Saturday, February 18, 2012

Elizabeth Cotten

From Wikipedia:
A self-taught left-handed guitarist, Cotten developed her own original style. Her approach involved using a right-handed guitar (usually in standard tuning), not re-strung for left-handed playing, essentially, holding a right-handed guitar upside down. This position required her to play the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb. Her signature alternating bass style has become known as "Cotten picking".

Chicks Can't Play. On the Stereotype Threat in Popular Music.

The background to this post: I have read evo-psychos telling us that the reason most rock, blues and pop musicians are men is because evolution made men compete with each other for female attention, whereas women needed never to compete at all! Never, in all evolution!

This is supposed to be the reason why women don't have much interest in becoming musicians. The world, naturally, doesn't set any extra obstacles in the way of women who want to play the guitar professionally! Of course not. It's the inherited stone-age memes in our brains which make female guitarists, say, rarer than hen's teeth.

Well, not quite. But pretty rare. To highlight those societal differences, let me take you on a tour of YouTube videos of women playing contemporary music. Here's Orianthi:

The second comment when I accessed the song:
she is not that good, she plays equal to an average male guitarist. she is famous because she has boobs. jennifer batten rocks that bitch.
Though most recent comments on that piece are positive, it's hard for me to think of a situation where we would say something similar about a man by comparing his skills to the skills of an average woman.

To continue, here's a video of Ana Popovic playing the guitar. Her outfit is not what a male guitarist would wear and it might matter, given the comments she receives:

Some comments from the first few pages, picked to demonstrate my point:
very bad and boring , no groove, no dynamik but good legs, she should play in bikini, lol
So boring...Women and blues guitar...
this chick is just for looks no real show no real talent and CHICKS CANT PLAY!
playing guitar its not a job for the girls specially with big boobs and busty ass...fucking shit....this lady is destroying the flavor of playing guitar.

what n accident...(:
but shes not bad.... for a womn"
I grant you that YouTube comments are the proverbial slime pond. Whatever crawls there is not sightly. Still, the frequency of these kinds of comments attached to videos of women in music or in sports tells me that their sentiments are not completely unshared in the wider world.

Those evo-psycho theories pretend that none of this ever happens, that women aren't perhaps told to show some leg or some tit to be acceptable to those parts of the audience who would otherwise refuse to pay attention to a female musician.

Likewise, if a young musician gets torpedoed with these kinds of assessments of her talents, it will require greater determination to continue than if the assessments acknowledge the fact that she is still young and developing.

For note that the criticisms are really saying that nobody born female can ever learn to play really well. No amount of practice helps! So pack it in already. Note also that a young girl watching those videos would get a very negative message about her own talents.

What I'm talking here is naturally the stereotype threat. If women get told, often enough, that "women" just can't do some particular thing then after a while that little whine has been installed inside your head and gets turned on whenever you do attempt a particular task. The evo-psycho argument ignores this altogether, just as it ignores the much more concrete barriers women in the past had to contend with.

But I think all this is slowly changing. I hope so, at least. This video of Tal Wilkenfeld playing Table for One didn't net me any nasty comments for the first few pages:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Back to the 1950s? But the Republican Party Never Left It.

You must have heard about Foster Freiss now. He's one of the Rich Boyz bankrolling Santorum in the presidential race. He's also firmly stuck in the 1950s locker-room mentality, making this statement concerning the recent contraceptive battle in the war against us wimminfolk:
“This contraception thing, my gosh, it's so inexpensive,” Freiss told host Andrea Mitchell. “You know, back in my days, they'd use Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly.”
My translation:
Don't spread your legs if you don't want to get pregnant, gals, and stop whining. Who cares about these trivial issues anyway.

This man lives in a bubble stinking of expensive after-shave.

Add the above to the now-famous Issa contraception hearings where 80% of those allowed to participate were men and 100% were opposed to insurance coverage for contraceptives, and then these musings on how even the conservative women fail to satisfy the stuffy gender expectations of the conservatives (choose between "frumpy" and "a two-bit whore"), and in a sane universe the Republican Party might get worried about its appeal among women.

But we don't live in a sane universe.

What does and does not heal (by Suzie)

I still remember the cold tile against my face, as I lay crying on the restroom floor. I had gone there to cry hard, force all the tears out, so that I could return to my desk and write about the killing of Todd Smith.

