Saturday, July 25, 2009

i take it back, this might be cuter

When my daughter Caroline was three she came to me with a small wooden box in her small hands and said, "Guess fwat is in this bockus!" I guessed caterpillars, mice, elephants, etc. She shook her head, smiled an unspeakably eldritch smile, opened the box slightly so that I could just see in, and said: "Darkness."

Hence this story.

- Ursula K. LeGuin, introducing her story "Darkness Box" in The Wind's Twelve Quarters

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

holy crap

Nothing cuter than this has ever happened in the history of the world.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

in which i employ my ample literary criticism skills in the worthy endeavor of close reading crappy political cartoons

Check out the above cartoon by Bill Bramhall (of the New York Daily News) aimed at Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for going over her allotted time at the Sotomayor hearings. Is that, or is that not, a disturbingly misogynistic cartoon?

New York NOW President Marcia Pappas notes (that link sucks, but it's the best I could find in the thirty seconds I had to spend) that "Bramhall’s phallic symbols send a clear message that women are good for only one thing." I rather think the message is that women aren't "good for" anything at all. But it's certainly no accident that the phrases being referenced here are "put a cork in it" and "put a sock in it" (and just look at that sock, seriously). Even the hook appears to be pointed at Gillibrand's mouth rather than poised to be used the traditional cartoony way, to yank her offstage. The gag is the least phallic of the objects, but it is certainly a violent one. It's also difficult to miss the screaming symbolism of that enormously gaping and yet oddly toothless mouth, at which all of those phallic symbols -- the cork, the sock, the hook, and the gag -- are pointed by male hands. (There are even boxes of corks, socks, and gags sitting around too, as if to suggest that one of each might not suffice to fill that maw.)

Now take a look at Gillibrand's facial expression. She could be looking at the microphone, but she also could be looking apprehensively at the hook, which is very near her face and in her eyeline. Either way, she does not look self-satisfied or smug, as you'd expect from a politician who likes the sound of her own voice a bit too much. In fact, she looks like she can't even control that cavernous mouth, which is opened wide enough to swallow all of those phallic objects pointed at it. Gillibrand's apparent lack of control over her own anatomy suggests that the point of the cartoon is not so much that, as a politician, Gillibrand enjoys the sound of her own voice excessively -- but rather that, as a woman, she simply can't control her runaway mouth (a nasty stereotype about women which has been thoroughly debunked, by the way). As a matter of fact, she looks scared by the objects being thrust at her, and yet unable to close her mouth to keep them from entering it. This suggestion is reinforced by the fact that there doesn't appear to be any reason for her mouth to be open, since she doesn't even get a speech balloon as her male colleague does -- despite the fact that the entire conceit of the cartoon is that she talks too much.

The bottom line is that this image is extremely suggestive of sexual violence. But at the Daily Cartoonist, many commenters don't agree, insisting that cartoonists make fun of all kinds of politicians for talking too much and this is just more of the same. Two of them link to examples of other cartoons about loud-mouthed politicians, one of Joe Biden and one of Mark Sanford. So let's do a close reading, shall we?

Like the Gillibrand cartoon, the cartoon of Biden (by a different cartoonist) shows a number of objects pointed at him which are designed to shut him up, including a hook; but there the similarities end. His mouth is not gaping, as Gillibrand's is. On the contrary, he is grinning toothily. Just compare his manic toothiness and relatively small mouth opening to Gillibrand's toothless, gaping maw. Most importantly, although there is violence implied by most of the objects coming at Biden, it is not sexualized violence. None of those objects are meant to go into his mouth to shut him up, they're simply meant to drag him offstage. And of course Biden also gets a speech balloon to, you know, demonstrate the actual point of the cartoon.

The Sanford cartoon is more relevant to the discussion than the Biden cartoon, as it's also drawn by Bramhall. It features the same gaping and toothless mouth as the Gillibrand cartoon, and there are also phallic objects pointed in the direction of Sanford's mouth; but those objects are microphones -- objects meant to receive the words coming out of his mouth, not violently cut them off. Nothing here is meant to go into his mouth or to shut him up. Nor are the microphones as close to his mouth as some of the objects in the Gillibrand cartoon, nor does Sanford look frightened or out of control of his mouth as Gillibrand does. Sanford is also making an active speech. He even gets an active pose, pointing his own phallic symbol (his finger) at a woman whom, he says, he "got to first base with." Despite the gaping mouth, despite the phalluses pointed at his face, and despite the superficially similar subject (mockery of a politician's verbal diarrhea), this cartoon could not be more different from the Gillibrand cartoon.

