Monday, July 30, 2007

Some thoughts about gender.

Advance warning – this whole post is going to be me thinking aloud. Completely unfiltered and basically stream of consciousness. It’s possible that I may offend. If so, feel free to tell me so. In fact, feel free to tell me that I’m an ignorant jackass and here’s why! I won’t mind.

That said, I’ve been thinking about the ongoing grudge match that a small number of radical feminists seem to have against transpeople, particularly MTF transwomen, and a few things have been sort of jumping out at me. This isn’t meant as an attack, BTW – if there’s one thing you can say for me it’s that I’m honest. If I mean to attack you I’ll walk right up and smack you in the face with my gauntlet rather than sneaking around nipping at your heels. So, not an attack, just some musing.

What got me started were some comments by Qgrrl over at Alas. I don’t just mean her comments on the latest round of fighting either – I’ve been reading her musings about how she feels about this issue for a while now. And then I read a post over at Heart’s place about a trip she and a few friends took to some sort of women’s festival, and something clicked in my head. It was weird. I still don’t AGREE with the radfem critique of transpeople, not least because I dislike the fact that the way they frame it really does come across as an attack on the PEOPLE rather than on an ideology or a way of thinking and that just isn’t OK with me. I do, however, feel as if I understand where they’re coming from a little more, and I’m wondering if anyone else is seeing the same thing I am.

(Note : This is also where I may piss people off. Sorry, I’m really trying not to.)

So I was looking at the pics that Heart posted of the roadtrip she took, and you know what jumped out at me? Other than Heart herself almost every woman pictured falls into a certain stereotype, and that stereotype is intimately tied up with how we conceptualize gender as an issue.

This is a tricky area, discussing people’s sexual personae. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a certain type of woman that I encounter over and over again in feminist circles, and that that type of woman has a very distinct gender identity. It’s sort of butch, but there’s more to it than that, I think. I’m not even sure what descriptive term to use for that particular gender identity, but I’m willing to bet that everyone who has any familiarity with feminism knows the “type” I mean. It’s probably the most common “type” of woman that you meet at feminist events, along with the hippy earth mother “type” (ie. Heart, or our buddy Daisy). I’m going to call this “type” radfembutch, for lack of a better term, although if there already IS a better term let me know and I’ll use it instead.

(And no, male readers, terms that are designed to communicate disdain for a woman’s appearance do not count and I will not use them.)

The fact that the English language doesn’t seem to have a word for that “type” is interesting to me, and I think that it’s significant. It’s a basic principle of linguistics that anything a culture considers worth thinking or talking about, it has a word for. So why don’t we have a word for that particular female gender identity? It’s not like that identity is all that uncommon. I’m willing to bet that everyone here can point to a woman they know, even if only peripherally, who has that identity. So why the gap in the language?

I think it’s because our culture doesn’t much like those women. It doesn’t know what to do with them, how to classify them. They confuse a lot of people, because most people see gender as a binary and so they don’t tend to deal very well with people who don’t fit easily into the categories “masculine” and “feminine”.

Neither do transpeople, and I think this may be where the grudge match comes from. I looked at those pictures from Heart’s road-trip, and I remembered Qgrrl’s comments a while back about how the language used by transpeople made her uncomfortable because it made her feel erased. From what I can tell, she very much of the radfembutch type – not at all comfortable with being “feminine” but not identifying with “masculine” either. Not quite sure where she fits, feels as if she had to figure it all out on her own.

That has to be a scary position to be in. I’m not sure that those of us who have always felt more or less comfortable with our gender identity can really understand just how unsettling that might be, to feel like society was determined to slot everyone into neat little gender categories and not feel like you fit into any of those available. For a teenager that could be terrifying.

So, I started thinking about that, and wondering how many women involved in radical feminism had to go through something like that. And then something clicked in my mind, and I finally saw WHY those women are so protective of their “space” and why so many of them are so very hostile to anyone they see as an interloper. If you’d spent most of your life feeling like you didn’t belong, and then you found a place where you DID feel like you belonged, wouldn’t you be protective of that? Wouldn’t you want to hold on to it?

