Saturday, January 02, 2010

Saturday Music And Stuff

First, the perfect voice, Eva Cassidy:

Second, my angel dog Henrietta many years ago:

It's almost time for more dogs...

Third, what do you wear on a really cold day? That might depend on where you live and on how you define a really cold day. But I'd wear long underwear, two or three pairs of socks, several layers of clothing, a lined hat, gloves and mittens and possibly a balaclava, too. And boots. Not shoes.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Friday bird blogging (by Suzie)

Here's your new year's baby: The chick of an American oystercatcher, photographed by Peter.

Choosing a calendar (by Suzie)

For those of you who still don't have a 2010 calendar or want ideas for next year: I chose the We'Moon datebook, with Teresa Wild's “Firedancer” on the cover. The theme "Reinvent the Wheel" makes me think that it's not enough for the wheel to turn - for women to advance - we need a whole new wheel.

Last year, I had Pomegranate's "Women Who Dare" datebook, which is full of women's history. Pomegranate also offers a calendar with art by Georgia O'Keeffe, one with art by Susan Seddon Boulet and one with art of women reading. Syracuse Cultural Workers have a beautiful datebook of art by women, too.

Do you have any other suggestions?

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! (by Suzie)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Odd Rules. Or Echidne Playing A Cultural Anthropologist.

When Rush Limbaugh was taken to the hospital with chest pains some on the liberal/progressive side of the political aisle used the Twitter to express a wish for his speedy demise. The conservatives didn't like this at all. Neither did many liberals and progressives, to be exact. I read several comments on Eschaton urging others to remain polite and courteous.

I don't hope for Rush's death, myself. I hope that he repents, comes to the light and gives my blog lots of money to keep on operating. But it's still funny how we condemn unidentified people on the Twitter or in the commenting threads of blogs and not Rush himself. After all, his major shtick is to make fun of people who have died or the young daughter of a president or women or minorities in general. Cruelty, in short. But he himself should not suffer any backlash from that well-paid cruelty. Food for thought on this New Year's Eve.

The Book Wars

Remember the Publisher's Weekly list of Ten Best Books for 2009? How it included ten books written by ten guys? And the organizer's defense was wanting to pick the very best books, not be politically correct? This means, in proper English, that those damn chicks can't write.

Now we are in the next round of the fierce and bloody book wars: Can Chicks Write Or Not?

Juliana Baggot launches the first grenade today by telling us that to be a Good Writer you gotta be a Good Guy Writer. Or act like one:

In my grad school thesis, written at 23, you'll find young men coming of age, old men haunted by war, Oedipus complexes galore. If I'd learned nothing else, it was this: If you want to be a great writer, be a man. If you can't be a man, write like one.

No one told me this outright. But I was told to worship Chekhov, Cheever, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Carver, Marquez, O'Brien. . . . This was the dawn of political correctness. Women were listed as concessions. In the middle of my master's, a female writer took center stage with a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award -- E. Annie Proulx. Ah, there was a catch. She was writing about men and therefore like a man.

I ran out of things to say about men, however, and began my career writing about women. When I started as a poet, I was told -- many times -- not to write about motherhood because it would be perceived as weak. I didn't listen.

But when I invented the pen name N.E. Bode for "The Anybodies," a trilogy for younger readers, I had to choose to be a man or a woman. The old indoctrination kicked in. I picked man. The trilogy did well, shortlisted in a People magazine summer pick, alongside Bill Clinton and David Sedaris. I was finally one of the boys.


I often hear people exclaiming that they're astonished that a particular book was written by a man. They seem stunned by the notion that a man could write with emotional intelligence and honesty about our human frailties.

Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be experts on emotion. I've never heard anyone remark that they were surprised that a book of psychological depth was written by a woman.

So men get points for simply showing up on the page with a literary effort.

