I’ve been reading the news recently and those familiar with the current news cycle will no doubt have heard something about the Zimmerman trial in all of its glory and shame. I don’t think my reaction to the trial has been standard so I’d record it publicly. The racism, honestly, is not shocking to me anymore; every time a black person is killed, people show up to jeer and make vague assertions in favor of lynching. What is more shocking is how messed up Florida’s laws apparently are. Let’s just assume for a second that Zimmerman is telling the truth. According to his side of the story he disobeyed police orders to follow a 17-year-old kid home. When the kid turned around and attacked him he freaked out and shot. I’m not entirely sure what the finer details of the situation were (no one is), but if I were being stalked through my neighborhood by a man with a gun, I would consider attacking him too. Secretly following people to their houses generally isn’t something people do lawfully in other parts of the country. Zimmerman may or may not be a bad/racist person, but the real problem seems to be with the Florida legal system.
My partner showed me a post called Steelmanning PIV-Critical Feminism by Ozy Frantz. It basically argues that PIV sex can be complicated for women and we should communicate more. As a whole I liked it, especially the conclusion, ”…people who don’t like PIV shouldn’t have to have it, and people who do should.” Sadly, a lot of people don’t get that. However, there was one part of the article that gave me pause:
PIV is more likely to be painful for women than for men. There is no male equivalent of having your cervix bumped, or a too-large cock stretching your pussy out too far, or sex without lube, or being painfully jackhammered, or post-PIV vaginal soreness.
“PIV is more likely to be painful for women than for men.”
I’ve never been both a woman and a man, so I don’t know if this is true or not, but I’ll say this: PIV can be very painful for men and our culture does not allow us to speak up about this any more than it does for women. There are all kinds of possible complications. If the woman is having sex without lube, so is the man and that is often not comfortable for him either. As for tightness and jackhammering and soreness and all that, these are all considerations for both genders, especially when women are on top. In fact if sex is done wrong when the woman is on top it can easily lead to some pretty serious medical emergencies.
The point here is not to imply that these are not real problems or that we should all just suffer together like morons. I agree with Ozy that PIV sex can be and often is problematic, but I’ve become very tired of hearing arguments based an assumption about what the “other” group thinks and feels. Men don’t feel one certain way about sex any more than women do and the way that real, breathing, actual men (the ones who are not selling underwear or deodorant on TV) feel about PIV is not responsible for the awful culture surrounding it. The problem with the anti-PIV argument is not that it is filled with stupid equations; it is that it assumes men feel one way about PIV and women feel some other way and that this is irreconcilable.
A lot of feminism is about breaking down assumptions about how other people feel or think. We love to hate all of the articles in Cosmo about how men really feel or about how women would be happiest, but the biggest place where feminism gets into hot water is where we make arguments that assume exactly this kind of thing. Telling women that PIV might be so much worse for them, but their partners will expect it because it is just so great for men isn’t any better than the kind of generalization we see in Cosmo (okay maybe a bit better). The truth is that men feel all kinds of ways about PIV sex: some of them are not positive and none of them universal. We don’t need the gendered part of this argument to come to the right conclusions. Some men want PIV sex and some women don’t. People need to respect each other’s needs and if your partner doesn’t they need to fix that or you need to leave. Making more assumptions about what men and women want is not going to solve the problem it will just generate more stereotypes and misunderstandings.
So, Captain Awkward had a little tiff recently on her advice column blog about question #477
Edit: and followed up with an apology.
for those of you who do not click links, here is how it went down.
Letter Writer #477 wrote in asking the number one question that pisses off feminist bloggers. It always takes the form:
“I am just learning about feminism and have encountered Schrodinger’s Rapist/my own privilege. I have social anxiety and don’t know how to overcome the combination of guilt and anxiety. I can’t stop thinking about the traumatic effect my actions could have on women and it is making me weird and screwing up my social life. How can I feel less bad about all of this?”
Captain Awkward basically responded: “Tough shit. You should be worrying about these things and feminists aren’t here to make you feel better about your privilege or give you a cookie for passing feminism 101.”
Technically, I agree with the Captain. No one is obligated to hold the letter writer’s hand. Women are not here to assuage men’s anxiety and no one is obligated to deal with someone else’s insecurities or to be there to hold someone’s hand through feminism 101. On the other hand, obligation and willingness are two different things. There are plenty of MRA communities and hate groups that are perfectly willing to reach out and tell insecure people anything they want to hear. If feminists want to be acknowledged, they must reach out as well, just not as dishonestly. People will not just drop by our blogs with automatically attentive and open minds. If they were already like that we wouldn’t need feminism.
