Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More female instrumentalists, please.

Lisa Simpson smiles and holds a saxophone
I pride myself on listening to a lot of different kinds of music. I’m not a genre snob – I listen to pop and jam bands and hip-hop and country and classic rock in pretty equal measure. I’ve got enough privilege that I can listen to music that offends me politically but appeals to me aesthetically without costing myself too many spoons. My boyfriend has access to huge stores of music, particularly live music, and I try to make a point of varying from the normative white male artists he is often drawn to.

And we’ve had some success. We’ve been going to see more female artists, from Donna Jean of the Grateful Dead to Taylor Swift. We’ve listened to Laura Nyro and Aretha Franklin and look forward to Lady Gaga’s show in September.

But, from my subjective experience, I see a lot more men than women playing instruments. While I see women who are using their voices to create beautiful music, I notice a lot less who are using their fingers, and even less who are only using their fingers.

When I see female musicians, they’re usually singers. This is wonderful, as many ladies have beautiful voices, and it’s important to hear and listen to the voices of women who are often marginalized. If they do play instruments, they usually sing, and their voices are more of a focal point (e.g. Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift).

I began to wonder, “why does it seem that almost all the women I see making music have to use their voices to do it?” Sure, part of it is self-selection, but I see probably upwards of 60 acts a year – some of it’s got to be sexism, right? Why does it seem like vocal talent is often a requirement of lady musicians? Why don’t we see any instrumentalists who are just bassists or drummers or keyboardists, as male musicians so often are?

When a woman who is primarily an instrumentalist does try to pursue her ambitions, she is made to be a singer as well. A good example of this is Orianthi, a guitarist from Australia whom I noticed in Michael Jackson’s This Is It. You’ve probably heard her recently if you listen to pop radio, but it’s her voice that’s most heavily featured on “According To You”.

Now, I’m not saying that there is anything problematic about a multitasking lady musician who sings, or women who use solely their voices. Lady singers are super fantastic! Janelle Monae rock my socks, Beyonce is a terrific pop artist, and Janis Joplin is one of my all-time favorites. Lady singers who also play things are extra terrific! I am looking forward to seeing singer and keyboardist Lady Gaga in September, and I love Laura Nyro’s piano stylings, and I have seen Taylor Swift in concert and she is better than you might think (and has a woman fiddler).

But I would like to see women more women playing on instruments, more women whose fingers are making the music. I want to see women worked into my concert schedule in a widely equitable way, and see more women who aren’t singing onstage. I doubt that all women who have musical talent of the sort I enjoy just happen to have it in their vocal chords.

This is, I hope I’ve made clear, partially because of my own myopism. In fact, while I was editing this post, I came across a reference on fourfour to bassist Rhonda Smith, who plays with Prince:

One of my favorite bands, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, not only has a frontwoman doing double-duty on keyboard and guitar in addition to vocals and songwriting, but also has a lady guitarist, Catharin Popper. Here they are playing my favorite Janis Joplin song, Try:

And Esperanza Spalding is a terrific jazz bassist and vocalist. The following video shows her at the White House performing Overjoyed for President Obama and Stevie Wonder:

Video descriptions and lyrics in the comments.

What I’m saying is that there’s probably not so much a lack of talented female instrumentalists as mine/mainstream media’s failure to seek out, promote, and take notice of these women.

Considering this likely unintentional erasure on my part, I’d like to make this a reader-participation thread. Share some favorite lady musicians, particularly those who play instruments. Share a video. Have you seen her live? If I get some great responses, I'll share them in a future post.

Friday, June 25, 2010

7-months-pregnant Melanie Williams subject to police violence for seeking medical attention

Melanie Williams, an expectant Florida mother* in her last trimester, was recently driving alone when she began bleeding and feeling faint. She called 911, who told her to pull over before the call was cut off. Since William has sole rights to negotiate her body and health, she began rushing to the hospital to seek medical attention.

After she ran several red lights, the cops pulled her over, and instead of putting Williams' health first by escorting the pregnant, bleeding woman to the hospital and worrying about ticketing her later, they decided that it was more prudent to ticket her then. Williams, knowing her body and valuing the child inside her, decided she needed immediate medical attention and took off.

Barbara Pitts, who was sitting in the emergency room waiting room says it all happened within seconds: "A lady ran in first. A couple of seconds later two policemen came behind her and jumped her. They was trying to subdue her. So, once he had her down on the ground, his knees in her back trying to put handcuffs on her, she said help, just help me I'm bleeding and I'm pregnant."

JSO says, "From what we know. From what the police officers knew, they did what they were trained to do," says Chief Clark.

Melanie's family says the police treatment was too rough. The family also says Melanie has been in and out of labor since Sunday.
This is an example of disgusting police behavior. Police officers are trained to treat women and people of color as less than; their authority is a part of enforcing the kyriarchy.