What's interesting, however, in the Publishers Weekly list is that the books are not only written by men but also have male themes, overwhelmingly. In fact, the list flashes like a slide show of the terrain I was trying to cover in my graduate thesis, when I wrote all things manly -- war, boyhood, adventure.

In short, she tells us that you have to write about boyhood, boys becoming men, fathers-and-sons and wars if you want to be taken seriously. You can't write about girlhood, girls becoming women, daughters-and-mothers or childbirth, because then you write chick-lit and get promoted with a pink cover depicting stiletto shoes or hearts.

The counter-attack came swiftly, by Lydia Netzer, who stabbed her sisters (and herself) in the back. She argues that women writers just aren't as relevant as men. Men write of overarching human themes. Women? Not so much. In particular, Netzer offers this reason for the absence of women on the Ten Best Books list:

3. The list is right. The things that women write about are neither culturally nor historically significant, and the books that women write are not the best books.

Baggott mentions the deification of Faulkner, Chekhov, Hemingway. I have to ask: In the last decade, what woman would you put up against these giants? Maybe there were moderns that could carry the torch -- Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, or others from the 20th century: Harper Lee, Willa Cather, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison. But now? Where is my Gertrude Stein? Who can stand up against Junot Diaz and Khaled Hosseini and Kazuo Ishiguro? Is it really supposed to be Alice McDermott?

The lesson of the list is that nobody's going to do us any favors. We're not going to get prizes just for showing up and writing our little books. Girl books are great; I like to read them and write them. But if we're writing girl books, we're not getting on "Best of" lists, and that is the reality. Do with it what you will.

To re-cap: Chicks can't write and what they write about is not relevant.

I'm sitting here reviewing the 37 Ways To Kill Someone Who Attacks You With A Knife. And then I wonder why writing a boy book WILL get you on those lists, why the Male Experience equals Human Experience and why a little book written by a man is never called a little book but a slender-but-powerful treatise of some shit or another. Which is all tremendously boring and unhelpful. Perhaps I should follow our Lydia into the hinterlands where the honorary guys live. We could work out together on our weapons control moves and compare our boyhood memories. And scratch our balls while tossing down a few beers.

Or I could just remain me and point out a few problems with our Lydia's thesis: Most research suggests that girls are either better writers than boys or equally good writers. Girls excel in writing in tests; the evo-psychos (the biased and twisted branch of the tree of evolutionary psychology) always tell us that the one thing chicks are good at is word-wielding. And controlled studies suggest that readers have an anti-woman bias:

Playwright Julia Jordan pointed me toward a recent study about perceptions of male and female playwrights that showed that plays with female protagonists were the most devalued in blind readings. "The exact same play that had a female protagonist was rated far higher when the readers thought it had a male author," Jordan said. "In fact, one of the questions on the blind survey was about the characters 'likability,'and the exact same female character, same lines, same pagination, when written by a man was exceeding likable, when written by a woman was deemed extremely unlikable."

That puts a wrench in Lydia's wheel of arguments. Because in a study like that the contents remain exactly the same, only the presumed gender of the writer is changed. But that change is enough to affect the reader evaluations. Which means, dear Lydia, that it's sex discrimination we see here, not some objective difference in the quality of the writing.

Here's my little pink theory: We still live in a society where men are the default form of human beings, and that affects everything. We still live in a society where ignoring women is much safer than ignoring men, and that affects everything. We still live in a society where "taste" and "objective quality of writing" are based on predominantly male norms and we fail to notice how that, too, affects everything.

This is why it is not only the men who rank male writers higher or mention them more often as the ones they admire. Women also do this though somewhat less often. After all, doing exactly that seems like neutrality, objectivity, being in the brotherhood of real writers and readers, because that's how the society works. Someone listing Ten Favorite Books All By Men is not viewed as necessarily biased, but someone constructing a similar list with all female writers would certainly be suspected of -- gasp! -- feminism. And we all know that's a Special Interest ideology.

Gah. I wanted to be cheerful today. For more on this topic, read what people have done with Twitter and how women don't have as many followers as men.