In November 1989, Todd and I sat next to each other at the Tampa Tribune. I had gone to Europe with my boyfriend, while Todd took a different vacation. Because he wanted to be a foreign correspondent, he went at his own expense to Peru to report on drug trafficking and terrorists.

I returned to work to find Todd missing. We learned that he had been tortured and garroted, his body left in the sun with a sign to warn U.S. agents. He wasn’t one. He just looked the part, and he asked questions. He was a tall, athletic 28-year-old blond, an Aryan poster child, as I used to joke, who must have stood out in Uchiza in the Upper Huallaga Valley.

The new boss didn’t seem to think much of me, and I got a lesser assignment, on the Shining Path, as I recall. I went to cry in the restroom by the back shop, where his story would glide out in long strips of paper to be hot-waxed onto 1A. Few women worked in the back shop, making the nearby women’s restroom a good place for privacy.

I had to cover cops that Thanksgiving week, and I was sent to the public hospital to find a family whose child was injured or dying. They angrily told me to get out of the waiting room. I wanted to fall into their arms, tell them that I was grieving, too.

I’ve come to despise the myth of objectivity in journalism – the idea that reporters and editors can lay aside feelings, beliefs and experiences. We can return to our desks, we can do our job, but we can’t stop being who we are.

This all came back to me
at a concert Tuesday night, when Sam Baker performed “Broken Fingers.” He explained to the man who requested the song that it was his job to play it. His job to perform, perhaps. His job to remember, definitely.

He almost died in 1986, when the Shining Path blew up a tourist train in Cuzco. Among others, the explosion killed the German couple across from him, and their son at his side. Shrapnel severed Baker's left femoral artery. He had cranial bleeding, gangrene and renal failure. He lost his hearing in one ear, and most in the other. His left hand was mangled. He got brain damage and tinnitus, and he's undergone many surgeries.
Forget his eyes, his silhouette?
Of course I don't, of course I don't forget
There are blue eyes, a silhouette
There is a debt, it's a debt I don't forget

These broken fingers, some things don't heal
I can't wake up from a dream, when the dream is real
In the video, watch how he talks while preparing to play in a workmanlike way, as if people were killed every day, as if they were killed every day.

Smart and ambitious, Todd was a Southern gentleman, but not a good ol' boy. He had a dry wit, and his desire to do good had not been dulled by covering county government. He had begun a secret romance with a county commissioner's daughter, and we mused on the nature of love. We had favorite poems by W.H. Auden; mine was “Musee des Beaux Arts.”
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along
That was before my own suffering from sarcoma and my messed-up body.
Baker's experience is worse than mine, so far. Still, I know what it's like to survive while others die.

I went to the concert to hear the wonderful Audrey Auld. I knew nothing about Baker, but I got to the place early, while people were still milling about. He's friendly and cheerful, with intense eyes. When my eyes met his, I couldn't turn away. It was as if we shared some secret, some secret I didn't yet know.

I know what he means when he calls this a pretty world. In exhaustion, I have lain on park benches, on the sidewalk, in the hospital, watching the world. Blue skies and storms have filled me with joy. And I understand the work of it all, how you have to make your way to your only window, dragging a web of IV tubing, to pull up the blinds.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Those Who Oppose Insurance Coverage For Contraception

Look like the people in the front rows of this picture:

The picture is from the Issa hearings:
This morning, the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding a hearing on President Obama's policy ensuring that all women can get contraceptive coverage without a copay.
The hearing will feature 10 witnesses--eight of whom are men; none of them is testifying in support of contraceptive coverage.
Ah! But the hearings are not about women's reproductive rights. They are about the curmudgeony religious guys' (and gals') determination to refuse to cover contraceptives. This is what we are told in a letter Rep. Elijah C. Cummings sent to Issa:
Rather than inviting witnesses on both sides of this issue to engage in a reasoned and balanced discussion, you have constructed one of the most one-sided hearings I have ever seen, stacking it only with witnesses who agree with your position.  Earlier this week, you informed Committee Members that you had invited nine witnesses, including officials from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious entities that oppose the accommodation announced last week by the Administration to allow women employees of religiously-affiliated organizations such as hospitals and universities to obtain coverage for contraceptive services directly through their insurance companies.
    You did not invite officials from the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Charities USA, Catholics United, or a host of other Catholic groups that praised the White House for making this accommodation last week.  You also failed to invite any women to testify about the negative impact that restrictive insurance coverage has on them.
    When my staff inquired about requesting minority witnesses for this hearing, we were informed that you would allow only one.  Based on your decision, we requested as our minority witness a third-year Georgetown University Law Center student named Sandra Fluke.  I believed it was critical to have at least one woman at the witness table who could discuss the repercussions that denying coverage for contraceptives has on women across this country.
    In response, your staff relayed that you had decided as follows:
“As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.”
Bolds are mine. It's not about religion and conscience because only those religious groups which oppose the Obama compromise are invited to come and speak.
Added: And the Democratic women walk out of the hearing. It does look like the Catholic boys' no-girls-allowed tree-house. Except that the topic has to do with those lady parts.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Egg-Americans Are Baaack! And Worse.

