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Elliot Rodger and the Pandemic of Masculinity

3 Jun

I read Elliot Rodger’s manifesto yesterday. It was, without a doubt, the least surprising document I’ve ever read. It wasn’t hard to follow; it wasn’t bizarre; it wasn’t a collection of the meanderings of a mind that had lost touch with reality. Instead, it was boring, trite, obvious, and exactly what I expected it to be: a rant by a spoiled brat with an overweening sense of entitlement. To women, to sex, to wealth, to attention and adoration. Frankly, I suspected at times that it was written by a Marxist feminist satirizing privileged male entitlement in general and MRAs in particular.

Elliot Rodger wasn’t Holden Caulfield, he was a bratty little asshole who assumed he was somehow superior to everyone else and thus deserved rewards simply for existing. The rage that he felt wasn’t caused by the cruelty of others, but by his own unreasonable expectations, expectations shared by the majority of men. He may have been less equipped to deal with frustration than the average person, but his reaction to that frustration shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention to the directions the culture has been taking over the course of the last decade or so.

About that manifesto. I’d call it a memoir of a cult member rather than a manifesto, since it doesn’t contain an idea of any kind. Rodger spends 141 pages narcissistically recounting every detail of his privileged childhood, describing in excruciatingly boring detail each family trip to some “exotic” locale or other, each luxurious Japanese dinner, each wasteful birthday celebration, each time he and his family attended a media industry event as someone else’s plus-one. Save a few bits of ham-fisted foreshadowing, the story up until Rodger hits puberty reads like the autobiography of every kid I went to elementary school with in Southern California: upper middle class parents who have no interest in raising a child but plenty of money and help doing so raise a kid with a profound sense of both entitlement and abandonment. His family clearly had just enough money and social status to gain entry to the outer circles of extreme privilege, and to afford Rodger a glimpse of what could be his if only he were fabulously, disgustingly wealthy instead of just comfortable in the extreme.

In fact, the story Rodger tells of his life after puberty reads like a tale of the rude awakening to the fact that his parents were not that rich after all. He makes repeated reference to puberty as the mainspring of his disillusionment with life and humanity, as the catalyst to his confrontation with the cruel realities of the world, but he is clearly projecting a concept he has adopted from the Men’s Rights Movement and from the Pick-Up Artist (PUA) scene onto his own adolescent understanding of the world, while his recounting of his own memories illustrates a gradual realization that he was not, after all, a member of the Hollywood gentry.

Is it just me, or are there more cult-ish movements around these days than there were a few years ago? Rodger makes mention of his attempt to follow the advice contained in Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, a book that encourages readers to think they are multi-millionaires to whom life’s rewards flow unremittingly and without effort, which will result in them actually becoming one-per-centers. Though Rodger ultimately dismisses The Secret when putting its methods into practice doesn’t result in his winning the lottery and thus becoming a pussy magnet, the fact that he tried it in the first place, coupled with his wholesale adoption of MRA and PUA theories of how the world works, indicates that he shared something in common with tens of millions of people: the willingness to believe that disappointments and frustrations can be explained by nebulous, ill-fitting, simplistic principles propounded by self-help mountebanks in the pursuit of book and seminar ticket sales.

The culture told Rodger that sex, money, and attention were his birthright. When the system failed to deliver, Rodger flailed around, seeking an explanation. At first, it seemed that he turned his frustration inward and assumed that he was lonely because he was somehow defective. At that point in the narrative, I almost felt sorry for him. We’ve all been bullied, we’ve all questioned our worth as human beings based on the way that others treat us, and we’ve all wondered if life would be better for us if we were somehow constitutionally different than we are. It’s gross. Some of us respond to that kind of fundamental uncertainty about our value by entering into a pattern of self-abuse, some of us begin to question the system of social values that leads to such misery, and some of us fall prey to explanations that place the blame for our unhappiness on the people who reject us. Some of us do all three. But disorder arises when someone like Rodger fails to differentiate between fantasy and reality and never grows out of the expectation that life will turn out like a Bud Light commercial. Or a porn video.

So, what did the culture tell Rodger he could expect from the world? As a privileged child, he was given everything he expressed a desire for, it would appear. Rodger, cared for by a series of nannies, also grew accustomed to being doted on by young women in his childhood years. He grew up on the edges of Hollywood’s elite, a world in which power and wealth command attention and favors from what must look to a child to be an unending parade of young, beautiful women. Once Rodger learned about sex (from porn, naturally), he reached the seemingly obvious conclusion that he was owed sex due to his superior social position.

The culture tells all men that they are owed access to women’s bodies and energy. Sitcoms feature attractive women married to and putting up with mountains of bullshit from blundering schlubs. Movies hammer the idea into boys’ minds that young, hot women, though they may resist at first, will eventually fall into the laps of lazy, misogynistic, overgrown infants like those played by Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill in Judd Apatow movies (yeah, assholes, that’s right: your movies promote misogyny and male entitlement). Porn tells young boys with no other knowledge of sex that women are filthy pigs who just love being gangbanged and ejaculated on by abusive, sneering monsters.

I don’t know why girls rejected Elliot Rodger when he entered adolescence, or whether they even did. There seemed to have been a window in junior high — before he started consuming porn — when that was not the case. He might have been a little awkward, he may have lacked social skills, but it appears that his obsessive sense of entitlement to what he believed other boys enjoyed (whether that was the case or not) took over, coloring all of his interactions and probably preempting any chance he had at relating to girls. He was consumed by the foolish belief that porn and bullshit adolescent male bragging were reality for everyone but him. Once that set in, his anger and desperation probably became palpable in social situations to the point that women — who learn from a young age how to spot signs of danger in male behavior — steered clear.