In The Rear View Mirror

One is supposed to write "a year in review" post before the year is over. I have serious problems with that, because as with rear view mirrors, the objects you see are closer than they appear. They are also fuzzy and amorphous. It's like trying to look at your heels while standing, to see the last mile of walking you have done: difficult and pointless.

Except for discussing who-did-what, of course, or the major accidents or deaths or changes in laws. I could do that. I could write about the good things for women this last year, because there were a few: The repeal of the Global Gag Rule, the Lily Ledbetter Act. But what I'd really want to have is access to data on all women on this earth and to the analyses which tell what has gotten better for them, as a class or a subclass in their culture, and what has gotten worse. Ultimately, the interesting question to me is whether the lot of women is slowly improving or not, and that's not something I can answer by looking at my heels.

So right now my rear view mirror glance just tells me that nobody is careening towards me there in a SUV out of control. And that's enough, for the time being. The driving will continue just as the struggle will continue.

My love to all of you who drive with me.

Come Again?

Women made up almost half of those honored in the U.K. New Year's Honour's list, the British Telegraph tells us. Which is nice, of course, given that the percentage of women used to be pretty dismal. But here's the odd thing about the piece:

Women now make up almost half of those honoured in today's New Year's Honours list following a Whitehall push to make the awards more representative.

More than 45 per cent of those honoured today are women, compared to 39 per cent last year and less than thirty per cent in the 1990s. The increase has led to an additional 63 women being honoured in this year's list.

If the current trend continues, women will make up the bulk of the list by the time of the 2011 New Year's Honours List.

How could women make up the bulk of the list in only two more years if the push to include more women was based on the desire to make the list more representative? Makes no sense at all, unless almost all British people are women.

That last paragraph is also a good example of the common error of extrapolating from an increasing trend by simply assuming that it will continue in the same direction until it reaches the maximum value possible.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Today's Fluffy Post. On Fast-Foody Books

These are books one reads quickly, once and for fun. Here's my list of complaints about fantasy and detective novels:

1. Enough with the vampires. ENOUGH! I don't want to read the blurb on yet another Vampire Hunter or Vampire Fucker story. Indeed, enough with all those stories which take some mythical creature, explicitly created as ALIEN to humans, and then turns and twists it into just another kind of human or elevates one single human to be part of those aliens.

2. Enough with the quasi-feminist fantasies or science-fiction books where the heroine of the story is the only woman, pretty much, in a world inhabited by men, and where she never faces any sexism whatsoever but gets completely accepted as the Leader Of Men while at the same time being taken care of by that hunky lover-guy.

3. Enough with recipes in detective stories. No more talking dogs, cats or hedgehogs who solve crimes unless you can write really, really well.

Soooo curmudgeony. But if I can't complain on my own blog, where can I complain?

To demonstrate my carefully balanced objectivity, I'd like to point out that Laurell K. Hamilton's short story "Can He Bake A Cherry Pie" in the collection Never After is most excellent. It retains the simple fairy tale format, with layers of symbolism, and yet it manages to surprise the reader* in several places. It's feminist, natch, and also very funny and good brain food.
*Well, me. But writing "the reader" sounds more objective and turns my opinion into something fact-like.

Napolitano Too Neutral!

According to Raw Story:

In the wake of the attempted bombing of a plane bound for Detroit, Rep. Peter King (NY-R) criticized Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for appearing "bored."

"Finally, Janet Napolitano comes out and the first thing she said was everything worked well. And she seemed almost like she was bored to be there. There was no intensity. There was no show of emotion," he said.

Two things going on at the same time:

First, Democrats Are Always Wrong. Thus, they are not intense enough or too intense. Everything can be turned into criticism in politics, though not all attempts to do this work.

Second, Women Are Always Wrong. Usually women are too emotional, not to be trusted. If they fail to fall into that trap, they are too bored, without intensity, no emotion. Another Catch-22.