This is an example of sexism. Women's bodies, particularly pregnant women's bodies, are public property: not theirs to negotiate, not theirs to decide when and how urgently they need medical attention. Their pregnancies are given lip service, but when push comes to shove, their health is a lower priority than a parking ticket, their wombs are less crucial than apprehending the concerned mother who owns them.

This is an example of racism. Black people are automatically suspect, and in traffic, their race is seen as an immediate indicator of wrongdoing. Police are allowed to use violence against them. Their medical needs are of a lower priority than enforcing police power; their bodies are simply not that important.

This is another example of how black women exist at an intersection that compounds racism and sexism that results in their particular form of oppression.

This is a racist, sexist society where Melanie Williams' care and concern for her health and the health of her unborn child is criminal.

Would this have turned out this way if she were white? I don't think so.

Via luxury problem

EDIT: Apparently, this actually happened five years ago. Williams and her daughter Malaysia are doing fine and recently received a settlement from the police. Sorry for the poor research!

*I use the language of mother and child to refer to Williams and her pregnancy because this is a wanted pregnancy.
ALSO, original title identified her as Michelle! Oops. Sorry!

New research confirms SAT racism

An assortment of pencils manufactured by the Dixon Ticonderoga Company. From top to bottom: The eponymous Dixon Ticonderoga, model number 1388-2 HB Pencil manufactured In U.S.A. circa 2003 (no longer in production); the current (as of March 2010) version of the same pencil, model number 13882, manufactured in China; a current model 13882 pencil from Dixon's Mexico factory (note subtle differences in the yellow laquer finish, ferrule and branding); a Ticonderoga Renew Pencil (model 96220) which utilizes recycled tires in place of wood for its casing; and a Dixon Tri-Conderoga pencil (model 22500) with triangular barrel and rubberized finish. An acrylic ruler with inches displayed upright was placed underneath the pencils for a size reference.

If you’re reading this, you probably understand that the election of a black president does not negate the systematic racism against folks of African descent in the US did not erase systematic racism against black people in the US. Cops still feel quite free to commit random and unwarranted violence against young black women. The wealth gap between white and black folks has widened. And black students score significantly lower on the standardized test that can determine admission to college, the SAT.

According to Maria Veronica Santelices of the Catholic University of Chile and Mark Wilson of the University of California at Berkeley at the Harvard Educational Review:
[Our research] throws into question the validity of the test and, consequently, all decisions based on its results. All admissions decisions based exclusively or predominantly on SAT performance -- and therefore access to higher education institutions and subsequent job placement and professional success -- appear to be biased against the African American minority group and could be exposed to legal challenge.

This is not exactly new news - it’s a confirmation of earlier research by Roy Freedle of the Educational Testing Service also published in the Harvard Educational Review. The College Board, which administers the SAT, faced similar claims in 2003. The administrative body that also administers Advanced Placement tests has previously dismissed these claims by saying that “since black students are less likely than white students to attend well-financed, generously-staffed elementary and secondary schools, their scores lag... American society is unfair, but the SAT is fair.”

Yeah, because classism is the only real form of oppression, and it’s not tied to racism at all! Because the College Board is somehow completely exempt from the racist kyriarchy that implicates us all!

Their findings on the verbal section were particularly damning, showing once again that language matters and that academic discourse heavily favors whiteness:
[T]he easier verbal questions favored white students. [S]ome of the most difficult verbal questions favored black students. Freedle's theory about why this would be the case was that easier questions are likely reflected in the cultural expressions that are used commonly in the dominant (white) society, so white students have an edge based not on education or study skills or aptitude, but because they are most likely growing up around white people. The more difficult words are more likely to be learned, not just absorbed.
Tests and admission standards are a part of the cycle of racism in our country, and a reflection and cause for the continuing inequality and oppression in education and professional life that reward whiteness and ableist, classist measurements of intelligence.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The kyriarchal litterbox.

Image: An orange and white cat poops into a litterbox. A red scoop lies to the right of the box, and a blue package of litter with Chinese characters lies to the left.

Since I’m a feminist writer, I traffic in dissent. I’m used to getting varieties of dispute: friendly, thoughtful, and welcome sometimes, rude, defensive, and hostile other times. I’ve gotten violent threats and slurs, like most writers. But I also get people who articulate their heated dissent through dismissing my attention to something they consider disposable.

Don’t you have anything better to do? There's more important shit to worry about. Jeez, are you offended by everything? You’re just looking for things to bitch about.

That last, in particular, makes me laugh.

Yeah, troll, I am totally looking for things to complain about. I am seeking them out. I am trying to find reflections of the kyriarchy in everything because they’re not, you know, literally everywhere. They’re not at all embedded in me, and my life, and my words and my actions and the actions of those I love the most, of the media I love the most, of the things we eat and do and drink and say and wear and fuck and are.