But that's not the worst of the wonderful Valentine's Day presents the Commonwealth of Virginia gave to its female citizens. This is worse (because the egg-Americans won't be tax deductible quite yet):
The House of Delegates has passed bills that define life as beginning at conception and that require a pregnant woman to submit to an ultrasound before an abortion, punctuating the first half of a legislative session that has been marked by heated debates over divisive social issues.
The crossfire escalated today as the House debated legislation that would require an ultrasound procedure prior to an abortion. The bill’s Democratic opponents have repeatedly argued that the bill amounts to a government mandate on physicians and patients and will require women to submit to an invasive procedure that may be medically unnecessary.
“This is the first time, if we pass this bill, that we will be dictating a medical procedure to a physician,” said Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. “You’re saying that it’s OK for the government to force its way into the relationship between doctor and patient.”
Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, fired back at the criticism, asserting that most women who seek abortions are doing so for “lifestyle convenience.”
Gilbert later apologized for getting caught making an insensitive comment.

Nevertheless, this proposal attempts to make those lifestyle choices for slutty women more cumbersome (and more painful, as I have heard) by requiring that ultrasound. In the early stages of pregnancy the only way it can be performed is as transvaginal ultrasound. It looks like this:

So. We have a possibly painful and certainly invasive procedure which is not medically required. Can the women refuse to undergo it and still get an abortion in Virginia?

The answer is not only no, but hell no:
Another bill was advanced requiring a woman undergoing an abortion to have a “transvaginal ultrasound” — i.e., to require a doctor to insert a speculum and then an ultrasound probe into a her vagina against her will and reflect that image onscreen. Not only is a bill like this rather rape-y in its forcefulness — and yes, I realize that is a strong statement, and I mean it strongly — but there is no medically necessary reason to do so. And there are no exceptions. Gov. McDonnell has stated his intention to sign the “transvaginal ultrasound” bill if it lands on his desk.
Does the "no exceptions" rule apply to women who got pregnant from rape?

Today's Echidne Thought

Weirdness. Why is a certain type of weirdness highly remunerated (Rush Limbaugh) while other types of weirdness are all but ignored? Is it just a right-left thing where all things utterly bonkers are regarded as mainstream if they come from the rightmost precipice?

Or is there something more to all this?

I'd love to know because I'm quite weird, in a very satisfying way.

Masturbation Is A Gateway Drug

Vanessa at Feministing has a very funny post on this video:

It truly doesn't seem to be a parody. I'd be willing to bet you anything that the "research" for the video carefully omitted lots of stuff on the Planned Parenthood site. I'd also be willing to bet you anything that avoiding masturbation does not stop people from getting "addicted" to sex.

Any day now I'll figure how to get rid of my food addiction and learn to live on pure air.

Today's Teh Hilarious

Do watch the video where John Stewart and Samantha Bee discuss the right-wing take on women in the military.

But can't the anti-feminists finally make up their minds what feminists really want about women in the military?

On the one hand are the Ladies Against Feminism (as portrayed in the video) who argue that it's the horrible feminazis who are ruining men's war games by insisting that women be included.

On the other hand are the weirder types of Men's Rights Activists (MRAs) who argue that feminists don't want equality because they don't push for women to be given combat roles and such.

So what is it that we do? Destroy the military by insisting on women's participation or destroy the lives of certain types of MRAs by keeping women out of wars?

Probably both. Multi-tasking, you know.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I'm So Pretty, I'm So Witty...

