Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Aspirations of Women (by Phila)

One of the worst things about living in a misogynist society is that capitulating to it can seem like a relief. Who wants to be outraged and offended and tense all the time? Why shouldn't you just accept things as they are, and make up for whatever disappointment you feel, or abuse you get, by praising yourself as a "realist"? Especially given the financial rewards that tend to accrue to women who portray a bemused acceptance of traditional roles as Teh New Radicalism?

That seems to be the logic behind Fay Weldon's new interview in the Daily Mail, in which she hails female subservience as an act of hard-headed realpolitik:
At work, gender should not come into it. Women are right to refuse to make the coffee, but when you get home I'm afraid you have to make the coffee.

'It's such a waste of time trying to tell your husband to pick up the socks or clean the loo. It's much easier just to do it yourself.'
Feminists might disagree, but that's merely because they took the ideal of equality too seriously.
As for feminism, Weldon said: 'Life is much better, because you are not dependent on the goodwill [!] of men. But the trouble is, the battle became too fierce, and the whole culture encouraged women to believe that men are stupid, useless creatures who are the enemy.

'But men nowadays aren't s***. They're actually much nicer.'
Except for treating women like domestic servants, that is. But that's the nature of the beast, as it were. Why fight it? After all, if you make a man unhappy by nagging him, he'll simply run off with someone else...someone who understands and follows Weldon's Eternal Truths. (And don't say "good riddance." Men who won't clean toilets are the best kind, because they're authentic. Who wants a man who acts like a girl?)

If you want to get ahead, you need to approach romance as a business, understand the laws of supply and demand, and remember that the customer is always right. Feminism is admirable to the extent that it has allowed Fay Weldon to speak frankly about sex without being ducked in the nearest pond. But when it runs up against biological determinism, male privilege, and the basic assumptions of capitalism...well, it's time to step away from the abyss, and return to First Principles.
'Women want boyfriends to be like their girlfriends, fun to go to the pictures with, but men are not like that. They want sex and they grunt. If you really want a man to be nice to you, never give him a hard time, never talk about emotions and never ask him how he is feeling.'
Weldon, I presume, is intelligent enough to know that other types of relationships are not only possible, but are happening all around her. But so what? Why split hairs, when you can take a God's-eye view of the matter, and make a categorical imperative of one's own compromises and resentments? Why commit to a difficult political struggle, when you can simply announce that God or evolution made it unnatural for men to clean toilets, and that trying to change this, for the benefit of women and men, is as pointless as trying to divert Niaraga Falls with a teacup?

One thing that's especially irksome about all this is that Weldon is not just spouting regressive nonsense out of spite, but also deploying it as a promotional tactic, for reasons that have as much to do with the structure of British journalism as with her own psychological difficulties with the basic demands of feminism. Like many people who share her ideas, she's using a powerful and essentially sympathetic cultural apparatus to advance her "daring" views, and thus to increase her own visibility relative to other novelists, while ignoring the role that this very apparatus, and the machinations of people like her, play in the formation and reinforcement of regressive attitudes. It takes a huge amount of contrivance and artificiality to portray this as authentic communication, just as it does to portray men who "want sex and grunt," and women who clean up after them with a light heart, as authentic men and women.

That said, journalism has not yet forgotten its obligation to tell both sides of the story. Here's a brief summary of "conventional" feminism's response to Weldon's claim that it's boring, unnecessary, and insufficiently enthusiastic about faking orgasms:
Critics accuse her of losing touch with the aspirations of women.
Harsh words, indeed. If only there were some way of figuring out who's right.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

The color of this yellow warbler shouts: WAKE UP. Maybe it's an early bird.

Another fine photo brought to you by Peter.

Looking down on the South (by Suzie)

If you're from the North, don't insinuate that you're better than Southerners. I say this gently to my Yankee friends and allies who may not realize they are acting like colonizers talking about the backward locals, or urbanites making fun of hicks.

And, yes, a Southerner can use the term “Yankee” without having the Confederate battle flag on the back window of her pickup.

