what rape culture can’t do: harvey weinstein and accountability

First of all, fuck Harvey Weinstein and all the people who have protected him. And let’s just say fuck you to all rapists, abusers, and harassers for good measure. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s not be surprised that a powerful white man used his position of power to deeply harm other people. That is exactly what we should expect. However, as a Liberal, Harvey Weinstein has to care what feminists and feminist-adjacent people think about him being a shitty, violent misogynist. So he issued a statement on October 5, in which he apologized for the pain he’s caused without specifying what pain he was talking about, made a weak excuse about how he came of age in a different time in which this was acceptable, and said he was getting help from therapists and lawyers. He ends by talking about how he is on the path to setting up a scholarship for women directors at the University of Southern California, and how he will name it after his mom. It is not totally clear why he felt compelled to add that into an apology. Does he think that giving some women money means he doesn’t have to feel guilty for hurting others?

Then on October 10, his spokeswoman (QuiT, GIRLLLLL) said, “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.” This across-the-board denial of wrongdoing is pretty much par for the course, but it’s also very confusing (and utterly enraging, if you are easily wound up like I am). 5 days earlier, he said he was sorry for pain he’s caused right after his many sexual harassment settlements came to light and people started paying attention to his sexual violence. What other pain could he possibly have been referencing? How is he going to do right by the people he hurt (which he said on October 5) when, 5 days later, he says he never did anything wrong in the first place?

Continue reading what rape culture can’t do: harvey weinstein and accountability

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no other way: why we should be anti-gun extremists

Something horrible happened on Sunday. 59 people were killed by someone with a gun. Hundreds of people were injured in the ensuing chaos. Terrifying. Unimaginable. But then, we aren’t unfamiliar with these stories in the United States. In the past 5 years, there have been more than 1,500 mass shootings (in which four or more people were shot). But we already know this. We know how the news cycle will go when a white man kills people. Calls for prayers, as if that will help. Calls to stop the politicization of death, as if death isn’t always politicized. Calls to band together as a country, as if that will change anything. Speculation about the mental health of the shooter. Use of the phrase “lone wolf.” Resistance by most politicians to any major political action. Mass shootings shouldn’t feel banal, but they do.

There is a concept called the Overton window that describes the relative acceptability of various political ideas. Ideas that fall within the window are generally acceptable according to public opinion. In a talk by Jaclyn Friedman, author of “Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World without Rape,” she urged progressives and leftists not just to hold the line of acceptable political discourse but to continually push it left, no matter how futile it feels. She said that to hold the line means to concede ground to those who would push it right.

Perhaps the financial power of the NRA combined with the passion of NRA superfan voters frightens progressives into taking timid, milquetoast positions on gun control. Perhaps Democrats truly do believe that “we can respect the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping our communities safe.” And increased regulation, banning assault weapons, and making it more difficult for people who are known to be violent (particularly with intimate partners) to obtain guns would certainly be better than nothing. But I think we need to push the Overton window further left. People who oppose gun violence must understand that there is only one way to end it: to eliminate all gun manufacturing and ownership. This is not a politically viable opinion in the United States right now, and it would involve a Constitutional amendment, something that feels like a nightmare to achieve. But most important things will take a long time and a lot of work. There is no other way. Continue reading no other way: why we should be anti-gun extremists

be kind, not nice: how niceness marginalizes oppressed people and protects oppressors

This weekend, I had an experience with a dude that reminded me how much women are expected to be nice to strange men who give us no particular reason to be nice. On a hot night at a rooftop bar in Minneapolis that serves $3 vodka rail drinks (uh oh), I am sitting with four women friends when a stranger comes up to our table and starts making conversation. It is pretty clear that he is there to flirt with literally any one of us who will take him. Unfortunately, he is not especially interesting. He says nothing of importance. The onus is on us to keep the conversation moving along, and so we tease him about being boring. He calls us mean as a joke. I’m sure you can imagine how stupid the conversation is. One of my friends, who happens to be sitting across the table from the man and thus is ill-positioned to hear him in a loud bar, starts looking at her phone and talking to our friend who is sitting next to her. The man seemingly can’t take this, even though three other women are humoring his attempts at conversation politely. He says she’s being mean. He says she could just be nice. I tell him, as gently as I can, that what he’s saying is sexist and that she owes him nothing: not time, not attention, not laughter, and not conversation. He tells me I’m crazy, that he’s being nice and he just thinks someone should be nice, and that’s sexist?! In a perfect moment, another friend happens to arrive at the bar right as he’s saying this. She asks, don’t you have friends you can hang out with? He says yes. She says, then go hang out with them. The high of watching him angrily leave because he has been told to go is almost worth the low of having to listen to him talk for half an hour.

I know many other women have experienced nearly identical scenarios, perhaps with less happy endings. I also know that the expectation of niceness is put on other marginalized groups too: people of color and people with disabilities, especially. And it’s definitely required that marginalized people are nice when talking about their own oppression; being anything but nice is, in and of itself, grounds for complete and total disregard.  Continue reading be kind, not nice: how niceness marginalizes oppressed people and protects oppressors

review: “beatriz at dinner”

I couldn’t help thinking about “Get Out” while I was watching “Beatriz at Dinner.” Both are slightly fantastical movies about the insidious violence of rich, white people’s racism, filled with microaggressions and dream sequences. While “Get Out” is a full-blown horror movie, though, “Beatriz at Dinner” is something different. It could be categorized as a cringe comedy; the overwhelming feelings I had while watching it were stress and anxiety. However, while most cringe comedies skewer a few characters for obliviously violating social norms, this one targets not only individual characters but entire systems of violence.  It also critiques a particular segment of likely viewers: wealthy or upper-middle class liberals. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call this a cringe dramedy, given the solemn underlying tone of the film.