I care a lot more about what the actions of the administration are than the expressions pasted on their faces. Now, Napolitano's actual comment is worth questioning though then her clarification should also be discussed.

Bad boys and snakes (by Suzie)

Charlie Sheen was charged with assault, menacing and criminal mischief after his wife told police the actor pinned her on a bed, put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her in a Christmas Day fight that began when she said she wanted a divorce."

I bet these charges disappear, as often happens when it's a woman's word against a rich, powerful man. In the past, Sheen's previous wife said he tried to kill her, a woman he dated ended up shot, and he plead no contest to a charge of battery against another woman. Jo Piazza, for CNN, says:
While any claims of violence against women, whether real or alleged, can be career ending for a celebrity, Sheen seems to be a special case. This is not the first time he has been at the center of a domestic violence scandal, and the stories don't seem to harm his reputation.
Piazza goes on to say that the accusations bolster his "bad-boy" reputation, and this reputation helps him get roles as rogues. In fact, some have bestowed "bad boy" on him as a title, calling him "Bad boy Charlie Sheen."

Women can be seen as "bad girls" for drinking, drugging, partying and being promiscuous -- something that young, single men are expected to do. To be a bad boy, men usually have to display violence, against women or other property. Our society seems to tolerate aging bad boys much better than their female counterparts.

In contrast to Sheen, Piazza says, Tiger Woods' affairs destroyed his image as a clean-cut family man. (Other thoughts are here.) Sheen is more akin to Roman Polanski and Mike Tyson. In both cases, supporters said the victims should have known not to spend time alone with the men if they didn't want sex. I assume people will say that any woman interested in Sheen should know what to expect. It's like the song by Al Wilson above. (Most of the lyrics are correct, but I think he's referring to "couverture," not "curvature.")

So, how many male celebrities have lost their careers after women accused them of violence? Not Polanski or Tyson. Not Evel Knievel or Tracy Lawrence or Harry Morgan or David Hasselhoff or Sean Penn or Tommy Lee or OJ (before the murder). Not Chris Brown or James Brown or Jackson Browne.

Let's look at that last case. Browne denied hitting Daryl Hannah, she didn't press charges, and much later, she retracted her accusation (although I can't find a good source on the retraction). The Santa Monica police issued a statement that no assault had occurred.

As a fan of Browne's early music, I've wished for a definitive account of what happened. I know that victims often fail to press charges or recant. I know police are not infallible.

Browne wouldn't say how she got a black eye and bruises. He just painted her as crazy. Joni Mitchell, a former lover, supported Hannah, who had met Browne as a teenager. According to Sheila Weller, Mitchell later attempted suicide after Browne hit her and left her for a woman who would later succeed at suicide. After Hannah's accusations, Mitchell wrote "Not to Blame," a scathing song about batterers that Browne thought was about him. He called Mitchell "disturbed." No one says he got what he deserved for hooking up with all these disturbed women.

Let's return to the Piazza piece, which posits "real" vs. "alleged" violence against women. I guess "alleged" means the writer thinks the crazy or drunk or gold-digging woman lied.
Edited to correct a mistake and for clarity.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Generational Feminist Wars Revisited. Or: Whose Movement Is It, Anyway?

Seems like a stupid idea to pick on the scabs of old feminist wounds, but Anne Kornblut decided to do just that in the Washington Post, probably because anything likely to cause a quarrel will raise readership figures. Cynical, cynical Echidne.

Here's Kornblut on why younger feminists didn't flock behind Hillary Clinton in the primaries:

As the primaries played on that spring, the same scene played out in living rooms from coast to coast. Mothers and grandmothers who saw themselves in Clinton and formed the core of her support faced a confounding phenomenon: Their daughters did not much care whether a woman won or lost. There was nothing, in their view, all that special about electing a woman -- particularly this woman -- president. Not when the milestone of electing an African American president was at hand.

