Archive | May, 2008

Going outside unsupervised

14 May

I like to go places and do things. I’m not sure what my problem is, but I get bored easily and need new experiences constantly to occupy my mind and to entertain myself, which is probably why I like living in big cities and traveling. And those are two things women are often warned not to do, especially (dun, dun, dun) BY THEMSELVES, lest they be raped, killed, molested, stared at funny, etc. I know that the main predisposing factor to being raped is being female, and I know that we live in a world in which women are victimized much, much, much, much, much more often than men are, but that isn’t what I want to talk about right now (I’ll get back to that soon, I’m sure). What I want to talk about right now is the fact that women’s lives are constricted by the mere threat of male malfeasance, and by the threat that engaging in activities that aren’t sufficiently in line with what’s expected of women will result in (oh, no!) spinsterhood.

I like to travel. I’ve been to 31 countries in the last 7 years (no, I’m not counting Canada), all of them by myself, and it seems like every time I’m planning to leave the US, the media, my family, and even some of my friends align themselves into an Axis of Warning in order to keep me from getting on the plane, which nearly works every time. They succeed in scaring me enough to consider NOT going and doing something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life and that will make me a more interesting person. If I listened to movies like Brokedown Palace (which, in addition to trying to scare women off of traveling, sucked worse than Lord of the Rings) and to overblown reports of one in like 9 zillion female travelers being kidnapped or otherwise victimized, I wouldn’t have any of my awesome stories that start with, “Dude, you would not believe what I saw this guy eat/do/stick up his ass in _____.”

And it isn’t just that. Every time I turn around someone is telling me, overtly or implicitly, that I’m taking my life into my hands by living in a major metropolitan area alone and daring to ever exit my triple-bolted apartment door. It seems that if I were to heed the advice explicit and implicit in the news and entertainment media, as well as our culture in general, I’d live with 75 of my armed male relatives in one big house 200 miles from the nearest Post Office and I’d never go outside. Then I’d be safe as hell. As long as none of my 75 armed male relatives was a rapist or anything.

But, were one to move into a house with 75 of her male relatives, she still wouldn’t be safe from being single, that most terrifying of prospects that we women are threatened with by our well-meaning mothers and aunts. I used to be married to a dude who knew when we got married that I’d be traveling 3-4 months a year and had no problem with it, but my aunt was nonetheless constantly telling my mother to warn me that I’d better knock that shit off, stay home, and start having kids lest he leave me for someone who more closely matched her idea of what a married woman ought to be up to (that isn’t what happened). I also keep reading articles about how women are more likely to be killed by terrorists than to “find a husband” past this-or-that age, and about how bad the “odds” are for single women in the city I live in, since there are 100,000 more of them than there are single men.

Is anybody telling dudes any of this bullshit? I know they get the message that if they don’t grow up and make a bunch of money they’ll never land that trophy wife, but are they getting messages from 15 different directions telling them that they need to be afraid, afraid, AFRAID all the fucking time?

Like I said, I know women are more likely to be victimized by men than vice versa, but isn’t part of the goal of rape and violence to push women into a corner and limit their freedom and movement? Aren’t the threats of rape and violence terrorist tactics? Didn’t the president tell us that we shouldn’t let the terrorists win? Alright, I’ll stop joking, but I mean it. Limiting our own lives out of fear of male violence is just as self-defeating as not being aware that the threat exists and failing to take the necessary precautions against it. And so is heeding the bullshit idea that our main objective in life ought to be landing a husband, any husband, and that we ought to tailor our interests and activities toward that, and only that, goal.

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Flirting and dating are for people who like white wine.

14 May

I’ve never understood flirting. I don’t mean that I’m unaware of why people do it or how it’s done, but I’ve never been able to do it, nor have I ever wanted to. I’m even fairly oblivious when someone is attempting to flirt with me, to the point that I’ve had friends tell me that I’m immune to innuendo and to the point that someone has to overtly sexually harass me before I notice what they’re up to. I think the reason I’ve never gotten flirting is that to me it seems either gross (an obvious invitation to sex), or dishonest and manipulative, and I’m not too keen on applying any of those three adjectives to myself.