This post stems from one Saturday on Texas textbooks, in which a couple of people made fun of Texas, and one said:
If anyone ever has to pass a test to get a job, I hope that all of their competitors were "educated" in Texas.
 We need an amendment to the Constitution that allows [the] majority of the voters across the country to vote a state out of the union.
Secession was a popular joke during the Bush years. The idea was that the blue states would secede, taking with them everything worthwhile, leaving the red states to suffer. The assumption seemed to be that everyone in the red states thinks alike. That has never been true. Although McCain carried Texas, for example, Obama got 43.8 percent of the votes. (Here’s an interesting article on secession talk in recent times.)

The idea of secession, by some wealthy, white Southerners, didn't go over so well more than a century ago. Some people still talk about “preserving the Union” as if it is a holy alliance ordained for eternity.

Opposing slavery can be a purely moral decision; preventing areas of a country from seceding is political and economic. If the South had had nothing to offer the North, the North might have thought “good riddance.” We see this in world politics, in which the U.S. intervenes when its economic interests are at stake, but does far less when there’s no issue with oil or military bases, for example.

Some people don’t understand the extent of slavery in the North, or how white Northerners benefited from Southern slavery, even after it had been abolished in their own region. Some think opposing slavery was the same as supporting equal rights and opportunities for African Americans. Perhaps they think that economics played no part in abolition in the North. If so, they should read this.

Righteous Northerners could have invaded, liberated all enslaved people, invited them north and then let the South secede. Or, they could have refused to buy anything from the South, or transport its goods, until slavery ended. But that would have hurt their industries, which needed the South’s resources, made cheaper by the forced labor of slaves. To some degree, it parallels the situation today in which a lot of people hate to hear about bad labor conditions, including human trafficking (i.e., slavery), but not all of them are willing to part with cheap goods.

As a white Northerner, if you want to feel superior because of slavery, check the complicity of your family. (If you want to know about my family: My parents were Yankees who moved to Texas for my father’s job a year before I was born.)

A new book by a Harvard professor and a Washington Post journalist notes “that the majority of white Southerners opposed secession, and a significant number fought for the Union.” Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer say the Confederacy resembled a totalitarian government.

As in the Vietnam era, some Southerners were forced to fight or had few other opportunities or knew little about the politics of the conflict. They also may have fought to protect their homes. Think of Iraq: A person can dislike his leaders and their policies, but he may still fight against what he considers an invading force.

The following from History Central gives further insight into why a number of white Southerners didn’t support secession, but still became embittered.
Most Southern white families did not own slaves: only about 384,000 out of 1.6 million did. Of those who did own slaves, most (88%) owned fewer than 20 slaves, and were considered farmers rather than planters. Slaves were concentrated on the large plantations of about 10,000 big planters, on which 50-100 or more slaves worked. About 3,000 of these planters owned more than 100 slaves, and 14 of them owned over 1,000 slaves. ...

By the end of the war, the South was economically devastated, having experienced extensive loss of human life and destruction of property. Poverty was widespread, and many resented the many Northerners and Southerners who took advantage of the needy in the South as the war came to an end. These conditions made it more difficult for the nation to heal the wounds which its union had suffered.
Reconstruction was necessary, but it was an occupation, with some Radical Republicans viewing the South as territories, not states. Colonizers may believe they are bringing better values to the colonized, or they may use that as a cover for other motives. In Afghanistan, some Republicans talked about freeing women from Taliban rule, and some women’s lives did improve.

Speaking of women, I noticed that gender often was absent, as I looked for links for this post. Reference was made to rights for African Americans, without mentioning that black men gained more rights than black women. No one noted that it was men who started and fought the Civil War. “Their” women were involved, but had few rights.

It makes sense to apply postcolonial theories to people of color in the U.S. who want to rebuild group identities. But it’s not surprising that many white Southerners also want to reclaim pride, including those who like to see themselves as both rebels and Rebels. Here’s a profile of the man who has raised a 50-by-30 Confederate flag in my county.

In the tension between urban vs. rural, industrial vs. agricultural, some white Southerners see themselves as more genteel, with stronger moral values. But they vote Republican, and they bother me in a different way than Northern Democrats who treat me like an honorary Yankee.

I have a Midwestern friend, a professor, who adopts a Southern accent whenever she wants to impersonate an ignorant person. During the Bush years, it drove me crazy when Northern allies used his ties to Texas and his accent as markers of ignorance and incompetence. Pronunciation of English words varies greatly, and the rules are full of exceptions. Bostonians who pronounce “car” as “cah” know that there is an “r” on the end. To learn more, ask a linguist. Here’s another take on the subject.