Qgrrl’s point seemed to be that trans language, particularly the word “cisgender”, left her feeling discomfited because she felt like it excluded her experience (and I’m not her, so if she happens to come across this and I’m misunderstanding what she mean then please, jump in and correct me). I’m guessing she’s not the only one. It seems to me that there are TONS of women who fit that mold, and that many of them feel like they found a home within feminism. I wonder to what extent that may be what’s really going on with the trans issue. The way that I see some radical feminists reacting looks as if they feel threatened in some way, and other than Heart most of those women do seem to be kind of on the butch side. How does that play into this whole issue? Is that where the root of the conflict lies, with one group feeling like their home and their identity that they worked hard to create is under attack, and the other group (transwomen) feeling like those women are attempting to exclude them from places that SHOULD feel like home purely out of spite? In some cases it does look like spite, but in others it honestly looks more like fear, or confusion, and in an odd way that’s kind of encouraging. Spite or malice are hard things to get around, but fear and confusion? Those can be addressed. Compromises can be made. People can become more comfortable with things that once disturbed them.

Putting that aside for a second, the little flash of clarity I had while looking at those pictures had a second part. I’ve seen a lot of arguing amongst feminists about the idea of a feminist “dress code” or image or whatever you want to call it, and what usually ends up happening is that two opposing camps form. One camp says “there is no dress code, what the Hell are you babbling about, you’re just being paranoid” (otherwise known as the “no one’s trying to take away your mascara, honey” argument when the speaker is being patronizing). The other camp says “Of COURSE there’s a dress code, are you blind? Go to any feminist event and take a look around and you’ll see it”.

Now I fall squarely into the second camp. Yep, there’s a dress code. Of course it’s not official, because that’s not how feminists do things. It’s there, though. But again, I always wondered WHY the other side didn’t see it. Then I looked at the pictures taken at the festival and I had a flash of clarity.

The women who have that radfembutch gender identity that I was talking about earlier? For them it doesn’t feel like a dress code. For them it feels natural. It’s what makes them comfortable. The mainstream idea of “feminine” makes them distinctly uncomfortable. For most of those women, feminist culture probably feels like a safe haven, and feminist events like the one place where they can be themselves and nobody will give them any shit over it.

I really don’t think they realize that for other women, ones who don’t have the same gender identity as them, that look, that way of being, isn’t comfortable at all. It feels unnatural, just as unnatural as a skirt, heels and lipstick would probably feel to them. For a feminist like me, whose gender identity is pretty “feminine”, feminist events don’t feel like a safe haven or like coming home. I feel out of place. People look at me funny, and it’s not just me being paranoid. I’ve seen pictures of myself taken at those events, and I stick out like a sore thumb. Even if I’m in jeans and a t-shirt and I have no make-up on.

This is the complicated, confusing part that I’m trying to get at. It’s the meat of the whole issue. Gender identity is about more than clothes. Put me in basically the same clothes as the standard radfem “uniform” and I still don’t look like I belong. I don’t feel like it, either, and people don’t TREAT me like I belong. They look at me suspiciously, like I’m a spy. Or possibly a really evil, dangerous ninja. And it’s weird.

And yet I’ve had this conversation with radfems of that type, and they’ve told me that I’m imagining things. And I’ve tried to understand why they don’t see it, and ended up confused. And then I had that moment, and it clicked. Those women can’t imagine why I (and other women like me) don’t feel comfortable in their environments because they really believe that what feels natural to them is what’s natural for all women. They think women who feel differently have been brainwashed.

That’s not an unusual way of thinking, really. Most people assume that their subjective reality is the “truth” in some metaphysical sense and that everyone else is lying or wrong. In truth, though, everyone’s subjective reality is a little different, and we all see the world in different ways. Most of us never really grasp the fact that our reality isn’t universal and that others do not necessarily feel as we do. And that, I think, is where all these intra-feminist conflicts come from, the inability of people to see the world from someone else’s perspective.