You’re scrutinizing every little thing, what’s the big deal? gets my bitterest chuckles.

Because I let so many words and actions, from friends and lovers and reading material, go uncritiqued. Because I receive so many sexist and ableist messages meant to tear me down that succeed in beating me into submission. Because hundreds of times a day, the kyriarchy is actively making my life richer and my body more valuable at the expense of others.

In my draft folder, there are at least a dozen files with long long lists of things I want to write about that I haven’t gotten around to. There are more half-finished drafts on injustices old, new, and timeless.

For each post that makes it somewhere where people read it, I begin at least five. For each post idea on kyriarchy I articulate, there are at least 10 instances that I note to someone. For each instances, there are at least 25 needles of oppression that I note only to myself. And for every needle of oppression, there are at least 50 that I don’t notice, 50 messages that contribute to my self-hatred, 50 waves that push me above and others underwater, that I just don’t notice.

The kyriarchy is not the boogeyman. It’s not some sly specific force that some council of 12 cis het abled mono white partnered thin USian rich men that okay these messages and send them out. It’s something that’s built up slowly over thousands and thousands of years, on the backs of millions and billions of disenfranchised and enslaved individuals. It's something that implicates all of us.

Feminism is not a conspiracy theory and I am not making shit up when I say we value some bodies more than others – whether I’m writing about real people or fictional characters. It is what we live in and with and as. It is embedded in us and our lives. When I write about the problems I see in the world, I am only saying the things I am able to say: the shit that is most obvious and most important to point out from my perspective, the shit particularly that other people don't notice.

And for every little sling you, troll, think is nothing, is overreacting? That is only one grain of kitty litter in the stinky shitbox of kyriarchy. You can continue to spray air freshener and pretend it’s not a problem, but stay out of my way while I wield my scoop.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Guest posting at Feministe: The Absence of No

I am guest-posting at Feministe today on rape and consent. Here's an excerpt:

Rape and consent are facts rarely taken seriously outside of movements focused on the rights of women. Consent is sought and contested in sexual conversations and acts, and emotional and intellectual manipulation can result in acts that the abuser can wash their hands of but the confused victim cannot wash away. When consent is ignored, abuse proceeds not always with force, but sometimes with just words. By using guilt, rapists and abusers can clense their consciences and eternally claim to be the good guy or girl. The emphasis should not be on the technical yes, the coerced “consent”, but on the feelings and experiences of victims, of survivors, of people who have been used and abused through manipulation, which leaves no mark.

Head on over for the full post. Thanks so much to the wonderful Cara for her help on this.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Trans woman Delphine Ravisé-Giard's breast size dictated by French civil court

Delphine Ravisé-Giard is a long-serving member of the French Air Force who transitioned in 2007. The Air Force has been respectful and reasonable about her shift in presentation, immediately reflecting her gender accurately and with apparently very little sturm und drang.

But in trying to transition legally, she is facing bigotry and ever-moving goalposts. The civil court handling her legal change is intimately policing her body and demanding that she get specific kinds of surgery. Originally, the court demanded that she get SRS. They have thankfully backed off that, but their new requirements? Not much better.

The court is now demanding that Ms. Ravisé-Giard undergo breast enhancement before attaining legal recognition of her gender, saying "The principle of respect for private life requires that the state recognize gender according to a person’s appearance."

Huh? So, respecting someone’s private life now means…policing their body? I suppose this is in keeping with the sexist idea that women’s bodies are always, necessarily public property, and that our bodies must be sufficiently titillating to be validated.

Ms. Ravisé-Giard said to pink news: “The request is ridiculous but this is what the state demands. I am satisfied with the progress I have made through hormones but as far as the state is concerned, unless I take steps to augment what I have now through surgery, I am not being serious about my gender change. Of course, if the state applied the same test to cis women, it would have to redefine the gender of many French women. But of course, this would never happen.”

This is blatant transmisogyny. Though the French Air Force has responded appropriately, by respecting Ms. Ravisé-Giard's identity, bodily integrity, and right to privacy. But the civil court is responding to Ms. Ravisé-Giard's existence as a woman with cissexist bigotry and classist entitlement, without regard to her desires for her body or her monetary ability to pay for these expensive surgeries. Instead of letting her determine the course that her body and identity take, they are mandating the ways in which women are women, when in reality there is no one path to true womanhood.

Ms. Ravisé-Giard asks, "Will that breast size be established nationally by the Minister of Justice or will it be up to the personal tastes of individual attorneys?" This is, sadly, a society where men are allowed to decide what a woman should look like, where cis people are empowered to decide what make a trans woman real. Women’s bodies should always be up to the woman in question to negotiate, but in France, that’s not the case.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Awesome alert: Trans rabbi Reuben Zellman

Awesome Alerts is a new and hopefully regular quick-hit feature. I have several Google alerts set up to bring me news on some of the marginalized subjects I make an effort to cover here, namely feminism, disability, race, and trans issues. Since we live in a kyriarchy, there's not a lot of good news as a general rule. But oppressed lives are not so necessarily tragic, so I'm going to start making an effort to bring more good news. And thus, Awesome Alerts!

