Monday, November 29, 2010

Check back in January 2011!

Hi there folks!

Apologies for the lack of communication. As is probably obvious, I am on hiatus, and I will be for the rest of this year.

The purpose of this time off is to take care of myself, reflect on my writing, and focus on my professional and personal life. My job is super-busy right now, and I just got engaged to my longtime partner, so I don't have much time to devote to blogging at this moment.

I will be back in January 2011, at which time I'll explain my absence in a little more depth. In the meantime, I am writing lots of stuff for here and elsewhere.

If you need to reach me, my email is Thanks for reading, and I will see you soon!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stacy Blahnik killed; Philadelphia Daily News reduces her to trans status and beauty

Edit 10/14: This post originally appropriated the words of Helen G and attributed them to a cis woman. This is an act of centering the voices of cis people yet again, and I apologize. There's more  at the end of this post, but go here to read Helen's explanation of why this is so very wrong.

Trigger warning for degendering language

Stacy Blahnik, a 31-year-old woman who lived in Point Breeze in Philadelphia, was found dead by her boyfriend at their home on Monday evening. Blahnik is survived by her partner, her dogs, and many friends and colleagues.

Blahnik was known locally and nationally as an activist and mentor with the House of Blahnik. She held a position of leadership, the "Overall Mother", and focused on the emotional and sexual health of those in the community marginalized by race, sexuality, and gender identity. From their website:
The Undeniable House of Blahnik, a ballroom focused community based organization founded in 2000 by African American and Latino gay and transgender persons whose primary goal was to form a social network of progressive, supportive, and creative individuals dedicated to developing and garnishing the talents and gifts of the “ballroom” community. Our mission is to positively affect the social development of our members and to provide nurturing spaces for self-expression, and personal and professional growth.
The cause of death has yet to be announced, and some suspect homicide. A large bald white man was seen leaving her place on the day her body was found.

Details on this case are scant. Initial reports claimed that she was found with a pillowcase around her neck. Police later denied that and said that there were no signs of trauma on her body. Given that trans people face a rate of violence twice that of cis people, it is certainly more than likely that her tragic death was violent in nature.

Her death has been remembered and reported by police and media not with respect for her life as she lived it, but with incorrect information borne of bigotry and and sensationalism. This ABC news report has done an excellent job of giving basic information on the case that does not degender or dehumanize Blahnik, but it did so only at the urging of the Transgender Foundation of America. The police report and this report from Philadelphia Daily News reporter Stephanie Farr are both stunning and typical examples of how trans women are treated by the forces of cissexism.

Blahnik is referred to with male pronouns and a name she did not use. She is dehumanized from the very start, when "transsexual" is used as a noun, rather than "woman". Her clothing at the time of her death - the clothes she was wearing in private - are heavily highlighted to sexualize her death. Throughout the Daily News piece, her beauty is referred to again, and again, and again. Her body gave other women complexes! She got attention on the street! These are not compliments, but transmisogynistic exploitation of her gender and appearance.

This sexualization is not only reflective of Blahnik's gender, but also of her race. Black women have long been seen as hyper-sexual; women of color are frequently reduced to their shape and appearance and sexual attractiveness.

Two good posts on Blahnik's death and the media coverage of it have already been written. From Helen G* at Questioning Transphobia:
[I]t’s because of a legal system which is too busted, and those who run it too bigoted and transphobic, to allow for the possibility that, although some women may well be trans, that’s no reason to dehumanise them by denying appropriate documentation. By the look of it, the local PD in this instance is another one which has yet to make that great leap forward into the 21st century, where trans women are treated like the humans we are.
From Monica Roberts at TransGriot:
That means Stacey's name should not have been placed in quotation marks, since once again, she was obviously living publicly as a woman and your interviews with her neighbors should have established that.
Blahnik's life is not worth covering to reporters, and her gender is exploited for shock value. Farr, aided by the police report, focuses not on Blahnik's death, not on the circumstances of her case, not on her life and time, but instead upon the womanhood that she so clearly views as questionable. This is ground in with the very last line, which misgenders, objectifies, and trivializes a life lost: "'Whatever she was - transvestite, man, woman - she didn't deserve to die like that,' one man said."

Blahnik was a positive influence in the lives of many: her neighbors, her boyfriend, the people she worked with and for. She should be mourned and remembered for her life well lived: her good work, her relationships with her loved ones, and her considerable contributions to her community.

ETA: Please check out and share Lilith von Fraumench's open letter to the Philadelphia Daily News as well.

*Originally mis-identified as Helen Boyd, who is a totally different person. Apologies, and thanks to Queen Emily on tumblr for alerting me to my mistake.

ETA: I made a huge and very harmful mistake when I posted this yesterday by attributing Helen G's work to a cis woman with a history of appropriation.  

I deeply regret my actions and apologize to Helen G.

My act of verbal violence was a part of the long cis tradition of taking trans voices and issues and appropriating and centering them around cis voices. It was careless and cruel. 

Furthermore, I apologize to her and to my readers for not identifying my error and apologizing for my attack on her sooner. Both are indications of carelessness and unexamined privilege on my part. I will refrain from posting about trans issues for a while as I struggle to understand and atone for my actions.

Here is Helen G's explanation of why what I did was so wrong.

I also apologize to Kinsey Hope, whose expertise and friendship I selfishly used for my own learning experience.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Turkish women attacked at third European Transgender Council; police harrass, degender victims

The logo of Transgender Europe. The graphic is a cog-like circular design in yellow, and the letters TGEU are in blue.
Two weeks ago, Transgender Europe held the third European Transgender Council in Malmo, Sweden. The Council hosted over 200 delegates from thirty-five countries, and it offered a number of worthwhile speakers, workshops, and other activities. But cissexism cast a shadow over this event when random transphobes attacked two Turkish delegates; police degendered and harrassed the targets rather than protecting them.

On the evening of September 30, the first night of the Council, the two women went to eat at a restaurant. As they entered the building, a couple of bystanders began yelling slurs at them. These two men invited several more passersby to join them. When the women emerged, they were attacked physically, with fists and eggs, by a crowd of men.

The attack was apparently motivated not only by cissexism but also by racism. Turkophobia runs high in Europe and has for hundreds of years.

After the incident was reported to the authorities, the police on duty did not do their job and seek out those responsible for the hate crime. Of course not. They further penalized these activists for their nationality and their gender by referring to them with incorrect pronouns, questioning their right to be in Sweden, and otherwise humiliating them. The delegates described their treatment as "".

The hosts of the conference are understandably enraged, though not surprised:
“There is no safe space for transgender people in Europe. Last night's attack showed once more that transphobia and racism are not only a problem of certain countries in Europe. Transphobia is everywhere”, says TGEU Vice chair Julia Ehrt.

“We express our solidarity with our activist friends. We are sad and angry and call upon the police to do everything to persecute the perpetrators,” says Dr Carsten Balzer from the “Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide” TvT- Research project..

The largest European Human rights event on transgender issues deals among other topics with hate crimes and violence faced by gender variant people. In the last 30 months 33 transgender people were reported of being murdered in Europe according to TGEU's TvT-project. 79% of trans people are subject to negative comments, harassment, physical and sexual abuse and violence according to the European Hate Crime Study published by Press for Change last year.