*Dances around the Snakepit Inc., then settles down, in a girly and innocent way, while slowly lowering and raising those eyelashes and making pretty moues with the fanged mouf.*

You know, a real problem with blogging on all this stuff is that one survives only by creating a thick carapace of sarcastic humor. After a while every new insult just becomes yet another joke in the repertoire. So.

Atrios linked to a wonderful such present, an article about The Death Of Pretty. An excerpt:
Pretty, pretty is dying.

People will define pretty differently. For the purposes of this piece, I define pretty as a mutually enriching balanced combination of beauty and projected innocence.

Once upon a time, women wanted to project an innocence. I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents, concupiscence being what it is. But some things were different in the back then. First and foremost, many beautiful women, whatever the state of their souls, still wished to project a public innocence and virtue. And that combination of beauty and innocence is what I define as pretty.

By nature, generally when men see this combination in women it brings out their better qualities, their best in fact. That special combination of beauty and innocence, the pretty inspires men to protect and defend it.


As I said, pretty inspires men’s nobler instincts to protect and defend. Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity. Its value is temporary and must be used. It is a consumable.
Women are all sluts now. Men really want sluts but prefer them unopened. Only then will men protect and defend women. Opened sluts they will use up and won't defend.

What caused this horrendous change?
Most girls don’t want to be pretty anymore even if they understand what it is. It is ironic that 40 years of women’s liberation has succeeded only in turning women into a commodity. Something to be used up and thrown out.

Of course men play a role in this as well, but women should know better and they once did. Once upon a time you would hear girls talk about kind of women men date and the kind they marry. You don’t hear things like that anymore.
I love that quote. It's so innocent and pretty!

Women's open sluttiness is the fault of feminism. Feminists demanded that women be allowed to be treated as sluts! So what do you expect from men? Men, after all, cannot affect their own drives at all. Hence women are responsible for controlling those urges, and the way to do it is modesty in dress and in behavior. Burqas might help, too.

The comments to that post have more on the presumed innate differences of men and women. Somehow only the supposed innate characteristics of men cannot be changed. But the supposed innate characteristics of women MUST be brought back. That all this has a logical flaw (if those characteristics in women are so innate, how come are they not operating?) is a bit worrisome to me.

I'm going to interpret this article generously and assume that the author doesn't mean all that matters in women is beauty and innocence. Both of those are evanescent characteristics and neither will do you much good when you are sixty or seventy. Or in the labor force.

So let's pretend that this is only about women's role in the context of dating and marriage. Then it boils down to the old argument that men want an unopened package of goodies and are willing to protect that package. Against other men, presumably.

But it also boils down to that well-known argument that women, the supposedly frailer and weaker and more stupid sex, is the sex responsible for all control of sexuality. Never mind what one thinks of the basic assertion; it's simply not at all how sexuality works in reality. For instance, the majority of pron entrepreneurs are not women.

The comments are fun reading, more generally, though all points of view are presented. Still, I don't think feminists were working very hard for the objectification of women, and given my recent readings in the sixteenth century, that objectification seems to have been a bigger problem in the past. "Pretty" was just sold in a different marketplace than "slutty." But neither of those concepts were controlled by the commodity herself.

I could write something more meaningful about the premature sexualization of young girls, about the impact of popular culture on the way women are supposed to dress and act and about the impact of pron on that popular culture and how it all slowly seeps down to the private worlds of young girls who don't have the skills yet to read the wider culture.

Yes, there are real concerns in all that. But to pick feminism as the movement to blame for is like arguing that thermometers cause fever.

Happy Valentine's Day

Which it is today. I'm not in the mood for proper analysis of this phenomenon or anything of the sort. But thank you, my erudite and sweet readers, for being you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

E.J. Dionne, Catholics and Contraception. Wherein Echidne Loses Her Cool.

E.J. Dionne:
Those of us who are liberal Catholics have remained in the church for reasons beyond tribal loyalties or a desire to honor the traditions of our parents and grandparents. At the heart of the love many of us have for the church — despite our frustrations over its abysmal handling of the pedophilia scandal and its reluctance to grant women the rights they are due — is a profound respect for the fact on so many questions that count, Catholicism walks its talk and harnesses its faith to the good works the Gospel demands.
When it comes to lifting up the poor, healing the sick, assisting immigrants and refugees, educating the young (especially in inner cities), comforting orphaned and abandoned children, and organizing the needy to act in their own interest, the church has been there with resources and an astoundingly committed band of sisters, priests, brothers and lay people. Organizations such as Catholic Charities, the Catholic Health Association, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Relief Services make the words of Jesus come alive every day.