Reuben Zellman, a trans activist since 1999, has been ordained as the first out trans rabbi in the Bay area. He was recently hired at Berkley's Beth El Congregation as an assistant rabbi, where he will tutor b’nai mitzvah students and direct the choir. Zellman has previously worked in disability services, and he writes and teaches on trans and intersex issues. He was the first openly trans person to study at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.

Zellman is the second trans rabbi to be ordained after Elliot Zukla. Both contribute to the awesome website TransTorah. I'll close today with a quote from his 2008 sermon titled "No Longer Strangers", which I think is relevant to not only Jewish communities but feminist discourse:
When it comes to welcoming transgender people into our faith communities, we must say more than: come share this place with me. We must say: come share yourself with me. We must not only make more room at the table; we have to change what’s on the menu. Truly welcoming trans people into our houses of worship means we must all be prepared to think differently, to do differently, to believe differently. We must be ready to be changed, institutionally and personally, by the particular knowledge and gifts that transgender people bring.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The potential and the danger of first person in feminist discourse

In my day job, I’m a tutor, mostly of basic composition and writing (a very problematic position for reasons I won’t delve into here). One of the things that I immediately note in every paper is the use of first person in analytical essays. While it’s great in narrative and process papers, lots of unrelated personal anecdotes and uncited “I” statements in critical assignments do not usually contribute to a satisfied instructor.

Blogging, though, is distinctly different from academic writing, where the rules are quite subjective, and where the personal and political blur. Blogging comes from a much less formal, much more casual place. The first person can be a very valuable tool, and I don’t want to silence or dictate people’s choice of voice. But in feminist and social justice writing, the first person can be applied too liberally or beyond its scope by privileged writers.

The first person is a powerful voice in feminist contexts. It’s often vital to creating a safe space, to communicating experiences of oppression, to helping readers understand the real, actual, concrete impact of the kyriarchy. With the best of audiences, it helps privileged people understand the impact of our actions. It is a way to tell our stories and claim our experiences as our own: a powerful statement in a world which endeavors to shut us down, erase, and silence us.

But its use can be less beneficial when writing about experiences and oppressions that are not our own. In these discussions, whether theoretical or based around a specific incident, first person use should be limited. When we take to task a privilege we hold, in most situations, the third person is largely appropriate. Frequent use of first person pronouns or anecdotes to begin paragraphs and sentences of pieces about oppressions unknown to us does not tell the reader so much about the oppression as the privilege we still hold and use. Instead, we are appropriating and erasing these experiences and words to talk about their own. Discussions of oppression should be centered around the oppressed.

If I write about abusive caregivers, it is not the time to discuss at length my fears about aging. If I write about police violence against people of color, it is not the time to relate a long anecdote about how one time I was intimidated by a cop. If I write about the exclusion of trans women from women’s colleges, it is not the time for me to break down my experiences with an all-male trustee board at women’s colleges. [note: links are examples of writing about issues, not illustrating any point about use of person on the part of the writer] I’m not arguing that these subjects should be segregated – used sparingly, personal experiences can be helpful to the reader, and social justice writers should consider marginalized groups in pieces about more mainstream issues and experiences. But when focusing on an oppression I do not experience, I should not use it as an opportunity to go on about myself and my privileged life.

When writing about a specific example or instance of an oppression I do not experience, I try to limit myself heavily. I’ll write perhaps about how I found something as an introduction. I’ll use small colloquialisms like “to me” or “from my limited perspective” to clarify that my point of view may not be universal. I’ll use qualifiers to establish that I am not the authority on something - e.g. “As a white/cis/able-bodied person, I don’t have the authority to say definitively that something is racist/cissexist/ableist.” Then hopefully I will link or quote some writers who do have the authority to write about their experiential oppression so I do not erase or silence them on issues of concern to them.

When I do write about my privilege directly and critically rather than systems of oppression, the ethics are a little different. Especially in the context of an apology, I use the singular first person soas to take maximum responsibility and emphasize my culpability in whatever I’ve fucked up. If it’s a bigger post in which I feel the need to call out to others who share that privilege, I try write in the plural first person (as in here). This helps readers connect themselves to the system of oppression we benefit from.

Each writer has to figure out how to navigate person and avoid centralizing their own privileges. I try to limit my own use of the extended narrative first person to the main oppressions I experience – primarily disability, but also on the axes of size*, reproduction, and sexism (of course). These are the only spaces where I’ll allow myself to begin with “I” in more than one sentence or paragraph, or use the first person in every paragraph, or use more than one personal anecdote or story.