I told a white Texan friend what I was writing this week. She said, “I feel like I’ve had to fight this all my life. It’s a prejudice that people don’t really acknowledge.”

Song stuck in my head: Joan Baez’s cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The God of Hatred

You might want to listen to preacher Anderson while you do your nails or shave or something, but make sure the sound is low, for the safety of others. Here's why:

Chris Broughton, the man who brought an assault rifle and a handgun to the Obama event in Arizona last week, attended a fiery anti-Obama sermon the day before the event, in which Pastor Steven Anderson said he was going to "pray for Barack Obama to die and go to hell", Anderson confirmed to TPMmuckraker today.

Anderson also said Broughton had informed the pastor about his planned show of arms-bearing, but "he planned out the AR15 thing long before he heard that sermon," delivered Sunday August 16 at the fundamentalist Faithful World Baptist Church in Tempe, AZ.

This is the second example of the gun-toters at the Arizona Obama event tied to the violent fringes of American life.

"I don't obey Barack Obama. And I'd like Barack Obama to melt like a snail tonight," Anderson said in the sermon.

The sermon, which was titled "Why I Hate Barack Obama" and also contained virulent anti-gay themes

The sermon can be heard at the linked site. The anti-Obama rant starts at about 12:11, though all of it is interesting to listen to, while you think about the idea of prayers in schools and the ethical superiority of religious people and other such topics. I couldn't stop imagining preacher Anderson dancing around in a straitjacket when he tells us that he wants Obama's teeth broken before Obama is melted like a snail or an embryo.

I guess I'm a hardened feminist. I was truly surprised to find several guys upset and unable to listen to this Sermon Of Hate, but then they are not used to hearing stuff like that all the time the way I am, or at least not used to hearing about how much someone hates them and why God decreed it that way.

In any case, Anderson is a nutcase, but he has his church and his tax-deduction (I assume) for the spreading of his message which today is: God. Hates. Liberals. And. Fags. Also, his god hates lots of people, especially violent people, and that's why preacher Anderson preaches violence and hatred. He serves his god by offering himself up as the sword that will smite. Or some such shit.

Mmm. The God of Hatred. Do you think that what Anderson does here just might be interpreted as incitement towards violence aimed at the president of the United States? And what should be done about that?

The Betsy McCaugheys And What To Do About Them

Betsy McCaughey is a conservative expert on health care reform and on why trying to do anything will Kill Your Granny And Get You Treated by Stalin in a Long Cold Corridor Smelling Of Fish Heads While Armed Guards Watch. It's hard to figure out where she got her training in health economics but never mind. The point about Ms. McCaughey and so many other media personalities like her is that their false utterances mostly go uncorrected.

Why is that the case? I have pondered the problem oh-so-many-times after reading some new piece of 'research' about how women can't navigate because they have no navigation gene and that's because they didn't have to learn to navigate, what with staying around the home-cave in the prehistoric eras while the menz were out navigating after the dinosaurs. I'm not exaggerating much here, and any self-respecting evolutionary biologist should rise up and ask why such 'research' is ever taken seriously. But they don't.

The ones I've known well enough to ask tell me that it's not their job to correct nutters, that they don't get rewarded for the corrections, that the nutters live inside their own little fortresses, never send their manuscripts outside it and that they run their own little journals where the peers doing the peer-reviews are other nutters. Or so I translate the more polite answers I get. And of course nobody gets promotions or tenure in the academia by correcting bad popularizations of research, especially when it's in another field. And the nutter field is, by definition, separate from other fields.

Hence the reason for the unchallenged status of all those anti-woman Evo-Psycho pieces.* But surely the same arguments cannot be used when it comes to Ms. McCaughey? After all, health care reform is not a field only studied by nutters?

Sadly, I think that they can. The goal of most academics is to be taken seriously as earnestly objective researchers (who want to get tenured and then promoted). Challenging McCaughey in public might make the challenger look biased, too, and that's not good inside the ivory towers (except where the ivories are from mammoths, of course). So in a very odd way the demand for academic objectivity is also the reason why it's so very hard to get proper criticism of political mouthpieces out into the popular media. Paying people for doing that might help, but even then you have to find someone tenured and with a full professorship. Tough, that.

