shown regularly and treated as consequential are those with invisible disabilities. 30 Rock viciously positions characters with able privilege above persons with disabilities in its language, ongoing plotlines, and minor jokes.*

30 Rock is a feminist show. But like feminism, it is soaking in ableism. Able privilege and discrimination against persons with disabilities Tina Fey’s show negates the experiences of agent and vibrant people with visible disabilities, turning them into sexless, lifeless, inconsequential punchlines.

*The examples detailed above don’t even begin to cover it. There's also the episode in which Kenneth and Tracy deceive a blind girl for a Cyrano de Bergerac type story. In another episode, Jack forces a deaf woman into his office under false pretenses and forces her to lip-read for him. In another, Jenna portrays Janis Joplin, whom she believes walked with crutches.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Corporate sponsored terrorism and stalking from Toyota

Trigger warning.

So, last year in the UK, Toyota and ad firm Saatch & Saatchi started this really clever ad campaign … of terror! Here’s the campaign kicking it off:

Before we even get to the real and horrific impact of this incredibly ill-considered campaign, let’s take a look at how the maniacs are sexualized and racialized.

The “maniacs” (nice ableism!) are mostly white and male. This means that the agents of terror in this situation are the ones with societal power to flex and scare their victims. Many of the corporate stalkers are able to claim the right to terrorize potential customers because of their skin and maleness.

However, while most of the terrorists (I like that better!) have socially normative bodies, some are othered, through their dress or age or race. An old man and a long-haired goth are two of the prospective white male stalkers, and both are subtly coded as ridiculous in their menace. The goth has markings on his face, and the old man is made to look foolish by brandishing nun chucks. An Asian woman in a colorful outfit that I believe is supposed to look like Harajuku is also shown, caricatured by a heavy accent and a crazy dance. There’s also an elegantly dressed black man - apparently dressing nice and being black (or old) is enough to make you an object of ridicule, right alongside a man in a bear suit.

These operations of inequity and othering serve as markers that this should be read as fun. I guess that gives the ad company an out to claim that this is just a wacky, ad campaign – because ridiculous Asian women/old men/dapper black men/Goths? They could never be seen as a realistic threat or symbol of aggression.

So, let’s move on to the actual human cost of this:
Last year, Amber Duick received a series of nine e-mails from a fictitious character dreamed up by the campaign (complete with a MySpace page). The character told Amber he was coming to stay at her house to avoid the cops, and even sent her a motel bill for $78.92. According to AdAge, Duick was so frightened that she slept with a machete and mace near her bed.

The last email Duick received included a video that notified her how she had been fooled, and explained that this was an effort to market the Matrix. The campaign, which targeted thousands of consumers, invited people to nominate their friends to be victims of the prank, which is how consumers' personal information was acquired.
As an anxious woman, this isn’t funny. My partner leaves town sometimes, and I often go to bed terrified on even the safest of nights. Were I the subject of this? I would call the cops and take my butt and my cats to someone else’s house. I would FLIP. I would also sue.

My theory is that Toyota saw the impact of “viral marketing” and wanted to do something similar, except extreme and violent. Its creating anticipation about a product in a personal, one-on-one way. Except instead of asking schmucks to buy you a Grey Goose vodka or posting about Worms Armageddon on a videogame forum, they’re…threatening your personal safety.


Clearly, this isn’t an ad campaign – this is stalking and terrorism with corporate funding. And I seriously doubt Saatchi made any effort to check out whether their victims were perhaps being stalked by the “friend” who suggested them.
What would make Toyota, or anyone else, think this would appeal more to actual friends than to people who want to harass the targets of the campaign? Toyota essentially offered to be the middle-man for stalkers, bullies, and other assorted assholes. There's no reason to believe that no one took them up on such a generous offer. (from Shakesville)
The site for this seems to show more men than women being targeted. But looking at it comprehensively, I just bet that women were disproportionately the target of these attacks.

