Thursday, December 29, 2005

Why I have no intention of going to see "Memoirs of a Geisha"

As the usual pre-Oscar marketing blitz takes hold I am increasingly being subjected to queries about when I'm planning to go see "Memoirs of a Geisha". The simple answer is, some time after hell freezes over.
In a way I suppose I know why people are asking what to me seems like a completely asinine question to be asking a feminist married to an Asian man. My interest in Japanese pop culture is fairly well known at work, mostly due to the fact that I have little badges of one of my favourite bands (L'arc En Ciel, in case anyone was wondering) decorating the bag I take to work (and yes, I know having badges on my bag is kind of juvenile - so shoot me). Since the badges are of cute little cartoon figures of the band, this tends to lead to people asking me what they're all about, hence my fondness for the Japanese rock scene being fairly well known to my co-workers.
Why this should lead anyone to assume that I would want to see a crappy Hollywood blockbuster about a faux-Japanese woman being forced into sexual slavery by a rigidly patriarchal culture that hardly even exists and more is, however, a little difficult to understand.
Why do I despise the very idea of this movie? Oh, let me count the ways. Firstly, the book on which the movie is based is in turn loosely (and I mean VERY loosely) based on the memoirs of an actual former geisha. The woman in question is on record stating that she is not at all happy with what the (sexist, racist, clearly not too bright) American author did with her memoirs. Indeed, Mr Golden should consider himself lucky that the woman in question's very Japanese good manners have thus far prevented her from giving him the taking down that he so richly deserves for his very silly book.
Secondly, memo for racist Hollywood executives - I hate to break it to you but, despite what you seem to believe, all Asian people do not in fact look alike. Japanese and Chinese people in particular do not look alike at all. Over Christmas the subject of this movie came up while I was having dinner with my in laws (note - I was the only non-Asian person in the room). The first comment made by each and every person was "but she looks so Chinese!". This is in no way intended as an insult,by the way - Zhang Ziyi is a very beautiful woman. What she is quite clearly not, however, is Japanese. And why, pray tell, does her character in this movie have blue eyes? She's not supposed to be hapa - were the creators of this movie under the impression that colored contacts were in common use in Kyoto during the 1930s?
So, all the main female roles in the movie (with one exception which is a fairly minor role) are played by Chinese actresses, none of whom look remotely Japanese. The wierdness of this is even more emphasised by the fact that all of the leading actors are Japanese, which leads to a rather odd visual effect - in what strange country inhabited only by Chinese women with wierd fake-looking blue eyes and Japanese men is this story supposed to be set?
Secondly, why did they film most of the movie in California? Golden Gate Park is very pretty, but it doesn't exactly bear an overwhelming resemblence to the traditional gardens of Kyoto. To anyone who's ever seen the real Kyoto, even in pictures, the scenery is downright distracting. The trees and flowers are all wrong. You keep expecting a couple of Deadheads to come ambling out of the bushes and offer Sayuri a hit off their bong.
Thirdly, why are some of the characters speaking with strange faux-Japanese accents? Either English or Japanese would be fine, but pick a language and stick with it. The dialect in this film is verging on Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's levels of offensiveness in some of the clips I've seen. Was there really any need for that?
Fourthly, could you find a more offensive stereotype of the passive, compliant Asian woman than the geisha? No wonder the white male racists who run the movie business love the idea of this movie. They'll be eating it up in Peoria, mark my words. Our MRA friends will be in heaven.
Fifthly, why does American pop culture persist in painting Japan as a country trapped in amber, as if wandering ronin still walked the land? From Shogun to Lost In Translation to this, I've yet to see an American movie dealing with Japan that didn't make me want to either throw something at the screen or curl up in embarrasment while apologising profusely for the stupidity of my countrymen.
And speaking of Lost in Translation, Chris Doyle (fabulous Aussie born, HK based cinematographer) had a great rant about that movie and what it says about Western racism and cultural arrogance. I'd love to see what he has to say about this steaming pile of stereotypes.
Lastly, if they really had to make this stupid movie, couldn't they have at least have noticed that the lot of the geisha was not a happy one, and I don't mean in a faux-romantic/tragic way but in a quite genuine sexual slavery and being required to kiss ass for a living really sucks kind of way? And I know I'm going on about this, but could they really not find a Japanese actress to play the lead? If one was making a blockbuster with a Japanese female lead who is required to sing, dance and play musical instruments wouldn't you think that they logical person to cast would be, say, Ayumi Hamasaki (who not only used to be an actress but can actually sing)? Of course, Ms Hamasaki would have probably had enough common sense and general self respect to refuse to have anything to do with this pile of crap.
Finally - have the producers of this movie never heard the phrase "comfort women"? To make a movie about Japan featuring a cast of Chinese actresses and have them play, of all things, glorified prostitutes...the mind boggles.
Please don't misunderstand me - I like Zhang Ziyi, and I LOVE Gong Li, who is one of the most talented actresses working today and who deserves far better than this exploitative nonsense. It's just that the whole idea of this project pretty much stinks from start to finish. What the hell were any of the people involved thinking? And are American audiences really stupid enough to think that the life of a geisha was "romantic", and to be unable to tell the difference between a Chinese and a Japanese woman? Sadly, I suspect that the answer to both is probably yes. How very depressing.
The SF Bay Guardian has a number of notable comments about this movie in this week's issue, including one that called in a slap in the face to all Asian Americans. Judging from the reactions it's getting from the people I know, that seems to be a not uncommon reaction. Merry fucking Christmas from Hollywood, where sexism and racism are both still very much the order of the day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Things that really piss me off, Part 1 - The Abortion Wars

Propaganda on BART
OK, as of now I am officially pissed. What did I see as I was taking the train into work this morning that made me want to throw my coffee cup at the wall and go find the person responsible so I could kick his or her ass, you ask? Well, I’m happy to share. What I saw was an anti-abortion propaganda poster from something called the Respect for Life Ministry in Oakland. The poster featured a blurry picture of a woman clutching protectively at her belly with text saying something along the lines of “The Supreme Court made abortion legal up till 9 months. Don’t you think we’ve gone too far?”.
Firstly, respect for whose life? Certainly not mine, which was not improved in any way by having to read this crap before my morning coffee. I’m not seeing how this improves the lives of all the American citizens currently getting shot at by the Iraqi resistance, either, or all the Katrina victims who are still waiting for someone to find them a permanent place to live. There are actual crises going on where those who have a genuine desire to preserve and improve the lives of others could be a real help if they chose to, and this is what these idiots are worried about?
I’m so sick and tired of this disingenuous bullshit from the fetus-fetishists. First of all, abortion is not in fact generally legal up to 9 months. Really late-term abortions are only legal in cases of extreme fetal abnormalities or risk to the life of the mother. It is not in fact possible for a woman who is 8 and a half months pregnant to walk into a clinic and say “I’d like an abortion now, please, I just suddenly upped and changed my mind. Oopsie, silly me!”. Despite how much those who fetishise the fetus would like to believe it, most abortions do not in fact happen in the third trimester, and the few that do happen for serious medical reasons. These procedures are not done on a whim.
Secondly, who is this “we” of whom they speak? Most Americans support legalized abortion. These crass attempts at emotional manipulation are nothing more than an attempt to get around that basic fact by misleading the public into thinking that something truly shocking is happening, when in fact the reality is much more mundane.
Here’s the really creepy thing. While I’m sure that there are a few anti-abortion zealots so uneducated that they really do believe that women are randomly running out and getting abortions in the eighth month of pregnancy for completely trivial reasons, I’m also pretty sure that those are not the people who are running campaigns like this. I’m sure that most of the people who design posters like this are very well aware that the only abortions that happen really late in pregnancy happen because the fetus is so genetically abnormal that it’s life expectancy outside the womb would be very short, or because continuing with the pregnancy would place the life of the mother in danger. So, if they are aware of the reality, why send out messages that attempt to mask that reality? There are only two reasons as far as I can see. One, they are so determined to win people over to their cause that they don’t care if the have to lie to do it. Secondly, they honestly think that danger to the life of the mother just isn’t all that important. I’m betting on the second, actually.
Can we please just stop pretending that these people don’t hate women?
So, I’m officially pissed. Is it even legal for religious organizations to prosthelatise on public transport? And why, in an area as liberal as this, would the BART officials agree to sell advertising space to these lunatics? I’m thinking that this may be a great opportunity for a bit of citizen activism. This is not Kansas, folks, and this crap has no place in the Bay Area. I’m getting mighty tired of the religious right’s attempts to intrude on my personal space, and I see no reason why people should be forced to look at religious propaganda while they’re commuting to work in the morning. So, Bay Area folks, is there anything we can do about this? Start some kind of campaign to let BART know that this stuff is not acceptable in the Bay Area?

Monday, December 12, 2005

On Brokeback Mountain and how women really feel about hot guys making out

I saw a really interesting discussion over at Pandagon the other day which, due to my recent blogging hiatus, I didn't stumble across until everyone else had moved on, so I thought I'd resart the conversation here. The initial post was about the movie Brokeback Mountain and one homophobic little weenie's horrified response, in which he asserted that all American as disgusted by the very thought of anal sex, and that no-one wants to see two hot young actors going at it on the big screen, therefore the movie is destined to be a failure.
It took me a while to stop laughing for long enough to be able to type, but now that I've calmed down a bit, I wanted to address the many layers of bullshit in this idiot's argument.
First of all, no one wants to see two hot young men men making out? Is this guy smoking crack? Firstly, about 10% of the male population is gay, and an unspecified further number are bisexual/bicurious. Does this guy think that these men don't buy movie tickets? Like I said, the idea is laughable.
The more interesting thing that he's overlooking, at least to me, is a quite different phenemenon, though. Namely, that a significant percentage of the straight female population LOVES to watch hot young men make out. Tempting as it is to just mock our homophobic little friend for his sexual ignorance, I suspect that many other straight men in this country are under exactly the same illusion, and I find that interesting. A quick poll of my female friends finds that at least 50% would be VERY happy to watch a couple of hot young guys making out, although most of us are less enthusiastic about gay porn per se, the reason cited usually being that it's a bit too agressive for most of our tastes. Given that, why the disconnect between what so many women actually find sexy and men's perception of what women find sexy?
I don't really have an answer on that one, but I do have a few theories. Firstly, I think it may just be an aspect of the generalised idea floating around in our society that women are fundamentally asexual, and that our sexuality only exists as a function of what men need in order to get off. I'm sorry to be so crass, but that does seem to be a fairly common viewpoint. From that point of view, the idea that women have any desires that aren't useful to the average straight guy becomes puzzling.
The bigger thing going on here, though, is our culture's continuing insistence that men cannot and should not ever be viewed as sexual objects. Or, to put it in academic language, one of our culture's central myths is not so much that women do not have "the gaze" (although that's a part of the issue), as it is that men are not ever supposed to be the objects of the gaze.
As I've said before, I think this idea is ludicrous. I objectify men all the time. So does every other straight or bi woman I know. The fact that our culture stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that that ever happens is a source of frequent amusement to me.
This underlying cultural phenomenon becomes immediately apparent when discussing the idea that women like looking at men making out. Most men I've ever had this conversation with have looked at me with blank incomprehension, as if I had just suggested something that their brains were simply not able to process. The idea that men are never sexual objects, and that women don't have enough sexual energy of their own to feel the need to objectify others, is so prevalant that most people never even question it. Try to talk to anyone in academia about "the gaze" and you'll see what I mean.
The wierd thing about this is, this idea about who has the gaze and who does not is not universal across all societies. Example - as anyone reading this probably knows, I'm interested in Japanese pop culture. Within that pop culture, there is a positive glut of homoerotic imagery produced specifically for female consumption. You see it in manga, you see it in anime, and you see it in the music industry. In fact, one of my favourite Japanese pop stars is notorious for the fact that all of his live shows feature a great deal of homoerotic play between him and his band members. Watch a video of those live shows, and you can clearly see that the homoerotic moments are what really makes the little girls scream in Beatlemania-like ecstasy. The singer in question refers to these cleverly staged homoerotic tableaux as "fanservice", and claims that he himself is straight and is putting on a show in order to make his female fans happy (and on behalf of those female fans I say - thanks, babe, we appreciate it!).
If you're a woman who likes looking at hot guys fool around in Japan, there is an entire section of the pop culture devoted to making you happy. This is perfectly logical, as the people who produce music, movies etc are not stupid and know which side their bread is buttered on. The question is, why is there no equivalent material catering to the desire of women to watch hot boys make out in the US? Given the worship of the almighty dollar that prevails over here, you would think that someone would have identified this market segment which is so woefully underserved and come up with some product to sell women like me and my friends. Why haven't they?
Postcript : for those who are shaking their heads and wondering what the hell I'm talking about in regards to the prevalance of pretty boys fooling around in Japanese pop culture, I recommend Googling the term "bishonen". It's very illuminating, and does tend to make you wonder why our culture has failed to produce much in the way of a similar phenomenon.