We need websites which report on the accuracy and quality of controversial popularizations of research, along the lines of political sites which already do this. Getting those sites going would be in the ultimate interest of academics, because too much crap flowing out of those ivory towers will stain them.
*I use the term Evo-Psycho to describe certain types of evolutionary psychology only, viz. the kind which starts from JustSo stories about some mythical prehistoric past and then manipulates data to get support for those stories without looking at alternative explanations or the quality of the data or the appropriateness of the methods used.

The Silly War On Feminism

I have been reading DoubleX, the Slate site intended to cover women's issues, to catch up after my vacation. It's a ball, sweeties, that site, because the idea is to juxtapose feminism with anti-feminism and to let women choose: Want your handcuffs off or with rubies? Or emeralds? Who would ever NOT want to wear handcuffs? Jewelry is a Girl's Best Friend.

This is so edgy, hawt, provoking and kewl. Imagine a site like that discussing the status of any other historically oppressed group! It. Just. Does. Not. Happen. Which is something you should mull over for a bit.

To give you a flavor of the anti-feminist arguments, Katie Roiphe (she once wrote about date-rape as being just sex you regretted later on) writes about having a baby in a piece with this title:

My Newborn Is Like a Narcotic

Why won't feminists admit the pleasure of infants?

Emily Bazelon writes for the other side on this issue and quite well. But to even create such a straw-woman in the first place! (I know Roiphe most likely didn't pick the title of the piece. But someone at DoubleX did.)

I call this a silly war on feminism because it is silly. Did you ever hear about those large demonstrations where feminists marched with placards stating "Babies are Ugly"? Neither did I, because the pleasure of babies was not something feminism ever addressed. What Roiphe really writes about is her view that biology-is-destiny (though only for women): Women like babies, men do not, men want sex so better call rape just bad sex. So why not state that in the title, if you want edgy?

For another example, an earlier piece about, a site which sells arts and crafts, tells us that it's mostly women who sell there and you can't make a living that way (if you could, men would sell there). And all this is the fault of feminists. Yup. The title of that piece is: Peddles a False Feminist Fantasy

No, you can't quit your day job to make quilts

Once again, a straw-woman is hanged in that piece. Feminists never have argued that you can make a good living on something like etsy. But note that the author of this piece doesn't give us any evidence about the sellers having quit their day jobs. Most of them may indeed have day jobs! That's one of the advantages of the Internet, you know. And if they don't have day jobs it's most likely not something they decided on just because was born.

The piece could have addressed a real feminist question of importance: Do we educate girls to understand that they need to have skills which are properly rewarded in the labor market? And if we don't do that, how will they support themselves in the future? If they wish to work in a field which pays poorly, do they understand the consequences and the way their options are restricted? Who will support the family should they want one later on?

Incidentally, the Bible People tell women not to have careers outside the home but that a bit of apron-pattern selling is perfectly AOK on the side. Perhaps DoubleX could have addressed how that is a feminist dream, too? Or nightmare, as the case might be.

Here I go again, a humorless feminazi ranting and rampaging. I guess I do that because I really, really love infants, including baby girls, and I don't want to think of the kinds of lives those tiny, tiny humans can expect to have in most places on this earth. I want baby girls to have full human lives, the same as baby boys, and silly wars on feminism are not doing anything for them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On Those SAT Scores

The new summaries of SAT scores by gender, ethnicity and income have come out. They are not that different from the past, even if the average scores for many groups have slipped a little. The tests are being changed over time and the population taking the tests is changing, too. For instance, recent immigrants are not going to score as well on something which is very culture-dependent than those who were born and grew up in the country. The larger the percentage of recent immigrants among the test-takers, the lower the average scores will be.

The average score for girls/women is lower than for boys/men for the American SATs. The reasons for this discrepancy have been debated, especially given that girls do better on other criteria which predict college success, but one of those reasons certainly is the fact that a larger percentage of female school-leavers takes the test when compared to male school-leavers. If those most likely to take some test first are the ones who expect to do well on it, then the average score will drop as more and more people from a certain group starts participating, always assuming that other reasons for greater participation (such as increasing income levels of families who only now can afford college for their children) are held constant.