We as oppressed individuals need to use our voices, our first person to argue our points, to tell our stories, to insist upon our rights. But we as privileged individuals need to consider the load of the benefits accrued from the kyriarchy and the crushing silence it can impose on marginalized persons. We need to shift that emphasis to those who have been damaged by voices like ours by laying off I, me, and my.

While the gist of this is critical, it's also about the power of the first person. I'd like to invite readers who are writers to share work in which you use the first person to describe and fight the oppression you experience.

*Though I really need to write outside my own experience, since I do have some measure of size privilege.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Objectification in Floyd's Fandango Beer and Wine Festival marketing

Floyd is a great little hippie city near where I make my home. I attend Across-the-Way Production's FloydFest annually, and I was thinking about heading to their beer and wine festival Fandango until I saw the following image on a postcard around town:

[Image: A pink banner reading Floyd Fandango frames two women on each side and an abstraction of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a star, and July 3 & 4 2010, the dates for the festival. The woman on the left has long dark curly hair and wears a low-cut ruched top, showing a good deal of cleavage. She is smiling with her mouth open and holding a glass of wine. The woman on the right has braids and is wearing a low-cut blouse. She is smiling with her mouth closed and holding up a stein of beer.]

These cartoon figures of women are not just showing that women like beer and beer makes people happy. Their cleavage is prominently featured, equivicated with the alcohol that is the ostensible product of promotion.

This is yet another example of how women's bodies are objectified to promote alcohol. Women's bodies and breasts are the point of focus of Fandango as much as the wine and beer: breasts are as much a product for consumption at Fandango as the wine and beer.

It's not even particularly original: the lady on the left looks exactly like the St. Pauli Girl. The woman with the wine is also specifically problematic - I read her as a woman of color, which makes the objectification and dehumanization particularly problematic (I'm having trouble figuring out how (or if) it's specifically racist, so comments along these lines are particularly welcome).

Boobs are great, but this is basic: it's not cool to use women's bodies to promote and sexualize drink.

Further reading: Normalization of maleness and whiteness in beer packaging (one of my most popular posts)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Disability and Comics: How Questionable Content's Faye and Hannelore normalize disability

Spoiler alert, and trigger warning for discussion of trauma and OCD.

Questionable Content is a necessary part of my morning routine. It’s a long-running comic that I’ve taken in with my morning coffee on a daily basis for almost four years now. One of the strongest points of the ongoing, 1600+ installment 7+ year story is author and artist Jeph Jacques’ consistently thoughtful, moving, multifaceted portrayal of people with disabilities. Hannelore’s obsessive-compulsive disorder and Faye’s response to trauma are shown with sensitivity and nuance. It is not a coincidence that these two characters are fan favorites; their disabilities are realistic, present challenges, and act as a single facet of their whole character.

While Marten Reed is the protagonist of QC, assertive, full-figured Faye is probably a better-known and more crucial character to the script. Faye’s depression and treatment (professional or otherwise) are as frequent a part of the story’s twists and turns, and her character as her snark to customers and romantic entanglements. Faye’s depression stems from some really horrible teenage trauma (her father killed herself in front of her) which is developed in one of the comic’s most emotionally charged arcs.

Faye’s trauma has caused her real and ongoing mental pain and trust issues that are validated as real and worthy of attention, care, and consideration. Her need to take time off for treatment is necessary, not some kind of special consideration. She seeks treatment without shame, and she and her friends discuss and make considerations for her needs in a normalized, matter-of-fact way.

She is not the model of self-care at all times: she struggles with alcoholism, though her choices regarding what and how often she drinks are up to her and usually not a matter on which she is judged (except by the other PWD in the cast, Hannelore).

However, Faye was and always has been more than her mental disability: she was the strip’s main female character for three years before her disability was introduced. Her depression influences and emphasizes her snarky, assertive, prickly nature without defining it; it’s a part of her life without being all of it.

Another character that’s become the face, so to speak, of QC, is Hannelore Ellicot-Chatham. Hanners (as she’s called by other characters) is funny, well-developed, and encouraging. She has OCD, and it’s a big part of her life, but it does not stop her from being happy or doing what she wants to do: baking, drumming. Her disability is evident without being tragic or marginalizing. She is a chipper and determined woman with lots of energy; she is a loyal friend (the most highly valued characteristic in the QC universe). She is neither a stereotype nor an inspiration but a woman with disabilities.