PS Does anyone here know how to create trackbacks in Blogger? I feel like I should be giving Amanda credit for starting me musing on this topic.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Quick repost of something I posted at Alas. I realised that I'm carpetblogging, as Arwen puts it, again, so I thought I'd move the conversation back over here. The topic at hand - race as a component of identity. I need to go to bed soon, but I'll come back and tidy this up tomorrow.
I really do think that Americans are insane on the topic of race, by the way. A few months ago I had a fellow leftist feminist call me a racist because I said that I was attracted to Asian men. Not "I love the culture because I have some ignorant idea that it is X, Y and Z" or "I think that men from Asia have X characteristics", just that I tend to find Asian men in general more physically attractive than other demographics, although not exclusively so (I was talking about a particular group of Japanese rock stars, FYI). Only in America could that be construed as racist.
Anyway, re-post below. Thoughts?

Also, this was interesting (about the idea of in-groups)“Now, people are not necessarily naturally racist in the sense that they are hardwired to define “their own kind” in terms that are based on race; generally it is based on whom they associate with; however, for most of human history people were a lot more segregated by race than they are now, so “their own kind” was determined racially. Moreover, as the preference for “one’s own kind” is related to the biological imperative to spread one’s genes, “nature’s intent” as it were was for the preference to be racial (i.e. to benefit those in the same extended family) and race is probably the easiest category for people to develop the sense of “ones’ own kind” with.
Just look at how many “primitive” tribes’ (i.e. not integrated into modern civilization) names for themselves are “the people”? or “the true people” or something like that.”
//My comment begins here///
Here’s the thing. More and more as time goes on and mass communications, cheap and frequent travel etc become factors, what people see as signifying “one’s own kind” may be changing.Take me as an example. When I think of “my kind” race has nothing to do with it. I’m much more likely to identify people of a different race who belong to the same subcultures as me (goth, BSDM, artsy/creative) as “my kind” than people of my own race who look superficially like me but do not share my subcultural identifications. So, for example, a white Evangelical soccer mom with 3 kids who is as conventional as can be and has never left the town in Arkansas she grew up in? Not “my kind”. Someone involved in the Japanese visual kei scene with a creative job? “My kind”. Bill O’Reilly? Not “my kind”, even though we’re not only both white but both Celts who were brought up as Christians. The woman I met last week on the train who is trying to carve out a career for herself as a dancer who I spent half an hour talking leftist poltitics with, who happens to be from Brazil? “My kind”. Race is only one of the factors that make up identity.Of course I had a wierd upbringing (ex-pat/Third Culture kid) and that may have something to do with it, but I think that outside the poisonous racial politics that still prevail in much of the US, the idea of race as one’s primary marker of identity is on the wane, at least for a certain (admittedly elite) section of society. Honestly, I think that most Americans don’t realise how much more blatantly racist than most other societies their country is. I’ve never been anyplace as race-concious as the American South.Which is another relevant point. The idea of race in most societies is intimately bound up with the idea of class. The higher up the social ladder you look, the less race matters. This is true in every country I’ve ever lived in, and I’ve lived on 4 different continents.
I’m probably getting a bit off topic so I’ll quit now, but I do think it’s worth noting that the obsession with the idea of race as the one and only way to classify people, and the refusal to recognise how class is tied into that, is somewhat of a uniquely American issue.Also, I’d argue with the idea that people always historically defined “their own kind” by race. If a population was geographically isolated and had no contact with other racial groups, how would that even be possible? the idea of race is oppositional in nature - how would people define themselves that way if they had no outside group to compare themselves to?
This part in particular freaked me out.” Moreover, as the preference for “one’s own kind” is related to the biological imperative to spread one’s genes, “nature’s intent” as it were was for the preference to be racial (i.e. to benefit those in the same extended family)” If you’re suggesting what you seem to be suggesting, I can only point out that in every society in which people of differing races have co-existed, they have had sex with and had children with each other. If your idea that a “preference for one’s own kind” is related to the imperative to “spread one’s genes” was true, that wouldn’t happen, and yet it does, every time. Proving, once again, that there’s nothing inherant about racism.

Monday, November 28, 2005

My recent absence
Some of you may have noticed that I haven't been posting very much recently. Yes, I'm a bad blogger. Mea culpa and all that.
There is a reason, though. My fiction-writing muse seems to have returned, and knowing from experience that she could depart just as quickly as she arrived, I'm taking advantage of the inspiration and concentrating on my fiction for now.
Some of you may also have noticed an increasing obsession with Japanese pop culture (I'm trying to reign this in and not bore you guys to death with it too much). Again, there is a reason for this - the male lead in the piece I'm working on is Japanese. Which brings me to a favour I wanted to ask - is anyone who reads this blog at all familiar with Japanese culture? Has anyone ever lived in Japan? If so, I might want to enlist you as a beta reader at some point.
Also, since I note that we have a few sci-fi fans here, I have a hypothetical situation that I could use some input on. The story that I'm working on has somewhat of a speculative fiction slant to it. Specifically, it has a couple of lead characters who have exceptionally long lifespans and may in fact not be entirely human. I'm not talking about vampirism - frankly I think that whole vampire theme has been done to death recently, and I'm not remotely interested in going there. However, this does leave me with a bit of a problem, in that I have characters with unusually long lifespans and no easy, pat explanation for why that should be the case. So, the question is, if you as a reader were to run across that in a book would you feel the need for a pseudo-scientific explanation involving DNA,gene mutations etc? Or would you be able to accept the idea that the people themselves might not know the reason for their long lifespans? Would it really bug you if no clear explanation was given, beyond "there are a few of us who are this way, and nobody really knows why"? Or would no explanation be preferable to a crappy pseudo-scientific "explanantion" that doesn't really make any scientific sense anyway?
I'm at a point where I could probably cut out that element of the story or create some kind of work-around, but I don't really want to. I tend to think that my first instincts as far as how to structure a story are usually the right ones. It would be interesting to hear other people's input, though. So, any comments?
Sometimes I really hate my homeland...
I'm assuming that everyone has heard about the recent British survey that found that 34% of people thought that a woman who is flirtatious and is raped is partially or totally responsible for what happens to her? I'm also guessing that I'm not the only one who's mighty pissed off about this. Why must my countrymen display the emotional and intellectual development of 12 year olds? Why the persistance of the cultural myth that any man who finds himself in the presence of a woman who does not appear to be an 80 year old nun simply cannot be expected to control himself?
It's always puzzled me that more men don't object to this myth. Guys, when you see yourselves portrayed as barely civilized neanderthals ruled by your dicks don't you find that offensive? It would offend the hell out of me.
Also, about the idea that women "send messages" via their choice of clothing...can we please give this idea that burial that it so richly deserves? As someone who used to be part of a subculture which tends towards rather overtly sexy clothing, I can tell you beyond a doubt that my wearing a short skirt and thigh-high boots was NEVER intended as a message saying "I'll fuck anyone, just ask!". Quite the opposite, in fact, it was intended more to say "if you don't belong to the same subculture as I do, don't even bother talking to me, I'm not interested". Indeed, this is not an uncommon thing. To the extent that clothing is intended to communicate with others, what it is often saying is "I identify with subculture X, so if you do too then come talk to me! And if you don't, get lost". The really dumb thing about the "women's choice of clothing sends a message" idea is this - even if it really does send a message, what the hell makes you think that message is aimed at you, random guy on the street? Or that you know how to "read" that message?
Also, it's a sign of how completely fucked-up British (and American) culture is that people are incapable of comprehending the fact that flirtation does not equal an invitation to have sex, right here and right now. The complete inability of the nations of the British diaspora to grasp how the concept of flirting works is a continual dissapointment to me, and as this stupid survey shows it's also a source of danger to women.
So, I know it's been said before, but just for the record I'm going to say it again. If I'm wearing a short skirt, that doesn't give you the right to rape me. If I'm smiling and friendly, that doesn't mean that you can assume that I want to fuck you. If I'm drunk, that also does not mean that I'm looking for sex, and even if I am in fact looking for sex, that does not mean that I'm looking for sex with any guy who happens to wander past. Women do in fact possess the power of speech, and if we want to have sex with you, trust me, we'll let you know. If we don't let you know and you decide to fuck us anyway then guess what? You're a rapist. I'm tired of mincing words about this. Apparently my countrymen need a good slap in the face to acquaint them with reality, and right now I'm in the mood to provide one.
Damn, people are dumb.

Link to an article about the survey in question below.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Memento Mori
I'm feeling very sad today because I just learned that former Shonen Knife drummer Mana "China" Nishiura, who was on tour with garage rock band DMBQ, was killed in a car crash on November 3rd. China meant a lot to me because I adored Shonen Knife as a teenager. In the days before Riot Grrl, it was pretty rare to see a female band that weren't overly-sexualised fembots, and Shonen Knife were wonderful - punky and poppy and quirky and wierd and gloriously real. "Quiver" is still one of my favourite songs about love and lust from a female perspective. They were also responsible for introducing me to the world of Japanese pop culture, for which I am profoundly grateful.
It's strange how the death of someone you never even met can make you feel so sad. When I first tried to write this there was a power cut while I was writing, which seems entirely appropriate. A few moments sitting in the dark thinking back on the past seems like a good way to honor China. Of course, seeing someone being so maudlin would have probably prompted her to crack a few jokes and smack me in the head with a drum stick.
Sweet dreams, China. You will be missed.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The politics of identity