Women don’t have a lot of sources of power in this society outside of their control over whether men get to have sex with them, which means that women often use flirtatious behavior to get attention or to get men to do things. I’m defining flirtatious behavior broadly as any act that is intended to flatter the male ego in an attempt to either get his sexual attention or manipulate him into doing one’s bidding. That means it includes giggling, eyelash-batting, pretending to be inept, pretending to be stupid, pretending to be weak, pretending to be childlike, making unnecessary references to one’s sexuality or to sex in general, purposely and unnecessarily calling attention to one’s appearance and/or clothing (pointing out how cool your boat shoes are notwithstanding), and other sundry varieties of general coyness. Over the course of my life, I’ve watched hundreds of intelligent women exhibit outrageously embarrassing (in my book) behavior in order to get male attention and favors, and it nearly always puts me in a foul mood for one reason: it works.

That means we’ve created ourselves a situation in which the stereotype that men are fools and women are manipulative sex objects is true for the most part. Fucking great. I’m not going to get into a chicken-and-egg thing here about who started this circle of inanity, but it seems pretty obvious that women are expected to exhibit these kinds of behaviors and that the punishment for not playing along is being ignored, called a dyke, whatever. Put simply, not pretending to be a silly little fool comes with consequences. I’d say that I’m personally fairly happy with those consequences, since the kinds of dudes I tend to be willing to talk to aren’t taken in by that sort of behavior and since I’d rather be left alone by the kinds that expect it, but I’m not happy that the situation exists.

So what’s the solution? I vote that women be themselves in all cases and let men figure out how to handle it. I suppose that’s evident throughout this blog; I advocate that we knock off all the “beautifying” bullshit, stop pretending that our sexuality consists of enjoying being used and objectified, stop pretending to be weak and feeble-minded damsels in need of male assistance in everything from deciding what to do with our time to carrying our own shit around, and eschew all of these silly little behaviors that in the short term get us attention and favors, but in the long term feed into the idea that we’re a bunch of sexbots sent here by Heineken to bolster men’s egos and bring them beers. I suppose that might be a tall order for a lot of women. I suppose it might be hard to give up the one form of power some of us (not all of us – remember, you have to be fuckable) have with no guarantee that it’ll be replaced by anything but a lonely and powerless sense of pride and integrity and a glimmer of hope that the world will change to catch up to us. Ah, well. I can hope.

Enough feminist idealism for a minute. All this talking about flirting is making me think about how weird dating is. I have a friend who is dating right now. Just one. Dating at the age of 30 is really weird, isn’t it? I’ve never known anyone who did much dating, and I’ve only been on one date in my life, when I was 13, and it was to go see Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, which doesn’t count. People from Southern California don’t date, we hang out with someone in a group of other people, get drunk with them a few times, make out one night, and then find out we’ve got a boyfriend/girlfriend. That usually works out for people, since they end up meeting whoever they marry at about the time that shit gets old, sometime between the ages of 22 and 25. But what happens if that doesn’t work out and you end up single again? You end up being 30 or so and being forced to date for the first time in your life, that’s what.

This friend, who I’ll call Heywood, called me one day to discuss the grossness of the idea of dating. Heywood said he’d just gone out on a fourth date with a girl he met at a bar, and that he wasn’t sure if he could handle dating her, since she’s into Jack Johnson and Ozomatli. Imagine that: spending four nights of your life and a fair amount of money only to find out that the person you’ve spent the time and money with/on is into the musical equivalent of having a urine fetish. This highlights the whole problem of dating: you have to hang out with strangers, both of you knowing full well that you have no reason to be in the same room save for the fact that you both considered each other potential sex partners, and try not to let that make you too uncomfortable to talk. Fuuuuck that.

Then there’s the dilemma of where you’re supposed to meet these prospective dates. Bars? Yeah, people who hang out in bars to meet people to date are usually really cool. Work? If you’re into really awkward situations, sure. The grocery store? This isn’t a late-80s yuppie movie. Heywood said maybe he’d meet chicks at Target when he goes shopping for household goods, but how can he be sure they aren’t venturing into the clothing section? Big-box store pseudo-urbanity isn’t cool. If you’re going to buy your clothes at a place that also sells Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers, don’t be a poser: go to Costco and get a sweatsuit.