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks: a review by Charles Dickey [50BPT]

Today's entry is a cross-post from Fiercely Independent. Charles Dickey was born near Columbus, Ohio in 1976. He has lived in Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia, and Washington State, and has worked as a bookseller, crisis phone worker, and environmental restoration technician. He is currently living and working in Virginia, where he reads, writes, sells books, and needs a jobby-job to provide steady income. He previously contributed to 50BPT with a review of Ceremony, by Leslie Silko.
Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks

Twenty-five years ago, bell hooks offered this book to the public, her insights plain on the page and capable of blazing a trail through the minds of those with a capacity for critical consciousness. Perhaps it’s natural that a book like this molders in the public sphere, buried under the millions of volumes of books of every genre and academic discipline and popular trend that our society, bloated on information and entertainment, produces. Or perhaps that’s not what happened to this book at all; a quick search on amazon.com shows that the 2nd edition of this book, published in 2000, is currently ranked “#21,539 in Books”, which is actually quite good, considering amazon’s cataloged rankings reach down to 6 or 7 million. Why then have the critical and incredibly insightful passages of this book not manifested in our shared public life? Where is the “Revolutionary Parenting” called for in chapter 10? How come we have still not rethought the nature of work as a society (chapter 7)? Why do we still think largely of revolutions as critical moments in time or in terms of violence, when in her conclusive chapter 12 hooks has voiced what we all should know to be true:
Revolutions can be and usually are initiated by violent overthrow of an existing political structure. In the United States, women and men committed to feminist struggle know that we are far outpowered by our opponents, that they not only have access to every type of weaponry known to humankind, but they have both the learned consciousness to do and accept violence as well as the skill to perpetuate it. Therefore, this cannot be the basis for feminist revolution in this society. Our emphasis must be on cultural transformation: destroying dualism, eradicating systems of domination. Our struggle will be gradual and protracted. Any effort to make feminist revolution here can be aided by the example of liberation struggles led by oppressed people globally who resist formidable powers.
Our society is as fragmented, competitive, and unable to meet human needs as ever. When we look around us in 2009, we see a variation on the same post-WW II, post-Vietnam theme that plagued us when hooks first published this book in 1984. An overwhelming crunch of information, entertainment, and compulsive consumerism perpetuates the atomization of the individual and works to keep us alienated and isolated from any meaningful sense of community; moreover, it holds us as slaves of a kind to an unjust economic order. hooks wrote the book on countering our alienation, beginning to struggle against that atomization, and working together towards an emancipation of ourselves along with all people–and this is that book. Reading it is not enough. We must act to bring about social change, and before we can act intelligently and strategically, we must communicate meaningfully with each other. To do that, we could take our cues from early feminist consciousness-raising groups.
Yet even in 2009, after all of the gains of the 1970s and the solidification of those gains in our culture, feminist movement remains at the margin of society. The type of feminist movement that hooks advocates in this volume is revolutionary in the sense of that protracted struggle mentioned in the quote above. It is revolutionary in its character of never arriving, but always recognizing that there is more work to do to create a joyful, creative, and just society. In the following passage, hooks offers a perspective on parenting that I think generalizes out to our culture of authority and domination, which whether it includes women in its hierarchies of exploitation and force or not, remains the same:
Many parents teach children that violence is the easiest way (if not the most acceptable way) to end a conflict and assert power. By saying things like “I’m only doing this because I love you” while they are using physical abuse to control children, parents are not only equating violence with love, they are also offering a notion of love synonymous with passive acceptance, the absence of explanation, and discussions. In many homes small children and teenagers find their desire to discuss issues with parents sometimes viewed as a challenge to parental authority or power, as an act of “unlove.” Force is used by the parent to meet the perceived challenge or threat. Again, it needs to be emphasized that the idea that is is correct to use abuse to maintain authority is taught to individuals by church, school, and other institutions.”
The expectation of “passive acceptance, the absence of explanation, and discussions” is on full display in the corporate capitalist culture of America, and it is even further displayed outward through the imposition of that model across the globe as international corporations continue to “develop” the world, profiting as they do so. But I digress.
The point hooks makes with this collection of essays is that, while the gains of feminism may be clear and visible to white, middle- or upper-class professional women who desire to participate in an economics rooted in corporate capitalism, the failures of feminist movement are clear and visible to women of color and lower-class women, and possibly to men of color and lower-class, or otherwise marginalized men. Feminism, as hooks perceived it back in 1984, had largely become a movement whereby privileged white women declared their independence from men in order to self-actualize as individuals striving within a competitive culture–and this remains true today. Feminism, in short, has been stalled; feminism became stunted and has been easily incorporated into the existing economic structures of hierarchy, which it began its career rebelling against.
hooks suggests that feminist movement needs to be rethought and re-engaged, and encourages us to build an inclusive movement in which “revolutionary impulses must freely inform our theory and practice” so that we can come to come together as women and men, and as human beings opposed to classism, racism, sexism, and all forms of violence, “to transform our present reality.”