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of identity recently. Specifically, I've been pondering the notion that we all have multiple identities, that identity is a multi-faceted thing.
This all started with an argument I got into with a feminist fellow-traveller over at Twisty's blog (Thomas knows what I'm talking about). She basically accused me of being anti-feminist (pause for a moment to savour the irony there) because I objected to her labelling the practise of BSDM as inherently anti-feminist, and implying that women who participate in such activities are patriarchy-worshipping puppets. It's funny how much that pissed me off, especially since I really haven't been actively involved in the BSDM scene in over 10 years. I think that the reason it pissed me off is that, even though I'm no longer an active participant, BSDM is still an important part of my identity. It's part of how I define myself. So is goth, which the woman in question was also attempting to label as anti-feminist (without any indication that she actually had any knowledge of either scene, by the way).
So, this got me thinking about identity. Specifically, does one's devotion to a particular political ideal (in my case feminism or socialism) mean that one is required to eschew all the other parts of one's identity? The idea that it does seems to be tragically common in feminist circles, and slightly less common but still not exactly unfamiliar in socialist ones. This idea annoys the hell out of me. Firstly, there's the "it's not my revolution if I can't dance to it" element. Why should I let someone else decide for me what is and is not an acceptable part of my identity as a feminist, or a socialist? Does that not go against the whole spirit of both movements? Does anyone else see the irony in a feminist attempting to tell another feminist that an activity which she perceives as wholly positive and as something from which she derives sexual pleasure is in fact unnacceptable, and that she is deluded in thinking that she enjoys it? Is there anything more fundamentally anti-feminist than telling another woman that her actual lived experiences are not real, that her perceptions are not to be trusted? I wanted to smack her, and I don't mean that in a fun way.
Secondly, telling members of a political group that there is a standard of ideological correctness that they must adhere to, and that they are not competent to judge for themselves whether or not they are meeting that standard, is a crappy way to build a movement. It's less like inviting someone into a movement than inviting them to join a cult. Everyone's identities are multi-layered - there's gender, race, culture, class, religion, sexual orientation, pop cultural affiliations, political beliefs, and a whole host of other things. It's never as simple as "feminist" or "socialist", ESPECIALLY for those who are not white and middle class.
Thirdly, one's multiple identities, preferences and cultural affiliations are part of what makes life interesting. Indeed, it's a big part of what makes PEOPLE interesting. Have you ever met one of those people who have made one part of their identity into their sole cause for being? Since I'm into goth I meet the "vampire" version a lot, and they annoy the crap out of me. Must you really wear your fangs to the grocery store, or the DMV? Am I actually supposed to pretend that I think they're real when we're in line to get coffee? Tully's doesn't sell blood lattes, you know.
Lastly, why are my choices in terms of how I construct my identity any of anyone else's damn business? Or anyone else's choices? And why are some people so resistant to the idea that identity is multi-layered?
For myself, my identity includes the categories "feminist" and "socialist". It also includes punk, goth, BSDM, a love of anime and sci-fi, a generalised sense of intellectualism and a love of academic theory, a fascination with Japanese pop culture and Russian history, a love of swimming, and a strong sense of myself as not belonging to any particular culture, but being able to move between cultures with ease (many TCKs would recognise that feeling). All of these things are a part of my identity. Some of them are more significant than other, and which ones are most prominent is a thing that varies from one time to another, but all of them are in there. Not one of them should require abandoning any of the others. Is that really so difficult to grasp?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Monday movie blogging
I just signed up for Netflix. I've been putting off doing so for years, mainly because I didn't think they would carry anything that I actually want to see. Well, it turns out that their repetoire has expanded considerably and they now carry all the stuff (anime, Hong Kong action movies, Japanese horror) that ye olde local Blockbusters does not. So, I'll probably be babbling about movies I've seen over the next few weeks. Knowing me, I'm sure that both politics and feminism will end up in there somewhere. Such as in this, the very first movie I got from Netflix.
Sin City. I loved comics as a kid, and still love anime, so I though that this might be a good movie for me. Damn, was I ever wrong. This is, literally, the only movie I've ever turned off and refused to finish within less than half an hour. I hated it. Not only did I hate it, it left me feeling so skeeved out that I felt like I needed to take a shower and wash my mind out with soap while I was at it.
The people who made Sin City really hate women. I've noticed a bit of that in Roberto Rodriguez' movies before, but it was really obvious here. Every single plot point seems to revolve around an overly-sexualised woman being abused or killed in some way. They even start it off with a kidnapped little girl, with a voiceover gleefully telling you about how all the other little girls kidnapped by the same guy have been raped before being murdered. Now don't get me wrong - I like horror movies. Blood doesn't phase me at all. In fact, the next 2 movies on my list are the notoriously bloody Battle Royale and Audition, which is so scary that Rob Zombie said that he had to sleep with the lights on after watching it. My own fiction can be quite notably dark. It's not as if I'm afraid of confronting disturbing material, but this movie left me with a quite palpable sense of threat, and I'm having a hard time explaining why. It's as if I get the sense that the people who made this movie are actually deriving genuine sexual pleasure out of the abuse of the women (and female children) in the story. It feels like they're savouring those women's suffering like a delicious meal. It's creepy as hell. What's interesting is that the media lauded this movie as daring and controversial. Apparently open hatred of women and a blatant desire to see them hurt is considered sexy. Ick, ick, ick. When they added in the little girl they really lost me. Interestingly enough my husband felt the same way, calling it a movie for the "fledgling serial killer demographic". I get the feeling the Green River and Zodiac killers would have viewed Sin City as the best porn ever made. Like I said, creepy.
Also, the wierd visual effects are interesting for about 5 minutes and then rapidly become gimmicky and annoying. And it's got Mickey Rourke in it, which is always a pretty good sign that a movie is going to suck.
The other movie was one that I can recommend though, albeit with a few caveats. "Returner" is a Japanese sci-fi movie that throws every sci-fi premise of the last 20 years into a blender and then serves up the results in high style complete with transforming alien ships and Takeshi Kaneshiro in a leather trenchcoat. Pretty much everything is in there - little kids being kidnapped to be harvested for their organs, alien invasion, time travel, bullet time, scene-chewing villain, manipulative Triad godfather, cackling elderly Chinese lady who deals in guns while sipping tea and adorable defenceless alien baby. That plus the aformentioned pretty-boy-in-leather. It sounds like a mess, and it kind of is, but it's an exhilarating mess. It's derivative, as many critics complained, but then criticising the Japanese movie industry for being derivative after all the blatant thievery (Matrix anyone?) and outright remakes that Hollywood has come up with is a bit hypocritical. If you like action-oriented sci-fi you'll probably like this. And if you're either a straight woman or a gay man you'll definately like Kaneshiro, who is beyond a doubt one of the most beautiful people in the history of the movie industry. I could probably quite happily sit and watch him fold laundry, but seeing him scale the side of a tanker or ride a motorbike and shoot at people while wearing a fabulous suit is even better.
What I really enjoyed about "Returner" was the ways in which it deviated from the rigid gender roles that are ever-present in Hollywood action movies. Miyamato (the Kaneshiro character) is a gun-toting, ass-kicking hero but he isn't inhumanly perfect or unnaturally fearless - he gets confused, freaked out and despondant, and there's a lot of sarcastic humour in the character. When the Milly character (played by Ann Suzuki, the kid from "Snow Falling On Cedars) plants a bomb on his neck to force him to help her, he does a panicky little dance of frustration that you would never see from any American action hero. The Milly character, who travels back in time to kill the first alien invader (or not, as it later turns out), behaves like an actual teenager. She's neither a pathetic little flower needing to be rescued nor an overly-sexualised fembot, she's just a determined kid. If this were a Hollywood movie I'm sure they'd have found some way to turn this into a love story, but in "Returner" the two form more of a big brother-little sister relationship (appropriate, as Suzuki was only 14 at the time).
One point to note for those who may have read reviews of this movie - many Western reviewers babbled on about the "chemisty" between the two leads and how "sexy" Suzuki is. I don't know what kind of wierd projection was going on there, but this is in no way a romantic movie. Anyone expecting some "hot" adult man on early teenage girl action is going to be very dissapointed. The most physically intimate the relationship gets is a quick hug after he finds her when she's having somewhat of an emotional meltdown, and her resting her head on his shoulder while riding on the back of a motorbike. The fact that some of the reviewers were apparently unable to see "cute Japanese teenager" without thinking "hot sex" is rather depressing to me. I blame the porn industry.
"Returner" also got me thinking about the differences in the way men are presented in the Asian film industry and the way they're presented in the West, but that's a topic for another post. More later...
I'm back...
First off, thanks to everyone who sent me a note asking if I was OK over the past couple of weeks. I'm fine, honestly, I just got hit with a dose of the flu and wasn't feeling much like blogging. I guess it hasn't quite registered that people are actually reading this thing yet.
So, now that I'm back I do have some stuff that I've been mulling over while I was away that I think I'm ready to throw out there. Read on...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Ageing, feminism and desire

My recent birthday seems to have sparked a bit of self-examination in terms of how I relate to men. Credit is also due to Kameron Hurley for the following blog post, which also helped to get me thinking about the same subject.
Kameron's post was focused specifically on girl-on-girl crushes, but I'd like to take her idea and expand it out a bit more.
I have always tended to confuse emotional and physical intimacy. I don't mean that I'm one of those unfortunate souls who is constantly jumping into bed with people in the hope that it will turn into a relationship, or that having sex with someone will make the person love them. In fact, I'm the queen of monogamous long-term relationships. I haven't been single for more than 3 or 4 months at a time since I started dating as a teenager. Romantic relationships come easily for me, and always have. Whether that's a good thing or something that may inhibit my personal growth in some ways is in interesting question, and one that I'm not sure that I can answer.
How to define what I mean when I say that I tend to confuse physical and emotional intimacy? I have never had a close male friend with whom I have not at least considered becoming physically intimate. I don't mean that I've actually attempted to hop in the sack with most of my male friends, or that I've ever planned to do so. What I mean is that I can't think of a single close male friend who I don't find attractive in some way, or who I might not be willing to consider as a lover if we were both single at the same time. I used to assume that this was just the way everyone thought, and that all human beings were naturally drawn to people whom they found attractive and tended to end up making friends with them. However, as I've gotten old enough to actually realise that not everyone thinks the same way I do I am beginning to realise that this may not be the case. Other people seem to have opposite friends who they would never in a million years be sexually or romantically interested in. So, what's going on with me? Am I sexualising my relationships, or am I only forming close friendships with men who I was already sttracted to?
I think that what's going on is linked into something that came up on Kameron's blog. In general I tend to be a very demonstrative, affectionate person. I cuddle people a lot. I kiss friends hello and goodbye. My parents were both very demonstrative, and I grew up around their friends, most of whom were equally affectionate. I tend to assume a certain degree of physical intimacy between people who are emotionally intimate. This has gotten me into trouble in the past - people who aren't quite as cuddly in general often interpret my cuddliness as my making a pass, which it typically not the case (when I'm making an actual pass I'm not inclined to be subtle, and it's pretty hard to miss). The only people with whom I'm not demonstrative are people I don't like, or people who I think would be made uncomfortable by too much physical affection. Unsurprisingly, this means that people who tend not to be comfortable with physical demonstrations of affection tend to get eliminated from my group of friends fairly quickly.
What I took away from the discussion at Kameron's blog was this - many of us tend to develop romantic attachments, and a desire for physical intimacy, with people whom we like and admire, people who we feel comfortable with. In itself this is not a bad thing. It is, however, not a thing that is well accepted by our culture, especially if any of the people involved are in a group who we aren't "supposed" to have romantic or sexual feelings towards (people who are in relationships, who are not of the gender we typically see ourselves as being interested in). For many people the "look but don't touch, and you should feel guilty for even thinking about it" category includes close friends. For me it doesn't. Why is that? Am I the only one, or is this actually a common thing that our society has decided to stigmatise and sweep under the rug?
The "crush" idea also got me thinking about what I actually want when I find myself in one of those relationships where I become aware of an attraction to a close friend. I don't think I actually want to have sex with them, necessarily, especially not if I'm already involved with someone (which I usually am). What I really want is to be allowed to be physically inimate up to a point that stops far short of actual intercourse. What I really want is more like what as kids we referred to as "making out" - I want to be able to lie around and cuddle, to kiss them, to fall asleep in front of the TV after drinking a bottle of wine the way that all my friends did when we were teenagers. I resent that fact that once we pass a certain age, that no longer seems to be acceptable behavior. I've thought about why I don't really want to have sex with any of my friends, per se, but do wish that it was OK to be more physically intimate than is generally "allowed". I think that, for me at least, the difference in relationships with men that are romantic and those that are not romantic is not one of kind so much as one of degree. In a way I kind of fall in love with all my friends. What's odd is that doesn't threaten my main relationship at all, and I'm always confused as to why people think it should. Doesn't everyone kind of fall in love with their dearest friends, or am I just wierd? And where do we draw the line between what is acceptable intimacy with a friend, and what isn't? Is that line different for all of us? I'm not sure, but I've been musing about this a lot lately and it would be interesting to hear other people's perspectives.
Another interesting observation...other than for a very brief period in high school, I've always had more close male than female friends. This is particularly interesting in view of the situation I've outlined above. It's more than that, though - I honestly think that in general men like me more than women do, which is an odd situation to be in for a feminist. It's intersting to see that the same pattern is replicating online as in real life. Can anyone clue me in as to what's going on here? I'm honestly puzzled as to why this pattern always repeats itself.