Jessica Valenti responded to Kornblut:

What's truly unbelievable is how Kornblut expresses the disappointment and betrayal of older women by disappointing and betraying young women. Diminishing our political beliefs as nothing more than ignorance and hero-worship is not only false, it's offensive. Like women who voted for Clinton, women who voted for Obama had their own nuanced, thought-out, intellectual, political reasons to do so.

The feminist movement's existence and future is dependent on young people. Instead of insulting their intelligence and belittling their politics, let's tell the truth about their passion, knowledge, and adeptness. Because I can't imagine that a generation of young women is going to want to stay (or become) part of a group that consistently describes them as stupid.

Now we can all have at it. Sigh.

The only reason I write about this is Jessica's last sentence, about people not wanting to join a group which describes them as stupid. I'm not saying that this might not accurately describe reality, but if young women indeed stayed out of the feminist movement for this reason it would be pretty suicidal. Feminism is not about the personalities of the leaders of the movement. It's not even about the feminist waves or the generational wars or any of that. It's about the treatment of women in various cultures on this planet.

I think that is important to remember.

Baby Men And Women

A good topic right before the New Year which is often depicted as a baby. I saw several real babies over the holidays. You can tell which ones are girl babies because their almost-bald heads have a pink bow (most likely glued down). The boy babies have a baseball cap on top of their bald heads.

The girl babies wear pink and their tops are embroidered with flowers or cuddly animals, the boy babies wear dark blue and gray and their tops have cars or soccer balls or airplanes.

All this is to allow other adults to sex the baby correctly. Of course you could switch the dressing rules and have your boy baby wear a frilly pink jacket. Then the sky would fall. But only when it's a boy dressed as a girl, not the other way round.

My alien friend from outer space would have a hard time understanding why we need to sex babies so bad that everything (pretty much everything) they wear is gender-color-and-pattern-coded. That friend might also wonder why the bedrooms for a girl baby and boy baby must look so exaggeratingly sex-stereotyped. Would the sky really fall if a boy baby had to sleep in a room with a few pink objects? Are pictures of footballs truly a necessary part of the male-baby-experience? Are frills as important for a female-baby-experience as mother's milk?

None of this probably matters to the babies themselves. They are too young to take the hints they are given, though that will change in a very short time. It's us adults that somehow need this strict girl/boy distinction.

Contrast these customs with the essentialist argument that we are unavoidably born as aggressive and active males or passive and coy females. If this were truly the case, why would anyone put so much effort into expressing the obvious? And why would pink be the prehistorically determined color for girls?

It makes no sense to me.

If all this sounds grouchy, well, it is. I thought this particular topic would sound as quaint by now as discussing the short trousers of Victorian boys.
Note: This post is not intended to criticize parents but the culture we live in.

Monday, December 28, 2009

And There Ya Go! A Cootie Award!


"I don't honestly know what this president believes. But I believe if he doesn't figure it out soon,
he's going to set back the Democratic Party and the progressive movement by decades. What we're
seeing is weakness, waffling, and wandering through the wilderness without an ideological compass."
-- Drew Weston,

That may be but you have to admit - he's being nice and polite.

Do you get the feeling the Democrats fight like girls while the Rethugs fight like soldiers?

Emphasis is mine. I didn't find a permalink on the site, sorry.

Of course "girls" and "soldiers" are two mutually exclusive groups, because there are no women in the U.S. military, say. And of course women's fighting is viewed as laughable. Cat-fights and stuff, where the meaning appears to be that no real damage is caused.

Only someone who has never witnessed a real cat-fight would say that, by the way. Ears tend to run short after one of those and a spectator cannot actually follow individual cats in the fight; only the dust clouds they cause while flitting across the horizon like superzonic bees though always in a knot.

But that's not why I give Bartcop the cootie award. It's because the post is written for men as the audience and because girls are used as the whipping-boys to make Republicans look bad. At least Republicans are not girls!

Mood: Grouchy?