The Gillibrand cartoon is close enough to the way other wordy politicians are portrayed for plausible deniability, and the Washington Post's readers are clearly buying the cover story -- a poll there currently has 61% agreeing that "this is clearly a case of fair comment" and only 38% saying that "satire or no, the cartoon crosses the line." (Incidentally, this cartoon has sweet fuck-all to do with "satire" under any reading. Dictionaries, people.) Online polls at the Washington Post are the dumbest of all the possible dumb things for me to spend my time being upset about, so I'm going to try and let this one go now that I've spent an hour writing a blog post about it. But I maintain that the only time you'd see a cartoon of a male politician in which male hands were thrusting phallic and/or violent objects at/into his gaping mouth with the explicit intention of violently shutting him up is if the politician was gay. (Which, if I need to say it, would also be completely unacceptable.)

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mr. J.S. Mill, in the year of our FSM 1869:
It is a political law of nature that those who are under any power of ancient origin, never begin by complaining of the power itself, but only of its oppressive exercise. There is never any want of women who complain of ill usage by their husbands. There would be infinitely more, if complaint were not the greatest of all provocatives to a repetition and increase of the ill usage. It is this which frustrates all attempts to maintain the power but protect the woman against its abuses. In no other case (except that of a child) is the person who has been proved judicially to have suffered an injury, replaced under the physical power of the culprit who inflicted it. Accordingly wives, even in the most extreme and protracted cases of bodily ill usage, hardly ever dare avail themselves of the laws made for their protection: and if, in a moment of irrepressible indignation, or by the interference of neighbors, they are induced to do so, their whole effort afterwards is to disclose as little as they can, and to beg off their tyrant from his merited chastisement.
If Mill, 140 years ago, understood why abused women don't leave their abusers immediately, why is it so hard for us to understand this today? No, women who have attempted to make claims of abuse are not forced to move back in with their abusers today; but they are without question "replaced under the physical power of the culprit" since restraining orders are useless even if the police would enforce them strictly. And shelters for abused women -- the only way many women have to avoid remaining "under the physical power of the culprit" -- are constantly struggling to stay open.

I don't really have a point, other than "how can things have changed so little in 140 years?" So here's a doggy. Don't I always reward you for sticking with me?

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Friday, March 13, 2009

an open letter to all drivers

To those of you out there lucky enough to be able to afford a car and/or unlucky enough to absolutely require one in order to get around:

It is, indeed, your responsibility to check ALL lanes of traffic you are crossing before crossing them. Yes, that includes pedestrian lanes of traffic. No, it is not my responsibility as a pedestrian to peer into your tinted windows to make sure that you have bothered to do so. Even if I could see clearly into your car, I would be completely unable to tell for sure whether you'd seen me; I've had people I thought I made eye contact with nearly run me over seconds later, and I've had people I thought hadn't seen me get irritated when I didn't go ahead.

If I do start crossing the street when you haven't bothered to look in my direction at all, and you therefore drive out in front of me when I'm two feet from your car, please do not turn your car around to come back and scream at me about how I should have been looking. I was looking. I guarantee I didn't miss your car sitting there. It was just my right to go first. Would you whip your car around to scream at the driver of another car that you almost hit because you hadn't bothered to check all lanes of traffic the way you were supposed to? You don't get to cut off a person who has the right of way just because you know they run a greater risk in asserting their rights than you do in taking their rights from them (since a traffic accident could seriously injure or kill them but wouldn't be likely to hurt you).

I realize that to anyone who doesn't have to walk 1-2 miles on city streets every single day, this probably sounds like I'm overreacting. But try nearly getting killed or maimed for following traffic laws a couple of times a day. I once nearly got hit by four different cars as I crossed one two-lane street, in the crosswalk, when I had the right of way (I had waited for the couple of cars that got there before I did to go through the intersection before entering the crosswalk, and I had thought everyone waiting at the stop sign had seen me).

This kind of thing is not just an inconvenience. Having to walk all the way around behind and through the exhaust fumes of a car that has pulled out of a driveway onto the sidewalk in front of me is an inconvenience (a significant one for a person who is sensitive to exhaust fumes, and one I shouldn't have to go through a half-dozen times a day or more, but still just an inconvenience). Having cars nearly hit me, having no way to avoid that without making my commute take twice as long and even then no sure way to keep it from happening (because at least half the time it happens when I'm crossing in a crosswalk with the light in my favor) -- that's a hazard, and goddamn it, it's a fucking injustice.