And on another wierd is it that I've started to have boys literally young enough to be my kids checking me out? Last week a kid of about 15 or 16 stopped me in the street to tell me I have nice legs, and then proceeded to follow me down the street trying to make conversation. If a guy my age did the same thing I might feel a bit creeped out or threatend, but how to react when the power disparity is so clearly in my favour? It seems silly to feel threatened. What the hell does a 32 year old woman say to a teenager who's checking out her legs? Maybe I should start wearing longer skirts...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Moon Over Bourbon Street

I've been thinking about New Orleans, and about the Gulf Coast as a whole, constantly over the past few days, but haven't been quite sure what to say. Anything I can say about the current disaster would seem so trite, so meaningless in the face of all the death and destruction. My own musings over the bombings in my beloved London seem selfish in comparison - London has laready recovered, but will New Orleans ever be the same again?
The Big Easy has always held a special place in my heart. I went there for the first time at 8, a desert-raised kid new to the South, and was instantly enchanted by the place. The gorgeous old wooden buildings with their elaborate shutters in the French Quarter, the cemetary, the huge and amazing houses of the Garden District, the palaces of's one of the loveliest cities in the world. And it's almost completely gone.
A little anecdote that I think captures the spirit of the city...when I first arrived there I had never met a single black person (embarrasing to admit, huh?). I remember wandering around staring at all the jazz performers in the public squares and street corners (I'd never heard jazz before THAT was a revelation). At one point an old guy who was playing the trumpet noticed little 8-year-old me standing there with a wide-eyed stare drinking it all in. He beckoned me over, and so I slipped away from my mother and went running up to him. He bent down and said something like "where are you from, honey?" and I said "I'm from Scotland!" in my best little very non-Southern accent. I don't remember what else the guy said to me, but I remember him pretending to find a gold-covered chocolate coin behind my ear and handing it to me with a whispered "don't tell your Mom!". By the time my Mom found me I was standing on tiptoe giving the old man a kiss and asking him all kinds of nosy questions about what he was wearing and why his band played on the street and what did they do if it rained? I remember the guy grinning at my mother as she tried to extract me, apologising for my "bothering" him, telling her I was no bother, and patting me on the butt as I left with a "you get along with your Mom now" and a wink.
What really stuck out for me was how nice to me everyone was. Even at that age I knew that black people in the South had plenty of reasons to hate white people, and every justification for resenting the presence of annoyingly precocious little white kids who ask nosy questions and interrupt people when they're trying to work, and yet everywhere I went people went out of their way to be kind to me. I've been thinking about that trip as I watch the news reports about the aftermath of the hurricane. People have known for years that something like this could happen. It's not like the weaknesses of the levee system were a huge surprise. Why didn't anyone take the actions necessary to protect the city? Why wasn't there an evacuation plan beyond "get in your car and drive north"? People in New Orleans are POOR. 25% of the city lives before the poverty line. Why didn't someone take preventative action to protect those people?
The deep-seated racism of this country never fails to amaze me. If New Orleans wasn't 67% black, would this have been allowed to happen? If Savannah was in danger does anyone really think that preventative measures wouldn't have been in place? And what the hell is the deal with all those TV presenters who keep talking about "looting"? Newsflash, assholes - if a person in a disaster zone breaks into a store to get food, water and diapers, that's not looting, it's survival. Notice that no-one accuses any of the white people in the same circumstances of looting. If anyone had any remaining doubts about how deeply racism is entrenched in this country, this situation should make it cyrstal clear. What in the hell is wrong with this country? What will it take to remove the poison of bigotry from American society?
Now there's talk about not rebuilding the city, or about redeveloping the land (condo city here we come). Has everyone gone mad? New Orleans is a historic treasure, and it's utterly irreplaceable. The city has contributed far more to American culture than it has ever gotten back (look at the musical history alone). It's about time that the rest of the country gave something back, and I don't mean drunk frat and sorority kids on spring break. We owe it to the people who lived there to give them their homes back. This is the richest country in the world - can we really not provide decent distaster relief and adequate redevelopment and restoration funds?

Addendum - last time I went to NOLA was about 6 years ago. I went to one of my favourite restaurants in the world, a little hole in the wall called "Mother's" which has been there forever. The staff is all old (not a one under 50 that I've ever seen), they serve a simple menu of jambalaya and red beans and rice and buttermilk biscuits, and it's absolutely perfect. Last time I was there there was a waitress in her sixties who stood there telling me stories about old New Orleans amd twining one of my curls around her finger while waiting for my biscuits to be ready. She reminded me of my grandmother, same shape, same kindness, same enthusiasm for life. I'll bet she didn't have the money to get out of the city in time, or probably even a car to go in. I hope she's OK. I hope her kids and grandkids are OK. Every penny-pinching bureaucrat who allowed this to happen should be ashamed of him/herself. How fucked up do you have to be not to care what happens to your fellow citizens just because they're poor, or have different skin? I hope that the people who let this happen are haunted by the ghosts of every person who died as a result of their selfishness. What will it take to make people develop some basic compassion?

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Random thoughts about my birthday and the joys of public transportation

So, it's my birthday tomorrow. I'm always a bit wierd about this...part of me wants to mark the occasion in some way and another part wants to pretend it isn't happening. I'm turning 32, and that makes me feel as if I should be much farther along in terms of a life plan and much more of a grownup than I actually am. It's a wierd age, as I feel like my continuing immersion in pop culture and general lack of house and a picket fence aspirations lead to me having very little in common with people in the 40+ bracket. On the other hand, teenagers seem very young to me, and I don't identify with them either. I suppose I still feel like I'm in my mid twenties (which is about the age people who don't know me usually assume I am). I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Am I tragically immature, or just deeply countercultural?
The usual "damn I'm getting old" birthday blues were alleviated somewhat by a recent BART encounter with the guy who I am describing to friends as "sexy Swedish dude". I was on my way in to work a few days ago and found myself sitting across the train from a very hot blond guy about my age (and I don't much care for blondes, so if I say a blond is hot then they're REALLY hot). Not having had my morning coffee yet I didn't notice the guy at first, until I got the "someone is watching me" feeling and looked up to find him watching me put on my lipstick. We did the glance and glance away, little smiles, general flirting thing until, alas, he apparently reached his stop and had to get off. Made me think of the line from Thelma and Louise...I hate to see him go but I love to watch him leave.
This little encounter helped to stave off the usual birthday-induced ageing-related depression. I'm getting older, true, but the good thing is that my taste in men seems to be evolving accordingly. Teenage boys look sort of larval to me, not sexy at all, and men in their early twenties often irritate me. The men I find sexist now all seem to be about my age, which is a good thing. Not that I'm planning to get rid of P any time soon, but it's always good to know that if one were to suddenly find oneself single one still has plenty of options and has not become invisible to the opposite sex. So let's all hail sexy Swedish guys who like to flirt with women on trains - they make the world a happier place.
Since we're on the subject, why don't American men know how to flirt? Encounters with my American brethren always leave me feeling as if they're either about to hit me over the head with their club and drag me back to their cave, or they're too scared to even make eye contact. American women aren't much better. Why are Americans so flirting-impaired? Why the underlying assumption that any flirting that doesn't actually lead to sex represents some kind of failure? Why can't they just enjoy flirting for the sheer joy of it, for it's ability to add a little spark to each person's day? I never have understood this. If anyone else gets it, please clue me in. It makes daily life a lot more boring than it needs to be.
In other commuting news, I saw a guy reading "The Selfish Gene" on the train this morning. I've never much cared for either the book or it's fans, and the guy this morning did a great job of reminding me why. He spent the whole trip giving me that combined lust/resentment look that always gives me the creeps. He refused to move his stuff so that someone else could sit down. On his way out of the train he barged the other commuters as if completely unaware of their existance. Is the person selecting reading material that reinforces his own basic beliefs, or is the book leading the person to behave in a way he otherwise might not? It the book the chicken or the egg? I'm not sure. I only got through a few chapters before giving up in disgust, and to a certain extent my discomfort with Dawkins is based on the way in which other have used his work, for which he is not necessarily responsible. Did anyone else actually read the whole book? If so, please feel free to chime in.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Friday Random Ten
This seems to be a lefty blog tradition, so I figured it was time for me to join in. So, what did my MP3 player send me today?

The Ramones - Sheena is a Punk Rocker
Ministry - Stigmata
Pulp - Babies
Hanoi Rocks - Malibu Beach Nightmare
Tone Loc - Wild Thing
Manic Street Preachers - From Despair To Where
Suede - Animal Nitrate
Blur - Boys and Girls
Soundgarden - Hands All Over
Placebo - Nancy Boy

It's not too hard to tell that I'm British, huh? What's everyone else listening to today?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Britian's own entry into the Wingnut Olympics

It has come to my attention that this blog might easily be percieved by the uncharitable is American-bashing. So, in the interests of fairness, I thought it was time to point out that the UK has it's fair share of raving right-wing lunatics too. On that note, I'd like to introduce everyone to former TV chat show host, current head of UKIP and nutter extrordinaire Robert Kilroy-Silk. Here's a link to a quick BBC summary of his firing from his TV post.

And a more general overview of his career

And here's the man in his own words, as compiled by Private Eye magazine

I've often heard other British ex-pats compare Kilroy-Silk to Pat Buchannan. Now, I'm no fan of Mr Buchannan, but I do feel that the comparison is a little unfair to him. Buchannan is a crotchety old right-wing bigot, but Kilroy-Silk is absolutely barking mad. I once saw him on TV patiently explaining his theory that the world is run by a secretive cabal of gigantic 7 foot tall alien lizards (one can only assume that he was deeply traumatised by the crappy minseries "V"). No, I'm not kidding and I'm not making this up. Some rather more rational associate seems to have advised him not to mention the lizard theory in public since then, and it's hard to find any information on it (the man has very efficient lawyers), but it was the kind of thing that rather makes an impression on a young girl and I've never forgotten it.
For those of us Brits who often like to indulge in the delusion that our country is much more tolerant than the US Kilroy-Silk should serve as a national wake-up call. The man was for a while the whip of a national political party. He's an MEP. Comforting as it would be to dismiss him as a random loonie, the fact is that people actually voted for this man. There is a segment of our society that hears him say things like this, about the rising rate of TB infections, "The indigenous population is not responsible. The diseases are being brought here by refugees, immigrants and tourists... It is the foreigners that we have to focus on", and think "my, what a clever man, I think I'll vote for him".
It almost makes me wonder if this is the flip side of the famous British fondness for eccentrics. It's one thing when we're smiling at Vivienne Westwood's inexplicable handbags, or enjoying the antics of the Monster Raving Loony Party (which actually is a real national party, by the way), but is it that very love of wierdness which leads us also to tolerate dangerous wackos like Kilroy-Silk? Are people just failing to take him seriously? Or is it just that we enjoy keeping a few nutters around for the entertainment value? That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but when we start ELECTING them the whole thing starts to seem a lot less amusing. Here's another couple of Kilroy-Silk quotes.
""The barmy liberals like Diane Abbott don’t like the word ‘swamped’ when used by the Home Secretary to describe schools and GPs’ surgeries being overrun by asylum seekers who cannot speak English. What word would they prefer? Overwhelmed? Drowned? Submerged? What is the problem with using proper English words to describe an appalling situation that many British people have to put up with?"
"It is simple enough. We station paratroopers a mile from the British end of the [Channel] Tunnel.. The paras herd the immigrants together and cart them off to Dover where they are dumped on a secure slow boat to -- wherever" (17 Mar 2002)."