Hannelore’s OCD is a visible characteristic from soon after her introduction. Her focus on cleanliness is a little clichéd, but the portrayal is much deeper than “HAY GERMS". She exhibits symptoms of social anxiety and not just obsessive behavior but also intrusive thoughts. Hannelore makes reference to unwanted violent thoughts towards herself and her friends on more than one occasion. But it’s accurately framed as a non-threat, and turned into a joke of which Hannelore is the butt: in one instance, Hannelore makes reference to an intrusive thought in which she pushes her friends into ongoing traffic. While Dora reacts poorly, Marten takes it and runs with it, coming up with funny ways to attack and counter-attack using the context of the Coffee of Doom. She’s a little creepy. But the creepiness is not framed as dangerous or necessarily negative; it’s simply a feature of her personality.

Her OCD is sometimes disabling. There are times when she is unable to function, when she is severely disturbed by a friend’s hygiene or when she looks up the wrong thing on Wikipedia. But it’s also something that she’s shown challenging, fighting, and treating. She offhandedly mentions taking an anxiety reliever after she helps a sick friend. She actively challenges and contradicts her disability by confronting and participating in situations involving potential germs and infection.

Without getting into any superpower crap, Hannelore’s OCD is often positioned as an asset. Her lucrative, fulfilling job involves counting. She learns drums very quickly, describing it as “counting using [her] whole body". Her attention to cleanliness is something she enjoys rather than suffers. It’s also an asset on the social level most crucial to QC. Her cleaning leads to a great friendship with the less-than-clean Marigold, and she helps Faye by referring her to Dr. Corrine.

One commonality between these two characters that I’m slightly troubled by is their shared inability to get romantically involved. Hannelore is not asexual, but she has no desire to get involved in a physical relationship – a bit of a cliché for an OCD character. As mentioned above, Faye’s depression was revealed and given as a reason for her to not date Marten, and she subsequently avoided both Sven and Angus because of it. This is a little troubling because the idea that women with mental disabilities are not suited to relationships is a common and harmful one.

Though this is slightly problematic, it is not monolithic and is, in some ways, constructive. Romantic challenges or lack thereof are a very common theme in QC, mostly recently with the frustrated Marigold. Hannelore’s lack of romantic interest doesn’t define her as an essentially lacking person; she’s just not into lovin’ right now. Avoiding emotional entanglement is framed as self-care for Faye and potential partners; her romantic activity is characterized, basically, by a desire to be as honest and open with her partners as possible: about her feelings from them, her boundaries, and her interests. She is not someone who plays games: she stated right off the batthat she didn't want anything romantic from Marten, and reiterated it, honestly, as a sign of respect and love, when she realized he was in love with her so that he could move on (to one of her best friends, a development she reacted to honestly and maturely). She’s been honest with Angus about her issues and her interest in him. Her upfront, no-bullshit attitude is in many ways a powerful rebuttal to the very commonly enforced assumption that women with mental disabilities are inherently manipulative, inconsiderate, and self-centered in relationships.

Both Faye and Hannelore exhibit some internalized ableism. Hannelore at one point expresses a wish to be “normal", while I find this depiction of a charcter who is by all accounts quite charming and lovely to be problematic, it’s also realistic – people with mental disabilities do have these feelings. But she does this while wearing a shirt saying “I’m OCDelightful!" (a shirt I wish Jacques would make, come on man!) which makes the depiction a little more complex.

My major issue with Questionable Content’s depiction of PWD – and it is a major issue – is the complete lack of folks with physical or evident disabilities. No one uses any kind of mobility aid or has any kind of accessibility issues. This is erasure of a sort, and I’d like to see Jacques expand his portrayal of PWD to those with immediately obvious disabilities.

It would also be nice to see characters in the comic not use ableist language like lame and crazy. I don’t really expect this - it’s about twentysomethings, and that’s how they talk. Still, though, it’d be nice. It would also be nice if Jacques made the site more accessible by linking to transcripts of the comics on Oh No Robot, as he used to. And there are other issues, here and there, and I am sure that other folks will have different and equally valid readings of Jacques’ work. But, speaking as a reader with mental disabilities, the positive and complex framing of disabilities overrides these small objections.

Problems asides, Questionable Content is an excellent example of how writers with disabilities create meaningful and resonant characters with disabilities. Jacques has said in the past of Hannelore:
Hannelore, man, I don't know what the deal with her is. Well, I guess I do, it's just very wordy and complicated. For one thing, she's extremely fun to write. I can get away with just being incredibly cruel to her, but she's got this inner core of hope and resiliency that allows her to bounce back into shape -- she's the Wile E. Coyote of emotional trauma, I guess. I've got obsessive-compulsive disorder myself (nowhere near as bad as her, but enough that it is sometimes a problem) and so I can use some of my own tics and experiences to flesh out her problems.
Hannelore and Faye’s openness about their disability show a lack of shame and normalization that is rarely seen in the portrayal of folks with OCD and depression. Usually, we are just others, just weirdos, just crazy. The acceptance of Hannelore’s aneurotypicality and Faye’s response to trauma contribute to an environment in which disability is not othered, but just another variance in the makeup of personality.