In the US, Public and police mistreatment of trans people, particularly trans women, is often egregious and violent. Duanna Johnson was killed brutally beaten at the hands of police, and countless women have been sexually assaulted by officers.

But such abuse is not limited to the shores of my homeland. Women around the world are hassled, violated, raped, and murdered, and that hatred is intensified if they are trans. When they are also a member of a marginalized nationality, they are even more vulnerable to the violent agents of the kyriarchy. And like many marginalized people, the police offer no recourse but instead another avenue of victimization. Organizations like Transgender Europe and the brave activists who populate them are vital to dismantling the global system of racism and cissupremacy that endorses and encourages such treatment.

sources 1, 2, 3

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Institutionalized racism on the court and in the classroom at Mullen High School

Last February, spectators chanted racist slurs at black players in a game between home team Mullen High School and opponents Overland. These slurs were not isolated and they were not stopped; officials allowed this harassment to continue throughout the game. No disciplinary action was taken against the students and parents who participated in this hateful cheering.

Why am I writing about this, a year and a half later? This is, to be sure, an awful act motivated by discrimination and hate. But such instances are infinite - why report on it now?

The admission of this action endorsed and grew an environment in which acts of systematic and individual racism are permitted and encouraged by race-privileged figures of authority. Recently, one of Mullen's most popular teachers, Timothy Thornton, was fired for a persistent pattern of racism after student Tyler Brown reported him to officials. According to students and confirmed by his own admission, he:
  • told racist jokes
  • used the n word as a slur, without critical context
  • broadcast his obsession with the KKK to his students
  • and just in case you thought that it was just talk, he bragged about giving students of color lower grades
He, of course, insists that he meant no harm by using his position of authority. He was just having fun. He is sure that it all would have been okay if he would have clarified that "he meant no harm by saying the things he said." Because intent makes everything okay! Because he's not racist, really! Because it's just a "stupid mistake"!

And of course, many students and parents have swelled up beneath him to clamor for his reinstatement:
Thornton's termination has fueled impassioned responses from the school and community at large, with a majority expressing outrage that a veteran and well-liked teacher should be fired for "a silly mistake," as one person suggested on a local news website. Students protested the decision by marching outside the school, while a number of alumni are said to have written letters to school administrators challenging the firing.
While Thornton enjoys this groundswell of support, the student who reported his egregious conduct is being vilified. He and his family are accused of playing the race card and of conspiring with black community activists to get the teacher fired. No one has bothered to speculate what possible gain Brown would realize by sharing the details of his teacher's racially motivated conduct.
Tyler Brown's reward for his bravery is harassment and suspicion. His treatment represents the other half of the creation and perpetuation of toxic racist environments: the silencing, second-guessing, and harassment of the people who actually receive racism. Brown is being punished for protecting himself in a real way. Instead of doing their job and protecting students from this kind of discrimination, school officials have left it up to their charges to do their jobs and call shitty teachers out.

This is how institutional racism is nurtured and weaponized in individual situations. Let one incident of racism go past without controversy or comment, and the school administrators feel like they've dodged a mine. But once that act of blatant hatred is past, another one trespasses...and another, and another. With every subsequent incident, white folks inclined towards active oppression realize that they're not going to see consequences - after all, no one else has - and so they push their oppression just a little bit further and a little bit further, and get a little more popular for it. With every subsequent incident, these people grow the power already granted them by the kyriarchy into something even more monstrous.  And of course, the school administrator wants to remain neutral. And so, they get away with it and get away with it, and the environment gets more and more toxic, and the racism gets more and more acceptable.

This is how kyriarchy silences students and encourages racism through education. These little things don't just add up, they multiply. Thornton's racist offenses towards his students got worse and worse, and Brown's attempts to counter his discriminatory acts only amplified the hate he received.

My major source for this post is Rhonda Hackett. A couple of the details I found in her opinion piece (specifically, that Thornton gave students of color lower grades) could not be found in my other sources for this article.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why I use that word that I use: Fat

A speech bubble. Inside is a question mark in quotation marks.
The word fat holds a great deal of sway in the popular imagination. Everyone has a particular and often arbitrary standard for what fat means, where it begins and where it ends. In most cases, fat as an adjective is applied in an unambiguously negative way (e.g. "Mariah Carey got fat") , and denied in an unambiguously positive way ("what are you talking about? you're not fat at all, you're gorgeous!"). But as with the bodies it describes, "fat" is for my purposes value-neutral and relative: not necessarily good, not necessarily bad, and dependent on the context in which it exists.

Fat is an adjective used to describe size. Fat is measured by width or depth rather than height - I am fat because my hips are 47", not because my height is 5'11". Applied to humans, it usually means being large or upwards of the "normal" BMI. Applied to other nouns, it usually refers to abundance of mass. Its antonym is thin, referring to slightness is size. Fat is itself a noun; it is defined in this sense as a kind of bodily tissue.

Fat can be a positive word. It can denote a positive abundance: in health, in size, in finances (e.g. a fat wallet). Fat is often a sign of health; when I regained the weight I lost from anxiety (disability 2) and came back from thinness to fatness, it was a clear sign that both my body and mind were recovering from a severe and prolonged illness. In many bodies, fat is beautiful and attractive. Fatness is associated with fullness and a lack of want. Roundness, softness and other lovely textures are often associated with fat. The noun form of fat can be positive too: fatty tissue is essential to the human body.

Fat can be a negative word. In non-living nouns, it can refer to an overabundance borne of selfishness and greed - outside of bodies, there is such a thing as too big. It can also be negative in certain bodies, though not all of them: since I came back to my normal weight, I have slowly gained more weight because I've been overeating, overdrinking, and leading a sedentary life. Fat is not the cause of my lack of health, but in this case it is a symptom, a correlation. As Michelle of the Fat Nutritionist wrote, Health at every size ... does not mean that one individual can be healthy at every size."

Fat is a relative term. It changes based on intent, identity, and context. I am not read as fat in every situation - next to my fatter father, I look thin, but next to my thin mother, I look fat. Christina Hendricks and her alter ego Joan Holloway are likely not fat in a room of people who look like most of America, but relative to other actors, she is most definitely fat.

Fat is most often used as a slur, to insult an aspect of person's (usually a woman's) size and imply that their beauty and health are lesser. It can also cover a range of practices that discriminate against people of size: at the doctor's office, on the street, in the dressing room. When I am called fat as an insult, it is a form of discrimination, also known as sizism. Though such critics are not slandering me, they are attempting to devalue me based on my size.

As a fat person, I reject the definition of fat tainted by slurs, but not on the basis that I am not fat: instead, I reject that I am more lazy, less beautiful, less healthy, less worthwhile because I am fat. Its application as a slur is a demonizing misapplication by the arbitrary tastes and forces of the kyriarchy. Its sting makes it all the more powerful a word to apply to my own body with confidence and pride.

Fat is, as with everything, subjective. Its use is usually meant to communicate hatred, but that's not how I take it. Fat is an adjective, as neutral as red or blond, that has been perverted to mean something that it is not. But its application can and should be claimed for our own. In this space and in many other feminist blogs, fat is not necessarily anything: it's not necessarily unsightly, it's not necessarily unhealthy, and it's not necessarily the same for every body.


