You can now find me…

…over at my new general blog, Le Matt Juste. Yes, it’s a pun.

I’m considering today my official launch, although I did set things up and start posting yesterday. I will be posting about feminism there too, and will probably consider this blog an archive. Thanks very much for reading!

Why yes, I do have a name.

Just a quick note here, I’m not coming back to actively update ST yet, but as you can see my posts are no longer anonymous, because I’m planning a non-anonymous GENERAL politics blog. You’re welcome, world.

You are not entitled to my attention

Ignoring someone can be the most powerfully feminist action anyone can choose to take. There’s situations and types of entitlement it’s especially effective against, especially when women receive unwanted attention from men.

Dear attention-seekers: I know it’s hard being you. There’s really very little attention to go around these days, what with advertising everywhere, cellphones, e-readers, and mp3 players vying for your favoured commodity. But you’re not entitled to my attention, no matter what context you want it in.

Female attention-seekers seem to be quite keen on feminism only so far as it produces positives for them: as they see it, their opinion is more valued, less suppressed, and agreed with more readily now that the social paradigm has shifted to take at least some tenets of feminism into account, and tend to hide behind it as a shield to a certain degree when they don’t get what they want beyond the point that feminism would actually support. (I’m not saying this is a common thing in general, just among attention-seekers- they tend to treat ANY potential social advantage that way)

The problem is that this is a completely straw-feminist position. A woman is entitled to equal treatment by anyone who believes in equality or feminism on principle, but that doesn’t mean that any given thought or action a woman expresses or takes should be defended automatically. Feminism is about criticising unequal treatment, and the ways in which women are built up when they shouldn’t be- the kid gloves many men use on women that they view as sexually attainable, when they’re lacking social skills or could do with thinking more critically- that attitude is just as sexist as the unfair and negative treatment more prominent women receive.

One of the most feminist things I do around women is to be ambivalent when they’re pretending to be someone they’re not, when they’re feeling entitled, or when they’re simply attention-seeking. It’s an excellent contrast to the supportive side of feminism, and I don’t even have to be critical to do it, and when used together with supportive feminism, withdrawing praise or attention can actually change people’s behaviour quite dramatically when they value you socially.

But it can get me some odd reactions sometimes. It’s especially a mixed blessing in the dating world, (or at least, the 90% of it or so that involves androsexual women) but it’s not like beliefs are something that can be turned off. Attention is something that people earn, it’s not necessarily a right, and while you get a little of it for free, you can lose it pretty fast, too. While needy favoritism might be successful in getting some positive feedback on the surface, acting out something closer to what you actually feel about people is a pretty good policy.

Strawmanning my religion

So, I’m watching Glee (2×03) through the internets today and this week’s episode had some great songs, especially the Beatles number, but almost every moment that wasn’t music sucked. I felt like the whole episode was designed to strawman my religion- because of course, this week’s episode was about theism and prayer.

And yes, it was about theism and not religion, and it softballed the subject so badly that it wasn’t even funny. The only laugh moment I had was when Kurt added to his quip that Christianity isn’t always very friendly to women, which while absolutely true, is a little less self-involved than we might have expected from him. This was the only actual enlightened direct commentary on religion, and they barely even dented the bunch of adorable puppies they had representing the Religion Is Awesome When Life is Hard side by showing Finn that sometimes you can’t get what you pray for, or you get it in a horrible way. Which of course they immediately explain away by having Emma the guidance councilor pull an It’s More Complicated Than That, and we don’t get to see any of the emotional impact of that, because the reaction song didn’t really have anything visual to back it up, unlike the five or so the theistic kids got.

The rest was a terrible suck-fest full of theistic self-righteousness about being persecuted because the kids weren’t allowed to sing religiously themed songs. Never mind that Glee Club is extracurricular and may be allowed to follow different rules, because our Sometimes-Villain Sue Sylvester’s hate-on for prayer lead her to get Kurt to make a complaint about the religious content of the Glee club.

This continues the one thing that ruins my big bisexual love affair with Glee: the fact that it strawmans more liberal1 positions in order to make fun of them instead of actually trying to open up a debate. When Glee makes fun of conservatives, it makes fun of them for positions some of them actually believe. Nobody I’ve ever heard from believes you shouldn’t be able to sing “What If God Was One Of Us” in a public school, whether they’re American or New Zealanders. When Glee makes fun of liberal positions, we get get a mixed bag of chocolate and vomit. (sometimes the absolutely likely “My dads can’t sew”, and sometimes the terrible “gay boys are just like girls, only with penises!” Gay boys are boys who date boys, making them like girls only insofar as those girls are also androsexual) And frankly, no matter how many chocolates you get in a bag, one that’s filled with vomit really does risk ruining the whole bag.

The episode also completely failed to touch on atheistic spirituality: by which I mean there wasn’t even name-dropping for deism, (that would be me) Buddhism, reincarnation, humanism, (also me) and secular values. (yay!) Kurt “learned” a completely backwards lesson in which he gives up his right to a prayer-free space to worry or mourn in. Yes, it’s great that his friends were supporting him, but when someone asks you for space from your religion so they don’t have to confront your worship in a public context, that’s something they’re entitled to. Instead his friends essentially invade his father’s hospital room to pray in there after having been asked not to.