Still think that Brits are so much more reasonable and tolerant? Somebody voted for this guy. Isn't that an uncomfortable thought?

Addendum : Since everyone may be feeling a bit bummed out by this point I thought I'd provide some comic relief, which after all is the way Brits usually cope with depressing things. Make sure to watch this with the sound turned up.

And another thought - what the hell is going on with all the former leftists who've turned into raving right wing bigots over the past few years? Christopher Hitchins, I'm looking at you (J'accuse, in fact, you hypocritical little bastard). A lot of the neo-cons used to be leftist too. What happened?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Big Tent Feminism - Just how big is this tent, anyway?

I've been thinking a lot about differences between feminists recently. Differences in how we approach gender identity issues, differences in how we relate to men, differences between women of different races and classes. Part of what set me off on this path was the comments of the ever-perceptive Sydney at Alas on the ways in which white feminists marginalise women of color, which set me off on a quest to find non-Western feminist blogs (I found a few good ones if anyone wants links). The other thing that prompted my excursion into ideological self-criticism was reading a news article about Mary Daly, which prompted me to re-read some of her work.
So, the first thing to come out of my self-criticism exercise - I agree that mainstream feminism does indeed marginalise women of color. Not only that, it also tends to marginalise poor women. I don't think that this is the result of any kind of deliberate attempt to exclude these women, I think it's a combination of selfishness (ie I'm going to focus on the issues that affect me) and laziness (it's easier not to have to think about how other women's experiences may be different. Reaching out to others is work. Understanding is work). I think that this is a real weakness within the movement. It has become particularly apparent with the increasing dangers faced by women in Iraq. There are established feminist groups in Iraq that are trying to fight against the imposition of Sharia law and the erosion of Iraqui women's civil rights. There are feminist women in the West who want to help, and who have far more of the resources to be able to do so (money, access to the media) than the Iraqi women do. The problem is that there are no established connections between the two groups. Western feminists can't even send messages of support and solidarity, because we don't know who to send them to. This is a problem. There are also many women in Africa facing huge problems, frankly much bigger problems than women are facing here in the USA, and what are we doing to help and support them? Not much. That is also a problem. In fact, to my mind it's not just a problem, it's a betrayal of what feminism is supposed to stand for. If we believe in freedom and justice for women that needs to mean ALL women, not just the women who look like us.
The issue of how we deal with men is also a divisive one. This is where the work of Mary Daly comes in. I'm about to say something that will probably make a lot of other feminists very angry, but I think it needs to be said.
Reading Mary Daly makes me feel profoundly depressed. On some basic level I find her philosophies morally and ethically unacceptable. Part of what she says sound reasonable, even uplifting, and then we get to stuff like this.
"I think it's not a bad idea at all. If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males. People are afraid to say that kind of stuff anymore."
It's not that I'm afraid to say that kind of stuff, it's that I don't agree with it (and I don't appreciate the implication that other feminists feel the same way she does and are just afraid to admit it, by the way). Why in the hell would anyone think that a "drastic reduction" in the number of men would be a good idea? This isn't feminism, it's eugenics. Eugenics is a deeply evil idea, an appeal to the twisted underbelly of the human psyche, and I don't much care what anyone's justifications are for why it's OK to be promoting it in their special set of circumstances. I think that at some point Daly took a wrong turn. She seems to have lost sight of the fact that patriarchy is a social system and has instead decided that patriarchy is men. Patriarchy is not men. It favors men, certainly, it hurts women in a far more direct and limiting way than it hurts men, but men are trapped in its web just as certainly as women are. She's oversimplifying, and when has that ever been a good idea?
This ties in to a number of experiences I had at university. I was a psych major but took a number of feminism classes. I loved the actual lectures, devoured the reading material, but there was always an undercurrent of gender essentialism among certain of the texts, certain members of each seminar group, that made me deeply uncomfortable. Anyone who's ever had any exposure to gender studies knows what I'm talking about. Woman as all-nurturing earth mother, man as warrior and destroyer of worlds. Gender as a dichotomy, with men and women as binary opposites, forever destined to misunderstand and conflict with each other.
I'm going to be frank here. This model is bullshit. It doesn't reflect my life, it doesn't reflect the lives of anyone I know. What about the soft, femmey men? What about the stone butches? What about the women like me who feel no particular inclination to be nurturing and earth-mothery? What about the vast majority of human beings who each have a unique combinatiion of traditionally "masculine" and "feminine" traits? Where do they fit in the binary theory?
Don't misunderstand me. The vast majority of feminists completely get that gender is a fluid thing, hard to pin down and subject to almost infinite variations. But what about the essentialists in our midst? What do we do about them?
Arwen started me thinking about this in a new way and gave me a word for what I do when I encounter essentialist theories. I matronize them. I don't take them seriously. In the back of my own mind I'm patting them on the head and saying "yes dear, I know, you're upset". I tuck them into bed with a nice cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit. I assume that something, some bad experience in their past, has hurt these women so deeply that withdrawal from men is the only answer for them. I don't mean withdrawal in the sense of lesbianism, I mean complete withdrawal, a drastic alienation from anything with the slightest tinge of maleness. And honestly, if they wish to withdraw themselves I have no issue whatsoever with that choice. It's not my decision to make. The problem is that they're advocting separatism as the only acceptable feminist option, and I'm not willing to accept that.
In spite of my overall respect for Dworkin there are bits and pieces of her theory that provoke this same reaction in me. I recognise the fact that what she's saying is true for her, and is true for millions of women all over the world, but it's not true for me. It doesn't reflect my life experiences.
This is where a bit of background might come in handy. From the age of 2 till 8 I lived in Libya. In our little expat community there were only a few families and a much larger number of men on what was called "bachelor status", men who worked there alone while their families stayed home, who only saw their wife and kids for perhaps a month out of every year. Whenever my parents would go to a party these men were my babysitters. My Mom threw frequent dinner parties at which there were always at least a few of these men - indeed a large part of the reason that she threw the parties was because she felt sorry for these men who were separated from their families for so much of the time. The reason I have never been able to swallow the "women are naturally nurturing and men are not" idea is that I spent my childhood surrounded by extremely nurturing men. They read me stories, they helped me take me baths, they kissed skinned knees and tended colds, they told me jokes when I was sad, they took me swimming and answered my incessant questions about how and why and what and where and dammit I need to know how everything works! In a way I was an incredibly fortunate child. These men lavished upon me all the affection that circumstances prevented them from lavishing upon their own children who were so far away. I loved every one of my "uncles", and I always knew that they loved me.
This is why the essentialist, separatist part of feminism is completely anathema to me. I love men. Not all men, obviously. I don't really love all women either. All human beings have the potential to be nasty and selfish and cruel, and all too many don't even try to be any better. Some try and fail, eaten up by their own personal demons. But there is nothing wrong with "men" in the abstract that the demolition of the patriarchy couldn't potentially fix, and I simply cannot accept the idea that some people cannot separate the social and political system that grinds us all down from the individuals who live within that system. To do so would be to deny my own life experience, and I'm not willing to do that.
I've been chewing this over in one way and another ever since university, hell probably since long before that, and for a long time I've just kept my mouth shut out of fear of angering and alienating my fellow feminists, and I'm not willing to do that any more. This is my movement too, and I demand the right to have a say in how it works. I'm not willing to write off half the human race, and I'm not willing to lend my support to those who do. I would also like to remind my sisters that in promoting essentialist arguments they are acually letting the men who behave badly off the hook. If we set up a binary in which men simply are "that way", if we "other" them, then are we not conceding that they are incapable of change, of being people whom we can work with rather than against? Does anyone really think that that's a good strategy? Furthermore, if we don't speak out against those of our sisters who are promoting deeply misguided philosophies, we are allowing their arguments to shape the public image of what the word "feminist" means. That's a very bad idea. Feminism is in serious need of a PR makeover.
In a way I suppose what's coming through here is the Second Wave vs Third Wave divide. I can understand why the women who came before thought differently. I respect their right to their opinions. I don't think that means that I, or any other younger feminists, need to defer to them when I think they're wrong. I think that if we ever want to gain any traction for the movement in the court of public opinion we need to make it crystal clear that the movement has progressed, that most people abandoned essentialist thinking long ago. That may mean speaking out against our sisters when they say things we disagree with. It may mean agreeing to disagree.
I think that we need to move towards a new vision of what feminism means. That new visions needs to be much more inclusive than the one it's replacing. We need to open up the conversation to include the voices of women of color, and when they start talking the rest of us need to shut up and listen. We need to reach out to poor women in language they can understand, and take their concerns seriously. We need to reach out to women in the Third World, and we need to recognise that their lives matter every bit as much as ours do. We need to embrace and work with men who share our basic philosophy.
How big is that tent anyway? Is it big enough for all of us? I suspect it is. If it isn't it's time to built a bigger tent.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Rant about the return of the NHL that really does have something to do with feminism, honest