That's why I found this statement a little puzzling:

•Average scores dropped 5 points for females and 2 points for males. While females represent more than half (53.5%) of test takers, their total average score (1496) is 27 points below that of males (1523).

There's a lot more to be written about the gender gap in the U.S. SAT scores. For example, the tests have been adjusted in the past in ways which raised the average male score and lowered the average female score and the experiences of other countries differ from the American one. But understanding the effect of more females taking the test is important.

More Travel Pictures: Gender Roles in Finland

You wanna see my pictures? I don't have them on the computer yet, but I can give you word impressions. They are mostly from that outer layer of the tourism onion: not deep insights at all but stuff anyone might notice visiting Finland, watching television and reading the papers there. My Finnish readers will correct me if I go astray here, I hope.

The first picture: Children. Many more small children everywhere, with their mothers, with their fathers, and so very surprisingly for someone who lives in the fear-the-pederasts world of today, often with other small children playing in the park or riding their bikes or walking their dogs with no adult in sight. Stores have play corners for children. One bank even had a play-bank area for kids. The local town where I stayed had at least five swing-and-slide areas within a one-mile radius.

It's hard to reconcile this impression with the assumption that fertility rates are lower there. And of course those rates are not lower than the rates of American non-Hispanic white families. Indeed, the Finnish birth rates are approximately at replacement levels. Whether this is desirable or not depends on your general world view, but it certainly suggests that having children is not something women are punished for. It also suggests that the society doesn't lock children away with just one supervising adult in the house. Add to this picture the knowledge of the long paid parental leaves and the picture suggests a certain child-friendliness which is likely to help women who want to have families and careers or jobs.

The second picture: Where The Women Work. Largely they seem to work in similar jobs to the U.S. so that the service occupations are predominantly pink-collared. But I noticed more female train engineers, bus drivers and also quite a few women in various road construction crews. How many women those traditionally male blue-collar jobs contain is something I should look up in the general statistics, but my first impression is that Finland has slightly less gender segregation at work than the U.S.. The composition of the current government leadership reinforces that impression: Power is more evenly shared by men and women. Note that it's not equally shared, however.

The third picture: Sexism. This picture is one which has undertones of older pictures, sepia-colored snapshots from my memory, mixed in with my fresh impressions. My apologies for the fuzziness this caused in the final picture.

Here's my theory about the nature of sexism across countries: Different societies rank the presumed nasty characteristics of women in different orders of importance. For instance, how much of a sexual temptress The Woman is varies by culture, and so do the views of the intellectual flaws of the Weaker Vessel or the importance attached to the Self-Sacrificing Motherhood.

In general, I argue, Finns have not viewed women as weak or as especially stupid. Rather, women have been most useful work-horses and have been seen as fully capable of doing almost any necessary task, though they have always been expected to first fill the traditional female roles. Because of the lack of the kind of messages girls in the U.S. used to get it has been easier for Finnish women to get the vote and to grasp the brass ring in some fields of endeavor, and this has not threatened the cultural definition of masculinity the way similar developments have done in the U.S..

That's my explanation for the greater equality of women in the Finnish labor force, in any case.

Now to the shadow side: The sexism in Finland is very much more openly about the female body, about its general availability to the male gaze and about The Cunt as something men should have fairly free access to. At least that's my take on what I saw. It's a little disconcerting to walk into a magazine shop and to find oneself facing The Largest Bare Tits in the Universe on the cover of a boyz' magazine, right next to a magazine about Sexual Slavery (I was kidnapped and made to serve six men and I loved it).

How these magazines make it when the Internet gives much more access to those gigantic tits I don't know, and I should point out that they were all on the top shelf in the store. Still, the naked female body is obviously public property in Finland, just as it is private property of men in some other countries. I didn't see naked men on the covers of magazines, by the way. In case you planned to ask.