I’m not saying that I’m some mystical being who’s above all this, by the way. It took me a while to grasp the fact that my reality wasn’t universal. For years I truly believed that everyone was bisexual and that people who said they weren’t were either deluded or lying. I finally accepted that I was wrong, but it took a while. I’m not sure that most people ever even try.

I’m not sure if any of this makes sense to anyone else. I just had a weird moment where something clicked and things that had been confusing me suddenly made sense. I’m still not sure what to do with that, but it was interesting enough that I though it might be worth sharing. Does anyone else get what I’m talking about? And, if I’m right and the core of the conflict here is partly that there are some significant differences in gender identity within feminism, and those differences are making it really hard for people to communicate with each other because our basic frames of reference are so different, what can we do about that?

It occurs to me that people who are used to doing work on race issues might have some interesting things to say about this, since they’re probably accustomed to having to deal with the “different frames of reference” thing.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Random Friday stuff…
Dinner tonight – chicken and sausage gumbo, which for some reason I was craving even though it’s been warm. Odd, since in warm weather my Cajun/Creole cravings usually manifest as Jambalaya. Maybe I’m coming down with something, I have been sneezing all day.

Also, coming off a conversation about food at APs place…I have an idea to throw to the peanut gallery (heh…eh, OK, I’m not funny). Does it seem to anyone else that a certain sector of the Left suffers from an odd sort of anhedonia? Almost as if the awareness of all that is crappy in the world renders people unable to take pleasure in simple things? Food, sex, music, whatever…it seems that for a certain subset of leftist people EVERYTHING must be Terribly Serious Business and the idea of doing anything simply because it gives pleasure is regarded with extreme suspicion. Thus you end up with mushy awful hippy food, oddly un-sexy cuddle-sex between people who don’t seem to be particularly attracted to each other, Billy Bragg and/or what my hairdresser calls “sad lesbian music”, and so on and so on. And on an intellectual level I think I understand why, but on a gut level…hey, it’s not my revolution if I can’t dance to it.
Why is there such a refusal to seek out and embrace joy on the Left? Do people think that if they’re happy they’ll be bad activists? Am I the only one who thinks that everyone needs to recharge their batteries occasionally? Is pleasure inherently a dangerous thing? Is it to do with the idea of self-indulgence? Fiddling while Rome burns, as it were? Is it just that nobody wants to think of themselves as Nero?
All of this confounds me, unrepentant sensualist that I am. I don’t WANT to live like that. I’d be miserable if I did. I think most of the people who do ARE pretty miserable, and I don’t think they need to be. So why? And am I a Bad Leftist because I don’t feel that way?

All of this musing sprang from one mention of the dreaded lentil loaf, BTW. I started thinking of leftist gatherings I’ve been to and it struck me that at every one of them the food has been dreadful. And this is the Bay Area, foodie Mecca, where you can’t walk more than a few blocks without tripping over a gourmet cheese shop or a farmers market. I just don’t get it. Where is the virtue in rejecting pleasure?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A bit of comic relief...

The whole Amp debacle reminded me of some other cartoons that I’d been meaning to post. I’d been looking for these for a while and I’m so glad that I finally found them, because they’re AWESOME.

These were written and drawn by the dude whose naked torso adorns my icon. See, I told you I didn’t just like him because he’s pretty. They probably aren’t quite as funny if you don’t know the band well enough to get WHY he’s making fun of the other two in the specific ways he is, but they’re still cute and amusing. Anyone who actually does know the band will love these cartoons to death, especially since the reasons for making fun of both guys still stand nearly ten years later.

(I have to say though that I, personally, would have made fun of Kaoru’s collection of anime geek toys too. Seriously, what kind of grown man has a rubber ducky collection made out of Gundams and Evangelion figurines?
I nominate him for the “World’s Sexist Geek” award.)