OK, so I'm a hockey fan. I realise that this may make some people want to revoke my feminist credentials immediately but I don't care. I grew up playing field hockey, it's the only one of the American Big 4 sports that I give a shit about, and anyone who doesn't like it can bite me.
Now that we've got that out of the way, the NHL is about to return! After a nasty and protracted labour war there will in fact be hockey this fall and I (and most of Canada) am very happy about that. What I am not happy about is that the team that I have followed for the past few years (Colorado Avalanche) has been completely dismantled - our star goalie has retired, most of the key players have been traded away, and the idiots who run the franchise allowed the best player on the planet (Peter Forsberg) to sign with another team. Morons. So, I am considering switching my allegiance to another team. Bear with me, I will be getting to the feminist part soon.
The situation is that the aformentioned best player in the world is now signed to a team that I despise (Philadelphia Flyers). The reason that I don't like the Flyers is that their GM (Bobby Clark) is a perfect example of everything about American (and Canadian) sports culture that is noxious and deeply fucked up. He spent years trading for players purely on the principle of trying to achieve the biggest team in the league just so they could physically overpower their opponents. Skill was apparently not a consideration. He is most famous for being part of a team referred to as the Broad Street Bullies, and they're not kidding. He is particularly famous for, in an international game against Russia, going out on the ice and deliberately breaking the ankle of the Russian team's best player (who I might add was considerably more talented than Clark). I don't mean they got in a scuffle and there was an unfortunate injury, I mean he deliberately broke the guy's ankle to take him out of the series. This is not a nice man. He is also famous for presiding over the worst case of potential wasted and a promising career derailed in the history of the NHL in the form of a player by the name of Eric Lindros. Clark is a dinosaur, and I'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea of supporting any organisation that has him at the helm.
Here's where the feminism part comes in (and the comment about the ways in which patriarchy fucks over men too that I promised Brian). A little over 10 years ago there was this guy who entered the league called Eric Lindros. For those who don't follow hockey, as a kid this guy was one of the most hyped players in history and was generally regarded as a phenom. He can skate, he has great hands and superior skills, and he's built like a Mack truck. In theory this guy should have been the perfect hockey player, and for a while it looked like he was going to be just that. Then he got hurt. This is where the patriarchal fun starts.
It turns out that Lindros seems to be a bit injury prone. It also seems like there's some wierd genetic susceptability to concussions in his family, as he has had about 10 concussions to date and his little brother had to quit hockey in his early twenties due to a really bad concussion. The interesting part is how Mr Clark in particular and the hockey/sports press in general reacted when Lindros started to suffer from injuries.
To put it bluntly, Clark called him a pussy. In public, in front of reporters. What makes it even worse is that the "what a wimp" type comments were made in reference to an injury where the guy got hurt during a game but decided that he would probably be OK, went back to the hotel and took a bath, and then passed out in the tub and was found by his roomate unconcious and basically bled white. Turns out he had a punctured lung and was suffering from internal bleeding, and that it the roomate hadn't found him he would have probably died. There was apparently a fight between Clark and the roomate, with Clark insisting that Lindros get on a plane to the team's next destination and the roomate insisting that there was no way in hell he was going to let that happen and that the man needed to see a doctor. The roomate won, Lindros recovered, and the whole thing turned into a gigantic mess with the entire Lindros family claiming that Clark was basically trying to kill their son and Clark calling Lindros a big baby and a wimp for complaining and for letting his parents speak on his behalf.
Now that I've given the background (sorry that was so long, I'm assuming that no-one reading would know anything about the history and it's relevant to what happened later) on to what really bothered me about all this. To my mind this whole situation is a perfect example of the way in which a patriarchal culture constructs masculinity, and the way in which it punishes and tries to shame men who don't fit the stereotype. Here we have a guy who's a professional hockey player. He's huge, he's freakishly strong and he's notoriously tough and agressive (for a while even a lot of other hockey players were scared of this guy). You would think that this is exactly what the patriarchy wants men to be like, right? The problem is the guy is also unusually close to his parents (Dad is his agent, Mom helps out with the finances, both parents leap to his defence in the press whenever anyone says anything negative about him). He's also famous for crying at a press conference when his little brother was forced to retire (this fact is brought up in almost every single article I've ever seen about the guy). Also, he loves herbal tea (another fact that every sports writer feels the need to bring up), likes to take long baths (and this is a bad thing why, exactly?), and has been a vocal supporter of women's hockey. He also used to share a house in Jersey with a much older guy (another fact that is inevitably brought up). He once stated that his favourite movie was Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Reporters also tends to bring up how oddly humble and lacking in ego the guy seems, and how articulate he is (with the implication being that this is a bit wierd for a hockey player - apparently they're supposed to communicate in monosyllabic grunts).
I'll bet you can see where I'm going with this, right? For as long as I can remember there have been rumours that the man is gay. Many of the rumours seem to start with his former boss, Clark. When the gay implication is not made there is still the constant suggestion that his behaviour is somehow inappropriate for a hockey player, that he's a bit of a wimp. This despite the fact that the guy is famous for getting into fights and is generally a bad-ass on the ice. And that he really is alarmingly huge and physically imposing.
The way in which the sports media reacts to Lindros has always fascinated me. I have no idea if the guy is gay and I don't really think it should matter. What interests me is that people THINK he's gay apparently based on (1) "too close" to his parents, (2) speaks in complete sentences and does not appear to be functionally illiterate, (3)likes tea, likes to cook (how very unmanly!) (4) likes to take baths (this is a wierd one for me, I was not aware that men were only allowed to take showers - do bathtubs have girl cooties?), (5) is very polite (duh, he's Canadian), (6) cried when his little brother got hurt (apparently displaying normal human emotions is also a bit suspect) (7) gets injured a lot and does not return to the game until his doctors give him the OK (now there's a masculine stereotype within the patriarchy that clearly does harm men), (8) may have non-stereotypically masculine taste in entertainment and (9) tends to keep his personal life under wraps (ie no constant parade of simpering bimbos as accessories).
So, according to our friends in the sports press the only acceptable persona for a professional athlete is to be a grunting neanderthal who doesn't give a shit about his family, has no non-macho-approved interests and is impervious to pain. If someone doesn't fit that profile then clearly he must be a great big fairy, or a complete wimp. Does anyone really think this idea benefits men? Or that this is a healthy way to define masculinity? Is this really the way in which the majority culture views masculinity, or is it just a case of people projecting their wierd psychosexual fantasies onto professional athletes?
This also brings up the fact that, when it comes to defining what is and is not appropriate masculine behaviour, men are a lot more harsh in reinforcing the stereotype than women are. There are very few women reporters who cover hockey, but the few who do are all a lot more sympathetic towards Lindros and a lot less likely to start laying on the judgements than their male counterparts are. Amongst the hockey fans I know the women are also a lot more inclined to go easy on the guy or even to sympathise with him. I don't think that this is a coincidence.
This has all been on my mind lately not just because the NHL is back in business but because I've been running into a lot of MRAs, and most of them seem to subscribe to the same model of masculinity as the sports press do, and I think that's deeply fucked up. If you really want to help men shouldn't you want to remove the pressure for them to conform to a strict stereotype that just doesn't work for a lot of people? It seems to me that the stereotype being invoked here is genuinely harmful to a lot of men in that it's setting the bar so high in terms of what constitutes an acceptable masculine persona that few men will ever be able to reach it. It's also completely screwing over men who are naturally inclined to be quiet, or thoughtful, or intellectual, or emotional, or gentle, or just not interested in the extreme form of gender Kabuki that is being advocated here. What about all the guys who just aren't macho by nature? What do the MRAs intend to do about them? And do they really not see the many ways in which reinforcing this stereotype is hurtful and downright dangerous to men?
I'm confused. What does everybody else think?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

It's pledge week on PBS again
Now don't get me wrong, I love PBS, but why is it that every time they do into fundraising mode the audience has to be subjected to a week's worth of Celtic kitsch? I'm as proud of my country as the next Scot but this is ridiculous. There's a show on right now about Scotland that has lots of beautiful scenery, but what's with the "ye olde castles where the mighty clan chiefs once fought" voiceover? The music a moment ago got so maudlin that P quipped "who died?".
Well, I suppose I should be grateful that at least they're not inflicting Riverdance upon us any more. It has been replaced by the equally horrible "Celtic Women", whose entire musical repetoire seems to be based on "who died?" and "oh damn, jilted again".
I really would appreciate it if my countrymen would refrain from turning my culture into prepackaged kitsch. It's dreadfully embarassing.
Wierd pop culture musing involving women and weight

I just walked into the living room to find my husband (who shall from now on be referred to as P since the words "husband" and "wife" squick me out) watching a documentary about ABBA. The first thing that stuck me, after "why the hell is he watching ABBA", was how heavyset the women looked by modern standards. In the seventies these were considered to be very sexy women. Today both of them would be considered not just chubby, but positively fat. Both are, by modern standards, heavy in the hips and with rather small breasts. If ABBA were to appear today VH1 would probably refuse to play their videos unless the women lost about 30-40 pounds each (MTV seems to have almost completely abandoned the idea of showing actual music). The seventies weren't really all that long ago in historical terms. What happened?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Scary science news of the week - the Siberian permafrost is melting

Remember the people who insisted that global warming was a myth? I now demand that they eat their own hats, or mine if they don't happen to have one of their own handy. The world's largest peat bog (a million square kilometers) in Western Siberia is melting. This area has been frozen since the last ice age. the peat bog in question contains huge quantities of methane gas which will soon begin leaking into the atmosphere. Groovy, huh?
I'm starting to lose my patience with the Christian wack-job anti-science people. Siberia is melting! How much more proof do these people need? Of course I suppose that if you think that the world is going to end within about 10 years it's not that big a deal, but for the rest of us this is a complete disaster. On Sunday I watched a talk given by Jared Diamond in which he talked about his new book, Collapse. One of the things that really jumped out at me was the fact that in many of the cases he described the difference betweeen cultures that survived an ecological crisis and those that did not was how the society reacted to the crisis. I'm boiling down an hour-long lecture to its essence here, but the basic message I took away was that failure to adapt to changing environmental circumstances and an unwillingness to abandon cultural beliefs that had become unworkable were the things that doomed all the failed civilisations. What's interesting is how that applies to us. At this point there are few rational people who don't believe in glabal warming, but what are we actually doing about it? Not much, to be honest. One country or another may be making small incremental changes but there doesn't seem to be any real sense of urgency. That frightens me, because many environmentalists believe that we are at or about to reach the tipping point, and if we don't act soon it may be too late.
Another interesting thing I picked up from the Diamond talk. There are only 2 significant First World nations who have refused to comply with the Kyoto Treaty, the USA and Australia. Interestingly enough these two countries share somewhat of a common background. Both are relatively "young" countries which were colonised by Europeans who displaced the indigenous peoples, often by violent means. There are a couple of other countries I can think of which fall into the same category, namely Canada and New Zealand. Both of the latter counries are cooperating with Kyoto. What's the difference between them and the two former countries? Among other things, they way they have treated the indigenous peoples who were displaced by the European settlers. Now by no means am I suggesting that the way in which Canada or New Zealand have dealt with their indigenous populations has been entirely or even mostly fair and decent, but it has most certainly been more fair and decent than the way in which the US and Australia have dealt with the same issue. How does that tie in with the refusal to cooperate with the Kyoto agreement? I'm not sure, and I'm still chewing the idea over, but I think there's some kind of a correlation. I'm thinking it has something to do with the issue of how flexible a culture is, how able it is to adapt ot challenges. What does everyone else think? I feel like I might be on the verge of a big idea here and I have a sense of what it is but I'm struggling to find a way to put it into words.

Here's a link to a story about the Siberian problem by the way.,12374,1546824,00.html

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A few thoughts about Hiroshima, Nagasaki and what it all means to us