Is sexism less common in Finland than in the U.S.? Hard to answer something like that, of course, given all the subcultures in the U.S. and the new immigrant cultures in Finland, but on the whole I'd answer in the affirmative. Still, I'd like to leave you with this scene: Echidne rummaging around in the Finnish equivalent of Target and coming across a stand of 'funny mugs.' One of them was called 'The Chauvinist' and the sides of the mug were covered with very sexist jokes about women. To balance that mug (imagine taking it out for your morning coffee at the office), another mug had a long list about Male Privilege. So it goes.

Edward Kennedy, RIP

I'm not the go-to-blogger on Senator Kennedy's list of achievements, but others come to my aid. He was a man who could have spent his life playing tennis or riding to the hounds but chose not to, and that alone deserves some respect.

It would be absolutely, stunningly wonderful if his passing could be honored by a better health care system for this country. This map shows why such changes are needed: Currently this country is the only wealthy country without any kind of public alternative in health care.

Added later:
You can honor Edward Kennedy's memory by signing a petition for a better health care system here.

Happy Women's Equality Day! (by Suzie)

The National Women's History Project says:
At the behest of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), in 1971 the U.S. Congress designated August 26 as "Women's Equality Day".

The date was selected to commemorate the ... passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. This was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings ... at the world's first women's rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York.

The observance of Women's Equality Day not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, but also calls attention to women's continuing efforts toward full equality. Workplaces, libraries, organizations, and public facilities now participate with Women's Equality Day programs, displays, video showings, or other activities.
I'm stealing the NWHP's quiz, which is available as a PDF brochure. Test your friends!

1) In what year did women in the United States win the right to vote?
2) How many years of constant effort had supporters devoted to the woman suffrage campaign?
3) What suffrage leader was arrested, tried, and fined for voting in the 1872 election?
4) Which was the first state to grant women the vote in presidential elections?
5) Why were women arrested and force-fed in prison in 1917?
6) What was the margin of victory when the 19th Amendment was finally passed by the U.S. Congress?


Here are the answers:
1) 1920
2) 1848-1920=72 years
3) Susan B. Anthony
4) Wyoming, in 1890
5) They were arrested for peacefully picketing the White House for women's suffrage.
6) Two votes in the Senate and 42 votes in the House of Representatives

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Revisiting Agatha Christie (Now With A Feminist Awareness)

The house I grew up in had lots of classical detective novels, including most of Agatha Christie. I remember reading The Orient Express around a very, very young age and finding the solution truly shocking. They all did it! Over time I read all of her novels, I think. I spotted her intense hatred of the Other at some point, including that of Jews and anyone of another race as well as her contempt towards 'the lower classes.' Altogether she seemed to be a thoroughly unpleasant character, though one with good puzzle-making abilities.

During this summer's vacation I started re-reading old detective novels for relaxation (Carter Dickson, Patrick Quentin, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, Freeman Crofts, Edgar Wallace, Patricia Wentworth), and at some point I decided I could re-read Christie despite her general nastiness. That's how I ended up reading again Murder in Mesopotamia, The Pale Horse, Murder in Three Acts, Five Little Pigs and lots of other Christies.

What truly struck me was the way I had earlier totally overlooked her sexism, her great contempt towards her own sex and the number of demeaning references to women in general! Yet those statements were everywhere, sprinkled in sentences starting with "Women generally are foolish" or something similar. They were not at all difficult to find, and every single of the books I read had several of them (though I happened to read no Jane Marples).

Why was it so easy for me to see how describing Jewish bankers as oily and shifty-eyed (as Christie does) was disgusting and wrong while all the time nasty comments about women-as-a-group went somehow unnoticed by me?

Try Googling Agatha Christie with the term "racism". Then repeat with "sexism". You might find that I'm not the only person who is blind to her general contempt of women. Indeed, most societies are equally blind to it even today.

The point of these comments has to do with the quality of "mainstream." It is still acceptable to ridicule the female gender at a frequency unmatched with the ridiculing of the male gender and we are still often so used to it that we quite literally don't see it. But it must affect us.

Get The Granny! Or: This Is What I Came Back For?

You must have heard about the Death Book by now. If not, here's a nice discussion of it (shamelessly stolen from Atrios):

When we get communistimistic health care, some faceless bureaucrats will decide who shall die and who shall live. Horrifying! Not at all like the current system where the faceless market will decide who shall die and who shall live.