Without any real contact with women, for Rodger, they became cartoon characters, aliens, beasts, non-human. They were an enemy to be vanquished, a prize to be collected for the achievement of having been born male, the source of all of his frustrated expectations. He absorbed those messages wholesale from mass media culture. Rodger’s memoir reads like a catalog of his consumption of popular media, from Pokemon through World of Warcraft through Halo 2, from Star Wars to the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Game of Thrones, to internet pornography, to MRA discussion forums populated by legions of men railing against women for not fulfilling the fantasies instilled in them by that same media culture.

Several feminist bloggers have made the argument that writing Rodger off as mentally ill takes the focus off of systemic misogyny and allows a worldwide epidemic of woman-hating and gynophobic violence to go unexamined. They aren’t wrong. But Rodger was mentally ill. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.

By that definition, Rodger was certainly mentally ill, and so are most men. What set Rodger apart was his willingness to participate directly in violence against women as women in order to punish them for refusing to provide him with the sex he felt entitled to, rather than simply doing so by proxy via the consumption of violent and degrading porn and other products of a capitalo-misogynistic society. The existence of masculinity requires that men be unable to relate to women, as masculinity and femininity are the institutions upon which male supremacy rests. A man who is capable of relating to women — who does not suffer from the mental illness known as masculinity — is incapable of abusing them, either in person or by proxy.

An Open Letter to Bang-on Custom T-Shirts

7 Dec

Dear Head Canadian T-shirt Bro (or, President and/or CEO of Bang-on Custom T-Shirts Ltd.) Craig Doyle,

I’m not sure that I expect much from people who are making novelty/faux-vintage t-shirts in 2012, but I felt compelled to write after a recent visit to your Atlanta, Georgia outlet in the carnival of ill-conceived attempts at rebellion known as the Little Five Points neighborhood. While perusing the otherwise banal and innocuous bits of disjointed pop culture detritus that make up the bulk of your t-shirt designs, I found myself facing the back wall of the store, where my eyes came to rest upon a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “I choked Linda Lovelace” in a VH-1-attempts-a-70s-look font.

While I can probably follow the train of thought that deposited your designers into the trough of depraved stupidity from which they dispatched this particular design, I wonder if you or your management team have done likewise. If not, you’re too stupid to run a company. If so, you’re too big of an asshole.

Let me elaborate. It’s likely (nay, it’s nearly impossible that it’s otherwise) that the dude who brought this sartorial satori to the world was just some thoughtless dick who doesn’t think much one way or the other about the porn industry and its effects on women. He’s probably heard of (or seen — retro porn to match one’s retro camera) Deep Throat, is familiar with the subject matter, and figured he’d stumbled upon a way to make an “I have a big dick” t-shirt clever and/or funny. While that’s a worthy pursuit, he’d have been far better off going with one that said “I have a big dick.” Instead, he submitted — and your company produced — a t-shirt that says, “To me, women’s bodies are just dick-measuring instruments in a never-ending contest between supposedly heterosexual men.”

Your design dude (one would hope) was probably not aware that Linda Lovelace was coerced into participating in the production of Deep Throat and several other works of pornography — including a bestiality film — and that Chuck Traynor, her “manager” and husband, beat her, raped her, allowed other men to gang rape her, kept her prisoner, and threatened her life with deadly weapons on several occasions. Whoops! Making a dick joke at the expense of a brutalized woman is a faux-pas all the way, dude.

As embarrassed as you ought to be by this bit of egregiously obtuse insensitivity, it’s only half of the problem. Let’s say — as might most dudes who are invested in believing that women enjoy being sexually abused so half-wit men like those who design your t-shirts can jack off more efficiently — that Lovelace lied about having been raped and actually participated in the making of Deep Throat willingly (despite never having received any compensation for her participation). Deep Throat is a movie about a woman whose clitoris is located in her esophagus, and who therefore seeks out opportunities to fellate men, inserting their penises down her throat to a point that would make anyone on Earth choke and likely puke. Quick, find me a real, live woman with a clitoris in her throat, or even one who reaches orgasm via deep-throating penises. Not one who is paid to pretend so, but an actual woman who has a clitoris in her throat or enjoys the sensation of impending organ damage. If you find the former, I’ll give you a million dollars. If you find the latter, I’ll be shocked, and I’ll show you a woman who has been so psychologically traumatized by men and the porn industry that her body no longer heeds its own instincts. No man believes that such a woman exists. Ergo, men who are excited by the concept or actualization of deep-throating find it arousing despite (or because of) the fact that they know it causes pain and instinctive fear.

Linda Lovelace — even though you’ve probably seen her blow someone on film — was a human being. I know that this is a difficult concept for porn users to grasp, but she had emotions, she had nerve endings that detected pain and bodily damage, she had an esophagus that existed to protect her digestive system from intrusion. Women’s bodies do not exist to be used and abused by men, even if men are willing to pay a lot of money for the privilege. No one wants to be choked, injured, or gagged for the sake of assuaging some narcissistic dunce’s penis anxiety, nor does the absence of a gag reflex indicate that a particular woman was created by the cosmos as a dick receptacle.

The lack of consideration for women’s humanity evinced in a t-shirt that reads “I choked Linda Lovelace” would be shocking if it weren’t so ubiquitous. That we have been so desensitized to the sexual abuse of women by the porn industry and by societal misogyny that people continue to shop at a store that sells a shirt that basically says my human dignity and bodily integrity are less important than the size of your dick ought to worry you enough to make you question your participation in the perpetuation of that idea. If that’s too much to ask, then at least stick to designs with less room for interpretation. Say, “Fuck Art Let’s Dance!” for example. It’s safer that way.

Until then, I’ll encourage as many people as I can to boycott your stores.

Sincerely,

ND

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Nine Deucian Socio-political Theory Part 1

20 Oct

Before I proceed, I would like to announce that the independent coffee shop from which I will dispatch this post sells a “light bodied” coffee called Dirty Nekkid Lady.