I spent much of the day Sunday watching the various specials about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was going to post something then, but decided to wait a couple of days so that I could post on the day of the Nagasaki bombings, both because the second bombing often seems to get forgotten and because I used to know a boy from Nagasaki back when I lived in London. In a wierd and roundabout way this is for him (hugs, Hiro).
It bothers me that America has never really apologised for the atrocity that bombing these cities unleashed. It bothers me even more that there's almost a kind of celebration of the bombers themselves, a kind of veneration of the actual planes that were used. Most bothersome of all is that fact that, while Americans celebrated the bombings in Japan, no one even seems to have suggested bombing the other front in Germany.
In case anyone is wondering why the US decided to bomb one country and not the other, I think the answer is pretty clear - racism. It continues to amaze me that the idea of the "yellow peril" is still alive and well in America, and until 9/11 was increasingly being applied to China. Part of my anger is of course based on the fact that my husband is Asian and I get to see the racism that he encounters on a regular basis, but really it's more than that. There's a kind of veiled racism that permeates the way Americans talk about Asia, a tendency to subtly denigrate Asian people and use even their achievements against them (think of the stereotype of the scarily talented Asian musical prodigies that crops up every few years and was rampant in the eighties). There is also an increasing resentment of the fact that Asia is no longer a rural backwater which the West can look down on. Of course that has been the case for a long time, but apparently many Westerners are a bit slow on the uptake and it's taken them half a century to notice all those big, sparkly, futuristic cities like Tokyo, Osaka and (increasingly) Shanghai.
I particularly notice this wierd combination of sneering and subtle resentment and intimidation when Westerners talk about Japan. If you read any of the many web pages written by American or British people who have spent a few years living in Japan, often teaching English, this tone comes across loud and clear. On the surface there's a kind of "let's laugh at the foreigners and their quaint ways", but look at the subtext and what you see is the anger, resentment and fear that results when white privilege is threatened. I think that Japan in particular provokes this response because it is so clearly and demonstrably a successful modern culture that wants and needs very little from the outside world other than a few raw materials and consumer goods (imported food items, good French wine). Most of the people writing these pages tend to be young, and most seem to arrive in Japan (usually in Tokyo) expecting the kind of fawning and positive attention that Westerners often get when they visit poor third world countries. The fact that Japan is in no way a poor third world country, regardless of the long recession, seems never to have occured to them.
I think what really annoys many of these people about Japan is that the Japanese quite demonstrably do not aspire to be American. Japanese pop culture takes bits and pieces of American culture, remixes and repackages them and then sells them domestically to be sure, but the sort of aspirational admiration of all things American that many Western tourists have come to expect is notably absent in Japan. People there are polite, certainly, but Americans are unlikely to be fawned over, and many seem deeply offended that most Japanese people they encounter pretty much ignore them. To people who are accustomed to thinking of themselves as the center of the universe, and to assuming that everyone else in the world secretly wants to be American, the self-confidence and vibrant and unique pop culture of modern urban Japan seems to come as a nasty shock. It's funny to watch how tetchy people get once they realise that nobody really thinks that the fact they're American (or indeed British) is that big of a deal.
Bit of a confession - I'm a serious Japanese pop culture junkie, hence my interest in this subject. The one thing that I will actually make the effort to arrange my time so that I can watch on TV is anime, I grew up on Japanese kiddie culture like Hello Kitty and all other things Sanrio (although note that I have long since progressed to the more adult-oriented version of Japanese pop culture and would not be seen dead in sporting the truly embarrasing "middle aged woman with Hello Kitty purse" look). My favourite cartoon as a child was Gotchaman (known in the UK as Battle of the Planets). I adore Japanese horror movies (anyone who liked The Ring really needs to see the original version, by the way, it's much better), which tend to be far darker and more psychologically intense than their American counterparts. Having a partner who works in design I am also both surrounded and astounded by Japanese product design, and will react to finding myself in a Japanese grocery, book or department store with "kid in a candy store" type glee (I restrict myself to infrequent visits out of fear that I would soon run out of places to store all the loot if I didn't).
So, I have a notable obsession for all things Japanese, and am darkly amused by the fact that so many Westerners approach Japan with the condescending and deeply colonialistic attitude that Japanese people must naturally want to be American. Why should they? To be perfectly honest their youth culture is a lot more interesting than ours right now, and has been for years. From a fashion point of view Japan is light years ahead. What does it say about Americans that they tend to throw a hissy fit when confronted with a culture that is quite self-sufficient and has no desire to emulate America? I'll let the collective epidemic of sulking directed at the French over the last few years answer that question for me.
Anyway, I'm babbling. My point was that America as a nation does not really seem to regret dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that this is something we should all be ashamed of. My other point is that racism is not always as obvious as calling someone nasty names, it also manifests as a colonial mentality and a refusal to accept that the rest of the world does not necessarily want or need to be just like us. My final point is, what does it say about how deep racism runs in this country that dropping an atomic bomb on Germany was quite rightly dismissed as unthinkable, but dropping the same bomb on Japan was seen as not only acceptable, but as a wise and justifiable way to end the war? And that we did it not only once, but twice?
For anyone who wants a good view of the Second World War from the Japanese perspective I highly recommend an animated movie called "The Grave of the Fireflies". It's both terribly sad and incredibly beautiful, and is definately worth a look.

Creepy but ultimately encouraging postcript - do you know what they call the survivors of the bomb in Japan? "The living dead". Which gives a pretty good indication of how deep the wound to the national psyche runs. There is hope, however. Almost every single survivor of the bombings has become a fervant pacifist. I saw a 75-year-old man on TV addressing an anti-nuclear rally in New York who survived the bomb in Hiroshima, and despite all that has happened he had nothing bad to say about the US and no recriminations to make. His final words to the crowd? "No more war".

Friday, August 05, 2005

Pointless Friday blogging
I'm going to be without computer access all day tomorrow so I thought I'd just post an interesting little personality test that's an alternative to the Briggs Meyers. Here's the url
And below are my results. I'm a little annoyed about the "artistic interests" part since, being a psych grad, I know which questions were testing for that variable and I'm not convinced that one's lack of desire to sit through a dance recital says anything about, say, one's interest in music or art or literature. Personally I tend to regard dancing as something that one DOES rather than something that one watches. Maybe it's just because my parents used to torture me by taking me to see Cats and other similar horrors as a child. Anyway, here are the results. If anyone else takes the test I'd love it if you shared the results. I'm curious to see if there are any trends regarding the online people who I tend to like. Hope everyone reading has a great weekend!