There were some less bad and more mixed moments, though. For one thing, there was very little of Season 1’s tendency to try and mock things by just showing them and assuming we know they’re ridiculous. If it’s meant to be ridiculed here, we knew why, even if it was completely wrong-headed of the writers to think we should agree, which made the enraging parts less so because the counterbalancing moments weren’t just little allusions telling us republicans are crazy. Probably the highlight mixed moment was when Sue confronted her sister about her frustration with prayer as a child, and her sister (for non-watchers, she has Downs Syndrome) gave us an “I’m okay, you’re okay” moment by telling Sue that God doesn’t make mistakes, which was precious, if it risked straying a little into Just World Theory and having conservatives foaming at the mouth saying stupid things like “yeah, Sue’s sister deserves to be retarded because God made her that way!”. I viewed as more of a “Hey, people may have teased me, but this made me who I am, and who I am rocks!” moment, and if that’s what they meant, Sue’s sister was totally capable of expressing that in a much clearer way.

So, in closing, the kids were absolutely right to pray for Burt, but nothing said they needed to do that somewhere that it would violate his son’s space and steal his right to control his own life. Because that’s all seperation of church and state is about: letting everyone have the space to not practice (or practice, if they so choose) their own beliefs, and not assuming that you get to invade other people’s space by putting your spiritual beliefs in it without permission and assuming they’re okay sharing them, or forcing them to debate you about them when they have other things they care about more.

1Glee is a social commentary and very rarely touches on economic issues, so I’m deliberately not using the words “left” and “right” here, because we’re talking a different political dimension. This will be comfortable to those who read about American politics where both parties are economically right wing, but readers from the rest of the world might appreciate the distinction. :)

On giving a hand up

So, I’ve been incredibly busy between RL stuff and other writing projects lately and this blog has suffered as a result. I’m not apologising for that, as political blogging is a very asocial activity and not exactly the sort of thing I need to be sinking time in- just explaining for anyone who’s curious where I’ve been.

I wanted to address a point that I’ve been discussing recently and have finally come up with what I think is an adequate analogy- and that point is offering a hand up to counter systemic racial disadvantage. If you’ve never looked after kids or been a parent, imagine for me that you have responsibility for two children and have determined that you’re not going to play favorites. One of these kids is really bright, and learns pretty naturally and has needed very little help. The other has great difficulty with academics and needs motivation and assistance to do well. Do you spend more time helping the kid with difficulties, and spend money/time/etc… on tutoring them when your other kid doesn’t need it?

I think the difference in our view on race-based politics that aim to improve the lot of Maori or Pasifika or other racial communities who have been left behind by a previously dominantly settler-based economy is based on the dilemma posed in my analogy. Many on the right of the economic political divide feel that any different treatment for any ethnic group is wrong. Many on the left of the economic divide feel that by putting scholarships and special programs in place to address the gap in educational achievement for some ethnic groups is merely giving help to those people who need it, and that, metaphorically speaking, the Pakeha community (or the Caucasian/NZ European one, if you prefer) does not have need of a tutor.

I say that noticeable disadvantage trumps the appearance of favoritism. There is a clear statistical difference which indicates underlying social failures that give us a real mandate for interference1 to create more opportunity for New Zealanders who might otherwise get left behind. You wouldn’t fail to tutor your kid if they were having difficulties learning, because that would be neglectful. You might not be treating your kids on exactly the same basis anymore, but that’s okay. There’s still an underlying principle of equality behind them: namely, that you help people according to their needs, and don’t neglect people just because they’ve had a problem or two getting started. While that sounds a bit like discrimination if you’ve never been in a place to experience falling behind before, you’d find it was very fair if, for instance, you needed a hand up from the government to retrain in the current recession, to get back into education after giving up on it, or something similar.

In short, the concept of looking after welfare- to support people to learn and to do work that they’re passionate about and find valuable- is a good one that should be applied to government, and not, as claimed by some on the right, some form of discrimination.

1 In the sense of “making things better”. Interfering isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if you’re tired of “nanny state”. John Key’s interfered plenty, too.

Little problems are big problems

One of the most frustrating aspects of people who aren’t experienced with any type of discrimination is the assumption that small problems don’t matter. Why, goes the refrain, does it matter that people use language like “gay” to mean uncool, or “lame” to mean slow, when there are very real incidents of violence against gays, homelessness amongst out teens, or a lack of awareness of the very existence of the disabled?

The answer is that if you put a lot of small problems into a pot, mix them together, and then leave them to simmer, you get some really bloody disgusting soup, where the young girl who thought “gay” meant uncool might become a parent who evicts one of her children for being gay or lesbian. Where people who call things lame constantly ignore the disabled. Where getting away with the little problems starts producing big problems.

Discrimination is a slippery slope, and it’s simple pragmatism to get at small problems before they avalanche into bigger ones. If sometimes that means we come across as jumping down someone’s throat to make a point about something that doesn’t matter, perhaps that’s because there’s so much to do on this front that sometimes it’s hard to manage. I’ve owed apologies for this in the past. But I’d rather apologise and be able to love someone as a friend or a member of my family without the reservation of constantly thinking: “but I hate when you belittle who I am, or who my friends are”.

Abor- wait, I can’t say that anymore?

Feministing has an article about google dropping ads for abortion services in some countries. While I’ve said many times I’d like to see less abortions, somehow I think this is more of an attempt to silence discussion of reproductive rights for women. Given some of the other ethically controversial stuff served by AdWords, I can’t really see them justifying this move. Google’s being mum about why it’s done this, so let the speculations begin. =/

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