The use of fat as a positive descriptor is not a new one. As long as I've been even marginally active in online feminist discussion - close to ten years now - I've seen arguments for fat as a neutral to positive descriptor. This is not the first time I've written about fat as a neutral adjective, either.

Kate Harding, one of the most influential and widely-published women in the Fat Acceptance movement, put it like this:
[I]t’s important to me to reclaim the word “fat.” It’s not a bad word. It’s not intrinsically insulting. All it tells you is that this person has more visible fat on her frame than a thin person does — and since in my case, that’s the plain truth, I don’t have any problem with being described that way. I have a problem with people who would describe me that way with the intention to wound, but not with the word itself. I’m short, I’m blond, I’m pale, I’m hourglass-shaped, I’m fat. Some of those characteristics are more desirable in this society than others, but all any of those words tell you is what I look like. Not what I eat, not how much I exercise, not whether I’m healthy, not how strong my moral fiber is — hell, not even what my natural hair color is.
Tasha Fierce, writing for Bitch this summer, wrote about the place of the word in moving forward with fat acceptance:
“Fat” needs to be reclaimed and turned into a value-neutral descriptor, this is true. But “fat” is currently such a nebulous concept that it’s really going to take the elimination of euphemisms to describe it for it to coalesce into a firm identity, and we’re going to have to lay all our cards on the table when it comes to size privilege. We’re also going to have to convince fat people to call themselves fat, which in today’s fatphobic society is a somewhat scary thing when you’re not wholeheartedly dedicated to fat acceptance. We’re so used to defending ourselves from the word “fat” that euphemisms are comforting. Yet in order to move forward, we’ve got to face our fears.

Friday, October 1, 2010

September 2010 in review

It's the close of another good month here at Deeply Problematic! Blogging is rough to get through sometimes, but right now, I'm feeling very good about the work I do here. I'm lucky to have such a terrific, engaged readership.

My fundraising drive was a huge success! Thanks to those of you who donated. Your help was a huge boost; you're an essential part of what's driving me to continue to write here. A donation button is still up on the left sidebar - help is appreciated, but not necessary at the moment.

I've got guest posts up at Feministe and Don't Call Me Sybil right now. If you're coming over from there, welcome!

Mark your calenders for October 13. I'll be a guest on Healthy Place Mental Health TV show. I will be discussing OCD and my experiences with it, which you can read about here.

If you're on social networking doohickeys, you can support Deeply Problematic and interact with other readers there, too! I post new articles, pictures of cute things, and inane/brilliant thoughts at Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Here are this month's top posts:

Top posts of September 2010

1. Wikipedia's main page mentions nine men for every one woman
2. Trans student not homecoming king because of Mona Shores High School cissexism
3. Why I use that word that I use: Kyriarchy, kyriarchal, and why not patriarchy
4. Disability and Comics: How Questionable Content's Faye and Hannelore normalize disability
5. Women in Questionable Content: Women-run businesses and Bechdel-passing friendships

Most commented in September 2010

1. Josh Eastman arrested for paying child to recite racial slurs on YouTube video - 35 comments
2. Wikipedia's main page mentions nine men for every one woman - 30 comments
3. Trans student not homecoming king because of Mona Shores High School cissexism - 9 comments
4. Paperwork & homework, anxiety & ADD: institutionalized and internalized ableism & Hundreds of children with disabilities die in Bulgarian state facilities - 6 comments
5 .A feminist reading of Achewood, part one: disability and Roast Beef & Why I use that word that I use: Problematic - 5 comments

Thank you so much for your support!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A feminist reading of Achewood, part one: disability and Roast Beef

Ray Smuckles of Achewood by Chris Onstad jumps over a wheelchair with a ball and chain attached, saying "DAAAAAAMN!". He has a martini. From this strip.
I’ve been reading Achewood since late 2006, and it’s one of my favorite distractions - I can spends days in the archives, re-reading my favorite arcs. It’s weird, literate, layered, moving, dark and hilarious. One of its central figures, Roast Beef, experiences depression which often enough to limit his ability. Cartoonist Chris Onstad’s handling of disability and its intersection with poverty is nuanced and funny. But Onstad otherwise ignores or sneers at disability and accessibility, befitting the comic's scoffing tone in matters of social justice.

Roast Beef’s depression is a major theme of his character and the strip. At the outset of his appearance in the Achewood universe, he expresses the wish to commit suicide repeatedly, though he has not mentioned past his first year in the strip. His actions and words (in a distinctive smaller font) are often explicitly steered by his low opinion of himself; depression is a simple fact of him. While sadness is a constant in his his characterization, the portrayal of his disability is far from static: his emotions are fluid, dependent on context, an advantage at time and a palpable pain at others. He is quite competent at computer programming (link to molly heaven) and garage sale management, and uses his depression to great effect in a business venture. It is something he combats and works with regularly. Roast Beef is often, as Dorian might put it, "depressed but otherwise fine."

Punchlines are subjective in Achewood - many things could be funny, innocuous, offensive, or just peculiar to each reader. And Onstad incorporates disability into humor without making Roast Beef in an amorphous punchline. His disability is there, neither definitively tragic or definitively a punchline. Beef's most serious challenges come and go and come; seasonal affective disorder is a source of melancholy when Beef struggles to eat, and, when he finds effective management, comedy and sexuality. (Beef is also just about the only character with a consistently healthy sex life, which is pretty transgressive). There is little shame in Onstad's depiction of Roast Beef, who is in many ways the moral center of the strip. His depression is not a plot device but a facet of his character, present even when not crucial.

Furthermore, Onstad takes care to show how Beef's disability has intersected with his lack of class privilege and history of abuse to amplify his poor opinion of himself. Roast Beef was raised in a low-income household with an abusive mother and grandmother. His background is usually presented in a fairly tragic light - while Achewood makes jokes about most things in life, its treatment of Beef's upbringing is fairly serious, even heavy-handed at times. His lifelong friendship with overprivileged Ray often throws this into sharp relief: Ray's upbringing has led to a lifetime of continuing wealth and overconfidence, whereas Beef has continued to struggle with poverty and feelings of worthlessness. It is clear that Beef's troubles are directly related to a lack of privilege, though I don't think that the connection to systematic oppression is articulated, and Onstad's association between class and happiness is quite problematic. However, the intersection is generally well-thought-out and sensitively handled - especially in comparison with the rest of the strip.