Sixth Carnival of Feminists

Welcome to the sixth Carnival of Feminists! I'm RMJ, and I'll be your host here at Deeply Problematic.

I've come across a lot of amazing writing while preparing this post - both submitted and sought. Thanks to everyone who submitted to this go-round!

Let's go ahead and get started!


Eva shares a story of Bitch from Bitch and Animal talking to her respectfully, at The Deal with Disability.

Laura self-examines her use of ableist language at Adventures of a Young Feminist.

If you haven't read meloukhia's letter to Feministing, it's necessary.

I am also loving the 101-esque series on ableist language at new blog FWD/Forward.

Trans women and cissexism

C.L. Minou takes apart the cissexist assumptions that the phrase "think like a man" implies at Below the Belt.

Recursive Paradox explains why you are not automatically trustworthy at Genderbitch.

Alexmac posts on how trans women are sexualized in an ongoing series at Shakesville.

Rape and violence (featuring Roman Polanski)

Mad Kane names some pro-rape Republicans - in limerick form.

[Trigger warning - thanks lhiannanshee for the tip.] Amanda Hess takes on the casual use of the verb "rape" at The Sexist.

Cruella turns the tables on Polanski defenders by asking what kind of violence her difficult personal history and artistic accomplishments win her.

Daisy analyzes Polanski's Repulsion as evidence of his violence towards women at Dead Air.

Lauren discusses how to move forward from Polanski at Feministe.

Phaedra Starling explains Shroedinger's Rapist.

Holly presents her dissection of Dollhouse over at Self-Portrait As.

Women's health

amandaw lays bare the immorality of pre-existing conditions at FWD.

Also in pre-existing conditions: the bloggers at Shapely Prose had a roundtable about the fat baby denied health insurance.

Apu exposes the biased state of kidney donation in India.

Race and racism
Lisa wonders what race mixing has to do with communism at Sociological Images.

Lesley calls out colonialism at Fatshionista.

Community and dialogue

Ashley discusses exclusionary language and comprehensive feminism at Small Strokes.

Deborah summarizes and reacts to an anti-essentialist philosophical argument at In A Strange Land.

meloukhia reflects on the difficulty of speaking up and the importance of co-signing at this ain't livin.

Chally presents her reasons for blogging at Zero at the Bone.


Sungold responds to David Letterman and workplace harrassment at KittyWampus.

Amanda critiques The Muppet Movie's depiction of street harrassment over at The Undomestic Goddess.

Fillyjonk asks readers how frequently they've been persistently bothered at Shapely Prose.


Mór Rígan dissects an article problematizing working mothers at Morrígan Reborn.

Geek Anachronism expounds on her feelings about breastfeeding.


The Celluloid Geek alerts us to a scary new law in California that seeks to define a fetus as a person.

Amanda Hess wonders why some fetuses are aborted and others are just reduced at the Sexist.


October is Sex-Ed Month of Action. Candace Webb has a strong argument against abstinence-only education at Womenstake.

Danine Spencer breaks down the Nobel laureates by gender.

Thanks, all, for submitting and reading! The next carnival is at Shut Up, Sit Down. Please submit here!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


from here, via Lisa




Monday, October 12, 2009

On Britney [Music Monday]

Hi. I'm RMJ, and I’m a reluctant Britney Spears fan.