A reader by the name of Gaffa moseyed on by here t’other day, shortly after I had published my Dr. Pepper Ten™ post, to inform me that she (I’m assuming Gaffa is a she, since women are the default humans, according to me) feels frustrated and disappointed in my recent choice of post topics:

There’s the law Congress is trying to pass about no longer requiring Catholic hospitals to at least transfer women to another hospital in cases of medical emergencies rather than perform abortions; there’s Scott Brown’s pronouncement on the fuckability of Elizabeth Warren, and there’s the NYPD mace-ing of women who were simply watching the Occupy protest, and all you can bring yourself to blog on lately are Avatar, Diet Dr. Pepper, and Slim Jim ads? Really?

Most people bristle at being told what they should be writing about, but I initially felt like a terrible feminist, probably due mostly to the fact that I haven’t written much in the last few months, but also because at least some of the people who read my blog apparently find what I choose to write about trivial. I have a lot of reasons for not writing as much as I used to and am still working out where this blog as a whole is going and why, but I’m not all that worried about explaining any of that right this second. What I am interested in doing, however, is explaining my choices with regard to post topics, as it appears I haven’t been clear enough in illustrating just why I think stupid movies and shitty commercials are such a BFD. I mustn’t forget that I write this blog in order to build a movement, not to have a radical feminist intellectual circle jerk with people who are already familiar with the theory that underlies my flip phrases (not that I don’t enjoy radical feminist intellectual circle jerks).

As to the suggested alternative topics, I don’t make a habit of writing about US electoral politics — even when politicians prove that they are misogynistic wangs — because US electoral politics is a professional wrestling league designed to distract the public from what genuinely warrants attention and energy (my somewhat recent post on the Anthony Weiner fracas notwithstanding, though that post has as much to do with just how ridiculous a distraction electoral politics is as with my opinion of Weiner and his wiener). I don’t write about abortion all that often because I’ve said all I have to say on the subject and am aware that the right to safe and legal abortion is constantly under siege, and because every liberal feminist blog covers every abortion story that emerges, mostly satisfactorily. And cops macing female protesters, though it is of course fucked up, is the kind of thing Liberal Dude protesters will blog about plenty in an attempt to “get pussy” by pretending to chivalrousness.

This might disappoint Gaffa (and probably several other people), but I will likely continue to do what I have done since the advent of the ‘chine, which is, among other things, write about popular culture (including porn, BDSM, entertainment media, and marketing) and the ways in which it reflects and shapes societal misogyny. I will do so for two reasons. First and least importantly, writing about popular culture affords me the opportunity to entertain myself and (so I hear) a few others. Second, I actually believe popular culture to be chiefly to blame for the continuation of misogyny. The fact that we have gendered diet sodas might appear trivial due to its brazen absurdity, but people are going to buy Dr. Pepper Ten™, billions of people have uncritically absorbed the ridiculous messages Avatar™ managed to communicate, and men are going to eat poisonous sticks made of lips, assholes, and chemicals because they hate everything associated with femininity so much that they’re willing to eat Slim Jims™ when they’re told that Slim Jims™ will save them from faggotry.

It is essential to understand why these chunks of cultural detritus that we, the non-befuddled, rightly identify as absurd manage to influence the behavior of the general public. My view, derived chiefly from my understanding of radical feminist and anti-imperialist theory, is as follows:

In order for a hierarchy to exist, one must be able to identify who belongs to which status group. That is usually accomplished by defining a subordinate group (or groups) in relation to the dominant group. As in, dominant group A claims to exhibit characteristics X, Y, and Z, so subordinate group B is purported to exhibit characteristics L, M, and N, which are usually the opposite of or “complementary” (the language of hierarchy apologists) to characteristics X, Y, and Z. But difference alone doesn’t make a hierarchy, so the (real or purported) characteristics of the subordinated group are devalued in relation to the characteristics of dominant groups and are generally derided. In the case of gender hierarchy, for example, the prevailing ideology is that men are strong, women are weak; men are rational, women are emotional; men are high-minded, women are petty, jealous, and vain, etc. In order for male (or white, or Anglo-American, or upper class) supremacy to continue, the members of the dominant group are taught that they must do everything within their power to distance themselves, by means of whatever markers possible, from the subordinate group. Because women and men within the same social classes interact and, indeed, live in the same households in most cases, boys and men must go to much greater lengths to disassociate themselves from people they exist in such close association with. Hence, boys are inundated from a very young age with lessons on how to avoid what are most likely natural human behaviors (crying, displaying compassion and emotions other than anger, and so on) because such behaviors are deemed “feminine.”

There is a reason that little boys loathe pink while little girls either like or have neutral feelings about blue. There is also a reason that boys put “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” signs on their hideouts while little girls don’t shun boys — and then only do so half-heartedly — until they perceive that boys dislike them and react accordingly.

Coca-Cola™ and Con-Agra Foods ™ (the makers of Dr. Pepper Ten™ and Slim Jim™, respectively) and the ad outfits that work for them don’t likely have a nuanced, lucid, or even conscious understanding of how and why these mechanisms of identity differentiation and hierarchy affirmation work, but they know they exist. And being corporations, which are entities characterized by absolute amorality, they use the tools available to them to attain their only purpose, which is profit. By taking note of men’s perceived need to disassociate themselves from women and the misogyny from whence that perception arises, these corporations both reflect the level of woman hatred that characterizes contemporary American culture and solidify (and, in my view, increase) it.

Next time I find myself here at the Dirty Nekkid Lady-pushing coffee house, I will further infuriate those who want me to stop talking about Dr. Pepper Ten™, Slim Jims™, and stupid movies by using all three to elucidate my theory of emergent neo-masculinity that relies upon the extreme rejection of the survival instinct in excruciatingly verbose detail, and by finding the most ridiculous possible means by which to relate Avatar™, DP10™, and Slim Jims™ to my hypothesis as to the origins of patriarchy itself!

If your kindergartener’s ass isn’t hot enough, Skechers can help.