His post has "culture wars" in the title, grrr.

But I really got stuck in that one sentence: "At the heart of the love many of us have for the church — despite our frustrations over its abysmal handling of the pedophilia scandal and its reluctance to grant women the rights they are due — is a profound respect for the fact on so many questions that count, Catholicism walks its talk and harnesses its faith to the good works the Gospel demands."

Do a gender reversal on that. I know it's hard to even imagine something like any major guy religion run by women (in charge, that is) but do try. Would we ever find it perfectly acceptable that such imaginary Mother/Daughter/Holyspirit church refused to let men be priests and insisted that the priestesses and the Popess decide on those men's fertility?

And sure, religions do much good. But are we supposed to close our eyes to the evil they do? Or somehow treat the good they do as a justification for going along with the evil? Why can't they stop the evil and continue with the good? And why can't I have a freedom from other people's religious beliefs?

As an aside, the argument that the contraception debacle is all about the poor Catholic bishops being discriminated against makes me check the color of the sky, to see if I'm still in the same old reality. The one in which religions are the most powerful force in keeping women downtrodden on this earth.

The Subtle Ways "Medical" Turns Into "Moral"

Whitney Houston's death seems to have caused a discussion on the misuse of prescription medications for anxiety and similar disorders. I found this part of it very interesting:
Benzodiazepines, or “benzos” are highly addictive and should never be prescribed to someone with a history of addiction, said said Matt Eaken, director of admissions at the drug and alcohol rehab center Mountainside.


“A person struggling with anxiety shouldn’t just be taking an anti-anxiety medication, said Fred Keene, the clinic director at the drug rehabilitation center Mountainside. “They should be learning other skills to help them cope, such as talk or cognitive therapy or meditation.”
For some, it’s a quick escape from what is causing them to feel so deeply stressed about their lives.
“To learn to cope with life and anxiety, you have to put in real work,” said Eaken. “For some people, it’s easier to just take a pill.”
Bolding mine.

As I stated in the title of this post, medical problems turn into moral ones in subtle ways, and this is quite subtle. I have no problem with the message in the above quote, except for that bolded bit. It implies that the people who fail in controlling their addictions are not doing the real work, that they are lazy and simply go the easiest route.

That introduces a moral, non-medical dimension. Once we are comfortable with that dimension it has the tendency to leak into most things. It's most familiar these days in debates about obesity.

I find it very counter-productive in the medical context and especially so in the context of treating emotional and mental disturbances. Adding that moral disapproval is likely to make things worse, because if an addicted person cannot recover then perhaps she or he didn't work hard enough! Just took the easy way out. Deserved to fail, in fact, and should probably feel guilt now.

This is a tricky topic to write about because of course it's true that some people don't work very hard on their problems. It's also true that most of us would prefer a simple pill for all that ails us. Still, moving from those thoughts to a moral disapproval is pretty disturbing.

It reminds me of a story I read about the fish seeing one of them caught by an angler, struggling and squirming and fighting the embedded hook in its mouth. The other fish wonder why that stupid fish just doesn't swim away, wonder what's bothering it, even laugh at its weird behavior.

But that's because they cannot see the hook.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

From Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artist.

Just because this is so funny. I'm reading books from the fifteen hundreds right now. Vasari on the Florentine painter Paolo Uccello (1396/7-1475):
Paolo decorated the vaulting of the Peruzzi in fresco with triangular sections in perspective, and in the angles of the corner he painted the four elements, representing each by an appropriate animal: a mole for earth, a fish for water, a salamander for fire, and for air the chameleon, which lives on air and assumes any colour. Since he had never seen a chameleon, Uccello painted instead a camel which is opening its mouth and filling its belly by swallowing air...

The Hunger Games

Have you read the book? It's a young adult novel (part of a series) by Suzanne Collins.

It could be fun to have a book-club-type discussion of the book and its meaning from various standpoints but certainly from a feminist one. Before some watered-down version appears in the movie theaters later this year.