Frank Luntz, the Republican Mesmer, has given instructions on how to fight any change in health care, and those instructions boil down to: Make. Them. Scared.

What could be more scary than dying by someone killing you? That's why we hear this crap. Also because the wingnuts have nothing better than the discussion of living wills and the kind of stuff that we are all urged to think about in any case, such as when to resuscitate, whether to continue life as a vegetable (or a meatball?) and so on. And we do die in the end, my sweetings.

I'm not arguing that we should let nameless bureaucrats decide about death-and-life decisions (though the wingnuts do want to do exactly that with pregnant women, you know). I'm arguing that scaring us as if we were little children who fear monsters under the bed is what this is all about. No, a government-run health care system doesn't try to Get Granny. In fact, women live longer, on average, in those otherwise comparable countries which have such a system than they live here.

Echidne Goes Touristing

I have to get this out of me first, so apologies to all who are yearning for my usual man-hating posts (those due to me not being able to get laid, what with men running away from goddesses with snake bottoms and such).

So imagine me with a very gaudy Hawaiian shirt on, large binoculars around my face and a voice which speaks more loudly when someone doesn't understand proper Murkan. In short, what comes here are the equivalent of those travel pictures nobody else wants to see. Except that what I show you is good stuff, of course.

Onions are wonderful metaphoric vegetables. Often we only peel the outer layers off them and think ourselves the experts on some issue. But to really know something, you need to peel off all those layers until nothing remains. And then cry the tears onions cause.

If traveling is like peeling an onion, most of our traveling is tripping along the outer layers, perhaps dipping in about one layer's worth. Then we go home and tell our friends that we 'did' Paris or Africa or whatever.

It's not that those first impressions of a place wouldn't be interesting and fascinating and even true. But they will be almost always about weather, nature, food and similar issues. Nobody gets into the culture with a few week's trip to the place. A few months isn't enough, and not really even a few years. That has been my experience, in any case.

This trip was different, because I went back to a place of my birth. But I didn't just dive straight through the onion, coming out from the other side. In some ways I've been gone for so long that on some issues I still peel the top layers (how do these new toilets work?) while on some other issues (family) I'm in the heart of the onion. It's a very odd combination.

But what my recent experiences have taught me is the importance of culture. "Culture" here means all the different generally shared beliefs of a community, all the rules about behavior and who-does-what, all the little interpretations about what various types of behaviors mean. And an outsider, in her big tourist boots, walks straight through all those and smashes them to smithereens! Because you don't really see any of that from the outside.

Why am I writing about this? Probably partly because I think that much of writing on issues such as international feminism oversimplifies the question of culture. Cultures vary greatly even among people who are ethnically the same and have the same religion, and cultures vary greatly across the European Union. I'm going to try to keep this in mind in the future when I write (in, say, comparing women in the American South and in the Northeast). I have known this before in the intellectual sense but it's a whole different thing to 'know' it experientally.

The more important reason for writing about culture is that we tend to ignore it. A lot. Take some evolutionary psychologist (the bad kind): They assume no cultural differences, really. Sometimes they assume no culture at all. Or note how very often we just assume that the way matters are done in the good old U.S. of A. are how they 'naturally' are. Or note how very often 'cultural' issues are viewed as trivial and unimportant. Culture wars are just silly, at least if they are not about your rights to be a human being. But culture matters. A lot.

I'm Back. By Echidne

I returned last night to a loaf of bread in the kitchen. It's astonishing what a forgotten end of bread can do if you leave the kitchen windows ajar and if it's your average humid and hot August. Gives me hope for us weak-and-feared feminists, it does.

The mold had spread into all the rubber seals in the doors of the fridge and the freezer. Beautiful colors! Otherworldly. I was far too tired to do anything about them then and I still face that. Thinking of throwing the fridge out.

In fact, I'd love to throw the whole house out. Nothing like seeing beautiful Nordic design for four weeks to make you feel disgruntled with Snakepit Inc. So.

My deepest and most sincere thanks to Suzie, res ipsa, Hecate, Prometheus6, Xan, Liz and Skylanda. They kept the blog going, taught us something and didn't let anyone's brainz atrophy. Despite what George Bush did to the phrase, blogging is indeed hard work! And so I humbly thank all who were willing to step in.