30 Apr

Ever since the the early 90s when they began pumping out “skate shoes” and those ridiculous high-heeled sneakers, I’ve been wondering who the hell is buying Skechers. They seem to have a storefront in every town in America and an astronomical ad budget, but I can’t remember ever having known anyone who has owned a pair or even seeing anyone wearing them. According to the Wikipedia entry on the company, the CEO founded Skechers after jumping ship on the LA Gear brand, which ought to make a lot of sense to anyone who remembers LA Gear. What makes less sense, however, is the claim that Skechers started out making “skate shoes.” Having grown up in San Diego at the dawn of the skate brand era and surrounded by skateboarders, I can aver that not one skateboarder in town owned a pair of Skechers. In fact, I’m pretty certain that a kid showing up at a skate spot sporting a pair of Skechers might have suffered an ass-kicking, and would at a minimum have had to endure extremely vocal opprobrium. As such, Skechers made a real impression on me as a teenager as yet another dorky brand whose marketing directors were trying to latch onto a sub-culture they had no understanding of and were putting out a product that ended up being nothing but a mark of poseurdom. I know, I’m a dork for having had an opinion about a shoe brand and its relationship to illegitimate claims to skateboarderism, but whatever. I was a teenager with pretensions to punkness and Skechers were the Airborne of shoes.

The company quickly gave up on making skate shoes and moved on to producing a full line of footwear featuring boisterous iridescent accents and marshmallow soles, and I continued to wonder where they were making their money. Was every single person east of I-15 and west of I-95 wearing Skechers unbeknownst to me? I’m still mystified, though I didn’t really care one way or the other about Skechers until the recent launch of their Shape-Ups™ and Tone-Ups™ lines. For those of you who have managed to avoid hearing about Shape-Ups™, they are sneakers that curve up at the heel and toe, thus creating a constant instability that purportedly causes the leg and butt muscles to contract as one walks around. Despite the fact that they don’t work, look ridiculous, and have the potential to cause injury, Skechers has put considerable cash into advertising for the line, including for a Super Bowl ad featuring Kim Kardashian (who the beans is Kim Kardashian and why should I know her name?).

These shoes, apparently, have such a drastic effect on one’s physique that they can replace a personal trainer/boot-knockin’ partner, all for under $100. So Kim Kardashian, despite rumors that she works out several hours a day and only eats calorie-free superfoods imported from Jupiter, in reality just wanders around a mansion in hot pink-accented sneakers. But you don’t have to be a rich, famous (for some fucking reason) sex symbol to benefit from Tone-Ups™. Regular models wear them too.

As annoying as these shoes and their attendant ad spots are, they’re nothing new. “Hey, we know you hate your _____ because we’ve been screaming at you from magazines, billboards, television, movies, and porn since the day you arrived on Earth that you should, but we’ve got the solution! Buy our newest product, and this time it will work and you’ll be a slightly less worthless human being!” At this point, the fuckability industry’s attempts to ensure its ongoing profits at the expense of women’s relationships with themselves and their bodies are so redundant and obvious that many feminists don’t even bother to call attention to them save in particularly egregious cases. These ads, while plenty offensive and retch-inducing, aren’t really all that noteworthy as beauty industry ads go, but there’s more. While watching a little Spongebob last week, I happened to see this ad for Shape-Ups™ for girls:

The laser-like focus on the ass isn’t as prominent in the ad for the girls’ version, but what else is the point of these shoes supposed to be? No one has ever made the claim that they help burn calories in general. Nor are the shoes offered for both girls and boys, despite the fact that all of the kids in the US could use more exercise to counteract the “food” industry’s attempt to turn us all into diabetic corn syrup addicts. The adult model of the shoe is marketed specifically to women, specifically for improving one’s gluteal beauty-mandate adherence, and the girls’ model is no different. Female children want to emulate their adult female role models, and if their adult female role models are concerned with the shape of their asses enough to buy Shape-Ups™, then those girls will get the impression that they ought to do so as well. Why does a female child need a pear-shaped ass? Why should a little girl think about her butt at all? Why would a girl want a gaggle of boys wearing junk food costumes to follow her around and stare at her behind?

The sexualization of female children becomes more audacious at every turn, as do the attempts by the beauty industry to reach into the psyches of ever younger female children and foment a paralyzing sense of inadequacy and worthlessness that can only be partially assuaged by spending money in an endless and fruitless quest for a respite from self-hatred. Please take a minute to contact Skechers and tell them it isn’t cool, that not only do adult women not need to obsess over how hot men think their asses are, but that it’s also disgusting and immoral to sell the idea to female children that they ought to be doing so.

I’m really tired of hearing about Electra. And individualism.

3 Oct

Where in the samhill have I been? Sorry, y’all. I have excuses, but posting them would be both narcissistic and boring, and I’ve got other things I want to talk about.

Whilst enduring a flight from Portland to Atlanta last week, I decided to read this month’s issue of Harper’s rather than watch the same three episodes of The Office that Delta has been playing on their flights for the last three months, an issue that included an article by Susan Faludi entitled “American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide.” How could I resist, right? A cover story in a tweed brigade northeastern intellectual rag intimating that young feminists — in accordance with the boring old trope derived from the progenitors of classical western misogyny — are literally (OK, fine, figuratively) killing old feminists, which explains what the (weighty pause followed by the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) Problem with the Feminist Movement is. Not only was I going to read the shit out of that, but I even got a pen out to take notes. I mean, there might be a letter to the editor in there somewhere, might there not?

I didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that Faludi had accepted a position as the shoeshine girl of the mainstream media establishment that she had eviscerated in Backlash, but I will admit that I did start skipping in that direction. How could I not? From the title alone, I surmised that I was about to read another tired rehashing of the same old bullshit line: there’s a fundamental and inherent flaw in the feminist movement, and that flaw is women, whose very nature requires that they scratch each others’ eyes out and steal each others’ boyfriends and precludes them from accomplishing anything other than inspiring the coining of the term “fashionista.”

Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but there were some pretty serious problems.