Unfortunately, beyond Beef's disabilities Onstad either ignores or makes a point of mocking disability and accessibility. Physical disability is mostly ignored, except for a few one-off jokes (one which juztaposes disability and dancing as if they never go together). But the most direct depiction of disability besides Beef comes in this horrible little comic, titled "Handicap Access" (transcript here). In the comic, Roast Beef and Ray, wearing tuxes, address the lack of accessibility in the comic. They then jump over wheelchairs and wheelchair ramps, and make fun of braille (which is conflated with Morse code), transcripts, captions, and speech output.*

This comic is intended to offend, satirizing not ableist resistance to accessibility but requests that websites become accessible. There are several points at which disability is presented as a joke: wheelchairs, wheelchair ramps, braille, captions are all presented as ridiculous requests. The wheelchair even has a ball and chain on it. Satire is a staple of Achewood, but it's more often expressed through silliness, e.g. Roomba Cinema. "Handicap Access" is supposed to be satire along the lines of the Fuck You Friday - abrasive and mean. But Fuck You Friday makes fun of the little frustrations of life - things like upselling at fast food joints, not major issues that impact health, mobility, and livelihood. Disability issues are presented as trivial and not worth serious consideration; in this installment, accessibility is a concept considered only long enough to be scoffed at. Achewood is not a political strip, and as I said, it takes many things lightly. But devoting a whole strip directly to mocking the concept's worth is mean-spirited and, well, ableist.**

Achewood is not a strip that is concerned with social justice; it looks at the world with a darkly comic and often flippant eye. The strip's attitude towards issues to social justice is not friendly, as evidenced by "Handicap Access" and the whining, selfish, self-righteous Pat. Onstad has written a multifaceted and worthwhile depiction of disability in the central character of Roast Beef. But his sneering attitude reminds the reader that Achewood is not a strip that gives a shit about equity, social action, or really any points of view that threatens the kyriarchy.

Check back soon for more Pat-esque analysis of gender and race in Achewood.

*Ironically, Achewood is actually more accessible than the much friendlier Questionable Content - every single script has been transcribed.
**A qualifier: This was back in 2005, when strips were posted several times a week and have a lot less weight than they do now. I am probably being a little hyperbolic about the weight of this strip in determining Onstad's attitude.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rejecting normalacy and objectivity in feminist writing

Objectivity is a keystone of journalism that extends to institutions like Wikipedia; the idea that we can somehow remove our selves from the things we think about and the contexts we exist is a bizarre USian fantasy akin to the classist racist American dream. It has its unpragmatic value: it hopes that just the facts will be enough, and that those recording those facts will report them without considering themselves, focusing on only the subject at hand.

But for my writing, commenting, and reporting? Objectivity and neutrality are not constructive mantras. I am a feminist writer, and I am not here to give my readers the party line: I am not here to give them the objective and irredeemably kyriarchal point of view. Instead, I focus on giving people basic facts and then making it clear what I think about it. I try to make my perspective, my biases, my point of view crystal clear - not obscured.

Objectivity is functionally a way to reflect and uphold and insist upon what is normal and okay and what is excluded: what is not normal and not okay. There are too many facts about any given situation to be able to divine a clear and central set of descriptions and explanations in any depth. And even then, seemingly small things like pronouns can betray a supposedly objective point of view.

Worship of objectivity shores up our idealization of what is normal, for normalcy often represents antifeminist points of view. When navigating the combustible waters of social justice, normal is a term tainted beyond any utility. In a world where some bodies are less and other bodies more, where bodies can be wrong and right, normal implies an objective standard that all other bodies must live up to.


Normal is perhaps not a necessarily oppressive rhetorical term. In non-political, humorous, or other less than explosive genres of writing, it's neutral by nature: all it means is regular. Standard. Unthreatening.

Normal as a concept is one that I put to great use in negotiating my own body. Having an idea of what is normal, what is usual for me helps me create peace and calm with myself and my body. The weight at which I feel most comfortable, at which I feel normal, is not normal according to BMI standards. My periods, too, have become normal in their inconsistency. Whereas most menstruating folks have fairly regular cycles that last about 28 days, all I know about my cycle is that it will usually but not at all always be longer than 35 days and completely irregular. Though this departure from the normal period was a little disconcerting in my first few years of bleeding and anxious after I got regularly sexually active, once I got to know my cycle my own norms became apparent, and comfortable.

But in most cases, normal is used to reinforce what we are taught by the kyriarchy: that we are somehow not measuring up, that we are mediocre, that we are too much, that we deserved it. Normal creates false ideals: points that if we can just manage to hit, we'll get it right, we'll get all the benefits of kyriarchy and win the whole damn game. But it's a rigged system; hitting those preordained marks comes at a great personal cost because few people are made or allowed access to the tools to comfortably hit all those marks.

Normalization is a form of oppression that reaches into just about every branch I experience: age (when should I get married? am I too young? when will I get mine and start earning significantly above the poverty level) fatness (how fat is too fat, am I the right kind of fat, why aren't my boobs bigger, why do I have these rolls) sex (I should have had sex earlier, am I not a feminist if I like this kind of sex), presentation (this skirt is too short this skirt is too short). Normalacy is the creator of wants inside us that declare too much! or too little! It is the concept that makes us feel less than adequate, or too adequate, or just plain not quite right. It creates internalization by making us believe that we too will grow up to live up to these arbitrary measures (and if we don't, we're failures, too).

Our experience and education, kyriarchal or otherwise, seeps into and colors our every adjective, pronoun, article. These oversights in the name of avoiding bias, in the name of being neutral and objective, of not hurting anyone, of being ...appropriate, are the doers of evil. Truth is individually experienced; relying on such subjective measures as "normal" reinforces hierarchies of bodies. As a writer, I try to look directly at that which misinforms me rather than continuing to ignore it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Trans student not homecoming king because of Mona Shores High School cissexism

High schools have long been a bastion of gender policing, most recently punishing Constance McMillan* and Alexis Lusk for their sexuality and gender. And now, at Mona Shores High School, the cissexist administration is using homecoming as an excuse to champion the gender binary. Oak Reed was voted homecoming king recently by his classmates and friends. Since he is trans, school officials decided that that simply wouldn't do.
Assistant Superintendent Todd Geerlings said the issue is simple: The ballots gave two choices -- vote for a boy for king and a girl for queen...And, in school records, he said, Oakleigh is still listed as a female..."They told me that they took me off because they had to invalidate all of my votes because I'm enrolled at Mona Shores as a female," Oakleigh said.
Oak and his friends are understandably upset. He was surprised because school administrators and teachers had already given him the basic respect of treating him as his actual gender. "They let me wear a male tux for band uniform, and they're going to let me wear the male robe and cap for graduation...[Teachers] call me Oak, and they say, he, him, his."

His classmates, the ones who elected him in the first place, have intensified their support of their king. One student, Nick Schrier, started a Facebook group called "Oak Is My King" protesting the school's decision (click on the link to join!). The group suggests writing letters to the local paper and wearing shirts proclaiming their support of Oak on the day of the game. "It's the senior class that votes for their representative," Reed said. "What they did was taking away the voice of the senior class."

The article profiling this incident is at first benign, but actually another example of cissexism masquerading as objectivity. The reporter avoids referring to Oak's very clearly stated gender through pronouns; Oak is constantly referred to either by his first name or as "the teen". Alone, this would be troublesome. But especially in conjunction with pained references to Oak's prior name and surgery plans, it betrays a cissexist denial of Oak's gender as truly his on the part of the reporter.

An arbitrary popularity contest is far from the biggest struggle facing trans people today. But this is an excellent example of how cissupremacy and the kyriarchy are regularly perpetuated: by making sure that the genders of trans people are seen as less legitimate and less real than the genders of trans people.

Also see Monica at TransGriot's coverage.
*Originally mis-identified as Candace.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Woman brutally beaten for being trans; San Antonio media and police dismiss it

Trigger warning for description of violence against trans women .