This kind of shit bothers me so much because it's part of a continuum of behavior in which people with money,* people with privilege of all kinds, consider that it's the responsibility of a person without privilege to make sure she gets out of their way when they feel like speeding through an intersection without bothering to look. Even entitled grade-A assholes in beemers don't drive out in front of other vehicles whenever they feel like it, because other vehicles pose a threat to their precious Compensationmobiles. But all kinds of people routinely drive out in front of me as if I didn't even exist, and when I complain that it's my right of way, they laugh at me, or they tell me I should go out of my way to walk behind them and through their exhaust fumes, or they flip me off, or they otherwise treat me like I'm trying to take something away from them that's rightfully theirs when it's the other way around.

In a sane world, people with more power -- vehicular, financial, sexual, racial, political, whatever -- would not get to do whatever the fuck they felt like to people with less power. This is why we have traffic laws that protect pedestrians in the first place. This is why we have laws that prohibit corporations from stealing from their shareholders and their employees. It's why we have impeachment laws. It's why we have anti-rape laws. Fuck, it's why we have anti-murder laws. Walking down the street isn't supposed to be a free-for-all in which a person armed with a dangerous weapon gets to threaten me and make me give up my rights.**

It is the responsibility of any person or group of people with power to make sure that they don't hurt those with less power. Period. I would have thought that doing so was more important than grabbing those extra five seconds you don't want to lose by letting me have the goddamn right of way I'm legally entitled to, but apparently not.

*I don't by any means assume that all people who own cars have more money than me; I am relatively economically privileged, not least because I live in a city where the bus service is good (and is cheap for me because I'm a student) and I therefore have the option of choosing not to stretch my income to the breaking point in order to buy a car. I stress money here because, even though it's a stereotype, it is absolutely true that the person, say, flipping me off for daring to cross the street after my light turned green because he wanted to run his own red light to make a turn in front of me, is more likely to be driving a BMW or a Mercedes or a Corvette or some other ridiculously expensive car. And, I might add, male. The more kinds of privilege you have, the more likely you are to feel entitled to take what you want from those who already have less than you. For example, my former (white, male, well-off) boss once told me that whenever he was driving and wanted to switch lanes, he just looked over at who was driving in the lane he wanted to be in, and if it was "a gal or an Asian," he would cut them off without a second thought. Conversely, the more underprivileged groups you belong to, the more likely you are to be taken advantage of in any given way. As a woman, I may not get cut off by drivers any more than male pedestrians do, but I suspect that I get more negative reactions when I try to assert my rights. And, of course, I run more risk in trying to assert my rights, to male drivers in particular, just as a Hispanic pedestrian would run more risk in trying to assert her/his rights to a white driver.

**Just to be 100% clear, I understand that my issues with drivers are so minor they're ridiculous compared to problems like rape, murder, misogyny, racism, etc. My point is that all of these behaviors grow from the same root cause: unacknowledged privilege.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

staying positive!

Papers. Finals. Papers. Finals. (My sister. My daughter.) I have a paper that was initially due tomorrow, but for which I have an extension until Monday, which is a good thing, because I have yet to even read through the paper topics. I have a final in a week that will consist of three straight hours of writing. It's from 4-7 pm. Then the professor wants us to stay afterwards and watch a really depressing three-hour movie, which isn't actually French, but ought to be.

But whatever. Things are tough all over. Here are two stories about people/creatures fighting the patriarchy, because I'm trying a new thing on, and it's called Staying Positive:
Have a lovely evening, everyone. When I die from writers' cramp around 5:30 next Thursday evening, be sure to note at my funeral that I was always so full of life.

*If I weren't so completely committed to this "Staying Positive" project, I'd point out rather bitterly that apparently it's okay to use the word "rape" in a headline when the victim is an animal, but when the victim is a woman it's "sex" or, if we're lucky, "'rape.'" Fortunately, I didn't say any of that out loud. Right?

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

guess where i'm blogging from?

My iphone. Yep, I'm that kind of person now. The kind of person who, upon suddenly recalling the existence of her blog after having spent the past several months drinking the waters of blog-Lethe [Ed.: holy cow do I need writing practice], immediately looks for an iphone blogging app instead of walking into the other room and turning on the computer.

The iphone and I are very happy together.

In other news, life proceeds apace. Professors and T.A.s alike find me brilliant. People are attracted to my many attractive qualities. I've learned how to speak to dolphins. My pony has free wifi, so I get great surfing speeds on the old iphone whilst cantering through all those soft-focus meadows.

How's everyone else?