As it is, most of the good intellectual work that feminists do happens in safe spaces for women and the resources outside of those spaces are pretty scarce. If no one in the feminist community is willing to reach out those people on the fence, then where are those people going to go? The alternative philosophies to feminism are generally not pretty. The middle-ground ‘safe spaces for men’ tend to range from questionable to very questionable and the internet male-spaces are even worse.
I hate to sound like a bad 1950s public service announcement, but the real question is, ‘where do you want your loved ones learning about feminism?’ If you consider yourself a feminist, then you are it. There is no anti-bias cavalry on the way or a giant library of true knowledge where people can look up their privilege. The only people who will ever understand the importance of feminism are the ones you actively reach out to.
Two years ago, I thought everyone knew how to play chess. My dad taught me how the pieces moved and how to formulate a strategy when I was a kid, and I never forgot. I assumed that this was a normal experience. Turns out, about half of people don’t know the rules to chess. Many fewer actually know how to actually play the game coherently. Here’s the thing, when I would ask someone if they knew how to play chess, they would invariably say yes. Huh? Well, I never really asked people, “do you know how to play chess?” or “are you any good at chess?” I would ask, “have you ever played chess,” (most people have known how to play chess at some point). I would then sometimes ask them to play a game and they wouldn’t be able to because they had no idea how to play chess.
I would guess that this phenomenon is pretty common. We all believe that people are somewhat like us, until someone proves us wrong. Those of you that have been following the feminist movement probably know what I am getting at already. Basically, abuse works the same way. You turn to someone and ask, “is it normal for your girlfriend shake your shoulders and scream until you feel sick?” and they say “well, I don’t think so, but there was this one girl I dated…” When you are a survivor people open up to you a lot and you end up with all of these stories that normalize your situation. ”Feminists don’t think all men are rapists. Rapists do,” has become a feminist rallying cry recently and it’s true, but I think a more useful statement might be “Feminists don’t think all men are rapists. Rapists and their victims do,” even if it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well.
From this year forward, whenever I feel unsure, I am going to turn to the person on my left and ask, “do you know anyone who as done that?” and then do the same to the person on my right. I’ll try to listen to the counter examples.
This post has been somewhat short and depressing. I’ll have something about pickup artists in the next week.
Whenever I talk to people about my blog, I often find that I need to explain myself shortly thereafter. If I just say, “I maintain a radical feminist blog on relationships and politics.” I get quite a few weird looks, like I just told people that I regularly contribute to Metapedia or something. Feminism isn’t necessarily an easy ideology to swallow and like most causes ever, feminism isn’t necessarily loved by everyone; but our ideology seems to have attracted a particularly persistent and vitriolic group of critics on the far right: people like Rush Limbaugh, Tom Tancredo and Todd Akin. The problem is that these people have been surprisingly effective at spreading their negative message given how stupid the things that they say are. Rush Limbaugh is a pretty ridiculous fellow, but somehow his portrayal of strong women as humorless Nazis has stuck. Fox news, and Bill O’Reilly in particular, has been pretty successful in putting the fear into people of some imaginary radical feminist movement, come to sweep away all of our values. We are often seen as humorless, angry, ungrateful and out of touch before we even voice our views.
Now, somehow, we need to take back our own name.
We have made pretty serious progress this year by exposing the insanity and hypocrisy of many of the rape apologists and “pro-life” advocates in the political scene and in congress, but now we need to offer alternatives. We need to talk about the positives. If Tosh.0 is out, what do feminists find funny? How can you be funny and feminist as a humorist? Todd Akin may be out of style, but what kind of political speeches do we like? There are definitely authors that have managed to be insightful and funny and edgy and feminist friendly in a big way, like Zach Weiner with his SMBC web comic and video series or the hilarious Oglaf[NSFW] pornographic web comic or Wanda Syke’s feminist stand-up comedy series. However, you don’t need to be actively feminist to satisfy the feminist criteria. Many comedians who never talk about feminism and never make any particular effort to be feminist (at least in a public way) are just as hilarious and awesome. John Mulaney has a style and repertoire that are very similar to Tosh.0′s, but he is seen as something of a feminist icon for his progressive attitude and his Subway Chase joke (below).
In fact, the number of distinct things that feminists hate is pretty small, some of them just happen to pop up a lot in our culture. All that is required to be okay is basically to let women make their own choices reproductively, financially and politically and to not speechify loudly and ignorantly about topics like ‘legitimate rape’ and ‘how women are different than men’. Even the self-proclaimed “not-feminist” Katy Perry can pass the smell test because you don’t have to be part of the club to be okay. That said, our club might want to advertise a little more.