A woman was brutally beaten this week for being trans. Media coverage has been scant, and little information has been released by the police, but here is what has been released: an unnanmed 24-year-old woman went on a date with a man with whom she had some kind of "arrangement". When he found out that she was trans, he thoroughly beat her around the face and left her at an apartment complex. She had to knock on a stranger's door begging for help to get medical and police attention.

The San Antonio police department are investigating this crime not as the hate crime it pretty clearly is, but as aggravated assault. This could have something to do with the fact that the Texas hate crime law excludes trans people (but of course, protects sexual orientation). But as John Wright of the Dallas Voice points out, "the new federal hate crimes law passed last year does protect transgender people and presumably could be used in this case. If the man beat the victim because she is transgender and not cisgender, then yeah, we’d say that’s a hate crime."

This act of cissexism in the face of horrific violence is part of a pattern of transmisogyny in the San Antonio police department. In February, officer Steve Nash raped a trans woman, and a similar incident happened in 2005 in the same department. Monica of TransGriot described the assault:
In San Antonio, one of the four cities profiled in the September 2005 report, veteran police officer Dave Gutierrez was convicted and sentenced on January 19 to 24 years and four months in prison for raping and assaulting then 21 year old transwoman Starlight Bernal during a June 10, 2005 traffic stop.
The most major coverage of the assault on this 24-year-old was also heavily flavored by cissexism. The title refers to her not as a woman or trans woman, but as a "woman who used to be a man". Furthermore, the man didn't "assault" or "beat" his victim; he "snap[ped]". Snapping at someone infers an overreaction to provocation. There was no provocation - she was just who she is. This was not an overreaction - he's a bigot who committed an act of hateful violence.

Furthermore, the first line of the report is about the man "was in for quite a surprise" - it does not mention the violence he committed. A surprise is a funny misunderstanding. He reacted to a human being's existence as a woman with severe violence - not, "oh my goodness, what a misunderstanding!" These linguistic choices shift the focus from the violent act to the woman's trans status and minimize her attacker's abhorrent actions.

To KENS 5, it's not about violence being perpetrated on an innocent woman - it's about how to make it relateable, and even funny. They're using the harmful trope of trans women as deceivers. Their language does not intent to inform their viewers of a vicious act of violence, but to satisfy their own sense of her as an other, and to comfort cis viewers that yeah, she's weird and icky. Even though a woman was beaten, that's not the focal point, that's not the shocking thing. As always with media coverage of trans women, the most important thing is what's in her pants, and how weird their trans status is, and how sorry they should feel for her poor attacker who was just pushed too far after his big surprise.


Update: Cara covered this in a little more depth at The Curvature.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hundreds of children with disabilities die in Bulgarian state facilities

Massive trigger warning for description of neglect and abuse.

A recent report revealed that 238 children with mental and intellectual disabilities were killed by neglect.while in the care of government institutions in Bulgaria over the last ten years. This epidemic of death and abuse is evidence of how the kyriarchy devalues of young and disabled lives through ableism and ageism, both in Bulgaria and the rest of the world.

These 238 now-dead child humans suffered horrific abuse and neglect through a terrible variety of instruments. 23 of Bulgaria's 26 state-run homes (currently housing 1,350 children) were implicated. Thousands other certainly suffered abuse untold, but some gruesome reports have been recorded.

134 children were starved.
31 children out of those 134 children died.
17 children were not allowed to move; their caregivers tied to them wheelchairs and beds.
90 children were not allowed to move through chemical restraints and tranquillizing drugs.
81 children died of unspecified neglect.
6 children died of freezing and drowning.
36 children died of pneumonia.
13 children died from poor hygiene.
84 children died of exhaustion.
11 children died because they were taken to the hospital, but too late.
149 children died because they were not taken to the hospital at all.
27 children were raped.
2 children died because of direct physical violence.
15 children died for no immediately apparent reason.

And these are only the recorded cases of abuse, the recorded rapes, the recorded deaths. There are surely many more children dead and wounded by these institutions who were just not noticed.

This inspection was conducted by the Bulgaria Helsinki Commission, a non-governmental human rights watchdog organization. “These children don’t die because of their disabilities - they die of things that no one should die of,” said Margarita Ilieva, head of BHC's legal department. "What we are aiming at is not retribution. We need prevention."


There's never a whole lot to say about these cases.

My list organization above seems overly grim, but this is the grimmest thing I've read in some time. Bulgaria has targeted people marginalized by age and disability, decimating the children in its care. The individual caretakers, the directors of these institutions, and the government as a whole are responsible for horrible abuse. And they are very far from unique, very far from alone in the international community. My own government is responsible for permitting acts of abuse, rape, violence, and death not unlike what I detail above.

Ableism and ageism are lethal forces enforced by government institutions. I have no theory to back up or expand on that except that hundreds of children are dead because they had disabilities.

sources: 1 2 3 4 5

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Paperwork & homework, anxiety & ADD: institutionalized and internalized ableism

The world has a tendency to view things as valid only if they are backed up by papers and documentation. This is true of history - documents in Latin and Greek are much preferred to oral histories - and to real people. Social security cards and birth certificates confirm we exist. Grades and diplomas confirm we're smart. Medical histories and proper insurance confirm that our bodies are worth care. And though I'm a writer, I've consistently failed to get official elements of myself on paper has always been a challenge I fail. Whether it's homework or paperwork, my ADD and anxiety make filling out the forms that determine my worth as a human a daunting, stressful task at best and avoided until near-disaster at worst.

When I was a teenager, I never ever did my homework. Ever. My parents encouraged, bribed, punished, diagnosed, medicated, but throughout junior high and high school, my grades never rose above a C. More than anything, I really wanted to get stuff right, and get good grades, but I couldn't. And much the way I hated myself for being too large and not sexy enough, I also hated myself for being too lazy and not smart enough .

Ignoring homework until I was about to fail was not a sign of poor work ethic - it was a sigh of a disability and internalizing ableism. I did very well in college and I work basically all the time now - I really like work, a lot, these days. I'm not lazy, though I constantly berated myself for laziness, even after I was diagnosed with ADD.*

Now past the days of homework, I'm over hating myself. But I'm not over my disabilities, and the paperwork at every junction of adult life is a challenge that often feel insurmountable. I cannot sustain my attention to finish up more than one page of paperwork at a time, so, I do it immediately or put it off. If I don't get it done immediately, my anxiety explodes and keeps me from looking at, thinking about, or working on it.

While I finally force myself to fill out my name, social security number, and other apparently relevant details,, I'm constantly berating myself: why didn't you get this done earlier how do you know that's right what if you make a mistake what if you lie what if you get in trouble what if what if what if. Filling out forms for anything - taxes, student loans, health insurance - becomes almost unbearable, something to be procrastinated as long as humanly possible no matter how crucial it is.

Adult life with official forms papers and documentation is not accessible or accommodating to my disabled self. I have little recourse, respite, or understanding. As with the homework I didn't do, my problems with paperwork are read not ad a societal fixation on over-documentation, but as a problem with me. Completing forms in a timely fashion is framed as a virtue, so difficulty completing such work is framed as a flaw. Paperwork's not too frustrating, encumbering, confusing: I'm too lazy, worthless, careless.