But I digress. It’s pretty much hopeless unless you’re willing to date people you meet on the internet, and I don’t care how “acceptible” online dating services have become; I grew up in the 80s, when only desperate middle-aged women named Carol and fat guys with beards used dating services. Dating websites, although I’ve never been on one, sound pretty rough, and the premise is fairly disgusting. You are on a website contacting strangers, and both of you know that you are a) unable to meet anyone any other way, and b) desperate to be in a relationship, which means c) you have self-esteem problems, as evidenced by the fact that you can’t handle being alone. Either that or one or both of you is there looking for people to have random casual sex with, which is even creepier.


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Rick Ducommon Day

11 May

Let me know if you need any tips on how to celebrate the new Fourth of July, Rick Ducommun Day. He’s Canadian, but who cares? I’m not that pumped about anything America’s doing these days, so I’ve been looking for a replacement for the Fourth of July.

Do you remember the movie The ‘Burbs? A few people I know and I used to dress up as Tom Hanks in The ‘Burbs every year for Halloween (an excuse to go to bars in pajamas and bathrobes), but that shit was weak sauce now that I think about it. Remember Art? He was easily the best character in the movie, and he was played by Rick Ducommon, whose birthday is July 3. Since July 4 is an annoying day to try to party on, I think it makes an excellent alternative holiday.

The key to celebrating it is a polo shirt, Madras shorts, boat shoes, canned beer, and extreme suspicion directed at your neighbors. You can light off fireworks if you want, like the crazy old ex-Army guy in The ‘Burbs might do (I don’t want to deprive anyone of lighting off fireworks, which is the most fun one can have), but just make sure you spend at least a quarter of the day theorizing about the illegal and/or immoral activities of a neighbor, preferably with a few of your other neighbors.

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It’s the end of my semester, so pardon the lack of posts.

7 May

As much as I’d love to be writing about how misogynistic this or that is, I have to write about some other things for the next few days. Papers are all due on the 13th, so I’ll be starting all kinds of shit on the 14th.

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The First Amendment is only sort of cool.

1 May

I generally like the First Amendment. The second one kind of blows, but the first one has some fairly good bits:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I don’t want to talk about the religion part here, except to say that religion is a huge drain on the world’s resources, both financial and mental, but I think I’m about to get into some territory that some of those I’ve just offended with that statement might agree with me on; the First Amendment was designed to protect political speech, philosophical and social discourse, and the rights of people like me to voice their opinions on falafel, The Doors, and The Lord of the Rings without fear of recrimination beyond the censure of those who think falafel tastes good, The Doors weren’t the funniest band in history, and that The Lord of the Rings was a good book or movie series. Thank the (most likely non-existent) lord for that. However, as rapacious and lascivious as some of the patriarchs who founded this here nation were, I’m pretty sure none of them intended that the very first amendment they added to the republic’s founding sheet of parchment would be used as a pretext for defending the “right” of motherfuckers with morals lower than whale shit in the Marianas Trench to create videos simulating the gang rape and sexualized murder of women, and the simulated rape of children. Or have I lost touch with what these dudes were all about? I mean, I know some of ‘em owned slaves, but…

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I love nothing more than clean logic, so you can see how the contradiction inherent in the intent and use of this amendment might come close to making my brain explode. Well, if you think that shit is mystifying, check out the obscenity guidelines laid down for deciding when something falls outside of the protection of that whole “freedom of speech” thing:

For something to be “obscene” it must be shown that the average person, applying contemporary community standards and viewing the material as a whole, would find (1) that the work appeals predominantly to “prurient” interest; (2) that it depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and (3) that it lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Well, fuck. That settles it. Not only should simulated rape and child porn be illegal, but so should Family Guy, the entire American Pie franchise, most bands that have been on MTV from 1993 to the present, strip clubs, every work of “art” in any museum in the American Southwest, professional sports, baldness drugs, Stephen King novels, the Bedazzler…