I think Feministing – I link to them a lot – is pretty good at putting positive links next to activist call outs. Recently they brought up the positive feminist leanings of the late Aaron Swartz alongside their critique of the gaming community. It is time to start doing this in a bigger, and to some extent, a more individual way. When someone pushes and says, “Well, I would be a feminist, but I have a sense of humor, ha ha amiright?”, don’t just sit there and sputter; say, “Cool story! I’m a feminist and I like [pick something humorous and feminist].” This election season we pretty much beat the enemy into submission. Now it’s time to put down the stick and get out the carrot. There are a lot of confused people out there, stumbling out into the light, looking for a better answer to our problems than Richard “Rape is a Gift” Mourdock and Tosh “Hope someone rapes you” Point O could offer them.
So WordPress.com prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog, which is awesome.
There were some pretty cool highlights and some weird ones as well.
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.
It looks like those 5,300 views came from 107 countries. To be honest, I didn’t think that 107 people would read this blog when I started it. You can click the link under the picture to see full stats, but all in all, it’s been a great year. Here’s hoping for a great 2013.
So for those of you who haven’t had enough politics and armchair philosophizing this month. Here is my pre-election rant. Yeah!
Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.
I was in middle school when the September 11th attacks were carried out and my reaction was a little odd. I actually wasn’t surprised at all. I had lived in Colorado when the Columbine shooting happened and that did shock me, but after that, 9/11 just seemed like the same thing but on a larger scale. It seemed pretty obvious what had happened. Some guy, and his friends, in a far away country felt pushed around and ignored, so they lashed out. The weird thing to me about the way that other people reacted to the attacks, was that they would often talk about them as if they had some bearing on the goodness of humanity as a whole. Our teachers gave us an article to read that assured everyone that humans were still good. The argument it made was basically the one you hear after any such catastrophe: “Yeah, someone did bad things, but look at how many people also did good things that day (firefighters, victims, media, family, etc.) and besides humans don’t really kill each other that much relative to 500 years ago,” and they sort of make a laundry list of all the good things that happen to people and then stack it against this one tragedy and go, “See, it cancels out. We’re still the good guys,” as if we are afraid that there is someone out there watching us and keeping some kind of weird score where each incident gets some arbitrary point value and then it all gets tallied up in a context-free algorithm. I don’t think even the bible goes quite that far.
Of course, the middle-schoolers that were my classmates only cared marginally more than I did, but what we all saw clearly was that the adults were standing in front of us feeling humiliated. The teachers who gave us this article saw 9/11 as something that adults had done to the world and things wouldn’t get much better for them as our president promptly started two bloody, misguided wars over the next several months. The problem was that, caught in the questioning eyes of children, these teachers felt a pretty serious cognitive dissonance between what values that they held (and aspired to teach us) and the reality of what humans actually do to each other in the wide world. Somehow, all of these great principles that humans have been taught don’t seem to lead to the great, peaceful reality that one would hope. Even terrorists and George Bush would probably choose peace over war in an ideal situation.
The real problem that everyone faces in this life is that we don’t exist alone. Regardless of what individual choices we make we don’t really control our lives; and furthermore, what we do in groups matters more in the scope of human history than what we do individually. It takes a group of people to do this kind of thing:
and I’m not talking about just a group of terrorists. It takes a whole world political system with haves and have-nots and corruption and hate on a large scale to stir up this kind of violence. It takes the kind of society that will react with hysteria and more violence instead of sadness and humility in order to make it worthwhile to do something this screwed up. Whatever choices we make as individuals, our society does not really reflect our individual state of mind.
Ok, great – what does this mean for you? It means, stop acting on principle. It isn’t working for the most part and when it does, something or someone that doesn’t care about your principles will mess things up for you anyway. You must consider the actual consequences of an action before you decide it is a great idea. You can’t just vote for the Green Party and then complain when Romney strips away all of our environmental protections and reproductive rights. You can’t vote libertarian and then complain that poor people are starving. Your values won’t save lives, strategic thinking will.
Was hunting down Bin Laden justified? Sure, I am going to come out and say that the world did not need that person, but hunting down Bin Laden because it was “just”, was also wrong. Why was it wrong? Because it led to horrible things. 2,134 dead American Soldiers, 100,000 Iraqi Civilian Casualties and USD $4 Trillion later, Bin Laden and much of Al Qaeda is in fact dead – and almost no one is better for it.
We can’t fight every enemy, we can’t save every person. You can’t have two wars (for great justice!) and a great education system. With modern technology, you still can’t have a pro-life society and treat women and men equally. You can’t have universal healthcare and huge tax breaks for rich businessmen and ice cream for everyone. Ideally would we have all of these things? Sure, even the wars and great military power, trained and equipped to avoid killing civilians, would be great. These things would all be great if we could do them right, but that isn’t the way the world works. So, you are responsible for choosing what you value. You are responsible for making the connection between our sloppy wars and our lack of healthcare. You are responsible for escaping the delusion that you can just say yes to good things and no to bad things and somehow everything will work out for the best. Vote wisely.