The tyranny of forms is not, of course, limited to this particular axis of disability: paperwork also works on behalf of cissexism and race and many other axes. It's a force of the kyriarchy in more than one way. Nor am I the first to point out the disabling effects of ADD/ADHD; this writing is particularly inspired by a couple of posts:
Whether or not you have a diagnosis, most neurotypicals will assume that your symptoms are a moral failure – that things don’t get done because you don’t care enough to get them done. That you forget things because you don’t care to remember them. That you get distracted from doing something because you don’t care to apply yourself to it. But these are all far from the truth. ADHDers do care, but wishing won’t change neurology. We can develop coping skills, but those only work so far. - Lisa Harney, ADHD Isn't Trivia
I never intend for things to get this way. I ignore something for one day, and pretty soon it's eighteen days later and I still haven't done it. Then my responsibilities become wrapped up in so much guilt and helplessness that I have to ignore them because I'd rather feel good about myself. -Allie Brosh, Procrastinator
Also check out Kinsey and Isabel on the topic.


Paperwork is a form of institutionalized ableism. Paperwork keeps folks who have issues with anxiety, ADD, and likely other disorders from living, from working, from getting the care we need to treat that which disables us. It makes paperwork a daunting, insurmountable task - and its incompletion perpetuates guilt and sends it further away from actually getting done.

Paperwork is to a certain extent necessary, and to advocate its end is not helpful. Society is, as always, very concerned with its own existence, and how to best document it. And so, I can't advocate for its ends - I can only explain how I experience it as problematic. Furthermore I must admit that I don't know how to accommodate this problem beyond simple suggestions - less complexity, more available and non-shaming assistance with forms.

I don't exactly know what to do. I just think that functioning should be less contingent on how well we fill in forms; I think our basic rights to exist and live and be healthy should be less dependent on whether we have our papers in order.

*Not ADHD - I've never had hyperactivity.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Katie Gilliam verbally attacked with racial slurs; Destin, FL police couldn't care less

At the end of the work week, Katie Gilliam wanted to relax. She went to the Wal-Mart she frequents three to four times a week to unwind with a manicure and pedicure. But her tension skyrocketed when she returned to her car, parked in a disabled spot. Under her windshield, she found an admonition to obey the speed limits accompanied by a racial slur.

Feeling shocked, frightened, and threatened, she locked herself in a car and called the police. “I was scared. I remember telling the dispatcher that ‘I was going to do whatever I had to do to protect myself.’ ”

Upon arrival, the police found some pretty solid clues as to who was stalking and harassing Ms. Gilliam. Security tapes showed "a white male in a white Ford Explorer pull up next to her vehicle and place something on the windshield." The note was left on paper that had a State Farm policy number. Both of these are clear indications that this man was not too careful about not being caught, and, with a couple of hours of police work, could easily be apprehended.

But what did the police decide to do in light of this clear threat against Ms. Gilliam?


They told her that if she wanted to find her stalker, she could do it herself:
When The Log contacted the Sheriff’s Office Tuesday, public information officer Michele Nicholson said the complaint was originally filed under criminal mischief, but since no damage had actually occurred to Gilliam’s vehicle, the incident would be treated “more like a harassment issue.”

“There are currently no leads, since the video footage from Wal-Mart didn’t provide a good shot of the person and they could not be identified,” she said.
Gilliam didn’t buy that answer.

“There was a State Farm policy number on the envelope,” she said. “They can start by calling them. I am not going to do the sheriff’s job for them; I am a taxpayer.”

After she was informed of the envelope of the identification number, Nicholson said there was no reason to contact the company and proceed because the “case was not criminal.”

“Because of the way the statues read, there is nothing for us to pursue,” she said, adding that Gilliam was free to pursue civil action against the perpetrator if she could identify him.
Gilliam is not overdoing it when she calls this act terrorism later in the article. The writer of the note has stalked her enough to know things about her; how she drives, her race. He is targeting her: he is making her to feel uncomfortable, terrified, and unsafe because of her status as a woman of color with disabilities.

Gilliam is not imagining things; her recipient of racial harassment grew out of a social and individual need to terrify and stalk women at marginalized intersections. Her harasser's note was not benign, not an isolated incident: it implied that she was being watched, that if she didn't play nice, didn't drive the right speed, she would be subject to further harassment, and possibly violence. It violated a space that she clearly regarded as safe and turned it into a space fraught with terror, with no protection.

The police's blase response is a reflection of institutionalized racism on more than one level. The officers on the police force are not willing to take a taxpayer's fear and discomfort seriously because of her marginalized status; they completely erase the potential danger she may face by pursuing the person who is threatening her with vile slurs. The law makers they hide behind have declined to write laws protecting citizens from attacks based on race or disability from criminal law. Furthermore, they apparently don't have very strong laws against stalking or harassment, a crime that disproportionately affects women.

The police of Destin, Florida are sending a clear message by dismissing and minimizing Ms. Gilliam's complaint. They are clearly stating that the lives, safety, and comfort of people of color, people with disabilities, and women are not valuable, not worth police time; they are giving stalkers and harassers who target people on the margins carte blanche to do as they please without repercussion.

Related reading: Domino's Pizza delivered with racial attack on Carla Robinson


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Faye's history of lady instrumentalists [part six: Gretta Cohn, Stefanie Drootin, Azure Ray/Maria Taylor/Orenda Fink, Jenny Conlee, Petra Haden]

Hello, dear readers! I apologize: this one is going up late - but never fear, your weekly supply of female instrumentalists is here in the nick of time.

Think you might be in need of some more real heroes in your life? Check out the series archive: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Gretta Cohn is (in the music world) best known as the cellist for the band Cursive, performing with them from 2001-2005. Cohn contributed significantly to Cursive's sound at the time. She also collaborated prolifically with other indie rock bands at this time, guesting with The Faint, The Good Life, Rilo Kiley, Thursday, Tilly and the Wall and Maria Taylor among others. After she left the band she moved to New York, where she continued to focus on collaboration with other artists as well as pursuing other interests. She is currently a radio producer and her website is largely a radio documentary blog.

Neat Trivia: She was a playable character in the online arcade game Emogame 2 (fun to play, and witty wrt music and sometimes politics, but also contains a lot of misogynist, pointless humor, just fyi).

Lyrics Excerpt: Cut it out!| Your self-inflicted pain | is getting too routine | the crowds are catching on | to the self-inflicted song| Well, here we go again | The art of acting weak| Fall in love to fail | to boost your CD sales

It's Saddle Creek day on Deeply Problematic! Stefanie Drootin is the bassist for The Good Life, which was formed as a side project to support songs that didn't fit into Cursive's repertoire; they are a well known band within that scene. Before and during this endeavor, she also played with other Saddle Creek or Team Love bands (Bright Eyes, Azure Ray [and Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor separately] and McCarthy Trenching), as well as She and Him. Most recently she and a friend, Chris Senseney, under the name Tin Kite, recorded an album together. In a quote she says, “I had my eight-month-old baby strapped to my body during the entire recording. We recorded most of it live and didn’t stop takes if he cried or if a truck drove by.” AWESOME. Listen to some of that on her Myspace page (linked with her name, above) - or, check her out with The Good Life below.

Lyrics Excerpt: You've got a new friend. | You've got a new friend. | Likes to go to movies. | Likes to drink red wine. | Sounds familiar, better hold on tight: | a film school drunk can be so hard to find.

Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink met at the age of 15 while both attending the Alabama School for Fine Arts, and fronted a band called Little Red Rocket, which released two albums in the late 90's and draw comparisons to Veruca Salt. Fink plays guitar; Taylor plays guitar, piano and drums. Both are better known for their dreampop two-piece band, Azure Ray, which began in Georgia and relocated to Omaha, NE to work with the music scene there. Azure Ray was active from 2001-2004, when they broke up to work on solo projects and side project Now It's Overhead. (However, the band reformed temporarily for "5 or 6 shows" in 2008 and are now releasing another record.)

Now It's Overhead, out of Athens, GA, features both women, as well as Andy LeMaster and Clay Leverett, and was originally a studio project to produce some of LeMaster's old work and grew into a full-fledged band. The band has toured as support for REM and Idlewild during respective US and UK tours.

Orenda Fink has released three solo albums, as well as albums with bands O+S and Art in Manila; Maria Taylor has put out four solo albums; both collaborate with other artists including Moby, Joshua Radin, and Bright Eyes.

Lyrics Excerpt: I'll be alone but maybe more carefree | Like a kite that floats so effortlessly | I was afraid to be alone | Now I'm scared thats how I'd like to be

Stepping away from the tangled webs of Nebraska indie music for a moment!

Jenny Conlee
, notably of the Decemberists plays almost any instrument you've ever thought of (hammond organ, accordion, melodica, glockenspiel, piano and keyboards just according to Wikipedia - and also sometime backup singer). There isn't a ton about her, but she's also collaborated with a number of other bands in the Portland area, and before she was in the Decemberists she played piano for Calobo. She also currently plays keyboards, glockenspiel and accordion for Casey Neill and the Norway Rats, and is in the acoustic band Black Prairie.

Re: the video - I believe the violinist on this is their sometime member Petra Haden - an extremely accomplished musician in her own right. She's been a member of several bands and has collaborated with dozens of bands from indie to poppunk to death metal.

Lyrics Excerpt: We are two mariners | Our ship's sole survivors | In this belly of a whale | Its ribs are ceiling beams | Its guts are carpeting | I guess we have some time to kill

And that, my friends, brings us to the end of our adventures in lady instrumentalists. Did I miss something? Was it terrible that I didn't include _____? Should I do another one? Enjoy this series? Hate it? Leave your thoughts!

I know I'm going to miss writing it!

Also, if you feel inclined to support Deeply Problematic, it's always much appreciated!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wikipedia's main page mentions nine men for every one woman

The logo of Wikipedia, a globe featuring glyphs from many different writing systems. A registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation.
I just love Wikipedia. I think it's one of the greatest things to happen because of the Internet. It's a source of information that's free to all, that's relatively reliable and in-depth, that's fairly transparent in its editing and resources. Most of the pictures I use in my posts are from Wikimedia Commons. While I often warn students I tutor against using it, it's a great place to get general information on a topic, start research, or just productively procrastinate by learning new things.

The main page, the face that Wikipedia puts out to the world, is a good starting place for browsing and procrastination. I went to that main page at 1 am on Tuesday the 24th of August to look for a female name for some fiction I've been working on.

But to my dismay, I didn't find a single lady on the entire front page. Not one.

Wikipedia, our Library of Alexandria, considered the accomplishments of women so insignificant that they did not merit any mention. Not in the Featured Article, or In the News, or On This Day (profiling history), or Did You Know (highlighting new articles). To look at Wikipedia's main page on August 24, 2010, you would think that men made and did everything, and women had nothing to do with anything.

Was this lack of representation of the ladies a one-time thing, I wondered? Or is this a pattern, a reflection of institutionalized systematic oppression of women known as the patriarchy and more broadly, the kyriarchy?

To answer this question, I looked at ten Wikipedia main pages from the past year, and counted the number of women and men who were mentioned by name.* I used's Wayback Machine for eight of these pages (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.) For the final two, I used the August 24 main page that kicked this project off, and today's page. After studying these ten pages, I found:
  • 15 women appeared total, an average of 1.5 women per page. There were no women for the May 20 and October 27 page, and no more than three women on any other day.
  •  130 men appeared total, an average of 13 men per page.
  • That's a proportion of almost 9 men to every 1 woman.
Nine men to every one woman on a portal that represents the greatest easily accessible store of knowledge is outrageously disproportionate and unacceptable. Wikipedia's under-representation is prime representation of the fact that women are still to this day oppressed, ignored, erased, and marginalized.

From a systematic point of view, it's not totally Wikipedia's fault: the world has been dominated by men, and that's reflected in the records we keep and the people we commemorate. Men still dominate every aspect of society from culture to news to sports to politics and everything in between, and they have since time immemorial. And that's a big part of why Wikipedia, an organization devoted to preserving records and making information accessible, focuses so heavily on men.

But it's not completely about history. Women make up only 13% of Wikipedians (Wikipedia editors, the people who research, write, edit, and maintain these pages - and full disclosure, I was an editor for a few years) - a proportion strikingly similar to the number of women represented on its main page. Men focus on men - upon promoting and constructing articles about people like them. Thus, the main page editors have less women-focused articles to promote to the main page.

But it's not just about the proportion of male to female volunteers. Wikipedia's main page editors could find more pages about women, could promote more woman-focused articles as in need of construction in their editor portal. They could highlight news about women, and new articles about women.

But they don't. Because they don't care about the representation of women. Because they don't care if they're replicating existing power structures, structures which likely favor them. Because they focus on being objective - and as so often happens, objectivity just means a perpetuation the dominant, male, kyriarchal point of view.

But what should Wikipedia do to remedy its chronic, sexist under-representation?
  • First, this isn't a problem that starts with the main page. If Wikipedia wants to make its content less focused on men, it should promote and foster the growth and comfort of female editors like Lise Broer (who contributed several of the featured pictures in my review) .
  • Second, they should make sure that there is always a woman on the main page of Wikipedia. Not including any women on any given day is an act of erasure, pure and simple.
  • Third, they should focus on promoting articles about women for development and construction in their editor's portal, consistently asking editors to spend their time on articles about women. More good articles about women will make more articles about women suited to the high quality expected for pages on Wikipedia's main page.
  • Finally, they should attempt to slowly bring up the proportional representation of women until at least 40% of all the named individuals on the main page on any given day are women.
Facts, information, history and current events were and are not made solely by men, but you wouldn't know that by looking at Wikipedia's main page. Kyriarchy is invested in seeing itself duplicated and perpetuated, and where better to perpetuate the idea that men are the really important people in society than in one of its most authoritative and accessible sources of widely disseminated information? The world is subjective, and Wikipedia's main page editor is choosing to represent a view of the world that is disproportionately focused on men; their reluctance to highlight women is sexist and patriarchal, not objective.

Further reading:
Wikipedia's Gender Gap
Is Wikipedia A Victim of its Own Success?

*Focusing on just men and women is more than a little bit reductive - and since I'm looking at the main page in English, it's US-centric and Western-centric. Men oppressing women is far from the only form of oppression. But I've got time constraints, so I focused on the under-representation that I first noticed. If this post proves popular, I'll return for another look on other axes. 

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why I use that word that I use: Problematic

A cartoon speech bubble with a question mark in quotation marks inside it.