The base of the Democratic Party is not happy. I'm pretty sure about that. I'm less certain about the precise reasons for the unhappiness. Some seem to have believed that Obama was not the slightly-right-of-center politician he really is, and those people may feel deceived, especially if they worked very hard to get him elected. The "Change I Can Believe In" crowd.

Others are angry because of the slowness of any real change, the spineless Democrats in the Congress and the way this super-majority is frittered away while the truly scary authoritarian alternative waits and lurks in the shadows. Yet others are angry because Obama hasn't canceled Bush's penis-length competitions abroad.

But most, I think, are really angry because the Democratic Party on the whole is ignoring its base, believing that some gentle toe-licking of the evangelical fundamentalists and various types of "Independents" (to be read as people not following politics) is going to keep them in power. Why waste ammunition on behalf of the Dirty Fucking Hippies who, after all, have nowhere else to go?

That it is the base of the party which does the canvassing and the brute work near the elections appears to go unnoticed. Who knows, I may be too stupid to understand these elaborate political games, and in any case Obama will probably be re-elected if the employment situation improves and not if it does not, never mind that the mess is Bush's fault.

What about the Democrats who are feminists? I don't want to revisit the horrible debates of the Democratic primaries, but I do think that feminists, just like all women, should learn that they will be given nothing they don't fight for. You won't get attention by silently waiting for your turn, because that turn is after all the screeching wheels have been oiled. Really.

Silly Stuff

Serena Williams was voted The Female Athlete Of The Year by members of The Associated Press. A mare was voted second. Though I must admit that Zenyatta indeed is a super athlete, and I'd love to have sisterhood across the species.

My Google news page gave me this fascinating headline:

Dayton clinic to re-vaccinate frozen H1N1 vaccine recipients

I got images of the slow process of de-thawing them first, but sadly the actual headline didn't preserve the joke.

So that wasn't very funny? I'm just revving up my engines for the day.

The Iran Unrest And Women

The press embargo makes following events in Iran hard, and that makes it harder, in turn, to know what it is exactly that different people are protesting. I'm sure there are general themes in the protest movement, having to do with the oppressive policies of the government. But I'd like to know whether the protesters share, say, feminist ideals or not. Or in other words, are the women risking their lives on those streets going to get anything at all if their side wins?

Brave people. Brave women and men.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Fully Wired Dark Age by Anthony McCarthy

I wrote a piece about the craving and need to be an adult a year ago. Now I'm wondering if there isn’t a concerted effort to prevent that happening.

Watching several young teenagers, my nieces, nephews and their friends and their use of online media I’m horrified at what it’s leading to. The sales pitch of lap tops in the schools, of online access was that it was supposed to provide children (and adults) with a hugely expanded source of important information. What I’m seeing is that it is the worst of TV raised to a staggering power.

My nieces’ grades have fallen drastically, their attitudes and behaviors have turned bad in ways that my older, pre-plugged in, relatives of that generation never did. I don’t care if it marks me as a geezer Luddite to say it, if giving them an Iphone and lap top with wi-fi is leading to a violent, materialistic, technological dark age, it should be stopped. The alternative is going to be horrific and very quickly.

My sister-in law and brother have disabled their home wi-fi, luckily they live far enough from other people for their daughters to access it unsupervised at home. At school they have no power over it and apparently the school will not take responsibility.

I think this is going to become an unavoidable and tremendously difficult problem within the next year or two. People who have read me know I’ve become very skeptical about the wisdom of press freedom divorced from the responsibility to democratic society. This puts me at odds with free speech absolutists, so be it. The results of the absolute freedom to entice, seduce, lie, steal, use and profit are going to prove to incompatible with democracy, they are going to prove incompatible with civil society. The truth will not be able to compete with intentionally entertaining lies and fluff. A world inhabited by entertainment addled adolescents will never grow up. That is what we are on the verge of living with, a plugged in dark age.

Nothing would give me more pleasure than to be wrong about this. What do you think?