The film, directed by Michael Arteta and written by Mike White, is about a woman, Beatriz (Salma Hayek), who emigrated to California from Mexico as a child and who is now a healer, dealing in massage, sound therapy, reiki, and more.  She is a deeply compassionate person; we see this before we know her occupation, when we first meet her as she is awakened by her distressed goat who is bleating loudly from a pen in her bedroom. She climbs into the small pen and holds the goat close to her body, making soothing noises. She is also spiritual: she has both Buddha and the Virgin Mary in her car, and she starts her day by meditating on loved ones she has lost. The rest of her day is spent tending to other people’s pain at a clinic for people with cancer. Continue reading review: “beatriz at dinner”

away from the racist, classist center, democrats

I’m getting pretty fucking sick of cisgender, heterosexual, professional/upper class white dudes lecturing leftists on how shit our policies are and how little we’ve done for the Democrats. It continues today in the New York Times, in an opinion piece titled, “Back to the Center, Democrats,” by Andrew Stein and Mark Penn. Here is a taste:

Central to the Democrats’ diminishment has been their loss of support among working-class voters, who feel abandoned by the party’s shift away from moderate positions on trade and immigration, from backing police and tough anti-crime measures, from trying to restore manufacturing jobs. They saw the party being mired too often in political correctness, transgender bathroom issues and policies offering more help to undocumented immigrants than to the heartland.

This piece is full of useful advice for Democrats, such as, “restore the sanctity of America’s borders,” “reject socialist ideas,” “give up on both building walls and sanctuary cities” (side note: pray tell when progressives were into building walls; pretty sure that was all conservatives, and frankly, fuck you both for equating xenophobic walls and sanctuary cities), be nicer to the Catholics, and back tougher anti-crime/pro-police bills. You know, if I were going to write a parody of the asinine think pieces about how Democrats really need to get back to the center, it would look a lot like this loose stool Penn and Stein managed to squeeze out. Continue reading away from the racist, classist center, democrats

food justice is reproductive justice

Depressing stories about reproductive healthcare and rights routinely fill the news: four Planned Parenthood clinics close in Iowa due to targeted budget cuts, our ass of a president expanded the global gag rule that prevents organizations that provide abortions from receiving U.S. foreign aid money, the soulless ghouls who make up the U.S. Senate Republicans have created a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare that targets reproductive healthcare,  and the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale strikes fear into our hearts (I guess this one is only depressing because it’s “too real,” as they say).  In the United States, activists and feminists continue to struggle just to beat back anti-abortion legislation. Unfortunately, this has meant that many of us are stuck in a reproductive rights paradigm. The reproductive rights framework for activism is generally limited to the legal sphere and focused primarily on the legal right for someone to have an abortion. This legal right is, of course, nothing to sneeze at, and reproductive rights are critical to reproductive freedom. However, as a paradigm for movement-building, reproductive rights lacks the capacity to effectively connect with other social movements, and to move beyond a narrow focus on choice and “women’s health.” Continue reading food justice is reproductive justice

gender studies rule, boys drool: “the conceptual penis” and sexist attempts to discredit feminist scholarship

When I first read “The Conceptual Penis” and the authors’ accompanying article explaining their hoax, I was pissed. I was a women’s and gender studies major in college; the discipline changed my life and my understanding of the world. I hold it in very high esteem (though that’s not to say there are no problems with the field, or with academia as a whole). Gender studies is not only very important to me personally. It’s also an extremely important addition to and subversion of traditional academic departments. The authors of “The Conceptual Penis” and I do not share these views.

The hoax, which was published by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay (under pseudonyms) in the journal Cogent Social Sciences, was a play on a similar “hoax” by the physicist Alan Sokal in 1996. Sokal submitted a fake paper to a peer-reviewed journal as a prank that aimed to show that any article could be published in even fancy journals if it was filled with enough big words and run-on sentences to please postmodern academic sensibilities, and if it aligned with postmodern (left-of-center) ideology.

Inspired by Sokal, Boghossian and Lindsay submitted an article to Cogent titled, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.” In a piece that they wrote to explain the hoax, they say:

The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what ‘post-structuralist discursive gender theory’ actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal…After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.”

Aside from the arrogant, smarmy tone of the piece (which is annoying but not really a substantive problem), there are some serious issues with the premise of their “hoax”:  at its heart, it’s a sexist attempt to discredit gender studies rather than a genuine academic exploration; their theorizing is not as silly as they make it sound; their own positionalities and ideologies prevent them from seeing the limitations of their “hoax;” and it’s simply bad scholarship with a conclusion that lacks supporting evidence and authors who intentionally obscure any evidence that contradicts their ideology, which is the exact crime they accuse gender studies of committing. To put it bluntly, they’re full of shit and are having a power trip by creating a sexist caricature of gender studies. Continue reading gender studies rule, boys drool: “the conceptual penis” and sexist attempts to discredit feminist scholarship