Now for the cartoons...first up we have Die. The thing about the hair...for some reason known only to himself the guy always has a little fan at his feet on stage, which produces a hilarious Victoria's Secret commercial-like effect with his silky locks blowing gently in the breeze.
Yes, it really is as silly as it sounds. Bless.

Bold is the actual text from the comic, normal print is the translator's added comments.

Title of Manga: "The 'Lone Wolf' Guitarist"
"I am the Lonely Guitarist..."

"Fluttering out my red hair, I will melt all your hearts!!!"

But... hang on a minute!!

Doesn't the Die I draw, kinda remind you of *'Gachapin'? (To all the Die fans of the country, I'm sorry!)
The small print to the bottom-right says "Sorry Die-kun~"

The green thing in the pic above is Gachapin, BTW. It's from a Japanese kid's TV show that was kind of like Sesame Street.

And now Kaoru. This one used to be affectionately known to the fans as "The God of Death". I never will understand why so many people find him so intimidating, I've met the guy and he seemed perfectly nice to me.
Also, his cheekbones really are that impressive, if not more so, up close.

Title of Manga: "The Guitarist of the Soul"
I am the Guitarist of the Soul...

I spike my hair up like blades, and I want your soul...

The arrow pointing to the character behind says "Kyo-kun". Tragic as it is to say this, the difference in scale in the pic isn’t all that far off the reality. Poor Kyo, he’s his own chibi.

But... hang on a minute...

Kaoru-kun is REALLY similar to the Grim Reaper, isn't he!!This ain't even funny/a good joke...(To all the Kaoru Fans of the country, I'm sorry!!)

See, I DO like geeks! OK, so I mock them relentlessly, but it’s done with love.
(PS I didn’t do the translations, so don’t kill me if they’re not exactly right.)

Also worth noting for those who got bent out of shape about Amp's cartoons...exaggeration and mockery are inevitable parts of the art of cartooning. That's just how it works. Cartoons are funny precisely because the readers understand the visual shorthand.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Alas drama continues, plus some more anti-trans bullshit

The radfems versus Alas fight seems to have broken out again. Well, actually it’s more like a certain tiny subset of radfems plus a few garden-variety bigots versus pretty much everyone else on the left, with a side order of said tiny subset of radfems versus Amp specifically.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I will point out that I’m not exactly unbiased here. Alas was one of the first places that I found that made sense to me when I started dipping my toe into blogging, and I’ve always been glad that it existed. I found a lot of other interesting blogs through Alas, and encountered some really great people. I also happen to like Amp, even when I don’t agree with him – he seems like a thoroughly decent human being to me. We could really use more of those.

So, I’m not unbiased here. However, even taking that into account…look, I can see why people might have been offended by Amp’s cartoon. (If those people took themselves far too seriously and had no sense of humor. Oops, there I go again being biased.) But, yeah, I get why the cartoon ticked some people off. If said people wanted to say “you know what, Amp, that pisses me off and I’d like to tell you why, and ask you to explain why you chose to tread on such sensitive ground” then OK, fine. That’s part of what blogs are for, after all, thrashing out our differences.

However…in what way is Amp’s weight relevant to this discussion? The man is a cartoonist, people, not a model. Washboard abs are not in his job description. A perfect body isn’t in the job description for a blogger, either – if it was most of the blogosphere would be out of business. And that’s OK – not everyone has to be conventionally beautiful, or skinny, or whatever. Pretending that everyone IS required to be physically perfect is, well, kind of fascist to be honest.

So, I’ll say it again over here. Argue with the ideas if you like. Critique the logic or the reasoning, but can we please lay off the personal insults? It’s irrelevant, it’s childish, and it’s shallow. Knock it off.

And about the trans issue, I’m just going to repeat what I wrote over on Alas.