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's been real (by Prometheus 6)


Accepting the truth is the only way to be able to change the truth. Accepting the truth is difficult sometimes. We often think things are other than what they are, and desire makes us search for evidence that something hidden will come to light and prove things were the way we expected them to be all along.

Meanwhile, had we just accepted events as they happened, unpleasant as they may be, we would have been freed immediately to work on changing things.

Choosing which truth to accept and which to reject is just as bad as rejecting all the truth. We accept pleasant truths and deny unpleasant ones. Or we accept unpleasant truths and deny pleasant ones - you know people that do that, don't you? Go on, tell the truth.

How do you know what the truth is, though?

It's easy, really. Much easier than most would have you believe. The only reason anyone would have you think otherwise is so that they can think otherwise and not be exposed.

Be awake. Pay attention. Ignore nothing that happens to you. Instead of acting as though things will turn out as you expect, give your best effort to make it turn out as you choose. And watch to see how it actually turns out, each action. You'll be wrong at first, because by rejecting the truth in the past, you learned the wrong ideas about how the world works. And it will be painful sometimes. But pain is as much a part of life as joy is...that's the truth.

And as you remain alert, as you stay aware, as you stop explaining away the difference between your expectations and events, you learn. And as you learn, the truth becomes clearer. And you feel strong enough to handle whatever pain comes to you.

But you're actually no stronger than you ever were. You just stop wasting your strength on the imaginary, unnecessary battles that result from denying the truth.

Frequently Asked Questions About "U-People" (by Prometheus 6)

Why do U-People romanticize the lower economic class?
Because we all know we can wind up in that class as a result of something stupid that's out of our control. We need something to look forward to.

Why do U-People complain about unfair treatment then turn around and try to treat others unfairly?
If you want to go north and find out you're going west, your original destination isn't north from where you are, it's northeast.

Why can't U-People just act like everyone else?
We do. We just do it in in a situation you don't recognize, so you don't recognize the results.

Why do U-People score lower on standardized tests if you're not stupider?
The standardized tests are best at testing conformance to the standard. The standard is a white male. As evidence, even white women score less well on the SAT than men with the same grades in college - or to phrase it differently, women get higher grades than men with the same SAT scores.

Either way, there's evidence that some factors relevant to both intelligence and success are missed by the standardized tests.

Why are U-People so violent?
As compared to what? Where is there a non-violent people?

Why do U-People always think everyone is a racist?
Well, everything in America is looked at through, measured in terms of, categorized and stored by race. So we know you have thoughts and opinions about us. Then we look at everything the society produces that depicts us. We consider that to be tangible evidence of the collective attitude. So now we know that the collective opinion of our race is negative.

This is a competitive disadvantage, and when, as a tactic, our abilities are immediately discounted to the degree that we can be made to fit people's preconceptions, we feel the tactitician and the one who executes the tactic is racist. When the tactic succeeds, we feel those who hold the preconceptions that were played on are racist.

Why don't U-People want to just accept the way things are and work to get ahead?
I need to use a metaphor for this one. Euro-American economic development has depended on extracting the value of the efforts of others. In the USofA, this has meant leveraging Black people. It's very much as if you had to get over a chasm using one of those teeter-totter arrangements Wile E. Coyote uses. . . you know, where you stand on one end of a lever, toss a heavy weight on the other end and you are catapulted forward. The USofA has used Black people as that heavy weight. The weight, in this case, has been the forced and spontaneous products of Black activity.

What we are offered now, at best, is an opportunity to toss some of our own people on the other end of our lever, to fuel our progress at the expense of others of our people.

This is not acceptable.

Why are so many of U-People in jail if you don't have criminal tendancies?
We have roughly the same proclivity to crime as everyone else. It's just that the crimes of opportunity are different for us, and you can't commit a crime without opportunity. The crimes of opportunity for us are the ones that scare the hell out of you. The crimes of opportunity for you seem to be forgivable because they're kinder and gentler (though its overall effect on the nation has been far more damaging than the muggings and such).

Beyond that, it's a truism that what you see depends on where you look. And since law enforcement officials have classified our very appearance as cause for suspicion (if we're hip-hop we're gang-bangers; if we drive a luxury car we're suspected drug dealers) they look at us a lot.