It took some time to come to terms with this, but it's undeniable. I listen to her songs constantly, and went to see her in concert last month . Said concert was awesome, and problematic (her circus may not engage in animal abuse, but it had many other issues – particularly with ableism). Even this qualified endorsement is a 180 from my hatred of her in my feminist youth. I’ve gone from conceptualizing her as a dumb bimbo colluder profiting solely from her body and oppressing less beautiful women to liking her music and finding great sympathy for her. How’d I get here?

In a way, Britney was a formative part of my critical voice on pop culture. Though I was already a 13-year-old feminist when she became popular, I hadn’t learned to view all pop culture through a critical lens. As puberty began, the dastardly expectations and pressures of being a young woman became a present and confusing part of my daily life. Britney was not too much older than me, and she was the expression of everything that society wanted in young women – sexual, innocent, beautiful, slim, shallow.

At 13, 14, 15, I was none of these things, and I knew it. I didn’t even want to try – instead, I made the ugly, boundary-breaking, lawless Janis Joplin my idol. Britney’s expertise in playing this role played a great contrast to that which I was not, and the rewards she reaped were painful to watch as I sat in the detention of self-hatred that those same standards provoked.

When I came to college, I was able to re-make myself and faked confidence until I was actually and truly confident in myself. And shortly after – I believe in the second semester of my first year – I began to embrace Britney, whose poppy, fun, catchy music had held a secret appeal to me since Toxic came out in high school. Now that I liked my body, now that I was traditionally feminine, now that I too was reaping rather than rejecting the rewards of socially normative beauty, she wasn’t a threat – she was a friend. I understood why she colluded because I had discovered the joys of fitting in and the privilege of beauty.

But while my social standing was rising with my comfort in my body, hers fell with age and life changes, giving me more reason to be sympathetic to her. Though she’d weathered attacks before, in most cases, the behaviors that were critiqued (e.g. her breasts) were the same qualities that brought massive rewards. When she dared to marry a man below her social station and fame, she was no longer It – she was just white trash. Marrying someone other than Justin Timberlake was seen as a rejection of the station she’d “been given” and brought out the latent classism that comes with a Southern accent.

Her hard work and privileges (wealth, beauty, cis, het, white) failed to save a shift in her public persona from teen queen to classless opportunist, further ingrained by policing of her parenting and mental disability. She is, after all, a woman – the inherent social vulnerability of her body finally betrayed her when class and age and mental disability and motherhood intersected.

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, by Lillian Faderman [50BPT]

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers:A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, by Lillian Faderman

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers was an illuminating and compelling history. Thoroughly researched through interviews and media, Faderman does an excellent job of constructing the white cis lesbian experience. Up until about 1980, she constructs a history of the circumstances and attitudes surrounding lesbianism from the perspective of insiders and outsiders - from pre-WWI "romantic friendships" to lesbian-feminists in the 1970.

Faderman tries very hard to go beyond the experiences of white feminists, and has some sensitive constructions of the experiences of lesbian women of color - particularly the chapter on 1920s Harlem and gentrification. But the chapters on the 1940s through the 1960s barely mention their experiences.

Faderman does a far worse job of any kind of trans perspective. There are only 2 mentions of transsexuals found in the index; both are dismissive and cissexist in context. I don't object to Faderman focusing on the experiences of cis lesbians. The history of trans lesbians is different from that of cis lesbians, and deserves its own narrative beyond side notes in the experiences of cis women. But it goes beyond making the dominant narrative about cis experiences into erasing trans experiences and positioning cis lesbianism as the only kind of lesbianism.

That having been said, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers was an engaging, accessible, and interesting look at a history I don't have a lot of knowledge about. I'd recommend it to fans of histories and those interested in more thoroughly understanding the history of discrimination against cis (and usually, white) lesbians.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hello again! Part II.


First off, I want to thanks everyone who guest-posted in my absence - Chally, Renee, meloukhia, Recursive Paradox, Amanda, and Phira. Here are their posts:

The name's the thing
Elaine Benes and Feminism: Yadda Yadda Yadda
Thomas Jefferson: The Face of a Rapist
Plumbing the depths of privilege
Language: why "retarded" and "lame" are not okay
Much Ado about Dollhouse
How to be an ally

Thank you. You more than stood in with content I wish I’d written during my absence. Thank you.


So, where do I stand now?