*Note on language: While Hannelore explicitly has OCD, I don’t know if Faye actively identifies herself as a PWMD. But she’s a fictional character, and that is how I, a PWMD, sees her, and I think it’s a valid interpretation. If Jacques does not identify as such, I will change the description of him.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Santigold [Music Monday]

Any artist that conspicuously uses glitter in their album art is okay by me. Particularly if that glitter represents words, or vomit, or...both?

I'm not gonna lie: I'm kind of in love with Santigold. I'd heard of her in connection with other artists, but like I've said before, I'm kind of lazy about seeking out music on my own. I began listening to her when an M.I.A. YouTube video led to one of hers.

Hot damn this woman is awesome.

Formerly known as Santogold and Santi White, she was also a part of the punk outfit Stiffed.

Santigold's voice is lovely, and her beats are making me bop rather conspicuously in my chair at work.

And now I have a burning desire to go see her live. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), she has no dates and I am broke. Sigh.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Racism beneath the surface in Thurgood Marshall Elementary

Blackamazon and s.e. smith introduced me to this story by Charles Mudede via Tumblr:
[J]ust last week, my daughter—who is 8 and happens to be the only brown person in her Accelerated Progress Program class at Thurgood Marshall Elementary—was ordered out of the classroom because her teacher did not like the smell of her hair. The teacher complained that my racially different daughter's hair (or something—a product—in the hair) was making her sick, and then the teacher made her leave the classroom...

If a white teacher—a person who is supposed to have a certain amount of education and knowledge of American history, and who teaches at a school named after the man who successfully argued before the court in Brown v. Board of Education for equal opportunities for racial minorities in public schools and went on to become the first African-American Supreme Court justice—removes a black student from a predominantly white class because of her hair, it is almost impossible not read the action as either racist or expressive of racial insensitivity, which amounts to the same thing for someone in that teacher's position.

There’s a follow-up story in which the school district responds:

But he insists race was not a factor. Any allegations of racial insensitivity or negligence are “wholly untrue,” O’Neill says, “because, well, because the district would not tolerate employment of a teacher that has racial animosity towards a student.”

How can O’Neill—who doesn’t even know if anyone has talked to the teacher or what is occurring in the investigation—be so certain about this one aspect? “Based on preliminary information I have, it is clear that the removal of the student, as inappropriate as it was, had to do with a health issue and not a racial issue,” he says. “To the extent of the health issues, what was said to the child, the circumstances, that is a matter that is still under investigation. Based on our preliminary investigation, it isn’t a result of racial animosity, as far as I understand.”

This struck me as very indicative of systematic white privilege.

The school district does not want to hire people who use the n-word, who are in the habit of committing hate crimes, who fly Confederate flags. They prefer to hire people who have plenty of black friends, who can quote MLK, who voted for Obama.

Racism is not just preventing a black child from entering a classroom. Its also about a white teacher who maybe feels a little less than comfortable when presented with just one child who is not “like her”, a child who is challenging not just because of her race and her hair and the olive-oil-based product she uses on it, but because she is bright, vocal, perceptive. From Mudede's article:
My daughter was aware of the racial nature of this expulsion not only because she was made to sit in a classroom that had more black students in it (the implication being that this is where she really belongs, in the lower class with the other black students), but because her teacher, she informed me, owns a dog. Meaning, a dog's hair gives the teacher less problems than my daughter's human but curly hair.
At some point, assertive black girls go from being read as sassy but unthreatening to an angry black woman. And maybe this teacher placed her student in the latter category.

The teacher probably did not think “this child is black, I don’t like black people.”

But the child was not considered. The child was not the one being protected. Instead, this white person exercised her privilege as an adult and a white person to disrupt this child’s day because she was suddenly, very suddenly, very very suddenly, sick.*

Why didn’t the teacher eject herself from the classroom, if she was the one getting sick? Why single out a little girl who is probably already othered in her environment? [note: those are a couple of good comments, but the rest of the comment section can get pretty bad]

And then the school district coasted on that privilege, allowing a little girl to go without education, or offering insufficient education, while they tended to other things.

This child’s concerns and being were de-prioritized for a white teacher, for a school system. This incident constitutes just one example of the systematic white privilege that white folks (like me) benefit from at the expense of people of color.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mental disability and mental health are not mutually exclusive

Image: A head with a face and brain visible, mapped into different sections labeled in German. The 1894 print represents phrenological mapping of the brain. From Wikipedia.

Right now, I have a mental disability that affects my day to day functioning, my minute to minute existence. I have to make considerations for myself, these parts of me that aren’t going away. I spend, on average, probably an accumulated hour a day righting myself from OCD attacks. It takes a little chunk of time to calm my pulse, to tweeze a hair from my chin, to quit procrastinating. This is an hour I could spend doing other things, as much time in a week as I spend at one of my jobs. Little by little, it’s not too bad, but it adds up and adds some extra challenge to life. My mental disabilities are active, and they are disabling.