Unlike the previous entries in this series, problematic is not an unfamiliar term for most feminists - in fact, it's a cliche. I named this blog after a professor who overused the phrase "deeply problematic". My intent with my title was humorous, but these days I use it earnestly, frequently. and without irony. Problematic is not a specific word, but it's an excellent way to briefly and broadly note the universal fact of imperfection.

Problematic is an adjective that admits plural flaws. It is applied to nouns that are not perfect to point out that they are not perfect. Problematic suggests a series or pattern of problems - it states that there are more issues with whatever it's appended to than can or will be immediately recognized.

Problematic is a diagnostic, general term - a term for introductions. A term to point out a fact that is true of all - that it's not perfect, that it has problems. Problematic sets a critical tone when used broadly, indicating that all is not well and that some of what is not well will be identified and articulated in the following paragraphs.

Problematic can be a qualifier. It acknowledges that something is not perfect without going in depth. In praise of media, individuals, or actions for their social values, noting that they're problematic denies blanket endorsement to the less virtuous acts of the subject of praise. Simply noting that X is problematic allows for legitimate dissent to praise of X. It reminds the reader that even the things we like are created in a kyriarchy, and thus even those things we like will reflect some of the oppressions we fight.

Use of problematic as a qualifier can be a cop-out - a way to avoid critique rather than a thoughtful acknowledgement of legitimate concerns. But a well-placed link or short elaboration can remedy this without breaking word count limits. (Example: "Though Glee has problematic elements, particularly on the axis of disability, I find the relationship between Kurt and his father to be anti-homophobic.")

Some folks have described problematic as "lazy" or obfuscating. It is neither, when used correctly. Any term can be used in a thoughtless or confusing way. Problematic is just not a word for specifics.

Problematic is a universal term - it is simple, and applies to literally everything. Pointing out that something is problematic is value neutral. Perfection is a cruel farce; everything has problems,even if we personally cannot see or articulate them. Describing something as problematic is just explaining that it is imperfect, of nature. And sometimes that is as a radical as saying that marginalized groups are human, too - it's a clear fact and commonality, but it's sometimes forgotten.

Problematic is a broad word and one that can be applied to everything. Problematic is a part of this blog's name because it opens up the subject matter to critique of unlimited sources - from news to media to language and everything else, since everything is problematic. For my purposes, it's an admission of guilt - that this space, too, is deeply problematic.


Feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith utilized this term globally in her book, "The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology". I have not read the book, but I found this description of her work and use of the term to be helpful:
Problematic is a term used by ethnomethodology and put to effective use by Dorothy Smith to describe as a problem of interest that which is normally not seen as a problem because it is taken for granted. Smith argues that, “the everyday world is problematic”. She argues that the everyday world is neither transparent nor obvious. That social relations are organized from “elsewhere”.
By bracketing one's own membership in the world a researcher makes the commonsense and taken-for-granted world problematic.By making the everyday and ordinary problematic a researcher is able to uncover the structure and dynamic of the everyday.
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This and other "Why I use that word that I use" posts are a 101 space - if there's something that you're not getting, you have greater room than usual to ask basic questions.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Josh Eastman arrested for paying child to recite racial slurs on YouTube video

Racism has flourished on the Internet. YouTube is particularly infested with this form of oppression where videos like "sparkling wiggles" present blatant racism and viral videos like Antoine Dodson smack of cultural tourism. These videos do not only perpetuate and nurture racism in humor - they encourage others to seek fame through active oppression. One such candidate for hateful celebrity, Josh Eastman of Bridgeport, CT, went so far as to actively indoctrinate a neighboring child into racism - and he's not the only one.

Eastman recorded and posted a video called "Swearing Kid" in which an eight-year-old boy swears and hurls racial slurs while being coached from off-camera. When the boy's mother caught wind of this video, she was appropriately horrified by this apparently uncharacteristic behavior from her son, who claims that Eastman paid him $1 for his grim performance. She called the police, who picked Eastman up and held him on an $2,500 bond on charges of impairing the morals of a child. Eastman said:
"If they didn't like the video they could have just asked me nicely to take it off, and I would have taken it off. They didn't have to go call the police and have me arrested for it."
Eastman felt comfortable paying their child to spew hate and promote it to the general public without asking, but he apparently expects the consideration and courtesy of a polite phone call when the offense is against him. Nice.

Racism is evil regardless of context, but training and tutoring the next generation of racists takes especial involvement in the kyriarchy. It communicates to both the children starring and the white viewers of these awful videos that they are entitled to spread racial hatred around; it harms the people of color they will interact with in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Eastman didn't see the problem with this; he claims that the child was known for such language, and describe the video as "fun and funny". But even if Eastman didn't teach him those slurs, even if he didn't pay him a dollar - such a small sum, representing his valuation of people of color - even if he didn't indoctrinate this child into the gleeful use of racist language, Eastman was teaching the child that racism is funny, that hatred is worth reward, attention, and praise.

Though Eastman will likely stop his practice of this particular brand of hatred, this video was not an isolated incident. While searching for this and the "sparkling wiggles" referenced above, I found a huge number of other children being encouraged to say racist things by friends, family, whomever. Many of these videos, including Eastman's, are taken down by YouTube administrators, but more simply pop up in their place.

The children in these videos are not learning the ideals of the postracist society the US sometimes brags of; instead, these young people, the douchebags like Eastman capturing their learning experience, and the people who watch, enjoy, and send on these videos are actively promoting and perpetuating white supremacy.

source: one two three four five six seven

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Pledge drive update and top content of August 2010

A thermometer, or vial or whatever, showing monetary donations in the amount of $100, $200, $300, $400, and $500. It is filled up with red ink to roughly $425.

First off, pledge drive status! I've gotten donations from 22 people ranging from $3 to $100 thus far, and at $423 I'm over 80% of the way there! $77 more dollars, and I will quit bugging y'all about it. Click here to donate, or click on the button below:

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Thanks to everyone who has donated so far. I'm feeling quite positive about the state and direction of the blog in large part knowing y'all value my content enough to support the blog.

As with 2009, August 2010 has been a huge month for Deeply Problematic! Hits this month were twice that of July, and up a good deal from this time last year. Thanks for reading, twittering, tumbling, and linking it up in various places.

Top posts:

1. 17-month-old Roy Jones brutally murdered for acting like a girl
2. Domino's Pizza delivered with racial attack on Carla Robinson
3. Women and bodily functions: poop
4. Women in Questionable Content: Women-run businesses and Bechdel-passing friendships
5. Why I use that word that I use: Kyriarchy, kyriarchal, and why not patriarchy

Most commented:

1. Why I use that word that I use: Cis, cissupremacy, cissexism and Women and bodily functions: poop - 16 comments each
2. Fat is an adjective, not an attack and Domino's Pizza delivered with racial attack on Carla Robinson - 12 comments each
3. Women in Questionable Content: Women-run businesses and Bechdel-passing friendships - 10 comments
4. 17-month-old Roy Jones brutally murdered for acting like a girl - 9 comments
5. Women in Questionable Content: sexuality and identity - 8 comments

Unlike last year, I do not seem to be burning out! Instead, I'm looking forward to a fruitful and productive September. Thanks for reading.
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