But seriously, would it be possible for anyone to come up with a more nebulous and subjective standard? It all comes down to the role of judges, and I’m a little worried about how many of them seem to think they’re doing free speech a favor by allowing companies like Extreme Associates (who I will NOT link to) to keep pumping out their how-to videos on rape, and by allowing various companies to keep producing virtual child porn. Several of these cases have come before the high courts in the last decades, and the pornographers win virtually every time. I’m an academic (and a half-assed expert on American legal history), so I know how the US government is designed to work: the high courts are here to protect the minority from the “tyranny of the majority,” and that has worked out pretty well in cases like Loving v. Virgina, Brown v. Board of Education and other such cases in which state laws, although based on consensus, were out of keeping with basic human morality and decency. Legislatures are beholden to the stupid ideas of the populous, so we have judges, who are there to make judgments based on their own understanding of the law and their own consciences as to what is to the betterment or detriment of society. But is the fact that the “average person” is offended — nay — terrified at the idea of simulated rape, child molestation, and snuff porn films really a form of tyranny?

What it comes down to is whether one believes that the consumption of pornography that simulates sexual assault will ultimately fuel the growth of actual sexual assaults. The answer is, unefuckingquivocally, YES! It is a well documented fact, as well as common sense, that sexual obsessions tend to escalate rather than dissipate, and when an individual with a desire to rape, to hurt women, or to molest children comes into contact with pornography that depicts just the kinds of acts he (or, in the rarest of cases, she) fantasizes about, his obsession with that act will increase, in many cases to the point that he will act on it.

There are several reasons for this. First, finding that there is an entire community of other people interested in the same sorts of acts has the effect of normalizing those acts in the mind of the viewer. The sense that the act is illegal and socially abhorrent, which could potentially prevent such a person from acting on their impulses, is weakened by the widespread availability of pornography depicting such acts. Second, and this is something I’ve mentioned before in my posts on mainstream porn, there is no more powerful conditioning mechanism in the world than orgasm. What we pair with orgasm we are almost inexorably drawn to. I am not saying that such a pairing will always lead to action on the part of the viewer of these kinds of pornography, but it sure as fuck increases the likelihood. And, as much as I detest the obscene amounts of violence we are exposed to in our mainstream media on a daily basis, this is where the difference lies: sexual obsession abetted by the conditioning power of orgasm is much more likely to lead to illegal acts, and hence create harm in society, than the viewing of violent media, which carries no equivalent reinforcement mechanism.

You all know I think that mainstream porn has a negative influence on our society and our personal relationships, but I’m not now nor have I ever advocated that it be banned. All that would do would push it underground and make the already abominable conditions for the women involved in the industry even worse. But the difference between mainstream porn, as misogynistic and detrimental to the human spirit as it is, and the kinds of porn I’m discussing here, is that nothing ILLEGAL is being depicted in most mainstream porn (despite the fact that most porn could be called hate speech, there is no hate crime legislation protecting women). Again, although there are innumerable illegal violent acts depicted in mainstream media, these are not connected with orgasm and with sexual paraphilia, and are thus vastly less likely to lead to actual violent crimes. But the simulation of illegal acts, of the rape and mutilation and torture and murder of women and children, the viewing of which is likely to lead to actual sexual assaults on women and children, ought to meet all three of the standards of the definition of obscenity in all but the most depraved of individuals.

But don’t dismiss this as a lunatic fringe issue. As much of a niche (though growing) market as rape, torture, and simulated child porn is, the simulated rape and murder of women in video games (Grand Theft Auto, anyone?) seems to be the number one route to whopping sales these days. Does the simulated rape and murder of a prostitute in a video game appeal to prurient interests? It does if prurient “interest is an appeal to a morbid, degrading and unhealthy interest in sex, as distinguished from a mere candid interest in sex,” as the law defines “prurient interest.” Could we say that it “depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way”? I think so. Could we say that it “lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value”? Damn skippy.

So what’s the fucking problem?

*Thanks to the esquire for the conversation and some of the ideas that gave rise to this blog.

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