“I’m no authority about trans issues, but here’s what bothers me about the way this conversation keeps playing out. It’s as if people want their abstract political theories to be more important than other people’s actual lived experiences. The implication seems to be that we have a theory on gender and trans people are fucking it up by existing, so they should shut up. We liked the theory, why should we have to change it just because that group of people over there keep telling us that it doesn’t work for them and doesn’t describe their experiences?

The problem with which is, those people do exist, and ignoring them and/or demanding that they stop mucking up your tidy little theory makes you A. not a very good theorist and B. a collossal asshole. Theories are MEANT to evolve, that’s why we call them theories, not rules.”

Is that clear enough? Theories are fine, theories are great, but when your theory consistently fails to address the lived experiences of a whole bunch of people you might want to do a little rethinking.
I totally stole this from Verte. Apparently my personality is 73% masculine and 43% feminine. When compared to other people my age and gender, however, I’m only 10 % feminine. Even though I wear heels and lipstick almost every day and cry over baby birds. Are all the women my age completely wimpy and passive or something? Because that’s what the test seemed to be measuring, woman=passive and unsure of self and man=active and competent. This is the problem with having a psychology degree - you can always tell why these kinds of tests are set up the way they are and what specific questions are designed to measure.
Test is here if you’re interested.
Depressing stuff

I went over to the Guardian page to figure out what was going on with the floods back home – I will admit that at first I didn’t take the whole thing that seriously because, um, heavy rain in the UK? Not exactly unheard of. I was wrong, though – this time it really is a big deal. British readers, how are you all doing? Is everyone OK?
Then I wandered off to look at some of the other articles and made the mistake of reading the comments posted in response.
Apparently MRAs are making some serious inroads in the UK. Every single article on the Guardian Women’s page has some prat posting a response in which he whines tediously about how evil Western women are and how he’s going to get himself a mail order bride, so there! Articles about FGM – not so much the practice itself as how to limit its application amongst immigrant communities in the UK, where the practice is illegal – bring out the “male circumcision is just as bad” brigade (hello thread hijack!). Articles about anorexia prompt more self-centered whinging about the evilness of British women and how anorexia is somehow caused by feminism (even though the disease pre-dates the movement).
And all I have to say is…my British brothers (the MRA ones, I mean, I’m quite fond of the rest of them), kindly STFU already. Or at least find something important to complain about. There’s a fucking crisis going on, can you not lay off the whining for a few days and go help sandbag or something?
I’d almost forgotten how entrenched that particular kind of snotty, whiny, dismissive sexism is in the UK. Now I understand why so many of my British sisters are so pissed off all the time.
And seriously guys, all this whining? Not very manly. Not that I care much about preserving traditional gender roles, really, but since you’re all so concerned about your manliness you might want to keep it in mind. You’re not exactly helping your own cause here.

PS. If any of the “male circumcision and FGM are exactly the same” lot come across this and are tempted to start an argument on my blog…don’t. I’ve heard it a million times, and you’re still wrong. I’m quite willing to entertain the idea that male circumcision is unnecessary and should be eliminated, but to claim that the two practices are the same is just plain dumb. Not to mention incredibly cynical and self-serving.

PPS. It’s not just the MRAs that need to STFU. All the whining about immigration? The British population has increased by only 4 million since 1971. That’s not exactly a crisis, so again, STFU already.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Male readers – Care to give me some advice? (Women can play too)

So I have this new friend, acquired through some recent concert-going experiences, who has presented me with a most confusing problem. Well, for me it’s confusing. I’m hoping that it may be a little less confusing to other people and that they can help me figure it out.

Where to start? So, this girl is a lot younger than me, in her early twenties (I’m 33). We seem to be developing a big sister/little sister sort of relationship, and that’s cool, that works for me. I like her, and I’m happy to play that role if she needs me to, which seems to be the case. She’s also very different to me in a lot of ways. Actually, she’s different to pretty much any other friend I’ve ever had, and this is where my big sisterly prowess is failing me.