This report compares Cassandra from the country USA to other adult women. (The name used in this report is either a nickname chosen by the person taking the test, or, if a valid nickname was not chosen, a random nickname generated by the program.)
This report estimates the individual's level on each of the five broad personality domains of the Five-Factor Model. The description of each one of the five broad domains is followed by a more detailed description of personality according to the six subdomains that comprise each domain.
A note on terminology. Personality traits describe, relative to other people, the frequency or intensity of a person's feelings, thoughts, or behaviors. Possession of a trait is therefore a matter of degree. We might describe two individuals as extraverts, but still see one as more extraverted than the other. This report uses expressions such as "extravert" or "high in extraversion" to describe someone who is likely to be seen by others as relatively extraverted. The computer program that generates this report classifies you as low, average, or high in a trait according to whether your score is approximately in the lowest 30%, middle 40%, or highest 30% of scores obtained by people of your sex and roughly your age. Your numerical scores are reported and graphed as percentile estimates. For example, a score of "60" means that your level on that trait is estimated to be higher than 60% of persons of your sex and age.
Please keep in mind that "low," "average," and "high" scores on a personality test are neither absolutely good nor bad. A particular level on any trait will probably be neutral or irrelevant for a great many activites, be helpful for accomplishing some things, and detrimental for accomplishing other things. As with any personality inventory, scores and descriptions can only approximate an individual's actual personality. High and low score descriptions are usually accurate, but average scores close to the low or high boundaries might misclassify you as only average. On each set of six subdomain scales it is somewhat uncommon but certainly possible to score high in some of the subdomains and low in the others. In such cases more attention should be paid to the subdomain scores than to the broad domain score. Questions about the accuracy of your results are best resolved by showing your report to people who know you well.
John A. Johnson wrote descriptions of the five domains and thirty subdomains. These descriptions are based on an extensive reading of the scientific literature on personality measurement. Although Dr. Johnson would like to be acknowledged as the author of these materials if they are reproduced, he has placed them in the public domain.
Extraversion is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy being with people, are full of energy, and often experience positive emotions. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented, individuals who are likely to say "Yes!" or "Let's go!" to opportunities for excitement. In groups they like to talk, assert themselves, and draw attention to themselves.
Introverts lack the exuberance, energy, and activity levels of extraverts. They tend to be quiet, low-key, deliberate, and disengaged from the social world. Their lack of social involvement should not be interpreted as shyness or depression; the introvert simply needs less stimulation than an extravert and prefers to be alone. The independence and reserve of the introvert is sometimes mistaken as unfriendliness or arrogance. In reality, an introvert who scores high on the agreeableness dimension will not seek others out but will be quite pleasant when approached.
Domain/Facet........... Score 0--------10--------20--------30--------40--------50--------60--------70--------80--------90--------99
EXTRAVERSION...............87 ***************************************************************************************
..Friendliness.............70 **********************************************************************
..Gregariousness...........79 *******************************************************************************
..Assertiveness............87 ***************************************************************************************
..Activity Level...........43 *******************************************
..Excitement-Seeking.......99 ***************************************************************************************************
..Cheerfulness.............45 *********************************************
Your score on Extraversion is high, indicating you are sociable, outgoing, energetic, and lively. You prefer to be around people much of the time.
Extraversion Facets
· Friendliness. Friendly people genuinely like other people and openly demonstrate positive feelings toward others. They make friends quickly and it is easy for them to form close, intimate relationships. Low scorers on Friendliness are not necessarily cold and hostile, but they do not reach out to others and are perceived as distant and reserved. Your level of friendliness is high.
· Gregariousness. Gregarious people find the company of others pleasantly stimulating and rewarding. They enjoy the excitement of crowds. Low scorers tend to feel overwhelmed by, and therefore actively avoid, large crowds. They do not necessarily dislike being with people sometimes, but their need for privacy and time to themselves is much greater than for individuals who score high on this scale. Your level of gregariousness is high.
· Assertiveness. High scorers Assertiveness like to speak out, take charge, and direct the activities of others. They tend to be leaders in groups. Low scorers tend not to talk much and let others control the activities of groups. Your level of assertiveness is high.
· Activity Level. Active individuals lead fast-paced, busy lives. They move about quickly, energetically, and vigorously, and they are involved in many activities. People who score low on this scale follow a slower and more leisurely, relaxed pace. Your activity level is average.
· Excitement-Seeking. High scorers on this scale are easily bored without high levels of stimulation. They love bright lights and hustle and bustle. They are likely to take risks and seek thrills. Low scorers are overwhelmed by noise and commotion and are adverse to thrill-seeking. Your level of excitement-seeking is high.
· Cheerfulness. This scale measures positive mood and feelings, not negative emotions (which are a part of the Neuroticism domain). Persons who score high on this scale typically experience a range of positive feelings, including happiness, enthusiasm, optimism, and joy. Low scorers are not as prone to such energetic, high spirits. Your level of positive emotions is average.
Agreeableness reflects individual differences in concern with cooperation and social harmony. Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. They are therefore considerate, friendly, generous, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others'. Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature. They believe people are basically honest, decent, and trustworthy.
Disagreeable individuals place self-interest above getting along with others. They are generally unconcerned with others' well-being, and therefore are unlikely to extend themselves for other people. Sometimes their skepticism about others' motives causes them to be suspicious, unfriendly, and uncooperative.
Agreeableness is obviously advantageous for attaining and maintaining popularity. Agreeable people are better liked than disagreeable people. On the other hand, agreeableness is not useful in situations that require tough or absolute objective decisions. Disagreeable people can make excellent scientists, critics, or soldiers.
Domain/Facet........... Score 0--------10--------20--------30--------40--------50--------60--------70--------80--------90--------99
AGREEABLENESS..............37 *************************************
..Trust....................75 ***************************************************************************
..Morality.................46 **********************************************
..Altruism.................53 *****************************************************
..Cooperation..............2 **
..Sympathy.................94 **********************************************************************************************
Your level of Agreeableness is average, indicating some concern with others' Needs, but, generally, unwillingness to sacrifice yourself for others.
Agreeableness Facets
· Trust. A person with high trust assumes that most people are fair, honest, and have good intentions. Persons low in trust see others as selfish, devious, and potentially dangerous. Your level of trust is high.
· Morality. High scorers on this scale see no need for pretense or manipulation when dealing with others and are therefore candid, frank, and sincere. Low scorers believe that a certain amount of deception in social relationships is necessary. People find it relatively easy to relate to the straightforward high-scorers on this scale. They generally find it more difficult to relate to the unstraightforward low-scorers on this scale. It should be made clear that low scorers are not unprincipled or immoral; they are simply more guarded and less willing to openly reveal the whole truth. Your level of morality is average.
· Altruism. Altruistic people find helping other people genuinely rewarding. Consequently, they are generally willing to assist those who are in need. Altruistic people find that doing things for others is a form of self-fulfillment rather than self-sacrifice. Low scorers on this scale do not particularly like helping those in need. Requests for help feel like an imposition rather than an opportunity for self-fulfillment. Your level of altruism is average.
· Cooperation. Individuals who score high on this scale dislike confrontations. They are perfectly willing to compromise or to deny their own needs in order to get along with others. Those who score low on this scale are more likely to intimidate others to get their way. Your level of compliance is low.
· Modesty. High scorers on this scale do not like to claim that they are better than other people. In some cases this attitude may derive from low self-confidence or self-esteem. Nonetheless, some people with high self-esteem find immodesty unseemly. Those who are willing to describe themselves as superior tend to be seen as disagreeably arrogant by other people. Your level of modesty is low.
· Sympathy. People who score high on this scale are tenderhearted and compassionate. They feel the pain of others vicariously and are easily moved to pity. Low scorers are not affected strongly by human suffering. They pride themselves on making objective judgments based on reason. They are more concerned with truth and impartial justice than with mercy. Your level of tender-mindedness is high.
Conscientiousness concerns the way in which we control, regulate, and direct our impulses. Impulses are not inherently bad; occasionally time constraints require a snap decision, and acting on our first impulse can be an effective response. Also, in times of play rather than work, acting spontaneously and impulsively can be fun. Impulsive individuals can be seen by others as colorful, fun-to-be-with, and zany.
Nonetheless, acting on impulse can lead to trouble in a number of ways. Some impulses are antisocial. Uncontrolled antisocial acts not only harm other members of society, but also can result in retribution toward the perpetrator of such impulsive acts. Another problem with impulsive acts is that they often produce immediate rewards but undesirable, long-term consequences. Examples include excessive socializing that leads to being fired from one's job, hurling an insult that causes the breakup of an important relationship, or using pleasure-inducing drugs that eventually destroy one's health.
Impulsive behavior, even when not seriously destructive, diminishes a person's effectiveness in significant ways. Acting impulsively disallows contemplating alternative courses of action, some of which would have been wiser than the impulsive choice. Impulsivity also sidetracks people during projects that require organized sequences of steps or stages. Accomplishments of an impulsive person are therefore small, scattered, and inconsistent.
A hallmark of intelligence, what potentially separates human beings from earlier life forms, is the ability to think about future consequences before acting on an impulse. Intelligent activity involves contemplation of long-range goals, organizing and planning routes to these goals, and persisting toward one's goals in the face of short-lived impulses to the contrary. The idea that intelligence involves impulse control is nicely captured by the term prudence, an alternative label for the Conscientiousness domain. Prudent means both wise and cautious. Persons who score high on the Conscientiousness scale are, in fact, perceived by others as intelligent.
The benefits of high conscientiousness are obvious. Conscientious individuals avoid trouble and achieve high levels of success through purposeful planning and persistence. They are also positively regarded by others as intelligent and reliable. On the negative side, they can be compulsive perfectionists and workaholics. Furthermore, extremely conscientious individuals might be regarded as stuffy and boring. Unconscientious people may be criticized for their unreliability, lack of ambition, and failure to stay within the lines, but they will experience many short-lived pleasures and they will never be called stuffy.
Domain/Facet........... Score 0--------10--------20--------30--------40--------50--------60--------70--------80--------90--------99
CONSCIENTIOUSNESS..........9 *********
..Self-Efficacy............89 *****************************************************************************************
..Dutifulness..............11 ***********
..Achievement-Striving.....16 ****************
..Self-Discipline..........13 *************
..Cautiousness.............17 *****************
Your score on Conscientiousness is low, indicating you like to live for the moment and do what feels good now. Your work tends to be careless and disorganized.
Conscientiousness Facets
· Self-Efficacy. Self-Efficacy describes confidence in one's ability to accomplish things. High scorers believe they have the intelligence (common sense), drive, and self-control necessary for achieving success. Low scorers do not feel effective, and may have a sense that they are not in control of their lives. Your level of self-efficacy is high.
· Orderliness. Persons with high scores on orderliness are well-organized. They like to live according to routines and schedules. They keep lists and make plans. Low scorers tend to be disorganized and scattered. Your level of orderliness is low.
· Dutifulness. This scale reflects the strength of a person's sense of duty and obligation. Those who score high on this scale have a strong sense of moral obligation. Low scorers find contracts, rules, and regulations overly confining. They are likely to be seen as unreliable or even irresponsible. Your level of dutifulness is low.
· Achievement-Striving. Individuals who score high on this scale strive hard to achieve excellence. Their drive to be recognized as successful keeps them on track toward their lofty goals. They often have a strong sense of direction in life, but extremely high scores may be too single-minded and obsessed with their work. Low scorers are content to get by with a minimal amount of work, and might be seen by others as lazy. Your level of achievement striving is low.
· Self-Discipline. Self-discipline-what many people call will-power-refers to the ability to persist at difficult or unpleasant tasks until they are completed. People who possess high self-discipline are able to overcome reluctance to begin tasks and stay on track despite distractions. Those with low self-discipline procrastinate and show poor follow-through, often failing to complete tasks-even tasks they want very much to complete. Your level of self-discipline is low.
· Cautiousness. Cautiousness describes the disposition to think through possibilities before acting. High scorers on the Cautiousness scale take their time when making decisions. Low scorers often say or do first thing that comes to mind without deliberating alternatives and the probable consequences of those alternatives. Your level of cautiousness is low.
Freud originally used the term neurosis to describe a condition marked by mental distress, emotional suffering, and an inability to cope effectively with the normal demands of life. He suggested that everyone shows some signs of neurosis, but that we differ in our degree of suffering and our specific symptoms of distress. Today neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative feelings. Those who score high on Neuroticism may experience primarily one specific negative feeling such as anxiety, anger, or depression, but are likely to experience several of these emotions. People high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive. They respond emotionally to events that would not affect most people, and their reactions tend to be more intense than normal. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. Their negative emotional reactions tend to persist for unusually long periods of time, which means they are often in a bad mood. These problems in emotional regulation can diminish a neurotic's ability to think clearly, make decisions, and cope effectively with stress.
At the other end of the scale, individuals who score low in neuroticism are less easily upset and are less emotionally reactive. They tend to be calm, emotionally stable, and free from persistent negative feelings. Freedom from negative feelings does not mean that low scorers experience a lot of positive feelings; frequency of positive emotions is a component of the Extraversion domain.
Domain/Facet........... Score 0--------10--------20--------30--------40--------50--------60--------70--------80--------90--------99
NEUROTICISM................40 ****************************************
..Anxiety..................33 *********************************
..Anger....................74 **************************************************************************
..Depression...............26 **************************
..Self-Consciousness.......18 ******************
..Immoderation.............77 *****************************************************************************
..Vulnerability............34 **********************************
Your score on Neuroticism is average, indicating that your level of emotional reactivity is typical of the general population. Stressful and frustrating situations are somewhat upsetting to you, but you are generally able to get over these feelings and cope with these situations.
Neuroticism Facets
· Anxiety. The "fight-or-flight" system of the brain of anxious individuals is too easily and too often engaged. Therefore, people who are high in anxiety often feel like something dangerous is about to happen. They may be afraid of specific situations or be just generally fearful. They feel tense, jittery, and nervous. Persons low in Anxiety are generally calm and fearless. Your level of anxiety is average.
· Anger. Persons who score high in Anger feel enraged when things do not go their way. They are sensitive about being treated fairly and feel resentful and bitter when they feel they are being cheated. This scale measures the tendency to feel angry; whether or not the person expresses annoyance and hostility depends on the individual's level on Agreeableness. Low scorers do not get angry often or easily. Your level of anger is high.
· Depression. This scale measures the tendency to feel sad, dejected, and discouraged. High scorers lack energy and have difficult initiating activities. Low scorers tend to be free from these depressive feelings. Your level of depression is low.
· Self-Consciousness. Self-conscious individuals are sensitive about what others think of them. Their concern about rejection and ridicule cause them to feel shy and uncomfortable abound others. They are easily embarrassed and often feel ashamed. Their fears that others will criticize or make fun of them are exaggerated and unrealistic, but their awkwardness and discomfort may make these fears a self-fulfilling prophecy. Low scorers, in contrast, do not suffer from the mistaken impression that everyone is watching and judging them. They do not feel nervous in social situations. Your level or self-consciousness is low.
· Immoderation. Immoderate individuals feel strong cravings and urges that they have have difficulty resisting. They tend to be oriented toward short-term pleasures and rewards rather than long- term consequences. Low scorers do not experience strong, irresistible cravings and consequently do not find themselves tempted to overindulge. Your level of immoderation is high.
· Vulnerability. High scorers on Vulnerability experience panic, confusion, and helplessness when under pressure or stress. Low scorers feel more poised, confident, and clear-thinking when stressed. Your level of vulnerability is average.
Openness to Experience
Openness to Experience describes a dimension of cognitive style that distinguishes imaginative, creative people from down-to-earth, conventional people. Open people are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. They tend to be, compared to closed people, more aware of their feelings. They tend to think and act in individualistic and nonconforming ways. Intellectuals typically score high on Openness to Experience; consequently, this factor has also been called Culture or Intellect. Nonetheless, Intellect is probably best regarded as one aspect of openness to experience. Scores on Openness to Experience are only modestly related to years of education and scores on standard intelligent tests.
Another characteristic of the open cognitive style is a facility for thinking in symbols and abstractions far removed from concrete experience. Depending on the individual's specific intellectual abilities, this symbolic cognition may take the form of mathematical, logical, or geometric thinking, artistic and metaphorical use of language, music composition or performance, or one of the many visual or performing arts. People with low scores on openness to experience tend to have narrow, common interests. They prefer the plain, straightforward, and obvious over the complex, ambiguous, and subtle. They may regard the arts and sciences with suspicion, regarding these endeavors as abstruse or of no practical use. Closed people prefer familiarity over novelty; they are conservative and resistant to change.
Openness is often presented as healthier or more mature by psychologists, who are often themselves open to experience. However, open and closed styles of thinking are useful in different environments. The intellectual style of the open person may serve a professor well, but research has shown that closed thinking is related to superior job performance in police work, sales, and a number of service occupations.
Domain/Facet........... Score 0--------10--------20--------30--------40--------50--------60--------70--------80--------90--------99
OPENNESS TO EXPERIENCE.....98 **************************************************************************************************
..Imagination..............95 ***********************************************************************************************
..Artistic Interests.......54 ******************************************************
..Emotionality.............97 *************************************************************************************************
..Adventurousness..........96 ************************************************************************************************
..Intellect................79 *******************************************************************************
..Liberalism...............83 ***********************************************************************************
Your score on Openness to Experience is high, indicating you enjoy novelty, variety, and change. You are curious, imaginative, and creative.
Openness Facets
· Imagination. To imaginative individuals, the real world is often too plain and ordinary. High scorers on this scale use fantasy as a way of creating a richer, more interesting world. Low scorers are on this scale are more oriented to facts than fantasy. Your level of imagination is high.
· Artistic Interests. High scorers on this scale love beauty, both in art and in nature. They become easily involved and absorbed in artistic and natural events. They are not necessarily artistically trained nor talented, although many will be. The defining features of this scale are interest in, and appreciation of natural and artificial beauty. Low scorers lack aesthetic sensitivity and interest in the arts. Your level of artistic interests is average.
· Emotionality. Persons high on Emotionality have good access to and awareness of their own feelings. Low scorers are less aware of their feelings and tend not to express their emotions openly. Your level of emotionality is high.
· Adventurousness. High scorers on adventurousness are eager to try new activities, travel to foreign lands, and experience different things. They find familiarity and routine boring, and will take a new route home just because it is different. Low scorers tend to feel uncomfortable with change and prefer familiar routines. Your level of adventurousness is high.
· Intellect. Intellect and artistic interests are the two most important, central aspects of openness to experience. High scorers on Intellect love to play with ideas. They are open-minded to new and unusual ideas, and like to debate intellectual issues. They enjoy riddles, puzzles, and brain teasers. Low scorers on Intellect prefer dealing with either people or things rather than ideas. They regard intellectual exercises as a waste of time. Intellect should not be equated with intelligence. Intellect is an intellectual style, not an intellectual ability, although high scorers on Intellect score slightly higher than low-Intellect individuals on standardized intelligence tests. Your level of intellect is high.
· Liberalism. Psychological liberalism refers to a readiness to challenge authority, convention, and traditional values. In its most extreme form, psychological liberalism can even represent outright hostility toward rules, sympathy for law-breakers, and love of ambiguity, chaos, and disorder. Psychological conservatives prefer the security and stability brought by conformity to tradition. Psychological liberalism and conservatism are not identical to political affiliation, but certainly incline individuals toward certain political parties. Your level of liberalism is high.