Faludi starts out illustrating the misunderstandings between Second and Third Wave feminists and the ways in which those misunderstandings undermine the cohesion of “the feminist movement” (whatever that is), then extrapolates the purported generational rift that characterizes the contemporary world of feminism back to previous eras. To sum it up, the First Wave earned women the right to vote, and the consumerism of the 1920s created a generation of frivolous, ungrateful young women who rejected their mothers’ idealism in favor of a new image of womanhood that advertisers had sold them. Cigarettes and mass-produced flapper fashion came to replace the ballot as the symbols of women’s freedom, and the feminist movement had been neutered by the power elite, whether intentionally or not. Then came the Second Wave, in which young feminists expressed hatred for their mothers and the stifling brand of conformist femininity they represented. Finally, we have the current round of matricide, in which Third Wavers are waxing poetic about pube waxing while pronouncing Second Wavers and their methods and ideas irrelevant in the age of the iPod.

It’s a tidy little picture, and it works well with a sleek and misogynistic cliche like the ol’ Electra parable. The problem, as is always the case with these attempts to misrepresent feminism in order to sell magazines, is reality.

The first problem is that the argument isn’t actually all that smooth, which I suspect might be the result of the fact that Faludi herself doesn’t truly believe that feminism as a movement is fucked and that it’s fucked because women hate their mothers. Faludi’s sympathies clearly lie with the Clytemnestras in her formulation, or at least with the First Wave and Second Wave Clytemnestras, but there seems to be a giant break in her cyclical progression of ritual matricide; the daughters of the First Wavers, having been duped by Edward Bernays and his disciples into believing that projecting an image of liberation by means of Lucky Strike cigarettes was good enough, eschewed further substantial feminist agitation and shat all over their mothers’ dreams, and then we jump to the current Second vs. Third Wave throwdown, in which the younger generation’s narcissism and consumerism has destroyed the unity and potential of their mothers’ movement. The picture, a few quotes from Second Wavers about hating their mothers notwithstanding, looks more like a parallel with a two-generation gap than a steady progression of generations of matricidal women. First of all, who were the Clytemnestras to the Second Wave Electras? Stereotypical 50s housewives? I thought this was a story about inter-generational squabbling within the feminist movement, but Faludi doesn’t make a single reference to the existence of feminism between the 20s and the 60s*, which is a major problem. If I’m to give any credence to a historical argument, the person making the argument needs to know something about history. She could have easily made the argument that Second Wavers jettisoned the difference-based ideology of labor feminists in favor of smashing gender roles and achieving equal legal protection for women (or at least some of them did), but I don’t know whether she even knows those labor feminists existed.

The second problem, provided that we look only at the two generational conflicts that Faludi presents as parallels, is that young women in both instances come off as lazy inheritors of a legacy they don’t deserve or make the most of. I’ve obviously got mixed feelings on the Second/Third Wave issue, being that I’m a 33-year-old radical anti-porn feminist whose activism has, until recently, consisted of writing blog posts under a pseudonym, but I do take issue with that characterization, if only on behalf of other young feminists I know, who do an awful lot more actual (as opposed to virtual) stomping around and kicking ass in the name of women’s liberation than they’re given credit for. But anyway, it’s 2010. Does anyone pay attention to groups of people in public with signs? Isn’t making use of modern communication media a more effective means by which to raise awareness of an issue? Tactics evolve with movements, and the internet has allowed more and more women to join the discussion when they might otherwise have been excluded. Until young women quit volunteering their time to support causes that they believe in, let’s quit giving them shit for writing about women’s issues on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, huh?

We’ve got a third problem: why are we always trying to figure out what’s wrong with the feminist movement? At what point will there not be something wrong with the feminist movement? When every single person who uses the word “feminist” agrees on every single issue that affects every single woman? Sorry, but that shit ain’t coming any time soon, and when it does we’ll know that the movement has been taken over by men. What is constructive about pontificating on the failings of feminism? Does it teach us how to move forward? Faludi’s piece ends on an extremely bleak note, with a professor of Women’s Studies lugubriously recounting her program being cut as a result of the fact that young women just couldn’t be bothered to learn about anything other than Lady Gaga and exclusionary Judith Butler-esque abstractions that take the focus off of real women’s lives and allow privileged, narcissistic brats to feel superior in their ability to understand what the fuck is even being discussed. I understand her concern, I truly do, but that ain’t all there is out there, and Faludi comes dangerously close to doing what she accuses the mainstream media of having done throughout the course of the history of the women’s movement: pronouncing feminism dead. Constructive criticism is one thing, but sounding the death-knell for the feminist movement and blaming it on some threadbare trope from gynophobic folklore is quite another thing for a feminist to do.

I’ve got some constructive criticism: feminist writers ought to focus on the ideas they have that are actually interesting and insightful and express them honestly rather than forcing them into a mold that will be acceptable to a bunch of old crotchety sexists who someone has mistakenly anointed the arbiters of intellectual rigorousness. I know we all have to make a living, but let’s at least try not to sell out that hard. And I say that honestly, because Faludi touched upon something far more interesting, important, and potentially revolutionary than the ridiculous Electra complex style device: the role of marketing and advertising in the co-optation and attempted destruction of feminism. It’s no surprise that she detects increasing danger in the attempts of marketers to repackage and neuter feminism, and it’s no surprise that she sees these attempts increasing in intensity in direct response to the threat posed by the progress women have made in society (she did write Backlash and all). She’s right. But how about we place the blame for that where it belongs rather than with women themselves? I realize that such an approach makes me sound like an arrogant dick who thinks she’s the only one who “sees through the bullshit” while calling young feminists in the 1920s and the 2000s dupes of the highest order, but I’m not writing this post from Jupiter a thousand years from now. I’m a dupe, too. We’re all dupes (and I mean all of us, not just women and/or feminists), and we need to face it or we’re fucked.