She’s a pretty geeky kid. Into comics and roleplaying games and such. Kinda tomboyish. Not quite comfortable in her own skin. Really insecure about her weight. She has an awesome personality and she’s smart and funny and all that good stuff, but yeah, geeky and awkward and thoroughly unglamorous (and not at all interested in having me glam her up, either).
She’s also never had a boyfriend. Never even been kissed. This is mind-bending to me. Especially the part where she is quite convinced that this is a permanent state and that she never will find a boyfriend. She is convinced that no man has ever been interested in her, which to me seems pretty much impossible – after all she really is a lot of fun to be around and she has tons of male friends. And yet, somehow none of those friendships ever turns into anything romantic (which again seems odd to me, since I have a habit of hooking up with my friends both male and female).

It’s not that she doesn’t WANT a boyfriend, she just seems to have no idea how to go about getting one. I’ve been trying to help, but I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to get her past the “no one wants me” mindset. See, I’ve never felt like that. Not even as a teenager. I was an arrogant little shit when I was a teenager, and even worse at her age – I always pretty much assumed that I could have almost any man I wanted unless he was already spoken for. She keeps saying things like “I know you won’t understand”, and as much as I want to argue, she’s right – I don’t understand. And that’s making it hard for me to be of any assistance.
So, female readers…did any of you ever feel like that? If so, how did you get past it? What can I do to help and support her?

Then there’s the other problem. The kind of guys she’s interested in? Not the kind I’m into at all. Not something I have any experience with. She adores boys who are shy and geeky and sweet as can be, almost innocent-looking. To me they kind of seem like life-size teddy bears, to be honest, though of course I’m not going to say that to her. The thing is, I don’t know any men like that, and I’ve never had any as friends. Most of my male acquaintances could be described not so much as “quiet” as “damn, does he ever shut up?”. My male friends are LOUD, brash and confident and often pretty full of themselves, honestly. I don’t have any experience dealing with sweet, shy, geeky guys. I suspect that I probably scare the crap out of them.

How do two shy people hook up, anyway? I can see the kind of guys she likes around and about, I am able to identify them, but I’m not sure if my intervening and trying to get to know them with the intent of introducing them to her would be a good idea or if it would just freak them out. It seems like most of those guys are WAY too shy to approach her even if they realized that she’s interested, which I don’t think they do.

Shy guys – how does one approach you? As in, in a way that would be comfortable for you? Can you even tell when another equally shy person is interested in you (it’s not like she’s going to just say “damn, dude, that’s a fine ass you have there” like I might)? Where do you all hang out? Since she’s into general geek stuff I’ve been suggesting that she might want to spend more time at comic stores and other geek hangouts, maybe join some kind of sci-fi book club or gaming group. Can you think of anything else? Where do sweet, shy geek boys hang out other than in the IT department?

I’m seriously at a loss here. Help me!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Help!!! Does anyone know anything about taking care of birds?

So I seem to have adopted a baby bird. I found it hopping along in the middle of the street looking lost, and I was worried that it would get hit by a car so I tried to move it to the sidewalk...then I realised that it's a baby that must have fallen out of it's nest and it was hopping because it can't fly yet. It even still has down. I tried to find it's nest but no luck, and I tried putting it in a tree to at least get it away from cats but it just sat there looking helpless. Then every time I went back to check on it it hopped into my hands and begged for food. So, because I'm a huge sap and I was pretty sure it would die if I left it there overnight, there is now a baby bird living in a shoe box on top of my stereo. Watch as any trace of bad-ass reputation I may have ever had goes up in flames...

The problem is, I know nothing about birds and have no idea how to take care of it. I'm a city girl, I've never even held a baby bird before. I made a sort of sugar water and fed it some with a dropper, and I think it's warm enough, but I have no idea how much or how often to feed it. It seems to be sleeping now. Should I wake it up again later to feed it? Is it worth taking it to the pet store and seeing if they have any idea what to do with it? To reiterate - this bird is TINY. You could probably fit three of it in my hand, and I have small hands. Putting it back outside in the morning isn't an option - it can't fly, and it can't hunt. So what do I do now?