Because I have OCD, I often have to counter little attacks of anxiety when I check my email, refresh my dashboard, or look at comments on my Bitch posts. Because I have OCD, I have to ward off dozens of intrusive thoughts throughout my day – horrible images that I’m not going to recount that try to disable my functioning, that I am only able to combat after years and years of practice. Because I have OCD, I have to check and recheck certain things – I just took 15 minutes to walk down to my car and make sure the doors were locked and the emergency brake was on. Because I have mild ADD, I have to constantly clear out my tabs in Firefox so I can get back to work. Because I have trichotillomania, I am constantly feeling my skin for hairs I want to pluck, constantly wondering where my tweezers are.

Despite all these symptoms, this is also the healthiest I’ve been mentally in quite some time. I feel good about myself and my life and my mind. I am confident. I think I am worthy of the positive attention I get, enough so that I feel ready to examine the negative attention I get and try to alter my behavior in consideration of this. I like the way I look and the way my body works. When I wake up in the morning, I feel good, and happy to be alive. ETA: These are all indications of my privilege, too.

I am writing more than I think I’ve ever written in my life. The words do not always come easily, but they are always there. Writing is what I want to make my bread and butter. I’ve always felt it to be a realistic goal, but for the first time, it doesn’t feel distant – it feels palpable, and I know it will happen. I am confident in myself. I like myself. I feel like I can, even if it’s not today.

At the outset of my most recent major OCD experience, I got very ambitious. My thinking was that I didn’t have time to be put out of my life by disability, so the disability had to be eliminated. From one perspective, I think this ambitious, goal-oriented approach help me empower myself when I felt cowed by my thoughts. (eta: again, thanks privilege!) But as happens so often with empowerment, I used the master's tools to get to it. This desire was also indicative of my internalized ableism. I thought that disability and happiness were completely incompatible, and so the only option for my disability was destruction.

My OCD is not curable, but its presence does not negate my happiness. Though, I will not always be this – happy. I haven’t always been. Sometimes it’s because of disability, sometimes it is not. But disability right now is not erasing or silencing my health. It’s there alongside my health, challenging it, making it stronger, preparing my health to survive and work through and with my disabilities.

Further reading:
Stop and think: invisible access for invisible disabilities
Disability and birth control: parts one, two, and three
OCD, Language, & My Place on the Disability Spectrum: One and Two
‘Normal’ and the Dominant Narrative
I can’t count on anybody to understand. (Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010)
Trichotillomania: cures, shame, localization, management
The Pain is real even though you can’t see it

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Eloise Fucking Hawking

Trigger warning for all kinds of cusses.

Of all the things that the Lost finale did not wrap up, I am most fucking pissed about Eloise Hawking. I love Eloise Hawking.

Image description: A completely badass older white woman, Eloise Hawking, with fierce white hair tells some likely-time-traveling douchebag what the fuck is up

That lady knew what the fuck was going on at all times, and on a show that basically can't write women well and where mothers in particular are evil and crazy, that was pretty fucking refreshing. She embodied mysterious sci-fi Lost at its best. Eloise is symbolic of the lost (HAHA I AM SO GOOD AT PUNS) promise of the sci-fi-free sixth season. She was the only one who understood fucking everything. Whatever happened, she basically reacted with "CALLED IT!"
That lady knew what the fuck was going on at all times, and on a show that basically can't write women well and where mothers in particular are evil and crazy, that was pretty fucking refreshing. She embodied mysterious sci-fi Lost at its best. Eloise is symbolic of the lost (HAHA I AM SO GOOD AT PUNS) promise of the sci-fi-free sixth season. She was the only one who understood fucking everything. Whatever happened, she basically reacted with "CALLED IT!"

Continue reading at Critical Drinking
, where I've also posted about Vincent.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Long time no see

Image: Two black and white kittens sit in the crook of a person wearing a dark blue shirt and a light blue skirt. One kitten paws and looks at the person's torso, while the other meows at the camera. There are more kitten pictures described in less detail here, just saying.

Hey there readers! Thanks for reading. Sorry I've been a bit MIA lately. I took some time off this weekend to relax and get some quality family time in.

If you just can't get enough of my writing, here are some other places to find me:

Bitch Magazine:
Critical Drinking:
In the month of May, there were a lot of major stories that I was following but did not feel compelled to write about because of the already extensive, excellent coverage. So, I'm going to direct you to read about them in the following locales:

Arizona's racist immigration law:
Aiyana Stanley-Jones tragedy:
Elena Kagen:

BP Oil Spill:
Jailed couple in Malawi:
In the coming week, you can expect to see content on disability and Questionable Content, the place of first and second person in blogging, and hopefully a little something I'm working up about Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift.
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