But what does it even mean to be a consumerist sap? What makes us susceptible to buying into watered-down commodified versions of feminism? Why and how do the powers that be rip us off and then sell our own ideas back to our kids (or little sisters) in an adulterated form? It seems to me that the cycle is fairly consistent, at least with regard to consumerist “democratic” societies since the 1920s (things tend to work out serendipitously for the power elite, I know): a group of people gets tired of being shat upon and makes their presence known, the people who sell us things freak out and worry that these people represent a threat to their continued existence and dominance, they then calm down and try to figure out how to sell things to these people, they put all their resources into analyzing and manipulating this new target market, it starts to work because buying products is far easier than sustaining a revolutionary movement over the course of years or even decades, and then the power elite regain their grip on things until the next upheaval comes to pass. (Of course, you have to believe that under capitalism the interests of government and the capitalist class dovetail in order for this to ring true, but if you don’t believe that, you should probably not be reading this blog.)

That’s where I agree with Faludi’s analysis: consumerist co-optation of feminism has become ever more insidious and effective over the course of the past half century or so. But I don’t believe the outlook is so dismal. Maybe it’s because I’m young (we’re optimists!), maybe it’s because I’m a radical (we’re idealists!), maybe it’s because I’m a fool (most likely), but I think I may have found a nugget of the solution in Faludi’s piece.

The problem is the obsession with the concept of individualism, and if we can either temper our desire to be “individuals” or find a way to actually be individuals, we may just be alright. Group movements, posing the huge threat that they did to the status quo, provoked too much retribution in the late 60s and early 70s to survive, and people turned inward, hoping that they’d foment a gradual revolution by revolutionizing themselves. Self-actualization and self-realization took the place of group action and unity, and the power elite took note of that turn and exploited it. Republican politicians encouraged identity politics and the division of the working class and along racial** and gender lines, capitalists found ways to market “lifestyles” in order to help people create and maintain the illusion of their own new-found individuality, and selfishness and self-absorption triumphed over cooperation and empathy as the world (and especially the US) made the transition from the fairly radical liberal consensus that characterized the 30s through the 60s to the conservative consensus that has dominated our lives and political culture since at least the late 70s***. Individualism has, of course, always been a part of our political culture and our foundational sense of who we are here in the US, but the fragmented, mistrustful, and generally selfish tenor of American society in the last three decades is a direct result of the purposeful manipulation of that concept by politicians and corporations in their continued effort to get greater control over and to better be able to predict our behavior as voters (subjects) and consumers****. And just think about the billions of dollars that have been made by opportunists who have capitalized on our belief that we are all special little snowflakes and that we need to express our uniqueness to the world in order to be understood by other “individuals” that, if the cult of individualism has any internal logic, have no hope of ever doing so. We’re being divided and conquered, my friends. And duped. Marketers have convinced us all that we’re discreet units, complete individuals, totally alone and unique, which precludes us getting any of our needs met by anything other than consumerism. That was at work in the 20s, but it’s been so successful since the 80s that even the attempts at thinking of “women as a class” that characterize Second Wave and Marxist feminism have been lost to “my experience.” *****

There has probably never been a bigger threat to the foundation of our social hierarchy than the specter of women’s liberation from patriarchy and the misappropriation of our labor under capitalism. It stands to reason, then, that those with capitalistic or patriarchal leanings would put their back into sucking the qi out of any movement that posed that threat, and that they’d do it the same way they always have: by doing their best to dupe us into taking the easy way out and buying symbols of our liberation rather than sustaining the fight to actually win it. Feminism became yet another lifestyle that could be marketed to women as a means to express their individuality and power. So we got a bill of goods in place of anything substantial: Virginia Slims, shoulder pads, Playgirl, and the Pill. We got the opportunity to act like men for a price, and then the phallocrats got to blame the fact that such a facsimile of equality didn’t make us happy on feminism rather than on the fact that what we were buying was an empty package that claimed to contain personal liberation.******

That process of co-optation and chicanery has continued apace, and recognizing that and moving away from it might be the key to the future of the feminist movement, if it is decided that there needs to be one. I obviously do believe we need a feminist movement and that it’s possible for one to exist without any matricide or filicide, but you can’t work to ameliorate the conditions of women as a class if you can’t conceive of yourself as part of a class called “women” and can’t conceive of the word “feminism” without “my” preceding it.

* See Dorothy Sue Cobble, The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America; Kate Weigand, Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation; and Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, The Cold War, and Modern Feminism.

** See Hugh Davis Graham, Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America; John David Skrentny, The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America; and Skrentny, The Minority Rights Revolution.

*** See David Vogel, Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America.

**** See Lizbeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.

***** This paragraph is the result of a combination several years of  school and a recent viewing of The Century of the Self, a super rad BBC documentary series.

****** See Susan Faludi, Backlash.

Fall 2010 Course Offerings in the Men’s Studies Department

25 Apr

Reader Elizabeth tipped me off last week to a podcast of some DaHarb named Lionel Tiger (no, seriously) who has had the blisteringly original idea that universities, if they’re going to offer Women’s Studies courses, ought to be required – in the name of equality – to offer Men’s Studies courses. As someone who has spent the last eight years on college campuses futzing around various humanities and social sciences departments, I would like to reassure Mr. Tiger that he needn’t worry about men’s curricular under-representation. Men’s Studies actually already exists. I don’t know what they call it at Rutgers where he teaches, but at the two universities I’ve attended, they call it Literature, History, Art History, Political Science, Economics, and Area Studies. Really, nearly every course taught in every humanities or social science department on Earth could be considered Men’s Studies were it not for the token textbook chapter here and there on “women’s history” or “women’s literature.” Or maybe Tiger is concerned when he looks at the course catalog and sees a section for African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano Studies, Women’s Studies, etc. but doesn’t see a White Men’s Studies, an omission that would imply that white men aren’t oppressed enough to warrant a department dedicated to the study of their suffering. I mean, just imagine.*

Let’s pretend for a minute that the majority of Women’s Studies departments haven’t already been rebranded and ideologically reworked as Gender Studies departments and think about what kinds of courses might fall under the rubric of Men’s Studies. Davetavius and I have designed for your perusal a hypothetical grouping of course offerings for the Fall 2010 semester for the Men’s Studies department at Alternate Universe State (I’m guessing that it might be possible that in some alternate universe there exists a shortage of college courses about men and their concerns, though I still doubt it).