Things are not just going to go back to normal. This is obvious – I haven’t posted since Monday. My capacity to engage has decreased because my time has decreased.

I’m also trying to make my ego a little leaner. I’m less interested in hits and more in conversation, learning, and improving my writing.

I believe that blog entries will be shorter. I’m a verbose lady, but I’m trying to cut it down a bit. I need to spend less time writing and more time editing. I’m hoping to keep entries under 500 words. Substantially analytical pieces will probably be less frequent, and there will be more in the way of pointing you towards awesome things.

My bloggin’ muscles are a little weak right now, so I may be more prone to slip-ups and myopic content. I intend, as always, on critiquing every model of every vehicle of the patriarchy, but this is still a blog written by me and is thus still centered around the experiences of a woman with lots and lots of privilege. As always, call me on it. I try to react to privilege checks with humility. If I don’t respond right away, I’m probably processing.

Specific shifts in content:

  • 50 Books for Problematic Times returns on Monday, hooray! There are only 15 spots left, so get your submissions in quick if you want them. I’m going to start off with 3/week, but I’ll see how it goes. I want to get a similar project started when 50BPT wraps up. More later…
  • Deeply Problematic is hosting the Carnival of Feminists! Read more about that here.
  • Engagement in other spaces - Twitter and comment sections in particular - will be much less active. Both are very worthwhile modes of dialogue, but neither my schedule nor my writing style are suited to either of them - and I need to save my content for here! I will continue to use both selfishly for promotions – you’ll see me in the all the usual self-promotion posts, and I’ll use a service to ship my blog updates to my Twitter.
  • Daily roundups will probably not continue, but will be posted on a whenever I feel like it basis.
  • Weekly features will continue, but will most likely be on a semi-weekly basis. As in, posts about music will always be on Monday, but Monday will not necessarily bring posts.
  • In an effort to keep my work and my personal time separate, I will be signing off the Internet every day at 7 pm EST. Comments left after that will be moderated the next morning.
  • Comments will continue to be moderated. I’m going to develop a policy as necessary, but generally I’ll screen out ad hominem attacks and slurs. Critique, of course, will continue to go up.

Thanks to everyone for their kind comments on part one. I'm looking forward to the next chapter.

Carnival time.

Hello folks!

I am hosting the sixth Carnival of Feminists. The blessed event is taking place on October 14 (one week precisely).

Please submit right here, and check out the most recent carnival, hosted by Chally!

I look forward to reading what you’ve got to say, as always.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hello again!

Hello, I’m RMJ.

If you’re reading this, you probably are already familiar with this blog, and subscribe in some form – Reader, Twitter, etc. My sources indicate that you have grown in number since I decided to take a break about a month ago – if you’re new, welcome and thanks for reading, and for your patience in new content. And you’re probably wondering where I’ve been.

I don’t have a dramatic answer, or an apology. I had to take care of some stuff, and adjust some strappings. When I began this blog, I was not working full-time. I work in education, so summers are slow – particularly in August, when my traffic accelerated dramatically.

Finding an audience was thrilling and humbling and delightful. However, it was also stressful. OCD symptoms also began to return in ways major and minor, largely because I was afraid of disappointing and failing my audience (which I will, inevitably, do at some point). Good people fuck up, often, and I began to become obsessed about the ways in which I may and probably will weaponize my privilege and hurt people. I’m a perfectionist, and growing attention means increased probabilities of my fuckups. This is good – means that I will keep learning – but it’s also scary. I was worked up and had trouble functioning.

So, I had to calm down before I did too much damage to myself or the people in my life.
Since I was working 40 hours a week on this blog due to said educational-system gap, I was also broke at the end of August. New semester means a new schedule, and I needed time to adjust to that and a new job. I’m all caught up now, mostly from working 90 hours in one week (I was compensated generously, don’t you worry).

How am I doing now?

Much better, thanks! I’ve got my schedule about fixed, my mind’s in much better shape, I’m out of the house twice a week, and I just feel refreshed. I know I’m back because I’m losing sleep planning blog entries.

No apologies. I needed this break, and I plan on more in the future. But thank you for sticking around.

Check back later for a post on what you can expect in the near future.
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