Undergraduate Course Offerings

MNST 101 Introduction to Chicks – Required for all Men’s Studies majors. Introduces basic concepts in the study of chicks, how to get them to get naked, and what’s wrong with them. Concepts that will be covered include basic sexual coercion techniques, creative avoidance of privilege examination, and basic victim-blaming.

MNST 110 Strip Club Etiquette  — This course will give students a thorough grounding in the behavior expected at strip clubs. Topics will include avoiding contact with bouncers, how to discreetly inquire about the availability of intercourse or fellatio, how to maximize the amount of attention one can get per tip dollar, how to avoid ingesting pubic hairs at free strip club lunch buffets, the parameters of lap dances, advanced glitter removal laundry techniques, and basic alibi formation.

MNST 123 Intermediate Automobile Appreciation – Building on the fundamentals taught in MNST 122, this course will take students beyond a basic understanding and appreciation of horsepower and will prepare them to classify American vehicles by year and to detect and precisely identify common vehicle modifications. Prerequisite: MNST 122 Basic Automobile Appreciation or proof of ownership of a classic vehicle as defined by department guidelines. May be taken concurrently with MNST 124 Introduction to Drifting.

MNST 209 Intermediate NFL Theory – This course will build upon the basic knowledge of the NFL taught in MNST 109 to prepare students to call sports talk radio shows and discuss coaching strategies and to assemble a viable fantasy football team. Intended to prepare students for MNST 210 Applied NFL Theory: Fantasy Football. Prerequisite: MNST 109 Basic NFL Theory To Prevent Sounding Like A Faggot or permission of the coach.

MNST 212 Applied Fart Science – This course will allow students to put what they have learned in the course of our two-semester fart theory sequence into practice. Topics to be covered include public flatulence strategies, mind control techniques that will allow one to maintain a straight face while others attempt to detect the source of a fart, complex “pull my finger” sequences, the scientific principles of rectal methane combustion, and rhetorical strategies for smelt it/dealt it disputes. Prerequisite: MNST 211 Intermediate Fart Theory or department placement exam.

MNST 323 Directed Research in Mammarian Theory – Senior seminar intended for MNST majors. This course will allow students to move beyond basic breast appreciation and to formulate an individualized mammarian taxonomy in preparation for the senior thesis (required for all MNST majors, a 25,000-word essay on who has/had the world’s greatest tits). Students work with an advisor to identify three individual areas of interest (e.g., 80s boob comedies, silicon implants versus saline implants, tactile versus visual breast appreciation, etc.) and to examine relevant research data. Intended as preparation for MNST 324 Senior Thesis Seminar in Advanced Mammarian Studies. Prerequisite: at least four courses in the MNST 310-319 range of upper-division Mammarian Theory courses.

Graduate Course Offerings

MNST 412 Computer Science for Men: Advanced Pornography Perusal Techniques – This course will prepare students to develop complex Boolean search sequences for the efficient and precise acquisition of highly specific pornographic content. Final exam to consist of a timed search for a minimum of five free video clips matching at least 7 of 10 of the criteria outlined in a randomly chosen description of a 4Chan member’s preferred masturbatory fantasy. Intended for MA students as preparation for the MA thesis in the Erotic Arts sub-field. Prerequisite: MNST 380 Intermediate Pornography Perusal Techniques: Moving Beyond Basic Anal.

MNST 465 Directed Research in Microbrews – This course builds on the MNST 460-464 series of courses in microbrew appreciation to prepare MA students to write the MA thesis in the Fermented Beverages sub-field. Students work with an advisor to identify three breweries (either domestic, European, or a combination of the two) and to sample and analyze the products of each before writing a comparative thesis in the field. Students seeking entry into the PhD program with a focus in Fermented Beverages are encouraged to complete MNST 466 Applied Microbrew Theory: Home Brewing and/or MNST 467 Applied Microbrew Theory: Advanced Punning for Beer Naming in preparation for their doctoral research. Prerequisite: MNST 464 Advanced Microbrew Appreciation: Boulder vs. Belgium.

MNST 501 Advanced Men’s Rhetoric for PhD Students – This multidisciplinary course is intended to help doctoral students to prepare for their oral qualifying examinations by introducing them to advanced rhetorical strategies for the defense of male privilege and the male-supremacist status quo. Topics to be covered include creative interpretation and misrepresentation of rape and domestic violence statistics, the utilization of historical precedent as a rationalization for the continued subjugation of women and/or people of color, the deployment of basic evolutionary psychology/biology to excuse sociopathic behavior on the part of men, advanced applied false analogy theory for use in situations in which it is advantageous to compare the white male heterosexual experience to that of groups of people who have actually been oppressed, and advanced men’s ultramicro-economic theory, which will prepare students to appear to refute the claims of Marxist and anarchist feminists about men’s systemic misappropriation of women’s labor by producing anecdotal evidence that a woman once took advantage of a man for monetary gain. Having completed this course, students will have the opportunity to earn extra credit for participation in a debate with students from the university’s Women’s Studies department at which everyone will be required to give both sides’ arguments equal weight regardless of the quantity and quality of thought and knowledge that underlies each, as to do otherwise would unfairly disadvantage the Men’s Studies students. This event, like our department, will be funded with monies taken from the Women’s Studies budget.

Should you have a class title or description to suggest, please do so in comments. The department will surely expand.

* Since I know everyone really wants to know my opinion on the organization of university curricula: in short, ____ Studies departments only serve to create the illusion of commonalities that are at best crude and misleading and to further ghettoize the study of women, non-heterosexuals, and people of color. A wiser tack to take would be to quit judging all people against a white male heterosexual yardstick and require that the professors of regular ol’ history/literature/etc. courses quit pretending dead white men were the only people who ever did anything noteworthy.

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Fuck politics, women need to be making sitcoms.

19 Apr

I’m serious.

Justin sent me a link to a recent (OK, not that recent) article about Kathryn Bigelow, the first female recipient of the Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker (who also directed one of the greatest movies ever made — provided that you watch movies for the same reasons I do — Point Break). The article, written by Barbara Kellerman of the Harvard Kennedy School, while it did make me snort a few times, made me come to an important realization: it’s more important for women to concentrate on gaining control of the entertainment industry than politics.

But first, let’s get back to what made me snort. Kellerman, apparently a sex discrimination and objectification apologist, claims that it’s:

… not that Hollywood dislikes women. It does not: films and females have gone together since the inception of the movie business. It’s just that even now, a decade into the 21st century, Hollywood wants women in front of the camera rather than behind it.

See? It’s all good, y’all. Hollywood may not value women’s abilities, intelligence, or artistic talent, but it likes looking at conventionally “hot” ones. Why complain that there aren’t enough female Best Boys when women dominate the Interchangeable Sex Object market? Come on, now. How can Kellerman make the claim that Hollywood doesn’t dislike women when “it” only allows them to play the limited roles it assigns them, when it requires that they perpetuate its own warped ideas about womanity (I love coining new words) if they want to participate at all, when it bars them from occupying any positions within the industry hierarchy from which they might gain the power to create entertainment that depicts women as human beings rather than formulaic rehashes of the temptress, girl next door, damsel in distress, or shrew archetypes? Sounds to me like Hollywood dislikes women and wants to make sure the rest of us do, too.

And then there’s this humdinger:

[I]t would be disingenuous not to point out [Bigelow's] decades-long relationship to James Cameron, the guru behind The Hurt Locker’s most obvious competitor, Avatar, and one of Hollywood’s all time heavyweights.

The fact that they were married for a couple of years a couple of decades ago has no apparent bearing on Bigelow’s emergence as a star director in her own right. But the fact that for years Cameron has been her mentor, as well as her apparently unwavering collaborator and champion, does. It’s anyone guess whether Bigelow could have made it so far on her own, notwithstanding her talent and drive.

Oh, SNAP! So, even when a woman finally does wrest a begrudging nod from the 90028 phallocracy, we have to give a dude credit for it, “notwithstanding her talent and drive” (whatever that means)? I wonder whether anyone, when discussing the garbage James Cameron has strewn across the cultural landscape, has ever bothered to pontificate on the various personal relationships that might have propelled Cameron to his current position atop the entertainment shit heap. Probably not, since when men make use of personal connections to get ahead, they’re just savvy, resourceful go-getters. But when a woman (or anyone who isn’t a white dude) does anything other than take some kind of melodramatic Russel Crowe-esque stand against accepting help from anyone in their struggle to measure up to standards set and enforced by these nepotistic networkers (I’m practicing my alliterations in the hopes that TruTV will hire me to narrate some “shit gone awry” clip show), everyone assumes that she — because naturally, being female, she lacks any true talent or skill — must have hosed her way up the ol’ ladder of success.

Not only does Hollywood dislike women, but I suspect that Kellerman, though possibly unbeknownst to herself, might not be that big of a fan either.

Which brings me to the actual point: women need to get control of the entertainment industry (and its controlling boyfriend, the advertising industry) or else, and it ought to be our foremost goal, possibly even taking precedence over political representation. Whether we are pumped about it or not, the entertainment and advertising industries make up the bulk of our culture, and culture, though it is an excuse for nothing, does appear to underlie everything. The entertainment industry, news media included, shapes and directs public opinion on nearly everything, including and especially gender roles. We’re surrounded by the entertainment industry’s influence nearly every second we’re awake, and it probably plays a larger accumulative role in forming our ideas of self, other, and society than any other influence. If women were to gain control over at least half of that industry and its output, and if that control were to result in kinder, more sympathetic, more realistic, or just plain less hateful representations of women, the effect on our culture would be striking.

Equal representation in politics would be great, but the only way that will happen without a massive reduction in societal misogyny would be through the use of a quota system. Whatever your views on affirmative action or our purportedly individualistic and meritocratic political system, that isn’t likely and would probably lead to the kind of social backlash I’m not interested in learning the details of. It may very well be that the only way to ensure women’s interests are represented in politics is to create the kind of culture in which women’s views and political participation are seen as desirable and necessary to the functioning of society, and the only force in the world with the power and reach to propel us toward that reality is the popular media. Blogs ain’t doing the job. The corporate entertainment industry shut down any potential that the independent media efflorescence of the early to mid 90s offered. No one cares what the local booger punk band thinks. A popular entertainment media takeover by women is the only solution.

But then we’d have to rely on the kinds of women who give a shit about getting ahead in Hollywood to represent our interests to the public, you say? Yes, it’s a lesser of two evils situation, to be sure, but at least women can identify with women as human beings like themselves and would be less likely to make yet another horror movie in which young attractive women are tortured to death for the titillation of teenage misogynists or yet another boob comedy. Without looking it up, I can guarantee you a woman didn’t write or direct American Pie. Sure, I’d like to see something a little more radical than a gradual, piecemeal amelioration of women’s systemic oppression, but until I write my treatise on how to create an anarcho-communist utopia in which beer is blue and tastes like flowers and Cadbury Creme Eggs are sold year-round by peaceable means, I’ll have to stick to offering my thoughts on how to change things from within the cruel system in which beer tastes like beer and I ate my last Creme Egg last night. For now, I’ll take what I can get, and this seems possible. Just think, with a popular media that portrayed women as human beings rather than either syrupy, kissy-faced angels or conniving whores, maybe Barbara Kellerman would be able to measure women and men by the same standard and either give women credit for their achievements without disclaimers about the personal advantages they enjoyed, or call attention to the far more numerous social, economic, political, and personal advantages most men enjoy.

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